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South Africa modjaji.co. Athlone.book. Cape Town Set in Palatino 11/14 pt .books@gmail.Publication © Modjaji Books 2009 Text © Sindiwe Magona 2009 First published in 2009 by Modjaji Books CC P O Box 385.com http:/ /modjaji.za ISBN 978-0-9802729-5-6 Editing: Angela du Preez Book and cover design: Natascha Mostert Lettering: Hannah Morris Printed and bound by Mega Digital. 7760.
In fond memory of “Ta Mri” Mawethu. my brother. who taught me so much about the profundity of silence .
Contents Across the River Kei Buried treasure It takes a village A rock Motherhood Being Writing Imagination For Maria They brought light Great is the white man! Fear of change The great learning Mine boys The prize Men at the corner of the roadå Victims of an undeclared war World champions Community building On the run The leader 9 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 22 23 24 26 27 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 .
wait! Unseen wounds To lovers past The taste of change A wish A promise The village Our thanks Village time 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 45 47 48 50 51 52 54 55 56 58 59 60 61 63 64 65 66 67 69 70 71 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 . in the village Foreign Aid The sermon of the bones A war picture Spectre of zero expectations A good woman A mother remembers Statement Why I write Madam.What Africa needs All are precious Imperfect present On her blindness Apples Our house is on fire Speak. bones! Please. take photographs! Song of the orphan Poem to a brother Noon. please! Done did my bit Picture perfect Of a morning The revolution within Freedom Hands off my brain! Brother.
far horizons. Chewing yesterday’s cud as sun’s early rays Listen to the satisfied moos of cows All heralding the dawn. Paint cow horns above still Far-from-discernible bodies Huddled close in the morning kraal. Bidding lovers disengage. early sun Buttering morning clouds. Sunrises that glow low steeples. 9 .Across the River Kei Land of low skies.
Whistled and winked as they strutted about It was all such fun. And even that by but a few. A whole nation looked on. really In the full flush of youth Such promise for the hungry tomorrow Blessings betrayed and all rules Of nature turned upside down. Some went to church. mostly whispered. The girls gaily giggled The young men. Now turned to sorrowing dust. but shirked duty As the future swiftly withered and died. precious treasure The future of our beloved land Pride of our fledgling nation Our youth. Gone. Pie in the sky and peace and bliss hereafter. but children. They were all young. our hope. but the teachers taught nothing. buried. the wisdom of the Old Forsaken. such youthful fun The words of parents paled beside. They were in school. but the priests spoke little about daily living. really. the knowledge of yesteryear That knew and accepted what is only natural 10 . too. boys. our joy. their only platform.Buried treasure Here lies. The words of parents.
finally seeing How we ran open-armed. See its morrow fade. shunning abomination. embracing our annihilation. traditions hastily discarded in blind pursuit Of progress. But that was before the nation learnt to bury all its children. of fashion. Now. belatedly. Now. its hope and joy obliterated. its treasure interred. The nation’s tomorrow. Embraced all children. at last remembering Faded lessons. 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. his property – all sovereign His neighbour. losing few as can be. his safety secure at his presence His home. his best protection against all His children. To lead the new generation as before. The youth. When neighbour trusted neighbour. sad day. To show the way to the House of Adulthood Leaving none behind. no more – ah. ‘It takes a village’.Understood the folly that would block the swells of a surging river And knew how all children needed mothers and fathers. When we buried our most precious treasures! 11 . insurance against old age and infirmity. sorrow jogs memory and we join empty hands As we frantically try once more to guide. charged every man and woman with their nurturing. we now say. its pride. his folk. of assimilation.
12 . Kill competition. father Of greed and unending strife.It takes a village It takes a village To raise a child Mother to tomorrow’s Village. It takes a village To heal broken accord Child to tomorrow’s War. It takes a village To raise a standard. It takes a village To plough the widow’s field So her children will not steal To live. life-blood To communal living. It takes a village To sow seeds of life Cooperation.
And blows in the national psyche deep. Deflecting unthinking rained-upon-me blows.A rock I am a rock Sturdy and strong. Daily. Deflecting blows. Don’t pick on me. I wage war. do not forget. I do battle. I am a rock Damn hardy. I dodge and run and flinch and smile. Were it not so. deep ingrained. Were it not so. The cracks you see are battle scars. 13 . And then you ask: Why do you bleed? I am a rock Sturdy and strong. my friend. Daily. I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. Daily. Don’t be so damned astounded.
2001 14 . In calm and in storm – unbowed. all eager hands Hands that never rest. Centre of its Very survival. This is the beginning. Tall she stands. Warm love on swaying hip. sun overhead. and stilling troubled Little hearts. Fetching. Smiling little ones by her side Busy shucking corn. Albofa Press. Honey-soft the touch of her hand. cooking. Nurturer of a Continent’s Tomorrow. this is the end – Carrier of Afrika’s Seed. washing. From Windows To The Soul: Photographs celebrating African Women by A. Olusegun Fayemi. Afrika’s Beacon Motherhood is her name.Motherhood Woman: Baby on back Smile on her face Why so intense. her gaze? Woman: Baby on breast Arms holding love Why’s fear gnawing at her heart? Out in the yard. mending. Life Song on sweet lip. from morn Till midnight.
The sentence. for our being. 15 .Being Because it pleases our Maker We have no choice In the fashion of our making. Is choice In the manner of our living.
It is not magic But should be magical. It is not real But must be realistic Which is why its flesh And bones are the Local and specific To say something Original and provocative About the larger condition of Frail humanity. often. Writing is not brutality But can be brutal.Writing Writing is not therapy But it could be therapeutic. 16 . is hellish. It is not hell Yet.
And the tranquil song of a grain of sand. the lightning. 17 . It is the fire That burns and scorches all. All – all still. Boundless. the world. The worlds all the mothers And fathers of your race remember That they have handed down through The blood in your veins. the ice That freezes the very breath and leaves All still. Greater than the sum of Your highest hopes. Beyond All you can conceive. It is the thunder. It is the loud bang that shook. And ceaselessly shakes. deep in your core. Timeless.Imagination Imagination is all the worlds that inhabit you The worlds that have swallowed you Since long before you were born. the hail.
very late at night. he reminded me For the third time that day. at least twice a day. very late at night. he reminded me How much he loved me – Very. late at night. sometimes. He worshipped the ground I walked on! Yes. A boiling pot on the stove And a man who told me.For Maria 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. and wiped free of meddlesome footprints Yes. When all the dishes were sparkling clean When the floor was swept free of all toys. with children and all. married. A roof over my head. very. 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. when the children were Fast asleep. sometimes. Dusted. how much 18 . 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.
I knew all there was to know about life. I watched it all – though. The fifth decade – there was no denying it – my children Were grown. Definitely. I sighed. they were my children. inside. I’d even made it. 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. from scratch. The seventh decade – I learned to live with loss A huge hole came to live in my heart But I learned to understand this: 19 . Now. at last. but they. sinful Delight.He loved me. blood. Amused. made subtly suggestive Gestures. myself Gave it flesh. and bone Knit it and bled it into being. My daughters. my God! Embarrassed. Oh. Yes. 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. The fourth decade – I watched my own children. Nurtured it to healthy maturity. and sprightly goings on. amused to see the pattern repeat itself. I remembered my own naïve assumption of My mother’s blindness. make goo-goo eyes at boys When they thought my eyes were closed My ears deaf as stone They whispered tingly secrets.
I suffer. 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. These are moments When I transcended the self and its Imperious demands. but I could not have asked for less. a long time ago. When I was for Another – whatever it was they needed 20 . those are the footsteps Love has made. Just look! How they truly no longer need me! The ninth decade – I will learn the meaning of hours For time is short. I see all those brilliant Moments in my life are moments of loving. therefore! The journey is definitely longer behind me The road ahead looks short indeed But. I suffer Greatly for I have greatly loved I am grateful for the love that was mine. I know. Mine has been a long life – rich in experience. But now. looking back. Look. Were my children I look at their clean noses and know I have lived a good life.The loss is as big as the love. Of giving to others. my heart lifts with joy as I see Footsteps painted a bright and Joyful gold! Without a doubt. each hour more precious.
Mother. or Stranger! Yes.To go one step forward: wife. Now. will you? 21 . a decent Human being. daughter. sister. neighbour. friend. I am eighty years old – I hope I still have Time enough to catch up! Pass me that damn bottle of wine. I can see: I have been a good citizen.
the dancing. Hunting. Ruthlessly To exterminate. rife and rude. The other. The joy in living was To their cold eye Something to stamp out Something to kill. and Naught they saw In all they surveyed. Condemned all they surveyed. With their Ways of doing things. To bring light They came and Naught they saw But indolence. Alive. Well. Building.They brought light To bring light Far they came. Well. The singing. ignorance and Superstition. Alive. Candidates For salvation. And Healing their ill. Birthing and marrying and Feasting and worshipping Their gods. To bring light. they came. 22 .
e. Pushing iingolovane Bodies steamy with sweat.Great is the white man! Great is the white man! Said our fathers. What wondrous wisdom To hail him you would kill! Translated from Xhosa saying Mdal’ umlungu (lit. i. Absent the mothers Left behind in the homeland Alone to plough barren fields Feet cracked hard by uncaring clods Great is the white man So said our fathers Cooling boiling blood Averting eye from war undeclared Seeing ingrained deceit. wise/great) 23 . Old is the white man. Opportunity denied.
Bound hand and bleeding foot. Give it a decade or two. then. punched. Then fast and full will questions flow… Why are they not making it? What’s holding them back. At last. Frozen my heart? Shall I with you a secret share? My biggest fear. Killed – in their millions and 24 . if that. Our cup truly overflowing? Why. raped.Fear of change April. and ravaged Every way you care to think. we join the rest of Progressive humanity! UHURU! INKULULEKO! KIKIKIKIKIKI! Shall we sing and dance. US of A! The world has a memory Swifter than a blink. fearing the terrific morrow: I have seen the Promised Land – Harlem. 1994 With bated breath. apartheid is gone! I have seen the thick-welted scars On people rudely plucked from hearth and Home. we wait. Kicked. what makes me Tremble. now? After all. am I not overjoyed.
And today. Never mind that On these people was performed a National lobotomy that has left them with No tongue of their own… No tongue To call Their own! 25 . those unlucky enough to Survive the gruesome plunder. By falling short of accepted Standards of civilisation.Dumped on icy wave. Quite human. Annoy the world by failing to be quite.
The silence. taught me only too Well. I am what I am for History deemed it. without role model To knit my wits to manhood No steps to follow. Married by law and Before the eyes of God White man’s law dictated Three weeks out of a year Enough time to spend with family. Your absence. Tata. your absence. Yes. for I learned a lot from Tata. bug-infested quarters. All through his working life Condemned to Single Men’s Barracks.The great learning The silence of absence Is a great teacher I should know. no man to shadow. I am! 26 . I am what I am through no fault Of yours. a heavy silence I grew up without solace Fatherless. Brainless brawn. I am what I am. to hew and till. Who was never there. His hands all that was desired.
In this new scene of initiation. cleansed and purified. Black bodies gleaming. Everywhere vermin suspected: On head. each man stands His cover alone. gleaming. Laughable almost. Men going for treatment. Under arms. Between legs. With powder. by present horror dimmed. a thousand strong. seemingly unbowed. Old and young alike. The men are dusted. Everywhere vermin lurked. A throng. the line shuffles. One by one 27 . Each man is dusted. his stifled feelings. Standing.Mine boys An inconvenience now. the train ride seems. all bare of clothing. Risk of illness diminished This is Company Policy: Maximise Investment Potential! The men are dusted. all in line. Alone. Forward. One by one The mine boys are dusted. This bizarre manner of induction. Naked as unpodded bean. Strong black bodies gleaming Defenceless as defanged snakes.
Excerpt from Penrose. Show anus free of white man’s germs.With sprayings of DDT. lift leg! High! High! Higher! Push out! Push out! PUSH OUT! Show anus free of precious stones. 28 . Naked they stand for search: Tawuza! High. a biography of the author’s father in verse. coming up from down under. And.
clearly. thin-lipped. black tie.The prize For some it’s easy For others not so For me it was Very difficult. What could tata do but Beg for time? And. it had not happened An extension. he asked your father: Do you eject Pepsi Cola into her vagina? She’s been here long enough! What could we do but smile. there you are! 29 . we hastened To beg the white man for more time. But five years into wifehood Belly flat as a starving bed bug’s Mother-in-law far from pleased Your father and I were desperate. at worst. But for me. we needed To the Pass Office. pink face Slit-eyed. White shirt. The law stated: Three months! Enough for wife’s visitation To get her belly pumped full And return to birth child in village. indeed. Treat insult as kindness or Joke. thus.
Laugh not at their plight. being so young Still in school. in grateful humility Accept the gift of wasted life Opportunities missed or unseen. Men paid peanuts by ruthless exploiters Who pick them up from the corners of roads Where they huddle in hopes of being picked Any day. Men with nowhere To go. for any thing Men whose hopes have long been dashed Men who live on the thin bread of ‘Things are So bad. they cannot but improve!’ Laugh not at their plight. unseized. Eyes widened. 30 .Men at the corner of the road From morning till evening They stand at the corners of nameless streets Men with nowhere to go Men running away from hunger at home Men who cannot bear the sight Of wives and children. someone who needs a pair of Hands to do what the absent worker can’t. belly extended. And shun it with all your might. you who still Have a tomorrow. Men who wait for Chance. all day long. by any one. Unrecognised. That is not the lesson. at all. But. waiting for food That never comes.
To go about her business Unhindered. fear. unafraid? 31 .Victims of an undeclared war In South Africa Woman lives under threat No less than if she Were in a war-zone. abuse At the hands of men Especially the men she loves. How long must she wait? When will her freedom come? Freedom to live free of fear. she is raped Daily she is robbed Daily she is murdered Daily she suffers humiliation And abuse of one or another kind. Daily. daily. she rises To face yet another day Of uncertainty. Embattled.
My employer. My butcher. My solicitor. what is my name? 32 . My taxi driver or My taxi owner. Answer me! Please. My friend. My sworn foe. My spiritual leader.World champions My son. My greengrocer. My teacher. answer me! If you are rape champions of the world. My President My Ambassador. My lover. My brother. My father. My Member of Parliament. My neighbour.
At the mercy of the Lords she raises Woman suffers rape And worse. At the hands of Princes professing undying love She dies. has Toiled unappreciated.Community building Lives there a woman Who is not a Community leader? Lives there a mother Who is not a Teacher? Lives there a girl Or woman who has Not suffered indignity? At the hands of the Other half of humanity. The time is now The time has come The army must rise To save all humanity. Woman has suffered. 33 .
She flees. Mama Afrika runs for life From her sons From her brothers From her father Marauding hordes after her. What is this war Men of Africa wage On Africa’s women? On Africa’s children? And we don’t call it by name! 34 .On the run Inspired by the photographs of UN photographer John Isaac Skin and bones Wrinkled skin But mostly bone On she crawls Snail’s pace She crawls In search of water In search of food In search of safety Warlords ejected her From home and the familiar.
Strides along the famished road. The corpses she’ll feed it behind her. the men Africa calls leaders.The leader Inspired by the photographs of UN photographer John Isaac Rake thin. Disciples going toward the Cross. 35 . Eye fixed on distant horizon. Pilate. this old woman At the head of a straggling line.
honest governments. 36 . rapists. brains residing below the navel.What Africa needs Africa needs teachers Africa needs fathers Africa needs mothers Africa needs children Africa needs doctors Africa needs nurses Africa needs farmers Africa needs miners Africa needs dancers Africa needs filmmakers Africa needs journalists Africa needs builders Africa needs welders Africa needs surveyors Africa needs bakers Africa needs fishermen Africa needs scientists Africa needs architects Africa needs photographers Africa needs rulers Africa needs singers Africa needs storytellers But. manywived vainglorious Men. Africa needs good. pimps. And what Africa does not need are killers! In all their manifold Guises: greedy power-mongers. above all.
37 . Then the question we must ask: What gives us the right To lay waste such bounty? How dare we kill Those gifts freely given? How dare we deprive The world of what It sorely needs? And then we have the nerve To bewail our sad fate When we steadfastly continue. talents.All are precious When we remember That each one of us comes to this earth A promise to the world A bundle of great gifts. Willfully. Seed of our own destruction. to denude ourselves Of the good God gives us. Nothing is superfluous The universe gives According to Earth’s needs The very least of these That we do not mind Is robbery of the granary.
In kinder climes. Instead. cleansed the land. and cold settled scores In winter. this sad bundle of bones you see Is all that remains of her. where rain came during The rainy season. Shed seed. lest we forget. having given fruit aplenty.Imperfect present This shallow grave you see Perhaps dug by the victim herself When she knew she must lay herself down And die in the ditch she’d dug with bare hands. rested the soil And blooms lay in wait for spring To awaken into gay and sprightly bloom And ripen in bounteousness in the autumn She would have lived to the summer of Her life and. This was somebody’s child. reaffirming life. all she gives us! 38 .
But then I hear of strife in schools Reflection. Kicking and even knifing. A mole among the human race. 39 . Or.On her blindness Often. worse still. Cursing and shoving and boxing. Shooting to kill! Then I see: How lucky. gateway to another’s slight. Then. and Perhaps hate to fill all my heart. of attitudes abroad. curse I out loud the gods For dealing me a fate so cruel: Neither colour nor shape do I perceive. I think of how dark is my life Deprived all day and night of light. How blessed. no doubt. Sight. to escape the terrible curse.
Apples Ripe and ready. frost And drought – so that it got The rosy cheek it boasts? So that. Not apples. apples At picking season. plump thighs Plucked them from home. Easy as apples from the tree Drop off into greedy basket Without one backward glance. Doesn’t the apple ever look back To the tree that gave it life Sustained it through gale. welcome The picker’s ensnaring hand. shiny cheeks Sweet lips. But these were fathers. full of juice. when Younger women boasting Fat. it now Attracts the picker’s lusting eye? 40 .
but if all the children are counted If all are held precious. confident in the knowledge of Her uncompromised childhood – A precious seed busy unfolding. assuredly. Then. or farm Has time and space and freedom To roam and wonder at nature Busy unfolding beneath her very feet. if each child can laugh. at time of ripening. our future is secure. unfurling As it should – To bear fruit bountiful. Each day. indeed. if they’re helped unfold the gifts They come to us bearing. If the child in slum or town or city Like the child in hamlet. village. shall the nation not perish. 41 . Then. but the future is secure If we will mind the young If we will count each child If the child who never saw her father If a child in the little village As well as the child in the big city Will have a roof over her head Food that supports health and growth Schooling that ensures her becoming Whatever she was meant to be. Never mind falling through. but the future is secure If each child will have enough adults Knitting their hands together tightly So she stands not a chance of seeing. Our house is on fire. Our house is on fire. any Crack.Our house is on fire Our house is on fire. is our future secure. Then.
frolicking like a lamb in spring. For my voice is but a whisper these days. Only last week. She. confirmed My suspicion: the stupid doctors erred. That red-hot blood runs in his veins. Let me look at you. Indeed. so pure of heart. When I heard I was ill. Was I strong as an ox. I was the last to believe And the mirror. Should I believe him? – I don’t feel that thin. my friend. indeed. my friend. come closer My eyesight fails.Speak. For it’s been a while. To end up dying of Aids when she didn’t have Half the fun – for that’s what we thought it was. But your eyes tell me this may. come in. Didn’t we. that wicked liar. Danai? Is that you. my friend? Come in. please do. Please. be so. stop that. bones! Is that you. I thought the rogues in league with my wife Who’d been at me to stop this. But what man’s man pays heed to such fluff? Poor dear. I see you start – the doctor says I’ve lost twenty kilos. of all the luck. Up and about. when all the time 42 . you know? Come nearer. it seems. old chap? Fun. All the things that tell a man he’s alive. Let me see you.
for sure. swift as the wind. strong as an ox… Remember that and go tell the world. I said you should come Not that I am a spectacle or to be pitied (How would that help me. The grass.We were running. of course – though only liquid and pulp Keep these bones alive. It does not Discriminate. this bag of bones. now?) 43 . beginning With your dear self: Aids kills. One and only one way is sure. when I heard you’d sent word. like a babe in arms. I said. knocks the socks off My feet! Futile tears just add to the pain. who used to eat raw meat. No trace of death in the blood. Have a whole chicken for a snack. a loaf of bread To accompany the miserable tidbit) It is far from baby pooh. Except. equal opportunity. Will feed on poisoned grass: Feed with no knowledge of doom. sweet as before. it’s the horror: He used to be a man. to the grave. that out of me flows. only one – Stay sure. The stench. so frail A breath can blow it clean away. O my friend. dry bones Reduced to wearing Pampers. by staying within a given range Stock that graze far and wide. Look at me now: wrinkled skin. all food too much for My poor body to digest – (I. Let him come. no trace. For if there’s anything you should take From this rubble. let him come – So you could see and learn. soon. with open arms. The embarrassment! I truly wish I were dead.
for the Incidental victims like my poor wife – Who suffer. of course. I’d tell her how sorry I am How sorry I am How sorry Sorry So so-ooOorryy! Oh. Go tell young and old to save themselves From a similar plight. If she could hear me If she were still alive My poor wife – the dear. through the selfish Careless. who die. my God! GOD! What have I done? What have I done! 44 . bear witness and henceforth shun Behaviour that has brought me to this state. Those who profess To love them. Out of range.But so I could mirror the folly of indiscretion And you. too By grazing only where they have Licence to graze. dear. unthinking. is Sure suicide. save each other. Except. stupid acts Of those They love.
Perhaps their coffins they’ll call castles The ant and worm their company. slaves who do their bidding. especially. Hurry! Go! Go! Go! Then go home.Please. busy at cat’s cradle Take photos of them naked and dancing in the rain Take photos of them fast asleep in their cozy beds Take photos of them in their school uniforms. easily as candlelight. Take photographs of the children Take photographs of them playing Take photographs of them crying Take photographs of them reading their best books Or doing their chores – but – Hurry! Hurry! Before it is too late. or ragged day dress. the young. But. gather your family and Take photographs of them all Especially the children. take photographs! Go to the nearest or cheapest electronic goods store And there. 45 . Your sons. buy cameras by the score. call sex with condoms Eating candy with the wrapper on. so fearless. their Sunday best. Hurry! Take photos of them all Before it is too late. please. Take photos of the children kneeling. Before it is too late Before all the children are gone – Before the promise that is their life Is snuffed. hurry and take photos of the children.
perhaps with a Young one and another on the way. Men who escaped the meaning of the passage of the years. Cold is a photo. went to school – some. Are long dead. Take photos. forget morality! Doomed. from the ground. for tomorrow they will be gone. small comfort is a picture. sprouting. But. I know. and put them on the walls So the image of the dear face will forever live on. at best. 46 . before the young perish to the very last. To such souls. A photo does not laugh. respectable. Take photos! Take photos of the children… Children who will not see thirty. before all the children are gone. But escaped the meaning of Social Responsibility. craven images of humanity. take photographs. and tell the children why – Take photos. respect. by the plague that comes with love. Before our tomorrow is no more – Halved. it will not go to the shop for you Or be solace in your old age. take photos. Children who will never…grow…old. Take photographs! Take photographs. respectability. Please. take photographs! Take photographs So on birthdays and other days of remembrance You can point to the picture on the wall and say – Vusi would’ve been thirty today. The feet and inches.Please. hurry! Take photographs of all the children. Who shot up. now! Take photos. from it comes not warmth nor smile nor hug. despicable. your son or daughter gone. Helped by the children who will not believe their Dying – and men whose bones grew ever up.
never to remember The smile of a mother. Always at the ready to tear me apart. what I do? What heart sings at my success? Who dies when I bleed. never to mend. Before this huge hole appeared. never remember The days of sufficiency When the world was complete. Never. undone. weeps because I’m ill? Who loses sleep over my distress? Catches fire. really care. to be an orphan To never know. So the world remained forever after A terribly wounded beast that never could heal. Before the great plague came And stole parents from children. Never ever to be done! And all that loving of children Children who grow up bereft Stricken. but never. but kindly still.Song of the orphan Never to know. So I can smile? 47 . never would the world Be good again. disapproving Yes. wavering in his love. A lacuna where parents would have stood The things they would have done. never to go away. for having to go through life Flying with broken wing. kindly. Slays dragons. It’s the hardest thing. Or the frown of a father. at some silly thing You and only you could have done. Never to fill. strongly. Fords deep rivers. Does anyone care.
the number and order. you call yourself! Reckless sperm-spewer. this is My daughter/son! Beats me How you keep track of All these children’s names when You hardly see them Never feed them Seldom soothe their cares away. I’d ask Ngowesingaphi ke lo? Die hoeveelste een is die? I’d ask In Afrikaans. ma’an. I believe A more apt epithet For such brainless breeders. I can’t be Bothered any more Don’t tell me. I wince each time you Open your buck-toothed mouth Announce: Sisi.Poem to a brother Language fails me In our mother tongue. But in English I’m plain tongue-tied Trying to fashion a simple Question that would elicit The numeral. But. Telling me of your profane fecundity. do not introduce me To one more brat that has Sprung from your unbridled loins. Father. 48 .
49 . unthinking veldt.Men who spit seed with the Reckless abandon of dogs Pissing against unnamed street Poles or on random tufts of grass Out on the unfeeling.
The rooster doesn’t crow. as if by some secret signal. All is quiet. 50 . And. The hens don’t cackle. In this place. The sun at noon Makes the rondavel Cast no shade. nothing moves. God must be doing stocktaking For His world to stand so still.Noon. in the village So still it is here. Everyone’s indoors.
Foreign Aid Big man President Grins and grovels Sells our coffee for a song To get World Bank money. Foreign Aid Buys our country nothing Gives our children less This Dollar Democracy Sure is expensive.Foreign Aid Foreign Aid Comes to my country Takes a U-turn Goes back whence it came. 51 .
you who live Look. above all. But.The sermon of the bones If you are reading this note That can only mean you live. let there be love So that all things good may grow. 52 . STOP the killing! Men of Africa. Look! Look and say ENOUGH! Do not bequeath this ugly legacy To your children and theirs. and do what I can’t: Make a difference in the world Work day and night Evil such as what brought me To this place of death. Your eyes have light. as I lay myself down to die Under the weeping African skies Is that my bones speak in voice Loud and clear. Look then. My prayer. to stop. Men of Africa. STOP the killing! Let Africa be home to love Let understanding and respect thrive. Mine sealed in death. Loud and clear For the men of Africa to heed. Mine preceded me to the grave.
An abomination.In this second between living And dying A blinding clarity is mine Perfect understanding engulfs me The root cause of Africa’s wars Of its famines. Africa’s people live in dire fear Of Africa’s governments. one and all. a travesty of justice: It is the government who should live In fear of the people. for the people Are the real seat of power! 53 . its endless strife: Manifold cowardice.
A war picture For John Isaac Sent to take photos Record the carnage Preserve it for posterity He came back. There is no picture of the Picture that undid him: Baby suckling on breast Mother – long. heart hollowed. long dead. 54 .
with nothing to show All my little life. when Appended to that was the other epithet: Wife! Thank God. to soothe them From the teacher’s unforgiving lash. he left. all I was Expected to be was Mother! I suppose it made some sense.Spectre of zero expectations Six years. soon thereafter. I bloomed! 55 . I’d left school Six years. all I was. But now. Soon. misgiving flowered. And. since I could count There’d been an “Excellent!” or some such To mark the harvest of the year’s Swotting over books and rubbing Smarting hands.
we will well afford it! I want to make you happy. You know.A good woman I said so yesterday. that is all I want! Just tell me – please. And I say so today: “I love you! To me. of course! [there’s cleaning and cooking to do!] With the extra cash. tell me. I’ll say so tomorrow. what is it you want? 56 . so miserably? What do you see in this one? What’s the story. What I wish you’d let me know. is it my hair? Shall I go into braids – or do you prefer a wig? Shall I go blond? Blondes are much fun in bed. I’m told! Is it my cooking? Have I been remiss in the kitchen? Is it the flab – my midriff’s no longer washboard hard! I’ll get implants – the dentures [yours and mine] do get in the way of play! That Porsche you’ve been talking of – I’ll get a second job. last time? Darling. you are life itself!” Don’t you understand? Can’t you see it. now? You promised me – remember what you said. I’m so sorry…I’ll never put you through this again! Am I too short? Am I too tall? Or. part-time. Is how do I fail you…and do so. at all? “I love you and always will!” What I don’t understand.
God. I wonder why. listen to me grovel at the stinking feet of a fool! I’m a good woman. I know me and I love me just as I am. But you turn a deaf ear to all my entreaties. you. Know what? It makes me just as sick. another should come my way. can’t you see – How much I do love you? I am a good woman. au revoir! I bequeath you to your newest love I can think of no sweeter revenge than to let her keep you. and the best lover I have found! All along I have known what great heart beats beneath this breast. if truth be known. Never again will I waste my gifts on a confused mess of a man.And I promise you. for failing to see what’s so plain to see. tell me…What in the world Do you want? Don’t you see. please. I will shower myself with love of self. you know! Let me help you fight all this temptation So we can live in peace from this day and on. But now. Just tell me. That love will just have to stand in line Behind my love of Me! 57 . in next to no time. From now on. I’m a good woman. you say that yourself. all my selfless giving. my life to live with love at last. I sally forth. Clearly. fool. my sacrifice and My forgiving nature makes you sick to the core. do I see. Unencumbered. And if in time. I’ll be all that! I’m a good woman.
one already gone.A mother remembers See those mounds At the far corner of the garden Those are my children Lying buried there. they want for naught. but I have Memory of faces. each year he came All the holiday due to such as him He sent all the money he earned But poverty was far stronger. Five in a row Three girls. which he has not. Your father never saw them I have my memories Every time he returned to Plant one. 58 . two boys Such dear little ones. At least. Three weeks. Yes. He only has names that came in letters Announcing births and passings. bigger. my heart is heavy. Now.
I write so that the tale of the hunt May be heard also. And my people. will that story Be anywhere near complete… 59 . from the mouth of The hunted. For centuries. I write so that children who look like me In my country. May see someone who looks like them Do this thing that has for so long Not belonged to us. the hated of this world For only then. dispersed Throughout the world.Statement I come to writing with no great learning Except my life and the lives of the people Of whom I am a part. Others have written about us I write to change that Instead of moaning about it.
Why I write I write because I cannot sing. 60 . I write because I have lived Have loved Have seen what I have seen Experienced what I have Heard tales of terror. of torture Witnessed the savagery of man I write so that my children’s Children will also hear from me So that the story of our past And the story of the pass Will be told also by those Who lived and carried that shame I write to leave footprints To say: I have been Have lived This is who I am Who I was Who I have been And so I write.
Mama!” clapping his hands The vendor hailed us. with the insult Struck us dumb. 61 . the right thing to do. took pity On him. we recovered Politically correct. rooted to the spot. Our money into our brother’s Hand to place. So.Madam. To remedy the deficiency. hang the white shops! “Yes. who’d had no education. no! For such sophisticates Fruit and milk. But. Oh. to the fruit vendor we sauntered Instead of the already far-too-fatcat shop owners on the Main Road Determined. let me frankly tell you Fully did we a ‘Merrem’ expect. quietly we Asked: Why do you always call us ‘Mama’? And here. Straight for the vendor made we. Moreover. things all healthy. this being the time of Black Consciousness Good and proper did it seem To support the brother at the corner. please! Three of us Thinking ourselves Grand and fine And everything that is good Went up the street to get lunch Not vetkoek or chiproll today. no less. quickly.
began my education: ‘Merrem’. Let me be reasonable: Mama is as far as he will go. preserved Missus. poor man already a rung Had climbed. let me not expect too much. Call me Madam.Man nearly had a coronary “What?” he shrieked. already virtuous at the promotion He has afforded the likes of me. why. if he deigned promote me From kaffir. to women of his own class and hew But me. please. Decency made him refrain From that. I am not your Mama! 62 . As far as he can go. poor me. Why am I not grateful? Because I want Merrem. Lord. for white women. “You think I can say ‘Missus!’ to you?” And thus. showing All his toothless gums to boot. right up there with the white woman. But.
the picture Brought to mind the tugging Of a ravenous mouth. At once. I deserve some Respect for my part in Nurturing life! 63 . So what if my tits Hang till they kiss the Navel. Eating yoghurt From the tub Some dropped and Landed on the areola Of my left breast.Done did my bit Today. down south? Damn. I sat naked.
dry pit.Picture perfect Inspired by the photographs of UN photographer John Isaac The picture says it all You barely see her Only head and shoulders peep The rest of her deep in pit Deep in the dry. Chucking out desert sand Dug up with bare hands Under the blazing sun. She digs. 64 . on and on In vain pursuit of water. Digs Till She’s Totally out of sight Deep in the hole Looking for a drop of Water.
Of a morning I could have done my nails Changed my hair style Gone for a stroll in the mall Instead. 65 . I wrote a poem on hunger. with these wounding visual cues Men standing at street corners Desperate bodies emaciated Haunted-animal look in eye.
speared and lanced Bit and clawed and kicked and butted Forgetting the very simple fact: Indivisible. I will not have it! I’m sure I am much better without. butchering itself With sharp tongue. Yes. Have you ever? With the eye.The revolution within ‘Damn this blight!’ The body said. Angrily flagellated each part That Time’s wear and tear entertained. Away it flayed and sliced. 66 . I will show it. it slashed itself. What’s this now? What’s with the accursed leg? Why then. The right eye’s gone bad on me. one and ever one Is this body-corporate we call society. should I a scapel get? Rid myself of this new affront? This abomination? This…this…this Ungrateful limb that’s turned against me? And so the besieged body went Hacking away. I will! Where’s my well-sharpened knife? Or. I thought All that was done.
Freedom I will be free But long lines once Every five years or so Are not my goal. From crunching debt. Taller still to stretch Till by sheer force of unquenchable will Yesterday’s shadow. For this. Blind-alley education. I will be free. From hunger and joblessness From living in fire traps Overrepresentation in all Diseases of chance From early graves for my Little ones. Diminishing dreams. down the cliff I drive 67 . From shrinking Life path – forth shall I burst Brimming with zest – ready and eager Tall to stand. Yes. I will be free! Oh. Inescapable welfare Sapping what little remains Of my self-respect. I know. I know. toothlessness For my aged mothers. I will be free From fear From hunger From want Of every kind. I will be free. thousands died. My hat I humbly doff For this sacred sacrifice. yes.
in deepest sea I drown To arise insistent Unpushdownable as the rising morn I will be free I will be free! Oh.Yesterday’s sorrow. yes! Yes! I will be free! 68 .
Hands off my brain!
Lure me not into your Black Studies Department Where I will learn of your Interpretation of the meaning Of my existence. Not so soon. Not so soon. Not when I can still smell My blood on your knuckles. Lure me not into your fine Institutions. The knowledge of my hurt; The bleedings from the beatings The losses, the deaths, the decay Of my institutions – all these sorrows Are branded deep in my psyche. You trampled on my dreams; Sowed sorrow in my soul; Tore my whole world to shreds. But my spirit has survived; And I will teach you The meaning of my existence. Lure me not into your fine institutions; My very living is university par excellence. I have overcome slavery, apartheid, and wholesale Plunder at your hand. Let me tell the story – I, who have lived it, know it best.
Do not, for a minute, believe the hype; The revolution is far from over. You still have a role to play Not on the battlefield but in your Home and in your community. Perhaps, the greatest contribution You can make is: Love the mother Of your children. Love her! The revolution is far from over; Rest not on your laurels, let not your Guard down. Our numbers are our Greatest strength. Killing a sister helps The other side. Not guns against the enemy But love among ourselves Today, this is the weapon black people Everywhere must wield: Love! Love of self In total community!
No name No headstone No grave You never lived. Nine months, though, You did Inside my womb. You smiled You tossed You fed Inside my womb My womb Arid desert Had naught to give You persevered. You fought for the right To be born and see the light To live To grow. My womb Microcosm of my world Slowly executed you Brave frail warrior.
We knit your bones From fibre of my teeth Nine months, side by side Valiantly we fought. I have no teeth You have no name There is no headstone No grave.
To lovers past
Like the tender shoot of young corn All I ever needed was the water of your smile And the strong, sure sun of your soul. I came into the world already armed With the impetus to become, to be. I am the rich soil, the good earth The loam of everlasting, never-ending time The essence of all living. I am life! All I ever needed, was the water of Your smile.
74 .The taste of change Mandela in jail No milk in my bottle Mother at work I hungry De Klerk free Mandela No milk in my bottle Father at work I sick Mandela meet De Klerk People clap and dance Rain come through my roof I cold Change on every lip Father mother work Me and thousand others We die.
Grow and infest us all Drive out all the evil which abounds Grow here and there and everywhere Sprout and spread.A wish Grow. thicken and quicken Spread far and wide like the plague. 75 . good things. grow! Grow and fill the land Mushroom and bloom and spread Infect us all.
And we will tell stories Of our living. our loving – The dreams of our youth And the folly of our old age The nightmares we witnessed Parading around pretending To be reality… 76 .A promise We shall live to be old You and I.
77 . easy sameness Set against soft rounded hills Green-gray-brown mountains All exuding an air of Profound serenity.The village Somehow it seems preordained This symmetry of round huts Muted shades of mud gray And thatch.
Our thanks The highest form of thanks Our highest tribute to Nature For her boundless bounty Is to leave her seeming As though we have not been. 78 .
There is time in the village. people of soft-spoken Words. But of an ordinary day. and all know When to do what. There is time in the village. complete. It sets the pace by which people live. 79 . keening. in death. just as though A day were a season. Rushing and loudness foreign. Chaos clashes with mud living. God’s sun watches over all It is the watch of all in the village By the rise and setting of that sun The village orders its day. Time for day’s chores Is ordered. sustained tenderness shrouded In lingering shy smiles that reach deep into eye.Village time There is time in the village. ululation. Where few have watches. as the sun Journeys across broad blue sky Seemingly effortless are the ways Of village folk. Swift movement is foreign Like loud voices unless called for In joy.
za .co.book.Other poetry titles by Modjaji Books by Megan Hall by Azila Talit Reisenberger by Joan Metelerkamp by Fiona Zerbst by Helen Moffett Fourth Child Life in Translation Burnt Offering Oleander Strange Fruit Invisible Earthquake A Mother’s Journal Through Stillbirth (Poetic Memoir) by Malika Ndlovu http:/ /modjaji.
Sindiwe Magona’s poems conspi re with her. Even years after being written. and it is thi s residue of her telling them that draws you into their conﬁdence. Please. Please. and been. From the languid inn ocence of the poems about her village. ISBN 978-0-9802729-5-6 978 0 9802729 5 6 . Magon a leads you headlong into her ﬁreside circ le where archetypes ﬂicker like shadows on a face that has seen. memoir. to her shattering images of Africa at war. novels. the y still seem warm from her lips. horriﬁc and homely. essays. Take Photographs is her ﬁrst collection of poetry. Take Photographs is deﬁant and tender. educational books for children and poetry. SINDIWE MAGONA is a multi-award winning author of plays. at once irreverent. outspoken and bea utiful.
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