Deep-aging, the last phase of a long life, is the subject of seven of the poems and prose pieces in Africa! My Africa! They were chosen for their poignancy and sense of the inevitable. Here are three of them.
The abandoned old woman
Stephen Watson (Informant: //Kabbo)
Our mother, old, unable to walk,
lay there, incapable,
alone in her old grass and reed hut.
Before we, her sons,
were obliged to leave her behind,
we blocked up her hut’s sides,
closing the openings used as a door,
making use of the struts
from the other huts we were leaving,
but leaving the roof open, exposed to the sky,
so she would still feel
some warmth from the sun.
We had made a small fire.
We had gathered for her
as much dry wood as we could.
It was none of our fault;
we were all of us starving.
No-one could help it,
that we had to leave her behind.
We were all of us starving,
and she, old woman,
she was too weak to go with us,
to seek food at some other place.
Translated from the Afrikaans by the poet
I can now see the night approaching
with her shadows and their sad empty
I thought I would be like a sailor,
charting the oceans and conquering the seas
and returning to my home with the sounds of
the waves still pouring;
and the night wind alert like a mother,
soothing the heart with her songs and
making it sleep without fear or regret –
but I was granted to taste the earth and its fullness,
the waters which came from the mountains,
the tears in the eyes of the lost;
the taste was like blood and wine,
and the smell was of bread and fire,
and of slow dancing women, feasting and
you were there with the fruits of the earth
in your body, and the glory of youth in your hair,
and though your eyes were shouting to me
as you turned, I was looking already
across to the dusk …
What I remember about my grandmother is the morning that she went to hospital for the last time. Her wheelchair was standing beside the ambulance that my grandfather had ordered on the telephone and she sat there like a small crooked bird while all the women who lived on the farm – and in those days they were many – covered their heads and wailed. Then the chair was lifted up and the doors swallowed her, her face hidden in her winged hands. As the ambulance drove off the women ran behind it with their hands in the air while I stood behind the corner of the house breathless with terror. My grandfather walked off by himself to the stables and I never saw my grandmother again.
The storm passes.
Above the house
The sky bursts into flower
The abandoned old woman by Stephen Watson from Return of the moon: Versions from the /Xam. The Carrefour Press 1991. ISBN 0 9583060 7 9; and Postscript: The spring above Rif Farm from The Other City: Selected Poems 1977-1999, David Philip Publishers 2000. ISBN 0-86486-447-7.
Stephen Watson (1954-2011) was a renowned poet, literary critic and essayist. He was professor of English at the University of Cape Town and the Director of its Creative Writing Centre.
Carel Anthonissen is a theologian with a specialized knowledge of the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is currently the director of the Centre for Christian Spirituality in Cape Town, which was founded in 1986 by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
My grandmother by Antony Osler from Stoep Zen, Jacana Media 2008. ISBN 978-1-77009-586-1.
Antony Osler grew up in South Africa but spent his young adult years overseas looking through the wide world – some of the time as a musician, some as a school teacher, some as a Zen monk. Now he lives on a sheep farm in the Karoo with his family where he walks, meditates, leads Zen retreats and writes.