John Mateer was born in Roodepoort, South Africa. He has published five
books of poems in Australia, a number of chapbooks that have appeared
internationally, and a prose travelogue, Semar's Cave: an Indonesian
Journal. He has been invited to read his work at festivals in Australia,
Asia, Europe and the United States, and has had his poems translated into
several European and Asian languages, among them Portuguese, German,
Japanese and Indonesian. His latest publications are The Ancient Capital of
Images (Fremantle, 2005), Southern Barbarians (Johannesburg, 2007) and
Elsewhere, a selection chosen from publications issued in South Africa,
Indonesia and Japan (Cambridge, UK, forthcoming). The Japan Times has
compared him to his compatriot JM Coetzee, describing his work as
"inquisitorial, ethically preoccupied and sometimes powerfully intense.”
(The poems presented in Softblow are from a suite that was written in
Mexico City but was initially published in Johannesburg.)
THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE
Every image is a dark-skinned darling,
an authenticated virgin
appearing at a leafy sacred site.
Only I'm not an emissary of the Pope
and don't require Castilian roses
as proof of her numinosity,
nor any explanation
beyond her faultless resemblance
to Kuan-yin and a crematorium's hidden flame.
THAT I MIGHT BE MEXICAN…
That I might be Mexican is a revolutionary idea.
But having crossed the Rio Grande hidden under a black sombrero
and having spurred my cantering Indian pony into Bar La Opera
to shoot a hole in the ceiling in emulation of Pancho Villa
isn't enough – What if I'm down from the mountains of Oaxaca
and in Zapoteca asking for directions to The Big Smoke,
my whole face ancient with a frown? I've definitely seen
myself mirrored in the Frida Kahlo portrait,
THE ARTIST AND HER CLONE; one staunching a severed artery,
the other clutching her beloved's face in a silver locket.
Though which is the revolutionary with a heart like a golden orb
and which the colonial speckled with our soul's brown blood?
Every night my heart, slimy and erratic, is held high
in the fist of a cartoon Aztec. He has my flayed skin
over his shoulders, and from atop a volcanic-black pyramid
is insisting, telepathically:
Go back to sleep. The burning skies are not veldfire grey.
Imagine you're a Conquistador on the eve of invading Japan.
Now shut those big blue eyes and sleep.
Let the Gentleman Speak!
Pure joy, that's all I have to say as I sit here in Bar La Opera
after my lunch of paella. Here I am, puffing on my Cuban cigar,
still seeing before me that lap-dancer who was a doppelgänger
for Salma Hayek. Yes, I am blissfully bourgeois...
You! Ghost of Pancho Villa! Hop off your horse and fuck off out of here!
And fuck you, too, Luis Buñuel!
And you, Children of the Revolution, fuck you all!
All I want is bliss! What do you want?
Thoughts of Employment
We poets loitering in Plaza Garibaldi
are not wearing our mariachi uniforms,
not dressed up like matadors prepared to confront the Golden Calf.
We are more discrete. I, for instance, am smoking a cigar,
allowing the sweetly noxious cloud
to trail out from between my god's jaws
as if a poem, slow, amorphous and vulgar.
I could sing at weddings.
I could hustle, offering songs of anyone's choosing;
My Way in Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious' versions,
in Spanish, of course. I am a poet
of every invisibility; desiring to become à la Mexicana,
I have inadvertently been born as karaoke.
INVITATION TO A SLOVENIAN POET
Let’s stroll up through the Zócalo, Tomaž,
past the Aztecs purifying queues of peasants with sweet incense
and past the Indians wrapped in their stripped ponchos
whose faces we saw yesterday in the Museo de Antropologia,
and past the village men under white cowboy hats
and the police in riot-gear and the khaki-uniformed woman
cranking her barrel organ as if mulling over an errant
thought. Accompany me, Tomaž, please... If you like,
at a corner stall we can stop for quesadillas or slip
into the Catedral Metropolitana to marvel as we're supposed
to at the __________ by _________. Or as 'sociologists'
we could stride the four streets up to Cinema Rio to study
with microscopic acuity HISPANIC BEAUTY in a dark room.
Anyway... Let's just amble inconspicuously through the Zócalo,
then the few streets east to the den of ratters and smugglers
where, at the foot of Santa Muerte, the question-marks
of her scythe and her skull's smile hovering over our heads,
we'll take turns to kneel and, Tomaž, I'm sure you will agree
that there among the deviants and recalcitrants and other hopefuls,
we will be praying for success in crime,
for the sake of every one of our future poems.
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