Durban, South Africa—Some Notations of Value

By Chris Abani b. 1967 Chris Abani
Metal giraffes march up the bluff
toward the lighthouse. In the moonlight,
whales, or their ghosts, litter the sand.

There is a museum by the park that houses
apartheid; contained in stiff wax dummies.

The tour bus stops on the road’s edge.
On the right a black town, the left Indian.
Pointing he says: This is the racial divide.

Stopping at the bar, the drink menu offers—
Red’s Divas only five rand each.

Each night the pounding sea reminds me
that, here, women are older than God.

These people carry their dead with them,
plastering them onto every met face.

Yet love hums like turning forks
and the fading spreading sound
is the growth of something more.

Their absence is loud and I long
for the confetti flutter of butterflies.

Abattoirs litter the landscape with the sinister
air of murder, signs proclaiming: Zumba Butchery,
as though this is where the Zumba’s blood-
lust got the better of them.

The air conditioner in my room hums
a dirge to a sea too busy spreading rumors.

Death skips between street children
playing hopscotch in the traffic.

The woman singing in Zulu, in a Jamaican bar,
is calling down fire, calling down fire.
There is no contradiction.

Chris Abani, “Durban, South Africa—Some Notations of Value” from Hands Washing Water. Copyright © 2006 by Chris Abani. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Source: Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)

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Poet Chris Abani b. 1967


Subjects Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Race & Ethnicity

 Chris  Abani


Chris Abani is part of a new generation of Nigerian writers working to convey to an English-speaking audience the experience of those born and raised in that troubled African nation. Abani began writing at a very young age and published his first novel, Masters of the Board, while still a teenager. The plot of the novel, a political thriller, proved uncomfortably close to actual events; it mirrored a coup that was carried out in . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Race & Ethnicity


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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