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March 23, 2021

A Poem About South Africa That Challenges and Comforts

Many years ago, I wrote this poem about South Africa. Or rather, how I felt after my second or third visit to cover the coming of age of democracy, the 21 year marker of the end of apartheid. Mostly on this blog, you'll find travel advice and travel stories and you'll find plenty more about both South Africa and the much larger continent of Africa here. But still, with an edge of nervousness at sharing this with the world, you can still find my thoughts on my return. A poem about South Africa. 

Table Mountain in Cape Town - one of the best places to visit in Africa

Table Mountain in Cape Town - one of the best places to visit in Africa

Dust in red still stains my shoes,

And drumbeats soothe my sleepless senses,

I am home,

From Africa,

And while the laundry soaps and whirs, the emails fly, the post stacks high, I find myself now lost for words,

Lost,

And humble.


In thought, in dreams, and threadbare tales,

In legends, films and luggage scales,

Of elephants bathed in pink sunrise and swollen moons hung far too high,

Of children’s voices, swaying choirs, ground coriander, blazing fires,

The fight for freedom, open skies, leopard eyes and history’s sighs,


And the voices of the men – and women too – who took their lives and used them through,

Who sought a better place to be, who fought for true democracy,

And when revenge seemed like a right, they threw that rage out in the night,


Their children now, the ones born free,

Navigate new territory,

In towns, in bars, museums, cars,

In crowded slums, beneath the stars,

They labour for a future where,

The past is gone and no-one cares,

What colour, background, accent, hair,

They have or had, where no-one stares,

Ideals, it seems, that Britain shares,

And yet…


The tumble dryer sirens,

Phones ring and updates stifle,

I wash my face, consume coffee,

Ignore the question: what of me?


What have I done to change the world?

And what should be my lifetime’s goal?

The cursor blinks, my vision stirs

And still I know I’m lost for words


Through sleepless senses drumbeats sound

The desktop sways, I reach for ground

My shoes are there, the red dust too

Could I be a person who,

Takes a stand and sees it through?


Could I spend 27 years

Cut off from those whom I hold dear?

And do I have it in myself

To leave, unanswered, all those crimes

Against me and against my time

Instead to forge for peace ahead

The inbox beeps, I long for bed,


These jumbled thoughts, unfiltered sights,

Must find their place and so must I,

With all the luck that I received,

In that great global lottery,

There should, I’m sure, somewhere, somehow,

Be something I can do right now,

To lead, to help, inspire, and grow,

The kind of world I want to know,

But what and where should I begin?

The rain bears down, sleep closes in,


I’m lost for words,


Again, it shows,

My eyes see Cape Town washed in snow,

Table Mountain, river beds,

Hyena cries, a zebra dead,


Right now I’m just person who,

Walks with red dust on her shoe,

Tomorrow beckons, thoughts will clear,

That battle now for one idea,

Til then I must admit defeat,

Save my words and get some sleep,


A thousand miles away and more,

There is a barren patch of floor,

It does not know its dust is gone,

Two footprints where the lions roar,

Now stain in red my bedroom floor,


For travel has a price to pay,

That nothing ever stays the same,

Twinned forever there and here,

Into my soul, the stories sear,


The dust is red, my mind it fumbles

And all I know…

Is I feel humble.

Thank you for reading this far and indulging me in my experiment with this poem from South Africa. To read more (and better) examples, check out this article on famous poems of South Africa.

 

South Africa - Cape Town Rainbow - A Sign of why South Africa is called the Rainbow Nation
Africa - Namib Desert Oldest in the world in Namibia near Dune 45

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  • Sam @ Trilogy Yachts says:

    Africa is simply awesome! Summer 2014, I’ll be definitely out for African safari.. wooo.. thanks for the post and pics..

  • Beautiful, Abi. :) I hope to read much more! And you are such a ridiculous photographer… the photos and poetry are choreographed so beautifully!

  • 'Peter's World' Travel Story Awards 2013 | Travel Unmasked says:

    […] Abi King. Always absorbing with such beautiful words. It was Abi’s take on South African poetry that wowed me most […]

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