I Am An African

I am an African;
An ivory- keys- melody sending Nkosi Sikeleli from my heart to the galaxy
And the galaxy smiles when I play. It says,
I love the sound of home in your chest, dear Africa.
Under the stars I am stripped of pigment.
I am whatever colours they shine onto me and they shine them all.
Awed,
We fall in-love.
I with those gaseous fireballs and they with
White, african me.
Dear humanity:
Being white does not make me un-african.
I was born on the furthest tip of Africa’s tongue and I rolled from her lips
A secret.
Like so many baby-tooth-truths before me,
My arrival was whispered.
Because laced with this undertone of pink
Is the justification behind
The eviction that you have assigned to my race.
Tell me, dear sister, robed
In ebony:
When you ask for my name and say
That the letters taste foreign
What reaction do you expect from me?
You’ve asked me to rehearse
to rehearse
to rehearse and caress
The letters that outline you
Because they are sacred,
Because they carry your identity like a precious commodity
Because they are the first
Syl-la-bles
In this anthem of camaraderie
-the same anthem that lulls our children to peaceful sleep-,
But you seem to have forgotten your side of that lullaby.
Lullaby
Leaves my lips,
Aiming straight for your ears,
But something in the historically gun-smoked air between us
Distorts the rhythm of my words and
War-cry
Crash-lands
Into
Your ear-
Drums.
No wonder they beat so furiously.
I know that you are angry
You have a right to be, but me telling you that
Is like holding a book and telling the pages:
you have a right to be bound.
I hear your story.
Do you hear mine?
My pages have a right to be bound too.

I am an African.
My veins are laced with animal spoor,
Backed by this drumbeat-heart beating in time
With the elephant serenade of yet another marula-framed sunset.
Tell me that my skin is too pale to capture such brilliance
And I will ask you,
What artist has not started with a still paler canvas?
Artwork me is pleased with the palette that I was painted in,
Is in-love with the way that the sun tints my skin,
Is no less awed by artwork you,
Is soothed by the feel of  wind dancing in strands of my hair.
In fact, my hair is an african masterpiece;
Not quite the colour of chocolate or gold,
But some less idealised in-between.
Like the freshly unearthed riches that birthed the streets of Egoli,
I belong here.
I can feel it in the way my toes find home
In the same stones that once littered the dragon-backed Burg.
I can smell it every time my airways flood with childhood memories
From taking a breath in the veld.
I can taste it in Black Boy’s poetic rendition of mama’s cooking,
Like the way to liberation has only ever been through a heart-warming meal.
Black Boy Be onto something.
I can see it in the shades of feet that greet the stage,
Like poetry is the lung through which honesty breathes
And honesty breathes heavily
-Airways choked with ink-
Because there was never meant to be enough ink for what Africa has to say,
But we write for her anyway
And hope that the poetry, more than the pain,
Sticks.

I am an African
And I love my Africa.
Africa is a big place,
You say and you’re right, it is.
But I am a wordsmith too, so you’ll find
My Africa is a place where there are 11 official ways to say,
Welcome to Africa, white girl.

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Beasts I’ve known

One day, when you are brave enough to dive so deep that darkness becomes part of the landscape, that’s when you will find my fears. They drift about in hopes of colliding into someone or something they are strong enough to digest. Friends, they are almost always strong enough. Love is a catapult shooting soldiers into the darkness, soldiers equipped to hand-grenade fears, but they rarely know where to aim. Aim at me I plead. So few take the challenge, but preciously I guard them, like a heart trying  to protect its sentiments from the mind.

Hate is not the opposite of Love, Fear  is. Hate and Love tend to co-exist like a tree tolerating a vine, but Fear suffocates, it makes Love feel like the enemy, it psychologically dismembers and reassembles a disturbingly low reality of self-worth. Hate explodes, Fear cripples from the inside. Hate is a broken limb, Fear is cancer. Hate is slapping a friend, Fear is never daring to have one. Hate is a relationship, Fear is loneliness. Hate lives, because Love was there first. Fear stops Love from taking its first breath.

It takes courage to overcome Fear, real adrenaline-filling, heart-stopping, breath-hinging courage. I’ve learned to talk them down, but eventually every feeling needs acknowledgement. At some point, I find myself looking at those hungry beasts drifting in the dark.

We know each other well,  I say and throw a Love-grenade.

What I wish she had said instead

 

Baby girl, mama loves you. You are so beautiful. You are so beautiful that sometimes people won’t be able to resist the way that looking at you just makes them feel alive because you remind them of what God can do; You look like hope to the downtrodden, but, baby girl, sometimes people dream in their prison-cell minds of how this world would better suite their death-in-life if there were no better dressed in hope, or beauty, or God. So watch who you let in. There are armies all around you, armed with the kind of smile that strips skin from skin so subtly that it takes a tidal wave of acidic grins before the gravity of what they have taken from you sinks in. That’s why we’re called to arm ourselves in Him. Some days, this world will pull your gaze to something more tangibly lovely, more welcoming than that age-old dance between Grace and Sin. Don’t forget, my love, even then. Don’t forget that the day you were born, Time could be heard as he breathed his last sigh, and then collapsed, satisfied, into you have arrived! That’s why hearts amass in beat-skipping eulogies each time you smile; you have an hourglass laugh filled with every grain shaped since Calvary. Don’t forget how, at the moment of your birth, shorelines across the earth were simultaneously filled with the sounds of rock defying ocean-tides that night, like the waters knew that they were holding to the foot of a miracle. That miracle was you. The first time you cried, your song set the darkness ablaze. The first time I held you, I could feel a heat emanating from the hearth that God set in place of your heart. I knew then that you would be a flame, but flames can sometimes be too fierce for loved ones to linger in so, when they are burnt by you, when your tears induced by what you have done threaten to douse your spirit, I will pray for you. Though I have never seen an angel, I’ll pray that they swarm to you like bees to a bottle-brush tree and when they do, I’ll pray that they make a sanctified honey of you. That way, when you go back to sooth the hearts you have singed, they’ll find themselves stuck on you. And when you completely envelope them, they will know what it means to live in the spirit.

Baby girl, mama loves you, you are so strong. Sometimes, when I talk to God about who you might become about the mistakes you’ll make and if they’ll look like mine, I smile because baby girl, mama knows that he’s got you. Trust me, when I was my mama’s baby girl, when I watched life leave her like the way to heaven was through her eyes and the doors were slowly closing, when her despair was a photograph of the baby girl that should have been sitting beside me, when I watched her do the math; She made three of us, meant to watch three of us grow and throw ourselves at His feet, but He welcomed one of us home one lifetime too soon. Then there were two of us, desperately trying to untie the noose that baby sister baby girl’s absence offered to her neck, when mama left, He never did. And when I shook my arms, trying to sever myself from Him, He filled my arms with you. So, when I think of your life, and of how many mistakes you might make that look like mine, I smile because he’s got me too. Sometimes, He will speak to you in ways that take years to understand, but He will show you, in time, what the whisperings mean. So, though I know that you –like me- will stay up all night trying to dissect dreams, I’ll tell you anyway to let go. Live free, but don’t misconstrue what that means- baby I want you to know Jesus. He is the standard to live by. Guard your heart, like He tells us to, but take risks too. You will never know how far love can stretch if you don’t. Grace means that we get to try again and again so, when you make that mistake, the one that spells not good enough in cracked fragments of mirror, know that God doesn’t give up on us for anything. Darling, don’t you see? You are far more precious to Him than you are to me and to me you are everything. So pick yourself up when life knocks you down, when days taste like failed tests, like scraped knees and no friends, like burning closets and cobwebbed rooms like nobody understands and being all alone with nowhere to go- not even home, like no missed calls after 3 suicide tries, like what’s your name again? with more than a hint of spite, like overdosing on heartbreak and substituting air with numbness, love with fear, joy with pain. Baby girl, pick yourself up, lift those eyes to the hills and try again.

Baby girl, mama loves you, you are so precious. One day, you’ll fall inlove and you’ll get hurt. You’ll discover how heart break has a way of making it hard for you to breathe and all at once you’ll realise the mistake in wishing for someone to take your breath away, but you’ll be okay. Better if you learn to embrace how much heartbreak can re-focus heart things. See, heart strings can make a beautiful sound if only you find a musician who knows how to play. So keep tuning yourself to the Word and he’ll come along with all the right compositions to make that heart of yours sing. At last, baby girl, don’t ever give up on poetry. It’s the lung that kicks in when life knocks the wind from you. You will write about so many things, in some ways poetry will give you courage. In others it will take courage to write that poem. Keep writing. Pens will always be beautiful to you; use them as spades to dig up the ink stuck just beneath the surface of that next blank page. Ask your questions there. Find your answers there. Let poetry be your roadmap to constellations of dreams and let scripture be your compass. Together, they will navigate you away from black holes and solar-flares to a life hand-sculpted by the sculptor of you.

At last, baby girl, know that there isn’t anywhere I would rather be, than here, with you.

 

Singing in the shower is underrated

It’s a big bad world we live in kids, better get your shit together, or you’ll be left in the dust of those that have theirs already wrapped.

Savoury image. Thanks for that…

Baby girl, all you have in the world to depend on is you, so don’t you let anyone in. Build those walls high enough to give China a run for its money, but not so high that they become an attraction -you don’t want to be somebody’s challenge.

I love. I love so openly. I love so openly that even heartbreak feels more like home than never having had a reason to nurse the pain. I will love them all. I will take every beating of fists as a challenge and transpose them to beating of chests.

Don’t live so loud, you’ll draw attention to yourself. 

When I shower, I sing at the top of my lungs -unless a whisper would better suggest the lyrics. When there is music, man oh man, I can’t wait to dance! When the weather turns warm, I sing and dance and play under the sun. When it rains, I splash.

People might stare.

Let them.

They will ostracise you for being too vivacious! Too alive! Too young! Too bold!

I will be vivacious, alive, young and bold still.

They will judge you everywhere! School, home, social circles…

Still.

Even church.

Still.

Still?

Life is unforgiving regardless of whether or not we choose to sing in the shower.
Still.

 

 

Sonnet 01

A wounded Pride will not rest ere Revenge,
The cold, the savage, the bitter to taste,
Has pressed its cracked lips to a smiling face
And felt such soft skin- from the broken- cringe,
As that of petals hoping to bloom again.
Those broken lips rip holes through petal-space,
like nightmares through a young dreamer’s rib-cage,
And Pride lets slip its control of Vengeance.
So, if flowers are prey to chasm kisses,
Then Hope is a soil for fleurs to steep in
And Revenge can kiss like a strong pesticide,
But for all blackhole and nightmarish threats
There is a garden, with a dream growing
Of Love and of lip-balm and a healed Pride.

Gros bisous

Darling, we are worlds apart but I think you beautiful. My words after the years have allowed us to drift from memory and pain and longing. Still, I will love you. Ton prénom sera dans mon cœur d’aujourd’hui à toujours.  I will trace the ways we’ve watched the stars like late-night conversation constellations and dream of how I used to dream about you. That night I will dream of you again, and wake up to tears that touch my skin as gently as your breath once did. Oh, how I will miss you when I have had my full three-score and ten. knowing that God somehow gave me the strength to do that without you will still give me shivers and I will wonder what your years looked like; if you are glad of how they blossomed. I will wonder what our blossoms would have looked like together. Tell me, love, would our garden have been full as beautiful as you? 

When I am seventy years old, I will not wonder where the years went, or mourn the fast-approaching end of my story. Instead, I will have a library of sentiments to share, I will be a vessel of well-lived- a crumpled poem, worn at the edges. Mon cheri, I will think of you often, with tenderness, but I will be happy and hope that you are too.

I will have written an anthology of poems about you and not all of them will be sad, or tinged  with that bitter hue of what might have been, had you let it. Eventually I will stop trying to blame you for the story we never got to create, or for your leading me to believe that our story had already lived through its infancy. I will have forgiven you then, not in patches of I love you, I hate you, I miss you, don’t touch me, stay with me, leave, come to me, forget us, forget it, forget everything, but fully.

Yes, when I am old I will regard you with all the wisdom and understanding that such a feat as age bestows upon a person. But I am young still and continue to idealise our small handful of kisses as a tragic love-story, though it’s duration was scarcely longer than that of a lone candlestick. There is beauty there, somewhere, and I feel that If I could only dig a little deeper in this poem and a little farther in that, then I will surely find it and have peace. It is a noble task, I think.

Shiver

My friend, look at me.
I feel brave enough to say,
out loud to you and to a world of strangers,
that I found more than just peace
in the seconds I used to pass in your presence.
Friendship wasn’t all I saw when I looked at you.
what I saw when I looked at you
were the five things in your eyes that excited me,
the ways that your stare made me shiver.
when I looked at you
our eyes met and my world was jolted a little
by way of consequence.
I call our time together providence,
you may call it what you like.
When I looked at you I saw
your eyes,
those eyes.
I saw so much
in those eyes,
your eyes.

The very first time my eyes ventured to find yours
I thought,
Daym…
I like the way you look,
the way you view.
I imagined your root-like irises
stretching to touch that cholesterol hula-hoop
that pens them in- the colour of wood.
-Of warm wood,
-like cedar-meets-Walnut warm wood,
with a wood-fire gaze.
Do you remember when you would thaw me with that hearth?
Your blaze refreshed me.
It felt like the glacier enclosing my spirit
dared to kiss a flame
and instead of dying,
transformed into a puddle of peace.
So puddle and flame would sit for hours,
side by side
and our hidden heart’s desires would pepper the night
like stars,
never touching
for fear that we would amount to little more
than a steam-trail rising against a burnt sky.
The embers in your eyes delighted me
and I found home in that familiar flicker of your face,
the one that invited me
to be all of me
with you.
Whenever life chilled,
I knew that I could always return
to you,
my fireplace.

Eventually I noticed that you were like the weather.
you began to look at me in a way
that made hurricanes germinate between us.
In my memory of that squall,
you were the wind
and I, the rain.
I wanted only to fall through you, but you blew me away
choosing hail instead.
Those stones could not be blown
so they tore holes instead.
She, the hail,
you, the tattered wind.
The destruction looked beautiful to me,
so I fell through a breeze instead.
A gentle breath of air that loved me for a drizzle.
In my attempt to love him for a wind, I flooded him.
He the breeze,
I, the fickle rain.
your gale found me shivering as
I felt your tempest absorb me
and thought,
if bad weather could be beautiful,
I need only return your gaze to understand why.
My raindrops yearned for a blizzard to form that beauty of a storm with
and your hurricane gaze enthralled me,
crawled beneath my skin.
So I thought,
you could be my monsoon
and I, your deluge.
I fell in love with a tornado,
not yet having learned that swirling clouds are something to run away from.
I trusted you,
my perfect storm.

I found a voyage in your regard;
a curious glint-of-a-ship
in your eye,
traversing across seas of knowledge.
Vessel-you challenged the billows,
dropped anchor in the most violent swells
and drank-
never satiated by the thirst-inducing waves.
Your boldness was fascinating.
It seemed to me that this ocean of truths
revealed to you its secrets,
transfixed- as I was-
by your maverick pupils.
With every blink,
a gust of wind puffed out your eager sails
in search of the next thing that you might find interesting.
I found you interesting.
So, my vessel challenged yours until
yours became a part of who I wanted to be.
I loved the explorer in you.
Some days you kept me from drifting, so
I put my faith
in you,
my anchor.

At your touch, I thought,
inhale me.
Breathe me in.
Make me crave you and I’ll be back
before you’ve doubled back
to ask me back.
I closed my eyes
and shivered.
It felt like an explosion;
heating our skin,
clawing its way in,
compensating for something.
Lack of love?
maybe,
but I remember the way I fit into the space
between your arm and your side
perfectly.
I remember tracing
your lips
with my teeth
and your teeth
with my tongue
and how your lips gently closed around the tip of my thumb.
It tasted like Dom Pedro.
I remember everything.
If we had been flavours,
you were the sugar and I, the spice;
because your kiss tasted sweet and mine was rough,
because you wanted me,
had acquired a taste for me,
but only so much,
because as much as I desired you,
you posed a threat to my pre-diabetic love.
Sugar, you made me shiver,
charged me with eyes like forgotten-gold dropped in a jaded river,
pulled me into your whisper and advised me not to fall for you,
but held me like I was made for you anyway.
Any day, we could’ve lost it.
You told me not to think about it as your kiss enveloped my fingertips
and then, In little more than a look said,
this is all I want from you.
I’ve never felt so cold.
I couldn’t have imagined such cruelty
from you,
my heartbreak.

So, look at me
my friend and fireplace,
my perfect storm,
my anchor,
my love and heartbreak.
Give me one last look at that fifth thing
the one I can’t bring myself to immortalise here
in this poem,
because then I lose that too.
I’ll look for something of a whisper
of those eyes I once loved.
I’ll search your tangled roots,
until my palms are lathered in scratches,
for that familiar warmth,
but find no dancing embers.
I’ll finally learn to run from swirling clouds,
though I suspect a storm of a man will still wreak havoc in my dreams.
When that happens, I’ll ignore the shivers, and think,
maybe your hurricane was just not right for me,
maybe wind and rain only ever tatter hearts
and flood friendships with pain.
Maybe the only one made to love with a storm-like beauty
is Jesus,
then all unforeseen kisses would be heavenly.
In my searching, I’ll discover that
I should have seen the suffocation coming;
Those tidal-wave eyes needed something to crash into,
to crush and tumble and drown.
tug-boat-me was just in the wrong place at the wrong time-
an accidental casualty of your curiosity.
I’ll decide never to call you anchor again,
then stop searching as it dawns on me
that there isn’t any love left for me to find.
Those eyes will be like foreign orbs.
So I’ll let the memories flood instead:
I wanted to kiss you
I’ll remember, you said.
And so, you did.
The act meant nothing more and not a thing less.
I’ll remember realising when this particular flavour of pain
tasted just like the words of John Greenleaf Whittier:
For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.
I’ll remember loving you only as much as hating you,
and missing you only as much as loathing to be around you.
I’ll remember everything.

Finally, I’ll let it all go, but treasure that fifth thing,
the one I couldn’t bear to immortalise here,
because it has only ever been beautiful
and this is a story of pain.
If reading it hurts you too, know that my motive goes no further than this:
Pain needs to breathe.
My love, I breathe in poetry.

Breathe, girl, breathe.

Sometimes I forget to stop holding my breath. I’ve dived, touched the bottom and resurfaced, but have yet to tip my head back and fill my lungs with life. Perhaps its all the pollution in the air that causes me to desist from sucking in the potentially bitter fumes- even if that means sacrificing what I need, at least I’ll die with a clean, however empty, chest. Mais c’est bizarre, ça. Maybe, if I back-track, I’ll figure out what caused me to dive in the first place, so I close my eyes and let my life play out its farce of a narrative.

 

The curtains part, and there  I am- smaller than a mustard seed.

– I think I hope I fear that I was made in love. If this [look in the mirror] is the best that love can do, then fairytales need to stop filling little girls with hope. What awaits is either a broken spirit or a broken arm, both as a result of learning the hard way that no matter how loud you shout “I believe!”, no amount of sawdust is ever going to make you fly. Neverland does not exist. It never did. Ergo, love fails.

Exit.

Enter: 18 month old me.

– Today I learn not to take parents for granted. Mine are traded for a more capable pair. Love wins.

Exit.

Ten years pass, ‘bullied’ is my least favourite verb. It’s also my most familiar. Enter: Me.

– I have spent many break-times devouring pages in an effort to avoid less kind words from my peers, or his peers, or him. Hermione is teaching me to desire intelligence. Obelix says it’s okay to be fat. Roald Dahl assures me that a recipe for happiness, or better dreams exists, so I’ve started experimenting with abstract ingredients. I started looking more closely at the girl framed on my wall, she doesn’t say much, but stares back at me like she knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. I don’t trust her. Horse-riding makes me happy. My definition of love is inconsistent.

Exit.

Enter: Me, 12 years old -to the day.

– Birthday’s are not important to me anymore. Today, we’re moving to a different city so no celebration. I’m okay with that. People treat me better here, although I highly suspect their kindness forms part of a ploy to catch me off-guard. I’m rude to everyone, just in-case.

Ex-

– I think I like a boy..

Exit.

Grade 11, the day I meet my dad (for the second time). Enter: Me, scared shitless.

– I’m trying to make sense of a man that abandons his children twice, but still has the audacity to ask for forgiveness. God all but hands me a mirror and asks if what I see is really better. I shakily forgive my dad. Love wins.

Exit.

Enter: Me

– I will never forget the week I turned 19. I dive.

Exit.

Enter: 21 year old me.

– I’m told by my reflection that I should suck it up. I envy her moral-detachment; she doesn’t have to go through the suffocation, she only has to play the part well enough to convince me that It’s possible for me to face my fears. I fear her. Society has granted me permission to use the phrase “I’ve been through a lot”, and maybe I have, but I’m perpetually aware of those that have gone through worse and come out better. I’m not sure that I want to drown anymore. Finally, the girl framed on my wall speaks; “breathe, girl, breathe”.

Exuent.

I’m learning to separate the life-giving air from the suffocating stuff. My hope is to be better. I want to be better. I choose to breathe, even with the risk of choking and being looked down at by the habitual clean air drinkers. Ça en vaudra la peine.