‘Invocation’ by Lebogang Mashile

s part of our post-publication celebrations of the ‘New Daughters of Africa’ anthology, we teamed up with Myriad Editions to bring you three extracts from the landmark anthology – one essay, one poem, and one short story. We started things off, with Zukiswa Wanner’s short story ‘This is not Au Revoir’ and are now following that up with an exclusive extract of Lebogang Mashile’s poem titled ‘Invocation’.

The daughter of exiled South African parents, Lebogang Mashile was born in the US and returned to South Africa in the mid-1990s after the end of apartheid. An actor, writer and performance poet, she appeared in the film Hotel Rwanda (2004) and has performed in several theatre productions, including Threads, and recorded a live performance album incorporating music and poetry, Lebo Mashile Live. In 2005, she published her first poetry collection, In a Ribbon of Rhythm, for which she received the Noma Award. She was named one of South Africa’s Awesome Women of 2005 by Cosmopolitan and was named Woman of the Year for 2010 in the category of Arts and Culture by Glamour magazine. She was cited as one of the Top 100 Africans by New African magazine in 2011, and in 2012 she won the Art Ambassador award at the inaugural Mbokodo Awards for South African Women in the Arts. 

We hope you’ll enjoy reading ‘Invocation’, and that it will speak to you as much as it did to us. Happy Reading!

‘Invocation’ by Lebogang Mashile

We call on memories buried inside skeletons of the first people to walk
the skin
of the Earth
Who nursed and nested in the cradle and spread civilizations across the
like seeds
Tell us of the air that flows through the heart of the land to all of life and
Tell us of breath, the first song
Tell us of words like constellations of ideas mapping our contribution to
Tell us of infinity
How the universe lives in us
Tell us which stars bear our names
So that we no longer have to fear the night

Tell us of Earth
Of roots that course through the body of the land like veins through
Tell us of the force that squeezed red sand like dough to form
Tell us how to make communities strong like gemstones formed under

We call on the desert to remember when she was the bottom of the sea
Help us understand how to be fluid like water
How to be supple without losing our identity

We call on the volcanoes to inject us with flames of imagination
Once we carried tongues burping fire
We melted metals with our minds

Tell us what we have forgotten
We are not afraid of bones
Tell us what we have lost

We are not afraid of remembering
Tell us what has been erased
We are not afraid of time
Tell us who we once were
We are not afraid of ourselves