Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Angifi Proctor Dladla

SAILING TO LEPER ISLAND

SAILING TO LEPER ISLAND

SAILING TO LEPER ISLAND

Here I am, today passing through
Mandela Gateway – free with seagulls, waiting
for a free ferry. With us are tourists
that paid for Garrison Church weddings –
for shades, thought forms snapping,
for reading Jan se Gat back in time.

Today fathers are not here; they will be here.
This I pick up from the seagulls’ song,
read it from the dances of the breakers:
“Makana and Autshumato
rickety like Granma in Havana,
are with us, with us
not as a province in Cuba,
Autshumato, Stuurman
are here, here with Sheik Madura
are here, here with Imam Said
are here, here with Imam Guru
not as a paper of the Party.
Makhanda, Maqoma
are here, here with Dilima
are here, here with Fadana
are here, here with Langalibalele
not as a footnote in a folktale.
John Nkosi, Jafta Masemola
are here, here with Mlangeni
are here, here with Leo Sihlali
are here, here with Muntu Myeza
Andimba Toivo ya Toivo . . .
oh Makana, Autshumato
are now here, here . . . ”

We sit on the shivering deck and sail,
pulling behind a bridal gown of foam.
Gales slice my ears and nose,
Gales shave my head and cheeks –
no scarf, no wind breaker, no cloak
just like the ankle-welded prisoners, lepers
who wore boas of spiky rings.

I hear their dreams in the cold clanking
of leg and arm irons; feel their anthem
in the rings and chains that bleed.
I see in the shape-shifting waves
captors’ eyes in darts and jerks
as if herding hyenas and mambas;
captives’ eyes as moonflowers and morning stars
as if they are not in the thick of Transplanted Christianity.
Behold, lepers’ eyes receding from Colonial Culture
as if wolfed down by the disease itself.

The heart of the wind fast-forwards
cured criminals let loose to gentle captives,
sweet things dangle in prisoners’ faces,
scientists in the mainland preparing concoctions
of slow death to those failing to be broken in, and dark,
dark secrets in vaults, signed, with initials on – oh no!

Page by page in the ether, in the clouds above and below
I taste lost thoughts and visions of early lepers
unfolding in increments like Sobukwe’s Clause of claws.

I close my eyes and cry deep into my soul,
“Who will listen to divine insights and visions
if in our narrative the first prisoners only whisper
in our comas and near death experiences?”
I look up to the sky and cry; not because I am a crybaby,
but for what is going on in me. “Do I breathe or feature
in the trance or pictures in this realm of waterscape?”
Down into the ocean depths I look.
Behold, a hand sprouting from the peak
of the mountain, from its fingertips
tentacles of words sparkle upwards:
“Enslavers had stored themselves
in the bodies of your fathers.”
I cry long, long, long tears . . .

We arrive in Poqo Island.
The gulls sing the dance-poem of the Island:
“Makana and Autshumato
rickety like Granma in Havana
are with us, with us . . . ”

Against the shore surges dance.
Around Table Mountain fog coils.

Welcome to Robben Island:
We serve with pride!
Ons dien met trots!
Close

SAILING TO LEPER ISLAND

Here I am, today passing through
Mandela Gateway – free with seagulls, waiting
for a free ferry. With us are tourists
that paid for Garrison Church weddings –
for shades, thought forms snapping,
for reading Jan se Gat back in time.

Today fathers are not here; they will be here.
This I pick up from the seagulls’ song,
read it from the dances of the breakers:
“Makana and Autshumato
rickety like Granma in Havana,
are with us, with us
not as a province in Cuba,
Autshumato, Stuurman
are here, here with Sheik Madura
are here, here with Imam Said
are here, here with Imam Guru
not as a paper of the Party.
Makhanda, Maqoma
are here, here with Dilima
are here, here with Fadana
are here, here with Langalibalele
not as a footnote in a folktale.
John Nkosi, Jafta Masemola
are here, here with Mlangeni
are here, here with Leo Sihlali
are here, here with Muntu Myeza
Andimba Toivo ya Toivo . . .
oh Makana, Autshumato
are now here, here . . . ”

We sit on the shivering deck and sail,
pulling behind a bridal gown of foam.
Gales slice my ears and nose,
Gales shave my head and cheeks –
no scarf, no wind breaker, no cloak
just like the ankle-welded prisoners, lepers
who wore boas of spiky rings.

I hear their dreams in the cold clanking
of leg and arm irons; feel their anthem
in the rings and chains that bleed.
I see in the shape-shifting waves
captors’ eyes in darts and jerks
as if herding hyenas and mambas;
captives’ eyes as moonflowers and morning stars
as if they are not in the thick of Transplanted Christianity.
Behold, lepers’ eyes receding from Colonial Culture
as if wolfed down by the disease itself.

The heart of the wind fast-forwards
cured criminals let loose to gentle captives,
sweet things dangle in prisoners’ faces,
scientists in the mainland preparing concoctions
of slow death to those failing to be broken in, and dark,
dark secrets in vaults, signed, with initials on – oh no!

Page by page in the ether, in the clouds above and below
I taste lost thoughts and visions of early lepers
unfolding in increments like Sobukwe’s Clause of claws.

I close my eyes and cry deep into my soul,
“Who will listen to divine insights and visions
if in our narrative the first prisoners only whisper
in our comas and near death experiences?”
I look up to the sky and cry; not because I am a crybaby,
but for what is going on in me. “Do I breathe or feature
in the trance or pictures in this realm of waterscape?”
Down into the ocean depths I look.
Behold, a hand sprouting from the peak
of the mountain, from its fingertips
tentacles of words sparkle upwards:
“Enslavers had stored themselves
in the bodies of your fathers.”
I cry long, long, long tears . . .

We arrive in Poqo Island.
The gulls sing the dance-poem of the Island:
“Makana and Autshumato
rickety like Granma in Havana
are with us, with us . . . ”

Against the shore surges dance.
Around Table Mountain fog coils.

Welcome to Robben Island:
We serve with pride!
Ons dien met trots!

SAILING TO LEPER ISLAND

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
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