Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The room of books, by Rethabile Masilo

Every face carries the strife it possesses, and people
wear these like masks to hide the inside of their colour.
You'll see them sometimes, when the dolour of life
is heavy and unbearable, turn away into the confines
of another street. Some wear them against the weather,
like a hat, or a rubber coat, or a pair of old gumboots.
I wear mine like the sun to burn the things that make me,
the tough sinews of resolve, this hide that has taken me
half to where the bulk of me always wanted to go.
My grandmother used to say a face has failed that has
no baggage under its eyes, to show to others things
that come with age, and feed the choices of the sage,
which are what we rely on. These things fashion you
and turn you into the mission your parents had in mind
for you, before you were born. I remember when she came
to live with us, and my father told us to ask her anything
we could think of, because she was a library. She wore
her face loosely, like a true Basotho dress, and swanked
down the road and up again for all to see what a life lived
looks like in reality. Her posture matched the way
she always felt, about us, and about the way her own son
had turned out. If every smile carries in it the knowledge
of a good world, every sigh knows the solution to part
of what that world is being consumed by. When she died,
a room of rare books and their contents went with her.

Rethabile Masilo blogs at Poéfrika and co-edits Canopic Jar. He is a Mosotho poet who enjoys reading and writing. He lives in Paris, France, with his wife and two children. His work has been published in various hard and soft-copy magazines.
Rethabile Masilo

Rethabile was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1981. He moved through the Republic of South Africa (very short stay, on account of the weight of apartheid), Kenya and the United States of America, before settling in France in 1987.

In 2012 his first book of poems, Things That Are Silent, was published by Pindrop Press.

Note by poet: "I wrote this poem because I had been thinking about the famous African proverb, 'When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.' The proverb may be from west Africa, but that's a wild guess. In many countries on that continent, elders are revered and their advice is sought after and listened to. What a surprise it was for me to discover that in the Occident (I've lived in the USA and in France extensively), elders are not revered, but are sent to retirement homes, instead of 'retiring' in the homes of their children!

Nevertheless, cultures are different from place to place, and my comment is no more than a simple observation."

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Helen McKinlay said...

This is a beautiful poem Rethabile.
I love the way you have taken the proverb and turned it into your family story and a tribute to your grandmother. Thank you for sharing.

Tim Jones said...

I agree with Helen - a lovely poem which I enjoyed very much. Thank you!

Kathleen Jones said...

REally interesting Rethabile. Enjoyed it very much. I'm beginning to feel like a library myself!!!