Poem for South African Women
Commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who, August 9, 1956, presented themselves in bodily protest against the “dompass” in the capital of apartheid. Presented at The United Nations, August 9, 1978.
Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world
The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire
And the babies cease alarm as mothers
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open
And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
even under the sea
we are the ones we have been waiting for
From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005, 2017 by the June Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
June Jordan was born in New York City on July 9, 1936 and attended Barnard College. She was an activist, poet, writer, teacher, and prominent figure in the civil rights, feminist, antiwar, and LGBTQ movements of the twentieth century.
Jordan’s numerous books of poetry include The Essential June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2021); We’re On: A June Jordan Reader (Alice James Books, 2017); Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2007); Kissing God Goodbye: Poems, 1991–1997 (Anchor Books, 1997); Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1989); Living Room: New Poems (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1985); Passion: New Poems, 1977–1980 (Beacon Press, 1980); and Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry (Random House, 1977).
Jordan also authored children’s books, plays, the memoir Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood (Basic/Civitas Books, 2000), and the novel His Own Where (Crowell, 1971), which was nominated for the National Book Award. Her collections of political essays include Affirmative Acts: Political Essays (Anchor Books, 1998) and On Call: Political Essays (South End Press, 1985).
Of Jordan’s career, Toni Morrison writes, “I am talking about a span of forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art.”
Jordan received a Rockefeller Foundation grant, the National Association of Black Journalists Award, and fellowships from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
She taught at the University of California, Berkeley, where she founded Poetry for the People. Jordan died of breast cancer on June 14, 2002 in Berkeley, California.
Date Published: 2017-10-19
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/poem-south-african-women