Dear South Africa,
I wish there was some way I could say it to you.
Say back to you what you’ve given to me.
But at some point,
when you peel away the tissue
to something deeper,
something so internal you can’t feel it except dully,
that there are no words.
So I write this because I don’t know anything else,
it’s the only thing I can give you,
the only thing I have that I can give, and
I need to tell you,
you humbled me.
I came with my prejudices,
my sophomoric assurance of self-knowledge,
did you know
that I knew everything?
I’m leaving now
after you gave me the dubious gift
that I know nothing at all.
I went to the high school to teach kids how to debate.
I am inadequate.
I went to the TB hospital to give affection to kids.
They taught me how.
I became surrounded by people who speak more than English.
I only know one language.
There are tag words:
black, xenophobic, Xhosa, Zulu, Sesothu, Swazi.
sexual harrassment, fear, poverty, unemployment, robbery, kidnapping, rape, township, Group Areas Act, white.
Once a group of South Africans sang me an impromptu national anthem.
It is difficult,
I have found,
when you love the whole world.
Where do you fit?
As an individual.
I am small,
I am miniscule,
a dot on the face of our big granite Earth,
a flick in time.
We have to categorize to make things fall into comprehension.
The more I learn,
the fewer categories I can endorse.
the world loses comprehension…
So here I am
deep in the aching tissue
where the world is
where you are
where I am
and where words can’t go.
Thank you for the trip.
I can’t claim you for my own,
and so I don’t know how to love you
but I do.
And I always will.