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“Contra” by Maneo Mohale

“Contra” by Maneo Mohale


Listen to me.
This will be no celebration-invocation
of the words and colours
hues and history
so conveniently used
by the swollen mouths of my politicians

Listen to me.
This will be no joyful-blissful
dust-shake dance drawn by the distance
we feel in that delicious word: diaspora

This will be mine
and because of this, it will be flawed
This will be mine
and because of this, it will be skewed
This will be mine
and because of this, I will cloak myself in metaphor and song
Because that is all I have ever known how to do

This is not a command.
A sassy splash of pith from a conveniently cute black girl
I am not telling you
I am asking.


Listen to me.

Let us begin with the undeniable
The blatant truth that I have grown to have no desire to erase

My speech: laced with the inflections of imperialism
Clear, like a silver knife on crystal
Dry, like the re-written pages torn out of beloved books
and thrown onto the fervent fire of nationalism

Hear me. And you will know.

Know of the wordy love I draw deep into me
from an inherited language. a learned language. a given language.
a language with a hand to cover and
smother the one I’ve had since birth
with a tenderness only a lover could know

Empa. Ha ke batla, n’ka bua le wena ka Sesotho saka. Sesotho saka se robehileng.
Sesotho saka se snaaks. Sesotho saka sa Jozi, se ke buang, ke Sesotho se nyamelang.

And if I want, I could speak to you in a language that is mine
In a language that is broken, twisted, bent at fantastical angles
similar to those of uprooted Jacaranda trees
in a thunderstorm

“But Maneo…you’re not that kind of black.”

As ek wou, ek kon hierdie taal gebruik. Die taal van ‘Voetsek!’, en ’Pasop!’ en ‘Doen dit nie!’. Maar dis ook die taal van granate, van liefde, en “die kind is nie dood nie…”

I could tell you about arms held
and lips kissed
and this reluctant rebellion that love has repeatedly gifted me

My father sat me down:
“’Neo, love does not choose.”
It decides.

I have had words
flung at me and stuffed in my mouth
Some I’ve swallowed willingly and believed them as my own
Words like pointed fingers
pointing to privilege
pointing to difference
pointing to brilliance
pointing towards and away from beauty
My own fingers reaching and curling for the substance of blackness

But let us end with the undeniable:
my skin glows with it
my waist curves with it
my voice hums with it, with the mathematical memory of jazz
when I sing

Ndawo Yami…

and yet thrums
with the throw of apartheid shackles when I sing

“Hou jou hande bymekaar en glo die roes sal bedaar…”

I am free with it
and kept by it with the claustrophobic closeness
of a green-eyed embrace

And so I ask again that you listen to me.
Beyond and beneath the cinnamon of my skin.

Maneo Mohale was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia, located on the unceded, occupied, traditional, and ancestral territories of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations. Her writing has been published in various literary journals and zines, including From the Root, Ignite!, and The Garden Statuary. She was raised to love jazz, literature, language, history, culture, curiosity, family and silliness.

Language(s) : Inclusive of SeSotho, Afrikaans and isiZulu respectively.
Written & Translated by Maneo Mohale

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