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Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

These Hands. This Life.

There are things in our daily lives that enrich our lives, but most of the time they pass and, enriching as they are, they pass unnoticed. There are many enriching things, I am trying to think of few and I cannot find any because they are just that: enriching and unnoticed.

There are many things that we think have enriched us but they have only enriched us within our own perceptions. This enrichment is not the type that results from of your degree or connections. This enrichment is what words or a smile or situation can do, bringing a smile to your face as you are sitting on a bucket, pants down.

There are moments like this, when my pants are down and I wish for a pen and paper, which are nowhere to be found. Moments that defy logic, and this is such a moment:

A nine-year-old black girl came to my house, unlike any other person who had visited my house, and she gave her attention to a book on the table. She involuntarily pointed at it while delivering the message that was the reason for her visit. I thought that it was just the cover that attracted her. She picked it up and I pretended to look the other way, but when she read I looked at her because she had entered into another world. She snapped out of it as she was about to turn the page, and realised that I had been looking at her.

“This is a good poem,” declared the nine-year-old; the poem penned by Makhosazana Xaba from her debut poetry book, These Hands.

“Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know but it is a good poem.” On behalf of Xaba, I signed and gave her the book.

I met her again in the street with her three friends. “I have read the book.”

“To the last page?”

“To the last page.” Then my detective instincts came in.

“What was the best poem?”

“‘X-Himself and Song’.”

“And the worse?”

“‘X-Himself and Song’.” The rabbit’s eyes go up in the air as her friends are tuned in, or just waiting, but completely bored.

“It is a very sad poem but it is brilliantly captured and written that it would move you to tears.” She whitewashed my big head that I smiled. Now, with pants down, I am thinking, what is she doing in the township? That kind of thinking has no business growing up in the township. Mokgethi did not survive this township, this township fed on her. Then I was caught in between; the beautiful little girl in this community and (X-Myself and Write) why do we use beautiful words to describe the wickedness of our lives?

X-Himself and Song

Looking at his face you would think that he was the composer
Watching his body move, you would think that he created movement
His fingers in motion got you instantly in motion
He ensouled you with his voice,
His thick, malleable lips,
His every bit of body
Wasiphuka, wasiphuka, wasiphuka
Wasiphuka, wenyuka
Wenyuka, wenyuka uApollo
Apollo Eleven
Every child got to know
In the back of beyond, in Ndaleni
Where I grew up.
The composer put the words in song
My father made it come alive
Without the TV images
We had our own visual artist
We saw Apollo Eleven shoot out
Into the galaxy
Through his every bit of body

To the July handicap
I still haven’t been.
I have zero knowledge of horse racing
But through his every bit of body
I love horses
Because when he sang:
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
ihhashi lami engilithandayo
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
ihhashi lami engilithandayo
You had no choice but to fall in love with horses
You started believing that he created horses

My father must have lived in the souls of many composers
A conductor of note
With a voice you would give you vote
An educator extraordinaire
Because his choice of loved songs must have been for nurturing the young
Why else did he love the great King Kong song
On the politics of poverty?
With that song
I did not need social scientists
I did not need political scientists
To give me loads of notes
On apartheid’s greatest crimes
Or capitalism’s gravest sins.
But through his every bit of body
I knew that,
I heard it,
I lived it:
Hambani madoda, niyemsebenzini
Vukani bafazi siyahlipheka
Amakhaza nemvula
Ibhasi ligcwele
Otsotsi besikhuthuza
Siyaphela indlala
Nemali ayikho
Hambani madoda
Isikhathi asikho
through his every bit of body
even Christianity took an unexpected turn
’cause he knew the great composer who
Had the skill to transform
What was alien and alienating
Into something familiar, to be embraced
When Jesus Christ is all of a sudden
Born in Qhudeni, near Nquthu
You can’t help but sit up and listen.
Then you touch the blue African skies
On his every bit of body,
Then you hear the lowveld’s serenity
Then you smell the water from the stream
And the dead night comes alive.
From the peaceful valleys of Qhudeni
A true Christmas carol for Africa.
He made it worth knowing.
He made it worth singing
Through his every bit of body
Kuzolile ebusuku
Eduze naseQhudeni
Abelusi bezinkomo
Babebgazelele lutho
Kwavela ukukhanya okukhulu
Besaba bawela phansi

He sang these songs at night
In the mornings
In the small hours of the mornings
Sometimes with his friends
Oftentimes alone
Sometimes with his tuning fork in his right hand
Oftentimes on his feet
Other times on his behind
Sometimes on their bed next to my mom,
Oftentimes with us watching
And, at times demanding we sang along

Well I too, like the shepherds,
At the thought that this day
I still have not been to his grave
Because all this time
I have not been able to forget the pain,
The sorrow,
The misery
He brought to the family
With his love for the bottle

I watched my mother lose her smile,
Her laughter,
Her humour
Because of him.
I watched my big brother lose inner peace
Because of him.
I watched myself lose hope,
Clutching despair
Because of him
His love for the bottle went through his every bit of body
Destroying what love I could have had for him
He died on Monday morning
13 April 1998
In his sleep
In his bed
At home.
His liver fed up,
His heart gave up

That morning, at my Johannesburg home,
I sang a song about death that he so loved:
Ngimbeleni phansi kotshani duze nezihlahla zomnyezane
Ngimbeleni phansi kotshani
Duze nazo ezomnyezane
Ngozwa name lapho ngilele utshani ngaphezulu buhleba
Utshani ngaphezulu buhleba

I do not know what type of grass is growing on his grave
I do know we did not bury him next to the willow trees.
I do trust that he continues to hear the grass whisper
As he wished.

What I do know is that his music lives in me
His voice will forever pierce through me
As it always pierced
Through his every bit of body.

Through his every bit of body,
His tuning fork in his right hand,
His tapping feet,
His thick, malleable lips,
I feel the staff notation
I smell do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do,
I hear the crescendo
I touch forte, fortissimo
I taste p, pp, pianissimo.


Khosi, how can you be this beautifully cruel with words in this life that is so cruel?

This Hands is available from Clarke’s Books,


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