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Three Poems by Phelelani Makhanya

The Soil

A John Deere tractor
drags an open trailer up the gravel road.
Its pointed exhaust pipe
puffing a smoke trail towards the sunset.

Farm workers in the trailer,
call the tractor; ‘iMamba eluhlaza’, the green Mamba.
Ochre sunscreen smeared on their faces,
iLala grass hats on their heads,
they are moving scarecrows:
lifeless figures miming humans.

The tractor and the trailer wheels
stir up dust and gravel,
paste it on their sweaty faces.
This is the only moment
they can claim the soil as theirs.

They sing, clapping.
They sing a folksong
of their forefathers.
They sing to Nomkhubulwane;
the African rain Goddess.

They sing pleading for
abundance in the soil,
in a land owned by a white man.


Sometimes he feels like
the green Telkom public phone,
by the gravel roadside.

A shattered digital display:
receiver cut-off, cable hanging
like a misplaced
+++ l


what happened to the voices?
what happened to the sweet
hallos and goodbyes?

what went wrong?

Quality Air

They say people in villages
are blessed because they breathe
‘pristine quality air’.

What they don’t know
is that the steam coming from the pots
boiling stones, fills the air
with suffocative steel gas.

Breathing with an empty stomach
makes your chest rattle
like zinc sheets in a storm;
like it’s going to cave-in
and collapse.
A bowel can’t digest a rubble
of ribs and lungs.