This poem has appeared in the four books below

CHICKEN RUN

by

Gillian Lynn Katz

When I was a child
my mother hid a nanny
in her walk-in cupboard
behind expensive dresses
that smelled
of sweet perfume,
so the South African police
wouldn’t find her
because she didn’t have
a passbook.

My father taught me
to ask politely
for a glass of water
from the brown rounded nannies
in white overalls and headrags
who swept our stoep
and cooked our food.

Black men drove in green lorries
and rode on rickety bicycles
through the streets
of Johannesburg.
They wore khaki uniforms
when they watered our
gardens.

A black woman sniffed out of
a large tin of snuff
as she dug the weeds
with a screwdriver.

Apartheid: the policy
of the white heat
of the Kimberley Diamond
ruling over the black coal
of Sasol
as crude as the oil
pumped
from your smoky pollution.

I am the product of an oligarchy
and you have robbed me of
my senses.

Apartheid: you have clipped my wings
so I cannot fly across the mine dumps,
the immense flat-topped white sand dunes
on the edge of the Golden City,
where black men plummet
down mine shafts thousands of feet deep;
where the air is as close as an oven
and vision as black as night,
as black as the men
who dig gold out of rocks
for their Johannesburg masters.

Apartheid: you have torn me from my roots,
the sunbaked grassland where the baobab tree
with is gnarled arms
like large octopus tentacles
reaches
into the burnt orange sky,
its trunk as thick as an elephant.
Fever trees poise like a flat
green umbrella against the red and gold
sunset.

You have stabbed me through my heart
with your African spear
as sharp as the shimmering
translucent crystal formations
that rise and fall
in the Cango caves.

You have stopped my ears so I cannot
hear the roar of the lion at dawn,
after his mate has killed a zebra
by the waterhole at Kruger Park,
where hyena wait to feed
and vultures circle.

The tidal wave
of the first Chicken Run
swept us away
like the white grains
of sand on Durban beach.

Apartheid: we were seeds
you held in your fist,
and shook with the thunder
of a Transvaal lightning storm,
flinging us out in the wind
to the four corners
of the Earth.

The first group
of white chickens ran
after the 1960 Sharpeville massacre
where hundreds of blacks
peacefully protesting
the pass laws
were shot in the back
as they fled the police.

We were the first wave of whites
to escape.
We left by train on May 2, 1966
a train that took us not to
Buchenwald or Dachau —
but to Cape Town, where blue mountains
rise majestically out of the green sea
that hugs the foot of Africa,
and Table Mountain sits flat-topped,
covered by a white table cloth
on a cloudy day.

We sailed on a ship where the green
Indian Ocean
joins the blue Atlantic
and on to New York
where the Statue of Liberty
lifts her freedom torch
to the sky.

More whites left on the second
Chicken Run in 1976
when police murdered black
school children who were protesting
the use of Afrikaans in their education,
the language of the oppressor
who pushed their leaders
out of tenth floor
prison windows —
saying they had
committed suicide.

Apartheid: you have beaten the drums
of the Zulu warrior
with black on black violence
in the temperate province of Natal
where the ANC and Inkatha Parties
murder each other’s children.
Then again, in the 1980’s —
thousands of white families
scattered
in another Chicken Run.

In the New South Africa whites live
behind high fences with burglar alarms,
their manicured lawns
and mansions concealed.
It is common to ask a neighbor or a
friend
which brand of barbed wire will keep
out the mass
of starving blacks who would kill
for a piece of bread.
Which gun is the best for your wife
or daughter to wear in her
brassiere?

Apartheid: you have exploded
like the whirling mass of water of
the Augrabies Falls and gouged out
a deep hole in the heart of my
country —
washed the treasure of diamonds:
your people —
down the Orange River.

You have scattered your citizens
like the blossoms that fall
off the Jacaranda tree —
not to form purple carpets
outside plush homes in Johannesburg
or in the streets of Pretoria —
but scattered in the wind
to the ends of the Earth.

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