Thuli Zuma at POETRY AFRICA 2014



yeah I'm so glad we are all the same age happening at the same time because I would legit hate to follow buddy Wakefield so it's a good thing it's all happening all at once good evening Devon hi guys um I just want to say how I'm just so terribly happy to be here and it's great to see you all you look lovely and I don't do so well with the talking so I'm just going to do pones ah this first piece begins with an epigraph from Matthew Dickman who says more oh well all right then sorry he says more than putting another man on the moon more than New Year's resolution of yoga and yogurt we need the opportunity to dance with really exquisite strangers that's Matthew Dickman now I don't believe in fate but eight months ago I didn't move to South Korea to teach English last week I didn't sprain my ankle running in the rain for the train just this evening I did not put on my sleek black impractical shoes and all of this music it has to be for a reason listen I'm not saying you're it but the song will end soon enough why burden our throats with all this not singing it's just you and me now and this hardwood floors immaculate gleaming just think of all you have lived through all the bodies which have warm weaved a path to your breathing five years ago the collision that wrote off the car that spun it several times around before spitting it out on the opposite end of a four-way crossing did not claim my life we have not done all this surviving not too dumb not to shake loose the ghosts from our chests not to sing to love to laugh – let the velvet pedal of joy bloom from our mouths of many fisted God unfurling her honey soaked hands Oh sweetness I have crossed an ocean heavy with bones twice over to be here I have lived even when the shadows insisted for me by name death came knocking at my door I told him I wasn't in I haven't been home since I haven't been home truth is I don't know how much time I have left on this clock and I'm not saying a tree longs to be a floor so it can be touched and finally touch back kiss to the souls of men as a Electric Slide exuberant along its face just sometimes the beat drop is a second chance look the whole course of human history has led me here and though this is not yet where I am going this life it is no coincidence look I'm just saying I've got lips and you've got lips and I don't believe in magic but we own every one of those stars shimmying in the sky tonight thank you I was doing that poem and I was like truth is I don't know how much time I have left on this talk and I was like for real I didn't check my time and I only have 20 minutes so I'm setting a stopwatch out of respect for the rest of the poets that have to go tonight um but if but if I forget to look at my watch feel free at any point to be like yo it's enough now and then I will skulk off stage ah do you guys know the story of Jonah Jonah and the Whale Jonah was a biblical dude who was sent on an errand by the Lord and then he disobeyed long story short he was at sea and there was a storm and he got thrown overboard and he was swallowed by whale and then he was fed out by the whale and then he continued and did what the Lord asked him to do so this is a piece that's a short piece and it's called Jonah and if I say the whale was the eager mouth of a quiet boy that he swallowed me whole and I was three days and three nights inside him that our joy was the rough sea on the ocean we made our salt of if I say my cries to the Lord with a clamor of finches wings and that I repented all the cries whose sweet honey I had stifled the tambourines left so long unsounded and if I say this too was the Lord's work my body's slick tide the discovery of all the ways this body can pray thank you very much and on the theme of live here is another poem you love me with all the soft pieces of you warm mouth gentle hands or supple lips liver kidney pancreas vital parts pulsing and vulnerable you gave me your heart hoped for mine back I gave you my femur tibia scapula and wrist I do not want to give you failing flesh flawed and fast to pass away did not wish you sashay in hips or trembling breaths did not want to bequeath all those parts of me that fault and flinch and rupture and ruin this heart is no good it is broken more times than it beats in a day the only thing holding it together is this cage will you accept my ribs instead I've never broken a single bone in my body I want you to remember me like this whole and undamaged I do with my bones what I'm unable to do with my promises I keep them that you so fat on feast already you could not see past your own warm-blooded gluttony I offered myself up bare bones but you so used to eat and quiver and pulse and quake you could not see the quiet beauty in this you wanted to make of me just another skeleton in your closet we are an anthology of blood written in bone a Canon catalogued in calcium our vertebra housed the histories of who we are they tell of our living even once it is long done our bones bear witness recounting our existence to a time we will not live to see what am I to do with all this pulsing flesh when you are all breathed through in life delivers you unto what dreams may come when earth claims you back learns the quiet of your undress by name calls it decay slowly unlacing the secrets of your spine lifetimes away from today if any come looking all they will find a bones do you not see I only wanted to give you my immortality thank you very much I get nervous sometimes and then I forget that I can't sing and then oh then you're in trouble because I break out into song ah but before that happens let's just move it right along to another poem ah this is um for Connie and for monkey and for tiny and then also as well for you all of you and anyone who has ever like bought into the lie that is so often fed to us like oh you're not good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or whatever you're not enough ah which is you know just not true even on the worst days when there is nothing fair about enough and you feel you do not come close to it anyway but you cannot bring yourself to say the words you mean let alone mean the words you say when your hips a wider than your wingspan and the size of your gut does not reflect the measure of your courage on the days you find shadows everywhere except yours beside you when your hands only hurt even though you wish them heal when your feet forget how to walk act as though they have never known dancing and your thighs remember only shame on the days you cannot possibly hold up your own name know that even on the days you are not you are more than the sum of your warring parts more than timid fingers that and fists more than wrists more than back that knows only ache more than treacherous blood that bids heartbreak more than eyes lips nose teeth more than unreached goals more than misplaced keys you a miracle and even on the days when the voices in your head cannot agree you are still 90 trillion cells building up life holding together willing Ubu a harmony a celestial Symphony no my car will you car away this is not a metaphor it is a statement of fact and on the days you have strength enough only to stand will stand on that what is it you hope to gain by folding your frame to fit men's palms do not make yourself small as regret when you are large as hope do not sing yourself slight for serpent tongues to misquote eyes were not made for this to hang down in shame they were purpose to see so look you are human being so called for a reason not human doing just you being it's wonder enough to make heaven false still you are miracle a quilt of dreams stitched together with blood bone and limb now even on those dark days though the voices in your head will not agree you are not defect you are not damaged you are not default you are not sorry and you should not be you a miracle you harmony you are 90 trillion cells weaving you tapestry each one testifies to the mystery that even on the worst day even at your worst you are still your best you are miracle you are miracle why is it you insist on walking through this life as though you are any less ah a new friend of mine told me he was like you know what like it's nothing is it's not so much that it's a miracle as it is a surprise how rarely we just like notice stuff how rarely we just look and notice and here's the thing guys your heart it doesn't stop beating like ever well you know I mean like you go to bed right and you sleep because you've worked a long day and you're tired and like someone was tuning you crap and you had a fight with your girlfriend and your whatever like you don't feel like brushing your teeth you don't feel like taking a shower you don't feel like getting out of the house that day and your heart is like look I got this I'm just gonna keep beating do you know what I mean like you go to bed and then you wake up and your heart is like don't even make a big deal about it I just can't beat it because it's important that we stay alive it's like it's legitimately mind blowing and I and I think about that like when I you know when I'm like having a tough times like Earth's because let's be honest life can be hard like not as a joke for real but ah I I just I I you can rest but you can never quit because your heart guys yo it's been putting in the hard miles since day one and it's so like yeah man anyway I'm sorry that uh that was a poem it wasn't but I'll do it now I warned you guys I shouldn't be allowed to talk I should just be I should just do poems um this is a right it's a poem ah I got my breasts early grade five I was 10 or 11 when my blooming sex first flourished modest and alien beneath my shirt none of the other girls had breasts I was always different too early too late this is when I started walking with a hunch in my shoulders an attempt to hide the swelling tide of my womanĂ­s it was more than the fact that I was a tomboy that I loved the freedom of a flat chest easy comfort of shorts it was that even then I sensed a danger in this flowering I wanted a hush it out of sight I knew men took what they wanted I knew men wanted what they liked I knew men liked breasts and I was terrified at this arithmetics inevitable conclusion in grade seven by the time all my classmates were proudly sporting training bras I was already the same cup size as my mother I knew what women said about other women with large breasts the words always sharp-edged people had told me about my period instructed me on what to do when it finally came but no one ever thought to offer any advice on how to navigate the changing gazes of men before I had language to speak of it I knew the lingering stares the mouths growing slippery and wet I knew the hand of a man looking for a body to conquer before I understood that bodies were real-estate to claim and if he came and if he took even then when there was nothing woman about me when my chest was so flat and my hips so narrow people often made the honest mistake of calling me boy if there was something in me that beckoned to him even then how could I possibly hope to silence it now when without my consent my body began to swell and curve fruit ripening in the Sun my first year varsity in a new city are walking down the street alone a man I do not know wordlessly grabs my breasts as he passes he doesn't stop neither do i i've always known this body is not mine alone i clench my fists but i never swing thank you thank you very much all right okay I think I'm going to do two more poems and then I'm gonna open the stage for one of the other Olsen poets we have um because black is not a shadow you can outrun and but I didn't always know that like I didn't always know black it's not a shirt you can take off quiet in the closet save for the days that it matches your shoes you cannot choose to iron it smooth as a bullet and wear it out the house you are always wearing it out the house black is the house because a lily of the field cannot undress and be some other dream I thank God I stopped longing for someone else's waking because blood was spilt for me to be black without apologies is not a metaphor because granddad was a beautiful and proud and black man because being black man meant boy always black boy even at 52 and granddad he wouldn't tip his hat to that so he stopped wearing hats even though he loved them because sometimes you must give up a pot in order for the hole to remain black as a warning song that sounds like praise loving what is lost is a kind of joy too and black makes sweet music even from the bitterest root Coco black built a home of this house in the land that they found you in then told you you could not claim because you stayed because black stays my black because you left because you said you would come back and who cool you died before you could know my lumic died before you could but you did not lose hope because black not loose hope you made a promise of your return even when you did not know if you could keep it you said you would and then you did you came back black as heavens own holy song with four little black faces in tow me and my three sisters dancing in your shadow because you came home because you fought to bring us home because black always finds a way home because everything I know about love is held in the hues of earth and night and dirt and soil and blood and black because I am the dream just now begun because I am every shade swallowed in the mouth of black because I am black I must be black must be all black everything always full black must hold the black clothes as blood will tend to it dear as my own god-given name thank you very much I have a I'm not going to talk too much but I will say that I've had a fantastic time and thank you all and thank you to poetry Africa for having me out and all the people who work tirelessly like in front but also behind the scenes to take such good care of us and thank you all for coming out thank you for that guys there are a million ways I could have died before I even got here before I was a dream soft in my mother's elbows I could have died a hello in my father's throat and not yet blooming swallowed down had he failed his courage and not spoken it to the ocean of my mother's smile I could have died a promise hushed under my grandmother's tongue stayed a quiet nothing plump in my own non-existence had she not dared to take my grandfather's hand there is a universe of decisions expanding behind me each star yes that could have so easily been a No the lines between them the impossible and inevitable path leading me here there are constellations behind you to a choir of choices singing you forth your birth an assertion of your unstoppable nests that unkillable light that would not stay silent but willed itself breathing through the holy survival of centuries of great-great-grandmother's and the great-great-grandfather's they laid with you have already won we are the lucky ones we are the ones here there are a million means that could be breathing in my place galaxies of alternate possibilities huddled in my DNA and tonight I breathe for them too I unlocked the wind in these bones the storm was never meant for me to keep unhinge the cage of this chest let it swing wide reckless with living let death find me open wine poured out for the feast there are too many versions of this story in which the taunting mouth of fear keeps me quiet but if I do not speak who knows what star's possible blooming I silence let it never be said I was one to ration out this hearts good and blessed uproar that I kept myself untouched wrapped and unstuffed by the world saving myself for some special occasion life is the special occasion so if the question be sky let the answer be love and if the question be break let the answer be dance and if the question is now let the answer be yes and yes and yes always yes

31 thoughts on “Thuli Zuma at POETRY AFRICA 2014

  1. when you arrive at words so late and yet present in meaning you smile for you know you have been made to feel at home

  2. South African poets are just too good, when U think u have seen it all, then another comes around and blow your mind..

    Good poetry .

  3. Still awesome even after listening for the second time. I think we should take poetry out of the box. Let it fly and navigate those million possible paths into that individual who could not have ever been touched, stopped or even pushed by his or her obscure environment. I was hearing a voice as she spoke that said, break out liberate yourself. You are already here, you cannot exit without notice. Your value is priceless.

  4. Girl! I loooove you, You are Poetry!!!!!! You speak to me, I can relate so much to you. Totally love you!!!!!

  5. I love sisi you are amazing with words, you are a true artist painting our minds with words that widnes the view of life

  6. 9 dislikes??? for what??? what don't you like about this perfection of both poetry and humanity???

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