16 October 2018

Six November, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

The line is long; in it people have been here waiting
behind an old man who arrived before them,
his sponge mattress still flattened near the door,
a door like no other. Nothing is new, a snake so long,
as when South Africa queued to quell itself those many
years ago, waited to cut its own head off with a panga
for the first time after years and years of venom.
Not knowing that its head will sprout back each time
more determined than ever. And it is cold out here
at this time of the year but you don’t care at all,
and maybe it is all the better because no one will go
to no beach, to no picnic in the park, but will be here
standing in unison with their bredren before this entrée,
which is like no other, with their minds all made
about which part of the snake to cut and remove.
On this day in 1806, a line extended from this booth
to every other end of town, and Lincoln was elected.

Do you feel like an extension of those four hundred
and twelve score years and four days ago… similar
to the way you were attached to your mother before
birth, and yearn for the comfort of her still, for her cord
that fed you, for the birth waters you swam in?
Or is it 1996 and Bill is blowing a sax in a black suit
and dark sun shades, before the scandal that led
to his impeachment for sex in the White House?
Whichever one, however the one you feel like,
times were different then, but not the day, which is
today: six days into the eleventh month of three
hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days. You
are at that mirror of your life, looking at how best
not to scowl, and trying not to shout Oh me, oh my!
to the little delicate lady with her midnight bags,
or to someone who's trying to get off the pavement
to find their name, and give fresh meaning to it.

10 October 2018

Family reunion, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

In the afternoon I gather fruit that drops
from our tree; the peach I pick for dad
breaks in my hand and bleeds over my fingers
because it’s ripe and sallow, like bushman skin
under the sun of Taung. I pluck one for mum
from a low-hanging branch, and put it
in a different basket, for it’s still firm.
I’ll put it in a bowl on the kitchen table
and watch as it ripens. Siblings fall
from other trees that a breeze stirs:
this weekend we’re having a reunion.
Cousins too, their apricots and prunes
and marete-a-makula touch and kiss
as I carry the heavy baskets to the house,
after which I proceed to shave and shower,
put on a clean shirt. There are friends
already in the house, from Ha-Tšiu outside
town, and from as far as Bloemfontein.
I knot my tie, fix my hair with a ’fro comb
dad never let us use. The mirror smiles.
I rub my eyes, dad is staring back at me.

Mum & Dad
Poem from 'Letter to country'
Canopic Publishing, 2016

The trouble with country, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

They inhabit dreams, at night always and on
into day, have severed their cord with earth,
the need for people, preferring to drift alone.
Sunlight avoids their faces. Something deep-intense
hangs above their heads to stir their senses,
but there’s no reaction when their knees are knocked;
they wander in themselves; walk where the rush goes
that drives their lives; and they have broken the record
of age like old timers under a village tree. Outside
is nature, forested, sap-ful, black in its posture.
Horny fish swim up a brook as kids in water,
here, outside; the walls are painted with fornication,
which is the religion, our eyeful is not yet blasé, wind
flies lovebirds from bush to bush. Inside… no craft:
they prefer the life the coloniser made, and left. They,
dead inside, are the motherfuckers of the world.

Rethabile Masilo’s poetry wanders across continents from Lesotho in southern Africa to America to Europe to elsewhere. It is restless, seeking the meaning of his ties to kin and homeland, seeking his place as a son, a father, a lover and then husband. This is the poetry of a man who has seen much and kept his ear open, curious for the texture and weight of words.

—David Barnes, poet and founder-curator of Spoken Word Paris

Rethabile Masilo poem book Letter to Country
Canopic Publishing

8 October 2018

My father's killers, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

They take to the road at midnight, and turn
Toward land that by right we plough and turn.

Their dark convoy passes white-washed houses.
A brake light: the bakkies slow down, and turn.

They park at right angles to the street,
To light the yard: it's daddy's day and turn.

They have come on a crisp September night
To blight us, make our season change and turn.

The moon shimmers its flashlight on a blade
While, from a height, the planets spin and turn.


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