Narrative WritingPoetry in motion

Wake Up

A poem by Innocent Madzhoni & Nontokozo Mkhabela

WAKE UP

Sizo zabalaza—
I sing,
Walking casually on Steve Biko Drive,
I watch my smoky breathe disappear into the winter air,
On the horizon, I see the sun eschewing once again,
Darkness creeping in like sadness to a suicidal soul,
The lampposts above me illuminate the street,
The warmer button on my Tshepo Jeans, Proxy Jersey, and
Drip shoes leaves only my face exposed,
The cold satisfies itself on my cheeks,
Plants dry kisses on my lips,
Holds hands with distance,
And they torture my feet,
I don’t know why I chose to walk today,
I could’ve worn electronic flying shoes, but
There’s traffic when you fly; everyone is flying,
So there is greeting and small talk,
I hate that.
My feet start to complain, but
That’s the price I have to pay for lack of tarvens in the township,
I pass another library,
‘Enough with the books,
I am searching for booze,’
A young woman jogs past me and she waves with delightful eyes,
Her face drenched with drops of sweat,
There is warmth in her scent.

Abayazi inhlupheko yethu—
I sing,
Holding out 2 fingers,
Hoping I do not forget uncle Themba’s request,
‘2 beers,’ I repeat what uncle Themba said, looking up the sky,
It’s easier to forget unimportant things,
Had he said I should get him Okri or Dostoevsky,
Or free medication at the hospital,
I wouldn’t forget,
Another woman and her daughter come up from behind,
Extending greetings as they pass by,
I gaze at the black hair dangling from their heads,
As they dance to the soft music the wind hums.

Sizophumelela—
I sing,
Taking a final turn into Hector Pieterson street,
Tom waves as he drives above me,
He slows down,
‘See you at the mental health seminar,’
I nod.
I jump Tsietsi Mashinini Street,
And there it stands erect,
Empty,
Paul’s Tarven by its lonely corner, standing sternly like an unvisited museum,
Mafikizolo’s Kwela-Kwela belts out,
‘2 Heinekens, please,’ I say and walk to the newspaper machine,
I choose Mail and Guardian on the screen and it prints out,
‘UNEMPLOYMENT RATE, FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY, BELOW TWO PERCENT,’
The headline, written in Tshivenda, flashes at me,
Above the headline, I see the date:
16 June 9999

Asinamali–
I sing,
Splash!
Water soaks my face,
‘Wake up, go buy me 2 cold beers. Quit sleeping,’
These are uncle Themba’s favorite words,
He recites them every morning.
I yawn out of bed,
In drowsiness I crash the cold shack,
My uncle smiles,
‘Wear your uniform to commemorate the students of June 16.’
I crawl out of the shack to the scotching winter sun,
Like always, it greets me with nothing less of damage on my cracked skin,
I walk towards the street corner where alcohol is sold,
People dressed in school uniform,
A soft parody of June 16, ‘76,
Dancing,
Declining,
Dying,
Hopeless,
But hoping!

******

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