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Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

[Poem] Say a word often enough and it can lose its meaning

Say a word often enough and it can lose its meaning

The bricklayer is dead.
The doctor is dead.
The journalist is dead.
The mother is dead.
The artist is dead.
The neighbour is dead.
The daughter is dead.
The garbage collector is dead.
The architect is dead.
The writer is dead.
The grandfather is dead.
The baker is dead.
The nurse is dead.
The teacher is dead.
The grandmother is dead.
The dentist is dead.
The psychologist is dead.
The son is dead.
The manicurist is dead.
The brother is dead.
The painter is dead.
The handyman is dead.
The shopkeeper is dead.
The baby is dead.
The nanny is dead.
The engineer is dead.
The farmer is dead.
The fruit-picker is dead.
The politician is dead.
The secretary is dead.
The taxi driver is dead.
The student is dead.
The IT technician is dead.
The cousin is dead.
The hairdresser is dead.
The aunt is dead.
The electrician is dead.
The sister is dead.
The plumber is dead.
The uncle is dead.
The poet is dead.
The father is dead.
The photographer is dead.
The undertaker is dead.
The priest is dead.
The chef is dead.
The professor is dead.
The influencer is dead.
The economist is dead.
The lawyer is dead.
The imam is dead.
The historian is dead.

09/01/2024
Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

[Poem] Life Lesson

Life Lesson

Now, I am too much of a coward
to try for at least one child.
It will mean having to develop a lesson plan
for the valuation of human life.
I will have to teach that not all weigh the same
and this assessment is no constant measure,
that on a Monday, they may be priceless
and by Friday, their blood may as well be
the stuff left in a bucket after a chicken is cleaned.
I, myself, fail this course, again and again.

15/10/23
Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Otherscapes: Four Installations by Four Contemporary South African Artists 28 June – 4 November 2023

“Otherscapes proposes surveying the scene of contemporary South Africa through the artistic practices of four contemporary South African artists whose installations can be viewed as ‘scapes’. These address a local context by interrogating the tension between utopia and failure. Siemon Allen, Wim Botha, Sethembile Msezane and Nicholas Hlobo reflect their subjective views of South Africa by embodying narratives that elucidate the complex issues in which the country is entangled.Otherscapes proposes surveying the scene of contemporary South Africa through the artistic practices of four contemporary South African artists whose installations can be viewed as ‘scapes’. These address a local context by interrogating the tension between utopia and failure. Siemon Allen, Wim Botha, Sethembile Msezane and Nicholas Hlobo reflect their subjective views of South Africa by embodying narratives that elucidate the complex issues in which the country is entangled.”

I visited the exhibition last month. The installations are immersive and provocative. It is on until November 4th, 2023 at the JCAF (Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation) in Forest Town. Click here to book your tour.

Here are a few of my images:

A Past Affliction

I’m thinking about the kind of nostalgia that is typified by an irresistible yen to inhabit the irrecoverable Before, and how this feeling intensifies as we age. While it doesn’t hamper living in the Now, there is something thrilling about those tugs to return to the past with our stockpiled wisdom packed in alongside us.

It is so with myself and my friends. We meet at a braai to celebrate a birthday, and our conversations tilt toward us as younger; the people we were involved with, the little stories and connections we titter about, “Do you remember when you left that voicemail accidentally?” Did your dad ever find that cigarette burn on the carpet in your car?” All the jokes are for us, the ones on the inside. I’m certain this is to the utter annoyance of our spouses, but the exclusion isn’t intentional, we are simply narrating; building on our shared mythology of growing up together in a small town.

In our retellings, those events feel closer in time. Just a few breaths away. Not that long ago, just the other day in fact, when our skins were poreless, our outlooks on life not yet complicated by lived experience.

And I find it happening more frequently as we near or pass Forty.  Oh, that loaded number; an age holding a supreme kind of mystical significance (it’s when Muslims believe the Prophet PBUH received his first divine revelation). The fourth decade. The hump-day of your life.

Is it that we are apprehensive about getting older? Do these visitations to the past ground us there and pin us to our youth? I am not quite convinced of that. There are many good reasons to want to forget. But there is value in mining the past for what it can offer you now. And perhaps that is what we’re reaching for. Answers. To all the big questions; “Who are we and where are we going?” To flip the perspective, I also believe there is a certain smugness that comes with age; we’ve seen it all and we know it all, and we only wish we could go back and club our younger selves over the head with the knowledge.

Just recently I told a friend that we are selective about the memories we retain. We assign our own bias to the encounters. Who we were in that second will decide what aspects of that moment we will assign importance to. You put two people in the same room, and they will each walk out with a different retelling of what happened therein. Both recollections will be valid. This becomes significant when I think about memoir as a writing practice; there will always be that delicate interplay between my truth and what is held to be true by the people that feature in it.

 

15 for a 15th

  1. Monday, you’re the asshole. Tuesday, they’re the asshole. Forgive each other. These are not permanent conditions.
  2. Your spouse is not meant to fill every assigned role in your life. Yes, they are your best friend, but you also have other friends.
  3. Approach your lives together with an “Attitude of Gratitude.”
  4. Don’t be a Debby Downer. Support each other’s dreams and ambitions. Not everything will work out every time, but you’re in it together.
  5. Learning to be unselfish is an act of true love.
  6. Kiss everyday.
  7. You do marry the family. Map out your boundaries and commitments early on.
  8. Understand that you both carry baggage from your lives before each other, and consider how this contextualises your approaches to conflict.
  9. Respect your spouse’s need for alone time.
  10. You don’t have to like the same things but it is important to have a few shared interests. These touchpoints fortify the life you’re building together.
  11. Mutual respect is paramount.
  12. Before you even marry, make sure this is a person you’re just happy to hang out with for extended periods of time.
  13. Be their cheerleader. Always have their backs.
  14. Be independent in yourselves. You have different ID numbers, you are individuals in the eyes of Bank and State.
  15. Love with abandon, with abundance and no expectations.

AI-Generated poetry and flash fiction

I asked AI Chatbot ChatGPT to generate poems and flash fiction in my style of writing. I’ll post some of the results below. I don’t think the AI has enough training data to replicate ‘my voice’ and that it is drawing from a more generic pool of information (though I must admit, some of the poems do read a little worryingly like stuff I wrote as a tween). The work produced is readable but it is also banal. It follows literary conventions to the point of the cliché. I do think it’s quite possible for the AI to generate an entirely intelligible, albeit dead-eyed novel.

Continue reading AI-Generated poetry and flash fiction

{Poem} We Have Lost

I started writing this at the peak of the third wave in 2021, when everyday brought with it the name of someone no longer with us.

We have lost

My mother writes the names
of everyone who’s passed
on since last year

These times are the strangest
to now; lists to aid mourning
more deaths than grocery trips

Our friends are losing their parents
our parents are losing their friends
we are losing our friends

What to say to make it less?
soundless nothing words
sepulchre for a throat

There is no getting used to grief
in compound form loss
upon loss without pause

But here we are. What to pray for?
Can you still? Breathe in a time of fettered air
enough to write out our lists of love

The Essential Gifting Guide for People Who Already Have Everything (2020 Edition)

  • Essential olive-infused CBD fruit oil from the community gardens of La Marou
  • Found art earrings by Fontanella Parchesa
  • Twice-spun silk gilet from Plok+Raya’s pre-2021 androgynous range
  • Marshall Tupping’s fair-trade rayon face masks with bouclé ear ties
  • Ready-to-bake vegan banana bread panettone, packed in a copper hat box, from Rosamund’s on Seventh
  • Jemima Inigo’s disinfectant spray gifting box, Artesian Safari edition.
  • Limited release Purdy von Xanthe refillable Le Chiquito-sized hand sanitiser carafe
  • Mink-lined Zoom slippers from Octavia Company
  • Inside-Outside summer pyjama set from Dagny Morgan (order ten weeks in advance for personalised pocket embroidery)
  • ZenSourcePlus wireless dalgona maker with premium app and 12 months support
  • Triple-stranded mood-enhancement wrist band with interchangeable Emotion Inserts TM from Montgomery Works
  • $500 digital voucher entitling the bearer to ten custom video-conferencing backgrounds

Finding Closure in Bewildering Times

Mostly, the call would come after midnight or just before the dawn prayer. You’d know what’s on the other side of that line.

Continue reading Finding Closure in Bewildering Times