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

Evening Falls on the Berea Hills

H.I.E. Dhlomo
South African
1903 – 1956

 

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!

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

Tap-Tapping

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

10-05 Gwala
Mafika Pascal Gwala
South African
1946 – 2014

 

Rough, wet winds
parch my agonised face
as if salting the wound of
Bulhoek
Sharpeville
Soweto,
unbandage strip by strip
the dressings of Hope;
I wade my senses
through the mist;

I am still surviving
the traumas of my raped soil
alive and aware;
truths jump like a cat leaps for fish
at my mind;
I plod along
into the vortex
of a clear-borne dawn

Kingdom of Rain

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

09-24 Kozain
Rustum Kozain
South African
b. 1966

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.

Student Protest

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

06-16 Thomas
Gladys Thomas
South African
b. 1934

 

They stood there
on the steps of the cathedral
a valiant band of youth
who had no need of standing there
and I safe on the other side

I stood watching
their banners screamed our protest
making our cause their own
their voices clear of fear
and I did not utter a word.

They were lashed
their fair faces stained crimson
man nor maid was spared
as authority showed its might
and I watched and wept my shame

Soft

Karen Press
South African
b. 1956

 

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

Toni Stuart
South African
b. 1983

 

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