/ 11 December 2021

The bleak shelter of Yellow Shade

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Off-kilter: Sam Nhlengethwa’s My Grandmother’s Kitchen in the 60’s

The asymmetrical chair and the table cloth sitting skew in the Sam Nhlengethwa lithograph (My Grandmother’s Kitchen in the 60’s) on the cover of Yellow Shade (Deep South) are apt metaphors for how Dimakatso Sedite represents black life. Scenes are off-kilter and co-ordinates are out of place. Her poems are set in townships — the post-apocalyptic townships of the present — with her imagery giving a vertiginous sense of what it feels like to be trapped in the continuum of apartheid. 

A research psychologist by profession, Sedite writes with insight from inside the maelstrom, assembling an array of indelible images. These are three of her poems from the collection. 

Love on fire

I love Adhip, mama, his hair drips of Maghreb sands.
I’m happiness on fire. My madness is trapped on his tongue.
He does not break me like bread or fling me open like scissors.
His chest — a cocoon of hairs — not that stone that sawed my bones,
Not slippery like Galela’s gumboots.
My eyes claw on him as if sesame seeds on a bunny chow.
My love sweats the kind of madness you smell
In dogs on the run;

‘My child, when you love in seconds like that,
your heart will be charcoal within an hour,
twisting in the oven to die like soot,
like boulder Galela who got weary of the yellow
you burnt on his chest. Fires like yours flare
up everywhere, in these shacks,
in Adchip’s Atchar, in men so icy they slide
to the next house with rods writhing
bleeding feelings like yours.
Your blasted heart
will hover over pages of this township
like the hunger we breathe to fill our guts.’

The day she disappeared

He enters her kitchen like a wind from the Namib.
Pots clank in fear. Her face, a mature firm fruit,
becomes a fracture. There he stands, a rod on two legs.

Her fear is shreds of plastic trapped in barbed wire,
as his anger dances in the randomness of the room.
His slap slices her cheek like frozen rain,

she flies into the air, fear floods her floor; men
drinking beer outside have slid away like serpents,
her cries are strands of wool hiding in holes.

Later, she scrubs the smell of him off her dress,
gathers splattered piece of herself from the ground,
flees behind the mountain where the sun hides. 

The looting

Shah’s heart hides behind the peel of his skin
close to his fears as layers of men, hands,
women, nails, breathe each other’s haste in his shop,
ripping out its bowels like yolk from a mother’s shell.

Crushed cash counters lie below crates of Cola
staggering out of this pencil-scribbled chaos
spilling into gaping mouths of houses, hunger
and babalaas, leaving windows stunned
as stories swarm like ants.

We’re forty years old looking like marbles
lost inside Shah’s shop, baffled by anger
tearing us into threads of chicken flesh,
waking up to live for nothing except to chase
grains of hate toasting in the stupor of space. 

Yellow Shade, published by Deep South, is distributed by Blue Weaver Marketing and Distribution and African Books Collective.