Module Eleven, Activity One

Reading African Poetry

Read the selection of poems below by Charles Mungoshi, a poet from Zimbabwe. Click here to see where Zimbabwe is located on a map of Africa. As you read the poems for the first time, identify any words you don’t know and try to make sense of what the poem is talking about.

The Trees

In their nakedness
the winter trees laugh
at our inability
to shed the clothes
of our past seasons.

Saturday

This is Saturday afternoon –
thunder in the air,
banana leaves rustling against the wall
the muted sounds of the children
playing ragball out on the streets.

I have done my laundry,
washed up the pots, pans and plates.
My room is clean.
I have just taken a bath;
I am sitting by the window.

Far, far across the cocoa-coloured fields
across the river at the foot of those hills –
cars, like matchbox toys, hurtle
towards their weekend destinations.
I know I shall watch them
crawl back again on Sunday evening.
I know it: they can never escape
their destiny which is so deeply-etched
somewhere inside me.

This is Saturday afternoon
with nothing to do
thunder in the air,
banana leaves rustling against the wall
the muted sounds of children
playing ragball somewhere in the streets.

I have done my laundry,
washed up the pots, pans and plates.
I have just had a bath
everything is clean, inside and outside.
I am sitting by the window
and all the world is here.

Where could anyone, or anything
possibly wish to escape to?

Little Rich Boy

The little boy wants me to give him
something his rich parents cannot give him.
He stands outside my door
at six every morning and every evening.
Every day since I came to live here three months ago.
And I, locked inside my room, wondering:
what do you give the children of rich parents
who have everything you don’t have?

He is always there outside my door at six
when his father drives up in his shiny black Benz
with those things he knows little boys
love to suck and chew and blow out in balloons.

Always there outside my locked door
when his very rich father drives up
in his shiny black Benz and toots the car horn
and waits to see his little boy running
for what he knows Daddy has brought him
but won’t give him unless he claps his hands
and says: “Thank you, father.”
But it seems now the little boy has got tired
of sucking and chewing little childish bubbly things;
seems he wants to get his teeth into
something more solid,
something more – substantial.
So he comes and hangs outside my door
and waits for me to hear his implicit cough
and footshuffle; to come out and give him
something that his rich father doesn’t seem to realize
he now needs.

And I, behind my locked door, thinking desperately:
what do you give little sons of rich parents
who have everything that you don’t have?
Finally, I have to open the door: Want to learn
the twist?”
“No. Is it some kind of cane, or whip or belt?”
“No, it goes something like this. Watch me now,
watch me!”
And since then, this little boy comes to my place
every day to learn that the twist isn’t a kind of
cane, or whip or belt, nor shumba – a kind of
growling monster – crouching in some thicket
ready to spring and pounce on little rich boys,
nor is it all precious breakable china
and sparkling glass that all rich people drink
from …

 

* Do you know what the twist is? It is an American dance, and song, made famous by an American musician, Chubby Checker. The twist was very popular and was played and danced in countries all over the world.

Charles Mungoshi has written poems, plays, and novels. He is perhaps best known for his novel Waiting for the Rain, winner of the 1977 PEN award. He was raised in a family of farmers in the Chivu area of Zimbabwe. He currently lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.The poems quoted above come from the anthology, The Milkman Doesn’t Only Deliver Milk, published by Baobab Books in 1998.

Questions:

Re-read the poem The Trees.

1. Why do the winter trees laugh at humans?

2. What does Mungoshi mean by the phrase, “past seasons”?

Re-read the poem Saturday.

3. Describe, in your own words, what Saturday is like for the Zimbabwean speaker in the poem.

4. When the poet says he is watching cars “like matchbox toys hurtle to their weekend destinations,” he seems to say that many cars are driving very fast to get out of the city and to the countryside, where they will spend the weekend relaxing. Why do the cars “crawl back again on Sunday evening”?

5. What are the children in the poem described as doing on this Saturday afternoon?

6. Is the speaker in the poem content? How do you know?

Re-read the poem Little Rich Boy.

7. Why does the little rich boy in the poem visit the speaker?

8. What does the boy’s rich father give to him everyday?

9. What does the speaker give to the boy?

10. At first the little boy does not want the twist; why? What is a shumba? The answer can be found in the poem.

Go on to Activity Two or select another activity from the module.