16 October 2018

Six November, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

The line is long; in it people have been here waiting
behind an old man who arrived before everyone,
his sponge mattress still flattened near the door—
a door like no other. Nothing is new, a snake is long,
as when South Africa queued to quell itself those many
years ago, waited to cut its own head off with a panga
for the first time after years and years of venom,
not knowing that its head will sprout back each time
more determined than ever. Though it is cold out here
at this time of the year you do not care at all—
and maybe it is all the better because no one will go
to no beach, to no picnic in the park, but will be here
standing in unison with their bredren before this entrée,
which is like no other, with their minds all made
about which part of the snake to cut and remove.
On this day in 1806, a line extended from this booth
to every other end of town, and Lincoln was elected.

Do you feel like an extension of those four hundred
and twelve score years and four days ago… similar
to the way you were attached to your mother before
birth, and yearn for the comfort of her still, for her cord
that fed you, for the birth waters you swam in?
Or is it 1996 and Bill is blowing a sax in a black suit
and dark sun shades, before the scandal that led
to his impeachment for sex in the White House?
Whichever one, however the one you feel like,
times were different then, but not the day, which is
today: six days into the eleventh month of three
hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days. You
are at that mirror of your life, looking at how best
not to scowl, and trying not to shout Oh me, oh my!
to the derelict lady with all her midnight bags,
or to someone who's trying to get off the pavement
to find their name again, and give it its meaning.

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