Thomas Bvuma’s poem “Neither fruit nor shelter” is a powerful commentary on the devastating effects of poverty, displacement, and the erosion of natural resources. Through vivid and stark imagery, the poet depicts a bleak and desolate landscape where the only surviving beings are a baby and a decaying elephant.
The poem begins with the description of an uprooted baobab, a tree that is traditionally associated with longevity, strength, and resilience. However, in this context, the baobab is a symbol of destruction and decay, as its roots scratch and clutch in chaos, and its branches offer neither fruit nor shelter.
The next stanza describes a baby heaving bones against leathery skin, most likely the skin of the elephant whose dusty skeleton lies nearby. The image is haunting, as it suggests that the baby is struggling to survive and may even be feeding on the remains of a dead animal.
The third stanza is a reflection on the state of the elephant, which has lost its horns and hide and no longer exudes bulky confidence. The skies, too, have lost their power, as they no longer ignite thunder and water. This suggests that the natural world is in a state of decline and that the forces that once sustained life are no longer present.
The fourth stanza brings together the themes of poverty, displacement, and the erosion of natural resources. The baobab, which once stood tall and proud, now offers neither fruit nor shelter. The people who once relied on it for sustenance and protection are now forced to find other means of survival.
The fifth stanza describes how desires and hopes have been distorted and mutilated, resulting in a moaning monster that sucks the life out of children in foreign lands. This image suggests that the poverty and displacement caused by the erosion of natural resources have far-reaching consequences, affecting not only the people who live in these conditions but also those who are far away.
The final stanza is a poignant reflection on the paradox of poverty, where those who have nothing still hold out a bowl to others. This image suggests that even in the depths of despair, people still have the capacity for generosity and compassion, and that the human spirit can endure even the harshest of conditions.
In conclusion, “Neither fruit nor shelter” is a powerful and moving poem that offers a stark and uncompromising view of the devastating effects of poverty, displacement, and the erosion of natural resources. Through vivid imagery and poignant reflections, the poem invites us to confront the harsh realities of our world and to consider what we can do to create a more just and sustainable future.