Old Money

Shakespeare ZA is delighted to announce that, over the next few weeks, we will be publishing new work by South African poets that responds to Shakespeare’s plays and poetry.

First up: Geoffrey Haresnape and a poignant take on King Lear …

OLD MONEY

              “I am a very foolish, fond old man

                Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less

                And to deal plainly,

                I fear I am not in my perfect mind”                                           

 

                                               1.

             

He has been –

when all is said and done –

at the top of the heap.

But now

with geriatric issues

kicking in

it seems the time

to leave his assets

for the younger strengths

of his attractive daughters.

 

A will and testament

divides his estate

into three portions –

weighted to reflect

his children’s relative importance.

 

This document

is shown them in his sick room

Clearly, there are spoils for the taking.

Some ‘oos’ and ‘ahs’ –

together with awareness of the Reaper

waiting in the wings –

seduce him to indulge himself.

 

“Tell me, my daughters

 whom of you shall I say loves me most?”

 

The eldest

croons arpeggios.

Dearer than eyesight she loves him,

dearer than life, beauty, health, honour.

  

Her father flourishes

like a rain-frog

in her flood of eloquence.

 

Before her eyes he dangles

wine farms, a city penthouse, blocks of flats

in ownership perpetual

to herself and all her family.

 

This done, he asks:

What says my second daughter?”

 

He finds

her just like the first ...

excepting that

her heart belongs exclusively

to daddy.

 

This is his little kitten!

The patriarch is smitten;

as many titbits of his real estate

 as he has promised to her sister

are dropped into her bowl.

 

A third remains:

his favorite, tender, youngest,

lovely one.

She understands him

like his own heartbeat.

She’ll outdo what the others say

and make him special.

 

“What can you say

 to draw a third

 more opulent than your sisters?”

 

Her too brief answer

is a body-blow.

 

Panickey,

he advises her to use more words.

“Nothing will come of nothing.”

 

He sees her jaw-line

that is like his own

jut stubbornly

as she presents

some argument.

 

 “I cannot heave my heart

into my mouth”

 

She tells him,

that her love is as it ought to be.

No more, nor less.

 

Does she believe

that she’ll expropriate his land

without a word 

of heart-felt compensation?

 

Dementia’s  tapeworm

squirms up

from his gut

to touch his tongue root

with its obscene tickling.

He rises on one elbow

in his bed to bluster:

 

“Get out of my sight.

 You truth will be your legacy.

 Your sisters can

 digest your share.”

 

He’s hot to crush her with a codicil.

 

                                                    2.

 

Time shows its pulses

in a million digitals

while some old clockwork

strikes the hours

in a traditional way.

 

Two girls

that once were honey sweet

are souring

grudging.

They put their trust

in lipstick and mascara,

driven

by their large libidos,

sassy thighs.

 

All alone

he bangs his temple

with a weary fist.

His weakness

needs the crumbs

that they let fall

from their expensive tables.

 

The youngest one

is with her partner

far away.

 

At last he’s told

that his disease

is terminal.

 

Oh, the waves of weakness:

how they come.

Each finger’s movement is a weight.

His breaths go in and out in toil.

Why did he spurn his dearest?  Why?

He is afraid to change

what his legalities have done.

 

                                                 

                                                 3.

 

Six thousand patient miles

and then her Uber scrunches to his door.

What smiles

and consternations!

What tears

when his too greatly absent darling

touches him.

He feels

that he is necklaced

with a burning tyre

of shame.

 

“I know you do not love me.

You have some cause.”

 

She will not hear

of it.

 

Her hand

upon his cheek

is balm.

 

                                                 

                                                       4.

Knowing

that she will visit him again ...

he sleeps and dreams.

His certainty forgets

the slips and slides

of the beloved country.

 

Her lodging is attacked

by what they call the crowbar gang

and she becomes the victim

of an undiscriminating blade.

 

Some thirty stab wounds

mutilate her neck

and unresisting back.

She is bled out

before the parameds arrive.

 

He howls and howls.

Frail age

cannot contain this thing.

 

They take him in a wheel-chair

to the view-site

in the funeral home.

 

The staff

have cosmetized

her lacerations well.

She’s clenched

inside her open coffin

like a broken doll.

 

He wonders why

a dog, a horse, a rat

should have that thing

called life

and she no life at all.

 

She will not come again.

 

The family flinch

to hear him start his mantra

of the “Never” word.

So great a load, so great a load

of love  and suffering.

 

Between the spoked wheels

of his senile chariot

he seems to wilt

like some old oak tree

severed from its roots.

 

Suddenly his throat

is clicking

 

Does he believe

her patched-up effigy

still breathes?

 

Can he be hoping

at the heart of loss?

 

An awkward smile

irradiates his wrinkles.

as his carer wheels him  out

into a blaze

of light.