Monday, December 12, 2011

Walking Across Africa by Betsy Humphreys

Your big black feet compress the gritty earth
as you plod through centuries of footsteps.
down the ancient path to the river,
beside the dirt road to the market,
up the squared sidewalk
to the big house on the hill,
routes measured not in miles or metres
but in callouses, cuts, and blisters.

You knew these paths while still a child,
trudging beside the white folks’ trail,
where you hated the sting
of an air-con Mercedes
swishing past your sweaty skin
lifting your shirt in the only breeze
it would know that day.

Or, if your timing collided
with the master’s goodwill,
you could scramble into the back
of the farmer’s baccie,
to bounce along the dirt road
that led to the town
you only saw on Saturdays,
hoping no more than
you’d catch the return.

And now, millions of steps later,
if you wait an hour or three
(and you’re good at waiting)
you pay precious rands
to haul yourself into a combie,
taxibus of the poor, the dispossessed,
the non-aircon crowd.

And crowd it is —
“I don’t go until you are twelve,”
the driver says as you shift once more,
squeeze heat-infested bodies together
to let one more stooped traveler
inside this rattrap van
with its clear view of the ground
beneath your sandals.

It’s misery but you stay,
for this modern wonder will take you
in a day's time to an ad lib stop
where you clamor to the earth
so you can plod down the ancient path
to see your children,
the ones you birthed
and gave to the grandmother
so she could see them grow
while you followed the squared sidewalk
to the big house on the hill.

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