It takes you unawares, grief

Oddly so.

It’s in the suddenness of the absence

The no more

A voice gone. Forever.

It’s in the silence that’s left behind

And the nothingness of it

The tiny minutes between living and dying

The same face, but empty.

The same person, but not.

But mostly it’s in the never.

Never again to smile. Never again to laugh.

Never again to be cross, or funny

Or impatient or loving

Or even confused.

It’s the never that takes you unawares.


A Long Mile

It is all in the way you see it.


Through your eyes.

Not through anyone else’s

Walk a mile in their shoes, then you’ll know.

No you won’t.

Because your life is still your life.

To go back to after you’ve walked the mile

The mile that takes you nowhere.

It is not a mile, or seven, every day, to school.

Or to the river to draw water

Or a mile long run, because you’re scared.

Because you have no other option.

No, the mile you walk is just to try it out. To see.

But you can’t see.

Because you are still looking through your eyes.

It is just the way it is.

Pretoria 1988

Pretoria 1988

And that was it. All over.

The State President had decided

Perhaps after a glass or two of the very best

That your life no longer mattered.

A life he knew nothing of

A life he did not wonder about

A life that normally would not cross his mind.

He signed the death warrant with a small flourish.

Moved the papers aside, onto the next one.

Perhaps, as he signed, he thought of his wife and wondered about her day.

Or the secretary who had irritated him earlier with her whiny voice

Or whether  he should wear the navy suit at tomorrow’s function.

Who knows?

If he thought of you, in between, the thought was fleeting.

If he thought of you, it did not matter as much as any of that.

Why would he care? Yours was a life far from his.

Far from his childhood and his growing

Far from his stumbling into adulthood

Far from those he knew and understood.

His people, who spoke his taal, they mattered.

Clemency and mercy, a presidential right over life or death.

To grant or not to grant.  

A right given to a Christian man, kerk every Sunday.

Eyes closed in prayer, a solemn settled face on him.

God seeping out of his every pious pore.

But not for you.

What’s that you ask, a merciful God?

Maybe. For himself. For the others who looked like him

Sounded like him. Were like him.

For them, the well of mercy was deep.

Tortured and killed, you say? Children as well?

But all carried out in the name of the State. His State.

They had no need of his mercy, their deeds swept aside.

Swept under. Disappeared with their victims.

No clemency today for you though

No mercy. No forgiveness. No Christian love.

Because you are less to him. A nothing.

A name he cannot pronounce.

And in seven days time you will know that.

As they lead you up the stairs to your death.

As they place the hood over your face

As you put your feet onto the painted footprints

Right distance apart. Because that matters.

As they carefully rest the noose around your neck

The knot in the right place, under your ear

You will know.

And as they say a prayer. Always a prayer

Asking God to forgive you. Not them.

As they pull the lever, and your feet go beneath you

As you jerk, and flail and twitch. As you void yourself.

You will know.

But your knowing does not matter any more.