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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 6, 2018.
About this Poem 

“I spent last year in Cape Town and each weekend visited my mother and slept in my childhood bedroom. One day I brought her a bunch of proteas and the extraordinary experience of seeing her remember the green proteas from our garden four decades ago stirred my own childhood memory and prompted the writing of this poem. My mother’s family had been ‘removed’ the year before I was born. ‘Removal’ is the clinical term the apartheid government gave to uprooting Black people from their homes and discarding them in distant, infertile parts of South African cities. In a way I was born into my family’s loss. The fate of the green proteas in the poem conveys my parents’ ambivalence about their new house, which only became a home to them after ‘removal’ lost its sorrow, and yet it was the first place I belonged.”
—Gabeba Baderoon

Green pincushion proteas

Green pincushion proteas grow
in my memory, swaying faintly
in today’s wind. Memory snags me
through the pink pincushions I bought this morning
from the auntie in the doek by the Kwikspar
who added a king protea to the bunch,
all spikes and pins in reds and maroons,
so regal that as a child I didn’t know
they were alive
and did not water them.
My mother’s remembering
remembers them into me.

Do you remember, she asks, and then I do,
green pincushion proteas this small?
She slowly makes her fingers turn and bloom
green flowers the size of large coins
that we found here among the rocks and grey sand
under tall trees unnameable in memory, reaching
their roots into the house’s foundations,
subtle threads stretching closer and closer.

All tangles and snaggings and swayings,
green pincushion proteas prick into my mind,
thicken themselves stitch by stitch
into a place that was not, but is again.
The grey sand of memory now fervent with colour,
green blooms clamber over the rockery
and we, who did not know their beginnings,
move them to another part of the garden,
and they withdraw, and then withdraw
from memory until now, a new species of green
blossoming and unmoved.
They died, she recalls.
They don’t like their roots to be moved.

Do you remember, she asks,
and the green coins bud into the first bush
long preceding us, and careless we wrench them
from their original rocks and they die
a little and then fully.
Why did we move them to another place,
we, who were removed to here?
Do you remember, she asks.

Copyright © 2018 by Gabeba Baderoon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Gabeba Baderoon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Gabeba Baderoon

Gabeba Baderoon

Gabeba Baderoon’s most recent poetry collection is The History of Intimacy (Kwela Books, 2018). 

by this poet

poem
On my desk is a photograph of you
taken by the woman who loved you then.

In some photos her shadow falls
in the foreground. In this one, 
her body is not that far from yours.

Did you hold your head that way
because she loved it?

She is not invisible, not
my enemy, 
nor even the past. 
I think
I love the