His friends called him Mr Kwekwe
That dry hot town in the Midlands.
He was a very generous man.
No one went thirsty when he was present
Even though the bar did not belong to him.
He would be offended indeed.
If you refused the drink he offered you.
He always had money in his pocket
But none in his bank account.
When friends went to visit their folks,
He would be visiting the pubs,
Drinking, laughing and living his life
Though his widowed mother
Never gave up hope
That one day he would come home.
He eventually did:
In a coffin
Bought by his drinking friends
Who used to drink from his pockets.
They had to place it under a solitary tree.
His mother's doorway was not big enough
To accommodate the rich coffin.
His friends buried him in a hurry
And drove back to town shaking their heads.
There was no drink at the funeral!... more »
GIVING AWAY THE BRIDE
Half-kneeling and half-seated
The head of the family makes his address
communicating with the ancestors
Imploring them to bless the bride.
"The daughter you gave us is going.
We are taking her to her husband's.
We accepted their herd of cattle
And according to the teaching you gave us,
We have no right to keep both
Our daughter and their herd.
"You, my father, who has gone before us
And are watching over us from the clouds,
We ask you to tell the girl's grandmother -
Your wife and our mother.
Also tell our people who are with you
That we are taking their child to her new home.
"We thought it right and proper
That we should notify you before she goes.
You know as much as we do
That when she leaves behind
Guidance away from home
Can now only come from you,
You who only can be with us
And with her in her new home.
"Let there be happiness and good life,
Let there be tender pumpkins in their marriage.
You do know if there should be no little ones,
Her husband and his people may think
That their cattle brought no children home.
If there should be no little ones of her own,
Give her the wisdom
Not to try her luck with other men!"... more »
He swore on his mother's grave
That if I left my husband for him,
He would never let me walk on my feet.
He would carry me on his back
Like mothers carry their babies.
Does everyone believe everything they're told
When they are in love — I did!
We had not gone far in our elopement
When he swore again on his mother's grave
That he would not take me with him
If I came along with my little boy.
I could not go back to my husband.
I tearfully abandoned my little love!
I had a mother's heart inside me,
Though it may have been a foolish lover's heart.
I was sad as I followed him on my feet,
Though he'd promised to carry me on his back.
I could not find laughter in his jokes any more.
I could not give him happiness because I had none,
And he swore by his mother's grave as before
That he would not have an unhappy woman for a wife.
He crossed the river to his home village,
And left me on the other side
Without my boy - without my husband!... more »
REDUCE OR GO UPSTAIRS
When shock absorbers in the spinal column are gone,
And discs squeak on each other when you're walking,
When one or both legs are often in pain
And when there is no longer a spring in your step,
You had better start slowing down in your eating
Even though your appetite may be young and vigorous.
Those legs cannot carry the weight any more,
Nor can the aging heart shoulder the burden.
When that pouch keeps on growing
And makes you look like a pregnant woman,
When you find yourself unable to bend
And tie your laces with comfort
And cannot jog to correct this situation,
Then it's time to go slow on those fried eggs.
The choice you must make is not easy
But reduce your weight or join them upstairs!... more »
I worked in an asbestos mine
I've lost count of the years.
My lungs are full of what they tell me cannot be dislodged
I emptied the bank of the earth
To fill the commercial banks in foreign lands.
I moved on to the farms,
Hoping to clear my lungs of asbestos dust.
They sent me to the tobacco barns
To do work that makes me cough all night when I should rest.
Now that I can no longer work in the mines
Nor grade the lung-eating weed,
I thought I could take my rest
On the liberated ground of my country.
But they tell me I'm a squatter —
I must go back to where I came from originally.
I thought I was born in this country.
I thought my identity card tells it all
That I am not a squatter in this country.
Can someone tell me what headman will take me
After I have been away countless years?
My lungs are too old for the mines where I belong!
My back is too old for the farms.
I thought I'd paid enough taxes with my sweat.
I thought my son who died in the liberation war,
Died to liberate the land for me to live on!
But they keep on telling me to move on
Before they set fire to my few belongings.
Is this what the children died for?
Why doesn't someone tell me?... more »
He can't be as old as grandpa, can he?
I am talking about grandpa's he-goat.
But he is too old to follow the flock.
Each time I'm on my way to school,
He stares at me with fire-red eyes
And scratches his back with his spiral horns
He walks backwards and bleats
As I get nearer and nearer to him.
Maybe he wants to warn me
That if I get too close, I could be gored.
But I am not scared of an old goat
Though I know from experience
How he-goats hit each other to nose-bleeding.
I have seen them raise their forelegs
Slowly and fiercely approach each other on their hind legs
And bang! they collide head-on!
You would think they are mad beasts.
If they should miss each other,
And catch you in the cross fire, You would have to have your limbs in plaster
And be absent from school with no one to play with.
I wonder when the goat goes to graze.
It is there when I go to school,
it will be there when I return.
And its eyes are still as though
It nourishes itself on hard mbanje!... more »
He came in the rain looking for shelter.
I did not have the heart to deny him
The use of an empty hut in the back.
I had been warned, though,
That very poor people are difficult to help.
If you give him one of your suits for Christmas,
He may not put it on, on the festive day.
How can he do so if he has no shirt
Even if you gave him the shirt and tie,
He would still have no shoes and socks.
When you have given the good example
In being kind and generous to the poor,
What happens if your young foolish daughter
Emulates your example
And the lodger mistakes charity for love?
Sometimes taking on a lodger
Is like planting a fast-growing tree
Not far from your dream house.
Even though there is no humus
Near the foundations
The tree may send its roots to find out
And destroy the house in the process!... more »
THE HEART AND THE MIND
I love him with all my heart
But that is where the whole problem lies,
My mind warns me.
that the man I love
Is a man with four young children.
My heart says I will love him
As well as his four or one hundred children!
But my mind sighs and says:
What will happen if his children do not accept you?
I love him with all my heart,
And I will love him to the end of the world.
He has more wealth than we both need.
Again my mind interferes with my love:
Wealth is morning dew,
Let the sun reach the noon of its life,
The dew - the wealth of the morning
Will be nowhere to be seen.
Do I need to embarrass you with the question?
But I cannot help falling in love with such a handsome man.
So young, he will stride into the future with me.
And my mind looks desperate:
Why are you so fascinated with perishables?
Do you know of any one with perpetual youth?
Ever heard of someone who died of good health?
All men grow old and weak with time.
No one has ever leaped into the future.
Is it going to start with your handsome man?... more »
We are not swift-footed,
The gift bestowed on our fellow animal beings.
The rabbit and the antelope run as though
They have wings on their feet.
We of the porcupine tribe
Have the monopoly of clumsiness.
But have over the years developed
A sure way of defending our lives,
In case the humans descend upon us
In the middle of the night
While we are making a feast of their green maize.
I have taught my little ones:
Do not attempt to run.
You can never out run their ferocious dogs,
The animals that kill fellow animals
To satisfy their flesh-eating masters,
For a reward of a bare bone!
Withdraw your heads,
And let your quills stand out like a jungle of spikes.
You will walk away victorious,
When their dogs run away howling in agony
With one or two quills embedded in their flesh.
They have no fingers to extract the quill
And their masters are no surgeons!... more »
TO MY BATH TUB
An hour in my bath tub
is what the doctor prescribed.
Every evening I slide into my tub,
Into water of measured temperature.
Relaxed, I lie on my back
All submerged except for my head.
My body and the water become one in warmth.
Like a hypnotist I conjure my mind and body
To relax and sleep.
My mind reaches as far back as it can
to select the things I like to remember;
Then I go forward to visualise the future;
And back to review the day's work.
But on some days I put on reading glasses
And sleep in a play act just for the joy of it.
If it were for cleaning the body,
Would it be necessary every day?
Even if I were a diesel mechanic,
Would I need an hour in the tub?
It is a therapeutic treat
For the body and for the mind.
Would you like to give it a try?
Don't get addicted to it as I am!... more »