The forgotten ones are with us in these woodlands: a crunch
underfoot, the time it takes memory to go back in history
and return with its hands full… the names of all the cows
killed at funerals, the sound of their calls, of the old man
who used to sit outside his rondavel in the sun, the soldiers
of horror, who move alongside nights taking care of people
in their sleep, things that flash before eyes of the dying
when memory kicks in, even as the battery of life fades—
memory carries all these back to us. A sliver of moonlight
guides us in our search to awaken the forgotten ones
who raised us, named us, bore us, stretching in reverse
to when the valley on this route to Mangaung was owned
by felines—pity the poor, lost traveller and his donkey.
Unless the spotted beasts are sated, and run you down
just to show their offspring how it’s done, children they bore
and raised and gave names to. And if ever a neck snaps
by mistake, the cheetahs just wander away, the bones
of their shoulders moving up and down like pistons, you,
to black birds watching from the kopjes, a meal untouched.
Till finally the birds flap wings and push with yellow legs
to come to where a buffet lies bleeding. Croaking. Served.
The thing with this sort of situation is you’re alive when
they eat you. No funeral. And no cow to die with you.
Rethabile Masilo is a Mosotho poet who has lived in France for more than 30 years. He
left his country, Lesotho, as a refugee in 1981, eventually ending up in the USA where
he continued his biology studies. He moved to France in 1987 and has lived there ever since, effecting as many visits to Lesotho as possible.
He has published four books of poetry as well as two poetry anthologies that he was editor of. In 2014 his poem ‘Swimming’, from his second book Waslap won the Dalro First Prize in poetry, as well as the Thomas Pringle Award for Poetry in South African periodicals a year later. The poem had first appeared in the magazine New Coin, Vol. 49 Number 1, in June 2013.
In 2016 the same collection of poems, Waslap, published by The Onslaught Press a year earlier, was awarded The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. That same year in October he was invited to participate in the 20th Poetry Africa Festival in Durban, where he also represented The World Poetry Movement; and in June 2019 he was part of The International Poetry Festival of Medellin in Colombia, to whose 30th anniversary festival in 2020 he has been invited.
Masilo’s books are ‘Things that are silent’ (Pindrop Press, 2012), ‘Waslap’ (The Onslaught Press, 2015), ‘Letter to country’ (Canopic Publishing, 2016), and ‘Qoaling’ (The Onslaught Press, 2018). He blogs at Poéfrika (poefrika.blogspot.com) and co-edits Canopic Jar
(canopicpublishing.com/blog) with the writer Phil Rice. He is currently writing poems toward a fifth volume dedicated to his brother, who lost his life at the hands of the then Lesotho government in the late 1970s.