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The Box of Plums


Patricia Schonstein is an internationallly published, award winning novelist and poet. Her poetry is blunt and to the point. She captures, in language that is at times paradoxically lyrical and beautiful, the full scale and horror of war, genocide, fratricide and our destruction of the natural world. Patricia’s is a voice for peace.

The Box of Plums

I wait on the corner, where we meet as arranged,
then drive to your home because I want to know
everything about you, you
with eyes that are dark and kind.
I want to know where you sleep and how you eat

and what you do
when you are not here minding cars in Kloof Street
and what you dream about now that war is behind you.
I want to know how you travelled here
whether you have your papers in order or whether

you live as a fugitive and how you are treated
in this democratic South Africa, you
with your finely spoken French and courteous manner.
Your home is a run-down building in run-down Salt River.
As you lead me through behind the stairwell

and out into the backyard I notice washing hanging
and the sour smell of drains.
Your place is a large room shared by many
curtained off for cooking and sitting and sleeping.
They are waiting for us, your friends

and all stand when we enter, without speaking.
You introduce them one by one and I wonder
what part they played in war. I sit on the old sofa
and they sit around on odd chairs, or stand
crowding around me waiting for me to speak, but I cannot

for I am stunned by everything – by their faces which I search
by their hands, by the magazine pictures pasted on the walls
by the languages they speak to each other
as one by one they say their names
and where they have fled from:

Congo Angola Congo Angola Congo Angola.
I am here looking at your quarters. You own so little.
What do you think of me, for asking you to show me your life?
What do you think as I drive off out of run-down Salt River
glancing in my mirror at your standing figure

glancing in my mirror at you, you framed by bleak buildings
with a sad woman sitting on a doorstep
and old rain left puddled and painted with oil?
What do you think of me as I drive away
leaving behind only my gift of sweet red plums?

*For more on Patricia Schonstein and other Pan-African poets please visit Badilisha Poetry X-change, produced by the Africa Centre.

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