We visited South Africa some years ago. It was a unique experience–so much natural beauty and what a breathtaking abundance of wildlife! But the trip to Robben Island added a sombre note.
Another place of the skull
Clean neat bleached to the bare
necessities of existence
belying the flagrant thrust
of arum lilies
blooming in random clusters.
large, full blown, secure in their whiteness
rooting themselves where they will
unlike the baby penguins
huddling in bushes
before our alien onslaught
The wind outlines the bleakness of the sun
as a silent prison
willingly unlocks doors
and secrets flutter free.
the toiler in freedom’s mill
is now permitted the luxury
of endlessly reliving hunger and pain
anger and hate.
While courteous hordes
wrestling with what and why
and who and which
and right and wrong
wondering how deep
they might insert their
beneath the armour of calluses
How deep burrow
before their dentist’s drill
encounters the unguarded nerve
In the end
he has a tale to tell at least
and eloquently too.
If not would hasty bank notes pile
up on the dignified palm
eager to repay someone else’s debt?
To buy absolution for another’s crime?
In the end
but the naked skull of truth
even a free man needs to eat
and the heat of youthful rage
cannot flame far enough
to disperse the chill of age.
The wind is curiously dry
as we sidle away from the limestone quarry
thanking God for the good karma
that kept us secure in distant climes
for the screen of designer glasses
that saves our eyes
for the watered milk of human kindness
that did spurt at last from skull dry breasts
while the black coated penguins
carefully measure their mincing strides
earnest as lawyers arguing a case
lost long before they crawled out of their eggs.
The ocean shimmers all the way to the mainland.
There are drinks to be sipped on the ferry
the wonderful wildness of wind on your face
the curio shops beckon
and Mandela’s smile soothes.
But somewhere we know
a man waits
smoking a quiet cigarette
outside the dispossessed prison
waits for the next bus load
for the guilty caress of notes
on the expressionless palm
whose lines have bound him to Robben Island.