Epiphanie Mukasano

Eve in Kirstenbosch

It is strange how many things we love
yet do not know we love them

sitting with two sister writers
on a chilly rainy day in Touch of Madness
I discovered this love for cups
Having not known winters before
my blood pipes had gotten it frozen
corpses of words in their box
blue nails waited long in vain
to release the ink
This burning cup of white Rooibos
nearly finished my tongue
as I gulped a few sips
to restore the system
What would winter be like
without burning cups of tea?

In my childhood
I have listened to many birds
their chirps used to wake us up
in the morning
I learned the names of many of them
it all happened naturally
Today, pigeons and herons
are my favourites
their songs whether filtered or sandy
always attract me

I never knew I have passion for trees
many times I have stopped on my way
to watch their swaying boughs
or colourful blossoms
and felt a son of praise rise in me
I am Eve in Kirstenbosch Gardens
how I wish I could retain all the names
on the umpteen labels they wear

I like empty jars
their feminine look
the way they open up
waiting to be filled
with endless possibilities

Rivers are loveable too
and unstoppable
their serpentine course
through mountains and plains
never closing an eye in the night
their rumbling, our lullaby

Raindrops are funny things to fall in love with
enchanting like bubbles
children all over the world know this better
how mayny get spanked
for playing in the rain?
Raindrops drumming on our roofs
imbibe us with heavenly bliss

As a child I have climbed many mountains
from home to school
from home to my auntie’s
from fome to my granny’s
there mountains everywhere
scary staircases to the infinite
There mountains here too
a look at this one in front of me
always takes me to the chains in me
the good thing about climbing mountains is
you always come back where you started

Could this be the beginning of passion for hiking?

 

Epiphanie Mukasano

The perfect juggler

When comes the time to define herself, the words hide themselves. She feels scared like she has never before. Death itself becomes less ugly.

She sits and finds herself panting even before she throws the first ball. Then one, two, three, the juggling starts. How many balls? How many colours? Maybe a dozen, maybe more. She always wants perfection.

Blue ball in the air for the perfect mother, the mother of perfection, spreading her perfume of love around her. Always feeling guilty even when things get beyond her control. With no certificate, she has to adjudicate in the squabbles that are forever arising.

Red ball in the air, for the perfect wife, unselfish, erasing herself for him to be. Nostrils wide open to smell her perfume of love.

Green ball in the air, for the perfect house wife. Clean shack, clean pots, clean rags, made beds. Last to sleep, first to get up in the morning, a beaming smile on her face.

Orange ball in the air for the perfect breadwinner. Love smells stale when the stomachs are empty.

Pink ball in the air for friendship. She must chop her heart to satisfy the many hands waiting to be served. None is to be hurt or treated unfairly.

White ball in the air. Apprentice, she needs to be a perfect writer. She cannot allow herself to stumble. The spelling must be right. Each sentence well said. Punctuation must be right. A ballad is a ballad, not a ghazal. A ghazal is not a haiku. She needs to know the rules and follow them.

She must be true to herself. She has to find the right song, the rhythm that will sustain her balance. None is to touch the ground even if the juggler is left breathless. So many balls in the air.

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Epiphanie Mukasano

Lucky Me!

It is a sunny Saturday morning. Brigitte is still in her plain green flannel pyjamas. The top can hardly cover her bulging belly. She is busy cleaning their two small-roomed Wendy house. Her mother is already out at the nearby flea market trying to sell the products of her needle work.

Brigitte has just finished making her eight-year old brother’s bed when she feels a bolt of lightning strike her belly. She can hardly breathe. Her head is a lake of confusion. This cannot be a contraction!

When she revealed her pregnancy to her mother, the latter went mad at her for being such a disappointment to her. Brigitte was in Grade 11 and a brilliant student. She was the only spark of hope for a better future for the family, especially after the tragedy. When they had arrived in Cape Town from the DRC, it had not been easy for them to settle. Then to add to their misfortune, Brigitte’s father died in a car accident.

When her mother’s anger about the pregnancy had subsided, she warned Brigitte to go regularly to prenatal consultations for her sake and her baby’s. At her last visit she was told that her baby was due in a week.

Carefully Brigitte holds her belly between her hands, like a basketball player ready to score a goal. Slowly, she lowers herself onto the bed she has just made, both hands supporting her back.

By this time, her little brother who has  been playing outside comes in panting, pours himself a cup of water from a bottle and sends it down his throat noisily.

“Clean up the floor, I’m not feeling well,” she begs her brother.

“It’s cold in here, I wanna be in the sun, I’ll sweep later.”

As he walks out out, Brigitte pulls herself together and grabs the collar of his T-shirt. “You’re not going nowhere… Ooooooooo!” She screams as lightning strikes again. It sends her to the floor where she sits, legs spread apart.

Brigitte’s brother is watching her in puzzlement.
“Hold my back … No, bring me my cell phone. I need to send a please-call to my boyfriend and another one to Mum, I don’t have airtime.” She forces the words out between her sobs.

The little boy is too scared to face all this drama. He disappears shouting, “I’m gonna call Maman Gode.”

Now, Brigitte has stopped crying. She wipes her face and slowly reaches for her baby’s suitcase to arrange it properly. She is convinced that her baby wants to be out today. There has not much of a preparation for this birth: half a dozen nappies, two woollen suits and a shawl knitted by her mother, three vests, three plastic panties and some toiletries.

Eventually when she feels some relief from the pain, anger builds inside her. Why does she have to suffer alone? Her boyfriend is still going to college. She had to stop after all the gossip at school about her pregnancy despite her vain attempts to hide it.

So it will always be like that. The woman has to pay the price alone. She remembers the comment that one of her teachers made about the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. “She was supposed to be stoned to death. Where was the other sinner? Shouldn’t he have been stoned too?” Brigitte smiled wryly.He presumably had walked away a free man.

As she keeps herself busy packing the stuff neatly, her waters break. Her pants are wet.  There is a mixture of panic and disgust in her. She removes her pyjamas, wipes herself with a towel, and changes into her bitenge outfit.

There has been no reply to her messages. Her message to her boyfriend could not be delivered. Her mother has probably ignored her message, too busy trying to make the money to pay for the rent of their Wendy house.

In no time, the little boy, Maman Gode (a neighbour and a close friend of Brigitte’s mother) and her husband arrive in their Renault 5 to take her to the hospital.

Maman Gode  tries to comfort Brigitte, telling her that her mother’s labours used to be as quick as a fart. She tells her that she may have inherited this as well. Maman Gode  locks the place and escorts her to the car where her husband is waiting, a his face anxious. Maman Gode asks the boy to go and play with her children at her house.

The little boy watches the car pulling away, shakes his head and mumbles, “I’m glad I’m not a girl.”

Epiphanie Mukasano

joyful days are meant
to give us strength
for sorrowful days

to sorrowful days
give strength
joyful days are meant for us

for sorrowful days
us joyful days
are meant to give strength

Give to us joyful days.
Are sorrowful days
meant for strength?

give strength to joyful days,
sorrowful days
are meant for us

Epiphanie Mukasano

Ink Stains

Here is mystery personified
Me learning to trust me
This concrete wall without a crack
I need to empty my mind
of all the burning thoughts that were and are
turn them into talking beings
the washing lines are waiting
my buckets remain full
the wind keeps ripping my wooden pegs
I’m breathing fire like a dragon
Pages must be stained
I hate the sight of them virgin

Epiphanie Mukasano

A sapphic poem 

The morning sun tastes like the song of my mother’s
hand stirring sorghum pap; song echoed among the
leaves of her cassava tree, a prayer, a murmur
climbing Rutare mountains.

Epiphanie Mukasano

Counting my blessings

I’m sitting in the setting sun, counting my blessings, They keep slipping out of my hands. Nothing palpable. Nothing to thank God for? Maybe my eyes have turned blind. Maybe my hands have turned numb. Maybe my heart is a living rock. I will start all over again. Counting my blessings. I wish I could fill buckets. No, trucks. No, ships. Still nothing palpable. Nothing to thank God for? I will start all over again. I’m sitting in the deep sleep of the sun. Everything is quiet. Even the mice in my house will not interfere. I can hear my breath, I can hear my heartbeat. At last, right under my nose, I have found something. Something to thank God for.

Epiphanie Mukasano

Keep going

Get set for adventure, my child
Nature is calling, heed her pleading voice
Catch a glimpse of the deep blue sky
Pluck a marguerite on the way
Ride on the dazzling clouds
Keep going

Run, stretch or roll, my dear child
Don’t fall in love with your shadow
Explore those spaces – bright yellow
Take your torch to the darkest realms
Like a rolling stone
Keep going

Fill your lungs with the morning breeze
Stretch your legs on the shining beach
Embrace the heart of your dreams
Dance kwasa kwasa, but remember
A  river never stops running
Keep going

Go far my shooting star
Reach the heights beyond my sight
Borrow the eagle’s wings
Fly like a white feather
Keep going

Run, stroll, or roll, my dear child
Ride, fly, or crawl, my cherub mild
Just
keep
going

Epiphanie Mukasano

The smell of hatred

I was only one year older than Lucie, my half-sister. We had a common grandfather, and two different grandmothers. We attended the same primary school even though we never went or came back from there together. Our parents wanted to keep us as apart from each other as possible. That is the way of polygamy. Thick walls of hatred must be erected between families. You are told not to share a sugar cane or a banana. Your bit must be poisoned.

Despite this simmering hatred between families, Lucie and I got along quite well. We used to play together at school and to share the ways our parents told us to keep to maintain this kind of broken relationship. At times I felt like asking permission to go and spend a night with Lucie at her home, but I never had the guts to say a thing as I always sensed a refusal from my parents. Deep inside, I felt that something was wrong. I could never understand how people could feel the comfort of living behind such walls of hatred. But many times I was told never to try to understand. That was the way of life; I just had to live according to the norm.

I measured the depth of the hatred between our families later on when my youngest brother died. Unlike other people in my neighbourhood who flooded to comfort us, Lucie’s family never turned up in due time. They only came on the day of the funeral.

As I grew up my relationship with Lucie has not suffered much from the barriers created between our families, but I have always wished I had a hammer strong enough to break them down. I have always thought that such things like half-sisterhood should not exist in the first place.

Epiphanie Mukasano

The end of a bad day

At last the bell rang, much to my relief. It was the end of a day, and more importantly, the end of a school week. Gleefully, I closed my book. I had not finished my drawing, but I was not worried. I hated Drawing with all my heart. I was no good at it. Those like me who could not finish had to complete the task at home. So I could take my time.

Outside, it was drizzling. Luckily, school was not far from home, only ten minutes walk. I did not wait for my friend Francine to join me – she was my usual companion on my way after school. I ran home. I was dying to play with my little sister Tina. With her, I hoped to forget the boredom of school.

Tina and I were four years apart. She had not started school and she used to stay with granny when my mum was working. That Friday, my mum had not gone to work. She said she was not feeling well.

When I got home, I said a quick “Hello” to mum who was busy in the kitchen and headed to my room. What a sight! It was a real pigsty. Tina was sitting on the floor, colouring a picture. My blanket and sheets were hanging, their edges sweeping the floor, my bed was littered with  toys and dolls. Here and there, puddles of paint pooled on the cemented floor.

Infuriated, I hit my sister. She cried, and my mum came running.

“What’s going on here?” she asked. I was about to explain but was refused the chance. Tina pointed her finger at me, and my mum slapped me twice on my right cheek. How it burned! I started crying.

“Keep quiet or I’ll break your neck” she shouted. “You’re the older sister, fix this mess,” she went on.

I could hardly contain my anger. I could not figure out how I had become the scapegoat. I ran outside and sat in the rain, hoping that my mum would be moved and recognise that she had been wrong. Nothing of the kind happened.

After half an hour or so, I heard my dad’s car hooting. After parking the car, he came to me and looked surprised to find me crying like that, all alone.

He hugged me, carried me in his strong arms and took me to the lounge. He asked me to sit and explain to him what had happened. At first, my words would not come out.

Tina   arrived and started  accusing me, “You hit me on the head, twisted my arm and kicked my leg.”

I explained to dad how I tried to complain to mum who, instead of listening to me, slapped me in my face. Then I shouted at Tina:  “You made me angry. You messed my room. Come, dad. See for yourself.”  I pulled him by the hand and led him to the room. Tina followed us, a few steps behind.

“Tina, how could you do something like this?” my dad stormed, “Fix this mess quickly. You won’t have your supper before I see this place is spotlessly clean.”

Then dad hugged me one more time and said, “I think you’ve been treated very unfairly. I will only ask you to be kind to your little sister and help her clean up. When this job is done, I’ve got a special treat for each one of you. As for mum, I’ll ask her to apologise.”

Epiphanie Mukasano

S.O.S.

A bright and sunny morning –
the day of Nadia’s interview
She had waited oh so very long
for her life to start anew

Clad like a crow, she awaited the lift
Long earrings playing church bells
Clicking sharp tall-heeled shoes
spreading the sweetest of smells

Into the small and crowded space
a plump lady beckoned her
The doors swished shut, and then the lift
ascended with a whirr.

In seconds Nadia’s dream began
of fancy clothes, shiny shoes
a chauffeur and a glittering car,
such as  a crowned woman might use

Lo! the lift was standing still
This left them panic-stricken
A sturdy youth stamped and kicked
Plump Lady squawked – just like a chicken

Sweaty, stuffy, close and dark
Nadia felt quite sick
Plump Lady cackled into her cell
begged for help, ‘Come quick!’

For hours they waited
(it felt like weeks)
The youth lashed out,
a young lass shrieked

Nadia’s hope faltered,
her spirits failed
And then, Alleluia!
the sirens wailed

Epiphanie Mukasano

“Huuuuuhhh!”

Charlotte heaves a deep sigh of relief. Eric, her brother- in-law is no longer with them. He has finally found a job and moved out of their small two-bedroomed flat. Not that she dislikes him, but since he has left the countryside and has been staying with them, he has somehow become the rival for her husband’s undivided attention. The weekends are the worst because he spends four to five hours with his brother, visiting friends or sharing a few drinks with him. He seems to have forgotten about her, which angers her from time to time. Complaining is not helping. Her husband keeps telling her that she will be included in their outings, but nothing materialises.

I’m having him back to myself this evening, she thinks. She intends to make a nice but quick supper in order to have a long chat with him before bedtime.

In no time, the kitchen is steaming with his favourites: spicy stewing beef and sizzling onions and potatoes, and grilled maize. When everything is ready, she reads the newspaper, whiling time away.

When he comes, she is all smiles. She throws her arms round his shoulders and slips the bag in which he carries his lunch off his arm and puts it away. When she comes back she asks: “What can I get you, coffee or tea?”

“A glass of water,’ he replies.

“I guess you were not lucky with taxis today,” she says.

Holding his head between his hands, he remains silent for a while, then bangs on the small table in front of him and shouts: “All my reports are overdue, I don’t know what to do! The huge amount of work, the poor money! This isn’t
worth the stress.”

“I wish I could find a way to help you,” she says sympathetically.

He glances at the clock on the wall. Time for the news. He turns the radio on and tries hard to listen. Clearly, his mind is wandering miles away. Charlotte serves supper which is eaten hastily and quietly. No sign of affection, not a single compliment about the food. Charlotte does not know where to start to brighten him up.

“I’m going straight to bed,” he says. Minutes later, he is sleeping like a corpse.

Charlotte feels warm tears running down her cheeks. It’s not her brother-in-law; it’s not stress. Something is wrong. Their love is gathering dust. It needs polish urgently.

Epiphanie Mukasano

Warm current moves rich life
Creatures rare yet familiar
Beautiful and scary, terrifying
Ugliness is beauty, all exposed
Sue Bust

The dream

Dull kingdoms unknown
A glance, a shudder
A tomb, maybe a womb
Depths beyond reach
Light long extinct
Myriads of inhabitants
Smelly, slimy, squeaky
Warm current moves rich life

Dreaming and smiling
I wriggle under a flimsy blanket
The cricket sings
The cock crows
Time to crack the eggshell
To break the wing of clumsiness
They play hide-and-seek
Creatures rare yet familiar

A world unfolds big
Organised and disillusioned
Blinking blurred shadows
Kings walk uncertain
Salient bellies simmering
Shaking secrets
like banana leaves
Beautiful and scary, terrifying

My smile lingers on
Childlike, still waters undisturbed
In the mirror
my life sparkles brown
The snake sheds its withered skin
Warm foam soothes my dream
Nakedness unconcealed
Ugliness is beauty, all exposed
  

Epiphanie Mukasano

Go down the muddy lane
Shake loose the shackles of fear
The garden of love
is flooding
The river of your childhood,
growing to a raging ocean
One by one
the blossoming roses
drown
How blunt have your nostrils turned
Go down the slippery lane
Find a place in your heart
for a rose of remembrance

For a rose of remembrance
find a place in your heart
Go down the slippery lane
How blunt have your nostrils turned
Drowning
the blossoming roses
one by one
Growing to a raging ocean,
the river of your childhood
is flooding
the garden of love
Shake loose the shackles of fear
Go down the muddy lane
 

Epiphanie Mukasano

Her granny was a lonely person. Her two older sisters used to take turns to spend the night with her. But then they grew too old for the job, and she had to take over. She never shared proper supper with her siblings. Every night she walked to her granny’s house. It had never come to her mind that a human being could harm her. She was rather scared of wild animals. Of all, she dreaded the leopard most. She had heard a lot of stories about it. She often fancied herself being torn apart by such an animal. She had heard that you could smell its breath when it was near. So many times she fancied strange smells and her heart beat like a wet drum, and she felt her hair standing upright on her head. But she liked being with her granny and so when dusk came, she would grab something: a big sweet potato, a few bananas, anything ready to eat and start climbing up and down the hills. A few years later, when her granny died, she was heartbroken.

Epiphanie Mukasano

The mother of mothers

The frou-frou of her violet
moth-ball scented skirt
the symphony of her silver bangles
mingle with the voice of angels
She is immortal

She is a life-giver
endless throes mixed with
beaming smiles
mother of countless daughters and sons
her bubbling breasts have fed them all
she is the spirit connecting humanity

She is a life-carer
many hills she has climbed
her hoe on her shoulder
humming her age-old air
defying inclement weathers
many fields she has ploughed
crushing starvation
with stark determination

She is a time-teller
you don’t ask her age
her toothless smile
her bending back
tell it all
her frail body can only rely
on her wooden walking stick
her multi-folded face has seen
thousands of sunrises and sunsets
She is the sole breathing soul
of her time

She is a tale-teller
when the red ball in the sky
disappears behind the mountains
the children in the village
gather round a cackling fire
they listen to her quavering voice
blowing the wind of wisdom
she is the treasure-chest
of the many legends
of her land
her stories will live
long after the deep silence
of her voice

The frou-frou of her violet
moth-ball scented skirt
the symphony of her silver bangles
mingle with the voice of angels
She is your mother
She is my nother
She is immortal