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
We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Day of Good Will.
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
I’m weary of myself. I’m dejected. I stand and gaze and feel — and marvel! Is This then the great city that has planted Despair in me? What contrasts jolt in this Strange Hive: souls kind and hard; pure Good; great Sins! This Hope or Mockery, Lord? Or Joy or Pain? For here beneath my eyes lie wonder scenes That should ring Joy, but only fling me Pain! All forces good or evil bring them Light
Who worship at Art’s shrine or read her Book. My soul doth live! A flash out of the night! I’ve been with God! I’m back content! I look Where Nature’s work and Man’s mingle or fight — Up sprout man’s flowers! Electric lights! ‘Tis night!
We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Day of Reconciliation.
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
We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Heritage Day.
Somewhere in some dark decade stands my father without work, unknown to me and my brother deep in the Paarl winter and a school holiday. As the temperature drops, he, my father, fixes a thermos of coffee, buys some meat pies and we chug up Du Toit’s Kloof Pass in his old 57 Ford, where he wills the mountain – under cold cloud, tan and blue rockface bright and wet with rain – he wills these to open and let his children in, even as he apologises – my strict and angry fearsome father – even as he apologises for his existence then and there his whereabouts declared to the warden or ranger in government issue, ever-present around the next turn or lazing in a jeep in the next lay-by: “No sir, just driving. Yes, sir, my car.”
At the highest point of the pass we stop to eat, and he, my father, this strict and angry, fearsome father, my father whom I love and his dark face, he pries open a universe that strangely he makes ours, that is no longer mine: a wily old grey baboon, well-hid against salt-and-pepper rock, eyeing us; some impossibly magnificent bird of prey rarely seen, racing to its nest as the weather turns. And we are up there close I think to my father’s God, the wind howling and cloud rushing over us, awed and small in that big car swaying in the gale.
Silence. A sudden still point as the universe pauses, inhales and gathers its grace. Then, the silent, feather-like fall of snowflakes as to us it grants a brief bright kingdom unseen by the ranger. And for some minutes a car with three stunned occupants rests on a mountain top outside the fast ever-darkening turn of our growing up; too brief to light the dark years when I would learn:
how the bright, clear haunts of crab and trout where we swim in summer now in winter a brown rage over rock; how mountain and pine and fynbos or the mouse-drawn falcon of my veld; the one last, mustard-dry koekemakranka of summer that my father tosses through the air to hit the ground and puff like a smoke bomb; and once, also in summer somewhere, a loquacious piet-my-vrou; or the miraculous whirligig of waterhondjies streaking across a tea-coloured pool cradled by tan rock and fern-green fern; my first and only owl, large and mysterious in a deep stand of pine, big owl we never knew were there until you swooped away, stirred by our voices; how I too would be woken and learn that this tree and bird, this world the earth and this child’s home already fell beyond his possessives.
And how, once north through the dry Bushmanland with its black rock, over a rise in the road, the sudden green like the strange and familiar sibilants in Keimoes and Kakamas. And the rush of the guttural was the water over rock at Augrabies. The Garieb over rock at Augrabies, at Augrabies where the boom swings down, the gate-watch tight-lipped as a sermon: “Die Kleurlingkant is vol” as he waves through a car filled with bronzed impatient white youth laughing at us, at my father, my father my silent father in whom a gaze grows distant and the child who learns this pain past metaphor. How like a baboon law and state just turned its fuck-you arse on us and ambled off.
Soft on a summer bed in the Languedoc a man in an Afghan prison sits with me watching his brother walking through snowdrifts to a village much like this one (boucherie, tabac, boulangerie, broken shutters) where a month’s supply of bullets lies secured in a box beneath his mother’s wedding carpet.
Turning the pages of Bruce Chatwin’s life I feel the ashy bodies shift and stutter downward through steel sticks broken on New York’s southern streets. Peruvian feathers hang in coloured blocks across the whiteness of a wall in England, the man in the snow takes another step forward, under a sky-blue burqa a woman writes to the man in prison without pen or paper.
Together we turn the pages, always together now. Lavender. Ash. Snow on a black beard.
Ma, I’m coming home that mountain towering over our city like a blue hue, beckons in the molasses folds of midnight his voice softens the folds of my ears and the south-easter sings in b-flat as it winds through my empty heart
Ma, I’m coming home my heart overflows with yearning and the tears roll down my cheeks like rocks and pull the breath from my lungs i have walked through the skin on the soles of my feet winding through another country’s streets another people’s pain I miss the sea and the smell of salt that finds its way to our front door on summer morning’s swollen with heat I miss the voices and words of my people and the way their tongues hold words in their mouths: flat and rough then sometimes flat and smooth the blood in my veins beats to a rhythm I cannot find in this green land
Ma, I’m coming home that mountain towering over our city like a blue hue, beckons in the molasses folds of midnight his voice softens the folds of my ears and the south-easter sings in b-flat as it winds through my empty heart Ma, I’m coming home it’s time to leave the world behind now it’s you who I want to lay beside