Maverick Citizen


Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Part Seven)

Art work: Paul Edmunds, Square Tangle detail, Bronze, 2016. Courtesy Paul Edmunds and Whatiftheworld Gallery.

In this feature by Maverick Citizen twice a week, poet Ingrid de Kok selects South African poetry that sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, addresses the question of how to imagine ourselves, how to be, in the current situation.

Editors’ note to readers: The automated sound device that accompanies articles in the Daily Maverick is to assist readers who are blind or have reading difficulties. It is not designed for poetry. Where possible, we advise you to read the poems rather than listen.

Loneliness, mental distress, flashbacks to traumatic events, self-punishment: poets have written about these dark experiences for centuries. In her intense poem, New meds, printed below in the Afrikaans original and her own translation into English, Ronelda Kamfer writes of an unnamed, unnameable “thing slowly eating you” and desperate responses to it. She reminds the reader that in every-day family or work life, many of us also self-medicate. Perhaps poetic language affords a temporary remedy when “the edge feels too close.” 


nuwe meds

by Ronelda Kamfer


It may be crazy but I’m

The closest thing I have

To a voice of reason

– Bill Callahan, “I’m new here”


as die pille nie meer werk nie

en die scalding hot bad en showers

word te veel interupted met flashbacks

en jy eet tot jy naar word of

jy starve tot jy leeg voel

onthou dat jy supposed is om so te voel

as jy jou hare in ’n rage knip of dye

en die temptation om die sigaret op jou arm

dood te druk raak te veel

onthou dié is die ding wat jou stadig opvreet

elke oomblik van elke dag

maar nie vandag nie

vandag vind ons ’n nuwe way

’n safe vorm van selfmedicating

rooiwyn en ’n otc pynpil

hou die Gin en die opioids op standby

vir die staff lunch

of die family visit

vir die dae wanneer

die edge te naby is

From: Chinatown, Kwela, 2019.

New meds

It may be crazy, but I’m
The closest thing I have
To a voice of reason
           – Bill Callahan, “I’m new here”

when the pills stop working
and the scalding hot baths and showers
are constantly interrupted with flashbacks
and you eat till you’re nauseous
or starve till you feel empty
remember you’re supposed to feel this way
if you cut or dye your hair in a rage
and the temptation to use your arm as an ashtray
becomes too much
remember this is the thing slowly eating you
every moment of every day
but not today
today we find a new way
a safe form of self-medication
red wine and an otc-pain pill
keep the Gin and opioids on standby
for the staff lunch
for the family visit
for the days when
the edge feels too close





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