She held this Zulu Love Letter, my daughter, wound about
and through her fingers, parallel strands of tiny beads: blood
coloured leading into a bold geometry. Unwittingly she bought
an orange-blue-white message of the old South African flag.
She did not know the fragrances contained in this souvenir
were the scents of my childhood –whiff of sweet grass
sugarcane fields, snuff, woodsmoke. Tied on my nanny’s
back I learned them, ingrained in Ma’Msomi’s Vaselined hands.
Now like angry teeth, these beads click on my desk
I am too afraid to wear this fragile thread, with black eyes
strung on a cheap filament, quickly, by a Zulu mother
with hungry mouths to feed, Ma’Msomi’s tribal cousin.
It was the month of the divorce, my daughter’s school trip
to Eshowe to study the ancient arts of stick fighting
spear carving and shield making – she saw a Sangoma
throw the bones. She recognised, she said, the war dance.
Each night counting these glass fragments under my fingernails
I remember Ma’Msomi’s valley where AIDS swallows
children, spits up mounds of rusty earth without headstones
and try to remember that custody battles are not terminal.
I hold this delicate dispatch tonight and recite the colours learned
at Ma’Msomi’s knee: black for sadness, blue for hostility
orange for withering away, white for good luck, red for passion.
Her necklace gift whispers, “The sun will rise again tomorrow.”