About the poet
A native of the Transkei, she grew up in a township near Cape Town, where she worked as a...
The first decade – I learnt to wipe my nose
Wipe my feet before entering the house
After a walk in the rain or on snow
The second decade – I learned to put on lipstick
Look in the mirror before
Leaving the house
Look at a boy without letting him know
I was looking
Look like a lady without letting Mama know
I felt all womanish inside
The third decade – I learned to wipe other people’s noses
And love it
I learned to put another’s interest before mine
Love and duty were but two sides of the same coin
What did I have to complain about?
I was fulfilled! Grown up, married, with children and all,
A roof over my head. A boiling pot on the stove
And a man who told me, at least twice a day,
He worshipped the ground I walked on!
Yes, sometimes, very late at night, he reminded me
How much he loved me –
Very, very, very late at night; when the children were
Whenall the dishes were sparkling clean
When the floor was swept free of all toys,
Dusted, and wiped free of meddlesome footprints
Yes, sometimes, late at night, he reminded me
For the third time that day, how much
He loved me.
The fourth decade – I watched my own children,
My daughters, make goo-goo eyes at boys
When they thought my eyes were closed
My ears deaf as stone
They whispered tingly secrets; made subtly suggestive
Gestures. Amused, I watched it all – thought, inside,
I sighed; amused to see the pattern repeat itself. Oh, my
Embarrassed, I remembered my own naïve assumption of
My mother’s blindness
The fifth decade – there was no denying it – my children
Were grown. Yes, they were my children; but they,
Definitely, were no longer children!
Did this mean I was old?
How could it be – when had that happened?
I was just discovering my essence!
Discovering joyful living sans fear of pregnancy,
Sin or ridicule! It was in such ecstatic sensuousness
The sixth decade – let no one misguide you,
The fifties are for fleshly fulfillment, sinful
Delight, and sprightly goings on. Now, at last,
I knew all there was to know about life.
I’d even made it, from scratch, myself
Gave it flesh, blood, and bone
Knit and bled it into being,
Nurtured it to healthy maturity.
The seventh decade – I learned to live with loss
A huge hole came to live in my heart
But I learned to understand this:
The loss is as big as the love. I suffer
Greatly for I have greatly loved
I am grateful for the love that was mine.
I suffer, but I could not have asked for less.
The eighth decade – I learned to live with
Fewer and fewer friends
Fewer and fewer visits from my children
As their own lives grew fuller and fuller
I love the four walls I call home
I love the skin that houses the bones I call my body
I love the people who, a long time ago,
Were my children
I look at their clean noses and know
I have lived a good life. Look. Just look!
How they truly no longer need me!
The ninth decade – I will learn the meaning of hours
For time is short, each hour more precious, therefore!
The journey is definitely longer behind me
The road ahead lifts with joy as I see
Footsteps painted a bright and
Without a doubt, I know, those are the footsteps
Love has made.
Mine has been a long life – rich in experience.
But now, looking back, I see all those brilliant
Moments in my life are moments of loving,
Of giving to others. These are moments
When I transcended the self and its
Imperious demands. When I was for
Another – whatever it was they needed
To go one step forward: wife, friend;
Mother; neighbour; daughter; sister ; or
Yes, I can see: I have been a good citizen, a decent
Now, I am eighty years old – I hope I still have
Time enough to catch up!
Pass me that damn bottle of wine, will you?
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