‘I come from’, a new poem by Khadija Tracey Heeger

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents a new poem by Khadija Tracey Heeger.


I come from

I come from Caledon dust
Where my mother grew her bones
To fit under my father’s arm;
I come from crooked fig trees in my grandmother’s backyard
Alive with bees;
I come from loose-tongued women
Who speak their minds
And drink beer with men
Under oak trees on a Saturday afternoon
Where the politics of what was proper fell short of the doorstep
And from here at the hearth of a coal stove
Boiling water for baths in a steel tub
Made for 5 women and their children;
And from that place where a woman took me
Slimy into her midwife arms
And called me daughter with her whole heart.

I come from a man who used his hands and spirit
To make my life safe, driving Cape City Council trucks
For something that could not be called making a living;

I come from biology, mythology, adoption, community;
From unnatural Catholic beliefs, masturbation is a sin
To rape and overriding carnal pleasures
Disguised as love;
I come from pain masked by alcohol and amphetamines,
Imperfections that called me a whore at 14,
A pregnant teen at 15,
A dead mother at 19,
Two marriages, two divorces
And four children: Bjorn, Nicole, Alfred and Wayne.

I come from ‘I think nothing of myself’
To nights when suicide was a pure option
And poetry was for darkness,
A place where forgiveness did not pause.
I know what alone is,
When my neighbours were the only ones who had food to share.

I come from passion and power,
Marigolds, dahlias, frangipani;
I come from a complex identity
That cannot be fashioned around colour,
Religion, gender, sexual orientation
And conventional notions of family.

I am the offspring of Harry die Strandloper,
Krotoa, Ansela van de Caeb, Susana van Bengal, Van Riebeeck the barbarian and many more.
I come from places I have not been and people I have not seen;
I am the parchment of a history that is rarely spoken
Sitting behind museum curtains
Entrusted to tour guides whose tongues speak benign slavery.

In the ledger of time nothing adds up.
For what happened in the Lodge, Prestwich Place
Church square,
On tortured pages of history
Is never really written in their tongues.
Their voices catch in a spirit gag
And the sperm of centuries ago walk on streets of denial
In European cities that I need a passport for.

And in unsung celebrations of black mothers and fathers
Until we speak
Until we speak
Until we speak
Our unanswered questions cancer our children;
Horror and anger unspoken is a ghost with a grudge;
My love makes me speak,
I come from this.

© 2020, Khadija Tracey Heeger

  • Khadija Tracey Heeger is a poet, actor and writer involved in a range of writing, acting and other cultural projects. Her first collection of poetry, Beyond the Delivery Room, appeared in 2013 (Modjaji Books). Her work includes the multimedia poetic/theatre pieces, Stone Words (commissioned in 2007 for Spier) and Uhadi (Paris, 2013 Festival d’Automne, with Toni Stuart, Ncebakazi Mnukwana and Christopher Ferndale).

    Heeger has appeared in the drama series Sarah se Geheim (Sarah’s Secret, Kyknet), as well as in Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story and ITV’s What Lies Beneath. She continues working with Jazzart, her most recent performance with them, Cape of Ghosts, having featured at the 2019 Grahamstown Arts Festival.
Header image: Neil Alexander McKee on Flickr

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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