They Also Are Children of the Earth

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

Mizisi Kunene
South African
1930 – 2006

 

Cursed shall be the one whose passage in this world
Evades humaneness, engenders greed and hoarding
Cursed is he wallowing alone in caskets of wealth and
Counting rosary beads of accumulated cars
To be human is to humbly cherish the sweat of your toil
In measured style of decency and appreciation
To be human is to consider the plight of the needy
As they also are children of the earth
Yes, men and women of this blessed land

Shantytown Removal

In honor of the Day of Reconciliation, we present this work by one of the most legendary voices of the South African conflict.

Modikwe Dikobe
South African
b. 1913

 

I shall never forget that winter morning
A rainy November morning
They dismantled our shantytown
Mindless of sleeping souls
Fast asleep as of anaesthesia.

Unforeseen convey headlights
Heading to our shantytown
Motionless as of a ghost
Returning to its grave in early morning.

Morena! I thought I was dreaming
At the bank of the Klip River
Sprawled on the bank; demobbed soldiers
To demob our peaceful camp
In the name of human rights
In the year of the allied nations.

O! Merciful Lord
Am I sleeping in the open
As in Lombardy estate
In that year of the King’s visit,
Or is it a repetition of demobbed soldiers
On the banks of Canada stream,
Or just a deranged mind?

A stinking lavatory hole there,
A heap of rubbish here,
A stray dog there
It’s all that is left.
In twice a big town
Housing a thousand souls
With its own administration.

I, alone, with a wife and child,
Am left in this ruin
Once, the pride of my administration,
Whipped away are those
Who vowed: ‘We stand by our leader’
Left in the mercy of the documents.

Powerless, hopeless, I lead nobody
I am unfeathered
Left wingless
Dumfounded.
South, West, we are being driven in circles
Spanning in confusion
A mine dump, head-gear, mine column, a lake,
A river bend; seamlessly flowing
Not as I saw it on demobbed day.

And I Watch it in Mandela

John Matshikiza
South African
1954 – 2008

 

It is not for the safety of silence
That this man has opened his arms to lead
The strength of his words hangs in the air
As the strength in his eyes remains on the sky;
And the years of impatient waiting draw on
While this man burns to clear the smoke in the air.
There is fire here,
Which no prison
Can kill in this man;
And I watch it in Mandela.

A Poem for Sarah Baartman

Diana Ferrus
South African
b. 1953

 

“I’ve come to take you home –
home, remember the veld?
the lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-songs
as it hobbles along over little stones.

I have come to wretch you away –
away from the poking eyes
of the man-made monster
who lives in the dark
with his clutches of imperialism
who dissects your body bit by bit
who likens your soul to that of Satan
and declares himself the ultimate god!

I have come to soothe your heavy heart
I offer my bosom to your weary soul
I will cover your face with the palms of my hands
I will run my lips over lines in your neck
I will feast my eyes on the beauty of you
and I will sing for you
for I have come to bring you peace.

I have come to take you home
where the ancient mountains shout your name.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white –
I have come to take you home
where I will sing for you
for you have brought me peace.”

For Maria

Sindiwe Magona
South African
b. 1943

 

The first decade – I learnt to wipe my nose
Wipe my feet before entering the house
After a walk in the rain or on snow

The second decade – I learned to put on lipstick
Look in the mirror before
Leaving the house
Look at a boy without letting him know
I was looking
Look like a lady without letting Mama know
I felt all womanish inside

The third decade – I learned to wipe other people’s noses
And love it
I learned to put another’s interest before mine
Love and duty were but two sides of the same coin
Complain?
Me?
What did I have to complain about?
I was fulfilled! Grown up, married, with children and all,
A roof over my head. A boiling pot on the stove
And a man who told me, at least twice a day,
He worshipped the ground I walked on!
Yes, sometimes, very late at night, he reminded me
How much he loved me –
Very, very, very late at night; when the children were
Fast asleep.
When all the dishes were sparkling clean
When the floor was swept free of all toys,
Dusted, and wiped free of meddlesome footprints
Yes, sometimes, late at night, he reminded me
For the third time that day, how much
He loved me.

The fourth decade – I watched my own children,
My daughters, make goo-goo eyes at boys
When they thought my eyes were closed
My ears deaf as stone

They whispered tingly secrets; made subtly suggestive
Gestures. Amused, I watched it all – thought, inside,
I sighed; amused to see the pattern repeat itself. Oh, my
God!
Embarrassed, I remembered my own naïve assumption of
My mother’s blindness

The fifth decade – there was no denying it – my children
Were grown. Yes, they were my children; but they,
Definitely, were no longer children!
Did this mean I was old?
How could it be – when had that happened?
I was just discovering my essence!
Discovering joyful living sans fear of pregnancy,
Sin or ridicule! It was in such ecstatic sensuousness
I entered

The sixth decade – let no one misguide you,
The fifties are for fleshly fulfillment, sinful
Delight, and sprightly goings on. Now, at last,
I knew all there was to know about life.
I’d even made it, from scratch, myself
Gave it flesh, blood, and bone
Knit and bled it into being,
Nurtured it to healthy maturity.

The seventh decade – I learned to live with loss
A huge hole came to live in my heart
But I learned to understand this:
The loss is as big as the love. I suffer
Greatly for I have greatly loved
I am grateful for the love that was mine.
I suffer, but I could not have asked for less.

The eighth decade – I learned to live with
Fewer and fewer friends
Fewer and fewer visits from my children
As their own lives grew fuller and fuller

I love the four walls I call home
I love the skin that houses the bones I call my body
I love the people who, a long time ago,
Were my children
I look at their clean noses and know
I have lived a good life. Look. Just look!
How they truly no longer need me!

The ninth decade – I will learn the meaning of hours
For time is short, each hour more precious, therefore!
The journey is definitely longer behind me
The road ahead lifts with joy as I see
Footsteps painted a bright and
Joyful gold!
Without a doubt, I know, those are the footsteps
Love has made.
Mine has been a long life – rich in experience.

But now, looking back, I see all those brilliant
Moments in my life are moments of loving,
Of giving to others. These are moments
When I transcended the self and its
Imperious demands. When I was for
Another – whatever it was they needed
To go one step forward: wife, friend;
Mother; neighbour; daughter; sister ; or
Stranger!

Yes, I can see: I have been a good citizen, a decent
Human being.
Now, I am eighty years old – I hope I still have
Time enough to catch up!
Pass me that damn bottle of wine, will you?

Dark Where Loneliness Hides

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

Tatamkhulu Afrika
South African
1920 – 2002

 

Cat’s small child cries
in the dark where loneliness hides.
Cat’s small child beats
its breast in the soft
furriness of its need.

Cats don’t beat their breasts,
cats yell with lust
in the dark where loneliness hides?
Is it I, then, that cries,
mad child running wild?

Is it I that lies
in the dark where loneliness hides,
that listens as the wild geese wing
past short of the stars,
rime my roof with their dung?

Cat’s mewling, sky’s
sibilances, these
are the thieves of my ease?
What else waits
in the dark where loneliness hides?

My song has a crooked spine.
Should I break a bone
as I straighten it?
Or birth its crookedness in
the dark where loneliness hides?

Anguish Longer Than Sorrow

In honor of the South African Holiday, Human Rights Day, we present work by one of the great Poets Laureate of South Africa.

Keorapetse Kgositsile
South African
1938 – 2018

 

If destroying all the maps known
would erase all the boundaries
from the face of this earth
I would say let us
make a bonfire
to reclaim and sing
the human person

Refugee is an ominous load
even for a child to carry
for some children
words like home
could not carry any possible meaning
but
displaced
border
refugee must carry dimensions of brutality and terror
past the most hideous nightmare
anyone could experience or imagine

Empty their young eyes
deprived of a vision of any future
they should have been entitled to
since they did not choose to be born
where and when they were
Empty their young bellies
extended and rounded by malnutrition
and growling like the well-fed dogs of some
with pretensions to concerns about human rights
violations

Can you see them now
stumble from nowhere
to no
where
between
nothing
and
nothing

Consider
the premature daily death of their young dreams
what staggering memories frighten and abort
the hope that should have been
an indelible inscription in their young eyes

Perhaps
I should just borrow
the rememberer’s voice again
while I can and say:
to have a home is not a favour

The Dream in the Next Body

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 50th birthday.

Gabeba Baderoon
South African
b. 1969

 

From the end of the bed, I pull
the sheets back into place.

An old man paints a large sun striped
by clouds of seven blues.
Across the yellow centre each
blue is precisely itself and yet,
at the point it meets another,
the eye cannot detect a change.
The air shifts, he says,
and the colours.

When you touched me in a dream,
your skin an hour ago did not end
where it joined mine. My body continued
the movement of yours. Something flowed
between us like birds in a flock.

In a solitude larger than our two bodies
the hardening light parted us again

But under the covering the impress
of our bodies is a single, warm hollow.

Last Battles

Yvette Christiansë
South African
b. 1954

 

How? Growling down into the gravel
of a rough dream that dragged the
lids off coffins, he stopped
at the grave of Osimandeus. Or
was it Alexander? Yes, Alexander.
But the single howling question…

shaking the quiet lichen from its
settling place. He stood before the end
once more, saw the last hope die and him,
not given to poetry or nonsense, wanting
to sing a lament a troubadour may have sung
to a lady far from butchery and defeat.