I have forgotten why they sang, what occasion it was.
I have forgotten their faces scored with labour
and their bodies fattened by maize, like breves.
I have forgotten the words of the songs and the thigh-slapped meter.
But I cannot forget the sound.
It said: we are planted in the earth, and we take our tone from it.
It said: we are dancing with the bars for they are living creatures.
It said: we are the real queens.
It started high, a suspended moon in the African dawn;
like a river over a cliff it came cascading down,
swelled and heaved, meandered,
turned from crescent-silver to orange-brown,
spanned to a delta, diminished and died,
bore the silt of suffering to a patient sea.
It came from the belly, from stomachs like koppies
and guts like mines. It undulated and murmured,
breathed and moaned, laboured and rejoiced.
It came from the head, echoed in foreheads of fighting kings,
resonated in nasal passages; abject, anointed;
bejewelled, bedevilled; mocked, loved.
They returned to the hot kitchens,
taking the cloying smell of sweat,
their rich laughter and the clicks that stick to the palate.
We continued to dine in the great hall,
clean and pretty in our green pinafores,
adjusted our postures on the wooden benches
and made our childish critique.
Then the sissies served us baked fish,
while the boeties planted roses in the borders.