5 June 2020

The stranger next to me, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

He sat next to me on a bench in the dark park and said,
“you must live.” The wail of a saxophone told me again
why I was here tonight, far from the buzz of the city.
I stole a glance at him; his silhouette was smouldering,
the nose, the thick lips of someone who has lived, the ears,
he was ablaze but not ready to be put out, his smoke swirling
around familiar objects, his visage like a piece of coal from an inferno
that is not going to die. My mind clouded with a thought:
when time loses meaning, one avoids memories,
people's eyes; I didn’t need to look into his to know
the reason for his presence here tonight. You turn from history
and build your own, from a subdued life that can blow
a job and a marriage into pieces, reflected in people’s eyes
when they don’t know you are watching them.
“Do you have eyes?” I asked, and he laughed with his belly.
When distance disappears, it’s time to create more of it to stay alive.
“Yes,” he said, “That’s why I’m here.” He spoke to no one in particular,
looking ahead like he knew there was something behind the trees
and beyond them the bustle of a city blinking in the night.
I thought of the chortle of a woman I knew, her throat marred by liquor,
who laughed aloud every time I came. I hear myself in her head,
my empty grunts on top of her; she taught me how to move away.
My guest turns to look at me with the holes on either side
of his nose, his face sizzling on his head. Then he stands up
and is gone, the way a silhouette penetrates truth. And I stand up
and walk carefully toward the lights of the city, calm now
after an evening of glaring at armoured men, happy to be alive
because of someone with no eyes whose name I do not know.
He had gone back to the inferno where he had come from, as I
must go back home to my people, to rise with them tomorrow to face
the forces of the military wing of the United States of America.

1 June 2020

Nikki: "How to write a love poem"

“5-If I could give just one piece of advice about writing a love poem I would remind the writer that love is about the lover not the beloved. It’s about how you feel not how he responds. That should free you to set your heart on your sleeve; no one is going to knock it off.”

“4-Everything about love and life is the simplicity of it. The most important thing to keep in mind is to be clear. The Dells sang Love Is So Simple and I think they are right. Nat ‘King’ Cole sang I Love You (for Sentimental Reasons); clear as a bell. Cole Porter wrote You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To. Classic. All of them. Clear. You can feel the longing.”

“3-The most common writing mistake, period, is complication. The reader does not want to figure out what you mean. Neither does your beloved. Prince says I Want To Be Your Lover. Boom. You know where you stand.”

“2-There must be an internal rhythm to a love poem; the desire must come out. The mistake a lot of people make is to over-think the poem. To reach out for images when just letting the longing of the heart come through would be sufficient.”

“1-If someone writes you a love poem you’d have to be an idiot to say it was not a good poem. That’s like someone saying ‘I love that dress on you’ and you saying ‘What? This ole thing?’ The proper answer is a sweet smile and a thank you. If you have feelings for that person you can always blush.”

Giovanni concludes, “Writing a good love poem is like being a good lover. You have to touch, taste, take your time to tell that this is real. The Supremes say You Can’t Hurry Love and you can’t fake it, either.”
[continue there...]

Travelling to Ha-Makoae, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

This would be our father’s last time to the home of his birth.
Near the road’s edges a monitor flicks its tongue at us,
licks its lips, then twists from side to side to cross the route
like someone carrying heavy loads in each hand.
Dad pushes our Datsun slowly up with its own heavy load
of us, and goods: meat, carrots, melons, toys and clothes.

We reach the family summit at the end of the climb,
red soil, dark with dampness; graves of those who lived
in caves and ate people, deep in a south summer
where a sun grazes the glade below with light, and spill
from the car, leaving it with its mouths open, and yelp
around the village to bring the neighbours out.

Later, when the gifts are splayed like a carpet in the yard,
men stab a bull for nourishment; women steam bread
in three-legged pots; we know that after this happiness
it’ll be another year before we flee the city again,
and drive up here to gather in this village to gain
enough strength to face the anger of the cities below.

29 May 2020

These three words, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

When Chauvin, the blue-collar worker, needs a boulder to move,
he makes his knee a fulcrum and heaves, till something gives.
He says it’s simple physics. “Give me a place to stand,” Archimedes
said, “and I will move the earth.” Yesterday earth shook to the gasp
of a man leaving his body behind, “I can’t breathe” bleeding the sky.

Do we have a way out of this, or like air vacating lungs there is only
wriggling and asphyxia? “I can’t breathe” was proffered in a sacrifice
to the sky of New York, of Minneapolis, and to frightened hours
of black parents. With the same wrinkled patch on his knee he uses
as a prayer rug to stoop before his god on Sunday, he crushed
a windpipe. Can there be two without three? “I can’t breathe”
will rise again like smoke from the chimney of a dying flame.
But where and when will a third death come?

My grandfather killed goats the same way, throttling
the last, bleating glimmer from their eyes with his knee,
before cutting their necks with a homemade blade.
George’s fault was established by the surface of his skin.
His “I can’t breathe” flowed like the woe of a heathen saxophone.
And the scarred hearts of black parents shake in their bones.

My grandfather’s knee was deaf to pleas, there was food
to put on the table. It was first the legs… then the whole body
of an animal fidgeting, its pleas a bleat, sweet and low
as a silhouette hanging from a tree. On my way home after work
A man died on the asphalt of that street. And this will repeat.

Derek Chauvin
killing George Floyd

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