Musaemura Zimunya Poems

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Yesterday it was you
who warmed the drum with your fingers
when you struck the skin.
We, deranged, sang and danced like frogs
our hands touched the blue sky
while our feet sprang in the air
at the moment of our twilight.

Now who would have thought
that this rebirth would be shrouded
and ready for burial:
who would have thought
we would start to fight
against the ghost
of fear?

And deep in the heart of the land
a little bird sings a doleful song
flicking its tail up and down:
Gone back back back!
We have gone back back back!


Through decades that ran like rivers
endless rivers of endless woes
through pick and shovel sjambok and jail
O such a long long journey

When the motor-car came
the sledge and the ox-cart began to die
but for a while the bicycle made in Britain
was the dream of every village boy

With the arrival of the bus
the city was brought into the village
and we began to yearn for the place behind the horizons

Such a long travail it was
a long journey from bush to concrete

And now I am haunted by the cave dwelling
hidden behind eighteen ninety
threatening my new-found luxury
in this the capital city of my mother country
I fight in nightmarish vain
but my road runs and turns into dusty gravel
into over-beaten foot tracks that lead
to a plastic hut and soon to a mud-grass dwelling
threatened by wind and rain and cold

We have fled from witches and wizards
on a long long road to the city
but behind the halo of tower lights
I hear the cry from human blood
and wicked bones rattling around me

We moved into the lights
but from the dark periphery behind
an almighty hand reaches for our shirts.


They came back home from bush haunts
and refugee camps the living and the dead;
and flew back from misery's northern cold
to colours, bunting, pennants and earth-borne songs
that awoke History and tradition with a bang-bang.

Came to Hope-dawns and democracy with strings attached
and so we were reconciled to white faces
whose pride and heads had watered UDI and racism -
aren't they keen to teach us compassion!

The year sped on caterpillar wheels as a result
but our ninety-year-old patience seemed to have endless reach
so we could listen to the critics of our monthly
emigrations statistics without wishing for another Ben-Bella.

Then, also, Bulawayo was a place of killing again
to remind us that our peace was a hasty marriage
where we had no training camps for a new order -
to say that the power of peace must be in the new age
reside in hearts of Ndebele and Shona, not in gun-barrels.

Yet when quiet returned in the area of madness
Chaminuka's words came torrenting and torrenting
and seriously we wondered who would stop this Rain,
or dare we murder another mhondoro?

Or dare we have more petals of blood simply
because someone's whim pleads for more petals of blood
tomorrow and tomorrow when most want life and rest?
We, indeed, are arrivants with blister feet and broken bones
that will learn the end of one journey
begins another.


In a fairy tale
the gods would snatch you out
through the navel or the thigh of your goddess
or by some Caesarian operation
and so you would come out
complete with armoury:
bows and arrows, quiver and Kerrie
to become a hunter, lover, husband and father.

Even if the goddess died
in the end the miracle would live
in the ears and minds of keen children
huddled around an evening fire
listening to the story of a young god.

But now in this new world
what god would save your mother
and who would pluck you out of a virgin birth
and could you be born with boots and pen
or with an AK or germ factory or A-bomb
and what race of kids would listen tear-ridden
as your miracle was told by what surviving raconteur?


After nine years of sucking
the teat of a slogan
of a heroic war
the people began to emaciate
while those with slender probosces
have gone to sleep on smooth puncheons.

Hooray for freedom!

After nine years of singing
nyika iyi ndeyedu vatema
‘Avaunt, you suckers of our sweat!'
we wake up to find
an invasion of farmlands
by big black aristocrats
benzocrats and brothermen
with independence torches
burning down squatter villages.

Hooray for freedom!

After nine years of quiet faith
bruised knees and endless rallies
the yoke begins to cut into flesh.
We raise our voices
and someone rushes to our face
with threats of cannon and clenched terror.

Hooray for freedom!

After nine years of braving price rises
and vanishing minimum wages
bus queues and bread queues and meat queues
and salt queues and passport queues
a voice from the crystal palace
warns us still against grumbling
and teaches us the golden African patience.

Hooray for freedom!


She knew how to apply vaseline on a song
and made you understand that human souls
were not different from gangrene.
Then the human voice was worth all the birds
of the mountains:
anaesthetic, scalpel, antidote, and plaster of paris -
we were secure for an evening and more
and we would return at the exit of night
where dreams of Death reach us less.


Looking at you with male eyes
is like trying to catch fish in water
with greedy human fingers.

Allow us to stare boldly
with night-lighting stare eyes
and to heave with sea-depth sounding sighs
and swallow our throats at the speed
of chameleons snatching at little victims.

We have our tails up -
it is the pride of knowing we are not puppies
any more.


Do not look at the men returning from the men's
you might witness crocodile jaws
where once there were zip-fasteners.
We slip our hands in our pockets
and make laughing diversions
but all the time we know there is a revolution,
and laugh ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!

I cannot wipe from vision gestures of male arms
thrown wide open like harvest sickles
or like dream battalions on the attack
all seeking juvenation.


I seep the beer again
and my neck burns with the unpractised crane
and in turn my lips scorch with anxiety -
where was I sitting - sorry, my friends
I made you wet I can't hold the drink steadfast
anymore - I need more than five fingers and
a human thumb to hold the world together in this flame
of passion.

Since you sat on my knee
my eyes are like berserk oxen under yoke
if you stretch my patience, I will be cross-eyed yet -
Please, another dance.
Without you dancing is like climbing the universe
on human feet with no one to cheer and urge or boo.

A! what is a dance without the African whistle
without the drum-thud-thub
without your voice fluting into feeling
like watermelon juice fresh from red slices
down a parched throat.

It is no dance without the legs agog
and hips rolling with the jerk of the waterbed
and female fingers at the wide-stretched ends
of the skirt.


My love, what is a dance
without a challenge
but relish without salt
so come and let us share
this rhythm

for until your hip rolls like a wave
and floods my heart and soul
I am still on my earthly feet.

The song, my dear, is meaningless
without the gesture of your shoulder
to refuse-and-beckon Kingfisher's fired palm
to the drum.

Until then we sip the beer
and our eyes become rheumy from
staring at immoveable black angels
mouldy from the cosmetic bleach of yester-year
half-hoping this our last wink
will bring the promise of full hands tonight.

This fire makes us twinkle.


For one night, one only,
we burrowed in your song and dance
enough for five seasons' joy.

We brought our sadness
some brought tears
some brought empty hands
others brought scarred faces
lonely hearts and naked
thirsty souls
and still others emptiness.

Jikinya is a bellow-blower
at the gates of destiny
and we wait melting hot
amid the sneering remnants of embers.

We will obey your hand
mankind will obey your anvil
and salute your hammer and mould,


This moonslice quarter
over this land of unsung beauty
hangs brilliant over the palpable dark,
haunted by fear of the unknown.
Somehow, though, we forget
and sing and dance
like frenzied demons on such a rebirth

It is no longer prudent
to remember
where the other three-quarters hang:
Our searching fingers may unearth
worms of a faith dumped on its youth
and justice staggering under greed.
Were it not so would you begin
the telephone conversation with
a declaration of patriotism and bug-scorn?


No songs of cicadas -
only a sighing silence
where, once,
as I walked below the yellow leaves
of fresh foliage,
a spray of urine
moistened my face
and a shrill of symphony
waned into my ears.

We have no ancestors
no shrine to pester with our prayers
no sacred cave where to drum our drums
and no svikiro to evoke the gods of rain
so we live on
without rain, without harvest.

No whistle of a bird,
no flutter nor flap
amid the brown fingers of trees
without leaves
when spring's lushness
should be wiping my tired eyes
and dipping gleams of sunshine
into the young leaves.

Where shall we find the way back?
opaque darkness guards our exit
we have groped and groped until
our eyes were almost blind and
it was hard to rediscover.

So we live outside the burning flames of our thirst
we live the lives of locust-hunting rooks,
but even then where are the rooks
for I have neither heard a caw
nor seen a black patch in the sky:
the day we shall know the way back
to the caves of the ancestors,
the lion tongue of death will be licking
the last gush of blood from our souls.


Of course, you have not met her,
Loveness, the sunshine of the city,
once the honey-pie of the ghetto,
the sugar-loaf of the township
and now the ice-cream cone itself.

The white mini-skirt clung to her figure
like icing on a cake.

her breasts plunged ram-horns
in the hearts of men.

Her fried eggs broke a marriage contract
now Tito's home is a village wound
that babbles with the gossip
and the bitter cries of a mother.

Tattered, the children's bottoms
have taken the hue of ash-earth.

Sam, the little one
has a head the size of two footballs
his bones and ribs
cry for an enumerator.

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