He is from Comfort. From highlife music and Amens.
He is from black.
From the horizon.
From harmattans that cracked lips and left them wounded.
He is from five.
From strident harangues and needles.
The antepenultimate child, stuck in the middle.
He is from leaves; squeezed and cut and ground.
He is from animals and fruits.

He is from soil, dark as his skin.
From stale palm wine and happy old men basking in familiar insobriety.
He is from taxi honks and diurnal streets.
From refuse bins that housed dead rats and rotting everything.
He is from the headiness of hibiscuses. From the humming of the fridge and the flowing of the stream.
He is from old Hip-hop CDs cracking at the edges. From songs his grandmother sang; songs whose meanings he would never know.

He is from old books. From little lettered-tiles of Scrabble.
From gossipy women lounging in kiosks, twisting braids, and tough boys in dirty dungarees.
He is from laughs, so loud they make the throat sore. He is from melancholy.
He is from hues.
He is from ‘you fools’ and ‘I love yous’.

POEMS by Cornelia Rohde


Apple, Moon, Fire

Apple and moon are his new words today.
Both round, both as delicious as he is.
One he can hold. One he tries to reach,
lifting his dimpled arm to the night sky.

His eyes land on the headline photo
of a man cycling close to an inferno of flames,
a smokescreen of burning rubber
to defy bomber pilots.

What dat? What doing? he asks.
Fire, I say, to teach him another word.
He doesn’t repeat it. He only insists,
What dat? What doing? over and over again.

I carry him into the California sunshine.
His laughter lights the morning as I push him
on the tire swing his father hung
from a branch of the gnarled pepper tree.

Sirens scream as a small boy
is lifted from Aleppo’s rubble.

What dat? What doing?



Sibongile brings La Foliage’s tony menu,
takes our order for organic beetroot
with hibiscus jelly, smoked cheesecake with garnishes
of sea lettuce and nettle pesto, cauliflower on a bed
of parmesan velouté with crushed chestnut,
Springbok carpaccio with fennel chutney,
naartjie buttermilk dressing, and puffed crackling.
For dessert, fresh strawberries sprinkled with roasted hay,
pistachio, violas, and a scoop of ginger sake ice cream.

He shakes our hands with a smile as we leave.
Off work, he will eat a sheep head roasted golden brown
over hot coals, its lips shrunken into a grin.
He imagines the delicate taste of its eyes,
its chewy ears, the suck and crunch of its bones.

Inhloko isiqokweni: head-on-a-plate. Real food.

POEM: Remember to Breathe


Of course all the traffic lights were red, even the pedestrian
ones as my fingers drum the steering wheel in
rhythm to that urgent voice that urged
me into this rabbit hole of gridlock. I
can’t answer my mobile but know
it would be that same voice
again. Didn’t it get traffic?
Finally I exit into the
car park, swing into
a space, run four
flights two stairs
at a time, spurred
on by nurses
eye contact

still breathing,
watching the breeze
ruffle the leaves on the cedar tree
confident I wouldn’t let you do this alone.

POEMS: tea in the garden and you know how dogs


tea in the garden

the afternoon tipped
over the rim of her cup
and spilt into her lap
splintered light leapt
at her naked eyes

I thought you knew
said her guest

the scalding spread
indelibly across her thighs


you know how dogs

get those puzzled
prick-eared frowns
from the top of their heads
to their muzzles

and how those same frowns
can curl up their lips
and run down their backs
like hackles