I worked with the words of military strategists, commanding officers, warriors, conscripted youngsters and seasoned combatants. These were brought together from myriad and diverse battle landscapes to give voice to the horror and pathos of war.
Around them, in a haunting chorus, were placed the laments of war-widows, survivors and those who bury the dead or gather up bones.
I dealt with each poem or prose piece stoically, one-by-one. Each of them touched me, but the full impact of the collection did not affect me until the final proof-reading.
A friend, Leone Oram, read the texts out aloud while I checked them on screen. She reads eloquently, so the exercise, which took a number of days, brought the poems to life. We commented on each one, shared our feelings about them and expressed the emotions that they had evoked.
But it was only afterwards, when I read the manuscript through on my own, from beginning to end, to ensure that the collection ‘worked’, that my stoicism lifted and the anthology released its overall power. With each poem, I found myself gasping, or sighing. When I reached Aubade, I started to cry.
Unlike many of the other poems, Aubade does not give graphic detail of blood and battlefield. It is a poem of nightmare.
For Jake and Nina
When I arrived, the building where I work
was a stripped shell, graffiti on the walls.
In corners the remains of old fires, turds.
Yet sun flooded the ground floor
where a group of urchins indicated wordlessly
they wanted to ascend with me in the lift,
transformed from steel box to sideless
wooden hoist. Using ropes that were thick
and greasy as steel cables, a man promised
to haul the kids and me up by hand
but on the fourteenth floor let go. We
rocketed down to death. Yet, swivelling
my hips, I swayed the hurtling platform
to one side, snagging it against a floor,
and we jumped to safety. You understand
daddy’s dream, don’t you, children? That
the world at any moment becomes a war zone;
that some adults are always plotting calumny;
that, though tiring and stiff, your old man
will always rock ’n roll, waltz, soft-shoe shuffle,
or dance any dance he must to save you.
Jeremy Gordin (1952- ) is a multi-award winning journalist and author. He is the Publisher of the Daily Sun and Sunday Sun. Born in Pretoria, he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and UNISA.
Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press, Cape Town
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