Many foot-paths and roads run through the anthology Africa! My Africa! They expose vast landscapes and horizons. Some of these landscapes portray isolated farms, gates and weathered graveyards.
Years ago, living in Rhodesia, when travelling long, empty roads at night, I’d occasionally see the single glow of a homestead in the faraway dark. These lights would set me thinking about the people whose homes they were illuminating, out there in the way-beyond: Who were they? Why had their roads taken them to these distant places and why had they chosen to stop where they did? Did they make their own candles and lamps? Did their isolation instil philosophical, reflective attitudes? Who inscribed poems on their tombstones when they died?
Perhaps it was the distant light-specks of those lonely homesteads that led to my persistent preoccupation with ethical light and darkness; to my fascination with farm gates and the cut of roads through lonely terrain; to my interest in the simple markings people leave behind along their way.
In many years of travelling through central Africa with my husband, Don Pinnock, I’ve learnt not to drive at night when in remote places. We set up camp before sunset, making our fire as darkness falls. Then we watch the stars against their profound background. Invariably we sit in silence, overawed by both the magnitude and simplicity of everything, aware of other people’s lights in the far distance; humbled by the darkness as those lights are extinguished; certain that dawn will come early and bright, allowing us to continue on our way.
Veld cemetery, Carnarvon
Remembered by a stone wall,
the decaying red earth
a grave in the wind,
in the mouth of the sun:
Johannes Mans Cloete
Johannes Mans Cloete (jnr)
‘God’s weg is volmaak’
Grave of unknown whiteman
Rest in peace, old man
A heap of rocks on your grave
Is a token of respect
Bestowed on you.
You chose this part of the country
For a home
On a slope of those rocks
Was your community
And across that road
You sowed corn
And watered your cattle in that pan.
In years of dearth
We shared together
Helped each other in time of need.
Rest in peace, old man
Your kindred are here
Paying due respect
Rest in peace!
Somewhere in Africa
there’s a place where dusty reeds mutter and shift
and blackjacks threaten
where high grass whitens and ibis
fly down at dawn and up at dusk
calling the dull brown beat of their wings.
There’s a river where reeds are loud in the dust
and the flat stones green-grey
where the child crouches
making a dam with small boulders
laid across the stream in a narrow place.
He treads carefully in his broken tackies
and sets each stone precisely
wedging the smaller pebbles.
The dust drifts, the reeds shift
and a helicopter
flies downstream after the ibis.
The child squats on a fallen slab
squints up at the helicopter
sips coke out of a tin
and considers his structure.
Under his heels are carved the words
Sacred to the Memory
of Colonel Harry S Hazelgrove
and of his Sisters
Grace, Emily and Kitty
and a date somewhere in 1922.
Translated from the Afrikaans by Jack Cope and the poet
Blood-red the aloes flank
the winding road.
As if aflame with leaping sparks each fire-lily glows.
But nothing, nothing stirs … only
a breeze that flows
that seems to pause and waver there
the grass-seed grows.
Above, the blue, blue sky;
and far below, the falling stream
drifts through the orchards with
a flash of green.
And no sound breaks the hovering peace
of this still mountain scene.
Now after all the years I’ll open
a gate again.
Where have my paths
till now not led
to bring me to this farm-road gate
with all illusions shed
but hope, hope in my heart
and clear dreams in my head?
The gate stands in
a maroola’s shade.
A wholeness in me, harmony
and no bitterness, no hate.
I lift the catch … and in my heart
open a gate.
Veld cemetery, Carnarvon by Kobus Moolman from New Contrast 147 Volume 37 No 3 Spring 2009. Copyright permission granted by the poet.
Kobus Moolman is a published poet and dramatist who teaches creative writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Grave of unknown whiteman by Modikwe Dikobe from Poetry works edited by Robin Malan, David Philip Publishers1995. ISBN 0-86486-287-3. Copyright permission granted by Ravan Press.
Modikwe Dikobe was a novelist, poet, trade unionist and squatter leader in Johannesburg during the 1940s.
History from Ghost Writer and other poems by Jane Fox, Unpublished Manuscript Press (an imprint of Snailpress) 2008. ISBN 978-1-874923-76-3.
Jane Fox is a novelist, poet, and biographer.
Farm gate by Uys Krige from The New Century of South African Poetry introduced and edited by Michael Chapman. AD Donker Publishers 2002. ISBN 0-86852-224-4. Copyright permission granted by Tai Krige and Eulalia Krige.
Uys Krige (1910-1987) was a multi-award winning South African writer, poet, playwright, translator, and war correspondent. He translated many of Shakespeare’s works into Afrikaans, as well as poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda and Lope de Vega.