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Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Series Two, Part Four)

Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Series Two, Part Four)
Jane Cheadle, Hope in the dark, charcoal, chalk and ink on paper, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Fourie, Semaphore Gallery

In times of uncertainty, many readers turn to poetry, seeking not just consolation but clarity. “Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times” brings South African poems to those facing the isolation, confusion and unease engendered by the Covid-19 pandemic. In a situation in which information is being transferred at disquieting speed, poetry asks us to slow down, to attend with care to the way poetic language re-creates our singular interior lives and loves as well as our shared social and political landscape.

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.

The poets featured today imagine pathways or presences that provide support and hope and even  the gift of wonder to those struggling with everyday life or after loss and sorrow.

Busisiwe Mahlangu’s arresting poems delineate survival’s ragged contours. In her poem, new affirmations for the past, the task of reconstructing the fragmented self is aerated by an unpredictable wind “which one day blows your way again”. The speaker in This is yours voices how “you return to yourself” when “you hold your lungs to the air” and “breathe through every wound.”

A different spirit manifests in Robert Berold’s poem angel. This is not Benjamin’s Angel, blasted from Paradise by History, but a life-affirming angel, who arises “just when you don’t know anymore”, to accompany you in sadness, on your travels through ordinary life and to sing beside you in summer. The poem’s dream-like but conversational tone invites the reader to accept the angel’s presence.


new affirmations for the past

By Busisiwe Mahlangu

and one day the wind blows your way again,
we do not ask it where it comes from and what it carries
we let it move the soil and bend the trees
we watch it become stronger

here is a moment:
maybe we can tell the wind to go back
maybe we prepare better for the current
maybe i pull the clothes off the washing line on time
and i close all the windows
before the wind pulls the door from its hinges

and all the children live
and mama has open arms to embrace us all


This is yours

This is how you return to yourself
This is the sound
This is the blast
Take the silence no one hears
This is how you return to yourself
This is your reflection on the glass
These are parts that broke but are still here
This is the collapse and the rebuilding
This is a tasteless resurrection
This is how you make home with your body
This is how you return to yourself
This is how you fit into happiness
This is the gap for your escape
This is you being carried by the wind
This is how you hold your lungs to the air
This is how you breathe through every wound
This is how you hold yourself

This is you, here
This is you, breathing
This is you, healing

This is how your soul tells you, you are doing well.

Both poems are from Surviving Loss, Impepho Press, 2018.



By Robert Berold

just when you don’t know anymore

an angel arises


maybe an angel of paradise

as you are driving up Claim Street

and turn the corner into total confusion


maybe an angel of sadness

or an angel of summer who lives beside you

who sings beside you with the noise of bees


just when you don’t know anymore

when you really don’t know

an angel arises


From Rain across a paper field, Gecko Poetry, 1999



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