THE SHINE JOURNAL

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Three Poems By Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

Awakening

 

(Inspired by the Sharpeville massacre-first performed at Jozi Spoken Word Festival, March 2007)

 

 

From the black stain of

black pain on this specific street, this

disputed territory of truth and lies,

rose survivors

growing like green weeds,

black jacks

hitting back.

 

How long is the shadow thrown by a body

mown down by injustice?

Steve Biko is

longer than

the black stain that he became;

deeper than the darkest soak of sadness,

wider than the bright living street.

 

For each corpse curled around its finality

comes a raging generation,

declaiming this infamy:

unforgivable and unforgettable.

 

The unborn dream of innocence,

yet we were cauled by the shadow at birth,

this shadow we eat,

this pain that we swallow

as sorrow grows longer,

and we throw

new shadows on

this virgin earth.

 

Sharpeville is born again

in Darfur,

in Iraq;

Guantanemo

casts a new shadow,

so

don’t be quiet.

Speak up! Don’t let up!

When you are dead you will be quiet, until then

shout out the shadows, cry the black stain,

report pain.

 

For each corpse curled around its finality

comes a raging generation,

declaiming this infamy:

unforgivable and unforgettable.

 

 

 


 

      Responsibility*

 

A man is fond of ranting and raving

about all that he’s wanting with no chance of having.

He points his finger at God and at the government,

to explain his bad luck, and the source of his torment.

Nobody cares about the poor man. Cry, and you cry alone,

he’s never to blame for how things are going.

Perhaps it is true. There are explanations, the to-ing

and fro-ing of politicians has been my undoing

on many an occasion. Nobody cares.

But there she is, reaching through tiredness

to hang up his clean clothes.

The dog whines by his empty bowl,

the children’s shoes have more holes

than leather, and beside the radio

he shouts enraged that his team scored an own goal.

 

She thinks, how can I fix this broken door?

That cracked window?

Everything needs mending:

there is plenty of care

to be taken

at home

 

 


 

 

 

The rain children*

 

They permeate, the poor, their eyes and knees

as thin as rain, these children staring,

as democracy parades through the streets.

 

Glue substitutes for blankets and teats,

the streetmother grey concrete skirt uncaring:

they permeate, the poor, their eyes and knees

 

and hands reproach, demand, confront, entreat:

tightly walleted, my conscience, and unsparing

as democracy parades through the streets.

 

Rain fills my well-fed stomach. All my feats

are washed away with soul’s comparing:

they permeate, the poor, their eyes and knees

 

as cold as sorrow. Presidents decree

but rain soaks paper promises, tearing,

as democracy parades through the streets.

 

Like driving drops or drizzle, paring

warmth from skin, dissolving, wearing:

they permeate, the poor, their eyes and knees,

as democracy parades through the streets

PHILLIPPA YAA de VILLIERS shares...

After studying mime and theatre in Paris, PHILLIPPA YAA de VILLIERS returned to South Africa to work as a stage actress and improviser for ten years. As an alternative source of income she developed a career in television writing, she has written for Backstage, Takalani Sesame and Soul City among many other television shows, and collaborated with Pule Hlatshwayo and Swedish writer Charlotte Lesche to create Score, a three- hour miniseries for Swedish Broadcasting and SABC.

 

In 2005 she was selected for Crossing Borders, a distance learning mentorship scheme initiated by the British Council and Lancaster University, and later the same year was the runner-up best writer in the Performing Arts Network of South Africa’s Festival of Contemporary Theatre Readings for her play, Where the Children Live, which also received an audience award. She has performed with Myesha Jenkins, Napo Masheane and Bushwomen.

 

This year she appeared at the Jozi Spoken Word Festival, and was invited by National Poet Laureate of South Africa, Keorapetse Kgositsile to join James Matthews, Lebo Mashile and Khanyi Magubane at the 12th Havana International Poetry Festival this year. Recently she wrote and performed Original Skin, a one-woman show which showcased at the Market Theatre Laboratory and Bloemfontein, and will shortly tour to Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre.

 

After winning a grant from the Centre for the Book in November 2006, she published her first volume of poetry, Taller than Buildings, which is now in its second edition. She is currently touring the country giving readings and performances – this year she has performed in Adelaide (Australia), Birmingham (England), Havana (Cuba), Cape Town, Johannesburg and East London. In October she will perform at Poetry Africa, the premier poetry event in Southern Africa and at the Word Power Festival of Black Literature and Book Fair in London, England.

 

MOTIVATION:

 

Awakening

This year I was reflecting on the purpose of days of remembrance – it was Sharpeville Day, 21 March, and I felt a link between the victims of that massacre and the white activist David Webster, who died in the service of the struggle for freedom and he is hardly known. I wanted to say that his death has not been in vain, it has conscientized the next generation. We see you David, and we acknowledge your sacrifice. I was also playing with the idea of black as a ‘negative’ concept, I am experimenting with reframing the negative as a basis for a positive outcome. This means that I have to acknowledge the pain and what it meant to me. I think that’s the hardest part.

 

Responsibility

I felt that the menial grind of maintaining and improving of lives is our responsibility, and I wanted to honour and bring to light a woman who daily commits herself to that task, and contrast it with the man who thinks his fate lies in the hands of the government. The woman is the hero of this piece, because she is the one who takes responsibility for their lives.

 

The rain children

In Johannesburg we are confronted with many orphans begging in the streets. This poem was about how seeing them makes me feel: guilty, angry and sad. I wanted to write a villanelle – at the time I wanted to feel how it is to write a set form. This is what came.