Uvongo, by Michael Cope


(For Jason, who should not have had to see it happen.) He looked so tiny on the cliff;
a mannikin with narrow limbs.
A cornered youth, a child-man,
his hollow face stared down at us.
Our tilted heads all focused on   the rock ledge where he hugged his knees.   Someone said: "housebreaking", or "burgling
cars parked along the promenade."
A woman with a new red tan,
hands at the back of her hips,
watched him with her mouth open,
suggested rubber bullets. A few still swam.
Most were looking upward, watching him:   trapped, surrounded by nothing on all sides. * * * * * A day later in the parking-lot:
vehicles with sirens and flashing lights.
Police vans, ambulances, rescue cars,
fire-trucks, children eating sweets,
humidity and pale glare off the sea.   On the beach a fence of orange plastic cones   keeps the crowd at bay. Nobody surfs
the perfect waves. Someone with a mirror shines
the sun up to where he crouches on his ledge.
We hear that he threw stones, and told the cops
that he would stay up there until he died.
There is a red fire-engine in the middle of   men. Men with thighs as thick as his head, men   with guns, a sub-machine gun, pistols, rifles with
tear-gas dischargers, shotguns; a fire-hose lolls,
limply unwound on the sand. Men shout orders.
A middle-aged man with a megaphone
stands six rungs up a ladder
wears a helmet, has a shield.
A gleaming pile of plastic riot-shields.
The fugitive's shins seem grey in this light.
He squints back down and shifts his row of stones.
The mirrored sun spot jiggles on the cliff.
Ropes crash down from the fringe of jungle plants
high on our left. A camera shoots and shoots.   Two armed men reach the level of his ledge.   Rifle sound thrown back from the cliff
and the first tear-gas puffs out
and covers him before the wind can scoop
the smoke from the hollow of the rock.
It blooms twice more right next to him   and then he moves, carrying two stones   and a cheap pocket-knife. The moment
of silence poises as the smoke trails
from his face and clothes. In front of him
the leading cop goes for his gun.
The crowd breathes out, the cop squats down and shouts:   "Bly stil! Bly stil!" and shoots six echoed shots.   And when he's finished shooting, drops
his head onto his forearm, as if to sob.
The crowd approves with claps and whistles, cheers;
their victim now immobile, wedged between
rocks. The policeman puts his pistol back
into the holster, clambers to the youth,   and drags his body to a wide rock shelf.   The rescue team moves in. They shout
instructions to those down below
to "move it, come on! Bring the drip,
now move!" The bleeding child is thin,
his body flops, they bandage him
and stab the drip into his arm,   tie him into the stretcher, let him down.   The watchers clap and cheer again.
Three policemen walk beside
the stretcher to the ambulance.
All that now remains is that
equipment should be stowed away,
congratulations should be said   and the holiday-makers swim again.   In the white vehicle they hold
his legs up to supply more blood;
legs that are thinner than your arm.
His life soaks through the bandages,
through the voices of the children at the shop,
through the tropical plants and the glare of the sea,   through the buzzing light of the cloud-white day. Note: Uvongo is a Holiday Resort on the South Coast of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa.
The incident recounted here took place in January, 1989.

poems.one - Michael Cope

Michael Cope