Time-Lapse Father - The Migrant Worker
Waiting at the border one hot pre-Christmas day,
Idly staring past lines of weary miners
Standing mute and patient on their way home;
Beasts of burden, loaded high with bulky parcels,
Ancient bags, tattered passports, baggy clothes,
When my eye caught on a tricycle, a bright blue
Shiny tricycle, clutched in leathery scarred hand,
And the bearer's life rose before me so vivid
It hurt my throat, and still does. I could see
A life of crowded, jostling journeys, hurtling
Down the long tunnel of highways
From his mountain kingdom to the mines;
From the high clear mountain air to
A life of border waits in heat and cold,
Surly officials, burly roaring bosses,
Eagle soaring high while he burrows deep,
Blind in the stifling night of the mine.
His glimpses of family life go in swift time-lapse,
His wife changed from soft, round bride
To sullen indifference, suspicious
Of the loud bright girls of shebeen and town.
He sees her swell and shrink, fat baby on her hip
Grows in giant strides. The child in his heart,
His mind's eye, for whom he carries this toy
Is suddenly a shy toddler, in just one journey.
He's gone down the hill just as the boy
Comes out from enfolding skirts to smile.
He's gone again just as he stops being strange,
And returns to glimpse a dusty, bony boy,
Off herding goats, raucous and tough on the hills.
The father shuffling and awkward, getting in the way
Of family chores in the stone-walled smoky circle
Of smoothed mud, pole and thatch. He built it
Years ago with friends, comrades on the journeys,
Swaying, singing, sleeping, laughing, shouting
At drunken, swerving drivers on the road to Egoli.*
And so he brings this toy, this attempt
To hold back in time his child,
To atone for a missed childhood,
Of distant love, until the boy grows
And joins him in this awful tattered life
Of time-lapse fatherhood.
*Egoli - The Place of Gold - Johannesburg, South Africa.