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De Waal Venter

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Escape of the barber

A black-collared barber attempts to escape

After thinking it through

and discarding several possibilities,

the gent’s barber, in his neat black shirt,

decided to become a black-collared barbet;

he like the similarity in sounds.

He lifted himself

with a powerful flurry

into the feeding tray

and selected a piece of deliciously ripe apple.

Next he joyfully launched into the sky

and dived with reckless abandon

through the upper twigs

of a wintry fig tree.

From the corner of his eye

he saw the coloured flash

of a young nubile female,

and in that instant

lost his freedom.

Black-collared barbet 01

Buy the day

Buy the day

This morning you handed me the day

to spend as I will.

I will spend part of it

to watch cells in a green tomato

mitotically pull themselves in two

and then do it yet again,

humming “summertime” to the tune

of a forgotten Mozart adagio.

Another part I will spend

on jogging along a footpath in the veld,

and then looking up

to watch Gaia flouncing silky white

on her transparently blue hanging table,

planning a new garment

in soft folds, fulsome with promise.

I will expend part of the day

to discuss the nature of God

with my dog

who has a keen intuition

and, importantly, is unfettered by religion.

Tuning in on my thoughts

will take up a big part

of the day to spend.

There is an impressive amount of noise

that I have to try tuning out,

and always the wry possibility

that there is nothing else but noise.

Thank you for giving me

the day to spend;

I will purchase as wisely as I can.


The theoretical physicist paints

The theoretical physicist paints

Naked elephants

tiptoe across the rim

of the painter’s imagination;

they are followed by six aubergines

who make an abrupt right turn

and approach the easel,

their sumptuously green and purple

mottled faces beaming with shy anticipation.

The sky sags in the middle,

weighed down

by the lavishly proportioned nude

who is having her morning tea

and orange grapes.

The painter covers the canvas

in white paint,

suppressing the urge to open the tube

within which an astonishing red

is squirming violently to be let out.

Before there was colour

there was nothing,

the painter tells the aubergines

clustered around him.

Then he slowly paints in

a dark dot

somewhere near the middle of the known universe.


Helios on schedule

Helios on schedule

The silk lines billow far out

in the thin sky

saturated with light blue sunshine.

I hold them together

in my left fist

on my hi-tech chariot;

my right hand twists

and we are loose from earth.

The silken lines undulate

over continents;

gallop the golden stallions

as I observe the people

releasing the flavours of their foods

the clench of cereals, the delights of fruit,

the iron of flesh, the sere of burnt blood

coming to me in a gracious sine curve.

It seems nothing has changed much

since the first chariot chase;

men still do not look

me straight in the face,

building dynasties on the sherds of others,

constructing palaces

to supply the noble rubble

on which to found new fallacies.


Life story

Life story 3000 BCE

These marks in the soft clay

mean bull.

I make the marks beside it

that mean me.

My bull will give me:

all these single marks that mean calves;

they go from one side of the clay to the other,

and below them another row.

These marks mean my woman,

and I make more for my other woman.

These marks are my children: many,

but not as many as the calves.

These marks are my house;

it is a big house

for all my people.

A hand wipes the clay into smoothness;

the Scribe

has other words for me.


Firmly in control

Firmly in control of the kitchen table

The house is in a state

of barely uncontrolled chaos,

it is in a state

of controlled chaos;

barely chaotic,

incompletely controlled.

Little girls gyrate their faces,

tiptoe naughtily across

agnostic notions

of their elders.

Trains busy past in Hockneyan vulgarity,

cats tap daintily at metaphors for mice,

while quietly in closed Cluedo boxes lurk dice.

Muscular vacuum cleaner

chops thoughts and conversations

into chunks of ostrich fillet.

Sunlight leans through the window,

lovingly fingers the pumpkin orange

textures on the wall.

A skinny breeze sits alone at the kitchen table,

drinks black coffee in a state

of semi-meditation.

It is a state of barely uncontrolled existence,

of living controlled

barely in control.


The bathroom mirror

The bathroom mirror as a tool of identity loss

I cannot see myself clearly

in the misted mirror.

There is a coloured shape

that moves:

tones of orange, yellow and white,

I can detect some blues and browns as well.

Two darker patches must be the eyes.

And now

a huge dark blotch;

an opened mouth?

I call to myself,

then disappear completely

in my own breath;

I’m lost in my name.


Meeting her

Meeting her

To enter the garden is easy:

you walk past the acacia

that is holding up thousands of rich yellow

puffball flowers proudly to the sun.

You meet her at the foot

of the fever tree

with bark of organic green,

white thorns that can pierce your hand.

Puzzled, she looks into the umber-striped orange

petals of a pungent nasturtium flower

that darken into a glossy throat.

You look at each other;

there is something growing

unseen below your feet.

Barbets spread their double song

in the yellow summer air,

suffused with many pollens.

It is easy to enter,

but you cannot stay.


Dreams as indestructible underwear


Dreams as indestructible underwear


Facts fuel

the scientific mind –

those happenings

that have been observed

by many minds,

and described

in a fairly uniform way.


One day

two scientists

swapped their dreams.

They then subjected them

to experiments

in starkly lit laboratories.


The dreams were resistant

to reagents, did not wilt

under varying types of radiation,

refused to be cut by scalpels,

and yielded only Mickey Mouse logos

under the electron microscope.


The scientists

took their dreams back shamefacedly.

Now they occasionally wear them

on cold nights,

those strangely coloured long-johns.






Refusing to be terminated

He declined to accept the offer

because he felt he did not need the rest.

So he kept on drinking life,

he thought that was what he could do best.