Tell Your Story

Lebogang Mashile
South African
b. 1979

 

After they’ve fed off of your memories
Erased dreams from your eyes
Broken the seams of sanity
And glued what’s left together with lies,
After the choices and voices have left you alone
And silence grows solid
Adhering like flesh to your bones

They’ve always known your spirit’s home
Lay in your gentle sway
To light and substance
But jaded mirrors and false prophets have a way
Of removing you from yourself
You who lives with seven names
You who walks with seven faces
None can eliminate your pain

Tell your story
Let it nourish you,
Sustain you
And claim you
Tell your story
Let it feed you,
Heal you
And release you
Tell your story
Let it twist and remix your shattered heart
Tell your story
Until your past stops tearing your present apart

The Wreck

Don Paterson
Scots
b. 1963

 

But what lovers we were, what lovers,
even when it was all over—

the bull-black, deadweight wines that we swung
towards each other rang and rang

like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the drunk boat out of port

and watched our sober unreal life
unmoor, a continent of grief;

the candlelight strange on our faces
like the tiny silent blazes

and coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs

into the night for the night’s work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,

gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down

to mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back

to back, and made our way alone
up the mined beach of the dawn.

History Is a Heavy Matter

We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Heritage Day.

Gcina Mhlope
South African
b. 1958

 

History is a heavy matter
It is a strange animal with multiple heads
Colours too many to ever count
The creature’s unique colours have a way
Of awakening the most indescribable pride
But others bring back such sad memories
The very worst memories
Of events that left our ancestors
perplexed, speechless

And then it makes you feel so much joy
You hear massive drums pounding
Deep in your heart, with invisible hands
Beating a rhythm that goes Gu! Gu!
Another Gu! Gu! Another Gu! Gu!
Reminding you that these colours and faces and eyes
Are the proud heritage of a nation
They are shining, glittering brightly
And when one of the heads speaks directly
Come closer, go on and touch me,
Feel free to even caress me if you so wish
Yes, go on. Show off, tell the world
What a great achiever you are
Just by mentioning my name
Then remember who you are
Where you are from and where you are going

The warm glow of a happiness so overwhelming
The smile spreads down to your very toes!
And such indescribable pride about your history
But then one of the creature’s heads turns and shouts
Stop! Stop right there!
Remember that it is not only great events
That make up your history or that of any other nation!
Apply your mind, remember well the painful atrocities
And terrible mistakes
Learn, grow and be certain not to return to those times
That hurt your very soul
It is clear that the heart loves to suppress and cover well
This way it wants to avoid wasting precious tears
Oh, how they flow, unstoppable, when the heart breaks into pieces
As it sees the ugliness on the face
Of the multi-headed beast
Head raised up high, threatening, opening
The worst and deepest wounds
Prompting us to earnestly say
Indeed, history is a heavy matter

The maidens we honour here today
Died painfully fighting for their rights
The times were not at all like today
The laws of the land did not allow them
To even begin to open their little mouths
King Cetshwayo was unprepared for what happened
They defied the orders forcing them to marry old warriors
So he ordered them all to be killed
Today we honour the maidens of Ingcuce Regiment
Heroines we respect as we sincerely say
They did not lay down their lives in vain
Their memory inspires us to open our eyes
To face today’s challenges

It is time for us, young and old
To empower ourselves and each other to build the nation.
To make our ancestors in the land of Mthaniya proud
Yes, indeed, history is a heavy matter
But a great educator too
Courage, children of Africa, Courage!

(to the smell of misfortune)

We present this work in honor of Chilean Independence Day.

Rosabetty Muñoz
Chilean
b. 1960

 

The aridity of the gardens
finally tired them all.
Nothing, not even carrots
would grow in that rocky soil.

Breaking your back for
a fistful of herbs.

And the flowers? You’ll say.
And those huge dahlias, like trees?
Don’t remind me of those carnivores.
They seemed to shine their petals
to the smell of misfortune.
They grew
opened
moved their stamens
as we steadily fell.

So As Not to Distort

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 65th birthday.

Hiromi Itō
Japanese
b. 1955

 

I make shiratama
And take them to my man
I heat the sugar and form syrup
Put in the boiled dumplings
And cool them
I seal them tight
And take them
All the shiratama stick to the bottom
The surfaces of the shiratama are torn
Their round
Shapes are distorted
I scoop them up with a spoon
Hey!
Look!
Scoop them out
So they don’t get distorted
I love shiratama best of all
Says my man, carrying the shiratama to his mouth
He closes his eyes and shows me how good they are
I love them more than you
I watch my man
Swallowing the shiratama
And lapping up the lukewarm syrup

I shake the sealed container and wrap it in cloth
Then the two of us
Bring together our syrupy mouths
Slide the palms of our hands
Moving them in the shape of love
But
You know
I don’t want to distort
I don’t want to be left distorted
This is what I think, oh man, my man

I roll them up
Boil the shiratama, heat the syrup, then cool them
I roll into them
Heartrending hopes
Thick syrup
Smooth shiratama
My man swallows them down
Thick like saliva
Smooth like buttocks
How do they taste?

I don’t want to distort you
He also thought in his heartrending way
I have reached him
The food I secrete
Secreted deep, deep
Into the man I love

Anticipation of an Exclusion

We present this work in honor of the Moroccan holiday, Revolution Day.

Mostafa Nissaboury
Moroccan
b. 1943

 

I nomad
I heal through sand writings
the wounds of becoming in waiting
I’ll track the image of death in you
your star paths and there where it will be present
with kaftans with kif bouquets
fostering mirages death
very beautiful like the sovereign reading of our hands

Because I See us
I’ll spit out my remembrances at dawn without you
my inaudible kinships in the troubled waters of uncertain early mornings
I’ll be the one
whose voice is native to cities thrown to their defeats
in debris of heavens that haunt them
who does not know my name my origin I’ll be
the blood-me
so as never again to dream.

Death is red all-over who discovers
its blazing owl
and the dullness of a moon asleep
in its sources
Memory damned
From then on I speak the language
inherited from a vast spread out night

I nomad

I would like as in an ancient rite and wearing a mask
I would like with moving grounds
I would like with cycles of bodies walled in the mud I’d like
from yesterday to tomorrow
with streets booby-trapped with men with eyes like extinct suns
with streets without cities with cities without names
I would like
to arrive like a fish according to the customs of water
that punctuate your name with an island in my gaze
I would like like an intense cloud over crops without soil
like a life possibility that is other like a cry
to come back
and inflict on your body the spectacle of my shadow peninsulas
cut through our difficulty of being
or die
I speak
that half of my language where the sun is a fissure while in the
other half everything between us remains a thousand times
to be resaid
the sun is in my language
the phosphorescent jewel summing up venomous nights
of porphyry inside you
protecting forever from my sight
the fogs of your shores and the solid earth of your warheaded tales
the sun in my Adam’s apple
bursts the dams of refusal on the sea that I drink all up
to hear you I want to read
on your breasts the pink alphabet
of pain’s solitudes and the predictions of all the mountains to come
Nomad
to ruin one religion a day without straying from myself
that is from the fracas and plutonium eruptions of my blood
standing watch on the ramparts of the jade palaces
of the mother-of-pearl mausoleums
I would like to ruin one religion a day and all the golden temples
in my memories — set traps for the phantoms
that venture
out of forgetting

I arrive
by the caravan
come out of the great gash
in space.

Home Address

We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, National Women’s Day.

Makhosazana Xaba
South African
b. 1957

 

She refuses to pack and leave
Every morning she prays out loud – twice – while
Standing in front of the massive wooden door
For the third time kneeling in front of the eternal flame

She tells them that the flame is her own fire
That she cooks her meals there and sleeps there on cold nights
That she taught herself to read by standing in front of the lettered door
She tells them that the colossal door is a superwoman
When they say she has lost her mind, she says that is a lie
Her home address is: “Hilltop”
And her name is Dedani.

Turn

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 60th birthday.

Vijayalakshmi
Indian
b. 1960

 

The insulted corpse spoke to me at night:

Can’t you see what’s planted in my hands?
Definitely, this gun isn’t mine.
I do not recognize bullets,
except the one that pierced me.
Those diary entries aren’t mine,
the hitlists were appended later.
Though murdered, I’m not a dimwit.
If so,
even I want to see the hellish diary
that added our names into the hit list,
a diary that vanished
because it was never written.

After death,
I came to know from the rotten,
decaying, withered,
powdered and wounded corpses
about the guns that were planted
between their dead fingers,
about the insult thrust upon them
by exhibiting their gun wielding pictures,
about romantic diary notes
that were written in their names.
Corpses don’t lie.
We are the truth, the sole truth.
But what can corpses do?

We can.
Even if we are erased from days
and appended to newspapers,
bulletin boards and
lazy after-dinner miniscreens,
even if our lifeless recline
is repeatedly insulted,
our blood silently appears
in honest mirrors at night.
Pressing the lips
against every ear that is awake,
It will chant this till sunrise:
Do not sleep.
What dawns is your turn.

Dawn at St. Patrick’s

In honor of The Twelfth (Battle of the Boyne), we present this work by one of today’s finest exemplars of the Irish spirit.

Derek Mahon
Irish
b. 1941

 

There is an old
statue in the courtyard
that weeps, like Niobe, its sorrow in stone.
The griefs of the ages she has made her own.
Her eyes are rain-washed but not hard,
her body is covered in mould,
the garden overgrown.

One by one
the first lights come on,
those that haven’t been on all night.
Christmas, the harshly festive, has come and gone.
No snow, but the rain pours down
in the first hour before dawn,
before daylight.

Swift’s home
for ‘fools and mad’ has become
the administrative block. Much there
has remained unchanged for many a long year —
stairs, chairs, Georgian widows shafting light and dust,
of the satirist;

but the real
hospital is a cheerful
modern extension at the back
hung with restful reproductions of Dufy, Klee and Braque.
Television, Russian fiction, snooker with the staff,
a sifter of Lucozade, a paragraph
of Newsweek or the Daily Mail

are my daily routine
during the festive season.
They don’t lock the razors here
as in Bowditch Hall. We have remained upright —
though, to be frank, the Christmas dinner scene,
with grown men in their festive gear,
was a sobering sight.

I watch the last
planes of the year go past,
silently climbing a cloud-lit sky.
Earth-bound, soon I’ll be taking a train to Cork
and trying to get back to work
at my sea-lit, fort-view desk
in the turf-smoky dusk.

Meanwhile,
next door, a visiting priest
intones to a faithful dormitory.
I sit on my Protestant bed, a make-believe existentialist,
and stare the clouds of unknowing. We style,
as best we may, our private destiny;
or so it seems to me

as I chew my thumb
and try to figure out
what brought me to my present state¬ —
an ‘educated man’, a man of consequence, no bum
but one who has hardly grasped what life is about,
if anything. My children, far away,
don’t know where I am today,

in a Dublin asylum
with a paper whistle and a mince pie,
my bits and pieces making a home from home.
I pray to the rain-clouds that they never come
where their lost father lies; that their mother thrives;
and that I
may measure up to them
before I die.

Soon a new year
will be here demanding, as before,
modest proposals, resolute resolutions, a new leaf,
new leaves. This is the story of my life,
the story of all lives everywhere,
mad fools whatever we are,
in here or out there.

Light and sane
I shall walk down to the train,
into that world whose sanity we know,
like Swift to be a fiction and a show.
The clouds part, the rain ceases, the sun
casts now upon everyone
its ancient shadow.

The Post-Nuclear Ones

Lola Arias
Argentine
b. 1976

 

One. I’m going to stop lying. I’m going to stop
smoking. I’m going to stop being afraid of the dark.

Two. I’m never going to make mistakes again just
because it’s nighttime or it’s cold or there’s a
melancholy cloud over my head.

Three. I have to stop wasting time. When I get
home I’m going to start writing. I’m not going to
answer the phone or eat the leftovers from my
fridge or read all those books waiting on my
bedside table like skyscrapers.

Four. I’m thirty tomorrow. Instead of having a party
I’m going to get in the bath and read my old diaries.
How old are you when youth ends?

Five. I can’t hear my heart under the water. I could
die now and I’d never know. If I die I want to be
cremated and my ashes scattered in the sea or the
river or flushed down the toilet. I’d rather be dead
under water than dead under ground.

Six. I have to learn to breathe better. I’d like the air
to leave me without my realizing, as if I were a
mermaid at the bottom of a bathtub.