Sunday Poem

This Kid No Goat

Where have
all the angry young men gone?
Gone to the Island of Lament for Sharpville.
Gone overseas on scholarship.
Gone up North to milk and honeyed uhuru.
Gone to the dogs with the drink of despair.

Yesterday I met one in the bookstore:
he was foraging for food of thought
from James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka
Albet Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre.

He wore faded jeans and heavy sweater,
he saluted me with a
“Hi Brother!”
He was educated in the country mission school
where he came out clutching a rosary
as an amulet against
“Slegs vir blankes – For Whites Only!”

He enrolled at Life University
whose lecture rooms were shebeens,
hospital wards and prison cells.

He graduated cum laude
with a thesis in philosophy:
“I can’t be black and straight
In this crooked white world!

“If I tell the truth
I’m detestable.
“If I tell lies
I’m abominable.
“If I tell nothing
I’m unpredictable.
“If I smile to please
I’m nothing but an obsequious sambo.

“I have adopted jazz as my religion
with Duke Ellington, Count Basie,
Louis Armstrong as my High Priests.
“No more do I go to church
where the priest has left me in the lurch.
“His sermon is a decaying pulpit tree
to be swept away
by violent gusts of doubt and skepticism.

“My wife and kids can worship there:
They want to go to heaven when they die.
“I don’t want to go heaven when I’m dead.

“I want my heaven now,
here on earth in Houghton and Parktown;
a mansion
two cars or more
and smiling servants.
Isn’t that heaven?”

by Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali
from Sounds of a Cowhide Drum

Jacana Media, Johannesburg, 2012

translation: Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali
publisher: Renoster, Johannesburg, 1971