A bitter chemical released by some African thorn trees to make their leaves less appealing to browsing animals.
An acacia leaf turns bitter
in my mouth. Its acrid taste
turns chewing into teaching,
etches tannin arcs into the rough
cracks on my tongue, a lesson
in licking another’s wounds.
My grandfather smiles at me,
observing my reaction. He knows
the taste well, recognises the tug
I feel on the inside of my cheeks.
His sense of taste has left him,
he sends me to find him lemon juice
to see if it can bring his tongue
back to life. Even bitterness will do.
He tells me again about succulents
near the Karoo, how they haven’t
developed this thorn-tree defence,
how kudus thrive there, browse
these sweet plants. I feed him
another ice cube to cool his drying mouth.