The Dancer

01-04 Mhlophe
Gcina Mhlope
South African
b. 1958

Mama,
they tell me you were a dancer
they tell me you had long
beautiful legs to carry your graceful body
they tell me you were a dancer

Mama,
they tell me you sang beautiful solos
they tell me you closed your eyes
always when the feeling of the song
was right, and lifted your face up to the sky
they tell me you were an enchanting dancer

Mama,
they tell me you were always so gentle
they talk of a willow tree
swaying lovingly over clear running water
in early Spring when they talk of you
they tell me you were a slow dancer

Mama,
they tell me you were a wedding dancer
they tell me you smiled and closed your eyes
your arms curving outward just a little
and your feet shuffling in the sand;
tshi tshi tshitshitshitha, tshitshi tshishitshitha
O hee! How I wish I was there to see you
they tell me you were a pleasure to watch

Mama,
they tell me I am a dancer too
but I don’t know…
I don’t know for sure what a wedding dancer is
there are no more weddings
but many, many funerals
where we sing and dance
running fast with the coffin
of a would-be bride or a would-be groom
strange smiles have replaced our tears
our eyes are full of vengeance, Mama

Dear, dear Mama,
they tell me I am a funeral dancer

Poetics

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 75th birthday.

12-29 Roca
Juan Manuel Roca
Colombian
b. 1946

 

After writing on paper the word coyote
You must watch out that the meat-craving word
Does not take over the page,
Does not manage to hide
Behind the word jacaranda
To wait for the word hare to pass by
And then tear it apart.
In order to prevent it,
To sound the alarm
When the coyote stealthily
Prepares its ambush,
Some old masters
Who know the spells of language
Recommend tracing the word match
Rubbing it against the word stone
And lighting up the word fire
To scare it away.
There is no coyote or jackal, no hyena or jaguar,
No puma or wolf thar won’t flee
When fire converses with air.

The River

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

12-26 Villiers
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
South African
b. 1966

 

One day the Hillbrow Tower started to cry.
Real tears poured down its sides
collected in the gutters,
and ran down Banket Street,
and when
the other buildings saw the tower’s sadness
they started to weep in sympathy.
Soon the whole city was sobbing,
the tears joined other tears
and filled the depressions and valleys.
They covered the koppies,
and collected in City Deep,
cascading over Gold Reef City
flooding Fordsburg
and soaking Soweto.
They flowed until they became a river
that carried us into the night,
where our dreams grew
taller than buildings
taller than buildings

Sunrise Voices

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

12-16 Masheane
Napo Masheane
South African
21st century

 

God grafted the lines of the universe
Making the sunshine
At the birth of every being.
The fire that lights,
Through which new rays of life breaks,
A moment of time,
Where our new voices collectively
Must heal the diseased land-souls,
Liking the aged and the unborn.
Turning our childless grave yards
Into laughing homes,
Where our people are empowered and developed

The chains of our past
Should not trouble us forever,
But seal the lips of slavery caves.
Our people should stop
To live under the tyranny of silence,
Turn deserted lands into farm fields.
We must sow the seeds of UBUNTU
Building and shaping our future on firm grounds,
So that our royal languages can echo proverbs,
At a place where our ancestors walked.
Let us help the poor and the lame
To open the closed doors
So that they can dress our hearts differently.
Let us move earth and assemble our villages
So that our tears can become raindrops
For the sea of education
For the rivers of prosperity
For the lakes of democracy

Our voices should write new poetic bibles
And prose of golden beauty,
Casting away HIV/AIDS- unemployment and felony
Let us use our voices to fashion the old
Build strong bridges of awareness
Bridges that will take us far beyond
The skyline of time.
Bridges that will transform our core from
Dance floors of misconception
As we re-create who we really are.

Let us dress our behaviours like monks
Allowing our offspring to pick fruits
From the highest trees of spirituality
So that they can destroy the walls of orphan villages
Giving each home a name

We are pillars of a proud vote
Bound by a period in which
Every being must speak colour sounds
Of togetherness.
Let our voices find ways
In which the webs of life are woven

A place where mothers cannot escape
The messages of their own bodies.
Let’s allow our fathers’ spirits
To stretch and match science, history and politics
Let our unique voices teach us
How to dig, plant, water our seeds
So that we can buy our children’s smiles.
Let our words call peace
As ancient drums still our voices
Sending us to a place
Where the love of UNITY lives
To draw our people as a unit,
Let our SUNRISE voices shout
For we know where it all begun
We know where we are
We know where we are heading

The sparks of the sun
Opened the sealed envelop of my words
They, tied in endless riddles
Are perused out to the world by my faith
For God grafted the lines of the universe
Making the sun shine
At the birth of my soul.
The fire that lights,
Through which new rays of life break,
A moment of time,
When our voice together
Must weave the diseased land-souls
Liking the age and the unborn.
Turning our childless grave yards into laughing homes
Where our people can speak the same
Let our SUNRISE voices shout

The Condemned Man on the Pyramid

William Ospina
Colombian
b. 1954

Stone upon stone the earth seeks the sky.
Step by step my soles ascend to the sun.
The hot coal of life still beats in my chest
and idle now is the stone knife among these stones.

If you are all life, why do you need my heart?
If you are the great fire, why do you need my coal?

Each step of the stair erases a memory,
and how like my soul is this long shadow shattering
upon the last stones in the world.

Heroics

12-06 Valdes
Zoé Valdés
Cuban
b. 1959

I.

Very much the bride with a belly of five months
she made her devotions to insomnia.
Three knocks on wood cracked her open.
The thieves shrieked around the splinters.
Very much the bride she cold-creamed her face,
abandoned in the middle of her honeymoon.
“Let battle commence!” the little boys said.

II.

Let the stone-ground light exist.
We were not inhibited
and trod on each others’ feet as when dancing a bolero.
I bumped into his groin,
splitting it on purpose.
Villain that I was trod on it I poured cold water on
his message.
I told him I was tender,
that I anchored my self at street corners.
Let the yellow light of oregano exist.

Happiness

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 55th birthday.

11-30 Mersal
Iman Mersal
Egyptian
b. 1966

 

I believe the stretcher
whisked by two
as the patient’s coma is interrupted on it.
I doubt the sympathy in the eyes that follow the scene.

I respect the fisherman
because he is the only one who understands the fish.
Then I peel its scales spitefully.

I have no patience to contemplate the sea
while my fingers are stained with the palette’s colors.

At the moment of waking
my spirit is dark.

I do not remember any of last night’s dreams except
the urge for an objective history
of pleasure’s link to pain
darkness to terror,
terror to waking from sleep
to face a dark spirit.

Happiness therefore
lies in steam shovels which alone are worthy of love.
Their tongues precede them
as they neutrally overturn the memory of the earth.

Honorary Jew

We present this work in honor of the First Day of Chanukah.

John Repp
American
b. 1953

 

The first year, I grated potatoes, chopped onions
& watched. The second year, I fed all but the eggs

into the machine & said I’ll do the latkes & did,
my pile of crisp delights borne to the feast by the wife

who baffled me, our books closed, banter hushed,
money useless in the apartment—house, my in-laws called it,

new-wave thump at one end, ganja reek at the other—
in which she’d knelt to tell the no one who listened

no more no no more no a three-year-old mouthing
the essential prayer. The uncle made rich by a song

stacked three & dug in, talking critics & Koch—
everyone crunching now, slathering applesauce, slurping tea—

talking Rabin & Mehitabel, radio & Durrell,
how a song is a poem or it isn’t a song

& vice-versa. Done, he pointed a greasy finger
at me, said You can’t be a goy. You—I say it

for all to hear—are an honorary Jew!
which, impossible dream, my latkes lived up to

for five more years. Then the wailing.
Then the dust.

Legislator

In honor of Revolution Day, we present this work by one of contemporary Mexico’s cleverest poets.

Francisco Hinojosa
Mexican
b. 1954

 

Having just heard, my love,
that you won a seat by popular vote,
I am overwhelmed with joy
for you and your electorate
and because I know you well
I am sure you will legislate with courage and devotion
making your voters feel represented
forget these household chores a while
you don’t have a spouse for nothing
and focus on the legislative charge assigned you
receive the citizens’ demands
attend the sessions
ascend the podium
assert your views
hear out your committee chairman
be yourself
and above all
legislate, legislate, legislate
our bed will not feel the void caused by
all those nights you work late, legislating
you will receive a salary
and they will give you bonds and business trips and cell
phones and chauffeurs
and try, my love, not to be corrupted
try to stay honest
because you, Honorable Representative
woman of laws and convictions
our advocate
you are our voice in Congress
although I did not vote for you
forgive me
but I never thought you’d win.

Late Love

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

11-09 Kay
Jackie Kay
Scots
b. 1961

 

How they strut about, people in love,
How tall they grow, pleased with themselves,
Their hair, glossy, their skin shining.
They don’t remember who they have been.

How filmic they are just for this time.
How important they’ve become – secret, above
The order of things, the dreary mundane.
Every church bell ringing, a fresh sign.
How dull the lot that are not in love.
Their clothes shabby, their skin lustreless;
How clueless they are, hair a mess; how they trudge
Up and down the streets in the rain,

remembering one kiss in a dark alley,
A touch in a changing room, if lucky, a lovely wait
For the phone to ring, maybe, baby.
The past with its rush of velvet, its secret hush
Already miles away, dimming now, in the late day.