"The brown-veined white" 
& "Living room"
Letter to country
"A park in Clocolan"
& "Preparing the body"
& "Sex shop"

Things that are silent
"Letters to country"
&"Jazz cricket"

Things that are silent

Sample poems from Rethabile Masilo's first 4 books

The brown-veined white

Many butterflies in Ladybrand today,
as many as snowflakes in a blizzard,
they bend the grass under them
with gasps from their wings: nature
just showing us how a storm might start.
They dance upon red colonial roofs
along the way; trees, born in the years
of blood-letting, their arms still bent up
in defeat. We slip onto a black road
toward Bloemfontein, grocery on the back-seat—
this road, this thin strip of road, is the tape
that measures distress. I push the car harder
up the hillside into our mountains and head left
toward Maseru, the other side of the river, where surely
the same butterflies had earlier begun their flight
that morning: and a few filter still among willows
that border the river, like the last falling fluffs
of a pillow fight, the smell of summer in the air.
Cicadas come out from their trenches: December!
We watch those last white butterflies disappear
north-east toward Ladybrand, fluttering,
and then continue home to be with our own family.

Living room

The living room was all that the world
could see of the house we lived in
that was built on a hill, it was sunken
lower than the other rooms, a cold,
depressed place, like a grave expecting someone.
No headstone or garlands, in that room
of our house on a hill, and because
the master chambers were lower still,
not sunken but at the level of the world,
we slept with death as with the living.
That house—bare, if not for rare pieces
of antique wood furniture, one table,
varnished chairs and cupboards my folks
had bought when they got married,
greeted the intruder with its silence.
And so it was not a bunker, never meant
to be one, just a room sunk into the earth
and eyeballing the neighbours with its one
big pane. And perhaps that's why they came
at night to disturb our sleep in such a way,
like a sudden uproar during prayer time;
our prayers, and three square meals a day,
were all conducted in that same room
of the house on a hill where we lived.
In the evening, before we went to bed,
the kitchen was a furnace, no mantle
above the black tin stove, no portraits
of sullen old relatives to eyeball us
in the half light, and though we struggled
with true decisions we never identified
anybody with any of the killings, ever,
but found ourselves in the slow flames
that knots of nuggets made of us, aglow
in the kitchen of the house on a hill
with a sunken room, where we lived.

A park in Clocolan

My grandfather also liked to tell the story
of a baobab that pushed away asphalt
and grew, though they kept cutting it
and covering its stump with tar.

And each time it would grow stronger
and push with more passion. Seven times
they sawed it, poured plant poison on it
and shovelled tar onto its fresh wound.

But it was saved by providence and guts,
and it came back again and again, against
their bricks and their mortar, dug in now
and getting angrier each time. In the end
the government had to make that street
swerve around her, like a private ring road.

When she was old enough and tired
of breathing the fumes of civilisation,
they grew grass around her, put a painted
bench there and installed a water fountain
that had a sign that said blankes on it.

Preparing the body
   —for my uncle, Nthaha

He’s dead; in Oort, the gods know.
As the news leaves press rooms
eels, from the bottom of the Aegean,
ribbon to the surface to wave goodbye;
we smear his body with Zambuk
and wash the rotted parts with milk,
parts that are known as the devil’s cut.
His wife washes between the legs
then returns later to put the legs straight
again, before the thigh muscles stiffen.
This is why a man must die before his wife.
At the edge of the open grave I pretend
to be a man, and proceed to find a stone
I spit on, then throw into the hole.
This is how a man accompanies relatives
on the journey out of life. People look
around with downcast faces, longing
for a different chemistry of sleep.


One day while we were outside playing
Khotsofalang left, and no matter how much we prayed
he was killed and reincarnated as a tree;
we need to know if that’s what he wanted to be.

They made a casket with his pith,
because Lesotho trafficks in the business of coffins.
Some wonder why we don’t make doors out of loss, instead,
using planks and slats from the bodies of the dead.

Still others say books, by beating cadavers to a pulp, like pulled
pork, flattening the remains in the sun for them to dry, till
some of them finally come of age
and accept a dirge on every single page.

Sex shop
   —after Albert Goldbarth

This sex shop enjoys visits to Bangkok in Thailand /
This sex shop is successful because it has licked all the competition /
This sex shop sells crotch-less chastity belts /
Everyone comes here /
This sex shop goes through a lot of mops /
If you come upon anyone you know here you should wipe ‘em off /
They sell a gun-shaped dildo here dubbed ‘The Sex Pistol’ /
This sex shop hates every ‘–ism’, except ‘jism’ /
This sex shop grows its own rubber trees /
This sex shop pierces women’s lips and men’s heads /
This sex shop showed the Goldbergs how to make whoopee /
This sex shop isn’t in The Encyclopædia of Sex; the Encyclopædia of Sex is in this sex shop /
This sex shop isn’t right up anyone’s alley. It’s up yours /
The red carpet leading to this sex shop is a tongue /
The Kama Sutra is dedicated to this sex shop /
This sex shop has a salesman named Rocco /
I saw Adam and Eve browsing in this sex shop /
This sex shop does not have a single die-hard customer /
This sex shop gives you more bang for your buck /
This sex shop’s logo is a cat swallowing a rooster /
Madame Claude was proud to be associated with this sex shop /
This sex shop sells things that go hump in the night /
Red-light districts in Amsterdam were modelled after this sex shop /
This sex shop was given the keys to Sin City /
If Jean-Baptiste Grenouille had smelled this sex shop he wouldn’t have killed those girls /
Workers at this sex shop are bound by contract never to say ‘come here’ /
This sex shop has a portrait of Bill Clinton on a wall /
Instead of feather boas, this sex shop uses real serpents /
This sex shop doesn’t discriminate: its customers come in one colour /
When they go low, this sex shop goes down on them /
This sex shop uses sex pots to cook your meat /
If you die here you come and go at the same time /
This sex shop is governed by sexual congress /
No other sex shop can penetrate a market like this one /
This sex shop’s strong-boxes enjoy safe sex /
This sex shop is up all night to get lucky /
Let this sex shop take the first crack at you /
This sex shop gives naughty employees the shaft /
If you lose your key to this sex shop you’ll get no nookie /
This sex shop is always getting its hands dirty /
This sex shop doesn’t charge much per head /
This sex shop will never do you in the eye /
This sex shop doesn’t cry over spilled milk /
The mother of this sex shop is French, its father is Kenyan /
This sex shop is the first and the last of its kind /
This sex shop smells like an ovum fleeing the ovary /
This sex shop requires all phones to be on vibrate /
This sex shop holds tantric sex practicums /
The G-string got its name when this sex shop bent over and I cried “Gee, what a nice string!” /
This sex shop taught me everything about life /
This sex shop has a kitchen with nothing in it except a table /
This sex shop has a kitten in its bed /
This sex shop reads a lot of bodice rippers /
This sex shop agrees that two heads are better than one /
This sex shop sells eau de cologne called The Smell of Funk /
This sex shop is fresh out of deep throat masturbation cups /
This sex shop talks about my mouth like it was a groin /
This sex shop comes in all shapes and sizes /
This sex shop has a room filled with hay /
You can spank this sex shop all you want, it'll just turn the other cheek /
This sex shop showed me what a glans smells like /
This sex shop beats off about the bush /
Monday is reserved for the deaf, who read this sex shop's lips /
I heart this sex shop /
The sign to the book room has a 'B' and not a 'K' /
This sex shop is what Willis was talkin' about /
This sex shop is going to save the fucking world /

Letter to country

1. Climb atop the rock and look
At the grass of your escarpment
Awaiting plough and gait of cattle,
Land of fertility and slope,
Of hilly mountains on their backs,
A land of men dying to till it.

2. Through tool and implement
We seek the electricity of hammer
Onto anvil, to spark a world
With toil and labour because
They are hope’s only key
And we its only gate.

3. Spring is the offering, the core
Of brightness. From the door
We watch it come into the house
With breakfast in its cereal hands.
Oats, wheat, barley—and seeds
In all its open pockets.

4. Our ancestors came, holding
The sun in their right hand
Like an object of worship,
Crossed Mohokare into the foothills,
Bags full of hops, paint sticks,
Venom in phials, dry meat in leaves;
And they hung the sun
On a rope above the Senqu river.

5. Bowls clanging like ghost vessels,
In the blankness of the hour
When all else has deserted us,
Beneath an oven sky we wait
For the bird’s last arrival
To induce in us our final sleep.

jazz cricket

on the
way home
I noticed
a cricket
in the park,
and stopped
to see how
it placed
the yellow
brass to
its lips; I
stood there
on the grass
how flowers
tint cloth,
blend scent,
scissor their
kangas the
right size.

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