Tonight we are not going to sleep: Extracts from ‘a naked bone’ by Mangaliso Buzani

Tonight we are not going to sleep, we are going to

jump into bed with our shoes, and continue to walk

in our dreams. You on the paper writing poems, me

behind the paper reading poems. We will do this

together, exactly the way lovers make a baby together.


Before a pen — a prayer: before a pen — a poem: before

a pen — a song: before a pen — a story: Such energy: fire

from a piece of paper.


The wind is whistling, so wear as your scarf the arm of

your lover round your neck: once more the bed brings

closer the sweethearts to share one pillow. The wind

sings, the bed sings, the song of the lovers.


Death is a street where all the lamplights are broken.

There are no voices other than the sound of a cloud

that is about to break into pieces of teardrops. The

lightning, whose smile is just a fire. That’s how you see

your hole inside the skull of the soil.


Today I’m face to face with death, I feel more drowsy

than ever on earth. My eyebrows are heavy, I don’t

know when they gained so much weight. Because

with these twin eyes I still want to see the light, exactly

equal to the way my eyelids want to cover my eyes.


A naked bone which is still thinking about what to

wear for the day. A bone which has no shoes, an

injured bone which recently lost its legs: the powerless

child of an animal. Still they are standing to finish it

with stones and hammers, to break into its holy house

and steal its only life, its marrow.


I don’t think it is too late. We can still be together in

this night. We can make the fire, see each other’s faces.

The moon is high but its touch shines on us. We can’t

play with that, it’s too sacred to throw on the ground.


Every day, wearing the clothes of a prickly pear, I

ask myself when I got these thorns that fly out of my

mouth every time I say a word. Is this the language

a poet should have on his tongue? To swear so much

that he disappears from anger?


I believe one drop of God’s sweat can make one drunk,

after his hard work of creating the world. You can feel

from the fermented grape what made him drunk when

He was creating the drunkards.


The sky looks so sad today. I don’t know why, whether

it’s because God is punishing angels in heaven or

because of the sins we continue to caress with our

holy hands. The sky is black, black like a crow on the

crossbar of an electrical pole, sensing there will be

some dead meat soon on its plate of tar.


It was beautiful last night, I ran my fingers through

your soul with my palm facing the ground. You were

soft like flour, rough like salt crystals when water

evaporates, when I was caressing your billion particles

of dust and life. Earth, my only bed of soil – I just want

to sleep on you, with my ear to the sound of your heart

between your breasts.


The fig gets all its lessons from the weather. It goes

through the university wearing a green gown. Through

long lessons it gets the hips of a woman. The fig learns

to master its walk while it is still hanging from the

branch of a tree. Through the levels of the institution, it

goes around wearing a red gown with a yellow hat, or

a yellow gown with a red hat. But the life of the fig is

for birds and human beings.


A nest has only one room, no private room for

meetings or lovers. It has no kitchen to cook

mushrooms, no bathrooms to bathe the young. But it

has a veranda to view the world from. A queen-sized

bed of feathers and grass, it is full of music  for the

pink feet of birds to dance on.


I have never been happy in my life. With scars on my

soul, I trace back footprints from my present size seven

to the unknown size of my woollen baby shoes. I hold

a meeting with the fig tree which once dislocated my

elbow. I ask the rusted nail of the fence which once

pulled me down by the turn-up of my trouser leg,

why it broke my wrist in the middle of the night in my

sleeping neighbourhood.


Little by little: maybe that’s how I was made. The sand

is piling up before my eyes, making sculptures from

the hands of the wind — with shells for eyes. God, your

breath goes a long way gathering particles to build

lives. One breath, a thousand human beings; one blow,

a thousand graves.

Mangaliso Buzani’s a naked bone is published by Deep South

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Mangaliso Buzani
Mangaliso Buzani grew up in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, and later trained as a jeweller in Tshwane. His first collection Ndisabhala Imibongo (Imbizo, 2014) written in isiXhosa, won the 2015 SALA award for poetry. The title poem of this book, his first collection in English, won the Dalro Prize for the best poem published in New Coin in 2014. Buzani teaches poetry in English and isiXhosa in the MA in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. Using simple vocabulary a naked bone describes complex states of beauty and suffering, many of them at the borderline where life meets death. In dreamlike rhythms and images, Buzani’s poems draw from Xhosa culture, Christianity, and elements of nature. They are love poems in the widest sense, embracing the interface of daily life and the spiritual, expressing joy and compassion in the face of deprivation and mourning.

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