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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Letter from South Africa, 1968

(For Hugh Masekela, who sang “Stimela” (The Coal Train) at Dartmouth College in memory of the African mineworkers of apartheid South Africa, 1948-1994) 

At cockcrow,
they lower us fifty feet down
in steel carts coated by cracked blood and
black sweat.

My blood burns like lava when work begins,
when I sink my chisel into the fossil rock
and dream that I’m molding you.
Your ebony cheeks and curvy hips.
Your hoe-calloused hands.

We send up buckets of gold like water from a well,
and I dream that my soul soars to meet yours
under the shade of acacia trees.
Just like it did before Stimela
brought me down South to dig gold for the

I dream that Mandela has left Robben Island,
and you dance like a Zulu virgin in the Reed festival,
sashaying to the rhythm of my drum.
Because freedom is loving you.

But still I’ll work in this blazing mine,
Toiling for you,
my precious black gold.
‘til the last cockcrow,
‘til freedom comes,
And you are finally

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