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Mercy, Nontsizi, renowned for your chanting,
your poems are the nation’s bounty.
No elephant finds its own trunk clumsy
Awu! Mercy, old hen’s wing in
Hen screening her chicks
from birds of prey,
the nation knows you, sky-python,
poets sneer but discuss you.
Turn Phalo’s land on its head, Mgqwetho[i]
whack nations and sap their standing.
Wild beast too fierce to take from behind,
those who know tremble in tackling you.
Mercy, dusky pool-tinted woman,
your stench reeks like the river snake.
Peace! Elephant browsing the tops,
you’ve made a household name of Mgqwetho.
Mercy, Nontsizi, African moss
sipping moisture from under the ripples,
you stubbed your toe and felt the pain,
a slip of the tongue and they stomped on you.
Mercy, Nontsizi, African moss,
you strip poetry bare to the bone
and the nation’s mountains swivel
as you sway from side to side.
Mercy, Dusky, Drakensberg snow
like morning dew on
I blundered in going to whites:
Oh I felt the cops’ cuffs on me!
Mercy, woman poet, Vaaibom’s flamingo,
which thrusts its feet forward for take-off,
which thrusts its feet backward to land:
all creatures come out to bask in the sun.
Mercy, duck of the African thickets,
ungainly girl with ill-shaped frame.
Awu! Nontsizi, African moss,
with bow-legs like yours you’ll never marry!
Mercy, woman poet, wing of
Make way! Ach, I was used.
Mercy, starling perched in a fig tree,
your poems dispense with feminine wiles.
Mercy, Nontsizi, African moss,
let old maids screen their bodies in bodices
for no-one knows your ancestors:
without skin skirts there’ll be no weddings.[ii]
Where are your daughters? What do you say?
“We roamed the countryside searching for marriage,
we turned our backs on home and dowry,
today we’re exploited in exile homes.”[iii]
What’s education? Where are your sons?
They roamed the land in search of niks,[iv]
chickens scratching for scraps,
eager at dawn, at dusk empty-handed.
Mercy, Nontsizi, striped gold-breasted bunting
that piped its prophecies through the thornbrakes;
Awu! Mercy, poetic diviner,
watch out, the wild bird’s flapping its wings.
Mercy, Chizama, who eats her meat raw;
no-one knows your ancestors.[v]
May the browsing elephants make it home:
they’re lost if they sleep in the road.
Mercy, Nontsizi, Sandile’s daughter,
child of the Ngqika paramount.
You were thrashed by kieries on Ngqika plains
for praising chiefs and not commoners.[vi]
Awu! Mercy, Nontsizi, African moss,
woman, the walls of
with the sound of your lovely parties:
Ach shame! The young men all wither.
The day of your death will darken, Nontsizi,
the commando’s horse will lose its way.[vii]
Awu! Mercy! And you, Ntsikana,
who piped your prophecies across the thornbrakes.
Peace, Awesome Saint!
Ntsikana mentioned this:
little red people down on their knees,
casting spells right up to Mpondoland.
Fiery tractors tilled the land of our fathers
and the black had no place to plough.
Peace to you, Heavens! Peace to you, Earth!
Peace then, Sun! And peace to you, Moon!
You keep our final accounts,
bear your report to the One on High,
plead our case in elegant terms.
Where can we go, pool-screened Crocodile?
Mighty Champion of Africa,
the black approaches in tears.
“Agree?” “Agreed! By the Drum of the Cross![viii]
Agreed! Yes, in truth, we agree!”
Oh! These are the words of the scabby eland:
mushrooms flourish in the flakes it sheds.
Carry on scooping the cask:
there lies the land of your ancestors,
harassed by evil sprites.
These are the words of the nervous object
of spies armed to the teeth,
who watch her even with lightning.