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Words selected and imposed on time

The following sections are excerpted from this long poem, first published in Time Travels Light.


This time. This place. A poet’s window looking out

on snow. Fat and heavy flakes that drop

too quickly. The scene inside a paperweight.

White monotone. Grey sky. Change/no



She stares. She is trying to interpret

February. She is trying to interpret



Time an arrow pointed at her heart.

Snow weight, dropping past the window.

Each flake a minute of her life

falling away. Drifts will immobilize the past.


Time a bubble, swelling out from


towing her into the future.

Time a wave, the rolling boundary

of change, a line as long as a world

inevitably blurred

by the swirling flakes of





The black man is very far away.

The world knows well

his name, its liquid syllables. Man de la.

Indelible. He could not be erased

by twenty-seven years of prison. The world waits

to hear him. He must pick his words

carefully as any poet.

Around him, all is flux.

Cape Town evening: night upwelling

like a black convection cell

into the last red light. The hot wind

plucking his tie, ruffling the pages of his speech.

Surging people on the platform.

But prison taught him

stillness, a way of not moving. He waits, calm

in the confusion of microphones.


These are the pictures all the world will see,

selected images. Waving arms obscure

the cameras. Night fills too wide an angle

for the lens.


These are the selected words the world will hear—

portentous, sinking syllable by syllable

into the crimson influx of evening, the inexorable heat

of blood against the heart.


Still, the words broadcast by satellite will seem





The cameras pull back. The black man now is distant,

another figure in the crowd.

He is cause, effect, a point source

broadcasting complex signals to the atmosphere.


“Go home with discipline,” he says. Words simple

and ambiguous.


The cameras pull back again. The crowds move slowly

through the darkening streets of Cape Town, channeled

by buildings. They move inevitably

like the flow of lava. They move

back to the ghettoes

 to Gugulethu, to Nyanga,

to the Crossroads Squatters Camp.

Back to the discipline

of despair. Disease. Indignity.

Back to the dark internal anger

off-scene, beyond the lens.

The cameras do not follow there.



Snow still falls

more slowly now,

and the poet still watches, while her world moves

on the skin of a swelling balloon,

while the present wells continuously

from the deep springs of change.


She is trying to interpret lakewater

turning over in spring

when the frozen water of the surface

melts and descends, when the gases of decay

and dissolution rise from the bottom of the lake,

are swept away by rush of meltwater and spring rain.


Her poem is a way of not moving,

plaster poured into a cavity,    words selected

and imposed

on time.


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