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Where were you?

Last night as thunderstorms gathered in Underberg

Shaking the tiny village to its roots

When lights flickered and died

I set out to write a poem

As dreams turned into nightmares

Tender fingers caressing soft bodies turning into vampires’ claws

I perched myself on the mountain of poesy

Assembled the generals of poetry

Pablo Neruda invited me to:

“Come and see the blood in the streets!’

William Butler Yeats came out lamenting:

“Things fall apart the centre cannot hold

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the earth!”

Don Mattera cautioned:

“ The poet must die if their lies are to survive!’

Bicca Maseko enjoined us with:

“Generally speaking, the best of the generals is the general uprising!”

Martin Carter re-assured me:

“We do not sleep to dream, but dream to change the world!”

I assemble more and more poets

To help me write

An assassin’s poem an unleashed guerrilla

Harassing attacking feinting retreats advancing

Now moving in circles

Now shooting straight

Now and then throwing in moments of laughter

Leaving no static lines

A now floating

Now diving

Now and then rustling leaves

Rippling water

Cascading boulders down to the village of tyrants

I want to write a trickster poem

An Eshu, Chakijana, an Anansi the Spider playing tricks on power

Switching the shower as IL Duce washes

Disrupting the rape of justice

Squirting teargas as operatives try to wipe out tapes

Confusing fingers as they rig votes

Mooing whilst cattle vote

Dawn broke loose a had a visitation from the land of rhetorical questions:

Where were you when guns blazed at the massacre in Marikana

Where were you when machinegun fire took Marikana lives

And deafened the falcons of power?

Walk with me when dawn breaks

And shadows stretch quickly

To reach the horizon at sunset and we camouflage

To survive another day in the climate of anomie

In our bleeding land

Look with me at the faces of our people

How they have changed

Hunger parading angular lines meant for joy

Disease riddled bodies sluggishly taking painful

Steps to their cold shacks

As limousines speed by blurring American songs!

See the faces that once wore proud smiles

Now brandish sneers

And are elongated

Legs that bounced and danced now swagger

And totter as in a daze

The familiar streets that burst with energy now

Silent with an eerie feel

Eyes peering through shutters and frayed curtains

And answer me these questions:

Where were you when all this happened?

What did you say or do?

Where did you stand on these issues?

When war was declared

On civil society

When they militarized the police force

Who suddenly developed delusions of power

With no war to fight invented

Enemies in the working class

Chose the barren mountain of Marikana

For their battlefield

Whilst the commanders-in-chiefs

Ala Mussolini and Hitler built bunkers

Under their ill begotten palaces

Is it coincidental then is it?

Tell me! Tell me!

Where were you what did you see

What did you say or do?

When the miner with the green blanket

Spoke out demanding

A living wage before his body was riddled

With machine gun fire

On the morning of generals and brigadiers

Of moneyed classes that saw him as a menace

I was there at the Marikana Hill

Where electric pylons by pass Nkaneng informal settlement

Heading for Lonmin

Why were you surprised?

When Marikana exploded

And the aftermath when police celebrated

Eating Mc Donald’s hamburgers’

Whilst young blood bled writhing

Hands tied at the back

When they cries for mercy were silenced

By gun fire

When intelezi the traditional plant used to purify

Our souls and spirits

To cleanse the air for peace

To fortify us against those who seek to compel

Our desires to kneel at the altars of power

Was dethroned into an instrument

For invisibility by the media as in colonial days

When our culture was raped dismembered

And corrupted like every decent thought or act we entertain

In our now beginning to bleed land

When political assassinations

Unfold with familiar ease

When blue lights adopt a shoot to kill policy

Where were you and what did you say?

What did you do?

Where were you when mothers told their children

That baba will not return home anymore?

When a six-year-old boy asks researchers:

“Why are the policemen killing my father

When I am still so young?”

Where were you when intellectuals cultivated careful silences

Nursing tenured positions and consultancies

From those criminalise justice system whilst

Clamouring for African justice?

And it was BEE business as usual

Were you the usual then?

Ears plugged and mouth sealed with incentives

Why did you hide your face?

Let us visit the nights of our dreams

Tease shards of broken glass from the windows

Of our brighter tomorrows

Tell me where were you when whistle-blowers ‘

Bullets punctured lungs were ruptured by machinegun fire

What were you holding in your hands?

On that night when his family wept

And neighbours poured out their cries

What went through your mind?

Where were you when R25,000 bought a life

To protect those who strove to hide blazing truth

From conscience

Where were you?

Where were you when sushi was served

On vaginal dishes

Did I not hear your lurid laughter

Rising in obscene crescendo at evening tide?

I carry whirlwinds in my thoughts

I touch the vertigo of the abyss to commune

With ancestral forces

I carry vertigos of passion and desires for a changed landscape

I carry also conceptual violences

The lacerate and liberate thought

March with me to the citadels of power

To say

The path of glory lead but to the abyss

Of fragmented memories

We will speak of Hitler and Amin

Of Mobutu Sese Seko

Go alone then to eat cakes with

The Marie Antoinettes of their harems

Tread ever so gently on my illusions

Come dream with me

Of a new land that Madiba and Tambo dreamt

March with me the 1956 imbokodo march

I will be a Sobukwe reborn to be martyred

Or a Biko

I know the lower depths where they come from

I know too the ease with which to silence

A voice that refuses to silent!

I have been to palaces of power

Where silences are suspect

And obsequiousness rewarded

I have witnessed the bonding of power and knowledge

Threatening the regimes of truth

Walk me through avenues of memory

Let us visit Amilcar Cabral

Who lived a simple life in the context of his time

We shall learn from him also!

Touch Me!

When I do not stare or blankly stare

Touch me to bring me back

To question this life made pale and gaunt

By the obesity of power

Where vultures dare to snatch chickens

From eggs

In the name of justice Better life for All

Yes All who have

And are prepared to kill those who only look and

Salivate at a decent distance!

Come walk with me through corridors of power

Where they light cigars with dollar notes

They braai with euros and turn boerewors with gold bars

Guns blazing at the sound of approaching footsteps

Ala Buffalo Bill and the Native Americans

The would be gods are rising high to threaten God in heaven

Walk quietly with me

Speak in codes breathe in silences

Do not sneeze when bonfires of vanities

Catch your nostrils

Lest a platinum bullet ruptures your fragile lungs

That survived underground fumes

During a war of attrition on Lonmean battlefields

Write with me a poem

That will live to tell a story

An assassin’s poem whose single stanza

Is Mahmoud Darwish”s battalion

A poem they will like put against the wall and kill with golden bullets

But they must wipe away the blood

Lest it speaks in a silent language of deaths foretold

Recalcitrant blood that a billion soaked rand notes

Cannot erase its single drop

They will then understand Don Mattera’s poem

“A poet must die if their lies must live!”

I have been to places where no one returns

Where those who return have no memory

Of place and time

And masked faces of hired assassins

I have developed an art that sees beyond hidden appearances

I have been to death ground

Waging guerrilla warfare on my mind

Leaving no static lines of defense

Only fluid motions of thought and feeling

In a death defying spirit

I have lived in spaces of thought

Where common memory transforms into deep memory

Unpresentable and cannot be articulated

I have also lived deep inside a wound too fresh

Seeing life through films of blood of history of my people

In a geography without borders!

I have been to places saw things the cause irretrievable

Conceptual holocausts

I have even in moments of peace

Sat with Beckett Waiting for Godot

Whilst his “spangled butterflies of the vertigo” danced

Bataille joined us and took us to the “vertigo of the abyss”

Where exilic compatriots languished

In prisons contemplating ways

To stop the massacres of their people

Whilst a newsreel of Sharpeville Boiphatong Nyanga Langa Soweto Vlakplaas played itself out in the theatres of memory

Before Marikana! Marikana! was born

I have been to places where skulls retrace their lives

Where poetic ghosts

Dance in ellipse haunting the murderous souls

Who drank dined and danced

Whilst their bodies lay writhing in agony under the ominous

Shadow of the mountain of destiny!

Yes! I’ve been to places

I have been to the killing fields below the Marikana Mountain

I have seen depths of depravity no beast dare to plumb

Come walk with me to see the Monument I have created

Stretching from Marikana Hill to the Constitutional Hill

Seeking answers to question six year olds ask:

“Were the policemen wearing uniforms when they killed your dad?”

“Was your dad a soldier with guns?”

A menacing night has descended on our land

Now we know why we so enthusiastically sing our new national anthem:

“Wen’ uyangi bambezela! Umshin’ Wami! Umshin’ Wami!”

‘’‘You are wasting my time! Bring My Machinegun! Bring My Machinegun!”