We are getting close to launching Africa! My Africa! What a worthy gathering of voices it has drawn together, a veritable tray of collectables – beads and jewels and the mosaic pieces of many lives, many experiences, many dreams.
I grow impatient for the launch, and to hear the poems read aloud, having lived with them for so long ‘on the drawing-board’ of selection. I feel a strange intimacy with them, for we have travelled a long way already through the process of first-reading, and all the subsequent proofing and design work. Soon the poems will travel further, launched on new wings, to inspire and touch.
Iconic of you
the deep-ruby amber beads
and silver bracelet of scarabs
lie on the mantelpiece for the day
after I have worn them
The beads glowed through my childhood
when I was your dresser.
They warmed your throat and my world
all the way to the streets of Cairo
where you (fleeing a dead marriage in Bahrain)
bartered for them with an English soldier
who asked you ‘to pitch a little woo’ with him.
You never told me your answer,
only that he escorted you
through the intimacies of bargaining
in the back lanes of Cairo in 1944.
There you found, also, the heavy bangle
which smells metallic on my arm.
The scarabs promised longevity
etched on the very tombs they tried to ignore
but the dark beetles didn’t help your soldier
in the desert war,
nor you, in the pitched battles of your body.
His photo stayed in your old bedroom in Aliwal
with its colonial cliché
of the pyramids, the sphinx, the camels
and their keepers.
The picture, now on my wall,
proffers an immortality of sorts to all of you.
But it’s the stories I worry about now
atrophied by the winds –
in the Saharan sands.
I gave my son a pearl
when I was still young,
when his hand in mine
was like a wild bird
that could not yet fly.
I gave my son a garnet
when I was past middle-aged,
when my body had thickened
and my hands begun to stiffen.
And it lay in his palm
like a little drop of blood.
I gave my son a sapphire
at a time when
I could no longer walk,
and though I was bent
I could not place my slippers
on my own two feet.
My son has left my warm house
and gone off to seek his fortune.
I look out over the water
and wait for the prow of his boat
to round the bend in the river.
And now I think I can see my son
rowing towards the mossy bank,
his oars churning the water
Wendy Woodward is Professor of English at the University of the Western Cape where she teaches creative writing. She has published a critical work on the ethical representation of animals in Southern African writing and two collections of poetry.
Icons was first published in Love, Hades and Other Animals by Wendy Woodward. Protea Book House 2008. ISBN 978-86919-249-5.
Gail Dendy has published various collections in South Africa, Britain and America. She pioneered Contemporary Dance in South Africa and was nominated for the inaugural AA Vita Award for Best Performance.
Jewels by Gail Dendy was first published in New Contrast 150 Volume 38 Number 2 Winter 2010. ISSN-8: 1017-5415.
Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems selected by Patricia Schonstein
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