Peter | Ingrid | Mike | Abner | Tatumkhulu


Poetry by Ingrid de Kok

Ingrid de Kok



For a woman whose baby died stillborn, and who was told by a man to stop mourning, ‘because the trials and horrors suffered daily by black women in this country are more significant than the loss of one white child’.

In this country you may not
suffer the death of your stillborn,
remember the last push into shadow and silence,
the useless wires and cords on your stomach,
the nurse’s face, the walls, the afterbirth in a basin.
Do not touch your breasts
still full of purpose.
Do not circle the house,
pack, unpack the small clothes.
Do not lie awake at night hearing
the doctor say ‘It was just as well’
and ‘You can have another.’
In this country you may not
mourn small passings.

See: the newspaper boy in the rain
will sleep tonight in a doorway.
The woman in the busline
may next month be on a train
to a place not her own.
The baby in the backyard now
will be sent to a tired aunt,
grow chubby, then lean,
return a stranger.
Mandela’s daughter tried to find her father
through the glass. She thought they’d let her touch him.
And this woman’s hands are so heavy when she dusts
the photographs of other children
they fall to the floor and break.
Clumsy woman, she moves so slowly
as if in a funeral rite.

On the pavements the nannies meet.
These are legal gatherings.
They talk about everything, about home,
while the children play among them,
their skins like litmus, their bonnets clean.

Small wrist in the grave.
Baby no one carried live
between houses, among trees.
Child shot running,
stones in his pocket,
boy’s swollen stomach
full of hungry air.
Girls carrying babies
not much smaller than themselves.
Erosion. Soil washed down to the sea.

I think these mothers dream
headstones of the unborn.
Their mourning rises like a wall
no vine will cling to.
They will not tell you your suffering is white.
They will not say it is just as well.
They will not compete for ashes of infants.
I think they may say to you:
Come with us to the place of mothers.
We will stroke your flat, empty belly,
let you weep with us in the dark,
and arm you with one of our babies
to carry home on your back.

Ingrid de Kok




Winter has passed. The wind is back.
Window panes rattle old rust,
summer rising.

Street children, shaven mummies in sacks,
eyelids weighted by dreams of coins,
beneath them treasure of small knives.

Flower sellers add fresh blossoms
to yesterday’s blooms, sour buckets
filled and spilling.

And trucks digest the city’s sediment
men gloved and silent
in the municipal jaws.

Ingrid de Kok




A marshland of fog and gas
muffles the commerce of sound,
turns Cape Town into Venice

as the light on the dock laps
tackle, cranes, yards, grain elevators,
suspending them in tidal anchorage.

Shimmering like a promise, the yellow mirage
prepares sailors for the city,
its irradiated bowl.

Ingrid de Kok




From Signal Hill
on Valentine’s night
car alarms rouse
the last romantics.

City lights
flicker, on, off.

gaunt men in doorways
and ransacked women
key back rooms.

Taxis sidle to their ranks,
newspapers blow.

Ingrid de Kok



In March 1960 at Sharpeville in South Africa, 67 black Africans were killed and 186 were injured when police opened fire on a peaceful protest against the pass laws.

I was playing hopscotch on the slate
when the miners roared past in lorries,
their arms raised, signals at a crossing
their chanting foreign and familiar,
like the call and answer of road gangs
across the veld, building hot arteries
from the heart of the Transvaal mine.

I ran to the gate to watch them pass.
And it seemed like a great caravan
moving across the desert to an oasis
I remembered from my Sunday school book:
olive trees, a deep jade pool,
men resting in clusters after a long journey,
the danger of the mission still around them,
and night falling, its silver stars just like the ones
you got for remembering your Bible texts.

Then my grandmother called from behind the front door,
her voice a stiff broom over the steps:
"Come inside; they do things to little girls."

For it was noon, and there was no jade pool.
Instead, a pool of blood that already had a living name
and grew like a shadow as the day lengthened.
The dead, buried in voices that reached my gate,
the chanting man on ambushed trucks,
these were not heroes in my town,
but maulers of children,
doing things that had to remain nameless.
And our Sharpeville was this fearful thing
that might tempt us across the wellswept streets.

If I had turned I would have seen
brocade curtains drawn tightly across sheer net ones,
known there were eyes behind both,
heard the dogs pacing in the locked yard next door.
But, walking backwards, all I felt was shame,
at being a girl, at having been found at the gate,
at having heard my grandmother lie
and at my fear her lie might be true.
Walking backwards, called back,
I returned to the closed rooms, home.

Ingrid de Kok

The Crossings Project - Devon Curriculum Services