from the bookshelves

The culling continues.

New shelves = less space for books = the slow process of reading obscure things in order to make Keep/Toss decisions.

This weekend’s obscurity mission turned up one toss and one brilliant gem.

The toss: a paperback on the monarchy in which one learnt (among other things, how to use words such as ‘one’ and ‘learnt’) that the Queen travels with dozens of merrymakers (many many more than one can even bloody believe), including a Yeoman of the Plate Pantry and a Yeoman of the Glass and China pantry. Yes, they travel with her, and no, the plate guy cannot do china. (And the fact that one does not know the difference between plates and china is exactly why one is not in the monarchy.) Also a hairdresser, footmen, Household Cavalry troopers, ladies in waiting and maids for the ladies in waiting, various clerks and secretaries and personal assistants. A page for pity’s sake. To name but a few. Oh, and her own water supply, which deeply offended the Austrians on a trip to Vienna, given all that fresh mountain stuff they have there.

The gem: A Tough Tale, by Mongane Wally Serote, which I’d paid 99 cents for at Goodwill who knows when and had never read. I was blown away; published in 1987, it’s one long poem about life under apartheid but contains not a whiff of anger. Frustration, sadness, disbelief at the depths humanity can sink, yes, but no rage, no resentment. In one passage Serote refers to the futility of complaint by comparing what’s happening in his country to a mother who’s gone mad, “…you would rather help her to sanity than just talk about her madness.”

My favourite bit comes near the end and though not quite the last word, it could be. It stops me dead and I read it over and over again before I can carry on with the last few pages. I keep thinking about the ‘gift’ of sudden freedom, the reality of And Now What?—that all important question after liberation of any kind, including that currently being experienced in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, the ‘freedom’ given to the aboriginal people to live in their corrugated houses of mould, the freedom of an abused woman who, after somehow finding the courage to walk out, after the women’s shelter, the counselling and a bag of clothes, one day finds herself holding a set of keys, opening the door to her new home and standing, with the memory of her bruises, in an empty room.

… one morning
my people will hang on a sunrise
as a child after falling would to its mother;
the morning
we shall stand face to face with the sun
like a woman would
who has been raped and raped and raped
a woman whose eyes will stare
whose face will be there without expression
for indeed
many words, many deeds and many things
shall have lost their old meanings;
we shall stand face to face with the sun
we shall hang on a sunrise
perch on the dawn of a day
leaving behind us
so many dead
so many senseless things
we shall have buried Apartheid—
how shall we look at each other then,
how shall we shake hands,
how shall we hug each other that day?
how shall we smile and laugh
what first words will we utter?
We are a wounded people
so many nights
have we huddled into our dark night
learning to fight anew
so many nights—
what shall we look like when that sunrise
what shall we do with its first minute
first hour
first day?

from A Tough Tale, by Mongane Wally Serote

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