A poem

August 25, 2012 Comments Off on A poem

On Wednesday last week I took my children to Soweto to visit, among other sites, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum. For those not from South Africa, it’s a museum commemorating 16 June 1976, the start of the Soweto uprisings, and a day when hundreds of children were mowed down by the apartheid government while they protested in their thousands against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools.

It moved me to tears. It also moved me to write a poem, something I’ve not done for probably two decades, so I beg you, be kind. (And pardon the asterisks – I couldn’t separate the stanzas any other way.)


The Children at the Edges

It’s the photographs that tug tears from my soul.

Looming, lifesize,

Starkly wrought in black and white,

They make a monster of me.


There’s that picture, sure,

The one that shook the world,

The one that started all the trouble.

But it’s the others that draw me —

The children at the edges smiling

As though this were just another day out.


I see the shock in my own children’s eyes

When they realise they are just as young.

My two “born frees”

Who still reap ill-gotten gains from days like these.


The anger is palpable.

The faces of the soldiers familiar somehow.

I remember these boys,

The boys who left to fight a war

Against God knows what.

Against these children.

They left as boys and returned,

Their hair buzzed short,

Their eyes and voices as hollowed out as their souls.


I silently count.

Ah, I was seven.

I couldn’t have known.

These things were kept from me.

But out in the courtyard

The stones bearing their names cry out,

Silently accusing.

So many children, so many dead children,

So many who will still die

If we do nothing.


Not a death born of the blood-stained clay

Or the bullet-scarred churches.

Out on those dusty streets

There is a freedom of a kind,

And in theory, at least, we are all the same.


And yet, and yet.

The wrongs are not yet right,

For the children at the edges.

Copyright Mandy Collins, 25 August 2012


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