A series of poems exploring the experience of indentured labourers in Natal - “the shacks they lived in were called ‘lines’; they were given salted, dried fish to eat along with dhal and rice. Men and women left their children back in India intending to go back. Unfortunately, five year contracts working the cane fields or railway building was a long time. - Francine Simon Cloths They say that when I was being born my mother’s blood soaked every cloth in the house like kala pani who brought us here blood begat blood finally when I crawled out screaming and plump my mother was dead while someone washed me someone else went outside to bury the cloths in a deep hole there was no point in washing them they say Examination Child, why do you stand on the docks with your father waiting in that line for examination? Do you know you have left your birthright behind to the white devils? I have followed you here my hand in your left hand listening when he says this land is not ours our green rolling hills our temples our rain… Can you see me? I uncover my head and embrace you I ask why your father is taking my ashes across such dark water to another land… why? When the doctor asks your father why we are leaving My husband only points to his stomach then his mouth as I cry out, Please! Please! Leave me here! The hut How easy would it be to cut your throat with the cane knife they gave me Beat your head with rack or shovel until you crack like a soft shell against coral reef I would litter those pieces among the shards on every beach and throw them into kala pani to be loose of you ∇ You spit out my seed like a mamba spitting venom wipe the edge of your mouth your head turned to stare at the axe in its corner before you get up to go outside and find the stream nearby so you can gag and spew my venom in fresh damp earth I wait back in the hut with the promised amount of salt fish while your husband visits our white master to ask for a house without us ∇ Two men live in the hut with us but my husband he cannot get us two a house no white yes the men offer food and cloth but I must hold them let them touch their four hands at a time these two strangers these men begin to live inside my mouth and my husband he can only look from afar then lay down with me with the same nipples between his lips waiting to put that axe in the back of my head Offering Anina, she stood at the edge of the ship salt sprayed her cheeks the moon was gone the ocean begged & pleaded she had to do it she must this was easier than the knife in the captain’s cabin when he said he wanted to see if her vulva looked like the sun the wind lifted her hair straight up she could hear moans below deck of home home home climbing up she jumped knowing that offering herself to kala pani was much easier Salt I am seated in front of a hunk of pink & white salt I am pink & white my mother is there everyone saying and? How you? not remembering & forgetting her death only I remember she sits next to me points to the salt this is your husband I turn away look down my stomach is a moonless crater I am holding an infant trying to suckle when my mother says it’s a boy and smiles Dry-fish howl in the L I N E S light after water fish without head salt and more salt a tightening... a hook! where is my son?
About the Author:
Francine Simon was born in 1990 in Durban to Indian Catholic parents. She completed her doctorate in English Studies at Stellenbosch University in 2018. Her poems have been published in both South African and international literary journals and magazines. Her debut collection of poetry, Thungachi, lauched in 2017. Her poem, ‘Nanni-ma’, won the DALRO Poetry Prize. SHARK (her chapbook) was released in 2019. She lives in Bolzano, Italy.