Harry Owen


A handful of small stones for Bromley


The milkwood moults,
melts its crisp brown leaves
into a terracotta husk.

From the thatch eves,
a thousand pearls of rain
string themselves
past the kitchen window.

This evening a huge armoured beetle,
spiky and black,
parks himself like a jeep
on the wall next to my bedside lamp.
I prise him, reluctant, into a glass
and repatriate him gently
to the African night.

and a silver-grey plastic bucket stands,
inverted like a helmet, on the wooden deck,
a Star Wars alien stranded
within the tropical greenery
of a real and natural world.

Surges of swarming ants clot the morning air.
From a high branch and crimson-faced with effort,
a barbet brays his rude challenge to the world.

Bromley is our smiling Ridgeback with a rubber face:
his mouth, when he sees you, draws back
into a broad, ingratiating grin,
his eyebrows sauntering about independently
like a couple of rambling caterpillars.


Here, two branches of the big coral tree,
loosened by high winds while we were away,
hang like swords of Damocles over the rock garden.
Silent and camouflaged as leopards they lurk,
waiting for some unsuspecting prey
to pass beneath.


a warm summer evening
four or five half-empty wine bottles
three people
an insistent scrizzling of invisible insects
one angular Ridgeback sprawled out on the stoep =

deepest contentment

Back briefly at Chintsa
and our evening geckoes line up
near the wall light
like the staff of Downton Abbey.

A genuflecting ocean,
shadows of palm fronds on the deck,
a rich sizzle of frying mushrooms

and one leggy hound,
no longer lost,
spread out on the carpet
in a jacuzzi of sunlight.

The ocean is rolling pewter,
the morning a hot cloud compress.

Down the road to the village
a skinny fig sapling begins
its possessive seduction of a coral tree

whose tears already drip
like rain onto the tar.


Looking East

It’s pissing down with Easter, an ocean
in front of me that’s only the sky’s cloak-
tails thrashing, an open door behind, where
hissing car tyres shuzzle through the downpour
like a chill, all thick expectoration.

Beyond the windows and deck the sea is
boiling, a grey-brown soup in a cauldron
stretching away to where the sky drops off.
There’s life out there but buried like my heart
and lungs beneath an epidermal rash.

It’s a day of white surge and violence,
squall, mist and incessant drench, a day of
drowning. Where are the lizards now, the ants?
Where are the white-fronted plovers? And why
must I be nagged for answers? Eastward is

lost again within its own dense gasping.
Sheets of lightning flare, screens of sweeping rain:
they’ve waited for darkness to spook the dogs,
and it works. Something distant and impure
slinks forward from the Eastern horizon.


Harry Owen is author of five poetry collections: Searching for Machynlleth (2000); The Music of Ourselves (2004); Five Books of Marriage (2008); Non-Dog (2010) and Worthy: poems for my father (2011). He is the editor of I Write Who I Am: an anthology of Upstart poems (2011), showcasing the work of nineteen young poets from township schools, and For Rhino in a Shrinking World: an international anthology (2013), supporting efforts to combat the obscenity of rhino poaching. ( A new collection, Small Stones for Bromley, is forthcoming from Lapwing Publications (Belfast) in 2014. He lives in Grahamstown, South Africa.


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MadHat, Issue 15, Winter 2013-2014