The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small country that sits high above sea level. It is entirely surrounded by South Africa, separated from the larger country by mountain ranges. Most of Lesotho’s population lives on lower land to the west.
2.14 million (2022)
30,350 square kilometres (similar in size to Belgium)
His Excellency Nehemia Sekhonyana Bereng
1966, following independence from Britain
Rethabile Masilo is a Mosotho poet from Lesotho and lives in Paris, France. An award winning poet who is the author of four poetry collections: Things that are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012), Waslap (The Onslaught Press, 2015), Letter to Country (Canopic, 2016) and Qoaling (The Onslaught Press, 2018). His second book, Waslap, was awarded the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry by the African Poetry Book Fund. Rethabile was born in 1961 in Lesotho and was exiled with his family in 1981.
My Mother Says She Sees Him
She said… I see him outside
in that area beyond the house.
It must have been the yellow in her eyes.
She has had time since he left
to scrub them into clear marbles,
and allow saltwater to rinse them,
but the yellow has stayed, like rust
on an abandoned freshwater pipe.
When we were young, she would see
into our childish dreams with them,
in the unforgiving dark.
He stands there bent at the waist,
refusing to crack or to break,
and she describes his teeth, clenched
like a beast holds in its jaws
a wriggling body by the thew,
in the dim light beside the door.
She sees this with her marbles.
They couldn’t break him when
they hauled him off in cuffs, after
searching our house and bringing years
of its ceilings down. They wouldn’t
break him, later when they refused us
the body of his son they had killed.
He holds the rife murder of his son
in the mouth between his teeth.
After the storm he came back, added
muscle to his limbs, arms, legs,
to the tree trunk of his neck.
Nothing cold-hearted or immoderate
but an annual ring each year
added to his bole—as he grew roots
deep as an icicle that finally enters earth
with each new drop of blood that creeps
down the path of life. That’s how
when his frozen months arrived, he dug in.
It made him live, made him get back
to hoeing his country of youth, a plot
of Qoaling where people, like sequoia trees,
tower over the roof of a forest and care for
its soul. That is what my mother said.
The Boy Who Would Die
The bedroom was a shallow grave.
Perhaps the opinion of the men who came,
or of the wardrobe in that room in which a woman hid.
In any case, there was a burial in that room.
Decked in bright pyjamas he slept
as bullets hunted for his body,
entered the linoleum under the bed.
Men he did not know
in a house on a hill like a staircase—
from the grave you climbed to the sitting room
whose Cyclops window looked at the world,
the reason perhaps for such an act for which there was no wake,
then further up to the tin-stove kitchen
that stood above the rest, in which in winter
we sang around a pot on the stove—
if not for the outhouse some metres into the hill
the kitchen was the highest place of the house,
the closest thing to heaven we had.
No dog dared bark that night.
We lived on that hill, and it lived in us, in rocks
carved out of boulders and chiselled
into bricks by able hands of noble men.
He died at the edge of his dream, a potted plant
on a winter sill, aged three, died for us;
and from then on, all poems would end thus.
—for Motlatsi Masilo