Phillippa Yaa de Villiers wrote for television for ten years before publishing her first collection, Taller than Buildings (2006). Her poetry and prose are published in local and international journals and anthologies, including The Edinburgh Review, Poui, A Hudson View, and the recently published Home Away (Zebra Press, 2010), New Writing from Africa (Johnson & King James, 2009) and Just Keep Breathing (Jacana, 2008). She has performed on a number of local and overseas platforms. Her one-woman show, Original Skin, has toured in South Africa and abroad. Her new collection, The Everyday Wife, is published by Modjadji Books. It was launched at the Harare International Festival of the Arts in April 2010. Phillippa lives in Troyeville with too many animals and her son.
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
for Chiwoniso Maraire
We Africans came to Berlin to sing
and recite poetry. We had an agenda:
remembering our anthems of loss,
the pillage, the cries
like forest fires, like haunted children,
how can we, how can we even
begin to redress?
Enraged, we wanted revenge
and then, Chiwoniso, you stepped on the stage and
you opened your mouth and
every stolen river of platinum and gold
poured out of your mouth in song;
your voice etched us out of the night
and doubled the light in each of us.
You restored all the treasure-houses
from Benin to Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe to Cairo;
Africa moved its golden bones,
shook off its heavy chains
and danced again.
That night I thought
love could purchase bread,
Africans would not be hungry.
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
My rural cousin’s labia
were round and thick, her teenage sex
dusted by tiny curls.
I watched her body
when we bathed together –
a six-year old with eyes like ants,
in the convoluted corridors of my hungry little brain.
She was dark brown
like the chocolate biscuits you got if you were
lucky after Sunday school;
after the dry weeping of Cardboard Jesus when
they let the children out
to plastic cups of Oros and one biscuit each
from the Bakers Assorted.
Among the pink wafers and lemon creams and
shortbread, the rare
I would pounce discreetly and then turn away
to eat. First I’d nibble the edges, then
pull it apart
to find the seam of sweet gum that held
the two halves together, lick it
until it dissolved;
me and the biscuit were one: holy communion.
We girls were promised nothing but
the protection of marriage to keep
the secret at our middle sweet.
At sixteen I stopped going to church. I had to admit
that I was only there for the biscuits.
from The Everyday Wife (Modjaji Books, 2010)
Read Margaret Busby’s foreword to The Everyday Wife.
Read an interview with Phillippa at www.consciousness.co.za.
Visit Phillippa’s website.