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by Peter Sacks


Home again. The vacant beauty
of False Bay, its wide
blue spanner turning
nothing but the tide,

the haze of fires edging
south as if the colony
had ended, or begun again.
Interrogation and reply,

the hanging scroll of gas;
breathe in, breathe out,
say what you have to say, this thin
damp cloth of words over the mouth.


Subcontinent each
name or rule deforms,
your sandstone giant squats
beyond Good Hope or storms.

Darkness indivisible
until a second birth
sets his red face against the skies.
Pressed hard against the earth,

original defeat
outwearing all disguise,
now tears his flesh
but will not fall or rise.


Until the leisure killed him,
slow erosion’s pace,
and he invented harder stone,
stone fist, stone face

to smash against the teeth,
the jaw, the skull,
whatever housed the law-abiding
tongue’s betrayal.

That fist, carved face nothing can move
he cast from him for our blind
after-search, true mirror, grail.
Said I’ll not bend from this, for any love.


Burgers, Boers, Voortrekkers
from a foreign crown,
unfairly broken by an old empire
until we came into our own.

Brooding dominations
of the blood and tongue,
still singing Ons vir jou
until the stones approve our song.

Past reason or remorse
we chew the toughened hope
of our survival — red meat
twisted to a hard black rope.

Peter Sacks is the author of In These Mountains and The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre From Spencer to Yeats; a second collection of poems, Promised Lands, will be published by Viking. He teaches in the Writing Seminars and English Department at Johns Hopkins University. (1990)

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