You come from the darkness of injustice, Soweto,
That flat, artificial city you showed us photos
Of, that camp without walls, an imposed rigor,
And you approach our guilt with warming light.
You are the one who comforts, Duduzile, and we
Need you, shamed that in our name wrongs are done
Daily to you and your people, need your courage,
The heart in action, saying the hard No to tyranny.
Your light penetrates our mind of darkness,
And that hurts, for we know we avoid the light,
Except for false flickerings on a screen. Truth
From Soweto appalls us. But your words confirmed
And comforted me as you stood so bravely speaking,
Refusing to weep as you described humiliation
And fear, the Soweto story, and your heart in action,
Peace and love to you. Remember me, your friend.
The Impossible Reaches
Comment: I met Duduzile (her African name, her English one being Joyce) at Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat where I had gone for a quiet place where I could write. She and her friend, Ellison, were travelling around the U.S. speaking of apartheid and its evils (this was 1987).
Surprising myself, I took to going to early morning Meeting, and one time Duduzile stood and described, compellingly, her experiences (and her children’s) as a black person in severely segregated South Africa – fear, humiliation, and a desire to fight back. It was the most moving personal account I have ever heard.
Some times things combine. I had given a poetry reading at Pendle Hill; Duduzile and Ellison were to go to Washington, DC, following their stay there. They had no way to get to the railroad station, and, hearing this, I offered to take them. As we stood on the platform, she asked me if I would write a poem for her, a request a writer never wants to hear and invariably dodges, but in her case I had to say “Yes,” and “The Heart in Action” is the poem I wrote. To my astonishment I wrote another poem for her, this one for Joyce, and I sent them to Soweto, of course. That is the only time I have ever acceded to the question, and I now am glad that she made it – compellingly.
We think we make the pot,
Eager hands at the wheel.
Ignorant, we forget
How things become whole
And whirl the wheel faster
As thumbs and fingers grope.
The matter is the master,
The clay knows its shape,
The dark mind within it
Will make what it can make.
I and me and mine sought
To conquer – a mistake.
The vessel won’t hold water.
We learn about the clay,
That form follows matter.
You taught me that today.
Spaces and Lines
Comment: In my comment on “The Heart in Action” I said that Duduzile, the brave and eloquent woman from Soweto, had an English name, Joyce, too. That tells you something about South Africa in 1987 under apartheid.
I knew her at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat, where she was Joyce. Among her many talents, she was a gifted potter, and one day she demonstrated her pottery work for the residents. I admired how she worked and how she showed the difficulties of the wheel. As I said before, she wanted a poem from me, and to my surprise I wrote her two, “A Learning” being the second. “The matter is the matter,” and a poem about making a pot wanted to be tight and rhymed, but, for me, the poem is also dealing with human ignorance and the will to conquer – until we learn we can’t. Then we make something worthwhile. 13084