Home 9 Literary Journal 9 Volume 21 9 Volume 21 Poetry 9 Stephen Devereux – “19” and “how to disappear”

Stephen Devereux
“19” and “how to disappear”


for Jesse Hess (19) and Uyinene Mrwetyana (19)

you are not dead
this is not grief
you were not raped
this is not rage

these flowers are not for you
these flowers are for the post office
this poem is not for you or you
this poem is for all of you and all of you

at UCT at UWC
on Table Mountain
on Clifton Beach
you are dancing

but the water is salty
because of the tears of women
but the water is salty
because of the semen of men


how to disappear

arrive in the big city like a drifter from the Karoo
with no luggage and no entourage
more lost now in the streets than the desert

this could be Buenos Aires could be Munich or Hanoi
the music of the mall gives nothing away
the shops in the mall give nothing away
(which city can you afford after all?)

ask for directions from a child who points without speaking
to staircases that spiral and escalators that walk for you
and glass elevators that fly up buildings taller than blue-gums

on the rooftop people run towards you with excited arms
“I don’t know you but you look so much like someone I know”
what language do you speak in your homeless dreams?
do you still commute in your dreams? what colour is your hair?

do you grow a beard night after night? does it grow longer
from dream to dream? do you wear a young man’s clothes?
what’s better and what’s worse in your dreams?

don’t think about home don’t call don’t pick up
stay offline stay away from internet cafés
don’t expect anything from anyone

pedestrians are extras except for
the women of the Plaza de Mayo
the mothers of the disappeared

you must leave the shelter by 9am
welcome to cardboard city
try not to beg at traffic lights

don’t share face-masks or needles
don’t dance in the fountain
don’t be a stranger

find a doorway

this is how to disappear
go to where the people are


Stephen Devereux is professor at the University of the Western Cape, where he recently completed a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. His poems have been published in several journals, and one of his poems placed third in the National Poetry Prize competition in 2020.