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A Letter to Phaswane

Michelle McGrane

15 December 2004

Phaswane

You sat next to me on the airport shuttle from Cape Town International Airport to the hotel we had been booked into for the duration of Turning the Page 2004, a slightly-built man who wore glasses. All I knew about you then was that you had written a book called Welcome To Our Hillbrow which had been received with acclaim locally.

During our two-day stay in Cape Town for the writers' conference hosted by the Centre for the Book I had the opportunity to get to know you a little better. The more I talked to you, the more I liked you. You were unassuming, easy to communicate with, and quietly intelligent.

We had a number of interesting conversations and discussions about future writing and publishing projects. It was quite obvious to me from the start that, academically, you were planes above me. Yet you never made me feel like an ignoramus. Thank you.

I learned that you lived in Johannesburg and taught African Literature and Publishing Studies in the School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. You hold a Master of Arts in African Literature from Wits and a Diploma in Advanced Study in Publishing from Oxford Brookes University.

You've had poems and short stories published in Imprint, New Coin, English Academy Review, Botsotso and Unity in Flight. Welcome To Our Hillbrow was your first novel. You were working on the next one.

In Cape Town I gave you a copy of my poetry collection, Hybrid, and wrote a favourite poem by Raymond Carver in the front. You remember, it goes like this:

Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver


And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

I expressed an interest in reading Welcome To Our Hillbrow after you read an extract on the opening night of Turning the Page. You promised to send me a copy when you returned to Jozi. I remember I wrote my address down in your diary. I mentioned a short story I had written. You said you wanted to read it and gave me your business card with your email address on it.

The conference was over all too quickly. After a round of drinks and some humorous banter about the pros and cons of married life versus singledom, four of us hugged goodbye in the Spur at Cape Town International Airport. You and Angifi left on a plane bound for the City of Gold whilst Gladman and I waited to catch our connection back to Durban. A week after the Cape Town trip we were in email contact.

Today I discovered you passed away on Sunday. The date was 12 December 2004. You died at the age of thirty-four.

At the airport, before we said goodbye, you told me how much you liked my poem, "Some Poems". I have nothing to give you now, but I dedicate this poem to you.

Some Poems
for Phaswane Mpe

some poems you
cannot do anything with,

so, you leave them,
small prayer harboured,

hoping next time
you look at them,

miraculously, they will have
improved themselves.

On the last page of Welcome To Our Hillbrow you wrote:

Heaven is the world of our continuing existence, located in the memory and consciousness of those who live with us and after us. It is the archive that those we left behind keep visiting and revisiting; digging this out, suppressing or burying that. Continually reconfiguring the stories of our lives, as if they alone hold the real and true version Ö Heaven can also be Hell, depending on the nature of our continuing existence in the memories and consciousness of the living.

Phaswane, you were beloved on this earth. Hamba kahle.

Michelle



LitNet: 13 January 2005

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