Maverick Citizen


Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Part Eight)

Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Part Eight)
Image: Penny Siopis, Mate, 2007, glue, ink and oil on paper, Courtesy of Penny Siopis and Stevenson 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 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

Patrick Cullinan

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

Kelwyn Sole



but your body fills

my night –


you, with

two scars on your stomach,

two stabs,


two wounds;

when you undress they show



as screams

relived, commas where your life

once faltered


– two memories

of a knife, the size and shape of

blinding pennies –


in darkness

black as this, they turn to pits

beneath my nails…


I don’t know

all your story. But no words can

encompass these:


all I know

is that when your belly bares

its witness


your nakedness

lights up my night. For your body

has its own


two stars.


From Walking, Falling, Deep South, 2017.




If I want to breathe

Ayanda Billie


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.



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