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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Poësie | Poetry > English > Published poets

Water folk

Carina Stander - 2011-03-29

Water folk

Nkulunkulu, Your beautiful earth
is dying off quietly.

The grasses are silent, the game are trekking away,
the snake forgets its skin in the veld.

Drought hates children, eats them alive;
the men are watching us women with goat-eyes

as we cook up tree bark for soup
or carry calabashes sighing for beastings.

(The baby not making itself heard will fade
away in the monkey fur on his mother’s back.)

By day red ant arrives and mosquito at night.
Over there at the waterhole beside the reeds

a bone-dry stump stares at our approach –
nose with two holes like an anthill.

Nkulunkulu, can You hear us calling
with arms outstretched toward Your hills?

Scare away locust, drive away warthog
from our wheat-fields with spear and horn.

Grab lightning by his glowing blue tail,
swing him over cliff and barren grazing.

Let rain splash and water stream
over the crown of the hookthorn tree.

Now Nkulunkulu makes a huge bow –
a gigantic many-coloured snake from plain to peak

with colours reflecting off fin and wing
and deep inside the slick eye of the frog.

Snake slithers over the sticky toes of the gecko,
when lioness spots this it raises her rile.

Grabbing her cub by the scruff of the neck,
she flees across tree and wrinkly crocodile.

We water folk laugh until our bellies ache,
after all we know the rainy season for the snake.

We know now’s our chance to wax the floors  
with fragrant dung and pig-smooth lard.

It’s time for the medlar trees to fruit
for us and the hungry leguan.

We boil the turtle in its pineapple shell,
stir the amasi and smoke bossiegoed.

We women pack food in reed baskets
for the men hunting zebra:

stallion skins zigzag black and white
across the grassy hills where they track.

Nkulunkulu, You live head up in the blue,
Your eyes a free eagle watching us.

Now that the men have left the kraal
we women can bathe outside for a change.

Translated by Johann de Lange from woud van nege en negentig vlerke by Carina Stander. Tafelberg, 2009.