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Two Portraits and a Reflection | Musawenkosi Khanyile

Two Portraits and a Reflection | Musawenkosi Khanyile



In grade 8, my hand landed on the delicate parts of a classmate.

This did not look anything like me:

a well-behaved boy who always wore neatly

and performed well in class.

She reported me

One teacher said I needed to cut down on cheese.


Back home there was only my father-

a man who lived within himself.

We turned the house into separate homes

Our hearts never came out of our rooms

We met briefly on our coincidental walks to the kitchen

Also in the lounge when soccer was playing on TV

That is the only time we ever spoke.

Even when we drove a distance,

we listened to the humming of the engine.

I learned to store his voice within me for the silent days

like ants store food ahead of winter.


Mom had gone to live in a rural area,

in a house that dad built on the conviction that men

should retire away from the restlessness of the township.

She’d taken my younger siblings with her.

I was in primary school.


Mom raised me with a loud voice and a short temper.

I remember her pressing me against the ground,

hitting me with all the energy she possessed.

I remember swinging back and forth

from loving to hating to tolerating her.

A part of me was happy when she left

Now she calls to complain that I never call.


I grew up in solitude

Learned to enjoy silence

Got used to keeping myself to myself

Found poetry in high school and hid myself there.


Girls came and went

Relationships slipped through my hands

I couldn’t hold them long enough

Maybe because I never learned to share myself

Maybe because of mom and dad and silence.

The psychologist in Hilton asked me:

who then taught you affection?

and then scribbled down a note when I couldn’t answer.

That was the last time I saw her.



Your love was like road signs.

I only read your face to understand

when to stop

where to go.

We did not need a voice to love;

love was quiet and enough.

Things have changed:

now you want to speak more

like a man desperate to leave something behind

before he goes.

Your thirst for conversation

draws you out of your room.

Sometimes I want to shut you out

even if it hurts.

Sometimes I want to avenge

all the silent years.




I should have known that I could never run away from you.

You visit me now in the guise of a lover.

In her beautiful eyes I see you.

Through her soft touch I’m forgiving you.




Musawenkosi Khanyile is a South African poet AgbowoMusawenkosi Khanyile is a South African poet born and raised in Nseleni. He holds an MA in Clinical Psychology from the University of Zululand; and is currently studying part-time towards an MA in Creative Writing at the University of the Western Cape. He is a Clinical Psychologist in community service at Eshowe Hospital. He is the current recipient of the Mellon Foundation bursary. His poems have appeared in several literary journals, both online and in print, such as New Coin, Aerodrome and the Kalahari Review. He was shortlisted for the 2016 Babishai Poetry Prize.




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