Sunset

And then God said,
"No need to worry.
Remember the magic I can make
With simple things like
Water, light, and air?"


Returning

I want to come back to you
Slowly and then
All at once --

This great separation
Must end.


Reunion

I look forward to our reunion:
Sun and moon, perhaps.

I want to come back to you
Return anew, from this other season
Brimming with the same love
We have always shared. 

Winter Prayer

Autumn is creeping into the Cape and
We are all desperate for rain. (For change.)

These cool mornings feel like relief
Waking in the blue light of dawn,
Black dark to grey morning to light.

I only hope this winter is not
As dark as our last.
I am tired of dying each year.
I would like my next re-birth to be a quiet one.

My prayer is for a quiet winter.
To go softly into hiding with grace
By our side.


Caught

I catch myself in memory
And dark fear.

I want to anxiously upturn every stone
Look feverishly through your jacket pockets
Shine light into everything
Dispel the shadows; banish them
To some other home, some other life

There is no darkness welcome here!
But dark and light exist together
And I can never be the arbiter of anything
(Even you.)

Two things can exist at once.

My heart lives
In two places
Separated by the sea.

How can we survive in so many pieces?

But we do
And we thrive.


Broken

What am I supposed to do
With these memories
Of you broken
Before me?


Kintsugi

I want to fall in love with you again
Feel it in my gut.

The truth is
I still look at you in wonder.

Today I know your fault lines
Cracks slowly being filled
With gold. 

Unburdened.

There is nothing to do here but listen
To the birds, my thoughts,
Hot air through tall trees,
Your breath, heartbeat, 
The rise and fall of your chest.

I can feel you sometimes
In my gut.
Will this fear ever untangle?
Will I ever be free to love you as I did once,
Unburdened?

Can I be awake and in love at the same time?




It will take time, if it comes at all.
Love in the face of hurt and betrayal -
There is no silver bullet.
He is real and will always be light
And dark together (like you).
You may have to leave;
The dark may get the better of him.
But for now it is summer;
The hot sun is shining in Mcgregor,
He is asleep in bed
And for all you know, he loves you.
And for all you know, he is real.

Leaving


I thought I found a man,
But he left
And I don’t even have that much to say about him
Which in and of itself
Is a heartbreak.

He was magic once
(I think)
But maybe that was just it -
You cannot survive on magic.
I had to learn that the hard way,
Slow heartache and pain.

Shine.


Your dark slate eyes
And blonde curls.

Who will you become? I wonder,
Watching you every day
Become you.

I beg you, dear girl:
Don’t get bogged down with becoming anything
Just let the light inside you
Shine.

Instead of the Moon


You came home with roses
And the moon
Under your arm

Leave the flowers
At the market next time,
The moon in the sky
Alongside the stars.

I would rather you
Naked with yourself
Than all the flowers, all
The stars in the sky, more than
A thousand sleepless nights.

I would rather you naked
And true.

Afternoon Nap

I always want to remember
Loving you in the sunshine
Surrounded by ancient hills.

The late afternoon sun on your back;
The arch of your shoulders, their rise and fall
Marked by light and shadow.

The low sun and cool wind,
The mountains around us,
The only sound the birds,
Our breath.

Charmed


I live a charmed life, I think
Even on the hard days now
When my mind races like a washing machine
(Going nowhere fast)
I am blessed with calm
In the middle of my being
A quiet of some kind.

A quiet like the grasses in golden sunlight
A quiet like the company of love
Sleeping even, at peace with each other
A quiet like family, I think.

Remember


I always want to remember
Loving you in the sunshine
Surrounded by ancient hills.

How the late afternoon sun hits your back;
The arch of your shoulders, the rise and fall of your back
Marked only by light and shadow.

How my legs drape over and around you,
Your blonde hair soft and radiant between my fingers.

The low sun and cool wind,
The mountains around us;
The only sound the birds,
Our breath.

Bruise


There is something in me
A sunset maybe
The blue and orange and purple sky
The trees in the wind.

This life is bigger than me or you.
It is as big as the mountain
And as changing as the sea.

But there is always the sunset
Blue and orange and purple
Glowing like a slow bruise;

The trees in the wind,
Swaying like they do.

Birth Day


How appropriate that it was raining
On your birth day;
It suits you - full of life force,
More than my heart
Knew how to hold.

I have had to learn
To hold you;
To be full without boiling over.

How appropriate that it was raining
The day you were born;
Washing me clean, I guess.
Making space for truth,
For you, and me, the most
True love I’ve known.

I couldn’t have known, would never
Have guessed, what this year
Would hold.

You.
Born in a winter rain storm
Bringing me to life
And holding me through it all.

Malawi Series

i.
We come from Africa
Jacaranda trees and blue
Sky, petrol shortage and
Bad economy, this sleepy
City, one lane roads,
Spotty electricity and
Coca-cola. 

ii.
Red dust covers everything;
Old white buildings and
Front stoops caked in dusty
Orange under a yellow
Sun and big sky, fires
Burning, roast chicken and
Kids playing, quietly braiding
Hair at the front door.
Puddles swell as clouds break
Heat, turning dust to mud
And streets to rivers.

iii.
Drinking Fanta in
Mtandire and driving
through Mchesi at
dusk, I was happy.

Forgot the world, the
darkness, and watched
the sun set over
Malawi, purple bloom
jacaranda trees, and
the fullness of  life.

iv. 
Eating sour mango in the sun
we talk about money, children
the things of life.

A mama tells me that in
Malawi children come first
as long as there is food
on the table.

They play, dusty beside us,
sour mango juice on
my fingers and swatting
flies from my side.

v. 
People chew sugarcane
in the afternoon sun,
cook over open fire,
pump water from deep
wells and balance great
sacks of rice, beans and
maize meal atop their
heads. They carry feathered
hens home for dinner, peel
potatoes along the roadside
and ride slowly on bicycles
rushing nowhere.

They cry mzungu
as I pass. Young ones
come running in dusty party dresses
and old shoes. We are all
the same, mzungu,
walking these streets
how can there be a
difference? 

We are all the same,
mzungu, you and me, but
I will never sleep
in Mtandire or Chinsapo.
I will go home and you
will not visit me there.

Kisenyi


Kisenyi is busy with life
Clouds part to take a breath
And for a moment, we see sun.

How do I write about
Naked babies standing in
Shit and mud, and at the
Same time, their smiles
Bright with teeth?

How do I tell the truth
About these places -
That they are beautiful
But also, that people need
Homes, that they shit in the open
and sleep on cardboard.

It is a strange thing
To be moved to tears
By beauty, or humanity,
Amidst such chaos.

What do I do with those tears?
What am I to make of them?

Perhaps they have been waiting
Witnessing evictions, death
And homelessness. Perhaps
They come because facing such
Injustice, facing death
There is song, dance, hope.

waiting

We spend a lot of time waiting. Of course, in the interim the world goes by. School children head home, women work over fires, men stumble home drunk or chop food or sit huddled in the shade of low roofs. We drink Fanta in the shade, and then we start working.

A Good Collection


I am happy
With the pieces I have collected
Over the years,
The woman I have become 
Today - this September morning
With the old tenement houses reaching
Towards the blue sky.

Crossing


The dusty light
Filters through ancient trees
Pausing
At the snow before
Touching ground. I stand
At the corner of Spring and Mulberry,
A bar at eight in the morning
Sun lighting sailor stripes.
An old man leans, laughing
Over his beer, hands waving
In the dusty light.
I am not beside him;
Outside in the cold
I plant foot to heel in mucky snow
On towards Broome.

Settle

I turned the corner
And came upon quiet.
The morning air
Gray and weary;
Suddenly leaves stopped
Blowing and the air
Settled around my feet;
Leather and wood
Against cold cement
Wet in November.

Sunday Morning

This morning the
City was quiet
For a brief moment
The hum and rush of
Life, traffic below
Was silenced as
We waited
Quietly to wake.

Moths

Maybe we are moths
Maybe all we are is fluttering softly
Towards light.


Slow Wind

Clouds roll in
over Santa Fe valley;
It is mid-afternoon. A
slow wind begins in
the trees and I
imagine it will grow.
By midnight the wind whistles,
pushes hard through
bare branches, carrying the
clouds swiftly across
the dark valley, leaving
exposed the bare night
sky, full of bright stars
and hollow moon.

Falling

It could have been so easy
To fall back
Into his arms
To find my place
In his bed again
To find the empty space
Between his sheets.

It could have been so easy
To lose myself,
Forget myself
Entirely.

It could have been so easy
To fall away from life
And into my dark.

But I chose light
And from here
I see you
Falling.

The Least

At least the bright sun
reflects off red clay
mountains at sunset
and the blue sky fills
slow with purple clouds
rolling peacefully across the valley.

At least the air
is crisp with meaning
and God echoes in the
fast wind, the cold air.

At least I am here
amongst the cacti and
the hills, the blue sky
fading quietly to night.

Glow

The inky blue of
Early March. Six
O’clock in north
Brooklyn and
I am suddenly
Alone.

In the distance the
Yellow glow of
Manhattan filters
Through the rooftops
Of our lovely Brooklyn,
Low buildings give
Way to rich night and
A full moon rises
Over Fulton Street.

We are a slip of land
Clinging fast to
Shore, so easy to
Disconnect, float
Quietly out to sea.
So easy, all of us,
Quietly afloat in
Open waters, deep
Atlantic echoing
Underneath.

Would I find you
Amongst the wreckage?
After splitting from this
Heavy motherland
Would you be there
In the orange light of
Dusk, or under the
Silent moon?

No. I am alone
In endless blue;
Empty horizon;
Edge of life;
Nothing before me
But the glow.

Memory

I spent three and a half days in the crisp California air, under bright blue skies, surrounded by palm trees and traffic jams. It is strange and gritty and beautiful. Not New York at all. The city sprawls, stretching its arms wide, winding along the coast, into the mountains and valleys and falling fast into the wide sea.

Monday night we took Pacific Coast Highway north out of Santa Monica toward Malibu. Music from high school, from road trips and summers in New Jersey echoed loud from our over-amped speakers. The car dipped around a corner and the earth opened, exposing wide beaches and jagged cliffs.

I remembered Cape Town and my heart broke. The memory of African coastline spilling into the deep Atlantic; of sunsets overlooking the Cape and Table Mountain rising above us, looming in the night. Suddenly I felt full of sun and open air, the mountains rising toward heaven and crashing down into the depths of the earth, cascading beneath the thundering waves of the Pacific. “It looks just like South Africa…” My words choked in my mouth, my eyes tearing up without warning.

I am in love with that land, those ancient mountains, the rolling terrain; the folds of the earth centuries old, the trees bending with the wind, buckling under the weight of a Noreaster, reaching longingly for the sun.

Georgia

I do remember Atlanta,
the muddy, clay banks
of the Chattahoochee,
riding my bike along its shores
calling to men
carved in stone
on horseback
across the mountainsides.

I marched the cold streets
in January, held my breath
on stage at Ebenezer Baptist,
cradling Coretta’s hand.

I caught tadpoles and
insects in springtime,
watched them struggle
towards freedom, confused
and panicked when
instinct failed.

Found solace in deep water,
honeysuckle and dark woods.

And swinging out over the pond
I wondered what it would
mean to let go, fall feet
first into murky water or
swing full force into
a strong oak on shore.

But always my feet
touched ground, clung
to the silty embankment,
heart open for more.

Santa Fe, Sunset

The sky was purple tonight
painted at sunset with deep
orange, flaming across
the open sky, reflecting
soft pink into the scattered
clouds. In the background,
the blue mountains rise
and fall, soft breathing
with the rotation of the Earth;
millennia come and gone
and still, the painted sky
as day recedes into
plum and indigo, bright
white orb of day gives
way to a brilliant horizon
scattered with color, streaked
across the wide open
and reflecting across us
the hills pink with remembrance.

Spared

He is real as the wind
howling over the
ocean, breaking against
the jagged edges
of that
tall, flat mountain.

He is real as my
hearty laughter under
starchy sheets,
waking together in
marriage, and the
orange light of
dawn coming through
our windows

Spared,
the both of us.

Cradle

I wish I could cradle Africa
In my arms; rock her
Gently to sleep
And let the world awake

To her beauty.





The Sun

Passing into Portuguese
Mozambique, over the
crest of the Swazi
mountains and descending
into tall palms, thatch
roofs lining the black
river roads, and bright
fabric blowing from the
back door of rusted,
packed pick-ups.

You were silent behind the wheel
or maybe you were singing;
Either way, the sun
came flickering down
through thick fronds,
throwing itself speckled
onto your browned skin, sweaty
and windblown. I wanted
to touch you, just lightly
brush your arm, or rest
my hand on your thigh,
as though we were lovers,
just to say, I want you,
and my hands will hold you
more concretely
than the sun.

Ancestors

My ancestors are creeping up around me. In my dreams they haunt me, taunting me with shrill songs and pregnant silences.

Yiayia stands, shrunken and small, at the front of a large hall. She is singing in soft crackling English I know she never knew.

Baba sits at the back, Mommy Iris by his side. She is alert and young and he shrivels beside her. His eyes are blank and distant, his mouth hanging open with too many years of speaking.

I have seen photographs of him in his younger days, his skin tight and healthy, his hair jet black and shining in the grey sunlight of the early ‘50s. I have heard stories of his temper, loud, angry and threatening like lightning. And I have heard Mommy Iris reminisce about him, long letters to me, nostalgic for days together in Atlanta, jogging in Boca, building homes in New Vernon.

We are too young for our grandparents, too young to appreciate them while there is time. Suddenly they are trapped only in our dreams and memories, in old photographs, and we are left with them as myths, legends of our own pasts.

Popou

I remember

the soft melodies

of piano

wafting up

to Meredith’s room

in summer;

the salty smell

of the ocean at low tide,

and my grandfather,

silent at the bench.

Sangoma Dancers

the sangoma dancers
are drunk off umqoboti
they swallow it
by the bucket-full
before painting their faces,
tying beach towels
around their waists
and dancing for the
white folk.

the sangoma dancers laugh—
silly white people
think this dance is real
but we sing freedom songs
and we will never show them
our spirits.

Sweets

Children chase cars
down backwater Transkei roads
calling out for sweets.

Twenty years ago
it was payment—
they opened gates
for white baas.

“Sweets,” says John,
“In Transkei,
first English word

Fishing

Local fishermen in red and yellow dhows
unload freshly caught swordfish
onto the beach at Tofo village.

The eldest uses a saw—dull, blunt blade
—to portion the fish into steaks, for profit.

The head is left severed on the hot sand;
the long sword-nose, once menacing,
useless in this new air-world, and the eyes
open, big and dark, stare empty into the sky.

Business

“Please lady,
don’t you want
painted African pig?
Hand-painted just
for you.

Please lady,
cheap, cheap,
just to buy bread.
I very hungry.

Don’t you want?
Painted, from
Africa.

I hungry,
from
Africa.
No work in
Eastern Cape these days—
all gone to the cities,
Port Elizabeth,
Cape Town,
Johannesburg.

Only come home to
Transkei
for funeral, these days.

Please lady,
don’t you want
painted African pig?
I hungry
and you white, from city
rich, American accent.”

Glimpse

I.
Cape Town has a special vibe to it. Alive, like New York, which is what I think most connects the two places for me. I miss New York sometimes—the strength of the hustle, the rawness of the noises, the assault on the senses. But Cape Town has that too, the southern-hemisphere version—colours brighter, streets dirtier, smells more volatile.


Nothing about Cape Town is phoney when you get below the surface. Phonies don't last here. They find the reality, the duality of it too in-your-face and leave to Australia or Europe.

Long Street is full of hustle come midnight on a weekend. The tourists flock and the smell of exploitation is thick and uncomfortable. We pay 15 rand each and walk through the big, black-metal doors at Mama Africa. Abakhaya, a boisterous marimba band from Khayelitsha, is mid-set as we find seats at the long, candle-lit bar. Coke bottles hang from the ceiling in a grandiose chandelier, casting reflective light-shadows across the walls.

Someone lights a cigarette and the strong smell of rich, earthy tobacco rises around us.
The space between us and the band has suddenly been filled with foreigners – German, Dutch, British, American – all come to Cape Town to dance away their guilt, to revel in the magic of this exotic city. But not too much. Not really. (Not at all.)

It isn’t long before we realize that the only black people in the place are serving food, music and sex. A young woman, quietly beautiful, is seated at the far end of the bar. Her skin is soft and taut across her cheeks. Her lips are red with dark lipstick and her eyes smoky and warm. She is absent, mostly, except when the money makes her laugh, forces her to lift her drink to her lips and turn her face upwards towards his, lusty and flush with alcohol. I can't help but stare. His eyes are drooping, lids closing, and I pray he will be too drunk by the end of the night to follow through. That hopefully she can just take her money and go back to her home in Crossroads or Langa or Gugulethu. That tonight she can hold her children to her breasts without the dirty reminder of white skin on hers, stealing life, conquering soul.

II.
A taxi comes screeching around us. It lurches up onto the shoulder and then, too fast for the sounds and images to meet, it smashes, metal on metal, into a street-light. We hear glass shatter above us and then it crashes like an explosion. Andrew screeches to a stop, head in hands, panicking. The old man in the front seat is bleeding, the windshield broken and shattered from the impact of his skull.

The taxi was headed for Khayelitsha, behind the mountain, out of the way of the sun and traffic. "We come to town to work," they say, "bring food and money home to our families." And before any ambulance, before the police arrive, they are gone. Scratched and bleeding, they are herded into another taxi and shipped away, limping.


III.
The house lies about a kilometer in from the main road. We park the car and John and Cobra lead us, barefoot, through tall grasses and small villages towards his property. The gate is closed to keep village children off his plantation, out of the plants growing tall in rich Eastern Cape soil. We left early that morning for Mdumbi. John and Cobra lifted the VW Golf in the car park out of our way and hopped in the backseat, coming along as guides, translators. They do the bargaining and business deals in rolling, rhythmic Xhosa, and we hand over the cash. Fifty rand here, thirty there, and another fifteen for that right there in the young boy’s dirty hands.

Rasta Dave greets us as we approach his garden. A pot simmers on nearby coals and Dave, John and Cobra exchange greetings in quiet Xhosa. He invites us inside. A dirty mattress is turned up against the far wall. John picks up a hand-made guitar from the floor and begins pecking at its few remaining strings, making a lovely melody that resonates in the small room. Hanging above us, on the far wall, is the flag of the old South Africa, during apartheid. Underneath it lie strewn pieces of an old motorbike, likely driven out here and too damaged by the bombed out pothole roads to make it back.

The house is rugged and dirty. I take pictures quietly as smoke fills the room and, just as smoothly as we came in, we are gone, trekking with heavy breath to the car and bumping along back to the tent.

IV.
We left Cape Town three days ago and since then have been driving through the crags and mountains of this rugged coastline. The hills are lush and green and rolling as ocean waves, ebbing and flowing gently before us. Hogsback Mountain stands tall and lush over the valleys of the Eastern Cape. In her shadows lie small villages, mud huts and gravel roads, cattle, goats and children.

This Africa is full up with beauty and peace—bumblebees on mountain lilies, Samango monkeys in the trees and the soft hum of cicadas in tall pines. There is no bush war in this Africa, no child soldiers missioning through the bush, no famine, no disease. This Africa is full of lush green and sunlight.
We walk barefoot along mountain cliffs, admiring the view. Out over the wide landscape villages spot the countryside, but we cannot see inside their doors, cannot see hunger from 1200 metres above sea level.

Gunshots

There are gunshots going off

at the end of Morley Street.

It is dark outside and

the echoes are loud,

hollow and hard like

breaking ice, or metal.

Bas assures us it is a

car exhaust, revving and

popping ‘round the corner.

But we are quiet and nervous,

close the blinds and hide

behind the curtains.

My Girls

I have had it with men. I’m too full-up with them, spilling over, leaky with tears and shame and broken hearts. It has become dirty and tiring and the thrill is gone. I am done with men.

My women are strong. I have chosen them well. My girls pick men like they pick race-horses, measuring the haunches and testing tempers before saddling up or falling in love. Either that, or they don’t bother with men at all.

My girls are tough and beautiful, loving with deep passion, not men, but each other. They shout harsh words at me and leave me tired and open, and I cry, missing them too early and too long.

My girl is exotic and hot-tempered. She whips around like hot coals; forces me to stare, hard like into molasses at myself, and she curls beside me when she is too hurt for words. My girl is like a sister, dark-skinned and familiar. We fight because it is too much pain not to. And when we leave each other it is only for a moment, a heartbeat, a second.

My girl tells me she worries for me while I am sleeping, that she watches me breathing, slow and steady, and wishes I could love the same.

Ghosts

We ate popsicles in the sunshine. I remember innocent days like the vision of a ghost. Atlanta was hot and humid in the summers and there was a constant swirl of imaginary oasis on the wide highways. The grass turned brown in April and the red clay dried hard under our toes. In autumn, we rode bikes along the Chattahoochee and imagined Indians on horseback, slaves in cotton fields.

I only remember it in fragments, small pieces like a broken mirror. The murky pond in our backyard and the loud croaking of bullfrogs. My windows shut tight to the dark, swaying trees. Chicken pox. Cinderella birthday parties. Dogwoods and tall pines. The magnolia tree that housed my imaginary fortress. The hamster that died on the wheel.

I remember Mom cried when we sold the station wagon. I asked Daddy why she was crying. We were buying a mini van, much nicer than the old wagon. He told me that it was their first car, that they had lots of memories in that car. They bought the station wagon in New Jersey, when they were first married. I bet she rode in it to the hospital when their first baby was born, the baby that didn’t make it. His name was Alexander and he died after two days. I didn’t know it then; didn’t know about my big brother, didn’t know I wasn’t the first.

But the mini van came and went. We got another one. And another. And then we moved back to New Jersey. I was fourteen then and eager to leave. Mom cried again and when we got home, up north, in Jersey, she cried more. She spent a year crying in our rental house, the mini van parked in the driveway.

It was eight years before I went back to Atlanta. It smells of pine needles and magnolia. The roads wind about tall trees and the homes tower high, looking out towards the hills, towards Stone Mountain, the past.

There is slave blood on the streets in Atlanta. It runs down the hills into the Chattahoochee and turns the soil deep orange-red. I always knew there were ghosts in the hot summer air. The air here is thick. I want to go home.

Farsi

There was a Persian restaurant on Roswell Road in Atlanta. Once a week we went there with five other families to eat koobideh kabob and saffron chicken and drink thick yogurt-water seasoned heavy with salt and mint. The only words I know in Farsi are the names of those foods. Joojeh kabob. Koobideh. Koresht baadenjaan. Ghormeh sabzi. Zereshk polow. We all sat, ten or twelve or fifteen of us, at the long, loud table, shouting orders at the waiter in our horrible American accents. He scribbled on his notepad anxiously, flustered and wondering how so many Americans knew the food of his country.

My grandfather always sat at the head of the table, wide-smiling at the young waiter. He calls him over, “Biya!” They speak enthusiastically, the waiter suddenly understanding our connection to Iran.

My mother never learned Farsi, and so neither did I and neither did my sister. Baba was a bad teacher, she said, teaching her unnecessary words like “monkey” (meymun), “apple” (sib) or “bird” (parandeh). “Vocabulary words,” she told us, “not a language.”

But now Baba is old. His smile is faint and he does not bubble with fast, beautiful Farsi. He talks slow, smiling faintly at the recognition of his native tongue. He is eager to speak Farsi now, aware that he will never return home.

I speak to Baba in English and he often stares blankly at me. I wonder if he is wishing for Persia. I wonder if the words would sound softer on his aging ears if they came in old Farsi. I wonder how it is to miss home, to die in Florida without ever returning to Tehran, to the Caspian Sea, to Iran.

Daddy

My daddy is a tall man, lanky and dark like a Greek god a few thousand years too late. Six foot five, really, but he tells everyone six foot four so as not to sound pompous. Five is just too many inches. When I was fifteen, he was forty-six, but everyone swore he didn’t look a day over forty. His hair is dark and tight and cut close to his head, and his beard, always shaved, is thick and grizzly and scratches against me when he leans in to give goodnight or good-morning or I’m-home kisses.

When Daddy was twenty, long before I came around, when he first met my mommy and lived in a log cabin in the Vermont woods, he weighed no more than one hundred and fifty five pounds. “Like a washing board,” Mommy called him. He had a fat cat named Sophie and an afro and wrote poetry and wore leather jackets like a beatnik and thick-rimmed glasses like Malcolm X. He met my mommy in line in the Wyndham College cafeteria; she was thin and olive-skinned with dark, wavy hair and wide bell-bottoms.

“I’ve never met anyone else who ate plain yogurt,” he said from over her shoulder, “You must be…?”

“Iranian,” she said, “And Jewish.”

Before he met my mommy, daddy took a black girl to his high school prom in Springfield. He drank cheap beer and fought, tight-fisted, with my grandpa in the basement bedroom of their ranch house on Biella Street. He played the trumpet to recordings of Miles Davis, and twenty years later stayed home from work when the jazz legend died of pneumonia in a southern California summer.

When I was a little girl, we’d pile into the minivan and drive, straight and long, down through the middle of Georgia to St. George’s Island, a little strip of beach off the coast of the Florida panhandle. Eight hours through peaches and pecans and cotton fields, and all the while Daddy at the wheel telling us that every tire scrap was a dead armadillo and laughing when little sister Alexandra, no older than five, thought Bob Marley was singing about pajamas and cereal instead of “jammin’” and “stir it up.”
St. George’s was a quiet island of young families in rental homes. By midday, we were all in the ocean, Daddy’s tall body high over the small rolling waves. He’d hold his glasses up above his head and dive, deep and long, into the murky green-blue waters, his back arching up like a dolphin’s, and his long arm sticking up into the air so as not to salt-water his glasses.

Daddy taught me to love the ocean. Mommy tried, but her skin was too sensitive to stay in long or go under or do hand stands and search for lost gold. But Daddy stayed in for hours. He taught me to roll over the waves like they were movements in a song, beautiful and rising beneath me; or an animal easily tamed, a young pony that trots fast and high and then leans, leans back into the earth.

Daddy taught me to take the waves as they came, to measure each one ahead of time and, noting its size, to prepare myself. I would either ride it high above the ocean floor, careening towards him, arms outstretched and smiling, or I would dive into the wave, arms ahead of me, prepared for contact with the dark sandy bottom and then push, up towards the surface.

Big Sky Karoo

We break through the mountains
of the big-sky karoo,
through lush vineyards
and on towards the low
Cape.

“These mountains make me feel like singing!”
The car presses on.

Beneath ancient red-yellow rock mountains,
overlooking the green-brown layered land,
he sings of Angola,
through the heart of the mountains,
he sings of freedom.

He sighs, gazing towards the foggy horizon;

smoke rises
off the low-brush
desert valley .

We enter the dining room
it is quarter to nine and they stopped serving dinner
fifteen minutes ago.
There is silence
for the city-folk.

Collection Night

her voice echoes across Chinatown;
outside, wide-eyed children
make happy faces at their mothers
and the lights in the windows above
Mulberry St.
flicker
off

Apology

He is lost again
in thinking.
Our car leans
over the cliff ;
he curses himself
in German
Spanish
Russian
and apologizes.

I remind him
that daydreaming demands
no apology.

Nor
does death.

Remember

The clouds over these dark mountains—
I will never forget the rain today,
a light mist and the men along the freeway
walking nowhere through winter.

I look out at this wide landscape
with longing;

My heart will remember.
My heart will remember.
My heart will remember.

Forced Removals

this town is plagued with crickets;
biblical, like locusts,
loud, black and screaming
against Dutch-white-African walls.

they need a place to live!
there is a housing shortage!
there are floods! fires!
their forests are gone!

there is a town initiative
to systematically remove
the crickets. the ones that stay
lie on their backs, legs squirming
and helpless, until they die.

Savannah


Home again
I will vow to you
the stars of my sky,
and you can sign your name
to my bones

once I return.

But here I am wild
as the savannah
and I will roll over this land
like the dark gunmetal clouds
of the Cape coast winter.

Stellenbosch, South Africa

I took a deep breath this morning,
the steamy African air seeping into my dry lungs,
and thought of home—

the soft glow of northern sun
on warm wooden floors and
the musky smell of dried flowers,
burnt coffee, in the kitchen.

This place is like a fun-house mirror,
distorted and frightening; familiar
shapes and colours peering through
swirled, dangerous lines.

and then there is a heart-stop, tight-breath pause;
there is a pull back, a receding into quiet nothing.

I remember the streets of Langa, bustling,
full of barefoot children, round women with
loads on head, babies wrapped on back.

I remember what whiteness felt like
on those black-tar streets. It was a quiet discomfort.
Not the loud shame of this death-white town.

The Workers

The workers sit
blue-uniform hunched
in the canopied back
of the old Toyota bakkie,

their eyes squint
tired and deep
into the five o’clock sun.

In front sits boss,
junior by his side,
lips smiling
and eyes full
with laughter.

They do not bother squinting,
wear sunglasses
and drive only as far
as city centre.

It is too dangerous
behind the mountain’s shadow.

Train Station, Cape Town

Just after a blanket of clouds
creeps its way over Table Mountain
I hear the kaffir kid’s knife click open,
echoing in the Sunday evening stairwell.

Before I can blink, your hand is at his neck,
jugular between your angry fingers.

The blade flashes.

I remember the coloured woman
two weeks ago over lunch,
“This was a beautiful city
during apartheid.”

She is wrong.

I try to find beauty
in his hazy, violent eyes.
I try to find beauty
in this fear.

Song

I.

The horizon here seems
to go on forever,
jagged blue edge of land
cutting deep into white-cloud sky.

The milky way comes into focus above us;

I had forgotten
about the stars.

He remembers standing,
huddled in hundreds,
black night blanket hiding
military skin uniforms
and freedom songs riding
high on African wind.


II.

This is my last night on this land;

The long karoo
spreads out before us
and we sit, perched above it
singing.

Guitars strum in circles,
deep man-woman harmony
echoing through the cold blue night.

Winter sets in on this quiet dessert.

You are in my blood—
the drum beating in the moonlight
and the loud beauty of open land;
You are in my soul.

Long Street

Long Street is alive with people. The colors are dancing and we are jumping into puddles, gutters, sidewalks, bars. A man outside sells skewered kabobs and the entire block smells like a Persian home at New Years. I feel the base beneath me; baseline on tar streets beating deep and hard as we push our way through the crowds. This is Marvel and it is packed to the seams with people. Alison takes a beer from the bartender and we mingle into the back room. There are sixteen year olds, drunk and rebellious and petite, sucking alcohol through pierced lips and tattooed souls. I remember myself at sixteen, lying my way onto the train, into New York City, into piercing parlors, stoned in the basement of my parents’ home, sneaking, and sneaking, and sneaking.

The guy across the table from us sinks the eight-ball in the corner pocket and the game is instantly over. Taxis line up outside, flashing red and yellow against the wet, black streets. It is nearly two am and the blood is running strong in this African port city.

In Langa, the shebeens are overcrowded and the women are watching, waiting nervously for their men to return—Will he bring home a check? Will we eat this week? Will I live to see my baby grow up? Will he wear a condom?

In Langa the roads are dusty, and the smell is of sweat, of work, of old gasoline and corn meal. A gunshot goes off in Crossroads. A fire starts in Joe Slovo. A home is robbed in Observatory. A street kid is puffing at the train station.

And on Long Street we dance. We dance because we can. Because this is the new South Africa and we are free and it is not just whites running in the streets, wild with youth, but the whole nation and all eleven languages.

We dance because there is victory, because ten years ago this was impossible and because apartheid is dead—the book is closed and we have moved on.

We dance, but only with each other. The white man with his woman, eyeing his black brothers carefully across the room, lest they attempt theft of the last thing he can claim as his own. On Long Street we dance, but only because we can. This is the new South Africa and it is waiting to explode.

Peddie

The hills are lush and green and rolling as ocean waves, ebbing and flowing gently before us. We are driving through the hot sunlight and this is Africa. We can’t help but think it, this is Africa.

Paul Simon is booming from the speakers, and I know I will never forget his words, These are the days of miracle and wonder, don’t cry baby, don’t cry.

The earth opens up before us. The sky is wide and blue and the cracked rivers deep beneath us, cutting the earth’s surface with serrated edges, like the knife of God come down upon this land. Our old Volkswagen speeds down the winding highways and each new turn brings us closer to the green open land and small dusty towns we will soon call home.

The window is open and the cool air whips against my hot skin. We wind up onto Peddie. It is a small town, covered in silty orange. The potato man is selling on street corners,herbalists advertise in windows and children run hungry at our feet.

Mama finds us alongside the chickens. She is sweaty and smells of roasting corn. Her head is wrapped in thick fabric and her baby hangs, hot and quiet, from her back. Music blares from cars, old stereos, rusty homes, Cattle in the marketplace, scatterings and orphanages, he sees angels in the architecture, he says hey, hallelujah!

In this town the hills do not roll. There is nothing lush about it. There is concrete and sand. There are trucks and there are barrels of corn meal. There is rust on children’s fingers. There is sadness in their eyes and hunger bulging up from their bellies. We are more hesitant now. We move through with trepidation, our white skin ghostly and pale in the blaring heat.

High Trees

I am terrified recently
of the wind;

the way it sends my thoughts
wandering
into high branches.

I can't reach those heights,
can't get them back
to save my life.

When did I find myself
so alone?

I think it was the moment
I let myself become
your trunk.

In Gray

massachusetts in april:
the steady fall of rain,
gray skies
and aching sun

i want to watch you bloom before me
tulips and irises
calla lilies and crocuses

new life seeps from your seams,
pours through in seeds and stamen.

this place is not for me, i think

watching umbrellas parade down main street
the lonely sun waits below the equator
shores peep out from the
cracks of her clouds
searching with opal eyes the earthen nights

and finding april alone,
in gray.

Last Touch

and our last touch was long and sad
as a thunderstorm
in mexico

i can hear you in these cold winds
and thank spring
that you are leaving