25 May 2019

Two poems by Octavia McBride-Ahebee

I. Praise Song for the Gravediggers

I crawl between sitting angels
and ghosts unsure of new destinations
some still clothed in scraps of pagne
still babbling in brilliant colors the proverbs of sages
pagne full of palm prints
of lovers
to let go
I ascend to sit in the broken lap of Mary
long abandoned by her son and lover
in a graveyard of red dirt
the color of prostrated magic
bountiful and hungry
I sit with my bird called Paradise
in King Tom
shielded by a cotton tree whose bloom’s color
mirrors the death bags
with no names
sealed from all life
I sing to my brothers
rubber-booted, gloved in the palladium of yellow latex
open-faced, wearing t-shirts of good will
armed with garden shovels meant to furrow the soil
to feed a belly
now used to part the earth
for the unwashed,
the un-kissed,
the disinfected
still contagious with bewilderment

I sing to them
in Krio, in Mende, in Limba,
in Kissi, in Kula, in Temne
in Susu

Praise be to you


have you forgotten me
that Charleston girl
wrapped in a re-imagined rice sack
standing in an angel oak soaking in moss
watching through the swamp’s own mourning
them hang our Denmark
with no prayer or coin to take him over

kingfishers, flycatchers, delirious with lost
conspirators like me in Vesey’s scheme of flight
chaperoned my exit from you
bound to an island of Providence-Liberia
mean with fevers and stakes already claimed

it is me, your daughter, pushed through centuries of trial
lying here in a wrapper I used to dance in
to let fall when I claimed a lover
to let shield me against the wanted advances
of the harmattan and rainy season

I am lying here at the foot of a baobab
older than what we share
lying here with a plague and my own daughter
on the magnanimous back of the earth
waiting for you to harvest your memory
to recognize the long-legged girl
on the arms of that Charleston oak
looking at what we used to be

Praise Song
for the Gravediggers

21 May 2019

Burial, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

No one knew why the one in front was pushing a handcart,
nor what the bundle in it was, as they walked in a row
against the lines of tall, quiet trees,

wearing dead beast heads to deny life
chances at slaying itself, after making it rise from its bed
only to watch it die again,

the woman behind with a dodo beak,
a man with teeth hooked in a porcelain grin,

the procession dyed by the dusk of a dark forest
in grim light,

the cripple of a man with T-Rex arms
breathing phlegm out of his lips.

They were here to bury me.

Bury him head in, so the roots sprout from his mind.

They stopped at a dell, dumped the heap into a hole.

On the 3rd day a tree rose
from where I had been planted.

[Note: This poem was read and commented on at the AWOL Paris writer's workshop of 19 May 2019]

19 May 2019

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

X marks the spot on the chest
of a man where a bullet entered;
an X on the top of a head marks the body
on which a helicopter carrying America landed.
And red marks body-blood that refuses to go,
stays in and continues to rinse the mind
of that body. Red is the colour of hair,
when one is young and defiant.
White stands for a turban and djellaba
one wears on their first visit to Mecca;
a hundred thousand Muslims swirl
around the Kaaba like worlds around
their sun, a sun that feeds people
who do not give in.
White also refers to the atmosphere of domination
a country plants, waters with tears,
but can’t harvest, for plants need more.
Red also is what we see seep through
the white front of a shirt. Red is danger.
Red is anger when your prophet is dead.
Black is the sack they stuff you in
and cart you to a place where people wear
black cloth squares on sleeves and forever look
at worlds with the same colour in their eyes.

Malcolm X

1 May 2019

wet road, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

the road of Durban
tosses water at the cliff;
we fought men
fierce as this wind

now arcing trees,
keeping them there
like the back of someone
bent over backwards;

at night rain finds a roof
under which you lie building
a future in the dark;

it's been raining for weeks

and hate is towel-soaked;
saunas of rooms
leak blood on linen,

mountains sweat,
lake shimmers
mirror the resolve of

those who fought hell
and were killed well.

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