“Brand” and “The lesson for today” and “What ocean”
Tell us sir, why are you so
full of shit? Now come on, Man, don’t be afraid,
speak right up into the microphone.
– Amiri Baraka (‘Blue Whitie’)
Can you gig it? A posture of street smarts
on the back of renounced elocution lessons,
those polite words you will no longer say
still sludging in the backyard of your mind
like church sundaes. It’s just another way
to find your true home the homily, that
politically correct swagger that leads you
to more swag, brother: the incessant rap-tap
of a tap dance of clichés you always have
on tap. Harvard-hallowed, then Yaled hail!ed,
made cornier by Cornell, big toe licked slick
by every liberal who for sure will ignore
your salad days of privilege, all you now
swear not by. Isn’t it fine to be downborne,
become the sister/brother/other you invoke,
after all the years of being someone else?
Your ancestors were branded in their pain,
now you have conjured them into a brand
and garbled them up with your evil I …
to parrot a poet who ponders on truth:
come, step right up to the microphone!
The lesson for today
“What,” intones the Minister, in her Oxford accent,
“is all this nonsense about speaking truth to power?”
She pauses. Wags a finger. “You writers should be proud
to be part of our Government’s strategy of social cohesion.”
Her chiding at an end, she is wafted from our sight
in a limousine that wends its passage carefully o so
carefully away between the beggars and street hawkers.
Tides that murmur of returning,
pale light glazing on their hands,
this sprinkling of old men
now strolling along the pier
each one constantly in dispute
with his own body
pause at the end
to squint mistrustfully out over
the swells and agitation
and cannot help
past any horizon
they can yet see
Kelwyn Sole was born in Johannesburg and has lived there as well as in Windhoek, Kanye, London and Cape Town. He was De Beers Professor of Literature at the University of Cape Town until his retirement, and his creative and critical work has been widely published.
His first collection of poems, The Blood of Our Silence, won the Olive Schreiner Prize and his seventh, Walking, Falling, won the South African Literary Award (SALA) for Poetry. His eighth and most recent, Skin Rafts, was shortlisted for the NIHSS Prize. Individual poems have won the Thomas Pringle, Sydney Clouts and DALRO Awards.