I can remember
a Christmas in the Drakensberg
whose grey seraphic crags
lifted the riddle of serenity
and placed it high above
the sprawl of human habitation below.

I was a student of Zulu literature
equipped with sleeping-bag and tape recorder
traipsing around the foothills
in search of a clan's epic poem.

The grey-headed imbongi I'd come to record
had lost a hand on the Reef,
was stretched on a sleeping-mat
unwilling to perform,
but asked about work
he stood and shaking the stump of his arm
cursed the mine in a rage.

That was, I suppose,
an epic poem of a sort
the text books had yet to enshrine.

As for the granadillas,
a vine of them flourished along his fence,
the pods leathery and wrinkled,
the skins flaking.

The juice in those he offered me
was nearly dry,
but the seeds were there all right,
hard, bitter, black and live..

 

imbongi - a praise-poet (isiZulu)

 

Download Granadilla (PDF)