ASHES TO ASHES

Kwanele

ASHES TO ASHES 

A fly sits on a woman’s lip
she spits and swears

a priest in black and white 
raises his hands 
“Ashes to ashes may our holy god give 
your bleeding hearts peace…” 

Plastic petals
red and white 
rain on the wood 
covering your flesh
dead leaves falling 

Your mother throws soil
dust falls
her tears follow the motion 
wind scatters them 
before reaching ground
mourners swallow 
march behind her in procession  
footprints embroider 
the path from your grave

I stay and read the headstone, 
“Nomaphelo, 1973-1992, 
we will remember you always
beloved daughter”

Walking from where you sleep

I remember your legend: 
the day the gods made you 
they carved and carved 
once happy they called a heavens’ Imbizo   
the heavens came 
breathed life into you and next day 
you opened your eyes

At five you asked the priest when god
was coming to our village
he pulled your cheeks and turned his back 
at six you chased policemen with a spoon 
and at twelve taught us 
mellow yellow engine sound 
yaqal’inyakanyaka
rooftops raining
a million feet rise 
Molotov cocktails 

White lies ashes

On your fifteenth birthday 
we exchanged gifts on Makana’s Kop
three years later an East Cape paper 
reported “liberation movements unbanned, 
exiles come home”
the story of the girl found naked 
at the foot of Ntabezono,
a stick shoved into her vagina 
did not make news 

A young boy found the silver chain 
I gave you in his brother’s jacket
Mothers whispered “a familiar voice, 
early hours of the morning 
pleading forgiveness” 
Fathers moaned of “the howling dogs
and the screaming whore 
who disturbed our sleep”  
The law spoke for months 
of “circumstantial evidence”
looked your mother in the eye 
“docket lost, case now closed

Two decades on 
I rest my head on your stone 
and hear your heart’s beat 
the sound of a tidal force twirling 
waves of fists that roll time 
into cannon-balls
churning flames that shred the sky 
as they rise
roaring
Kwanele!
Kwanele!
Kwanele!

(Photo credit: New Frame / Barry Christianson)

About Siphokazi Mthathi

Siphokazi Mthathi is Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa, with two decades of experience in the human rights and social justice movement in Southern Africa. She was General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign, the South Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, the regional advisor at the Coalition of African Lesbians, and most recently Manager for South Africa and Southern Africa programs at Norwegian People’s Aid.