Poetry by Keith Lewis, Nqobile Lombo, Busisiwe Mahlangu, Mthabisi Sithole and Xabiso Vili from Yesterdays and Imagining Realities: An Anthology of South African Poetry

The JRB presents poems by Keith Lewis, Nqobile Lombo, Busisiwe Mahlangu, Mthabisi Sithole and Xabiso Vili, selected from Yesterdays and Imagining Realities: An Anthology of South African Poetry, recently published by Impepho Press (2020) and an initiative of the French Institute of South Africa. The anthology contains new and original work and we are grateful to the publisher for permission to publish a small selection from this anthology.

You Change

Nqobile Lombo

It is so interesting to me
what you see
and how that changes

You sit, and hear of Dannhauser
your grandmothers worked there as labourers
one escaped to Durban
the others followed
This is land they worked on

You are in Hammarsdale, Mpumalanga township
you are in a four bedroom house
you are inherently hearing of the land you lost

So you look at your hands
what you see
and how that changes

You listen to your Grandfather
who was forcibly removed from Cato Manor
in the 1950s and put into makeshift camps
with strangers
with children

So you look at yourself
what you see
and it changes

You document how a mother burns herself to death
after she could not provide for her children
when the act—THAT act—forcibly removed them
and here her children are
on the land they claimed

So you look to God
because you are changing

Then you read
you read that most churches still own the land
inherited by colonial rulers
and they refuse to let it go

Then you don’t see yourself anymore

Smartie Town (tr.)

Keith Lewis (tr. Pieter Odendaal)

is the life expectancy of laaities here in the wild west
twenty-eight if you play your cards well
fraternities of honey yellow babies are armed with knives
that the old gal is still settling with a family friend
their small feet garrison wilted territory like jail fences
the general sits in his smartie box far away from the abattoir
orders surf on spit from his gilded well
caged birds whistle
guy fawkes gallops through rawboned streets on a pale horse
the police are tumbleweeds
on monday blue babies crawl back to crib in a coffin
bodies like mine pose in their prom suits
smartie town is a spaza shop for fresh graves

A book of dead black boys

Xabiso Vili

Anthology, which means a book of poems, is Greek for flowers.

The black boy, he lies in a flowerbed
and wild chrysanthemums bloom from his eyes.
Wilting garlands and thorns adorn his head,
his floating tongue sheds petals as he dies.

This dark child wore a sparkling daisy crown,
cried when he found himself soft.
Incandescence, like us, are prone to drown—
watch how we spill cracked concrete when we cough.

This world would bury a flower’s lament,
have the audacity to call them seeds.
His breath was gut-filled with soil and cement,
white knuckle plucked because you thought him weeds.

This thirsty earth must be fertile by now,
enough coffins to prepare your soil.
But when the black grows after the plough,
will you still use those hands for sweat and toil?

How I envy the lonely wand’ring cloud,
I write only of trees, and wreaths, and shroud.

A Face of Many

Mthabisi Sithole

some people can only be imagined
breathing, unfurling
resting & busy
a being wonderful quietly taking to action,
some people can only be imagined
a being inhabiting a body
soft, the horror of hard eyes

when they smile, it is not only
between their lips, in teeth
it’s also behind them
that smile fills them
spreads like rains, grips you
sits on their face and pulls
a day from the depths, dragging back
the sheets

some people can only be imagined
in their night,
at time’s bank of leering anxieties
in cries and hushing
you were not there, to imagine
tomorrow, to imagine truly
not then but here,
here you are

loving like our mothers

Busisiwe Mahlangu

i can sit here but i am running out of time
                                                    losing time is the first act of disappearance
you can kiss me while your nose bleeds into my mouth
                                            your blood is not death. not a body begging for
                                                                                                                a funeral.
it is my father’s burial in the next
house. the elders are asking for me
for my body to make tea and scones
                                      show me other ways of grieving that are not just
                                                                                                                for you
the church women told me touching
a boy is a sin. letting a boy touch you
is a greater sin.
                                            there is a hell colouring the ground open for us
my mother was seventeen when
she met him. a year older than me. two
years later my brother cleansed the sin
                                                    i need your comfort. only when i am ruined
i have a wound in my bones older
than me. it is my mother, locking
herself under my rib. safe and in love.
                                                          no, i cannot tell them i have a boyfriend.
i am losing time/disappearing/bleeding,
eating graveyard sand
opening the ground for                        forgiveness
                                                                                        looking for a better man
                                                  a man who won’t die with his mouth silent.



Yesterdays and Imagining Realities: An Anthology of South African Poetry is available from the Exclusive Books nationwide, and from The Commune in Braamfontein, Joburg. Alternatively, please email getinfo@impephopress.co.za to get a copy delivered to you.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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