My Father the Kitemaker by John Raubenheimer

Fisherrow Press, 2021    £4.00

Warmth, despite everything

This slim pamphlet contains ten shortish poems, and I enjoyed each one. The poems are autobiographical, exploring memories of John Raubenheimer’s childhood in South Africa. I liked the readable, relaxed style, and the quality of warmth at the heart of every poem.

There’s deep warmth for the poet’s father, a presence in several poems and the subject of the title poem. ‘My Father the Kitemaker’ describes the intricate and colourful kites his father built, some displaying politicians’ faces: ‘rainbow kites for the Rainbow Nation’. But none of these kites, says John Raubenheimer, meant as much as the first one, built for him:

        just a simple box kite,
frame of dowel, dressed in brown paper.
It rose like a song, the string played out like a mile.
Then my father tied the reel to a brick.

That night the wind roared beasts. I fitfully slept.
Next morning, a Sunday, I ran out to see.
        Our kite was still high, high, flying free.

There’s the warmth of friendship: for Ed, who he plays with in underground tunnels, as news of Sharpeville swirls in the world above. Warmth too for children he can’t play with: ‘Whites Only’ describes marvellous adventures with other white children in an old hollow tree, but sadly recalls:

       the less marvellous thing:
the sign loudly painted, tacked low on her trunk,
and barefoot children watching our sport,
standing there in a ragged ring.

In ‘Maria’, we feel Raubenheimer’s affection for the servant ‘digging in the pumpkin patch’. In ‘Baby Browning’ we hear the shocking story of how the gardener, Siphelele (whose Zulu name means ‘we are all together’) narrowly avoids shooting himself in the head when the young Raubenheimer finds what is mistaken for a cap gun.

The deeply troubled times John Raubenheimer lived through rumble in the background and have clearly taken their toll. The final poem, ‘Off the Wall’ alludes to time in therapy. But there’s warmth for his shadow:

I’ve given my shadow time off.
Skedaddle, I say, go and have some fun.

John Raubenheimer packs a lot into ten poems.

Annie Fisher

[Copies available from: Fisherrow Press, 17 Limestone View, Settle, BD24 9FH]