Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics
Research Article
2024, 8(1), Article No: 02

‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’

Published in Volume 8 Issue 1: 01 Mar 2024
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Abstract

The poems ‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’ from Gabeba Baderoon.

I FORGET TO LOOK

The photograph of my mother at her desk in the fifties

has been in my purse for twenty years,

its paper faded, browning,

the scalloped edge bent then straightened.

 

The collar of her dress folds discreetly.

The angle of her neck looks as though

someone has called her from far away.

 

She was the first in her family to take

the bus from Claremont

up the hill to the university.

 

At one point during the lectures at medical school,

black students had to pack their notes, get up and walk

past the ascending rows of desks out of the theatre.

 

Behind the closed door, in an autopsy

black students were not meant to see,

the uncovering and cutting of white skin.

 

Under the knife, the skin,

the mystery of sameness.

 

In a world that defined how black and white

could look at each other, touch each other,

my mother looks back, her poise unmarred.

 

Every time I open my purse,

she is there, so familiar I forget

to look at her.

(From Gabeba Baderoon, A hundred silences, Kwela/Snailpress, 2006)

 

THE HISTORY OF INTIMACY

I.

You remember it because it’s a wound.

A cut, twenty cuts, the name

for the canings on the palm,

on the knuckles, on the buttocks,

a finely graded order of pain

that we who should not exist

were assigned for our failures.

 

II.

You keep you white, nuh,

Mike shouts in 1987 across the heads

of the students on Jameson Steps

and the sudden pale silence shows

we are no longer in uniform in the quad

at Livingstone High, teasing hey,

why did you look through me

as though I don’t exist. And this

withdrawal from being

we called keeping you white,

but saying it out loud reveals

how we have learned

to measure our existence.

 

III.

In the video store after I’ve ordered a film,

my cousin elbows me, Why you putting on?

Putting on. Transitive verb. Putting on what?

Putting on skin, putting on not nothingness.

 

IV.

When the Group Areas Act is abolished,

my mother aches to go back

to the street she was removed from

and it is we, grown attached

to the scar we call home, who say,

No, we don’t want to live in a white area,

this time ceding it ourselves.

 

V.

Mother, how do I write about you?

As a medical student on duty at night

she learned to sleep so lightly she could wake

in an instant in an emergency, and for the rest of her life,

her body became a body that never again

could sleep through the night.

She told of one evening when, for some reason

a little irked with my father, she left

the table early, returning

to the bedroom by herself, and found

my sister blue for lack of breath.

To this day, she recalls what anger gave her,

how it saved my sister’s life. Anger. Breath.

Since the beginning, you have been breath,

and poetry.

You told me how black students were asked

to leave the room during the autopsy of white bodies.

And of my writing about this, you said,

That is my story. That is not your story.

And now, with the illness you could not speak of for years,

Mother, am I again turning your words

and your silence into a poem?

 

VI.

In 1988 at Crawford train station, my brother and I find

a blue plank hand-painted in yellow letters:

Non-Whites Only on one side

Whites Only on the other

thrown away by the fence next to the tracks.

Picking it up, we see the two sides

of the sign lie back to back,

each half resting against its opposite,

intimate and inverse

but unknown to each other.

We knew this was history

someone had made by hand, then hidden

and tried to forget. We bring it home

and come across it sometimes in a corner

when we’re looking for something else.

(From Gabeba Baderoon, The History of Intimacy, Kwela, 2018)

AMA 10th edition
In-text citation: (1), (2), (3), etc.
Reference: Baderoon G. ‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’. Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics. 2024;8(1), 02. https://doi.org/10.20897/femenc/14212
APA 6th edition
In-text citation: (Baderoon, 2024)
Reference: Baderoon, G. (2024). ‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’. Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics, 8(1), 02. https://doi.org/10.20897/femenc/14212
Chicago
In-text citation: (Baderoon, 2024)
Reference: Baderoon, Gabeba. "‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’". Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics 2024 8 no. 1 (2024): 02. https://doi.org/10.20897/femenc/14212
Harvard
In-text citation: (Baderoon, 2024)
Reference: Baderoon, G. (2024). ‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’. Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics, 8(1), 02. https://doi.org/10.20897/femenc/14212
MLA
In-text citation: (Baderoon, 2024)
Reference: Baderoon, Gabeba "‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’". Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics, vol. 8, no. 1, 2024, 02. https://doi.org/10.20897/femenc/14212
Vancouver
In-text citation: (1), (2), (3), etc.
Reference: Baderoon G. ‘I Forget to Look’ and ‘The History of Intimacy’. Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics. 2024;8(1):02. https://doi.org/10.20897/femenc/14212
Related Subjects
Gender Studies, Social Sciences
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