Yesterday, like many other people, I woke to the sad news of Chenjerai Hove’s death, which came exactly a week after that of Freedom Nyamubaya, another prominent Zimbabwean literary figure (read one of her powerful poems here). Over lunch time yesterday, a colleague and I unpacked memories of our interactions with Hove’s work. While my colleague remembered him more for his novels, reciting excerpts from ‘Bones’ he’d last read over 15 years ago, I remembered him more for his poetry.
So last night, I went rummaging through my books to find one of his anthologies, ‘Red Hills of Home’ (published in 1985), which I bought many years ago. It is a collection of over 50 poems that gives advice on life, offers poignant reflection on strife, and most importantly, reminds the reader of the many privileges life affords us all; to pursue passions, to move on, to live.
There is also a little lacing of macabre humour here and there. For example in ‘Things To Contend With’, Hove writes;
Like a shadow
over my old talk
I come again
like a raging-in-law.
In ‘You Will Forget’, he warns the reader of the many inconveniences that one forgets as a result of luxury;
Sure, if you stay in comfort too long
you will not know the pain
of child birth without a nurse in white
You will forget
the thirst, the cracked dusty lips
of the woman in the valley
on her way to the headman who isn’t there
The poetry in the entire collection is wise and farsighted. Here, I share with you one of my favourite poems from that collection, a sobering collection of thoughts for life as we mourn the departure of a great Zimbabwean writer.
There is nothing tragic about blindness
nothing tragic about death
nothing tragic about divorce
tragedy is you blind
when there is beauty to see
when living would be sensible
You no appetite
when invited to a feast
when your heart speaks
in you wife’s embrace
You spit or vomit
when you should swallow
when you face yourself
when your folly is your feast
when mother is sick
and baby cries and father is drunk
and the goat drinks ancestral beer.
And ancestors kill your hens
and the cow overturns the milk jar
and the calf is on strike
and the singer forgets the chorus
all in one.