Uploaded by hollyvanheerden

Small Passing

Small Passing -Ingrid de Kok
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.
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.
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.
boy’s swollen stomach
full of hungry air.
Girls carrying babies
not much smaller than themselves.
Erosion. Soil washed down to sea.
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”.
The verse repeats the instruction “you may
not” and “do not”, this immediately makes us
recall the context of apartheid prohibition.
Small passing projects communities of
empathy De Kok’s poem suggests that female
sympathy can transcend barriers of race and
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.
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
Body Paragraph 2
Body Paragraph 3
Draw a conclusion about the overall message by summarising your main argument.
Add a comment.