Green pincushion proteas
Green pincushion proteas grow in my memory, swaying faintly in today’s wind. Memory snags me through the pink pincushions I bought this morning from the auntie in the doek by the Kwikspar who added a king protea to the bunch, all spikes and pins in reds and maroons, so regal that as a child I didn’t know they were alive and did not water them. My mother’s remembering remembers them into me. Do you remember, she asks, and then I do, green pincushion proteas this small? She slowly makes her fingers turn and bloom green flowers the size of large coins that we found here among the rocks and grey sand under tall trees unnameable in memory, reaching their roots into the house’s foundations, subtle threads stretching closer and closer. All tangles and snaggings and swayings, green pincushion proteas prick into my mind, thicken themselves stitch by stitch into a place that was not, but is again. The grey sand of memory now fervent with colour, green blooms clamber over the rockery and we, who did not know their beginnings, move them to another part of the garden, and they withdraw, and then withdraw from memory until now, a new species of green blossoming and unmoved. They died, she recalls. They don’t like their roots to be moved. Do you remember, she asks, and the green coins bud into the first bush long preceding us, and careless we wrench them from their original rocks and they die a little and then fully. Why did we move them to another place, we, who were removed to here? Do you remember, she asks.
Copyright © 2018 by Gabeba Baderoon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“I spent last year in Cape Town and each weekend visited my mother and slept in my childhood bedroom. One day I brought her a bunch of proteas and the extraordinary experience of seeing her remember the green proteas from our garden four decades ago stirred my own childhood memory and prompted the writing of this poem. My mother’s family had been ‘removed’ the year before I was born. ‘Removal’ is the clinical term the apartheid government gave to uprooting Black people from their homes and discarding them in distant, infertile parts of South African cities. In a way I was born into my family’s loss. The fate of the green proteas in the poem conveys my parents’ ambivalence about their new house, which only became a home to them after ‘removal’ lost its sorrow, and yet it was the first place I belonged.”
Gabeba Baderoon’s most recent poetry collection is The History of Intimacy (Kwela Books, 2018).
Date Published: 2018-08-06
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/green-pincushion-proteas