Dancing Dust

Poems by Mollie Caird (1922-2000)

Ivory
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Ivory, smooth word,
Mother of every milky simile
Conjuring legends, once heard,
Of spice-road caravans travelling distantly, dimly
Laden with preciousness coloured like cream,
Textured and valued as pearl,
Evocation of Solomon's Song and a white skinned girl
Seen in a dream.

Intricate art,
Miraculous flower of the craftsman's making,
Fashioning amulet, heart,
Monkey or many-armed Vishnu; patiently flaking
Madonna's meshed carcanet, folds of her robe,
And, chief marvel of all,
The fathomless filagree puzzle of interlocked ball ―
Globe within globe.

But now we know
The demonry charging this white black magic,
How half-starved poachers go
Pursuing with gun and poisoned dart the tragic
Elephant herds for profiteer's gain;
And the orphaned infant strays,
Trunk-sucking its own life's juices, dying in a daze
Of jackalled pain.

Virtuous virtu!
We happily plundered our grandmothers' treasure:
Look at this bauble, and this ―
Imperial bric-à-brac shining with innocent pleasure.
Hands made no beauty without blood spilt,
No sable stole without steel,
No diamonds without Soweto, the cage and the wheel,
No gilt without guilt.


Undated
The Dancing Dust and other poems, 1983