Featured Poet: Jeni Couzyn

Jeni CouzynJENI COUZYN, poet of the twentieth century and later, calls herself a blend of several nationalities (South African, British, and Canadian) and of many identities. She is a feminist anthologist as well as a poet, author of spare but effective literary criticism in the form of introductions and headnotes. Jeni Couzyn’s best-known collection of poetry, Life by Drowning: Selected Poems, was published by Toronto‘s House of Anansi Press. It includes the poetic sequence “A Time to Be Born,” written about her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter.  March 1985 Couzyn issued through Bloodaxe a revised and expanded edition of Life by Drowning: Selected Poems (which had been published in Toronto in 1983). She is the founder and director of the Bethesda Foundation, a project working with Bushman people in the Great Karoo region in southern Africa.


For my Sheikh

So many ways to love Him.

So many ways to touch His feet.


Your eyes pass over me – like a floodlight in a prison

Passing and re-passing. I’m not what you’re seeking.

I am not yet born.


Now they take in the upturned faces half-mooned before you

In your sweep of the room – their hope, their beauty,

Sweetly held out to you like a border in an English garden


Some in full bloom, some ripening to seed, some in bud

All harmony, a special kind of perfection.

I see them reflected in your face – wall-flowers black and orange,


Poppies trembling in their crushed silk, larkspur like paradise birds

But where I sit, a hole in your mirror gaze

An unaccountable space between the stars. I’m not what you seek.

I am not yet born.



Bravely I enter your space and flick out a smile –

Chameleon tongue uncurling but snapping back empty.

Nothing to hook onto.


I bring gifts to attract your attention:

I made this myself. Vaguely you address my shadow:

– Very nice. I am not yet born.



I want to etch my name into your heart

Tattoo it on your eyelids

Carve it into your tongue.


I want to stitch my name

Into your lips

Embroider it around your eyes.


I want to weave my name

Into your breath so it rings

Like tiny bells each time you speak.


What would you call it, this crazy writing –

A love poem. Never mind the old woman

with achy bones. It is I, shining.



I’m a net of light in the tumbling ocean, in a dance to trap

Your quicksilver love.

I’m a small light on an island your ship sails by in the dark


Too far away to be heard. Small as a firefly.

You are not, in any case, on deck with your binoculars, scanning

The horizon. You’re somewhere below the waterline.


I corner you in the market place, my hands full of shells.

I don’t want you to buy my shells. You say: Look up. My eyes are burning.

I see it was not I who cornered you, but you


Who invited me. The woman half-hidden in her old brown shawl

Is green as a sapling. You open to me the floodgates of your eyes.

I want to pour into your heart like a waterfall


Like an estuary flooding at high tide. I want to drown

In your light, become a ripple

In the ocean of joy that you are.



Your name is water trickling through earth.

It waters my flesh. I wait for you at this door of glass

Balanced like an angel on a pin


On the earthquake rift. Uneasily earth sleeps. She smiles

In her sleep. Her smile is not what we think. When she sighs and stretches a little

In her dream of peace our world will crack open


Roar with pain, the seas will rise up engulfing our mountains

Thunder will bellow across our heavens, the forest will topple

Into the ocean. For now though all is quiet.


I wait for the click of the wooden gate, for your footstep on the path

For the creak of the deck.

I wait and wait.



I sit in this doorway – a cave mouth bathed in light

Vibrating, just a little. I want to sing the vibration every moment,

To sweep singing


All the way back through the planes to before the song

With my feet on the ground

My body a microbe of His body, my consciousness a spark of


His wakefulness, my prayer a calling down of His beloved gaze

Into this cell of His being that is my life

My life a dust-mote of His dream.


The doorway is silent meditation

And I cannot pass through after all these years. I want Samadhi.

I want to live the reality. To feel His joy and see through the veils.


You tell me: Live the connection of love, it’s already present,

With each and every breath. I fail and fail.

I thread these words amongst the tree tops


Or sitting beside the ocean, think of you

And fill up with sweetness. The words still me, bring me closer.

You are with me. The dhikr hums in my cells.


I am here, in your evergreen forest, beside your ocean.

His love is the substance that holds the cells in order

I touch your feet, ask for your blessing.


– Jeni Couzyn

Visit the Store to Subscribe or Buy the Current Issue and Back Issues