I was a little startled to be asked by Makhubalo and Lungile Ikaneng of uBuntu Nest to participate in their OneMuntu Storytelling Festival. However, it did not take me long to get over myself and accept. Everyone is doing something new and online these days, so why not me?
After having to cancel live performances scheduled over the past few months, this creative duo decided that uBuntu needed to shine and dreamed up the OneMuntu Storytelling Festival. “We have all been hidden away from each other, our faces covered for months. Is it not time to see a face, a grin, a smile or a tear?” asks Makhubalo. “OneMuntu Storytelling Festival is about connecting one on one through a story. Muntu is the isiZulu word for person. When one person connects with another, magic can happen. It is uBuntu unveiled. In the past year I have seen poets take audiences on journeys, young writers putting their souls to paper, actors tell stories and brave change makers lead by example. I have seen all of this in the Midlands. It is our absolute honor to bring a few of these stories to you at the OneMuntu Storytelling Festival.”
My segment, to be aired on 4 September at 7pm, and Sunday 6th at 6pm is called Sense of Place. It is a collection of my poems that celebrate being alive in the KZN Midlands, and offer glimpses of places that I explore. As many poets find (especially novice ones like me), inspiration strikes in unexpected spots. For me, it is usually arrives while I am walking. Succulent sentences that pop into my head, and then try to escape as I cling on desperately until I can get home, grab a pencil and jot them down. Generally, sense of place describes our relationship with places, reflecting the emotional bond between people and places through a particular lens – be it ecological, social, economic, cultural, aesthetic or historical. Sense of place defines how people interpret and interact with their world.
“The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” Roald Dahl.
The monthly Steampunk Poets gathering has made me brave enough to share some memories woven through words. A warm and supportive audience that has encouraged many fledgling poets to thrive, producing three books over the years filled with wondrous local words. Read about Steampunk Poets here.
As this is my debut poetry performance, not well rehearsed or particularly accomplished, I thought I would write the words of the poems down for viewers to read in case it is difficult to hear. I know how fast I talk! Will I be able to slow down for the performance? Unlikely.
A Pocketful of Morning
This poem captures some of things I experience on my daily dawn walks along the banks of the uMngeni River in Howick. I think that it is a good idea to collect treasures on quiet early wanders, to finger in your pocket, or linger over when the unreal world is too insistent later in the day.
Damp duck beaks
Raptor feet tucked tight
A herald of hadedas who contemplate flight
A translucent flutter
Copper coloured cheers
A cold cluster of Combretum leaves
Red poker glow
Webs well spun
Sorbet stripes that beckon the sun
Horizon full of moon
Aloe arborescence in orange bloom
Ruby lilies with a foreign accent
And rocks, settled into their deep reflections
I love to forage on my walks and add wild ingredients to my meals. When I was a child, I didn’t eat the weeds, but I did love their pretty flowers and felt sad that they were unloved.
When I was little
a lot littler than today
I professed a love of weeds
That never went away.
When I grow up I did declare
my garden shall be full
of dandelion yellow and chickweed stars
and trifoliate oxalis as well
My aunt responded with concern
no one will want to visit you
but oddly enough
my friends often come
to feast on wild green stew
As little children, we had lots of Great Aunts – some widowed and some never married. Lots of women living without men. Something to do with the war, we thought. They were absolute treasure and added a multitude of experiences to my childhood – especially as we did not have any grandparents. They clearly had a big influence on me as I recall dressing up in an old frock of my mother’s and pretending to be one! I believe every family needs Great Aunts – or at least a couple of unmarried Aunts.
Great Aunts are fabulous things
Everyone needs a few
Half a dozen is best
Elsie, Nelsie, Gladys and Myrtle, Jessie and Flora too.
With wrinkly, crinkly bangled arms
Saggy soft powdered jowls
Pinafore pockets with hidden treats
Neat gloves and hats and stockinged feet.
Squeaky drawers with sticky surprises
Worn benches to sit on for tea
Fragrant fresh baked, buttered bread
Red jam with scones at three.
Great Aunts send extravagantly wrapped gifts of wondrous things, and
Ink inscribed cards to mark every occasion.
What! You have none of your own or an extra required?
Just imagine – Great Aunt Ethel
Wearing wine coloured velvet and an imperious air.
Feral in the Free State
Since I first followed the intriguing signpost opposite Intabazwe in Harrismith, I have loved Verkykerskop. I wrote this poem on my last visit there, as the creative duo Beth Hilary and Matt Hofman were packing up to leave.
I walked to Lesotho a couple of years ago and slept in a cave along the way. It was a fabulous experience, which you can read about here.
I carried my cup to a cave with a tarn on top
Positioned it on a rock to capture the feral falling drops
Soon it overflows with wild, mineral drenched mountain water
The camp stove adds star bubbles and welcome warmth
I drink in the silence-soaked views as the liquid seeps into my limbs
What’s in a Word?
This poem was selected for the 2019 edition of the Sol Plaatjies Anthology. I wrote it after a ring-necked dove flew into my window and died. I placed the bird under a tree and for two weeks I observed another ring-necked dove right beside it, sometimes just sitting, sometimes flapping it’s wings or pecking at it. I know that doves mate for life, so assumed that this was the bird’s partner.
People are often disparaging about birds – think ‘birdbrain’ – and in particular, pigeons and doves are ridiculed because they have successfully carved out an existence alongside humans, despite the ravages to the planet and millions of other species.
Watching this scene made me sad. It also made me think about how astonishing life is. How little we understand. How everything is connected and part of everything else. As Paul pointed out – the Buddhist concept of no-self and emptiness – nothing has an inherent essence, everything is made up of, and is dependent on, other things.
What’s in a word?
Inside a bird
is a grasshopper
and a worm
or a seed
all filled with
sun and soil
stardust and stories
the lego of life
don’t say bird lightly
the entire universe echoes through this single syllable
On a writing retreat in Dargle, I lay under the autumn trees and composed this ode to my favourite season.
At the Autumn Ball
gowns of old gold dance in the low-slung light
avenues shrug off saffron shawls
translucent sleeves flutter and fall
the clock strikes
the season turns
and then, it is winter
Harvard Street starts down near the Howick Falls, passes the taxi rank and ends in the suburbs. It is vibrant, colourful and busy. I like it a lot.
Enveloped in a kerbside hug
Can everyone feel the love?
The woman behind the bundles of greens?
The taxi full of tiredness?
The hawker of continental cast offs?
I don’t want to go
I never do when I am with you
The whoonga boys eat cheap cake
A chicken scrabbles
The shoemaker concentrates on his stitches
A gap-toothed kid grins
The taxi man turns up his tunes
The girl in blue catches my eye
For a moment we share the sidewalk
I hope someone loves you too
I tell her with my smile
The Weeks Fly By
While this was written long before the virus-induced slow-down in our world, it has been particularly relevant recently as time has literally zoomed even though not much has been going on.
The mist rolls in
the day resumes
the sun peeps out
the damp rises
the branch aches
the web shivers
the river runs
the postman smiles
the clouds collect
the weeks fly by
as we anticipate the one moment
an imagined date
that might make life worth the wait
the ant tickles
the stars delight
the grass soothes
everything is alright
Thank you for reading this far. If you haven’t got one already, perhaps you’d like a ticket for the performance to be aired on Friday 4th September? Part of proceeds go to the Young Authors Book Initiative – an inspiring uBuntuNest project. Come one, it is so easy to support our future writers, poets and storytellers from the comfort of your own couch. Click here for a ticket to Sense of Place – and see the options at the bottom of the Quicket page to book for the other interesting voices that will be sharing stories at this festival.