Small Passing -Ingrid de Kok 1 In this country you may not Suffer the death of your stillborn, remember the last push into shadow and silence, The useless wires and cords on your stomach, the nurse’s face, the walls, the afterbirth in a basin. Do not touch your breasts still full of purpose. Do not circle the house, pack, unpack the small clothes. Do not lie awake at night hearing the doctor say ‘It was just as well’ and ‘You can have another’ In this country you may not mourn small passings. See: the newspaper boy in the rain will sleep tonight in the doorway. The woman in the busline may next month be on a train to a place not her own. The baby in the backyard now will be sent to a tired aunt, grow chubby, then lean, return a stranger. Mandela’s daughter tried to find her father through the glass. She thought they’d let her touch him. And this woman’s hands are so heavy when she dusts the photographs of other children they fall to the floor and break. Clumsy woman, she moves so slowly as if in a funeral rite. "Small Passing" deals with the shock of losing one's baby in a society where death is an everyday reality. For the mother, the death of her own child is a tragedy beyond parallel and yet the poet gets reminded often -- mainly by males -- that this is nothing compared with the greater tragedy happening all around her in apartheid South Africa, where death is the norm. On the other hand, the Black women do not see it that way. They are able to comfort her and see in her loss a genuine catastrophe which is indeed comparable with all the other tragedies happening around them. Hers is literally no small passing. ABOUT THE POET Ingrid de Kok is the professional name of Ingrid Jean Fiske. She was born in Johannesburg in 1951 and grew up in Stilfontein, a gold mining town in what is now the North-West Province of South Africa. She studied at Queens' University in Canada before returning to South Africa. Today she is an Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town's Centre for Extra-Mural Studies. On the pavements the nannies meet. These are legal gatherings. They talk about everything,about home, while the children play among them, their skins like litmus, their bonnets clean. To date she has published three collections of poetry, and her poems have appeared in at least eleven overseas anthologies. They have also been translated into several different languages, including Turkish. 2 Small wrist in the grave. Baby no one carried live between houses, among trees. Child shot running, stones in his pocket, She has been the recipient of at least three prestigious prizes for her contribution to English Literature. STRESS boy’s swollen stomach full of hungry air. Girls carrying babies not much smaller than themselves. Erosion. Soil washed down to sea. 3 I think these mothers dream headstones of the unborn. Their mourning rises like a wall no vine will cling to. They will not tell you your suffering is white. They will not say it is just as well. They will not compete for the ashes of infants. I think they will say to you: Come with us to the place of mothers. We will stroke your flat empty belly, let you weep with us in the dark, and arm you with one of our babies to carry home on your back. Although the language itself appears simple, the stresses fall on carefully chosen words to emphasise the tragedy of the loss: in line two, for instance, the stresses fall on “suffer” “death” and “stillborn”. DICTION The verse repeats the instruction “you may not” and “do not”, this immediately makes us recall the context of apartheid prohibition. THEMES EMPATHY Small passing projects communities of empathy De Kok’s poem suggests that female sympathy can transcend barriers of race and class. INHUMANE TREATMENT As a result of being white (and, therefore, complicit in the very inhuman social system), the woman has lost her right to claims on common humanity. LITERARY ESSAY Introduction Poet: Ingrid de Kok Poem: Small Passing Topic: In a literary essay of 200-250 words, discuss what the overall message of Ingrid de Kok’s poem is. Body Paragraph 1 Point: Evidence: Explanation: Body Paragraph 2 Point: Evidence: Explanation: Body Paragraph 3 Point: Evidence: Explanation: Conclusion Draw a conclusion about the overall message by summarising your main argument. Add a comment.