A Short Trip from Cape Town

The boat docks we stumble ever so slightly up onto this island of seals, bleached concrete cracked under the close, punishing watch of the southerly sun tourists in windbreakers carrying expensive cameras.There are bathrooms on the left and a gift shop, too.

The boat docks
we stumble ever so slightly up
onto this island of seals,
bleached concrete
cracked under the
close, punishing watch
of the southerly sun
tourists in windbreakers
carrying expensive cameras.

There are bathrooms on the left
and a gift shop, too.

Only a low hill
and an open gate
stand between us
and the prison.
A warehouse
where lives
could be stacked out of view
where voices
could be archived and silenced.

Our guide marshals us
across the yard.
He was a prisoner here
thirty years ago.
His urgency is fresh
like the paint.

Look up, there’s the watchtower.
“No one ever escaped.”
Look down, there’s a rabbit,
come to colonize
now that the prisoners are gone.
“Hurry, hurry.”
Now here are the cells.
And the toilets.
And the long room
where lessons were taught
and the men dickered
over the rules of football.
Here is a ration card.
He is scattered and insistent,
listing the names of those
who were not here
but who bear rightful claim
to the struggle, too.
“Bear witness to this,
tell our story,
he pleads,” as he pushes us
out again into the blinding daylight.

And now we make a circle
around the island
in an air-conditioned van.
Past the leper graveyard
and the leper church.
Stopping at Sobukwe’s house
to ogle his bed, his iron, his radio,
baffled by their ordinariness.
Pausing and posing for
photos by the ocean.
Gazing with appropriate
solemnity at the limestone quarry
and the memorial rock pile.

And now there are penguins
waddling, hapless
by the side of the road
and we cannot contain our
intemperate delight.

You are here. But you could be here or here. I mean, if you aren't too busy.