daniel kunene photoDaniel Kunene

—Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin
—B.A. (University of South Africa, 1949)
—M.A. and Ph.D. (University of Cape Town, 1951 and 1961 respectively)
—Awarded D.Litt. et Phil. (honoris causa) (University of South Africa, 1999)

Author of, inter alia:
Heroic Poetry of the Basotho (OUP, 1971; UNISA, 1983)
Thomas Mofolo and the Emrgence of Written Sesotho Prose (Ravan Press, 1989)
Dithoko, Dithothokiso le Dithoholetso tsa Sesotho (OUP, 1996)
A Seed Must Seem To Die (Ravan Press, 1981)
From the Pit of Hell to the Spring of Life (short stories: Ravan Press, 1986)
The Zulu Novels of C.L.S. Nyembezi: A Critical Appraisal (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007)
—Numerous poetry readings and speeches against apartheid in South Africa
—Poem, "Soweto," a dying 12-year-old school girl shot by the police, holds dialogue with death’s mysterious voice. The poem was set to music for choir and orchestra by the Dutch composer Bernard van Beurden, and first performed in Groningen, Netherlands, in 1990. In 1991 "Soweto" was performed at The University of Northern Iowa by the UNI Singers under direction of Sharon Hansen; and in 1998 at The University of Wisconsin under direction of Beverly Taylor.


Trash the Day!

Trash trashes our existence
One week at a time
Trash comes in fragile grocery bags they call degradable
Exits in non-degradable cans and plastics
Made for trashing days

Ah, it's Wednesday today
But!
Wasn't it Wednesday yesterday
And the day before that and before that and before that and…?
Isn't it Wednesday tomorrow
And the day after that and after that and after that and…

Oh, trash it all!

Our days all trashed into one big Wednesday
Ash days
Dust days
Braoken toy days
Garage sale junk dumping days
Rotten kitchen refuse days
Dead mice days
Trashed days waiting to be hauled away

And the roaring trucks roll in
Like death's chariots they come
Unstopping. Unstoppable.

Relentlessly coming and going
Trashing our time
With giant shredding teeth

Trash day
Rash day!
Ash day!
Sh-sh day!

All our days have become Wednesdays:
Today, yesterday, tomorrow
And our lives are rolled
Into one big trash Wednesday!

1997 Daniel Kunene

*     *     *     *     *

Embrace Me

Embrace me
Kiss me
Whisper nourishing words in my ear

Harsh words are not for love
They are toxic
They are what remains
     when all the goodness of language
     has been sucked into the soul

Breathe them out
Into the trash cans
And carry them to the sidewalk
Let them wait and wither in the cold

And soon enough
That trash chariot
Drawn by six huge black stallions
The reins held loosely in the gnarled fingers
Of a crooked-nosed black-top-hatted charioteer

will come
And you know it's Wednesday
Cleansing day
And the words that poison the soul

Will be hauled into the stomach
     of the monstrous trashing trucks
And trashed forever

1997 Daniel Kunene

*     *     *     *     *

Oh dear, my trash!

On wild windy winter Wednesdays
I, parker-padded
Hands in vetkoek fingerless mittens
My hood over my head
Though not of the Klan am I
Nor a hoodlum

I cuddle you like a lover
O, my trash,
As we dance on a floor of ice
Waltzing our way to the sidewalk

But your breath, my dear!
Just as if you never heard of listerine!
Got to put you down before I pass out

I miss my foothold and grip you tighter
As we roll on the winter snow

Compromised in this position
We're suddenly blinded
by papparazzi flashlights!

1997 Daniel Kunene

*     *     *     *     *

Our Mother!

Our Mother
Which art in City Hall
Please don't sue us
When you see this winter trash
lying scattered on the sidewalk

We try this ice-dance
Every blessed Wednesday
And we're lucky to reach our destination
The edge of the lawn called kerb-side,
Without indecently rolling on the sidewalk
With our bad-breathed partners
Breathing hell on us!

2000 Daniel Kunene

*     *     *     *     *

Now that you're gone

I miss you my darling!
How I have begun to reconstruct you
Let me count the ways:

rotten potatoes, flabby carrots, broccoli turned yellow,
bananas that have seen better days, romaine lettuce (or any lettuce for that matter),
lemons, parsley, tomatoes begging to be put out of their misery, onions that have
begun to smell like poop;

You are ORGANIC, my love
That's why Monsanto won't touch you
with a ten-foot pole!

But I
(Despite the little problem I whispered to you last time)
I, my darling, will waltz with you to the kerb-side
come next Wednesday

Meanwhile, don't mind Monsanto
He's just jealous.

2000 Daniel Kunene