I’ve twice had the pleasure of hearing Gabeba Baderoon read aloud her poem, Fit. Once was at Hugh Hodge’s live poetry venue, Off the Wall, in Observatory, where she was guest poet. It was a most suitable venue, with its sense of gold walls and heavy faux-velvet curtains.
She has a beautiful voice and there was no hurry in her graceful depiction of her father’s skill as a tailor. The smell of fabric was evident, so was the way her father masterfully formed cloth about his wife’s body into a beautiful garment. Pins, thimble, buttons … I wanted to walk into the dim shop and ask for thread.
Dim light of the tailor shop, small bell calling
him from the back, shelves with their bottles
of buttons, a thimble, dust and thread
of cuttings on the floor.
To make a coat, search
in all the fabric shops from Wynberg
to Town for cotton, silk, wool.
He licks the forefinger to turn to a new page
in the small black book with red binding
and, with a thick stub of pencil, measures
the arm from collarbone to wrist, elbow bent.
At the waist, two fingers go
on the inside of the measuring tape
to allow a give of flesh between
the measure and the fit
He translates the length and hardness
of the bones, the breath and change
of the human body
into the flat numbers of the pattern.
My father loved to see
my mother wear the clothes he made for her.
At the fitting, holding pins at the side
of the mouth, he lifts the dress from its hanger,
seams pressed but not yet finished
with buttons and hems.
She puts it on, turning
the cloth from two dimensions into three.
Always this taking shape around the body,
this translation again of breath into fit.
To watch my mother as she hurried
out of the house on her way to work, the swish
of her dress in the slipstream of her walk,
was to discover a rhythm too fine to see
in the steps themselves. To grasp it fully,
you had to watch the wake of her coat as she left.
//Kabbo’s request for thread
Stephen Watson (Informant: //Kabbo)
My thoughts spoke to me.
My thoughts, they spoke,
kept speaking in this manner,
commanding me to do this,
to speak to you, my mistress.
Thus my mouth, it speaks to you.
My mouth now says to you, a lady,
what I have long wished to say
when I lay thinking in the night,
while I lay awake upon my bed.
I thought that I would say to you,
I would come to ask my mistress, you,
if you would not give me thread
to sew in place the buttons
you gave me for my jacket.
Without this they will fall off.
Without thread, they will get lost.
And I – I keep on thinking of them,
I think, not a little gently, of the beauty
of these buttons that you gave me.
Fit by Gabeba Baderoon from A hundred silences. Kwela/Snailpress 2006
//Kabbo’s request for thread by Stephen Watson from Return of the moon: Versions from the /Xam. The Carrefour Press 1991. ISBN 0 9583060 7