Abdullah Ibrahim/Toni Stuart



for the first mother: a litany


O Mother of two skins

O Mother of betrothal and betrayal

O Mother of two sins

O Mother of ash and animal fat


O Mother praying to two gods

                                 who did you pray to, kneeling in the church?

                                 who did you pray to, kneeling at the cairn?


O Mother of lust and love

O Mother bent by men’s dreams

O Mother of undiagnosed despair


O Mother praying to two gods

                                 did you remember to pray for us?


O Mother disowned

by the people who birthed you

O Mother un-mothered

O Mother disowned

by the people who raised you

O Mother of brokenness

O Mother disowned

by the people you birthed

O Mother forgotten

O Mother, against your skin compassion never brushed

O Mother

O Mother


O Mother praying to two gods

                                 did you remember to pray for yourself?


O Mother of our lost wildness

O Mother, keeper of our buried voices

                                          unearth them for us

O Mother of our smouldering rage

                                          set fire to us

O Mother of our forgotten wounds

                                      weep with us




i am warm but shivering and


we stand like this

in prayer for a moment


i still don’t understand

how eyes can be blue

but they peer into my fear


Eva, a murmur of a question

he drags out the ‘E’, almost singing

my name… Krotoa,


i bite his bottom lip

chew it gently

teeth always know when to bite


hands cup     tongues probe


how hair can be so soft

soft as down in my palm


hands strip clothes                                     

hands strip skin


of clothes




the sand is still

with the memory of us


there is no stretch of this land

that has not been witness to my story




Robben Island


I deserted


I don't enjoy it here

squatting on this island

looking picturesque and mythical

                                     - Siren Song, Margaret Atwood


even the south-easter stays away now


but her curves rove and return to shore.

look how she conspires with moon


to soften the appearance of her folds.    

no one speaks of her barrenness

her vast, unending nothingness


stealing men away to their dreams

luring them further and further until


she seduces them across her hips

always trying to make herself fertile.

give me her fluid coaxing and


i will crash against his stone body

lure him back into this once warm love.


when his back is turned in sleep

i will sing a strangle of notes

against the granite of his limbs:


lapping lapping crashing and receding and

crashing lapping until he is shaped only by my will.


but no, the hips of her horizon held more sway



II. liquescent 2


the wind would hurt me

I have to bite myself before I'll heal.

                              - Change in Me, Kelwyn Sole



slow slink of skin stretch of tongue soft against unreachable swathe of skin stretch of

tongue, tonguing unreachable swathes of skin such sin such sin against skin, thin, and

tongue fat and thick against skin sinning against skin sinning tongues stretching slow

sliding soft on silent swathes of skin and mouths suckling mouths suckling secret nipples



lust is the only room in the body

to which men entrust their honesty


there are no homes to be found

in the rooms made by men’s arms and legs



                      stretch of tongue soft                against unreachable              skin stretch of

tongue, tonguing                                 sin  sin against skin,                  


against skin sinning                     sinning tongues


silent                                  mouths suckling                          nipples



the moon spits in my face, laughs

at my desire to become liquid like her



III foresight


they say I am the reason the wind no longer blows

the Koina say I am the reason the seasons stand still

the Dutch say I am the reason the ships stand still


now I am Eva in my garden, deserted

now I am Krotoa wrapped in a kaross of no warmth

only Heitsi-Eb! knows what is to come:


my children will turn the silence of their backs

to me, De Klerk, Kruger, Smuts will all deny

the sweetness of my name in their blood.




These three poems are from a larger collection entitled Krotoa-Eva’s Suite – a cape jazz poem in three movements.

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