DAYS OF CORONAVIRUS
Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Part Eight)
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 all 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.
Love or the memory of love has the power to bind us to each other, even in times of fear and separation. More poems have been written about love than any other topic; I can scarcely think of a poet who has not written a love poem of some sort. The three poems below speak to love’s mystery, both its strength and fragility.
The late Patrick Cullinan’s short poem “To have love” delicately evokes love’s frangible relation to loss. In Kelwyn Sole’s tender poem “Your body fills my night” the speaker confesses that “I don’t know/all your story” as he attends to the scars and secrets the loved one bears. Ayanda Billie’s poem “If I want to breathe” invites us to consider the obligation to learn to love oneself. Self-love in his poem is not a narcissistic but a restorative force. Even an apparently intractable world makes it imaginable to “love this moment/ and myself in it”.
To have love
To have love and then lose it:
the white hail in the orchard
lying with leaves it has stripped
and the storm moving away.
From The White Hail in the Orchard and other poems, David Philip, 1984.
Your body fills my night
but your body fills
my night –
two scars on your stomach,
when you undress they show
relived, commas where your life
– two memories
of a knife, the size and shape of
blinding pennies –
black as this, they turn to pits
beneath my nails…
I don’t know
all your story. But no words can
all I know
is that when your belly bares
lights up my night. For your body
has its own
From Walking, Falling, Deep South, 2017.
If I want to breathe
i’ve learnt to love what I see
it has been like this
since I first saw the sun
i have to sleep at night
especially on weekends
beyond the cries
and inyakanyaka music
from my neighbours
who sometimes rejoice at nothing
sometimes i have to let go
of things i should have stood against
i don’t want to be forgotten by history
only to be remembered
by the streets of kwa-nobuhle
in the dark and shining hours
if i still want to breathe
let me love this moment
and myself in it.
From KwaNobuhle Overcast, Deep South, 2019.
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved