28 March 2020

Resurrection, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

At the edge of my yard waits the end of a path
where I came face-to-face with dawn, creeping on feet
fairies prance with from blade to blade of grass,
when they greet the world with their kind of light,
till dawn’s line reached me, stalled, announced itself,
waited for the guarantee of my commitment.
Its fairies had just miraculously become gnomes
which brought my calm the noise of a world in pain,
bees having returned from their morning shopping spree.
I turned around and headed to the bungalow, daybreak
clamouring behind my back, the stench of gnome breath
in my nose, a truck clattering by toward the churchyard
with the road rattling its load of bubonic carcasses;
TV screens screamed into life with dying news,
tolls from prior days about the hole of the world.

The strangest thing was when, from my veranda,
I saw the gnomes morph into an array of viruses,
then march toward me and beyond, grumbling
about what germs do, as they hobbled north
out of eye shot, past hives where bees sang blooms
of fields of poppies struck by what the world had done.
And I saw the woman with a clay pail on her head,
breasts firm still, pass the edge of my yard on her way
from the well, and knew she knew I could hear cows
lowing for the pasture, though there were no more cows,
but I didn’t care anymore and let myself stir at her beauty,
alone on a path that promised to take me home,
where I belong, and not here at all but off enough
to make me feel I had not been disowned by life,
standing on my veranda, contemplating the universe.




25 March 2020

The threnody of Sharpeville, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

My mother told me that white people are us,
that they left Africa, came back, before hurling herself
at the sky like she was going to catch it,
touch the soles of God, grab a dead leg
and bring it back here, the opposite 
of where a hungry hawk takes its prey.
She said salmon know when their predator
is around, because they smell themselves
on its breath and desist from fighting
rapids, where a current moves
with rough speed, in their quest to multiply.
Like a swooping hawk she leapt,
and if the world could turn upside down
a while, her fingers would touch something,
someone's son, daughter, a mother,
or a father, even as idle faces of men
glow against a backdrop of mourning.




21 March 2020

A poem about Sharpeville, a poem by Dennis Brutus

A half century ago, police officers massacred 69 black South Africans in the township of Sharpeville, where protesters had burned the passbooks that the white-led apartheid government required them to carry at all times.

But survivors of the massacre here are tired of telling their stories: They are wondering when the change they thought they were fighting for 50 years ago will come to Sharpeville.

Residents in recent weeks have set fire to tyres in the streets to protest the lack of basic services such as electricity and running water.

"Our lives started changing with Nelson Mandela's release, but people are still financially struggling and finance is still in white people's hands," said Abram Mofokeng, who was 21 when officers opened fire on the protesters, shooting demonstrators including women and children as they ran away. Mofokeng still bears the scar where a bullet entered his back.
[source...]
The Sharpeville police mowed protesters down, shooting most in the back. No accountability. Nobody to turn to, in South Africa or abroad. The heavens told black South-Africans they were alone. "You're alone." And so they were. Many fled into exile, and Lesotho started having its first waves of South-African refugees, mostly from the PAC movement, which had organised the protests.

We called them ma-PAC, the prefix signifying more than one, some, several, many. They played rugby at a football pitch in Motse-Mocha near the Setsoto stadium, a strange sport to us, 7 years old and staunch football players/fans. South Africa had just flipped the world a bird and got away with it. It would do so again in 1976 in a repeat performance that became Apartheid's last straw.

It's been a long time coming, but change is gonna come, sang Sam Cooke about America. He could have been singing about South Africa, or the world, even. For what is baffling is how Sharpeville 1960, Soweto 1976, King's and X's murders, the Civil Rights movement, Mandela's 27 years in jail, not to mention the thousands tortured and killed in South Africa, and tortured and lynched in America, what is baffling is how these have not entered the minds of all and instructed them on the evils of discrimination and segregation in all its forms. That is truly baffling to me.

It is also amazingly stunning that all these things happened and almost no one got punished for it, no international hunt for the wrong-doers, no motivation to see them "brought to justice," as George Bush the son would say about so many who had committed so less. Today is a day to remember and to know why it should be remembered, today is a learning day. To me it is also a bitter day.


What is important
about Sharpeville
is not that seventy died:
nor even that they were shot in the back
retreating, unarmed, defenseless
and certainly not
the heavy caliber slug
that tore through a mother’s back
and ripped through the child in her arms
killing it
Remember Sharpeville
bullet-in-the-back day
Because it epitomized oppression
and the nature of society
more clearly than anything else;
it was the classic event
Nowhere is racial dominance
more clearly defined
nowhere the will to oppress
more clearly demonstrated
what the world whispers
apartheid with snarling guns
the blood lust after
South Africa spills in the dust
Remember Sharpeville
Remember bullet-in-the-back day
And remember the unquenchable will for freedom
Remember the dead
and be glad.

Dennis Brutus

Sharpeville, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

Somehow, between the requirements of summer
and winter, we went forth holding above our heads
souls that death comes in, like Moses scurrying
down the mountain with tablets scratched
with scripture; like a lamp finding the damp dark
of mines our fathers walked, in search of food.
We raised them and held them like a sacrifice
to specific gods, trophies of a triumphant day,
and kept them, self-evident, lifted above the world
with purpose. Our souls, glowing like headlights
in a storm as if they knew what hardship meant.
In our hands they were the day's newborn child:
behold, we cried, lifting them with hands calloused
from scraping, as we approached the charge office,
behold, the only thing greater than thyself! It was
breath held in anticipation, though some were candles
that lit our way to freedom, others hammers
and others scythes, nailing planks in and reaping
the fat crop. And others going to their graves
alone, though their heads scream in the night still.


Pindrop Press
2012

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