Poets On Exile

When asked about the advantages of poetry in the face of political exile, poet and activist 'Bra Willie' Kgositsile said, "Because poetry can be memorized, can be passed around orally, it render[s] the banning irrelevant." The following five poems are written by poets who have either faced exile and extradition directly, or have inherited the narrative of exile through cultural and inter-generational trauma. Let their stories live on.

Dear Exile,

Never step back    Never a last
Scent of plumeria

When my parents left
You knew it was for good 

     It’s a herd of horses never
           To reclaim their    steppes

You became a moth hanging
Down from the sun

Old river    Calling to my mother
Kept spilling out of her lungs

Ridgeline vista closed
Into the locket of their gaze

                     It’s the Siberian crane
           Forbidden    to fly back after winter

You marbled my father’s face
Floated him as stone over the sea

Further    Every minute
Emptying his child years to the land

You crawled back in your bomb

           It’s when the banyan must leave
     Relearn to cathedral its roots

After Kcho’s "La Columna Infinita" Inspired by Constantin Brancusi’s "Endless Column"

Toda madera se unde ... soaks up water,
right there in its softened core, right there
where the human hand grips, a fingernail
sinks into it in a struggle to stay afloat ...

How much wood? How many hands?
The sea never tallies. Never tells.
Like an old house, it takes all the wood
you offer it. With its blackened underbelly,

with its dagger-slit eyes. All wood drowns,
submerges, goes under long enough to spell
out this secret longing of water. This riddle
of those who plunge into the sea on wooden

rafts. Most perish, some live to swim ashore.
“Nothing changes,” the artist claims,
“and everything does. Nothing’s constant.”
Except for a piece of wood, this wood here,

a broken oar, floating free in this liquid world.

Put a Piece of Sugar in My Mouth

As the hair of a continent tickles the nostril of a crow
          philosophy sneezes
          radiators get ready for the Marathon
          to get closer to         the fossils of neurological shifts
in the foggy arctics of the volumes of the Highway Code
and the imagination of colourful planets         in the painting of infantile roads . . .
Now I am getting closer to Earth
A mummy from an expensive museum
is appointed as the UN Secretary General
America wins the Indian presidential elections
And Bill Clinton         Iran’s beauty queen of the year!
Women spit in the paddy fields
          so they won't be got at for their body odour
I experience joy in the manner of clouds and contented creatures
Joy         takes me away
          to the march of trees along the gutter
          the ferrous conversion of oxygen
          in the peering of progressive poets
          and ozone’s chemical reactions
          to the encroaching movement of the sociality of cockroaches
The sky which is the utmost disinfection of brown
          from behind the delight before my eyes . . .
And the cotton-wool of my brains
that under the magnifying glass in sunshine
          catches fire!

Put a piece of sugar in my mouth
and in gypsy clothes kidnap me to a tent
lead me to a corner
          where you can divvy up the weight of your poppycock with me
And under your teeth I would give birth to a child
          so at some point the canvas roof would collapse on him
a point hewn with my last delight when I spit at the sun
          so it won’t grab my son
          The day when fire gallops forth in its name
          and the earth is no longer a place for galloping


Only a flower immersed in its perfume,
a face anchored in its smile,—
—does it exist? doesn’t it exist? lost;
if you speak to it it will return, as if after thousands of years,
perpexed, inept—it will not know its whereabouts, it will not know
what expression to assume that will be a response.
There is a praying stool of stone in an old, abandoned street.
Every so often, at twilight, he walks down his marble stairway,
he gathers wild flowers from among the rocks,
he makes a wreath and he hangs it on his sacred image. Every so often
some strayaway sheep stands there as if is praying,
chewing slowly, stupidly, the withered wreath.