A Poem by Gabeba Badaroon: My Tongue Softens on The Other Name

 

MY TONGUE SOFTENS ON THE OTHER NAME 

In my mother’s back yard washing snaps
above chillies and wild rosemary.
Kapokbos, cottonwool bush, my tongue softens
on the rosemary’s other name.
Aubergine, red peppers and paw-paw grow
in the narrow channel between
the kitchen and the wall that divides
our house from the Severos. At the edge
of the grass by the bedrooms, a witolyf tree reaches
ecstatically for the power lines.

In a corner in the lee of the house,
nothing grows.
Sound falls here.
Early in the day shadows wash
over old tiles stacked
against the cement wall.
In the cold and silence
my brother is making a garden.

He clears gravel from the soil
and lays it against the back wall.
Bright spokes of pincushion proteas puncture a rockery.
For hours he scrapes into a large stone a hollow to catch
water from a tap that has dripped all my life.
Around it, botterblom slowly reddens the grey sand.
A fence made of reed filters
the wind between the wall and the house.
Ice-daisies dip their tufted heads
toward its shadows.

At night, on an upturned paint tin, he sits
in the presence of growing things.
Light wells over the rim of the stone basin
and collects itself into the moon
Everything is finding its place.

from Gabeba Baderoon, The Dream in the Next Body (Kwela/Snailpress, 2005)

Gabeba Baderoon is an Associate Professor in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Department and African Studies. She holds numerous positions including being a Fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study. Her recent publication, Regarding Muslims: from Slavery to Post-apartheid was the winner of the 2017 National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Best Non-Fiction Monograph Prize and won the Book of 2014 Africasacountry. It was also long-listed for the 2015 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction and the 2016 Academy of Science in South Africa Humanities Book Award.

Professor Baderoon will be part of the panel of the opening address of the Food Politics & Cultures Festival: A Festival of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences that will take place 10-12 November 2016. Her poem below is mostly about South African plants but also speaks to the theme of our intimate relations with food and plants.

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