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Fiction Friday: uHlanga Press Poetry Special, Featuring Thabo Jijana, Genna Gardini and Nick Mulgrew

uHlanga New Poets Series Launches with Collections by Genna Gardini and Thabo Jijana
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This Fiction Friday, feast your eyes and ears on a selection poems from the uHlanga Press New Poets series.

uHlanga was launched recently, supported by a grant from the Arts & Culture Trust, with the aim of becoming a platform for the publication of debut collections from South Africa’s most promising young voices.

Three collections are being published soon: Matric Rage by Genna Gardini, Failing Maths and My Other Crimes by Thabo Jijana, and the myth of this is that we’re all in this together by Nick Mulgrew.

 

Read the poems:
 

* * * * *

 
 
You have no power here
Thabo Jijana

I will tell you what I know.
It won’t be what you want me to tell you,
or what you think I should know.
Not what is written down for the children to imbibe,
not the story of Nongqawuse, that swayable girl
wandering around the Cape wild, leading Phalo’s sons
Qamata knows where.

I will tell you what I know.
It won’t be what those that do you dirty
will want me to say.
It won’t be nice.
It won’t be like wine.
It won’t be broadcast delayed live on the speaking box.

I will tell you what I know.
Sticks and stone, burning tyres,
Andries Tatane, that man they killed in Alex.
Did you ever hear what was said
on June 26, 1953, a year after the Defiance Campaign
had begun in Port Elizabeth?
That every parent must tell their children
about the campaign and the sacrifices
the people had made?

Where were you when “Zandisile” came out?
The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street?
I will tell you where. Glued to your couch
no more moved by the visuals on eNCA
than when you suffered a lesson
on the bitter fruits of the French Revolution,
and how it left behind the impression
that violence ought to be legalised
as a method of maintaining order,
that an individual’s life was of less importance
than the objectives of the group in control.

I will tell you what mam’Nywabe used to tell me:
to always pick fruit from the lowest branches,
for if the tree wanted you to have it all,
it would forget about the primates and drop down
all its fruits ’til the ground in all the fruit gardens
were covered with every type of produce.

I will tell you what I know.
I will tell you everything I know.
Give me a moment,
and I shall begin.
 
 

* * * * *

 
 
Outside, inside
Thabo Jijana

Here I am, on this frigid Saturday
in late 1998, kneading my eyes
and staring up a sloping Melindo
Street in Kamv’elihle. It’s past
cockcrow. And raining – a gentle
shower, like baking flour off
a sieve. I go from the sidewalk
to the front stoep, then I am
at the window inside, watching
the mamas of the kitchens (damp
dresses and OK shopping bags as
bonnets) scamper past. Any time
now, I know Mama’ll be walking
through the gate; she’ll have her
nurse’s cap. She’ll be tired. She’ll
be angry; there is nothing I can do.
So I make it to a bench near the
door to Madi’s bedroom, and sit
down. On the carpet, there’re the
blood drops – I’ll tell Mama it was
Madi who started it, that I didn’t
mean to. And then I’ll make a
stubborn face; Mama’ll shout that I
take off my pyjamas, find a washbowl
of water and pour Omo. And then –
then I’ll rinse my hands clean.
 
 

* * * * *

 
 
On Words
Genna Gardini

She said, “Love, the only thing that lives is letters.”

The truth is a clamour, is a great rocking vibration
that’s brittle and sex-shelled; that’s listening, a conch.

I’ve looked into that mouth, and asked: Did I know you
from my self’s start?

From the first crustacean dollop of my brain, where both
the speaking and the tongue are still sitting, undrained?

Our lives wonder each other, disassemble like engines,
the process sudden, apparent.

Stop mid-speech, take the motor out your talk.

Click the conversation from its context into a grammar
that even your mother used, like false teeth: a means to an end
she could take off at night. Only knowing herself when she
was just gums.

Words shamed me, so I loved them.

Laundered and spelt, I’ve felt each sentence as strain,
a thin membrane pulled between throat and head until
I called from the nodes of my chest, instead, humming:
Is this where I learn into myself?

Already the writing sheets above me, cursive and prophesying,
doing meaning mean justice, double-stitched against time.

But sometimes here,

but sometimes here you’ll talk of language like a lover,
like a white-wash of water outside a church in the Karoo.

And this is how it separates you.
 
 

* * * * *

 
 
The Aquasize Instructor
Genna Gardini

She just doesn’t like the look of me,
I can tell,

with my face dripping from this cap, as if twisted from a tap
into a shallow pool of fat

that gathers twice at the chin.
It’s the gusset of ancient stockings you handmade.

I’m screwed out of my body, like a bulb.

On the first day, she berates me for not breathing properly –
says, “If you want to look like this, you must be healthy!” –

her body jerking in its costume, like biltong in a condom.

I duck down into the deep-end and, snorkeling, mouth:
“I’m not this moment. I’m its document. I’ll last longer!”

while old men thunder and tool towards me: sea bulls,
snapped back to movement by the water,

which does not hum and wait the way the world does,
inferring

and ushering you to death in a series of past bedrooms,
old lovers dropping from the windows like stompies.

Above, the instructor steams and strives. Furious
as a fish in a microwave, she tells the ladies “I’m 45!”

and waits for their reactions. They pause,

then titter. They are polite. Tonight, they’ll talk
to their husbands of her calves, risen and fingered

like rolls they wouldn’t buy at the Woolworths.

She catches me smirking and I want to say:
“See, I’m no longer cleft like a sum by this abacus of bone.

I’m inking time in metres! My brain sinks two! It clicks,
then switches.

Hungry as scissors for fingers!” But she looks away.
 
 

* * * * *

 
 
listicle: top five veggie burgers in the City Bowl
Nick Mulgrew

I: KNEAD BAKERY, KLOOF STREET
it’s the basting that sets this one apart
beetroot based patty grilled with
barbecue marinade giving the burger
some crisp beneath the yielding bun
way better than Hudson’s across the street

II: SPUR, STRAND STREET
we know what you’re thinking who
would go to Spur for a soy burger
but on two-for-one Mondays it’s only
thirty bucks for a Fry’s-esque carb bomb
with spaghetti onion ring tangles and blanched chips

III: WOODLANDS EATERY, DEER PARK
did you know globalised factory farming is one of
the main causes of climate change perhaps
it’s time to think about whether it’s right
to participate in an immoral system sometimes
the patty is dry but the setting is world-class

IV: THE ODYSSEY, BREE STREET
this is why Telemachus returned to Ithaca:
perfectly grilled mushroom and bashed butternut
make this a sweet-and-savoury delight between
what must be the best sesame glazed dense
burger bun under Edison bulbs this side of Salt River

V: ROYALE EATERY, LONG STREET
get the tofu and satay burger with sweet potato fries
when I took first year philosophy I wrote an essay
trying to reduce veganism to absurdity to annoy
my tutor how do you know plants can’t
have feelings
still I regret this years later
 
 

* * * * *

 
 
on watching Notting Hill for the thirteenth time
Nick Mulgrew

for A

I would quite like to be Hugh Grant in Notting Hill
but there are a few reasons why I cannot:
one I am not Hugh Grant;
two I do not live in Notting Hill;
three I do not own a bookstore,

and besides in twenty-fifteen South Africans
don’t buy many books;
four although I am lilywhite
and devoid of muscle– actually the reasons
are innumerable really.

but the fascination remains,
a simple want;
not that I want to be desired
by women in nineteen-ninety-nine,
but rather I’d like to be the kind of guy

who stays unfettered by his disabled ex-lover’s house
and has one slice of toast for breakfast
(maybe two mugs of sweet tea);
who, thriving on dreams and monologue,
gives foil to a worldly actress;

who may birth awful scriptwriting
and, giving breath to Portobello
when Portobello is wrapped in itself,
wafts in unbuttoned Oxford shirt
aware giddily of his own unawareness.

 
 

* * * * *

 
 

 

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