Black Bronze Beautiful: Adam Small


[I first encountered Adam Small as a teenager, and found his poem ‘There’s Something’ (found elsewhere in this blog) powerfully moving as an expression of forgiveness in the face of the humiliating consequences of Apartheid. I was also deeply moved by this poem when I encountered it in Pietermaritzburg as a student (not long before Small himself gave the address at our graduation), but was also resentful of the words in vs 11, ‘I wasn’t born from that White Womb, so cold of glaciers and of aeons of chill ice’! Imagine my delight when I discovered a couple of years ago from a National Geographic genealogy test that my X Chromosome is Khoi-San: ‘I am warm: gather my myrrh with my spice and earthy: eat my honeycomb with my honey’! But of course the geneticists now tell us that every human on the face of the earth ultimately came from Africa, so we all share in this heritage, and I think that inclusiveness is what Adam Small is reaching for when he describes us as ‘growing together, all of us’!]

Black Bronze Beautiful
Quatrains by Adam Small

Fifty quatrains
for the African Road
to a rhythm, new for
Africa’s people, as we are growing together,
all of us

I know, my love, this beauty too will wilt
Still, now I bear my breasts and hold my head
serene: stately like three black swans
moving on the water: rhythmic is the lilt

My nipples are the noses, wet like dew
of early morning or late at night
of two black lambs – two playful karakul:
their supple darkness makes your manhood new

My limbs, my love, ebony formed fine
whose coolness kindles fires in the mind
whose quiet raises in the heart a storm:
oh you, don’t fear to burn, or blow, or to be mine
Come, nest your hands and lips like birds
in my bush of black hair; perch on my branches
all your open being; be truthful utterly: come
hide away in me from people, and from stones and words

Bronze is my body like anointed soil
or the most blessed bread, or wine
hallowed by wood and years in cellars deep:
a cup is my bronze body, overflowing oil

Anointment to be true must nothing lack
must cover the head, the navel, and the feet
extremities and centre: fragrant it must be
and full – fullness always being black

Like I to you am open, my love, I know
the future opens up to me and you
and all our issue if but by dint of this:
that I am of the warm sun where things grow

Kiss, kiss this purple pulse, my mouth
this joyous and warm wound filled full with blood
this crimson throbbing bird of song
that will in winter sing you to the Summer South

My cavities are elemental, black the caves
of my dark Self, the hollows of my ears
recesses of my eyes, walls of my womb, all carved
through ages long by lava, lightning, and warm ocean waves

My body can fulfil you simply since I live
Its pasture is rich, is dark – be like a playful foal
or be a still and youthful god of Thought:
my reason, like my body, is intuitive

I am warm: gather my myrrh with my spice
and earthy: eat my honeycomb with my honey
I wasn’t born from that White Womb, so cold
of glaciers and of aeons of chill ice

I’ll let my hands caress you, wide outspread
like dusky shadows cool of twin palm trees
I’ll be an oasis to you in this blazing land
of troubled men, till you have drunk and fed

If I am sealed and like a garden locked, then let me out
If I am closed and like a covered well, then let me out
Release my fragrance, free my fountains, my love:
let blow your wind, let waft my odours, and my water spout

My hips are a bronze chalice, each armpit
an earthen cup, my belly a jewelled bowl, all
filled with wine brimful – a heady wine, yet one
not drowning woe so much as lifting wit

Pluck at my pomegranate breasts and throw each purple pip
back of your open throat; don’t fear the full feast
on this seed so rich: for in this joy of flesh
is blended pain also – the slave-chain and the whip

God turned the precipitous mountains
over in his mind, the meteorites, the primal moulds
of thunder, song, and silence – and I was conceived
black, warm and moving with the Great Whale’s fins

Some, oh if only some you’ll understand
of this my body, this my soul, my Self
and grasp this meaning true and hold it fast:
the Potter, God, has a Dark Wheel and Hand

Men lose themselves in me – those found are few
Lost in my mountains, rivers: Kilimanjaro, Congo
or my desert or tall grass: my hope, despair
Finding themselves in me, however, they are new

My thought is earthy and original, strides
with the panther’s paws softly and sensitive
along the path of nostrils and quick eyes:
mottled it moves and graciously it glides

My breasts have fed Zimbabwes, suckled Pyramids
I’ve nurtured the millennial awe and beauty of the Sphinx:
my body can sustain you too for Time; eternally
… if you will be responsive, love, so that all fits

God with thunder and lightning in his hand
made my soft sounds; with black and blinding love
modelled my sight; and God in deepest silence
fashioned my war-cries: mine is ambiguous land

My cups are a honeyed calyx and an aloe’d phial
Ambiguous is my heart: silence and sound at once
and you would understand me truly if you hold
the desert sand esteemed just like the flooding Nile

Garnish your meat with herbs, I’ll have the fires lit
Then turn the spit over the spacious hearth
and let the dance begin – for dancing is essential
and rhythm is my foremost requisite

Despite their weighting of my feet with woe
Despite the ball they’ve chained upon my grace
bolts upon my bearing, locks upon my litheness
my rhythm is intact: See me come and go

My mind, pulsating black, throbs – hold my hand
The black drums of my soul beat – hold my waist
The music grows, beauteous and black now
like a black child grows into a tall black man

To love and to love lavishly, that is my need:
a sheer necessity. Let then the vultures fly
My sky is vast and blue; and what must die, let die
My earth is wide and far. Let the hyenas feed

Oh they have ravaged me, have raped
this land and forced my children far from me, away
from my black soil and soul: proud do I walk despite
– the rainbow round my supple shoulders draped

A blessed light illumines all my day, but it belies
my darkness not – for my darkness and my light
are lovers in each other’s arms, together always
Witness my night filled, as it is, with eyes

My bed of rock is ancient, earth primeval
charged with the current of God, older than Thought
deriving from a time when there was no time yet
– only black Nothingness and God’s black Will

Sing of my rivers: Niger, Congo, Nile
Sing of their basins, of their blackest banks
Sing of the meandering glory of my rivers
Sing even of their treachery and guile

My laughter blows over the ancient highlands
stirring the birds in black and twittering trees
on Futa Jalon, Mount Tahat: my laughter,
warm, fills full the Plateau winds

My nights are a cover like curtains of Solomon
a cover like Kedar’s tents they are for us
a cover from the mindlessness of men
Still we are nurtured open, by the Sun

A cover it may be, the curtains of Solomon
and a cloak of comfort Kedar’s tents may be
Men will be mad as long as Time will last
Embrace me then, my love, Love is not a sin

Their vineyard’s keeper thought they I would be,
harvesting their grapes: their wood to hew
But the Sun, intoxicating, would not let me be
Would not let me break my dark beauty

Hoof uplifted, arched neck and quivering black flanks:
a mare of Pharaohs chariot am I, a dark one
Wheels follow on my snort, and Kings who speak
as if from thunder-clouds above the files and ranks

Pharaoh’s companion, a Queen am I in cultivated clime
that mothers dynasties of golden deeds, and deaths,
great ones, of gods even whose follies shine,
dark gods who thought out Pyramids and Time

Two bowls of incense are my cool bronze breasts
two bags of myrrh beside each other laid with care
twin towers of the city’s guarding wall by night
My lover’s arms must have the fairest rests

Drawn from blossoms scented sweet and wild
brown honey wets my rounded lips, my love
and milk of goats the inside of my mouth
Come let me feed you: be my unweaned child

Black feet in sandals of soft leather shod
cured under God’s good sun, go graciously
with raking stride, sweeping together places,
even times – and distances, however far, count not

My time is carved from ivory, from wood of choicest grain
My time is clothed in leopard’s royal skin
and the wind that blows over my ageless plains
is hallowed by the lion’s quickened mane

Thrust in your hand, deep in, and take and eat
from this, my body’s basket – a latticed bamboo basket
filled with bread, black bread baked in the earth
brown crusted bread to eat with sweet palm wine and meat

There is and was for longer than we recall
what we called Time: Time’s mystery inhabits all I am
my deeds and my omissions, all; and times
just like my breasts, rise…rise and fall

The trumpeting elephant, fast herd of antelope
the tall giraffe, lined zebra, tawny ape
All God’s beings play in my heart, live on my slope
All these…fear too, and hope

Tap from my shapely body earthy and dark wine
intoxicating cupfuls: Oh let us drink, first drink, then try
to live-together: for, sober, we fashion schemes so very neat
of hate, while having drunk we humanly incline

A voice whispers from clumps of coconut
that hatred’s glitter cannot ever match
love’s worth; therefore my children, do not fear
The future scintillates around our brittlest hut

From the primeval swamp one morning as the Sun,
still new, stood like a gleaming god beside the streams
of water black, I rose from black unconsciousness
and saw how always with the dark world I’d be One

The lobes of my two ears, of purest black cut clean
the dark palms of my hands well-formed I offer you
as bread, wafers of bread fresh-baked
and wine old and mature: a true communion

I’ll play for you, my love, you are sick,
the fine flute of my throat, my fingers’ strings,
my belly’s black drum, the organ of my soul:
I’ll play for you, my love, recuperative music

Rest in my shade, my love – Oh come, revive
Sit in the shadow of my walls, yes come
I am for you an open door to enter by
I am your room and harbour of fresh life

To nurse you back to life, if you but will
I am good ears of corn for you – Bake bread!
I am sweet bunches of black grapes for you – Make wine!
I hold life out to you, full and delectable


There’s Something: Adam Small

You can stop me
drinking a pepsi-cola
at the café
in the Avenue
or goin’ to
an Alhambra revue,
you can stop me doin’
some silly thing like that
but o
there’s somethin’ you can
never never do;
you can stop me boarding a carriage
on the Bellville run
white class
or sittin’ in front
of the X-line
on the Hout Bay bus,

you can stop me doin’
some silly thing like that
but o
there’s somethin’ you can
never never do;
you can stop me
goin’ to Grootte Schuur
in the same ambulance
as you
or tryin’ to go to heaven
from a Groote Kerk pew
you can stop me doin’
some silly thing like that
but o
there’s something you can
never never do;
true’s God
you can stop me doin’
all silly things of that sort
and to think of it
if it comes to that
you can even stop me hatin’
but o
there’s somethin’ you can
never never do –
you can’t
ever stop me
even you!

Adam Small