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from the November 2021 issue

Children of the Xam

Watch Khadija Tracey Heeger read her poem "Children of the Xam" in the original Kaaps.

Poet Khadija Tracey Heeger honors a rich and complex heritage.

Between the vertebrae of the Langeberg and carved deep in the palm of the Keerom,
on the tongue of Slanghoek comes the sigh of reconciliation,
it is here you’ll find the name Xam,
in the earth and sky, and in the womb of the Breede.

Plaited through the psalms of the Xam, Khoi, and amaXhosa
the name Cape Town a journey still to come,
off in a distance, still far, still faint, still whisper.
another name translates her seed—an inconvenient history to consider.

From Hessequa and Chainoqua, Namaqua and Einaqua,
till the Kwe and the Kun,
here we are, anchored at this wharf.
Child of the calabash, edge of bow paired with spear and shield
in this sacred tapestry the blood of Khoi and amaXhosa
sweetened with the native Xam.

Another ship, moored in Table Bay,
bears the future sins of the grape.
Still slaves, still shackles reign in this Cape,
fruits of Asia and East-West Africa remain.
My tongue lies in English and aches in Dutch
like backs to whips and cleats

But here in the blood of my blood of my blood—ground from the protea and buchu flesh
a waking root calls on a wandering breath.

Come silenced tongue and praying mantis, pray so our hearts can be strong
and thaw the knowledge of old.
Come fetch me Blombos Cave’s ghost,
come find me Diepkloof Xam’s milk,
come set me free crooked Klipdrift ancestral tree,
and let the centuries describe this cradle’s seed.

In the beginning of the beginning, of the beginning,
in the times, long, yes, long before
Krotoa, Massevana, Susanna, Hintsa, and Chaka bled art on rock,
far outside the grip of the colony,
long, long before the despair of apartheid
the case of categories and purity failed.
under this skin, of our skin, of our skin
rising from the books of DNA, from indigenous and colonizer,
you and I were mixed in the bone marrow found in Elsie’s kraal
and deep within the halls of the ancient Blombos Cave.

“Xam se Kinnes” © Khadija Tracey Heeger. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2021 by Olivia M. Coetzee and Khadija Tracey Heeger. All rights reserved.

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