23 July 2019

For Peter Horn, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

We howled into the loudspeakers
held to our mouths, hard, like chalk
on a blackboard / on an iron rock,
on the things that fate forces in.
On the things that face us with our hands
tied. We said voetsek to the season
in our mouths, harsh as sandpaper
on skin. We spoke to men with no ears,
to tell them this is not the moment
to take our professor out of his time,
men with no eyes on their featureless faces,
angels who, we know, keep a strict clock.
We said things we had been fed by our lives,
things he had on the cutting board of poetry
with other ingredients waiting their turn.
We wriggled, and hoped sweat would help
free our hands, so we could pick up
a book of his, pick a poem dangling
from his marula tree, drink its alcohol.
But the voice is dead and it’s like ripping
tongues from the members of a gulag.
There is death when the sun sinks west
and we know it’s coming back / and death,
when the river dries up but leaves wells
along its banks that taste just as sweet.
Child wells weeping to the Drakensberg.
And there’s the death of a Cape buffalo
when it charges, with its horns low,
like a forklift, and it takes us higher,
as it hopes for a better understanding
from us in future of nature and the ways
of our existence. Peter is that death.

Peter Horn

22 July 2019

Moving, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

The rains have remained silent above the world,
watching crops shrivel into themselves like hair
on the dome of an elder: lifeless and desiccated
without that moist blessing, no song to lift people
the way rain lifts our faces up. It has been days
since the chief decreed a move, and there can be
no more waiting. A week's walk will get us over
the pass to the east side of the mountain where
the evening shade of each waterless afternoon
will offer some respite / during mornings it is cool.
So on this day, after unleashing the lean dogs,
we rouse the old woman—wispy now with the walls
of her empty gut touching, and no meat around
her bones—carry her and place her before the gate
of the cattle kraal. A sun would soon rise to tell us
to walk up and meet it halfway. A boy unlatches
the gate and throws it open, even as others poke
the oxen from behind with sticks and make noise
loud enough to startle the dead / a quick stampede.
Their hoofs drop like blobs of rain on the surface
of a lake rife with trout and shrills of bullfrogs.
Afterward, with our remaining biltong, snoek fish
and ostrich eggs, after a quiet prayer, we begin
our trek east in the direction of dawn to meet
the other face of the massif / commence the rest
of our lives, fed by the blood of the oldest one
in our clan, who could not have kept up the pace
of our new reality. The cattle low across the valley
as ahead, rays break on the mountain like sparks
atop the anvil of a metalsmith, or strewn spikes
on the crown of a king, as we lumber on silently.

19 July 2019

Antioquia, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

Colombian plants, uninhibited by life, are like cats.
They don't care to sit on the face of something that isn’t theirs:
on lichens—or on a rock—or the corner stake
of an old fence meant to shelter someone else's land.
They grow off the marrow of a forest
and throw their hands in the air, whether they are alone
or together in a group. Make their base off a phone pole. Live off it
like maggots becoming butterflies from a rotting corpse.

We embarked on the first leg of our trip to Ciudad Bolivar
even though I’d thought we'd never get out of those woods
before someone or something began to grow on our van,
mould or espeletia, or the national flower of Colombia;
but we did leave that labyrinth of morning to evening,
quit its gauntlet, followed the slap of our tyres on tar
till light broke through and discovered us, and shone
on terraces of coffee farms with the certainty of a shine
that could only have been delivered by a higher office.

That’s why we were tired, when we finally stood
on a rostrum in the village square of Ciudad Bolivar,
the spirit of Colombia painted on the faces
of walls of cafés around the plaza, and on people,
shadowed by nothing except the sound of living,
the sound of a seeming nonchalance about problems
a petty world such as ours has continued to peddle.

Main square, Ciudad Bolivar

18 July 2019

My mother says she sees him, by Rethabile Masilo

She said "I see him outside in
that area beyond the house". Must
have been the yellow in her eyes.
She has had time since he left
to scrub them into clear marbles,
while saltwater rubbed them clean.
When we were young she used
to see into our childish dreams.
He stands there bent at the waist,
refusing to crack or to break;
she describes his teeth, clenched
around prey like a beast's sinew
imprisons a wriggling body
in the dim light beside the door.
She sees this with her marbles.
They couldn't break him when
they hauled him off in cuffs,
after searching our house
and bringing the years of our ceiling
down. They wouldn't break him
years later when they refused us
the body of his son they had killed.
He holds this in the mouth between
his teeth, in memory of those days.
After the storm he came back,
built muscles onto his limbs,
arms, legs, the trunk of his neck.
Nothing inhuman or abstract
but an annual ring each year
added to his bark—built roots
the way icicles grow with each
new drop and creep into years
with their hard thoughts of life.
When the frozen months arrived
he dug into them; it made him live,
made him get back to hoeing
the country of his youth, a plot
of Qoaling where people, like
sequoia trees, tower over the roof
of a forest and care for its soul.


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