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Feeding the ground

Out of a boundless kitchen in which life grew up
There’s no sound now, but that of intervening years,
A muted hum of men digging, lifting picks
Over their backs and striking, and before morning
A hole is ready in the ground, its mouth gaping
Like a hatchling’s waiting for food, as if the cemetery
Were a nest with little mouths to feed, the grim reaper
A parent to those mouths. In my mother’s kitchen
Where I learned to sing, the diggers’ muffled song
Comes through, hmmm ha home… hmmm ha home,
And again, and again, the beaks of their picks fall.
I once asked my mother why only men dig the ground
At night, and she said ‘because men make children
Go.’ And she turned around and with a lesokoana
Dug into the papa she was making. ‘We feed them.’
Sometimes she’d start a song, or tell a fable. Now,
When I hear the sound coming from the floor,
Or from the graveyard on the left when you go
To Loretto, I think of every nightshift, and of men
Who work it to make sure that the ground is fed.


Letter to Country blends together life experiences from a childhood in Lesotho and South Africa during a time of apartheid with adulthood in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee and beyond. In his third published poetry collection, Masilo demonstrates why he continues to receive international praise for his superb craftsmanship and profound sensitivities.


Rethabile Masilo blogs at Poéfrika and co-edits  Canopic Jar. He was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1980. He moved through The Republic of South Africa (very short stay, on account of the weight of Apartheid), Kenya and the United States of America, before settling in France in 1987. His work has been published in various magazines and online. He is the author of two previous poetry collections: Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012) and Waslap (The Onslaught Press, 2015).