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Three poems by Gail Dendy

Story of a Zimbabwean Farm

You would search for the old place
only hesitantly, driving the 4X4
onwards down the potholed road

then, with a grind of gears, idle the engine
while you looked and looked

past the newly installed electric gates, down the tracks,
past the side of the tractor shed (now enlarged,
but the roof in need of repair),

and, finally, if you craned your neck enough,
through the soft coldness of the stone veranda.
I always wondered why you never stopped
dead, removed the keys from the ignition

and walked those last fifty paces. The new owners
would surely have let you in, shown you around.
You weren’t a threat any more.

All I know is that for forty years you’ve stood
in your bedroom, twelve years old, your mother leaning
to kiss your feverish face, your father not yet back

from the Bush War. Wherever the vultures had circled
that day, no one would tell.
You’d had a premonition, but nothing more.

Yesterday, with the help of a tracker, (unemployed,
he said, since Mugabe’s second term, his village burnt),
we found the spot, or something close enough –

a cross on rusted tin. And nothing else but knobthorns,
a duiker’s shattered bone, the crackling chant of bulbul.

Those last fifty paces should be the end of the story.
But there’s another one, too,

the one in which you’ve just turned eight
and your mother, knotting her apron behind her waist,
asks for help with slaughtering chickens.

You refuse, leave the house, slam all the doors
on your way out.


I was thirteen, and the Beatles
had just been unbanned. [1] The airwaves
were thick with it, the new

sounds, like dead people
being brought back to life.

But Vorster [2] was there, too,
a man perfect for radio,
since he never smiled.

One flick of the dial brought
an off-station static
that was like a spell.

Each day the official News was followed
by ‘Commentary’, as though
one box wasn’t enough
for thoughts, there had to be more,

more, which the Government provided
free instead of housing.

But I was just thirteen,
and my friends
John, Paul, George and Ringo
were out there waiting.

It was a hard day’s night
that was about to end,
like wind-up watches, roneo machines,
one-rand notes,

and hand-washed sheets
hung up like wings.


First, it clung to the ceiling, a five-point
changeling shape like swept-up broken glass,
entranced, perhaps, by its inspection
of the history of this house:

how the builders’ lines were skew, their angles
laid impure, the airbricks clotted
with plaster residue. The cracks breathe putty,
the parquet, swelled, is insecure.

Without a reason, the creature falls
on carpet, then crawls from wall to door
like brown foam fleshed
from ocean’s floor. Last time

I looked, the lizard’s tail was gone,
stopped at the point of life continuing,
which continues on. The creature seeks
another path: this time the mirror,

its flesh now stacked in two. Its ancestry
predates mine, but here we intersect,
warm to cold. At a time when late light slows,
lizard’s leathery back is turned to stone.

[1] The Beatles’ records were banned by the SABC from 1966 to 1970.
[2] Prime Minister of South Africa, 1966—1978. His dour demeanour earned him the nickname ‘Jolly John’.