“Land of Longing”

“There were always those two paths open before me,
those two forces tugging at my traitor’s heart” — Rian Malan

The sun melts like butter, spread
across the valley as it sinks into
the silent folds of the old Ciskei,
leaving a glow which flows across
the hazy horizon and into my heart,
boundaries between long blurred
by a yearning to know that sunset
as the last lines of African light fade
and night comes creeping in,
slipping out of the headlight’s reach
while a lonely steenbok stands aside
transfixed by the unnatural bulbs.

From the darkness that rushes in
behind my speeding bubble,
the widow’s voice rings out:
to know how to live anywhere,
you must know how to live in Africa,
for love is worth nothing
until tested by its own defeat.
The only thing you can do is love,
because it is the only thing
which leaves light inside you,
instead of total, obliterating
darkness.

And so I, a shipwrecked soul
on strange and stormy seas
I cannot navigate, let alone live in,
long for some redemption,
for the Africa of Neil Alcock
which defeats both love and life,
but finally comes dancing back
to draw his tired and dusty spirit
into an ancient Zulu stick while
the people gather in his kraal
in preparation for the next battle
and the ugly business of survival.

Still, the butter-melted sun sets
leaving the world awash
with the taste of Africa and
the lonely steenbok stands
watching in the night, waiting
for the flood of white headlights
set to bright, as if the cold night
can forever be kept at bay.

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