8 July 2018

Red Stripe, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

For anthony, bob, claude, claudia, dennis, edward, geoffrey, kei, kwame, linton, lorna, malachi, marcus, mervyn, mutabaruka, olive, opal, pamela, peter, velma, winston—with appreciation.

One day the stripe approached me,
speaking creole, a scar scrawled
across its face like the pain
of a cotton field, on this island
anchored by the weight of lives.
We spoke with eyes, voices,
song, too, and a sense of mirth,
mirth that… colourful as we are,
ate by razorblades of cane leaves,
the dark of our parents' skins
brought rage here from Africa
in hurricane and storm boats,
which makes us even—even
though the sun is yellow again
and this tavern at the edge
of our overhanging coastline
smiles at the world, the old
as well as the new, the weighty,
the light, the forgotten dead;
though Bolt be running wild.
Who knew we would meet
among trees this island planted
tight, its mangroves relaxing
in the village shade like Africans
at a gathering in Africa?
Ziggy is not as tall as his dad,
but the vocal cords give him
away, give his face that we see.
I pick the stripe up and sip
from its mouth. They called us
death on Selassie's face, said
we’d change under our skins.
But our voices still remember
sounds of you, Africa, the taste
of your palm, stout for having
weathered every storm.
I finish my stripe and place
its empty tin on the counter,
walk out, lion hair in dreads,
for it is eight—and I promised
my family I wouldn’t be late.

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