Monday, December 16, 2013

Black Butterflies

How do you tell your child you never want to see them again? How do you look at the person you helped form and banish them from your life forever? With all the mistakes and errors, aren't you a contributor in some way? Isn't the very nature of raising a child such a bond that regardless of how you view their choices, their circumstances, they remain forever yours, forever in your thoughts, never far from your concerns?

Black Butterflies is about a host of other things, namely the life of South African poet Ingrid Jonker. It's been sitting in my Netflix instant queue for a few years, my interest sparked primarily by the haunting beauty of Carice van Houten, the far off gaze of her brilliant blue eyes. With those eyes, van Houten achingly portrays the loneliness of Jonker's life, the desperate desire for love that even when given by the writer Jack Cope wasn't unfiltered enough to overcome the deficiencies of her upbringing, including that awful moment when her father, even after learning that his daughter has won the prestigious Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel literary prize, utters those devastating words, "I never want to see you again."

I wonder how much of her longing for love allowed her to see so clearly, particularly amid the backdrop of apartheid the anguish that lead her to write this poem, forever immortalized in Nelson Mandela's address to the first democratically elected South African parliament.

The child is not dead

The child is not dead 
The child lifts his fists against his mother 
Who shouts Afrika ! shouts the breath 
Of freedom and the veld 
In the locations of the cordoned heart 

The child lifts his fists against his father 
in the march of the generations 
who shouts Afrika ! shout the breath 
of righteousness and blood 
in the streets of his embattled pride 

The child is not dead not at Langa nor at Nyanga 
not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville 
nor at the police station at Philippi 
where he lies with a bullet through his brain 

The child is the dark shadow of the soldiers 
on guard with rifles Saracens and batons 
the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings 
the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers 
this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere 
the child grown to a man treks through all Africa 

the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world 
Without a pass 

Black Butterflies is a beautifully acted film about one woman's struggle within herself, with her family, and the world around her. It's a movie that will stay with you for a long while for its tiny explorations into depression, abandonment, love, and apartheid. It's available on Netflix Instant and for rent on  

You can read more of Jonker's poems here at All