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Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
Eating for Two

Hunger grumbles,
fragrant food seduces
the stomach
genteel lips conceal gushing saliva,
our eyes journey to the Sunday chicken.
We look away to pray,
amen gives way
to flashing knives and gnashing teeth.
For now, hunger retreats.

The tourist asks
why Africa is hungry.
Divided the heart:
we don't know how to answer.

hunger humbles,
a beggar reaches into
the cold skies of a stranger's eyes
as hunger tumbles
into a gutter of stuttering
half-baked dreams
and aborted fantasies
and bumbles plans
and scrambles opportunities.
And hunger stumbles
along blocked synapses,
bumps its head repeatedly as
bulimic greed
dry heaves
its simulated grief,
and stuffs images of lust
into a seething cavity
of need.

The tourist asks
how we plan
to solve the problem.
Subtracted the stomach:
we don't know how to answer.

hunger, the farmer
sows rows of skeletons,
and waits for an empty harvest.
Hunger builds a boat of bones,
casts a net of starving eyes,
people drown in dust, without resisting.
There is no second course;
dying fragments loaf
along the desert's shore.

The tourist is the authority.
They know how to stay alive! We are still learning.
Politely we wipe our mouths and give thanks for what we have
received, pronunciation, and chicken, on Sundays.
the cells of
we don't know how to answer.

We live by killing.
We can't explain.
Perhaps hunger will come to our table one day.

But by then,
most probably,
the tourist will have
gone away.


Song of the dead

Pity the man who fell down in the marketplace,
arrested by death in the bright of day. Innocent,
condemned to the common law of fate:
pity the man.

Life is just a shelter for the soul.
Life is just a shelter for the soul.

Pity the daughter in the white room, who left her
illness in the envelope of her flesh. We,
the living, she
the bereft:
pity the daughter.

Life is just a shelter for the soul.
Life is just a shelter for the soul.

Pity the dead, their privacy made public
by the absence
of their breath.
Pity the living:
the thin fabric of life just a tear away
from death.

Life is just a shelter for the soul.
Life is just a shelter.

Shacks collapse and mansions fall
but each time a new baby is born
a new spirit comes in from the cold

Life is just a shelter for the soul
Life is just a shelter for the soul


Hell in a handbag

My mother's handbag matched
her earrings, matched
her shoes.
From time to time she lectured me
on universal truths.

Truth number one: your body is a temple.
And matching clothes
impose a doctrine:
organized religion.

Truth number two: a woman always knows.
Aloud I wondered what the hell that meant,
Impatiently, [her pocket vanity
reflecting puckered lipstick narcissistic],
She replied:
you'll understand when you grow up.

Truth number three: it's she who decides, the woman.
Only power, like perfume, should be sensed rather than smelled.
She powdered her nose and said:

Truth number four:
discretion is the better part of virginity:
ladies know that a secret is a weapon.

So I told her one.

Truth number five:
Mother, at six years old I was raped.

Her blue eyes wide she replied:
that's terrible, dear. Then:
it's happened to all of us, my child.
We must throw it in the dustbin
and only keep the good memories,
we must move on, move on.

Truth number six:
We didn't speak about it again.
It became an accident, and
talking tore open the dustbin to reveal
the mess of broken flesh
the chaos of emergency
the onlookers faces painted blueredyellow white
by the ambulance lights:
complexions bruised by curiosity.

Truth number seven:
At eighteen I fell pregnant.
She said to me regretfully:
you've lost your innocence.

And I replied:
save it for the deathbed, darling.
This woman knows
that truth's gone to hell in a handbag
matching dustbin, matching earrings,
matching silence:
the invisible accessory.

Lips painted shut.
Pain blown into a discreet tissue and discarded like mucus.
I have knelt at mother's knee
imbibing certainty, like milk.
And the milky way has gone sour
Because of
universal truths.

Truth number eight:
I have grown and now I know
that power, unlike perfume
is only power when it's felt.
A smashed bottle on the bathroom floor
Is not the sweet sense of surrender,
But a broken child who was never held.

The truth is not a token.
I've set fire to the temple.
The flames shout out in tongues
the words you left unspoken.


Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

She took her semi-autobiographical one-woman show, Original Skin to the Market Theatre, and the Grahamstown Festival, and the national schools festival in winter 2008, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers performed her poetry at the Women's Festival and the Arts Alive Festival, both in Jo'burg and Darling's Voorkamerfest in September 2008. She represented South Africa at the 12th International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba, and at Word Power Festival in the UK, as well as Poetry Africa in 2007, and in 2008 at Solidariteit in Sweden. She won the runner-up best writer award and the audience appreciation award in the Pansa Festival of Contemporary Theatre Readings in 2005, whilst completing Crossing Borders, a distance learning mentorship scheme initiated by the British Council and Lancaster University. She has written for Backstage, Tsha Tsha, Thetha Msawawa, Takalani Sesame and Soul City among many other television shows. She collaborated with Swedish writer Charlotte Lesche and Pule Hlatshwayo to write Score, which was broadcast on SABC and Swedish Television. She won a grant from the Centre for the Book in November 2006, and published her first volume of poetry, Taller than Buildings, which is now in its third edition. She was a member of the Theatresports company for ten years.



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