Poetry / Poets / Writers / Writing

No Picnic – by Philip Vermaas

I wanted to go on a picnic with my lover,
just the two of us,
a basket of wine,
chewy bread, ripe cheese,
Roethke’s poetry, scratched camera,
but with not a single seeable other,
no far-off pip from the feistiest phone
and not one echo of a honk or hum
from the road behind the horizon.

We could find a spot at a foamless river,
lay a patched blanket at the cool gnarled roots
of an old earth-sucking tree.

We could eat and drink, drink more,
and, if the mood took us,
remove just enough clothing
for a fumble, snigger, shudder and sigh.

I wanted to go on a picnic with my lover
which seemed, as I thought of it,
the very thing a poet and painter
should always have done,
as the provoked have done for centuries
to make days and art worthwhile;
and not with a worry
for money or getting home drunk.

How would we get there,
knowing from a picnic you must come home,
and that’s now not where police cars go?

It’s a picnic for two
and one must drive,
so there’ll be for the driver
only an autumn swallow
of summer wine.
A painter and poet can’t picnic like that,
half the talk would be of nanny states
and over-eager laws turned fact.

Couldn’t take a taxi,
it’d cost more than this picnic ought,
as it drove around looking for
a river that’s lost.
What would the driver do anyway,
sit and watch?
Go and come back,
hailed, by no phone, but
by a zip going up
and a dress coming down?

If it wasn’t a picnic for a poet and painter
to find plain pleasure in the vacuum of cash,
then we’d have already been out
for a fancy dinner
and, for all that money made makes,
I’d never have thought
of a picnic by the river.

I wanted to go for a picnic with my lover,
read Roethke, laugh, snap photographs
of her giddy face and freckled arse
as she danced dizzily,
lifting her lip and dress to tease me.

I wanted to go for a picnic with my lover,
drink an excess of her and wine.
But we stayed home and watched shitty TV.
I didn’t even tell her my unrealistic desire.

It’s a kind of suicide.

Philip Vermaas was born to an actor and stage manager who were touring a play through the otherwise artistically barren towns of the Orange Free State in early 1970s South Africa. For the first months of his life he lived in a cardboard box among misfit actors and similarly afflicted crew. They called him King Fred. He has travelled a bit and spent years in Scotland and a couple in England. Now, through twists of fate, he’s holed up in a cottage in semi-rural Johannesburg with his true love while he thinks, writes, smokes and holds her close. In 2013, The Blue Hour published a full length book of his poetry, Better Cigarettes and Other Poems.


9 thoughts on “No Picnic – by Philip Vermaas

  1. I really like this poem especially the repetitive aspect. I am confused by the stanza about the police cars.

    My Michael and I stopped once upstate NY and the local police did stop us from drinking water and enjoying the view. Guess it was an upscale private spot. Matter of fact recently, a man came over to me and said I was not allowed to park near this place adjacent to a public park…it was private. I wanted to walk around because of recent surgery.

    • Thanks, Joan. The stanza about police cars, is simply a reference to the days of yore when the cops might have driven you home with a smirk, whereas now you’re likely to get hustled off to the station and booked if you’ve one too many glasses of wine. It’s just more of a hassle, as you point out, to sit and enjoy the view.

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