Too small to be a dorp, too dry
and Eastern Cape for a village,
its outline trembles on hot days.

In Xhosa it's known as Mpofu,
which hints at dun, austere colours,
the eland's name, and nourishment.

Its dam, its row of scraggy gums
and corrugated-iron rooftops
are perched below escarpment crags.

The view, across aloed thorn-veld
down to the coastal-plain goes on
and on until you see cloud shadow

scudding slowly towards the sea,
until the land and sky are hazed
and sight and vision start to blur.


The orchards of the orange farm
that you, your father and brother
built with the farmhands in the bush

greened the riverine soils below.
Once, over a beer, you told me
that years ago, before the change,

your farmer friends and families
would motor up the mountain pass
and weekend at the small hotel,

piling a bakkie with youngsters,
gillies, fishing tackle and meat.
'Hell,' you said, 'but what a party!'


One searing afternoon last March,
I slowed and took the Seymour turn,
wanting a break, a drink, a phone.

Its single street was much the same,
a scratch on shale where little stirred
except, this time, for listless goats

chewing a shrub in someone's yard,
plastic bags spiked on thorn-bushes
and stock that grazed a rubbish dump.

I parked and walked across the dust.
The co-op's door had been torn off,
its rows of window-panes smashed in.

The public phone hissed on its hook.
A drunk snored in the empty bar,
face down among a slew of quarts.

The radio in the hotel foyer
was gabbling on about football
being played before a Joburg crowd.

The manager appeared in socks,
declined my bid to purchase tea
yawned and scratched a shirtless chest.


It was the nightmare of your caste,
the post-uhuru slide from hopes
of jobs, clinics, houses and cars

to run-down courts and hospitals,
armed thieves and dark imaginings
of plague, looting and malls on fire.

As I reversed and bumped away
you with your grey-blue eyes Donald
returned to haunt me with a laugh.

'So? Didn't I warn you?' you asked.
And I, that frayed riposte, 'Was there
a choice? Besides, we're different

and hands long bound are always limp.'
The sun ovened the mountain air,
the road seemed steeper than before.

Prickling with sweat, I drove slowly,
scheming like the hunter-gatherers,
the pastoralists who came before,

ways to survive in that landscape,
to extricate vision from sight
and track the eland through the thorns.


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