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.

Friends?

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

Makhosazana Xaba
South African
b. 1957

 

She is my friend. No, she was my friend –
Over time, we went our separate ways.

She became richer when her father died;
I became poorer when my parents retired.

When she moved to the coast, another inconvenience:
The distance between our homes.

When she visits the city, she worries about the safety of her car outside my home.
When I travel for work not too far from the coast, I cannot afford to travel to hers.

Although we still chat, the content builds walls between us;
Her holidays longer, the number of her white friends larger.

Although she still plans on learning an indigenous language,
I—her preferred practice ground—have become an absence.

She was my friend when we were anti-apartheid activists.
What are we today? The common enemy has yet to surface.

I am With Those

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

06-16 Jonker
Ingrid Jonker
South African
1933 – 1965

I am with those
who abuse sex
because the individual doesn’t count
with those who get drunk
against the abyss of the brain
against the illusion that life
once was good or had beauty or sense
against the garden parties of falsehood
against the silence that beats into the temples
with those who poor and old
race against death the atom-bomb of the days
and in shacks count the last
flies on the walls
with those stupefied in institutions
shocked with electric currents
through the cataracts of the senses
with those who have been depraived of their hearts
like the light out of the robot of safety
with those coloured, african dispossessed
with those who murder
because every death confirms anew
the lie of life
And please forget
about justice it doesn’t exist
about brotherhood it’s deceit
about love it has no right

Buried Treasure

05-16 Magona
Sindiwe Magona
South African
b. 1943

Here lies, buried, precious treasure
The future of our beloved land
Pride of our fledgling nation
Our youth, our joy, our hope,
Now turned to sorrowing dust.

They were all young, but children, really
In the full flush of youth
Such promise for the hungry tomorrow
Blessings betrayed and all rules
Of nature turned upside down.

The girls gaily giggled
The young men, boys, really,
Whistled and winked as they strutted about
It was all such fun, such youthful fun
The words of parents paled beside.

The words of parents, mostly whispered;
And even that by but a few.
A whole nation looked on, but shirked duty
As the future swiftly withered and died.

They were in school, but the teachers taught nothing.
Some went to church, but the priests spoke little about daily living;
Pie in the sky and peace and bliss hereafter, their only platform.

Gone too, the wisdom of the Old
Foresaken, the knowledge of yesteryear
That knew and accepted what is only natural
Understood the folly that would block the swells of a surging river
And knew how all children needed mothers and fathers;
Embraced all thildren; charged every man and woman with their nurturing.

‘It takes a village’, belatedly, we now say; at last remembering
Faded lessons, traditions hastily discarded in blind pursuit
Of progress, of fashion, of assimilation. Now, finally seeing
How we ran open-armed, embracing our annihilation.
Now, sorrow jogs memory and we join empty hands
As we frantically try once more to guide,
To lead the new generation as before,
To show the way to the House of Adulthood
Leaving none behind, losing few as can be.

Eye turned back to a time long forgotten
When the measure of a man
Was not the fatness of his pocket
But his deeds of glory; shunning abomination.
When neighbour trusted neighbour; his safety secure at his presence
His home, his folk, his property – all sovereign
His neighbour, his best protection against all
His children, insurance against old age and infirmity.
But that was before the nation learnt to bury all its children;
See its morrow fade, its treasure interred;
The youth, its pride, its hope and joy obliterated.
The nation’s tomorrow, no more – ah, sad day,
When we buried our most precious treasures!

Fall Tomorrow

We present this work in honor of Human Rights Day.

03-21 Thomas
Gladys Thomas
South African
b. 1934

Don’t sow a seed
Don’t paint a wall
Tomorrow it will have to fall

Let the dog howl and bark
Tomorrow he will Sleep in the dark
Let the cock crow
Let the hen lay
Tomorrow will be their last day

Let the children chop trees
Let them break
Let the destructive little devils
Ruin and take
For tomorrow they know not their fate

Don’t sow a seed
Don’t pain a wall
Tomorrow the yellow monster will take all

Let our sons dazed in eye
Rape and steal
For they are not allowed to feel
Let the men drink
Let them fight
Let what is said about them
Then be right
For they are not allowed to think

So bark, howl, crow,
Chop, break, ruin,
Steal, drink, fight,
Let what’s made of us be right

Tomorrow we gaze at a new view
Seas of sand given by you
And we say
Sow the seed
Paint the wall
Be at home in our desert for all
You that remade us
Your mould will break
And tomorrow you are going to fall

Old Photographs

03-19 Baderoon
Gabeba Baderoon
South African
b. 1969

On my desk is a photograph of you
taken by the woman who loved you then.

In some photos her shadow falls
in the foreground. In this one,
her body is not that far from yours.

Did you hold your head that way
because she loved it?

She is not invisible, not
my enemy,
nor even the past.
I think
I love the things she loved.

Of all your old photographs, I wanted
this one for its becoming. I think
you were starting
to turn your head a little,
your eyes looking slightly to the side.

Was this the beginning of leaving?

Touch Me Now

We present this work in honor of the 15th anniversary of the poet’s death.

01-09 Sepamla
Sipho Sepamla
South African
1932 – 2007

Touch my heart
here where the beat pounds
is it faint
is it louder

Touch my face
here on the cheeks
is the tear drying on its own
is it flowing salted warmly

Touch my hands
here where a stone is enfolded in one
is it a hard rock
is it hot with waiting

Touch my brow
here where it meets its own madness
are the folds hardening
are they sweating out the anger

There’s nowhere you can touch me
without the realization that
I am not the person of yesterday
The fangs are bared for action

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

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