Rugs Drying on the Roof
And from the quarter of the elders, nothing;
still so much to be told after them;
their origination in the hidden ways.
And it was this I thought of, for some reason,
weeks later we’d pulled
the rug from her room and scrubbed hard
all afternoon then pulled it dripping again
high to the slant of the roof, resting after that
on the apex passing loose draws you’d said but
this is how I’d want to remember her,
this township I mean. If anything
May she always retain this nakedness,
May she always be free of things.
Everywhere around us many houses lay back
hearts turned outward and sunlight
spread over a treeless vastscape of slanted roofs.
Sharpeville, 1983 Notes
Meditations on the Old Land
The old land is not what we maybe
Suppose. It is not a place, not
Strictly. It is actually
A brown face you look into slowly
When you bend over a puddle
Beside the road home. It changes
When you point to it.
Inside the House
We’ve had three hot nights in succession,
Strange this time of year, this far south,
And this always has been a violent land.
Flames are the blood of agitated night stars
That just can’t wait no more
And Jerry came by briefly tonight,
Legs crossed on the sofa beside the wireless,
Suddenly unrecognisable to us
And speaking of comrades and detainees
And the envisaged self of “my people”.
Kept on and on about “my people”
“my people”, fourteen years old,
Left arm stretched out on the sofa’s neck.
A precipitous night, Mabatho
Held my hand tight and would not cease
Shaking her head, crying out finally these
Are not our days Jerry ngwana’ka,
We have nothing, nothing, not even illusions.
M’jereza would not hear it.
Rushing past to the door he’d glanced down
And I said be still and live, live, dammit.
But night stars are my companions now old man,
He cried out, dragging the bottom door
Against the kitchen floor,
Leapt into the night over back-opposite fences.
Late July, 1976 Notes
Sunlit Side of Earth
You’d say this could have begun
endless other ways.
But it was in a desert land, silent sand
dunes pathless behind your shoulder,
you’d first appeared, light
of how many suns coming from those eyes?
And I could not name you or point nor knew
how I’d found myself in that strange land.
Like you’d said they would, forests
sprung up all around filling the inner lands
so let them be you said, beauty grows
as love grows within us,
retreats, shifts, returns
to particular understanding.
We’d settled in, far out, in the mountains,
a few modest huts. Here you were,
third or fourth or so among the wives,
but it was you whom I knew among all
that night you’d confessed: in night
I quietly recede into myself, am barely heard,
seated beside you asleep on the bed
I spread a necklace of stars around my neck,
because night loved me and chose me
long before you did.
Things changed, a little, after
the wagons arrived.
Returning in a group over morning hills
from a night of raids we’d rested
where the river lowered, and there
the others did not notice you,
startled naked alone the other side
brown against the brown rocks.
Later when I’d led the herd to your father
you’d whispered I was not afraid at the river,
and you too must learn
to wear nakedness over your beauty.
We met again
several times on a street corner in thirty three,
mine dumps rising rapidly on the outskirts.
Again in fifty eight below the trees
between Dlamini section and new cemetery
(the earliest I’ve known you).
You sat legs crossed on a rock while I begged.
And this again I am certain: it was you,
wasn’t it, in seventy six outside that school yard
said hold my hand
I sense they’re going to shoot.
Recently, a Saturday morning in fact at that
new coffee place at the mall,
kneeling on their designer chair you’d leaned
over the table and aroma
to whisper: I’m not wearing any.
Later you explained:
I’ve moved on, I’ve changed, I choose
what not to wear when,
and I tell you.
We met at night gym first time last year
and I’d known you by the way you said
Love grows as beauty grows within us.
Starlit Side of Night
You remember things differently, my love.
Love grows for no reason within us,
I’ve always insisted on this.
And what frightens us most is our capacity
To love, the struggle afterward to forget.
When first I had said I am deep as night
Itself, I’d meant that quiet deepness
In which we do nothing but love.
Its just, well, we don’t see stars like that
Around here anymore.
So I have never died, was never begun,
Am that unlit height between
Old township roofs and the moon.
And in the several thousand years between
The afternoon I departed from the mountains
And the summer you (you break this
Into several lifetimes)
Startled me naked at the morning river,
The same nightsky and stars had hung
In stillness observing the breaths
In and out of a people preparing itself
To craft works of love from the stones
And the earth and the children I bore.
But let me set the matter straight.
By late fifty eight
When you whistle sang for me from the corner
And I’d followed you that evening
To a rock among the trees behind the church,
I refused to do as you wanted
Because I could see things were changing
Terribly for all of us, and you’d need me
In later times to be more
Than the girl’s body they shoot in the dust
Outside that school yard.
At the river, and I’m glad you remember this,
I was not afraid.
Startled naked alone among a thousand of you
Returning from battle I was not fearful
As I am now of your single eye on any city street.