POETRY

What does it mean to leave the country—and the people—you love? To be uprooted from the soil that gave birth to, and nurtured you? To abandon both your past and your hoped-for future and embark on a voyage of uncertainty?

 

Refugee Song weaves together reflections from a journey back to the country of my birth, South Africa, with stories of refugees, voyagers, the displaced and dispossessed, mourning what has been lost, yearning for a place to call home.

Incantation

Song, when it comes,

comes crawling on childhood’s knees,

            torn and tender

 

comes blowing across the burning veld,

cradled in wind’s cracked palm,

sheds its charred skin,

scattering cadence and scale.

 

Song, when it calls,

calls me back

with its half-truths and half-lies, its half-promises

to pick out the sliver from the sinew,

the slip from the tongue,

the needle from the junkie’s arm.

 

Song moistens my parched lips,

fills in the blanks,

sucks the poison from my wounds,

kneels, and gives thanks.

 

Song stares through the empty window

out into the schoolyard,

runs its captive fingers across the names

scarred into the desktop

 

slips its restraints,

slips out through the back door,

spills into the riotous streets,

dances in the shanty shade

until it is beaten back.

 

Song sinks into waves’ gentle lap,

into farewells and horizons,

into tidal longing.

 

Listen,

as it makes landfall,

washes up on shoreline’s lips,

catches in ear’s cuckold shell.

 

Listen for its torn turn of phrase,

to the sinned for and against.

Listen for the foetal curl,

to the plucked umbilic note.

 

Listen

for the small song

inside the song.

 

Listen

 

for, until it is sung,

until it is heard