October 31, 2009

Tell me about South Africa.
What do you want to know
anything, I tell him
whatever I should know.

He’s the friend of a friend
we’ve not met before
we’ve driven to this pub
he’s meeting as a favour

and we’ve sat down
like we’re on a date
him in his work clothes
me in my lip stick

and I have bought him a drink
and thanked for his time
he’s told me no problem
we’ve sketched out our lives

I’ve poured in my tonic
he’s sipped at his tea
I’ve unpacked my notebook
he’s looking at me.

And his hair is a mountain
a black woolen ridge
his shirt’s made from cotton
against his dark skin.

Tell me about South Africa
What do you want to know?
Whatever you can tell me
Whatever I should know.

He comes from Zimbabwe
but he’s lived in Joburg
he’s got family in Cape Town
friends in Soweto.

South Africa is a massive subject
to say it all
we’d be here all night
but he can tell me

he says
as he watches me nod,
something he says
as he watches me write.

You can’t talk about all this
without talking Apartheid
separate toilets for blacks
restaurants, street signs

you couldn’t live in Joburg
your place was in the townships
you couldn’t learn your language
Corsa, Soto, Songa.

and you couldn’t drink their beer
and he gestures to the bar
you couldn’t do their jobs
as the duke box plays guitar

and all this was maintained
by dividing up to conquor
different rights for asians
different rights for coloureds

a homeland was stolen
while nobody was looking
school children were murdered
gunned down just for questioning.

Tell me about South Africa
What do you want to know
Whatever you can can tell me
whatever I should know.

And the rain is on the window
the night outside is drawing in
he gets a pint of Stella
I get another gin.

I could tell you how it’s hard
now everything is better
I could talk about the crime
the lack of education

But South Africa is beautiful
the land goes on forever
it’s hot and flat and dry
but more than just the weather

Spend a night in Cape Town
where the land is on the sea
spend a night in Franschhoek
with it’s cellars and it’s trees

Tell you about South Africa
I’ll tell you what I know
I’ll tell you of our mountains
I’ll tell you of our malls.

And he talks about his uncle
who got rich with a truck
who when apartheid ended
made money with some sand.

He talks about the barbecues
that happen in the townships
how when the weekend comes
everyone goes back there.

It doesn’t matter what your car is
you’ll back to Mzoli
you’ll sit out in the sun
and drink and talk and party.

And as we’re sitting in this pub
he says he’ll never get it
how the English go to bars
and sit inside till closing.

In South Africa it’s different
you’ll drive out to the store
you’ll park up in the car park
you’ll drink out on your car

you’ll sit out on your bonnet
you’ll hang out with your friends
you’ll listen to your music
you’ll watch the sun descend

and as we’re driving from the pub
as he drives me to the station
he asks me what I do
when I go out in Leicester

as Mbira fills the stereo
he describes it’s tiny keys
as the rain falls on the windshield
the music slips, beneath our feet.

Talk about South Africa
I’ll talk about the jazz
that fills the night like hope
that makes you understand.

He asks me when I’m reading
this poem that I’m writing
as I’m walking to the trains
he’ll calls to me –
I’ll come there.

Tell me about South Africa
What do you want to know?
Whatever you can tell me
Whatever I should know.

Lovers at a Station

October 2, 2009

Earlier this morning, I was going through old poems in an attempt to regroup, redraft and see where my work had gotten to. I’ve been finding lots of stuff and reworking or putting aside for later. It’s been like climbing into an attic and discovering a trunk of forgotten clothes. I found this, written about a year and half ago.

Lovers at a Station

He does not wear
a loose gray suit or trilby,
cases are not made
of handstitched leather,
shoes aren’t laced,
or polished brogues.

He wears
trainers. Denim jeans.
An old grey shirt
not tucked in.

I do not wear
a floral dress with short white gloves,
don’t dab my eye
or wave them bravely at his back.

There should be engines
shunting in the dark
pistons, pipes,
air escaping in a bark.

There should be steam,
a drift of smoke,
platform hung with silver mist.

But we do kiss.

And when the 6.15 pulls in
I’m being led towards a chair,
thick blond noose around the neck,
last rites fall from killing lips

There is no smoke, blown across the platform
no shudder from a valve, or man
in flat, blue cap,
leaning from a window,
whistle in a hand, but we do

grab each other one last time
surprise each other with the force,
imagine there’s no audience. He does
prevent the door from closing,
stand inside the opening, tell me:

don’t forget.

And we wave and wave and wave.
We do.
Till both of us are gone.