Friday, April 12, 2019


The bristling city
With far too many wounds
Restless, heaving with possibilities
The wars have come in the air, on water, a-burrowing
They've left you unsentimental, hardy
No halo of illusions around 
the fading moon

Loud beats play in your bosom
Pistons in motion, hot and energetic 
Muffling memory
Sending memory back, deep into cells
For moments that become less fleeting
As time stumbles on

Bees abound; 'being' takes a back seat
To constant whirring
In the bastion of movement, of production
So many ply the streets 
Love and friendship in the noodles, raincoats, mini water-puppets 
Red stars on yellow cloth
How to buy time, how to grab fragments from the fire

So many trees lean in: along streets; by small craters 
Near the ancient temples; by memorials

Traces of dioxin, powdering the armpits
Landmines that still fester beneath skin
Human feeling, floating eyes, pedalling limbs, incense smoke
Like ripples, like water
Water under bombed bridges

*HoChiMin City

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Blazing a trail: 'Halala Winner' mixes languages in children's book

Is it possible to write a book in more than one language? And it is it a good idea? Also, would a kid’s book which makes use of a seamless plaiting of two languages work?

Starting with the second question, there'll always be the purists who will frown on using more than one language. At the same time, using more than one language (simultaneously) is part of SA reality. In Johannesburg and other cities, people frequently switch from one language to another in telling a story. They also switch between languages in the same sentence. As South Africans when we hear such mixing, we don’t fall over in shock; instead, we hardly bat an eyelid. And thus, mirroring this reality, we have language mixing in poems; we encounter it on the theatre stage and we have the phenomenon of 'Scamto'.

So, of course, let's welcome a children’s book in more than one language (in the same book). This is just what Cover2Cover books have done. It has published Halala Winner, a 40-page story book, most likely targeted at kids in the first three grades of school. The writer is Jabulani Kunye.

In the story, Sibulele  an endearing boy with a big heart ─ starts at a new school, the typical story of the new kid on the playground overlaid with a ‘Jim Comes to Big City’ angle. He is teased for sounding different and because he comes from out of town. The “Funky Boys” turn up the heat also, demanding that he brings some lunch for them each day. He is sad but ─ with the help of his friend Anele ─  sticks it out. In the end, an opportunity arises where he can show one of his skills, and through it, rescue another schoolboy. He is carried shoulder high by other learners, and indications are that he will no longer be an outsider at the school nor an easy target for the bully boys.

This is more than an illustrated story; using a cartoon style of drawing, it is a picture book complete with speech bubbles, thought balloons and some exaggerated action shots. The fact that the drawings so closely track the ‘action’ helps the reader understand unfamiliar words. In addition, the broad framework (the action and the plot) carry the reader forward, providing a context in which the reader can figure out what new words mean.  

Halala Winner shows it can be done: it is possible to deploy a mix of languages (in the same text) to tell great kids’ stories. With it, Cover2Cover seems to be testing the waters – seeing how the idea works with and how it is received by wider audiences. According to the publisher's notes, Halala is part of a series (titled My World, My Words) that “celebrate(s) the multilingual realities of most South Africans.” Cover2Cover says the stories are developed with the input of young people. It refers the way it uses languages in these children’s books as translanguaging, a good term for academics but an awful term for the rest of us. If Halala Winner is anything to go by, we can look forward to more relevant and entertaining stories in the series.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Poetics of love

Love is

is the universe
holding you
in a
scuffed palm

Love is
rounding a corner
in a harsh and stony landscape;
a blaze of flowers; black, red, blue, orange
brambled and bright



Like hummus & fresh pita
like chickpea rissole
like Vietnamese coffee
like mama’s onion quiche
like walk on beach
like yoga
like sunset seen from Slangkop
like a mighty laugh



in die duister 
in die fluister
van spelonke

Syne van die nag
bewaar my
ook in
die skadu van hierdie helder dag

Liefde sorg dat ek
(na weerlig en tranestort)
met juig en lag, weerens
uit kan strek

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

India: walking with the swami

our teacher waited
for us
fellow seekers and I
at tiger's rock, jamalpur

here, long ago, the swami's walk 
with the venerable master
grew to edges of the sky
to the hem 
of infinity

further inland: at ananda nagar
a large tract of land
‘vibrating rocks.’ the teacher says
place of hope and aspiration
being present and connected
amid sweltering heat
dwellings made of cow-dung bricks
against nature

at the ashram
cleansing steps: wash feet and arms in ‘half bath’
tin doors clang
mosquito nets willow and billow 
heat quivers and water dries quickly 
wind sips 
from squirting shower

a small girl with krishna eyes 
red dot on brow, small hands
the aunty's helping hand;
a smile as she colours the stoep
a deep red

this is how 
we made our way