Rapture, by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, is dedicated to the protection of South Africa’s rhinos and is reproduced here in support of World Rhino Day.
Rapture by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
We have to keep going as if there is a future, but it’s the end of the world,
the rapture, screaming bodies hurled to heaven. Wars everywhere and the middle
east burning: the smell of bodies lost to wonder, the callous mistake of statistics
sunburnt holes in the sky and the ritual murder of elephants and rhinos
almost industrialized, like our responses as automatic as breathing
as automatic as pressing a button as automatic as autopilot settings
as bodies kept alive by machines, and we are asked what we think
like/don’t like and there’s the debate and the edge of the world subsides
into flames of not caring. The world will end and we are nowhere near
the ones we love and the cold voice of the airport tells us to hurry to our boarding gate;
the ark is only half-built, the launch of the new strategy for the state is still waiting
for a coat of paint.
Here’s our life spread out in Eliot’s etherized surgery, facing Soyinka’s unwelcome guest
who won’t care about whether or not it’s convenient for you, will come calling when he likes
and when death comes for me I want to be busy making light. It won’t do to blame politicians for
power failures, I thank them as I write you, poem, into life.
Not dead yet, I’ve still got the whole night because I am not the one who was shot, banned or
almost beheaded, I am not the victim of some gruesome experiment with power, I simply
stand and stare at our world and write down what I see and even though it is misunderstood
at times, it stands.
The world ended just a moment ago
for another rhino lying in its lonely blood but that might not be on the news tomorrow.
Probably not. The news is hardly ever of sorrow but of egos mortally offended, naked
emperors and a child’s laugh as he paints the funfair of history. The electricity of connection
fails to resurrect our community, we’re in the dark here, so take this small hand,
this poem, this picture, spark stolen
from a power failure in Johannesburg:
may it light your way till you find your own.
First published in the 2013 anthology For Rhino in a Shrinking World (Ed Harry Owen) and subsequently with audio in the anthology Let Me Tell You a Story, 2016.
On August 22nd 2015, a display jet ploughed into traffic waiting at lights on a main road near the airfield, killing eleven people and injuring sixteen others. Shadow and Ducks in a Row were written in the shocked aftermath and are dedicated to those who were lost, those who were injured, and the community that watched stricken as a brilliant blue summer’s day turned black.
Shadow by Lyn Jennings
Sky achingly blue
empty of clouds
sun a glowing ball making up for
weeks of showers and cool winds,
grass with that warm smell
of fresh cut hay.
cold boxes full of well-filled sandwiches and ice for drinks,
children running ahead,
doing those little skips
your legs need to do when you are young,
calling out to each other
excitement quivering in the air.
Older folk, sensing the nostalgia
that will take them back to skies awash
with planes – Spitfires, Hurricanes,
today there’s even a promise of a Vulcan.
Close your eyes, they say
and you could be back in the Andersen
listening to the hum of engines,
waiting for the whine of bombs, the thud
before the explosion,
tension clenching fists, making the gut churn
waiting for the throb of Spitfires,
or the welcome wolf howl of
the “all clear”
Days long gone, nothing to fear today,
comfy seat, glass of beer,
bit of shade from the sun,
it’s going to be great!
Cars gleam in neat stripes
across the field,
everything well organised,
masses still on the approach road,
let the show begin!
could have foreseen
that would darken
the so-bright day
the busy road
blotting out the sun,
great wallowing bird of prey,
to lift itself
out of its daring swoop and dive
losing the power of its wings,
coming in to land
screeching its metal – wrenching way
across the crowded road
destroying everything in its path
shooting a great fireball
shrouded in black smoke
high into the cobalt sky
in a tragic instant
to terror and sadness,
changing lives forever.
How could the sun
still be shining?
Why does the sky
tell us it is summer
when it feels as if winter has come?
In the pattern of planes
flying away from the airfield there is
a great gap
throbbing with questions.
The ducks are in rows three across and four deep, waiting for the lights to change. The young man glances to his right and lightly depresses the accelerator; he will race away if the glance is returned and the vehicle worthy. But the driver is old and the car sedate so he waits, softens the engine, checks his mirror and waves back to friends in the car behind. They’re going to the same place and they’re travelling in a laddish two-car convoy aiming to get there at the same time.
The old man smiles to himself; he has just been kind and his journey today is a warm one for that reason and others. The sun is not melting the tarmac but it is making rolled-down windows and an elbow on the sill a summer pleasure after the days of rain. He glances left; in his younger days he would have given the laddie in the next car a run for his money when the lights changed. In his older days, he is content with some tuneless whistling.
Two cyclists weave to the front. Some disdain traffic lights but not these; they each put a foot down and pause, taking in the brightness of the day, the summery whispering of the roadside trees, the midday blue of the sky, and the glinting rear windscreens of vehicles that got lucky by arriving at green. They are well on their way now to shops, the beach, grannies or aunties waiting to be taken for a pub lunch. The air has a slightly metallic tinge to it, of fuel maybe. Someone’s engine needs adjusting.
The men in the row behind pass sandwiches between them; it may not be possible to eat when they get where they’re going. They salute a can of fizzy drink at the windscreen but their friend up ahead doesn’t see it. He is looking in his rear-view mirror once again but the shiny can is not as important as the dark shape in the sky that is looming and growing and makes no sense.
The driver to his left sees it too and his brain throws up words such as ‘thrill’, ‘danger’, and ‘excitement’, which seem to apply but in the exact moment in which he sits, feel somehow wrong and inadequate.
The people at the roadside are about to cross but with their ears unhindered by cocoons of glass and metal stuffed with airbags, or the clamouring streams of noise coming from in-car entertainment systems, they stop and look up. There is impossibility in the sky accompanied by roaring, shrieking, and not enough space left between its world and theirs. Some run; others are transfixed because of the words that push reality away – these things do not happen.
The traffic lights are extinguished amid a greater brightness. Red and amber but not green.
The tarmac boils and burns billowing black.
There are no ducks at the oncoming lights, only witnesses.