I never guessed your fame, or infamy,
when you were my too-brief friend.
Imagine the surprise when I Googled:
and-Wopko and-Jensma GO.
“21 hits for +Wopko +Jensma”,
and an ironic footnote
boasted: “Buy Wopko Jensma on the Web”.
So this is what they told me:
I: Where you came from
You were the gutter poet laureate,
an outcast; the multi-hued
son of no cultures, and all. Apartheid’s
bogey-man, the tokolosh
that frightened decent white folk by starlight,
black night, grinning and gurning.
You were a nation’s reproachful mirror,
hung in a hall of mirrors.
They made us tall, they made us thin: only
you could make us look within.
Yet what use is a mirror reflecting
blackness instead of the light?
Your pen was dry, your brush broken, they said.
Your days fumbling and mumbling
at a dirty scrap of paper: unread.
A shopping list? A tattered
memory? Or just your name – the last thread
in a fraying tapestry.
II: Where did you go?
Enough of this! Your poems never rhymed,
and your life never quite scanned,
but your ending was exquisitely timed.
Your elegant elegy
was a hundred words long on page twenty-
three of the Rand Daily Mail.
They called you a black man trapped in white skin,
and talked of your torment, a
poet and artist with psyche too thin.
You never seemed torn to me:
Not on the bus to our factory jobs;
Not on a night in the town.
At a party a philosopher threw,
you put words to my question:
“The boy wants to know what’s the meaning of life.”
The thinker confessed that he
hadn’t a clue – and he got drunk; Wopko
didn’t know – and he got drunk.
I thought that some girls in latex & lace
might be my answer: but they
only told me that the booze was a clue.
So we drank, until dawn rose
sweating and sick, and our skulls clanged to
rhythms and rhymes we had sung.
You taught me a beard hid a smirk from the world.
I thought your art was a game
and so did you. You practised karate,
quit sugar, drove to work.
You the vegetarian slipped rashers
of bacon into your stew;
You the reluctant, repentant smoker
sucked second-hand nicotine
from the misty blue breath of a whore in
a club close by the docks
where sex was the cheapest item for sale
and we only left with our lives.
You told me your demons were buried and gone;
but the day that you loaded
your Beetle with vital belongings I
noticed how few that they were.
Was your baggage already all packed in the mind?
Did you know what you meant by goodbye?