For My Brothers (Mandla and Bheki) In Exile
Poet: Ben J Langa
- You have seen part of the world
- Met some very nice people
- Experienced the hardships of fresh air
- Longed for the warm home-fires
- Around which we sat on winter nights
- Listening to pa tell us stories
- Or reading passages from the Bible.
- Those were the days, my brother Mandla,
- Some days they were, my brother Bheki.
- Do you remember those days?
- When we were young and happy together
- Playing cops and robbers, hide and seek,
- Pinching bottoms whilst in hiding –
- Young and happy together?
- One day it would rain
- And before the night was out
- We’d be carrying brooms, sacks and buckets,
Urging Pushing, forcing or encouraging.
the water out of our house.
- You do remember those days?
- Maybe I do not know where you are.
- You left in the stealth
of the night
- Maybe hiked miles in fear but determined
- To finally reach new worlds unknown.
- Some days I happen to clean house
- Exploring every nook and cranny.
cranny Small, out-of-the-way place where things can be hidden.
- I find here and there memories of our youth
- Written on scraps of black and white photos.
- I shake my head in pain of loss,
- Say to myself, ‘Gone are those days.’
mahogany A very valuable kind of wood, prized for its beauty, durability and colour.
- The old woman is still around, brothers,
- Heavy creases run down her mahogany
rivulets Small streams of water or paths created by flowing water.
- They are dry rivulets
opened by heavy rains of pain.
- At night, alone in the vaults
vaults An underground room; somewhere that valuables are kept.
- She prays. In her prayer she talks about you.
- Mama cries at night – by day she laughs,
Tending Caring for.
sisters’ small children.
- I know she longs to catch but one glimpse
glimpse Sight, seeing something for a short time.
- Of her flesh and blood. Of her own womb.
- Sometimes she talks about it,
- Swallowing lumps, hiding tears behind eyes.
- Mama is strong. Very tough. She was carved in teak.
teak A kind of wood valued for its hardness.
- In the evenings when we’re together, she sometimes
- Sings the songs we used to sing together.
- Then she goes to sleep. I wonder if she’ll sleep.
- On Xmas Day mama makes custard and jelly,
- Reminds us of how we all looked forward to Xmas
- Because that was about the only day
- We ever tasted custard and jelly.
- Big bowls of jelly would be made
- Then taken to the kindly butcher
- (Remember, we didn’t have a fridge).
- Some time before our big meal
- She’d send one of us to collect the bowls.
- I remember we would handle those bowls gingerly
gingerly Cautiously or carefully.
- As though our whole life depended on them.
- I do not know, maybe, what you’re doing out there.
- I know you’re alive, yet longing for the home country.
- You loved this country deeply,
- So much that you could leave only to come back
- When it has gained more sense.
- Our neighbours (the ones you knew so well) are still there.
- We meet at the tap (it’s still outside) and chat.
- They ask about you. They care about you.
- Those days you do remember.
- In all our pain and agony we rejoice,
- For the tensile steel strength
tensile steel strength Strong in a way that can withstand being pulled apart. Steel is very strong in this way.
Transcends Overcomes, goes beyond.
perpetual Everlasting, continuous.
of our souls
borders and boundaries.
- However far apart our bodies may be
- Our souls are locked together in a perpetual
- Why do you think the brothers are in exile? What does the speaker mean when he says they will only come back when the country ‘has gained more sense’?
- What is the effect of not mentioning political details in the poem? What does the poem focus on instead?
- What is the speaker saying by choosing to focus on this?
Imagine that you were being watched by the Security Police and decided to go into exile. You could not even let your parents know until after you were gone. Write a story about how you managed to run away and cross the border without being noticed. How did you tell your parents that you were safe but in another country? How did you feel after you escaped?
Poet: Es’kia Mphahlele
- What is there that we can do or say
- will sustain
sustain Support or strengthen.
- in those islands
- where the sun was made for janitors?
- What is there that we can say or do
- will tear the years
- from out the hands
- of those who man the island galleys,
galleys Ships, often powered by rowing.
- will bring them home and dry and mend them
- bring them back
- to celebrate
- with us the song and dance and toil
toil Hard work.
- What is it that we must do or say
- for children scattered
- far from home
- by hawks let loose to stay
the judgment day?
- The weeds run riot
run riot To be uncontrolled.
where our house is fallen
- ourselves we roam
roam Wander; to move around without a purpose.
- the wilderness.
- ‘Go tell them there across the seas go tell him,’
- so they say, ‘his mother’s dead six years,
- he dare not come
- he dare not write
- the stars themselves have eyes and ears these days.’
- You who fell before the cannon or
- the sabred tooth
- or lie on hallowed
hallowed Holy or sacred.
- ground: oh tell us what to say or do.
- So many routes have led to exile since
- your day our Elders
- we’ve been here
- and back in many cycles oh so many:
- no terrain
terrain Land or ground.
different drummers borrowed
- dreams, and there
- behind us now
- the hounds
have diamond fangs
fangs (vicious) teeth.
and paws of steel.
- No time for dirge
dirge A funeral song.
or burial without corpses:
- teach us, Elders,
- how to wait
- and feel the centre, tame the time like masters,
- sing the blues
- so pain will bleed and let the islands in,
- for exile is a ghetto of the mind.
- Who has left their home in the poem? Why have they done this?
- What do you think the speaker means by saying that they “tear the years from out the hands” of the people who have left their home?
- Look for places in the poem where the speaker uses the natural world, and animals, to describe enemies. Based on these descriptions, what characteristics do their enemies have? What do you think they refer to in real life?
- What effects has exile had on the lives of people who have left? What has happened at home while they have been gone?
- Does the speaker think that the struggle will be over soon? How can you tell this from the poem?
- Who do you think the ‘Elders’ are that the speaker is asking for advice? What does he want to learn from them?