Poems by Mike Weeder

Ashton

 (Monday 9 December 2013 in the fourth day after the passing of Nelson Mandela)

In the early 1990s, in the time after the release of Madiba, Bonita and I were living in the Boland town of Ashton. During that period there were significant uprising of the people resident in the east Boland towns of Bonnievale, Robertson, Ashton, Montagu and across to Swellendam. Folk who had felt the brunt of unbridled racism took to the streets, embarked on consumer boycotts and general acts of civil disobedience – . and police violence. With the blessing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu I embarked on a 21-day fast in the Crypt of St George’s Cathedral to draw attention to violence being perpetrated by the police of the region. I think that it was in the second week of the fast that Nelson Mandela visited Ashton to rename Zolani Community Centre in his name. Trevor Manuel received Madiba at DF Malan airport and before departing for Ashton called to enquire if he should bring the Big Man via the Crypt. I declined believing that the visit would subject my fast to negative scrutiny. Ai, to be young …
I remember that day in Zolani-Ashton
when you blessed a hall with your name.
I wasn’t there. The ones who were

recall your regal grace, your Madala sexiness
as you stood there ‘neath the scalding Boland sun.

The Langeberg Mountains, dull-grey and curious

behind you. They will talk

about the warmth in your eyes and your declared

pride in them and their unsung bravery

Now as I await the tears still to come

from somewhere close but deep

in the hidden mystery of my soul
I wish I had been there

and had obeyed the call to break my Cathedral-based fast

for freedom and an end to police violence
to join all on that day when a Prince of Men

stood hand-shake and hug-close

to anoint Ma Memani
with a lifetime of joy which not even the poverty of this time

could ever take away.

  

 

 

Oom Don Mattera

This is not a poem yet

but only the first touch of intention

but when I saw you, quiet, unnoticed at the edge of the busy crowd

I without a thought of decorum and place

knelt,  kissed and held your hand

and we spoke as if we had met before

and I felt the way I did when I first read ‘Azanian love song’

and knew then that another knew

what it means to be a bushie wat ken

and so I salute you Mattera

poet of all the people

want ek notch djy’s ‘n jieta wat weet wa’ die buchu blom

And when you declared our love for Madiba

I wanted to call out to you there on that distant stage

not to say a word, not a sound of a syllable more –

just to stand there and let us see you

the poet-prophet who sang out of the heart of the brave

of a time ‘when freedom finally walks the land’

but this is not a poem yet

only the slight stutter of gratitude

for a poet’s life

 

 

 

To be read while listening to the live version of John Coltrane’s  “My Favourite Things”

(Wrote this in 1990 for a friend who had been tortured to the extent that his wife only recognised him by the shoes he wore on the morning of his arrest)

 

You and I, wrapped tight in the cosiness

of mutual trust and confidence,

spoke once on a day, many winters past,

of a time away from the routine measure

of prison and death, of compatriots in exile. A time

when every day for every mother,

orphan, youth and friend would be a holiday,

and the prisons empty and the streets filled

with the shouts and laughter of fathers and lovers,

hugging and holding

drying tears once forever as close as a thought

or a whisper of a name. A time

when our parliament of the people and of mercy

would outlaw racism, banish hunger

and unemployment and, for sure,

abolish the death penalty

for such would be our world

when Africa comes home at last.  You and I

spoke on a day many winters past

about our dreams of a dawn

that would bless our land and brighten

our doubt-contoured days. And now,

in this spring-hint of a morning

I thank God for you

and that my name

was not amongst those you mouthed

as the wet rubber, drawn over your beaten head

smothered your breath to a dead-slow pulse

in the femoral artery of your inner thigh. And now

ever so often, in this longing distance

from our dark winter day

I scan your laughing face on TV or in a newspaper

for a glimpse of that hope that mothered our victory

with its promise of a time when every day

for every mother, father and orphan,

youth and friend, would be a holiday.

  

 

Promise

 In January 1980, I stood knocking on the door of 100 Tugela Way, Portland, Mitchells Plain. It was a Monday morning and I was there to leave a message from my friend Willie.

While I waited I secured my size-28, postman’s bicycle with a chain to the tar-pole of the car-port of the house. Meanwhile my knock had been answered and I eventually became aware of this presence straight out the Songs of Solomon: “She was dark and comely”. And she was laughing at me.

I discovered later when were dating that she was laughing at me and this bike of antiquity. She was also amused by my old balie fisherman’s’ haversack which was full of emptiness except for a dairy, an apple and a small, hard-covered collection of John Milton’s poetry.

Sometime in the course of that year I wrote her this poem …

 

in

the

withering

of

a

leaf

in

the

fading

of

the

day

i

love

you

(The poem was accompanied by a leaf as green as our young love).

  

 

When the Hills Were Dark

 For Mzi Mbangula: rest in peace, comrade of my youth. During 1981 I attended a YCS conference in SOWETO. On the way back, Zelda Holtzman who I met in Joburg suggested that we visit the mother of a friend in Zweletemba on our way through Worcester.  The friend in question was Mzi Mbangula, the nephew of Rev Otto Mbangula. I had known Mzi and he and Simon Fredericks were both YCS activists and had gone into exile more or less the same time. Mzi was an astute observer with a keen intellect, complimented by his wry wit and easy laugh.

When we met Ma Mbangula, her opening question to Zelda was “Where is my child?” That moment unlocked the following poem

 

On a morning such as this.

when the hills were dark

with the colour

of burnt dark.

And the sun in the wind

was soft upon

the land.

And the streets of the places

where we live

were very still.

On a morning such as this.

when the hills were dark

when not even you mother knew

you left us.

 

 

So Much to Declare

During a visit to the USA in May 2013 I found a way to calm my spirit as I stood in line for the intimidating ways of ‘Homeland Security’. I would play on my i-pod Chris McGregor’s ‘Country Cooking’ to remind myself that God loves me and the hostile dude in uniform without measure.

Entering Mzantsi in 1982 after a visit to the UK, I had poetry as my rock and shield.

 

London, a frozen, dark distance

from sunny skies over Joburg

as BA flight 307 touches ground

on my anxious land. Yet rejoice, O my soul.
AJ Luthuli International Airport

where the open doors

of peace and friendship

welcomes all

who love freedom and our people

to a liberated South Africa.
Blue eyes,

warm beneath

the peaked cap of officialdom,

admires the miniature bust of VI Lenin,

COLLETS price tag still intact.
Porters on lunch-time break

grin amandla smiles.

Mbaqanga happiness

forms the excited queue.
I wonder how the debate about a new name for our country was faring and Phila’s suggestion that the Settlers Monument in Rhini, once Grahamstown, be made into the biggest beer-hall in the Eastern Cape.
And last year, like a dream, walking with Fidel Castro along Bernard Fortuin Avenue pass the Alex la Guma Cultural Centre in Elsies River where the Orient Bioscope used to be, and the Commandante laughing through his beard at my account of how we youngsters used to cheer when Zorro rode onto the screen and into our lives. And Daniel, (yes man, Daniel Ortega) saying that they did the same when he was a boy in Managua and Che somewhere in jungled Bolivia.

“Anything to declare?”

Voice hard

like blue eyes hard

like rock

tumbling down,

crashing ten-storeys down,

dangling like time.
“Anything to declare?”.
Blue eyes shouting,

“Ja, boesman, with your wing-tip shoes,

button-down collar and new blue suit.

This is South Africa!”.

“Anything to declare?”,

whipping up the Riotous Assembly of my fear.
“Yes”, I smile from the tip of my trembling toes,

“South Africa belongs to all, and to me and you, Piet”.

He does not hear the roar of “Mayibuye!” at Freedom Square.
“The People Shall Govern”, I assure him,

speaking now with the voice of the thousands

who gathered at The Congress of the People.
“Goed. You may go”.
I pick up my suitcase

and my ruffled courage and walk

past security,

past the soldiers.

My Mandela T-shirt

against my beating heart…

 

 

One Love

Lincoln van Sluytman is a fellow from Georgetown, Guyana. I met him in New York in 1982. He introduced me to the politics of Malcolm X, Maurice Bishop of Grenada and the music of that region, the West Indies. One day we travelled up to Harlem where we attended a solidarity concert in the Marcus Garvey Park. Up on the stage were members of the ANC Youth League. Lincoln heard me singing along quietly to some of the freedom songs. He seemed to love and be amused at the same time that he and I, though similar in appearance, bonded by politics and the associated variants of culture such as jazz – though we were different in the non-essentials, yet so the same in the ways that matter.

 

Comrade, my brother,

it’s a long way from Georgetown

Guyana and New York

to where I am,

walking down Raglin Road in Grahamstown, South Africa

longing to see you as I did on West 13st,

telling me about Brother Malcolm

Masekela’s horn  and Abdullah’s Cape-scapes

contouring the night.

And your smile, wide and rude-boy happy

like a clenched heart

beating in the anthem we sang

in the Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem:

“O se boloke setchaba!”.

Save our people

from the misery

of the empty pot

and the treacherous deceit

of imperial illusion.

And you laughed at me,

African and  part of you and Asia

and the whole damn wide world

we breathe in word and being,

from an African dawn

to our western decline

And laugh, my brother,

for fighters do not fear

the despot’s wrath

and laugh my brother,

a part of me and the fist

that will sweep in the day,

and may it soon come,

when the people declare –

from the Antilles to Angola,

from Beirut to Brixton,

from our lives to the heart of God,

“Enough”.

–         January 1983

 

 

yesterday

 In 1983 I was in my second year of studies for the priesthood at St Paul’s Seminary, Grahamstown. One night we had a debate about this or that. Afterwards a fellow, much older than I, spoke to me and moved me to this poem…

yesterday,

someone smiled,

“thank you for what you said”,

clasping my hand,

my heart

in a hold of understanding.

yesterday,

someone

became a friend

asking about the tomorrow

that we build today.
yesterday,

i turned my face

to the dark,

and cried.

 

 

sunday afternoon

loneliness

is

an

empty house

a

cold

kitchen

and

the

dog

at

the

far

end

of the garden.

-the feast of the epiphany 2013

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