13 August 2014, 10:07 am
The wind in the morning
The man wakes from dream
his night-aged knees
outside when he emerges
from the black mouth of his house
its burnt shell a meagre shelter
from the wind
now tugging at a loose something
and the blight it brings
like a scythe through the valleys.
Let the sun rise if it must.
Let it burn through the wind.
Let it dry them eventual white
and broken as the earth –
his neighbours the two lovers
charred in copulation
on the blackened bed
as if they unleashed the starbursts
of the bombs,
that burning burning out their love.
What’s left are the wind-worn harvests:
the neighbours’ ache,
friends’ unanswered calls,
a mother who cries,
among the millions of the unconsoled.
We who also wake
but turn away cowed, unshamed,
we whisper only to each other
of the murdered and the maimed:
single, multiple, mass –
the killing fields the index of our regress
back from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
7 May 2014, 1:04 pm
Self-portrait in blue
When you look sometimes,
when you don’t mean to see,
but on a turn
from reaching for something else –
analgesics or the shaving brush –
the fugitive blur in the mirror
where should have been
someone like you,
bagged eyes, heavier jowl,
that pull of the mouth -
what you’d rather not see
or taste again:
the bitter, repetitive defeats
of a country where death is king,
all proudly trapped still
in the chauvinist isolations
of the past, or cocooned
in barren superstitions
that yet grow and multiply;
the poets, past comrades
who jump and prance
to render their rhymes to power
the venal rottage in the veins,
tendering mouths agape in metastasis,
with fat from the banquet
or who wander distracted
in every valley or hollow-treed glen,
mimics of empire
in the quiet, restful corruptions
So you turn rather away
from the indictments of the mirror,
focus not on the burdens
of this historical self.
Look less, see less.
Say less and settle back
through the self’s wordless fog
into the dull stasis of anodynes.
19 January 2014, 11:56 am
The buzz of scooters die down
past the bamboo compound
revamped for tourists
tramping to and from an ancient temple.
Fresh and flushed by showers,
groups and couples compare their pics
and laugh and cluck, and muse
at what they can only describe
as the riches of the land:
the rice, the strange fruit,
the smiling waiters
and the call to evening prayer
hardly heard above the rain
rushing from the eaves and gutters,
roaring in the ears and in the head.
The rain stops as it started, sudden.
A moment’s hush
then the click of knives on bone and plate
and the global benefits
of American, English, Dutch.
Under the grinning moon
the river runs by silently, runs
mercurial by bridge and bamboo,
by crabs sidling like henchmen
past the tourist’s dream,
through the sleep of history.
The foreigners will cluck and leave,
heaving bolts of batik and temple curios
wrapped like careful metaphors
for their inner peace
bought with rijksdaalders, pounds, murderous dollars.
Only the sun tomorrow will cast its eye
on river-rock brown like fingers
clawing at the shore;
on a tree stump stuck in the stream
like a torso shorn of limbs,
streaking red, its banners long washed out to sea;
Only the sun will raise its weary eye
on the gecko fled from the burning walls,
its tail left twisting in wordless testimony;
on gods in flames,
their ashes falling on the killing fields.
15 June 2012, 8:44 am
This essay was originally published in Home Away (Zebra Press, 2010), edited by Louis Greenberg. Sadly, the book is being remaindered, an all too common fate for books in South Africa. “Paris, a kiss” is a companion piece, covering the same period and event.
For two weeks during July 1994, I was one of six aspirant black South African writers on a fiction workshop with Denis Hirson, a South African writer by then established in Paris for more than twenty years. The other writers were Joan Baker, Sipho Mahlobo, Isaac Mogotsi, Roshila Nair and Mango Tshabango. Sponsored in its entirety (travel, accommodation, stipend) by the French Ministry of Culture, the workshop included five or so days in Paris – staying with Parisian families, doing readings at two bookshops. But the main part – the workshop proper – took place at Royaumont Abbey, close to a small village thirty-plus kilometres north of Paris.
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27 January 2012, 7:44 am
So many questions, so few answers (published in Art South Africa, August 2010)
Fronted by Watkin Tudor Jones of Max Normal fame, Die Antwoord has caused ripples locally and internationally (just google it) and have signed with Interscope (Lady Gaga, Blackeyed Peas, 50Cent), or are on the verge of signing with them. One can’t be sure: it’s the internet, Die Antwoord, and there are conflicting reports.
Jones’s present incarnation is Ninja, a hardegat, working-class white Afrikaans man who either has truck, or wishes he had truck, with hardegat ‘coloured’ gangsters. Ninja sports gold caps and tattoos in prison fonts, some of them icons of number gangs (but no actual number) and some of them phrases from gang lexicons, like “Pretty Wise”.
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11 January 2012, 5:22 am
Achmat Davids, The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslims (From 1815 to 1915), eds. Hein Willemse and Suleman E. Dangor, Protea Book House, 2011, ISBN 978-1-86919-236-5
Since the 1950s, linguists working on the history of Afrikaans have known that the earliest written and printed Afrikaans documents – a language recognisably distinct from Dutch – were written in “Arabic-Afrikaans” in the 1800s. That is, Arabic script was used to “spell out” and produce the sounds of the language that was then developing in the colony known as the Cape. The most well-known of these is Bayān al-Dīn (loosely, “Exposition of the Faith”) by the Kurdish scholar, Abubakr Effendi, who apparently came to SA, via complicated Ottoman allegiances to the British Empire, to teach Islam to the Muslims at the Cape. While Bayān al-Dīn was completed in 1869 and published in then Constantinople in 1877, Effendi makes reference to an earlier work of the same kind. For a foreigner to move here and learn how to write in this form must mean that there was an already established tradition of such writing, as Achmat Davids indeed claims.
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