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

And Yet…

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

Don Mattera
South African
b. 1935

 

I have known silences
long and deep as death
when the mind questioned the logic
of my frailty
in the imminence of my destruction
by men ruled and ravaged by powerlust

I have known deep silences
when thoughts like angry waves
beat against the shores of my mind
revealing the scars of brutal memories
and the murder of my manhood

and yet
I cannot hate
try as I want to
I cannot hate… why?

Now Is the Time

Mzwakhe Mbuli
South African
b. 1958

 

Now is the time,
To climb up the mountain,
And reason against habit,
Now is the time.

Now is the time
To review the barren soil of nature,
Ruined by the winds of tyranny,
Now is the time.

Now is the time,
To commence the litany of hope,
Now is the time.

Now is the time,
To disentangle vilification,
That afflicts the planet of humanity apart,
Now is the time.

Now is the time,
To vomit the remains of fascism,
Back to the bucket of imperialism,
Now is the time.

Now is the time,
To give me roses,
Not to keep them,
For my grave to come,
Give them to me,
While my heart beats,
Give them today,
While my heart yearns for jubilee,
Now is the time.

Now is the time,
To treasure the thorns of slavery,
Spear them for my grave,
Keep them for the day to come,
Where my struggling body,
Will struggle no more,
Neither roses nor thorns,
Would affect it at rest,
Now is the time.

Now is the time,
To edify authentic action,
Against pre-conceived notions of prejudice,
Now is the time.

Now is the time,
To blot out pillars of Nazism,
Now is the time.
Now is the time,
To violate the eleventh commandment,
For today’s pain is tomorrow’s imminent comfort,
Now is the time,
Yes it is the time.

Hush Babe

We present this work in honor of the Day of Good Will.

Isabella Motadinyane
South African
1963 – 2003

 

Hush babe
walk tall
whistles here and there
smiling like the star
with a round face
dimple cheeks babe
that capture the eye
we saw your works here
in the country
those who say
you are ugly
they are liars
let them cheat themselves
shine right sunbeam
ho ha
hush babe
by the way
you are number one
walk tall babe
shine right sunbeam
hush babe
ho ha
where you left
you leave stars behind
tick talk Mohlakwana clan
tick talk Mofokeng clan
we saw your works
wedding presents
are on the way
sister make them dizzy
make them giddy doll
they have arrived now
those who play sax for you

Small Bird Singing in a Bush

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

Tatamkhulu Afrika
South African
1920 – 2002

 

Small bird in a bush:
cars in the street rush
past it like the Gadarene swine,
line upon line.

Soft feathers fluff
in a lean wind, rough
as a rasp in the leaves’ green,
brooming the earth clean.

Cognisant of none
save the strengthening sun,
the blood of its dawn
still red on the hill,

it sings and it sings,
repetitive rings
and showers of sound
seeming profound

to the shallows in me,
but, in reality,
only a bird’s things:
sex and seed, rain on the wings,

consciousness of warmth and light,
withdrawal of the night,
the wind’s suddenness,
or its silences.

All this I know,
and no less know
its innocence, my prescience,
and which the better sense,
and which the finer face,
and which the saving grace:
self-seeking orison
or this simple hymnal to the sun?

Tell Your Story

Lebogang Mashile
South African
b. 1979

 

After they’ve fed off of your memories
Erased dreams from your eyes
Broken the seams of sanity
And glued what’s left together with lies,
After the choices and voices have left you alone
And silence grows solid
Adhering like flesh to your bones

They’ve always known your spirit’s home
Lay in your gentle sway
To light and substance
But jaded mirrors and false prophets have a way
Of removing you from yourself
You who lives with seven names
You who walks with seven faces
None can eliminate your pain

Tell your story
Let it nourish you,
Sustain you
And claim you
Tell your story
Let it feed you,
Heal you
And release you
Tell your story
Let it twist and remix your shattered heart
Tell your story
Until your past stops tearing your present apart

History Is a Heavy Matter

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

Gcina Mhlope
South African
b. 1958

 

History is a heavy matter
It is a strange animal with multiple heads
Colours too many to ever count
The creature’s unique colours have a way
Of awakening the most indescribable pride
But others bring back such sad memories
The very worst memories
Of events that left our ancestors
perplexed, speechless

And then it makes you feel so much joy
You hear massive drums pounding
Deep in your heart, with invisible hands
Beating a rhythm that goes Gu! Gu!
Another Gu! Gu! Another Gu! Gu!
Reminding you that these colours and faces and eyes
Are the proud heritage of a nation
They are shining, glittering brightly
And when one of the heads speaks directly
Come closer, go on and touch me,
Feel free to even caress me if you so wish
Yes, go on. Show off, tell the world
What a great achiever you are
Just by mentioning my name
Then remember who you are
Where you are from and where you are going

The warm glow of a happiness so overwhelming
The smile spreads down to your very toes!
And such indescribable pride about your history
But then one of the creature’s heads turns and shouts
Stop! Stop right there!
Remember that it is not only great events
That make up your history or that of any other nation!
Apply your mind, remember well the painful atrocities
And terrible mistakes
Learn, grow and be certain not to return to those times
That hurt your very soul
It is clear that the heart loves to suppress and cover well
This way it wants to avoid wasting precious tears
Oh, how they flow, unstoppable, when the heart breaks into pieces
As it sees the ugliness on the face
Of the multi-headed beast
Head raised up high, threatening, opening
The worst and deepest wounds
Prompting us to earnestly say
Indeed, history is a heavy matter

The maidens we honour here today
Died painfully fighting for their rights
The times were not at all like today
The laws of the land did not allow them
To even begin to open their little mouths
King Cetshwayo was unprepared for what happened
They defied the orders forcing them to marry old warriors
So he ordered them all to be killed
Today we honour the maidens of Ingcuce Regiment
Heroines we respect as we sincerely say
They did not lay down their lives in vain
Their memory inspires us to open our eyes
To face today’s challenges

It is time for us, young and old
To empower ourselves and each other to build the nation.
To make our ancestors in the land of Mthaniya proud
Yes, indeed, history is a heavy matter
But a great educator too
Courage, children of Africa, Courage!