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If I Sleep Early: Poems by Moffat Sebola

Image: remixed


If I sleep early, too early for that matter,
Know that the ship that carries the cargo of my life
Has reached its shore, to finally let me go
Don’t wake me if I sleep early, too early
Just trace my footsteps in reverse like a crab and you’ll see
The tracks and tricks that lead to the place of my birth
There you’ll find mother, or father, or brother, or perhaps none
Of my kinsmen will be left to tell of my first whimper,
My first dream, my first kiss, my first this or that
Find comfort in that I too saw the sea
I counted the waves that came in strength to sweep the shores
Only to crash, beyond repair; to never rise again
I too, will crash; and never return
But for now, whilst you have me
Take me to the starry night and let me
See the roundness that makes the moon roll
To turn my face round and round till the smooth rim
Of its edges sharpen the rough edges around my heart
Hold my hand and lead me to the height of the mountains that
Birthed rocks that keep this overcrowded earth together
Sit with me; search within me
And you’ll find music notes that birds can never pipe
Stare deep at my feet and you’ll see that they carry the ageless dust
Stirred by my forefathers in rhythms of dance
Fueled by the drumbeat, warmed by the fire of unmined coals
Place your hand on the left of my chest and you’ll feel a thud
It’s the kick of my heart
It knows no shame or fright
Floods came and left, but it remained
Mother knows this, that these two legs that carry my weight and self
Have touched many soils and sands…and dared to cross even the impassable rivers.



People sleep in tumorous shacks and melting huts
Which wait for sighs of the wind to collapse.
People wash their eyes and their hands with tears
Their feet grind the soil daily climbing Mount Luvhola
Where they scratch the stony earth with rusty hoes
Where they scatter barren and moth-eaten seeds
On the soil that yields nothing but scars of erosion
Hunger deepens to the marrow, in this my village.

In my village,
Knees have turned leathery
From prayers that summon rains
That never listen, rains that never come
People have learnt to drink sweat and spits
Priests turn into ravenous beasts, pocket-pests
And altars of worship are now their stomachs
They demand offerings and tithes from jobless congregants

In this my village,
People breathe through punctured lungs
Drilled by tuberculosis, asthma and the politician’s promises.
Children are named Fatherless, Orphans and Mistakes; in this my village,
People celebrate funerals than weddings.

It is in my village
Where African daughters
Wait for the sun
To sleep against the breast of the hills
So they may welcome their nightmares
These daughters sleep awake and afraid
Under the soft glare of the moon
Waiting for the sun to rise
Afraid that drunken dad might slither
Into their blankets
Daughters are forced into maternity too soon
These are the daughters, my friend
That you find in taverns serving men
Both beer and their bodies
While their school uniforms are used
As napkins to wrap their premature babies
Bellies squeezed and sucked dry by diarrhoea,
Breathing through TB-perforated lungs.

These are the daughters, my friend
That you find posing under the streets lights
Every night patting their bare thighs
Inviting you and your wallet just for a one-night stand
Just so there may be food in their shacks
Where their children’s tummies are filled with hungry airs

These are the daughters, my friend
That have made peace with HIV and STIs
These are the daughters, my friend
That have buried so many lives in their wombs
These are the African daughters, my friend
Who know how dreams vanish like mist.

I say, it is in this place, this village
My village
Where there used to be well-tended shrubs but
Now stretch hectares of cemeteries and deserts
Where there used to be flowers on the sidewalks
Now boast tombstones
Where the cattle used to gaze and graze,
Now barren plains smile telling a story of drought.
Where the creative urge used to paint pictures,
Now spreads a cloud of sadness and emptiness.
Where people knew laughter,
Now tears stream down cheeks in despair.
Where hands used to give daughters dolls,
Now handcuffs manacle rapists and child-molesters.
Where boys and toys used to cuddle in care-free spirits,
Now a gun rattles while drugs are a breast from which they are nursed.
Where the grass used to massage feet,
Now gravel pierces the footprints.
Where the sun used to throw its rays,
Now a blanket of gloom spreads.


And I thought,
I too would find
My own niche in your world
Your world–full of so many divides and classes.

I thought
You would give me freedom
Enough to shave myself and display
My nakedness before your world’s eyes; that I would
Let it watch me, wash me pure and bridge
This divide that spreads way beyond the colour line.

My being remains buried
In the shadows of insignificance
Like some broken string of an ancient guitar
Consigned into irrelevance and ignorance.

Perhaps I have it etched on my face
This face that is as empty as my bank account.

My chest hides a heart beaten to a pulp
By the fists of poverty and rejections

My eyes are forever a leaky bucket
Raining tears that dig deep furrows on my cheeks

This is a world of the lettered
Sustained by the chatter of machine guns
Sometimes the bullet flies blindly to snatch an innocent soul
If not, a suicidal bomb will spew to baptize lives in flames
Yes, we live in a baptism of flames!

My songs are not smooth
For I have tossed all my love into the dustbin of indifference.

I stand gazing deep into the slimy mirror
And I loathe the form of my own shadow
Staring back at me…yesterday’s shadow
Drowned with all the hordes of unmet expectations
And promises.

And when we were all black
I believed that the dance of independence would never stop
Maybe I had had more than just a pint of beer that night.

Our politics are an ebbing tide,
Tired of building yet another crest.

I am an African but in my Africa,
Africans call me a foreigner.

I bleed in the rain
And my body takes all the rain’s lashes
Leaving my skin tattooed and scarred
By these obese raindrops that fall with a load of solitude

And all I did was
Ask for your acceptance
Just so I may have something to say, to write
And make the world believe that we are doing just fine.
That day will dawn.



I want,
To be a child again
To find retreat in tears again
My heart, always tugging for attention
My fart, ignorant of the noses around
My toothless gums, smiling the stars away
Warm arms carrying me as if I were an invalid
My skin, knowing no pain; no blackness either
Holding dear onto mom’s serene lullabies
Where I am no prisoner to worries and lusts
Sucking all the oxygen out of me
Care-free about the guns speaking in my land
With no need to think about where my next meal will come from
My heartbeat leaping in the garden of flowers
Me! Centre of attraction and attention, not an afterthought
Lavished with gifts not acids of hate
My heart never barbed with razor wires
Of jealousy, greed and hunger
Needless to stretch curtains
Over my soul; guarding secrets
My being, never worn to a shadow
By the roasting rays of the sun
Because this business
Of being a man
I can’t take any of it anymore.
They tell me not to cry,
Yet they rub hot pepper
Into my eyes
They tell me,
“Take it like a man”
Yet they see life
Flinging me against
Thorny hedges till my
Skin is mapped by a million lines
I am chocking, just as it is already
Beneath a dangling noose of sorrow
They’re unaware, that,
At the throw of fate’s dice,
My life would be over, just like that
But how can I not cry?
When my eyes hide tears
The size of an ocean
What am I supposed to do with them?
Shouldn’t I let them out to wet my dry face?
Shouldn’t I pinch these blisters of tears around my heart?
Shouldn’t I fill the dry trench in my soul with waters?
Should I take to bed this cancerous pain, again?
Shouldn’t I let out this pain that poisons my saliva?
Would that make me less of a man?



Until my Africa stops
Nursing the wounds of the past
She’ll never know the feeling
Of breaking new grounds
Until the culture of individualism dies
Then the dustbins of the capitalists will always be full
While billions of her children’s bellies
Grow and growl in hunger daily
Africa needs to know; to remember, that,
It is only in African hands that Africa
Can mentor her own to greatness
It is in the African soil
That seeds locked in her hands
Can be scattered, that her soil can be seeded
For generations to come
And find, not only fruits,
But also shadows.

Poems © Moffat Sebola
Image: remixed


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