Sunday, September 28, 2014

Soweto July 1978

To listen to an audio recital of the poem, click here

I wrote this poem in Johannesburg after spending a day looking that way, every time the official tour guide instructed us to look this way; it seemed my best chance of witnessing the reality. I photographed everything I saw, but mysteriously something went wrong with the film processing and I ended up with black negatives - quite appropriate, in fact. Soweto was just recovering at the time from the massacre of schoolkids who had dared to raise a protest, and from the murder of Steve Biko. The "twin towers" that stand there today (see illustration) were simply not imaginable then; I hope they will not turn out to be the shins of the Colossus, two more cold feet, two more stone pillars raised on bloody soil.

Soweto, July 1978

Nothing will remain standing. Not the laws,
not the system, not the white government,
not the BOSS machine, not the policies,
not the bigotry, not the homelands,
not the fine houses, not the parks and stores,
not the monuments to past achievements.
This is a warning and a prophecy:
Nothing, but nothing, will remain standing.

Even your stone houses will not be strong
enough to cover up the cracks, or mute
the sound of gunfire, or hard enough,
or stone enough, to crush your fingers on.
Yet no, the pillars, they will stand upright,
they will support you; all those pillars of
your houses, those of your community -
your pillars will inform posterity.

And they alone will stand, testimony
to a slave empire, the corrupted fruit
of someone else’s labour, the fruit that
has produced nothing but a maggot that
will crawl between the pillars, that will cheat
the house of its stability. Then what
will happen to your pillars? Will they wait
for the vindication of History?

The fruit grows wild in the barren garden
of this House of Africa. Wild, but not
yet savage. But when the fingers have been
bandaged, the fingers that you crushed between
the pillars of this stone township, and when
the fingers have been bandaged, and when the
arms and stones have left the slings, how will you
prevent the fingers clenching to a fist?

"Soweto, July 1978" is published in "Welcome To My World, Selected Poems 1973-2013", The Argaman Press. Click here to purchase the book.

Copyright © 2014 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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