it hungers like a kiln
it is the heat of darkness so total
it shines bright like the sun
it is the wisdom of ages
by the recklessness of youth
it fears and celebrates itself
i hunger to return
kick her husbands teeth out they fell from his mouth like chiclets on a night like this she snapped like a dry stick she struck quick as lightning a ruthless cobra stretching the full length of her body and he never saw it coming but i did it didnt surprise me
it was her it was she who convinced me to write all those poems about my african experience the snapshots of love and life and death and terror and i can still feel her samson hands gripping my wrists the horror of it splashed across her face good god...why havent you written about it
Means gracefulness dancing barefoot in the sun, proud ancient wisdom, beaded weapons, assegais, shields and knopkerries, floors of dirt and disease lack of food and water lack of healing, a sharing of clothing and borrowed shoes for generations to come.
A remnant of old experiment a token of old fears remembered in my hand Paul Kruger the first President on the front A springbok on the back Suid Afrika it says 1967 soli deo gloria still smooth and ominous
(a brief history of the Monkey-Bread Tree) Legend has it That when Arabs chanced upon you Acting very unlike a tree, Dancing up dust, Blushing whimsical lust Shining In the huge white flowers That rushed to embrace the moon, You know the game was up. And soon it came to pass. The Arabs harassed you And conjured up a devil Who plucked you from the ground, Turned you upside down And thrust your branches in to the earth, Leaving only the roots exposed. I suppose this explains Your curious ancient repose, The rows of gourd like, woody fruit Grown pleasantly round from acid seeds, The vegetable leaves thrown wild To the ground by the African breeze, But mostly, A trunk grossly swollen Out of all proportion, By a thousand years of branches Groping about Growing stout Shouting from the inside out.
(on a sunny day) The world seems an endless array Of silent shafts of light dismayed And uncertain in their sense if direction. But I am above this confusion now And can spray the light wherever I may: down on the old fort in Cape Town proper or on the maze of spiked ships in Table Bay (distant twinkles from the eastern ledge). or from the northern edge to bright forests leading into suburbs a vague as the vineyards, even south where Devil’s Peak become streaked in shadows of stray sunlight from the Atlantic, and facing west the Twelve Apostles begin to glow like towering citadels reflecting down on Camps Bay my school near Strathmore Road and my house where later I will be flayed by the light myself.
A leopard was here tonight, they say Growling iridescent eyes Prowling around our camp, Floating like fire-flies Through the pitch black night. A chilling sight, they say. And feeling wise, Full of adventure, Smug from the venture of the day We hug the chain-link fence. Reel on the brink of suspense And peel our eyes To peer into the darkness, But we see nothing. We hear nothing. Nothing convinces us to fear What we cannot hear or see, So we walk along the fence As silent as the absence Of the stalker. Suddenly one fence becomes two, And the darkness becomes An odd hallway through which we walk And talk of the reasons for two When two suddenly become one again. And now reason is beyond talking, And no longer wasted on us. We are outside the camp and we know it, We show it in our hastened retreat, Our fleet footed heat back to camp. And we know that he’s there. We know it. We see and hear him everywhere; in the trees crowding to surround us, on our tails, in the loud wail of the wind around us, right where the sway of the fence ends, laying in wait behind that bush we can’t see but know is there. That’s where he is we know it. Under our car, we know it; not far behind us as we reach for our door, behind the door, on the floor, under the beds. We’re sure of it. We’re dead for sure and we know it.
My girl doesn’t clean the toilet, The sink, the bath, the floors Or this wood paneling Like a good maid should. She doesn’t seem to care That dust lays about my house Like it hasn’t been cleaned at all. I try to be patient and explain That thing must be very clean But I don’t think she understands. It’s so hard to find good help. I hate to wonder What her home looks like. She’s lucky that I keep her. My madam has a beautiful home, Fine furniture, nice pots And running water, more clothes Than I have ever seen at once (except in stores) and many Large rooms for her small family, Rooms with many pretty pictures That hang on the huge walls, Rooms larger than my entire house And real floors, not dirt. She tells me I must clean very well Like a good maid should But everything is already clean, So I pretend to clean again. She’s very lucky To have such a nice home.
My girl steals porridge, meat, Flour and sometimes fruit From our trees in the garden. I don’t know why she steals When I give her extra food From our plates after supper To take home to her family. I try to be patient and explain That stealing is wrong But I don’t think she understands. It’s so hard to find good help. I hate to wonder What else she steals when I’m gone. She’s lucky that I keep her. My madam always has so much food. Plenty of canned goods, flour, Meat pies and deserts, much more Than I think her small family Could eat in a whole year. Sometimes she lets me take home The leftover food I cook for them Or bones to make soup But it is not enough to feed My family and cousins, Who cannot find work in the city Because their passes are not in order. Sometimes I must steal extra To keep my family from starving. She’s very lucky To have so much to eat.
Sometimes my girl doesn’t show up For two or three days in a row And I become very upset. I don’t like to be without help.
Sometimes my madam is upset when I cannot work for a day or two, But I must hide my husband and Cousins when police raid my town. Sometimes I think my girl Doesn’t bath herself at all. Sometime I think my madam Must wash herself many times a day. My girl is very lucky to work here. My madam is very lucky to be White.
Dragging blue skin through blue water, Chilled to teeth chattering bone, We keep an angry eye out For the tell tale dorsal fin Or swiftly swimming shadows, We squeeze through the Atlantic Hungry for the drifting boat
Unimpressed with clever chase, Graceful lunges and wild cat pirouettes Blurred by the pace of the hunt, The king of the beasts rests (like a true leader) weary And tense under a Knobthorn tree, While his lionesses shop the veldt To bring his dinner down. He was born to these hunts A cocky young cub electric and fluid, Snubbed by his menacing pride And left to his own devices To learn the taste of his fate, To flaunt his scars like a fighter should. But he’s as old as the sun in his eyes now And eager for a fitful feast, Because he knows... (like vultures onto scent) There are bold young hopefuls nearby, Hungry for the kill, for first tights, Sharpening their virgin claws And watching his every move. He will need all the strength and tricks experience can muster From his flustered old bones To keep his throne for another day.
Twirling about in dizzy flight Claws biting flesh like switch blades, The old king and his challenger Fight Back off Parade back and forth Adn circle, Their tails as angry as whips. Roars attack the untamed silence And shudder across the veldt Demanding attention Like gunshots at night. And every living thing knows There is a new threat in town, The wind doesn’t blow quite the same, Something’s changed... A strong young killer first cut Is staking his claim And taking the old one down.
on Johannesburg Don’t forget the hunger Silently humming underground Like a rash Violently drumming beneath city street. Don’t forget the young And the old crying in mines, Sold for white man’s gold, Bound and determined To die for a thread of respect Or simply for bread. Don’t forget the thunder Of a thousand Zulu feet Dancing their blood down, Flooding downtown, Pitch-black-brown waves crashing Thrashing around white man’s door, Cracking the concrete floor. Don’t forget to wonder, To suspect of An error in white man’s plunder.
Snookered in Johannesburg AT 132 Market Street, Beaten by the bitter-sweet heat Or scotch whisky neat, They’re discreet here and I’m grateful for this Treatment of boys at fourteen. The place is not clean But it’s fun! I mean it’s Nothing like the under-age clubs Overdone with snobbery In Pretoria. It’s just that They speak English here and will Serve us whisky, wine and beer. The leave us to cheer and holler And drink to our clever deception. They’ll not bother with us, because I think they too were once boys. But always too soon (it seems) It’s time to leave the saloon And weave back to the train station. Entertaining lame excuses for Possibly arriving home to late To be ‘just out of school’. As a rule, parents might find out (sometimes they do) but we’ll Play stupid (thinking to fool them) Or maybe just be cool and pout.
It’s clean up time But dad and I don’t mind. We find leftover firecrackers And powder to make cannons, Or blast coffee cans As high as we can. We plan to swipe a lead pipe, Pack it with powder And heavy duty bolts, The shoot out the windows Of the abandoned bus Behind our house. And when dad goes back to work, I want to blow the hoods Off the cars out back. The ones I’ve tried To pry open, but can’t. I want to see If there are engines inside.
Whatever happened to the deafening crack of endless nights, Hot thundering starlight singeing my eyes? You say the sky is too quiet here, Blurred by pollution and too many people, And Orion is mute. Of what use are the skyscrapers And pitiful zoos of America to me, Having pressed my face to African soil And tasted the boiling beat of deserted beaches?
I am the black iron pot bringing hot scalding resentment and pent up anger to a boil. I lay sprawled and writhing, scorched beyond reason an open sore festering across the veld between Johannesburg and Jan Smuts. I hold my swarming millions like common flies by the throat and crush them at will. I have no conscience. I starve my children and burn their schools. I incite petty quarrel and riot. I am swart gevaar (brawling black peril) the stool flushed down the great white toilet, the sewer of Africa. I am murder. I rape, I am shameless. I hate I am Soweto.
The boy pretends he doesn’t notice The hatred in your voice, the fear Ripe in your eyes like choice fruit. He pretends that his fate suits him. He makes believe he’s been deceived By your talk of friendship in the end. He calls you ‘master’ and is relieved That you don’t notice his disbelief. He pretends that he likes you too, But deep in his soul, he’s incognito And anxious to creep away unnoticed, To have nothing to do with you.
Vervet monkeys wail and cackle As they fling their small furry bodies Back and forth in the graceful tree, Black hands clinging to rough gray bark, Black faces laughing, eyes wide and giddy From the perfumed pea-like yellow flowers. But they don’t notice the patient python Blending in with the dark gray branches A thin beam of elastic shadow reaching, Gingerly creeping from limb to limb, Stretching for the favored little prey With the tasty bright blue neon balls
It was very hot And it’s not the first time this year That we’ve seen such mean heat. It lit up the sky for miles around, gave it a bright orange and yellow glow, And it very nearly caught The trees in the driveway on fire, But my father and the natives Tired it out. Fire fighters even came. We feel lucky, because It’s very dry here this time of year. But there’s nothing to fear now, Except the snakes Flushed out Bound to take the shortest way down, Toward us Away from the hot ground.
an Afrikaaner’s point of view What you say is true, We took this land from the Bantu. In return, We let them live Just beyond our thriving cities, So that they might learn our ways. We give them jobs, Because we must have servants To keep our houses And mind our meals. We find it a pity That they feel deprived and yearn to be free of us, But it does not matter.
Hot afternoons are opportune To fondle plump lemons the size of grapefruit, To pierce the thick skin grown tough like years of sour regret, To sink the teeth deep suck the juice out slowly squeeze and believe the juice is so very sweet like poetry powerfully sweet, To swallow the seeds.
(Johannesburg to Cape Town) for Anna The best in the world, they say And it’s true The Blue Train is special, Like a first kiss. Picture a windowed mansion Whisked brashly down the line Tailing a quick ocean scent. Sailing through the vineyards Intent on a smooth ride. But they’ll hide you (we both know they will) On another train As if to blame black pride For your ties to this ripe county. So your time must be spent Sitting up a straight 24 hour ride Unable to lay down for sleep. Frustrated and hunger, Keeping track of the reasons Why you cannot ride with us.
(in memory of Ruth First- killed by a letter-bomb in 1982 while in Mozambique) Of one mind, one spirit, They called you a traitor An uppity bold white woman Kind enough, but ripe for the fall. So they stalled for time And confined you under ‘section 6’ Behind their cold prison walls. and they said that the halls Must be silent in your presence And sent agents to correct you, To sway the error of your ways. But your way was to deny them Their pleasure, to fight and to die By the tethered voice of your conscience. Your choice was clear; no tears, No nonsense, no fear Just years of rough weather, Tough jailors turning questions Until finally An answer to your challenge A surprise disguised as mail, And no chance to turn away.
at Blood River (so named after the defeat of 16,000 Zulu impis on Sunday, December 16, 1838) It must be here
at the foot of Vegkop
that blood poured the reddest.
I can feel it in the sickly motion
of water flowing thick against the grain.
And it must be here
near the banks of the Ncome
that the hands of fate
lunged for the throat of a nation
proud in its African blood
and slated a war the natives couldn’t win.
It must be here
that white men finally
rushed the great tide,
crushed the Zulu pride,
thought up a disease called Apartheid
and flushed it across the countryside.
Apartheid is a slow child Winded By the frantic pace of life, Dimwitted and abused Confused by the graceful space Between wrong and right, Outwitted by strife. An only child Riled Accused of too much, Mild-mannered When it pleases new friends But reluctant To give up toys for them. A child Out of touch Out of luck, Stuck in the mud Like a whale Beached beyond reach Of the ocean’s pale love.
"Here is South Africa. Dark and random and dangerous and interesting and vital and warm and amusing and strange. How could anyone not love it?" - Candy Tothill
In memory of Stephen Biko
"How can people be prepared to put up a resistance against their overall oppression if in their individual situations, they cannot insist on the observance of their manhood? This is a question that often occurs to overseas visitors who are perceptive enough to realize that all is not well in the land of sunshine and milk."
Stephen Biko writing as Frank Talk/ I write what I like: Fear - an important determinant in South African politics