a poem by Siphokazi Jonas
My grandmother was a guardian,
tending a kingdom of cabbages.
Leafy, layered planets in constant orbit emasimini.
uMamBhele was a general, rearing battalion for survival
at 50 cents a head.
In imitation of Genesis,
she could craft a field into her image long before the sun had sobered to rise.
Her husband, uNcotshe, was himself a spade
toiling in the tunnels of Jozi – the colon of Gauteng, which is
constipated with gold
and the bodies of black men.
Spewing them out on opposite ends:
One to the baas. The other to the grave.
My grandfather was an intercessory prayer, praying in picks,
his penance paid inside a rock.
His sweat would flow
Like rivers of sacrifice and provision, and
sometimes like signals of smoke,
all the way to Keiskammahoek,
where they were funnelled into grandmother’s veins of steel,
and a back as broad as the mountains of uQoboqobo.
Here she would midwife a harvest,
all … Canaan-like, all …
This cabbage connoisseur
could craft seven variations of cabbage dishes
and there were revelations between those leaves,
chopped fine like sermons.
Umakhulu noTamkhulu babengabantu bomhlaba,
and my inheritance lay underneath their fingernails.
Even, now, when it rains, I find that I crave the soil three times a day.
Some call it anaemia. But
I know it to be communion.
My mother is a pillar of soil,
with tendrils for fingers.
Even now, the plants at home gravitate towards her as if
She is the sun setting into the room.
Perhaps they are descendants of cabbages?
packed solar-system-tight on Saturday mornings
on the back of ibakkie yakwa Mampinga:
Where grandmother’s soldiers
rattled along to the backtrack of an exhaust pipe;
“50 cents! 50 cents amakhaphetshuuuu! 2 for R1!”
But at school she must study Agriculture in Afrikaans.
This mother of mine who can swing a hoe in cursive
with more finesse than a pencil,
who learned of the cradle of the land
from the canyons in her parents’ hands,
must now learn the only thing she knows best,
in a language her tongue
Grandfather’s body turns to gold.
Six feet deep.
He will not be mined.
John Voster Primere Skool.
I was the second black in an Afrikaans school
– all dolled up in white and blue –
A sign of a South Africa new.
Juffrou reads out the register and non-existent clicks intimidate her,
Sifo: disease. Kazi: great.
Great disease Jonas?
My father would explain.
Still in white and blue but now with added red.
English schools are the new means to an end.
On introduction night, our names sit on our tongues like
– Flashback –
Perhaps a twang would be the antidote
“Hi guys, my name is Siphowkarzy Jonas!”
Laughter rolls off the other trays: She’s trying to be white.
My sister is a new recruit to a post-TRC world where
the search for a better life still left us
sitting on the back of Oom Koos’ red botsotso bakkie.
As red as our ties.
Two for R1!
Nathi singamakhaphetshu. We are also cabbages.
Grandmother is planted. Six feet deep. She will not be harvested.
My mother is proud of how finely I chop cabbages;
She says it’s the time and care that I take
to disassemble planets.