My grandmother was a guardian,
Tending a kingdom of cabbages.
Leafy, layered planets in constant orbit emasimini.
UmamBhele was a general, rearing
A battalion for survival at 50 cents a head.
In imitation of Genesis,
She could sculpt a field into her image
Before the sun had sobered to rise.
Her husband, uNcotshe, was himself a spade –
Toiling in the tunnels of Jozi – the colon of Gauteng;
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. Penance paid inside a rock –
His sweat would flow from the mines
Like rivers. Like letters. Like sacrifice and provision.
Sometimes like signals of smoke. All the
Way to Keiskammahoek, then funnelled
into grandmother’s veins of steel,
With a back as broad as the mountains of uQoboqobo.
She would midwife a harvest, all … Canaan-like. All …
giant heads and paradise-like.
This cabbage connoisseur
Could craft seven variations of cabbage dishes;
Each layer its own revelation until
There was a testimony between
Those leaves –
Umakhulu noTamkhulu ngabantu bomhlaba.
And my inheritance is in the land under my fingernails.
So when it rains, I crave the soil … three times a day.
Some call it anaemia. But
I know it to be communion.
Mother was born 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
on Saturday mornings
On the back of ibakkie yakwa Mampinga:
Where grandmother’s soldiers
rattled along to town against the backtrack of
an exhaust pipe. Harmonising,
“50 cents! 50 cents amakhaphetshuuuu!
2 for R1!”
At school she must study Agriculture. In Afrikaans.
This mother of mine who swings a hoe in cursive
– with more finesse than a pencil –
Who learned the cradle of land
From the canyons in her parents’ hands,
The daughter of a miner,
And a village farmer.
must learn the only thing she understands, In a language
Grandfather’s body turns to gold. Six feet deep. He will
not be mined.
John Voster Primere Skool.
The second black in an Afrikaans school
– all dolled up in white and blue –
A definite sign of a South Africa new.
Juffrou reads out the register and non-existent clicks
intimidate her …
Sifo – disease. Kazi – big.
Ladies and gentleman I am now, Big Disease Jonas!
Here ma’am … My father will explain.
White and blue with added red: English schools are the
new means to an end
So we pilgrimage to a multiracial res.
On introduction night our names sit on our tongues like
– Flashback – “Sifokazi Jonas.”
Maybe a twang is the antidote? Hi, my name is
Laughter rolls off the other trays:
She’s trying to be white.
My sister is a new recruit to this post-TRC world where
the search for a better life means
School mornings on the back of Oom Koos’ red
botsotso bakkie. As red
as our school ties.
Nathi singamakhaphetshu. We are also cabbages. Two for
Grandmother is planted. Six feet deep. She will not be harvested.
My mother is proud of how finely I chop cabbages;
The care I take in disassembling planets.