Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns

The African Aurora


Sweet Aurora

For months I have been trying to pen you this letter yet have found myself inhibited by a paralysis of the imagination.  I suppose a more benign term might be post project daze.

They say Aurora, ninety percent of writing is imagining what it is one wants to write. If this is true ,then I have been spending ninety nine-percent of my waking, dreaming, scheming hours imagining. A luxury for sure. Who wouldn’t leap at the opportunity to suspend reality in order to inhabit a semi-imaginary one. To resign oneself to the company of the non-existent. Reality during such periods slips into the background, is seen as nothing more than an inconvenience…. something to brave when the fridge is bare and a trip to the grocery store is a  matter of life and death.

I imagine at your age this is what your day-to-day must feel like, though you never have to actively set aside the time. Your pass is unlimited and integration seamless. There is no distinction between what is real and what is imagined, no boundary or border post you need ever flash a passport at.

The other night I went to visit Lorkin Greenstone, a whimsical little man with almond shaped eyes, quite similar to you in age and loveliness. Lorkin joined his parents and I at the dinner table and regaled us with tales of Buttercup cottage:  a fantastical plot of fictive real estate if I might say so myself. He proceeded to describe every detail: the hills, forests, rivers and bat-infested caves. When it came to the wolves, he would crouch his voice in a whisper, careful not to let the beasts (salivating around the next corner it would seem) overhear him.

I miss your stories Aurora, often wonder what topsy-turvy universe you have imagined for yourself over there. I am always dreaming up ways to reach you and figured if I could just crack an invite to Lorkin’s Buttercup cottage I might be able to swim across the river and find you living in the imaginary realm next door. I’d know it was you of course by the gargantuan butterflies and pink unicorned ponies strutting around the paddocks. Read the rest of this entry »

Letter to Aurora


Dear Aurora

There is one of your play block’s sitting on my writing desk.I found it under the couch in the T.V room the day after you left.

It was lying there with a lonely sheep piece from your farmyard puzzle. Both sheep and block, separated from their respective toy flocks, forgotten amongst tumble weed clumps of dog hair and half chewed hooves. Poor things.

I rescued them both, found them a home on a shelf filled with similar precious oddities: a Saint Christopher that my grandmother kissed before dying, two clay hearts, a collection of wind- up tin toys and a picture of Jill, your great grandmother, grinning with a ciggie and glass of white wine.

It’s been a while since we saw each other. Did I tell you that I started to go a little mad after you left? That I convinced myself that the wooden play- block (the one from under the couch) was a key of some sort. Its letters, numbers and illustrations all signs, parts of a complex riddle.

I thought that if I could solve the riddle, crack the code, a portal might open up and bring us closer. I have had no luck yet, have tried every possible combination, stared long and hard at the sides: the letter O, a picture of an orange, the number 2, the letter B then a picture of a bee and the letter K. What does it mean Aurora? I’m sure the answer is simpler than I make it.

Did I tell you that your Gogo and pop- pop also went a little loopy after you left. Gogo scoured the house and filled your mosaic christening vase with mementos of your stay with us: dominoes, squashed flowers, half- bitten berries, threads of hair, lavender stems, dinosaur shaped pasta shells (wedged and fossilising between lounge pillows) and cryptic doodles left on office paper scraps.

It was, I believe, an attempt to preserve the little you we had come to know. She wanted you, one day (when the vase was broken and its contents spilt) to be reminded of a brief yet formative time when language eluded you and curiosity was your only vice..

Read the rest of this entry »



to Alex on his 6th Birthday


His name was Lobzang

(and although very young)

was about to see a very BIG adventure through.

How BIG you ask?

well if measured in little persons terms

I’d have to say

A whole lot bigger then his little self

could ever grow too!

Now as Lobzang’s story just goes to show

That’s’ it not about how little you are in the universe

but about what you do

and what you know

and how, the goodness ,that resides deep inside

can change the world

no matter how BIG

no matter how wide

Lobzang lived in a snow capped Himalayan land

where golden barley danced in fields

and wooly beasts lugged

plough’s through stubborn sand

His father- a humble farmer

Sang songs of praise

To his hardworking yaks

And bore the monthly harvest

On the crooked ol crutch

Of his crooked ol back

But how then is this story about Mountain Pirates?

Surely this cannot be?

For Pirates from popular tales

Do not roam the land

Instead set sail upon the sea!


But these Pirate Men were different folk

Descending from the far northern reaches of the East

Cruel men with cruel hearts

The temperament of wounded beasts

Who once upon a distant time

Drank deep from Kali’s black spring of eternal life

Enabling them to live forever

While plunging the world

into eternal hardship and strife

Who -for many hundreds of years

Robbed and looted the seven high seas

Filled deep their bottomless pockets

with Saphire, Diamonds and Rubees

And when the Colonial Ports and Empires had begun to wear thin

Still the pirates persisted-refusing to give in!

‘Just because we’ve robbed all there is to rob

(stated the Emperor Pirate to his crew)

Doesn’t mean us pirates are done then with the job!

The Emperor leaned forward

To let his men in, he spread his wide (wind worn) lips

And flashed a gold toothed grin

‘I know of a new treasure -beyond our wildest dreams’

….where oh great Emperor?-begged the crew


‘At the source ,my good men , of the Himalayan streams

For there lies in that forsaken mountain land

A treasure so sacred

A treasure so grand

A statue of the Golden Buddha

More priceless then any precious stone

More sought after -Then the Queens’ jewel infested crown

The Rajas Peacock throne!


And the Pirates jaws hung low

Soo low that they scraped the very earth

and deep in their bellies the hunger did grow

To plunder this mountain land of all its worth!


However their limited brains could not quite understand

How Pirates of the sea could as easily turn too pirates of the land?


‘What oh Emperor..

Is a pirate without his parrot?

A pirate without his ship?

This Mountain Pirate Profile

Is one we simply do not fit!’


So the Emperor lugged his men to the Himalayan Mountains

And clicked his jeweled fingers

To which swarming like a cloud of flies

Appeared a flock of black crows

Swooping and tumbling

Through the sliver clouded skies

Then perched a black crow

On the shoulder of that enquiring Pirate

Who bit his foolish tongue

and grew very suddenly sheepish and quiet


The Emperor spoke again…………..

‘The people that inhabit this land

Are Holy men, thankfully for us, they’re not very bright!

We can expect little resistance in our robbing of their Buddha

For these fools know not how to fight!


‘Er…And a ship? …oh wise Emperor’

A brave Pirate protested again from the back

‘Where do we intend to store our treasures sir?

‘What then will be our pirate’s mode of attack?


Good question, beamed the Emperor

‘On these rivers a boat of wood will not suffice

So from this glacier -I command ye men to carve me galleon of ice!


Again the nervous pirate probed………

‘Now Oh Wise Emperor Captain-

A Galleon of ice, would indeed be a truly Remarkable feat!

but how will it be made to stand the relentless midday heat?


And with that the Emperor uncorked a potion

…from what looked like a bottle of Kashmiri Rum

Out swept an ominous black cloud

that collected itself into the shape of a dragon

and swiftly swallowed the sun

and from that cloud Dragons nostrils

Swept a bitter cold freeze

Causing the barley to droop in the meadows

and warm Autumn colours to shiver and wilt from all the trees


and from then on

The Pirates worked with picks

For many long miserable days from the imposing blue Glacier

they chip… chip… chipped away


From out the valley,

not a single sound could be heard

no not a defiant chirping cricket

or sweetly singing bird

Instead a deep and loathsome moan

as the great ‘Ice Galleon’ lurched

from out its cave

across the hills of snow and stone


And the Pirates sung

And chugged on rum

‘ Oh the cruel deeds left to do’

‘Oh the cruel deeds not yet done’

Then blowing horns -

To sound their attack

They swept through the villages

Riding on the backs of fiery eyed yaks

with sharpened horns

and eyes that flickered flame’s of crimson red

‘Hand over ye gold idols-they bellowed or all be left for dead’

Left for our crows to peck out yer eyes

Then throw yer skinny corpses to fuel our raging fires’


‘You boy!!’

And they pointed to Lobzang

Who stuttered on his words

And tripped upon his tongue


‘Where then be this Buddha of old

This Buddha of gold

It resides in a near by monastery?

So we pirates, have been told


And Lobzung had little choice

But to find his frightened voice

And much to the entire villages dismay

He pointed a trembling finger

and showed the pirates the way


And the pirates

In a furious frenzy swept through that monastery

Cutlasses glinting in ceremonial candle light

The Holy Lamas fell back

Alarmed at the terrible sight


‘ahhhhhh, this here token will suit us just fine!’

and with that

the pirates snatched the golden Buddah

from out it’s perfumed shrine


And once they had bundled it onto the Galleon

The pirates seemed to vanish into thin air

leaving the Lamas and the village folk

Doubled over in defeat

Crumpled in despair



standing on a hilltop

silent and alone

stood the elderly lama

face- weathered with worry

solemn as the mountain stone


“Let us make sword’s , like they have’ said Lobzang

Fight them for our Buddha, tooth and nail

Ill fight them old lama, I will

I’ll fight them without fail!’


And the Lama looked at the determined boy

and gently shook his head

War is a monster my child

It’s belly never satisfied

It’s hunger never fed


Then he turned wincing into the setting sun

We must practice patience, persistence child

To ensure the safe return of our holiest one


For you must remember Lobzang

That there is still a lot left for you to learn

That what is given is taken

Then given in return

For just as the winter

Returns each and every year

So too must the summer

to melt that frozen tear


Will bind us together

Just as individual threads entwine to create a rope

We may have lost our ‘Holy one’ my child

but not yet our precious hope.


You have been chosen to carry this message

For it is our communal prayer

Deliver it to each and every monastery in these hills

Carry it now

With haste and care

We will all join together on the night of the swollen moon

Hurry little lobzung for that time approaches soon!



Armed with bread crusts and a flask

And on the back of his wonky donkey

Lobzang set about his task

And when his mission

was over and done

So rose that swollen moon

and withered the fiery sun


All at one the villages and surrounding monasteries


Tinkered on Tin bells

and banged their triumphant drum


And deep in each of their hearts

They did truly hope and yearn

For peace again in their mountain land

For their ‘Buddha’s’ safe return


Hidden deep beneath the frosty decks

Of the Galleon

The captive Buddha

began to radiate and glow

So warm and bright

That the beams cut through all the ice

and melted all the snow.


Now the pirates were so startled

By this radiant, beautiful light

that they puzzled for hours

over… how it possible.. for day

to so interfere with night?

And while lost in this curious muddle

They did not notice

Their mighty Ice Galleon

…..melt and drip

to form a mighty puddle!


The Pirate Emperor cried

-abandon ship

-flee! -men -flee!

But the sudden gush of Icy water

Caught them by surprise

And swept them all to sea


The next morning- in the village

How brightly that new sun shone

For when Lobzam woke

He must have thought it to be all a dream!

for the Pirates and their ship were gone

and the river shimmered with infinite riches

Including the holy Buddha

(who sat smug and smiling)

On the bed of that golden stream.

Tree Boy


There was a boy in a crowded city who wished he could be a tree. Wished he could be alone, wished he could be a tree who didn’t have to say anything or think anything. He wanted to be something someone who could grow without life’s complications.


He returned to the great lake of his childhood to think. A vast and proud expanse of water. The one with crooked trees on the shore and pink sunsets. He had decided to sit on its thoughtful rocks and think, lulled into dreams alongside the lapping waves.


But when the boy arrived at his ‘place of thought’ and ‘lake of dreams’ the basin was dry, and the lake was drained to a puddle. The water had vanished and the place of thought was an empty thought or dream drained of all its water. So he walked its desert bed, the earth still muddy and damp between his toes.


It seemed as if he had wondered into a nightmare where thoughts had become to fearsome to wrestle with. He felt his soul desert him in a quest for new happiness. He was left very frightened and sad that his search had come to this, that his joy had finally escaped into the expanse along with his mind.


So the boy found a muddy pool and covered his entire body with the mud. Till it sealed up his eyes and filled his mouth. When he was completely covered he began to run. He ran until he encountered human voices and feeling to embarrassed to be seen looking so muddy and frightening he disappeared into a near by forest.


And whilst running through the Forrest, blinded by the mud, his heart beating furiously in his chest, the leaves and twigs began to stick to his body, Till he was covered in thick foliage. Till the mud began to dry into bark and he could run no more. Slowly he felt himself becoming a tree. And as night crept into the forest he began to fall a sleep to the sound of his heart beat softening……


And just before his transformation had completed itself and he was about to pass into a deep tree dream, he heard his mothers voice, a frail frightened voice calling his name. He tried to answer but his tongue was hard and wooden. He tried to see but his eyes were sealed shut. He tried to hear, tried to reach out but his ears were empty of sound and his fingers were now small branches. He tried to cry a last tear but his heart was heavy and wooden and still.


And now there is a tree in a crowded forest alongside an empty lake. That dreams he could be a boy, who has something to say, and something to think, that can hold his mother in real arms again and recapture his wondering sprit from out of the atmosphere.