21 July 2018

Conversations with African Poets and Writers (Episode 5)

I looked at the boy, and wondered

whom he looked up to, if there were poets in his head
who stirred him, people who scalpel morning
out of his night to make life sufferable, people
who scrap strife’s memory. That’s what I asked him.
It was a deliberate question, for he had to know
about the origin of beauty the way a priest knows
the face of God, a star the sound of nameless worlds,
bright in its capacity to light their dark. Beauty
is forms of colour, summer ushered in by swallows
that dart, with each trailing the ribbon of its tail.
I said to him: everything is in the poet’s nib, boy—
it is love that everyone dreams of at night when rain
will not wane, magic that makes what’s under a child’s bed
disappear with morning, a morning sometimes
grave with concern when the sound of no one breathing
comes from an adjoining room. He looked up at me,
making me wonder again whom he looked up to.
That year blossoms invaded summer branches,
reflected in a poem I read one evening at Rockview
Beer Garden where voices are loath to hide themselves.
Afterward I watched a sun dye the river a colour
of gilt, and remained on the precipice till the bar closed,
and sounds of contentment and love died down,
and Maqalika was rife with people headed home.

Rockview Beer Garden

14 July 2018

Eyes of my people, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

Sometimes, even after the sun
has gone and street music has tired
the town and stirred all the people,
and there are dancers still
from neighbouring villages
laughing and draining their beers,
I do not leave my room,
a world beyond walls of words,
the reason I hear darkness only
when I close my eyes to pray.
As a Sotho child, when it is time
I must study shadows
that come down the hillside
like flowing blood, before
making the decision to go back
to my people, to the eyes of them
who have been studying the world
to bring it a revolution of peace,
change it, according to the needs
of all of us, dream everything up
and then build it for generations
to come, kneading its soft clay
of love with hands of nature.

The family at Peka, circa 1966.
Khotsofalang is in the red sweater
with black arms. I'm the
good-looking dude in the middle.

12 July 2018

Sorrow, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

You should never put words
in sorrow's mouth but must acknowledge
the ones already there,
when it tells a street the secret
of how far home is, the only certainty
being fear, whose name and blood type
are part of its life. Like when
a cripple drags itself from a crowd,
whispering sentences of broken limbs.
Sorrow knows that. It has travelled the road
to Emmaus; it is the dinghy
drowning at the bottom of a sea,
the Aegean, the Mediterranean;
it has sailed into the devil’s face
and looked back, unwilling to return.
But it knows words, the feel of a heart
in the mouth, when you have
nowhere to go and have to still
yourself against the words and worlds
of others, the sorrow of midnight
when a hospital bulb is your only light.


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