Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview


Above the city, leopard clouds—

rosettes of imminent rain on the bright.

The crowd on Adderley St. de-thronged
and fishless since

the absence of the sea
in downtown Xamissa.

Roggebaai Beach haptic
unsegregated open until.

Sand become concrete. Water into avenue.

Beach Street | Strand Straat
now a mile from its referent.

Demolished, “now a landscape, now a room” (Walter Benjamin
under the veranda. The crowd walks through

the broken room of Louisvan Mauritius—leader

in the uprising of

—and Anna,beloved.

At his trial, Louis

predicts Rivonia: “I had heard that in other countries

all persons were free, and there were so many black people here who could also be free, and that we ought to fight for our freedom and then Basta!”

(Court of Justice 516, W. Cape Archives

Xamissa, the code-switch
of time?

The sea’s erasure: run-up
act of apartheid to expel
black leisure. Ax the un-
segregated beach with
banks, highway, a sealed

now the fishless crowd sways to the second line of the distant sea.

In a blink—0.0001 of a day

—my brother and I alight

from the Golden Arrow bus

into a monkey’s wedding | umshado
wezinkawu | a sun-shower

in the city of iKapa, semi-
clouded, the leopard another guest.

Among the tidal
convo, the delta
of pedestrians

my brother and I morphemes

in the sentences of the city. Uthini? Eish, I sold my skorokoro. And the mayor, that sellout tief, I’ll kak on the doorstep of her gentoo palace, right by the nice brass knocker. Heita da! Sharp-sharp. Jislaaik, the larneys are mos taking over alles now. Aweh, hoesit? Duidelik.

Xamissa is sprachbund, city of utterance

and creole echoes, none more Xamissa than

the dialectic of now-now and just now


now-now, a little sooner than soon, not right now, I’ll be there now-now

just now, an indefinite time in the future, you shall be freed just now.


The glint of abalone at the bottom of the reissued canal that leads to the Waterfront mall

, of the twelve rix-dollars
per month

Anna, free, must pay
Louis’ eienaar until

just now; justice

On crutches, my brother. Slow, we

cross the eddy of Adderley St. Flotsam advert-
isements TEKKIE TOWN | Sneakerville ATLAS
FINANCE and someone inside the CASH 4 GOLD
sandwich board snap-snaps her finger
against the handbill to catch

our attention in the rain, letters blotted. On the
jaundice-yellow map, its photocopy
damp in my bag, the early Cape crowded with


Urban legend—before the Dutch ships

, the Cape is called

Xamissa | “place of sweet waters”

In Khoekhoegowab, Nama,
spoken in the desert to the north
//am-mi | water asa | fresh, new

Eish! Xamissa not a proper name but water

itself, pellucid as the city in May
when the streets are water again

now and again? Xamissa, partially free, sidewalk wrinkled

in the people-streams, my brother and I

attached molecules—he the other H in our double bond, covalent, the crowd on the street our


“Cities are the contradictions of capitalism, spelled out in crowds” (Adam Gopnik

My brother works for Louis.
In the echo of uprising on
Strand St. To reclaim his city

not from the sea but the

Feral rain. The floodlight seeps through the curtain

in my brother’s spare
bedroom. Sans


The farm where Louis begins
the uprising called Vogelgezang |

Birdsong. One of the last streets
left with its name in District Six.

During the trial, Anna dies of—

I decide to gaze again, on my cellphone, at Roggebaai.jpeg.

The bright, fish-laden boats. In the image, the scintillant

Roggebaai water.Strand Street un-stranded. Domestic, interior,

Table Mountain
for eating under

and angular as Garlic’s
Wholesale Warehouse. Nets of dresses and rolled-up hems. The crowd

reflected in the mirror of damp sand —Louis and Anna among us?—

a liminal city afoot on the seabed for a tidal


Umlungu, in Xhosa, both whiteness and sea-foam.

Like Chaplin in Modern Times ended the era of silent comedy with the cicatrix of song, so too am I trampled

now-now | just now

by your exodus O
crowd of Xamissa.

I part the curtain, the white sea, and witness, as if

The Flying Dutchman

a late bus—destination Lost City  

return to top