The photograph of my mother at her desk in the fifties
has been in my purse for twenty years,
its paper faded, browning,
the scalloped edge bent then straightened.
The collar of her dress folds discreetly.
The angle of her neck looks as though
someone has called her from far away.
She was the first in her family to take
the bus from Claremont
up the hill to the university.
At one point during the lectures at medical school,
black students had to pack their notes, get up and walk
past the ascending rows of desks out of the theatre.
Behind the closed door, in an autopsy
black students were not meant to see,
the uncovering and cutting of white skin.
Under the knife, the skin,
the mystery of sameness.
In a world that defined how black and white
could look at each other, touch each other,
my mother looks back, her poise unmarred.
Every time I open my purse,
she is there, so familiar I forget
to look at her.
© Gabeba Baderoon
- I Forget To Look was inspired by the poet's mother, who studied medicine in apartheid South Africa in the 1950s. The poem is taken from Baderoon's new collection, A Hundred Silences (Kwela/Snailpress, 2006). Reproduced with permission.
- Images of the poet...
- Gabeba Baderoon appears at the South Bank, London on Wednesday 25th October 2006 as part of Poetry International.