SPOTLIGHT: Folklore Poems by Johann Van Der Walt

when slivers of old wallpaper resurface

white afrikaner children vehemently dragged
into a new south africa lead by fearful teachers
shoved inside deshelled and hollowed classrooms

I notice a barren patch on the wall framed by years of lethargic dust- time’s somnolent imprint forged around
an object forgotten even when in plain sight

this squared lesion the remnant of our government’s once proudly hung photograph
I see our country’s flag unhinged, now crumpled and heaped
a wounded soldier bleeding orange, white & blue onto the polished floor

these classrooms were once meant for whites only
now skinned from arts & crafts and remnants of an old country

familiar spaces quickly altered into cold rehabilitation halls

when a mirror shatters within a dream

our country quickly became a portrait of unfamiliar things
slideshows of bloodied black faces projected onto classroom walls
smoke filled skies draped behind their dusty bodies searching for vindication

we saw white progression grind its teeth
military tracks hungry for fertile land growled barren teeth marks into soil
ideologies prophesied from on top of ribbed and bolted giants
our tanks a blasphemy to those who disagree

our laws invited only a motherless nation to kneel at our feet
written against history, we bended her spine & tore out old pages
replaced them with faith hymns chanted from rifles and grenades

then the catalyst- children collecting bullets in their flesh
suddenly we bore witness to a regime unable to swallow
the majority it had chewed on for so many years

imprinted into our minds a people’s lifelong struggle
their suffering and tears sacrilegious to our blind comforts
but now with our slumber disturbed we woke to find
even summers had retracted with a cold glow of resistance

this country windswept and tired of foreign thrones
rose up from what ash she could stuff in her chest
finally she bit at the hand that tried to carve antediluvian
ideals into the echelons of her ribcage

exhaling asphalt and unleashing tainted clots
mother africa’s hand outstretched, instead of violence, she begged for solace
her last white flag wrapped around the bloodthirsty blade
which was still tightly gripped behind the fallen enemy’s back

the stranger in our house

in retrospect I often wonder about her whispered incantations
trying to raise conversation from inanimate objects in our house

knives, forks and plates- the only familiarity between both our worlds ; how she must have thanked god that dishes
clanked in familiar symphony here and back home

nonny was the lady from the township
by law to be treated contrarily
not allowed to eat inside the house
or even share the cutlery in which she had invested
hours of labor and songs and worn down particles of skin

nonny was soft-spoken and illiterate, but only in mind,
her hands knew how to write chapters
soap scribbles drafted onto dishes and floors
she knew that it was the ending that mattered most:

a house so clean that our disarmed reflections would stare back at us blankly
reprimanding us for ignoring this mother’s dreams of equality
while she tended to our house her own children cried out to emptiness
once she asked me about the ocean, tried to visually conjure its currents
said she would have very much liked to one day see it for herself
lay eyes on the doorway allowing all these strange folk to drift into africa

she desperately needed to understand how white men
found their way to the country she longed to call home

suddenly days are scarier than nights

their protests called for freedom and justice
a human right stolen from them while they were asleep
they swore that the afrikaner was a nation forged
from the devil’s seed & sent to sow dividends of greed

african children, starving and fearless, beating fists against their chests
they wanted to walk as equals in our country
no child was ever intended to crawl without limbs
while vultures crowned the wide open & godless sky

at night, safe in my bed, but I can’t sleep
thick skull tempered with new found truths
was my kin indeed my beloved country’s enemy?

what their makeshift bombs hungered for

my language
my own breath
the only thing I know
everything I called my own
my dear afrikaans
to them nothing but the slick shift of mind
the art of an illusion
afrikaans a sin only good to spit onto unclaimed dirt
the width of my language
a festering tongue corrupted
by the taste of apartheid


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