Robben Island

Robben Island

by Walidah Imarisha


Water boils


Black rage


African veins


Open boat

The endless waves

A desert          a prison

In themselves


Coastline shrinks

You stare unblinking

Through bruised and swollen eyes

Drink it in

As salt water

Slaps your face

Like the South African police

When they broke

Into your house

Arrested you

Beat you

In front of your children

Blood stains

Where they play


Coastline hazy

As mist

faces seen through tears


You struggle

With everything inside you

To cling to shore

Like you struggle

to cling to hope


The lingering taste of escape

Slapped out of your mouth

At you gape at the nothingness

That is everything


The ocean consumes Capetown

Sharks following

The wake of blood

Behind slave ships


Tears sweat blood sea water

Sting and bite

Your broken lips


Who can cross these waters

To reach you

Reach into cells

Mangy as street dogs?


They have turned

Even the sea

Against us


One last look

But home







The island

A mutation

A prison

Built over a leper graveyard

Even the trees grow


A symptom

Of the disease



Your ancestors’ land

Now your tomb

Your own arm

Turned against you as a weapon

Comrades who turn


Under the weight of torture


Guard towers

Menace the beach

This island

Is always watching


No visiting hours

No commissary

No yard time furlough family visits

Transfers possibility of early parole


Just hay pallets on cold freezing ground

Stripped of clothing              not dignity

Cells smaller than the kennels guards keep

            Guards who bite more brutally than the dogs

Crushing work in the lime quarry

Food unable to sustain life

Letters that never arrive

Voices that scream                never heard


Just damaged vocal chords no longer capable of speech

Decimated eyes no longer capable of tears

Faces so swollen parents no longer recognize children


They will do their absolute best

To crush you

Boot to bone

To break you

            Skin burst open

            Like budding flowers

To erase you

            Your history slaughtered by foreign tongue


You know

all of this


You know

they will try their absolute best


You know

they will not succeed