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.