One from the heart: Dimakatso Sedite's Yellow Shade
I hate poetry. I love poetry so much. Naturally, I hate this book. And I love this book so much.
As I write about Yellow Shade, I am sitting on my bed (coincidentally with a yellow sheet and yellow throw pillows), a cigarette in my left hand and a fan heater perched on the edge of my mattress to warm my naked body on a cold Cape Town morning. As a writer who is afraid to share their poetry, I hate poetry and poets for their bravery and audaciousness in sharing their words with the world. As a person who enjoys nakedness (in solitude and with a lover), I love poets and poetry for its ability to dress us down to our bare trembling hearts.
As a black girl who was never told they are loved by her parents, consequently educated in a system of colonial miseduction, the prospect of reviewing a poetry book often feels like a trick-exam I cannot pass. Do I understand the poems? Do I understand anything? Wanelisa, what qualifies you to review poetry when your poems have never escaped your tattered teenage journals?
Thank God poetry only requires us to dress down to our minimal trembling hearts, Dimakatso Sedite’s great MalomeMalome means uncle. This is a reference to the author’s great uncle, an ancestor who died in WWII to whom she dedicates a poem. whispers to me. His breath is warm, laced with oak rum, courage and British gunpowder.
Poetry requires our nakedness. It requires us to sit quietly and listen with the wisdom of our skin.
After months of running, I have entered Dimakatso Sedite’s dark-walled living room, sat away from her yellow leather chairs onto the gray and mustard cold tiles and opened my skin to the poems…
There, in the far far corner sits Dimakatso Sedite on top of a beige and brown grass mat with Malome, Cassius, Eulander, Machaka, Manana and a legion of ancestors by her side. On top of her head hangs a glossy mahogany octagon frame housing an older couple bearing a knowing smile. I smile back at them. I smile at Dimakatso Sedite too, just before I close my eyes, determined to listen with my skin.
In my mind’s eye, I see the author seated on a grass mat (amongst her people) with her trembling heart on the palm of her left hand. Still in my mind’s eye, I see myself get up and kneel in front of her to witness her heart. When I was younger, I thought everything needed a critical opinion. As I grow older, I have realized that any work that an author puts out reveals the condition of her heart.
Broken hearts offer bleeding work. Abundant hearts offer words that bloom like lavender in our hearts.
Much of my younger offerings revealed a heart disfigured by grief and unbelonging. In the same way, I believe Yellow Shade reveals a heart. My mandate is to merely witness the author’s heart and her offering (especially to us Black women).
So I kneel in gratitude and witness the way the color yellow bounces light onto the author’s heart. I gently place my two palms underneath her left palm that is holding her heart. I open my fingers to make space for the seven arteries and four veins of her heart.
Nothing is more powerful than the pulse of a heart that dares to beat outside of the human body.
Yellow Shade is a brave heart. Yellow Shade is literary gold. It is a skill of genius to be able to take a color like yellow that is lazily associated with sunshine and churn it to illustrate an umbrella of human emotions. Or rather, it takes an abundant heart to turn yellow into a rainbow. I have never known yellow to signify sensuality and passion. I have not known yellow to trigger nostalgia. I have never associated yellow with grief. Nor has yellow ever invoked (for me) the great spirits of our Khoi ancestors. This is what I mean about offerings that come from abundant hearts, they are fruitful and multiply the hearts of the people receiving the offering.
However, abundant hearts and their offerings require a level of bowel wrenching honesty too. The ability to wrestle with grief and darkness. Yellow Shade engages with grief from two angles: death and romantic heartbreak. Dimakatso Sedite writes poetry about losing a mother at a young age, losing friends, losing an uncle she never knew and witnessing a father grieve his daughter’s death from an accident on Dolo Road. Oftentimes, we experience death and grief as big and engulfing. But in Yellow Shade, grief is located in “doilies on the sofa”, “oil in cabbage” and other seemingly mundane things. Death is condensed into a capsule and grief is expressed in tiny unrelenting reminders which hurt more than the grandness of (big engulfing) death.
As I wrestle with my self-imposed grief for a man I wish to love (yet must never allow myself to love), Yellow Shade soothes me. I read the poem Love On Fire a gazillion times, honestly. There is something comforting and deeply insulting about this poem. Comforting to know that there are other women whose love is a quick furnace reserved for cold icy men whose warmth has been killed by patriarchy. It is also insulting to the narcissistic part of me who wants to believe no one can love as hard as I can. Moreover, when the author takes us in between lovers’ sheets, through the halls of Apartheid hostels or train stations, the words beg us to think seriously about structural violence, migration, the dehumanization of the Black man and Black women’s bodies used as relief.
Going back to the poem Love On Fire, one witnesses a woman love a man with a love that “sweats the kind of madness you smell in dogs on the run”. An accurate description of how I love too! The lock-each-other-away-and-fuck-for-a-week kind of love. Then I cry hard when my lover leaves because I was building a life with a woman who was only collecting queer experiences. And me? I was merely the thirtieth amusement park on their queer tour. A desperate, reckless and senile love.
Perhaps an equally impactful thread of the book is the dying because of love. The poem where an older sister returns (after she was brutally killed by a significant other) to warn her younger sibling about the danger of loving men with abandon. She must never let men love her too much, “lest her scent bends inside his skull like heat in folds of cabbage”. A recipe that might result in the younger sister landing in the same predicament as her: bullet holes and her face turned “into a messed-up piece of meat”. This poem narrates the awful reality for many South African women we knew and loved who were brutally murdered in intimate partner violence. It made me think, how sad is it that we must measure our love? Have it rolled into tiny morsels so that we don’t die. In South Africa, love and death are intertwined. A dance with Love can be a tango to the grave. Love is a cautionary tale.
To conclude, Yellow Shade is about movement and spectacular vulnerable storytelling. From pre-Apartheid 1945, to the men’s hostels during apartheid, the train and bus stations, the shacks of the township, the sweaty palms of a lover, we move till we eventually sit under the yellow shade of a //Hui !Gaeb (Cape Town) tree. The author introduces us to her ancestors, her guides and a wealth of South African people who history does not deem important or sexy enough to remember. This is the first time I have witnessed a mother who left her children to go drink (and subsequently her shack burns down) written with no judgment or hatred. Instead she is archived into a book of poetry and stylised into a piece of art. This speaks greatly of the heart of the author.
Yellow ShadeYellow Shade won the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Award 2022 for Best Poetry Collection is about movement from the Gautrain and cold soulless city living to the author’s dream to live in nature. I could write a thousand pages about the significance and symbolism of Dimakatso Sedite ending her book with a poem titled I Want To Live. Instead I will say this… Sisi, I have read your offering and therefore I have examined your heart. Here, on the beige and brown grass mat in the presence of your ancestors, I have experienced your heart as abundant. Each word on every page explodes with life. Where I come from, an abundant heart and life-giving words can only come from authentic LIVE-ING.
|1.||↑||Malome means uncle. This is a reference to the author’s great uncle, an ancestor who died in WWII to whom she dedicates a poem.|
|2.||↑||Yellow Shade won the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Award 2022 for Best Poetry Collection|