For You to Understand

We present this work in honor of Human Rights Day.

Bongekile Joyce Mbanjwa
South African
b. 1962

 

To be a jacket
To be a slave
To be a stepladder
To be forsaken
For you to understand
You must have a disability

To be a breast of money
For those who are abled
And be the belt
For civil servants
And be a grass mat for feet
The feet of the rich
The feet of the wealthy
For you to understand
You must have a disability

And ask for help day and night
No one will listen
The government and community
They all emphasise
They emphasise your worthlessness
And you also feel worthless
But for you to understand
You must have a disability

Discrimination has become obvious
To be undermined
People see a disability
And do not see a person
But for you to understand
You must have a disability

Translation by Siphiwe ka Ngwenya

Long-Distance Love

Lindiwe Mabuza
South African
b. 1938

 

If we had our country

To mold in our hands

So that this soft clay could shape the face
And heart of freedom

Each toll on love

Each tick of distance

Could be some blessing

For I would have

The rare fortunes of a bird

After every mission abroad

All encounters with foreigners
Would reinforce the reason
Turning the strange into loveliness
The urgent to certainty

Of reunion more desirable

For like the birds

Nightfall would kindly lead

To favored nests

To recount encounters

Hatch new flights

Till together we can soar

To heights where such long-distance throbs
Which may pulse pain

Are ever foreign

Being alone will be forever alien.

the anatomy of a poem

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 40th birthday.

Toni Stuart
South African
b. 1983

 

I

we share the same teacher, she and I.
he, who considers each poem
a breathing, pulsing thing

brain, muscle, skeleton, breath
all essential for it to thrive
on its own, without its creator

and how these boundaries overlap
breath floods brain
rhythm drives intention home

meeting in the space where silence
lives in the body on the page –
the in-between.

II

next week, when deadlines haranguing
her head have passed, she will go in search
of the in-between

and write those poems
waiting within her
a selfless, selfish act

of reaching within
to reach without

Uneasy Sleep

Yvette Christiansë
South African
b. 1954

 

Who was it that cried out? This cry,
a call that opens night
breaks out like a bird
breaking to greet dawn, or
the arrival of a high tide
that brings schools of fish
whose scales make the waters
glint and shimmer, glint and shimmer.

Who cried? Who woke us
to such things on such a dark night?
Do not ask. No, do not ask.
The moon will make a basin
for tears and where your heart beats
a well will dry up and the weight
of ships leaning against the wind
will make you think of a woman
hanging in the hammock
of an early death.

a footnote under the night of history

We present this work in honor of the Day of Reconciliation.

Breyten Breytenbach
South African
b. 1939

 

in the night when everything was black
burnt to a cross of ash
on the blind glass
and the dog’s bark a dark kite
blowing away in darkness
to where the moon
tears like the keel of a sinking boat
I dreamt my language

the title page smeared black
with signs now undecipherable raw
and inside the book
I saw my reflection
standing there three times

first among dead friends
with mottled grieving faces
like dogs staring directly into the blind window
while their thoughts like empty glasses
turning in the hands
and I was there
thin neck and moustache
our poems are slaves each with a full wave
feathers proudly on the head

then in a tableau at departure
in the garden of the night
with cape of white hair
my mother an aged virgin in my embrace
and further back
in the folds of memory
all other trusteds as torches of forgetting

were I now the prophet
sent to spy if there is life
in this world
or the senseless exile returning to say
our language was a footnote
under the illegible page history?

a last time on a bench in the empty garden
of a madhouse of toothless ageds
as skeletons with little bitter flesh
swaddled in the blanket
and wild tuft and eyes blind marbles

bow and mutter bow and mutter
many words oh many words
but only the whispering of dead slaves
but not enough to groove or make boat
and outside of the book beyond all listening
the bark and the wind and the ash
of the moon in dark water

Translation by Ampie Coetzee

What is Knowledge?

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

Benedict Wallet Vilakazi
South African
1906 – 1947

 

Tell me friend,
What is knowledge?
I dress up nicely,
I carry a cane,
I get on the road,
I eat well?

Tell me my peer,
What is knowledge?
Is it going to school,
Reading the book
Until I am bald,
Turning over pages?

Tell me mother,
What is knowledge?
Is it to be a speaker,
Be applauded by the whole world,
Interpreting the laws
Without understanding?

Tell my father,
What is knowledge?
Come my boy,
Let me pull your ears:
“Talk a little
Do bigger.”

Translation by Gabi Mkhize

Immigrant

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

Elisabeth Eybers
South African
1915 – 2007

I’ve nothing for hands and feet here,
the rest was lost in transit:
the dazed heart, the nervous tension –
then again, what would be made of them?

To compare what’s been lost
to what’s around, to grasp at light and sound
though I don’t look or listen,
I still have the senses on my face.

And in my breast and belly space
I apprehend something else was in that place.
Who’d have known that emptiness would be
so heavy, that being unimpeded would result in such a bind?

Translation by Jacquelyn Pope

In Detention

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

Chris Van Wyk
South African
1957 – 2014

 

He fell from the ninth floor
He hanged himself
He slipped on a piece of soap while washing
He hanged himself
He slipped on a piece of soap while washing
He fell from the ninth floor
He hanged himself while washing
He slipped from the ninth floor
He hung from the ninth floor
He slipped on the ninth floor while washing
He fell from a piece of soap while slipping
He hung from the ninth floor
He washed from the ninth floor while slipping
He hung from a piece of soap while washing.