22 June 2020

Open letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook,

My name is Rethabile Masilo. I am a poet and a language instructor from Lesotho, although today I live in France, with a prior five-year scholarly stint in the USA, at Maryville College in Tennessee. I have had four poetry books published as well as two poetry anthologies. Poetry came to me when I was but a teen, in the seventies. It took me over when I was in America, in exile, in the early eighties, because of at least two reasons. One, I used it to expunge my experience of political violence in Lesotho, when my family lost a son, at seventeen, and a nephew, at three. The latter during a government attack on our home to kill our father, who could not hold back from criticising a government that was illegitimate and brutal.

After the attack there was only one solution left to us: flee. And we fled. Since Lesotho is landlocked but also surrounded by only one country, the then Apartheid South Africa, we found ourselves in that country. Despite our valid documents, we were one day picked up by South African police over the indecent Pass Laws the country had at that time, and we were jailed. It is not necessary to describe the ordeal in detail. What is important is the fact that we learned and experienced first-hand what real racism tasted like. It is bitter. There was torture and dehumanisation. But we got out, and ended up in Kenya, where we were welcomed generously.

That’s when my sister and I left for America to further our varsity studies. I stayed there for five years and she for four, for she moved to a Canadian school due to her specialty. I moved to Paris for other reasons and have been in France for 33 years today. Poetry has been one of the reasons my sanity has remained intact. It has been a safety valve.

I write poems that speak to me, and me is a person who is unable to bear discrimination, whether it manifests itself in the form of racism, or misogyny, or religious and sexual phobias. I think this is because early on I was unable to understand why someone from our family could be jailed for voicing their opinion or wearing a certain skin colour. I still do not understand racialism and supremacism. My poems, many of them, come from this oppressive atmosphere.

As soon as I started criticising Mr Trump, Facebook started ostracising, not my critical opinions of him on the platform, but anything coming from my poetry weblog. I could no longer post anything from my blog to Facebook. Poems about love, homesickness, and bigotry. And frankly, I do not see homesickness and love as inappropriate. I can however under that some might contact Facebook and “denounce” it in the name of poems on it against bigotry: the misogyny and racialist tones and insults by the president of the USA. I think that someone has indeed told Facebook that the content of Poéfrika was and is inappropriate. Every time I try to share something from my blog, it is met with this message: “Your message couldn't be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.” Other people. Who could report a banal poetry blog as offensive? I think it is a political-thought opponent who is also a friend. I say this because… Poéfrika is but a poetry blog. But the messages I share on Facebook are more than that. I think that Mr Trump is the wrong person to be in such a seat as he finds himself in, and I make no bones about it. How to mess me up? Say that something I hold dear, my poetry blog, and its content, contains inappropriate material. The same way others in the late eighties said my father’s opposition to a dictatorial government was inappropriate. The same way the South African police during Apartheid decided that our bodies contained inappropriate genes.

I’m making this last ditch effort to write to you openly, because any and every communication I have tried to initiate has not only gone unanswered, but has also not incited your platform to investigate. I’m in my sixth week of lockdown and confinement with respect to your platform. I’m tired of writing to bots that do not talk back. I am a poet and what I write is not only for me, but for me and for everybody else, including poetry lovers who utilise your platform.


Rethabile Masilo

Disgruntled Facebook user

Scalp, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

And when on the streets of somewhere you see skulls,
limitless with age, you’ll know how long this secret
has been sat upon. You’ll always know the meaning of it,
when you have heard the long thoughts howling outside.
And in the bowl of their scalps you will touch bulbs
of gold lilies with your fingertips, and of garlic and onions,
of other alliums known to life, then of Dutch hyacinths,
and tulips which once grew luxuriant upon their heads,
the way vines thicken with fruit, hanging from a wall.
To emulate death, men have been keeping a collection
of faceless stamps in a folder fat with womanhood.
But like a popped sore that ageless secret is now out.
Can you see where the spade went in, like a scalpel
after a lobotomy? Touch now the inside of the dish.
Can you read the braille, the shrapnel each of them has,
stories time-told with the sounding tongues of our world.
And, in the mirror, see the lip line, the clenched teeth
inside, to keep the soul from floating into the open.
Pour the love of mothers and remember, their gardens
can only yearn for you to live with truth inside you;
because when the air is right, and the time is ripe,
all of life is engraved at the centres of their wombs.

18 June 2020

Robert and Maya, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

Having read them far more than any other troubadour
has made me their child, learning their language
whose gist I quickly lapped up with my tongue,
so that now when I hear my people sing I know
someone has been trying to kill us.
But killing doesn't make us dead for good.
And often you might have seen some, on the prairies,
who were determined to tear our cocoa backs with whips,
even as ancestor presences made the cotton fields black,
and the wild thorn-shrub threw its veil across the day,
with us pushing voodoo through the marshes of the South.
We have songs. When harsh is the darkness of the hour
we got vision from the tops of mountains in Vermont.
One by one they erased black people’s dreams,
walked them back against the flow of scholarship
and thrashed them for every step they took going forth,
stamping their bodies to the fusty ground.
But a body is only the package of a complex gift: a soul
made of a multi-faceted will to live and endure.
They may gather in glass houses at the limits of estates
to see to preserving people in bondage, even as
every Sunday they gulp all the water from the holy font,
the bible’s thickness their steppingstone to government;
and they may strike the memory of our name
off the hallmarks of their kingdom—free is the one who lives
and believes, and ripostes with a fist of wisdom,
up until the hooded one at last hurtles across the valley
and stops his horse beside a farm, pulls out a book
of matches, and lights the tip of his rollup, ’til we pour
from the barn and embrace him, bringing with us bales
of laughter as together we dance till the sky cracks, and rain
falls with bewilderment at our upturned, opalescent faces,
as if we all had gold mines diggin’ in our own backyard,
before a rainbow’s semicircle melds our distinct worlds.

Maya Angelou and Robert Frost

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