I opened my mother’s chest
and found a straw mat
on it, a grief-stricken woman denied a black blanket
a village of whispers
telling her not to cry
I opened her fist and found a young girl
first blood, eleven, cooking for her brother
proud oversized floral dress in front of an open flame
a hovering aunt chiding
white samp in a black pot
I opened the pot and found a mountain
a seventeen year old boy
wrapped in a white blanket with a red stripe
a pack of men corralled around him
kindling secrets into a fire
a smoky passage a plastic hut
I opened the hut and found an ocean
a father who did not weep
questions no one can ask
an unburied son
a checked blazer that cannot be worn
a mother with questions in place of her child
a trolley that strays too far
from Pick ‘n Pay
may never find its way back.
its stickers will fall off
the silver will rust
an old senile man will be the only one
to find use for it
when the wheels fall off
he will wrap it with a black plastic bag
make it home
and when he dies
it will wait
in a government alley morgue
when the rain does not fall
When the rain does not fall for as long as it has not fallen now
the elders go up the mountain / amagqirha nabathandazeli /
Those whose legs can still carry them over rocks /
Who have lived long enough to win favour with the mountains /
Those who are called to give counsel when there is conflict /
uMakazi says the rain is right not to fall Asisalimi Izakuwela ntoni
imvula amasimi ehleli engasetyenzwa? Abantwana bagcwele iidolophi
bekhangelana nent’abangayaziyo Siphalele singabantu We have spilled
We have spilled out of God’s hands
In my early days of dreaming, of remembering my dreams, I saw a fire. A wild fire burning the streets. Burning houses, burning fields, burning children. Not even the white children were safe. Not even the rich children. I saw an old man burning. First his stick. Then his body. His once grey beard ablaze. Burning libraries, and schools, and kraals. Everything was on fire.
Utywala smells of blood
I have been bleeding for three weeks now. I have been drinking for much longer. I am still alive. They tell me to bleed onto a white cloth. To use a white towel when washing my body. To sleep on top of a white sheet. I am still bleeding. Next to two candles, white and navy blue, and a bowl of impepho. Umakhulu returns drunk from izila. She says inkomo iye yabaleka bengekayixheli. The boys chased it into the next village before it disappeared. She says bebengasoze bachithe utywala sebukhona. My eyes are teary, lids thick from the smoke, and being tired. The first time I meet uMam’Nomhla I call her Makhulu. It isn’t until two weeks later, when we are back home that I find out she isn’t much younger than umama. Contrary to her rattling around the dirty hut. On our visit, she takes small hunched steps, lighting candles, burning impepho picking out a crusty leopard print cloth to wrap around her waist from behind the mattress leaning against the wall. She takes an equally dirty, once-white towel from the floor to cover her shoulders and sits down on her cowhide drum with a thick white beaded necklace and snuff. She says I have bad spirits. Not evil. Just bad. She says it’s like walking in the veld and having those black thorny plants catch onto your pants or socks. I forget what they are called. The next time I see her, to remove the thorns, mama forces me to carry my own blankets. In a plastic bag, I have candles, an unopened packet of razor blades, matches and a bottle of vodka – we must use white spirits to connect izihlwele zethu. It does not occur to me that I do not know her ancestors. She is drunk when I arrive. She cannot walk. Mama makes me promise to pray. It takes two and a half candles to pass a night without wind. Sunrise is further in August than during the spring. It takes the shadows of three old women under a window to keep an old man from sneaking into their granddaughter’s panties. Roosters do not sleep as long as the sun. My lover and I have not shared a bed in three months. I have not kissed her with my mouth open in three weeks. When she touches me, I feel like someone has knocked the back of my knees out with a hammer. I am always too heavy for her to catch. Now we fight about everything. I left a red stain on the inside of the toilet seat. She left a note asking me to be more considerate when using shared spaces. She complains her clothes smell of impepho. Everything smells of impepho. She smells of blood. When she is drunk, she is chasing a cow. She is always chasing the same cow. When she is drunk, she tells me we cannot serve utywala to the rest of the family. We drink it all, alone. Utywala smells of blood.
Mama I am burning
For Fezeka “Khwezi” Kuzwayo
I am burning mama. Mama, I’m burning.
In a box. Set on fire while I slept.
I slept mama. A girl faced the bullets head on. She caught a bullet in her eye. She is blind mama.
Something is wrong mama. I kept pulling down my skirt.
Kept checking my lipstick. I was hiding in this box.
They found me hiding mama.
This fire is an uncle you trusted mama.
An uncle who promised to watch me while you were gone.
And while you were gone, in my sleep, the fire burned me mama.
While you were gone.
While I was sleeping.
I forgot to pull my skirt down. I put too much lipstick on.
I am burning mama. Mama, I am burning!
Utywala smells of blood was previously published in New Coin
Mama I am burning was previously published in red cotton
Utywala image by Mandisa Haarhoff
All other images by Thokoza Dlozi ka Vusumzi Ngxande