It was not quite rush hour. Most commuters continued with their own thoughts or read newspapers.
Two men, strangers to each other, but sitting side by side, bowed their heads and clasped their hands, listening to the words.
The absolute intimacy of the poem, with its snap-shot-view into the lives of other, distant commuters in the old Transvaal, had a certain fragility to it, as it was recited there, in that British subterranean setting.
Despite that fragility, the poem’s landscape of pathos and goodwill held fast above the metal-on-metal sounds on the Piccadilly Line.
Our compartment is muscled
with knees and beercans.
Between coughing and grunting
speech comes thickly.
We are all white men, hairy,
the conversation is army and cars.
The man offers homemade bread,
homemade chicken, homemade chutney,
then his photocomics, westerns,
tapes of Elvis hits.
He’s a railway carriage inspector,
his wife stays behind on an isolated farm,
his strained convulsive anger
is destroying them both
and his dear son
rides his bike to the fences
and watches for trains.
Railways no longer use ironwood
in their sleepers or teak in their carriages,
it’s all concrete and aluminium now
and his son still wants to be a railwayman!
He got off at Vereeniging,
nothing cured his cold.
It was a kind of weeping.
It was weeping.
Robert Berold is a poet, editor and the publisher of Deep South books. He is coordinator of the MA programme in Creative Writing at Rhodes University in Grahamstown.
Travelling from The door to the river by Robert Berold. Bateleur Press, 1984. ISBN 0-86975-175-1.
From Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems selected by Patricia Schonstein. ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1
African Sun Press: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Romaney Pinnock