July 7, 2016

Three poems by Denise Segal Umans:"The Limestone Quarry," "A Township after Apartheid," and "Gaudi's Parc Guell"

Denise Segal Umans grew up in South Africa and now lives in the Boston area. She is a consultant in applied linguistics and teaches English as a second language. Her poetry has been published in Poetry Quarterly, Clementine Poetry Journal, Clementine Unbound, and The Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poetry. 



The Limestone Quarry

An island sits off the coast of Cape Town harbor,
a beautiful view from Table Mountain
where we stand now, where we stood as children, looking out
across the cold Atlantic to Robben Island.

Listen carefully to the wind blowing in from the sea
and you can hear the chip! chip! chip!
like distant wind chimes, day after day after day after

where Mandela and his comrades chipped away at limestone,
inch by inch, for no purpose but to shred their own spirits,
to whittle their strength to shards

Yet, amidst whispered lessons and talk of change,
they shaped their own quiet agenda,
chiseling De Klerk's resolve, fleck by fleck,

splintering "Whites Only" signs to slivers,
slashing the chains of Apartheid,
one link at a time

We imagine Mandela as he scraped and carved,
notched and sculpted, looked out again
and again, towards Table Mountain,

his eyes burning from the glare of scorching sun
paring limestone rocks day after day after day after—

as he chiseled, coughing the dust
of Apartheid, looking outward

shard by shard
to freedom

A Township after Apartheid

The road ends
after its cascade down the mountain in erratic loops that follow
the Atlantic Ocean with stunning views of sheer cliff face,
past fertile fields, Groot Constantia winery,
and wealthy Hout Bay estates.

The road ends
at a juncture that forces one to stop and look both ways, to notice
the township with the lyrical name, Imizamo Yethu, to the left,
where people shoulder their daily struggles
along Mandela and Biko Streets.

The road ends
for children living in homes of corrugated tin with cardboard doors
and mud-puddle playgrounds, where crowds trudge
dirt tracks through the stark shadows
of this shanty town.

The road ends
for the woman brewing Bantu beer in a barrel, the man who comes
daily from his shelter behind rocks to drink, and the girl
with AIDS who tacks health posters
on flimsy walls to help others.

The long road ends
for these twenty thousand people, the line of chance
shifted with the sand. Two children wave as we turn
towards the coast and Cape Town. Is their struggle for freedom,
imizamo wethu, finally over, apartheid at long last crumpled to dust?

Gaudi’s Parc Guell
“The unbearable lightness of being”—Milan Kundera

Through a kingdom of light,
I find myself
around curves, into spaces, through tunnels, along shadows,
under archways, to emerge again into bright daylight.

I climb stairs
at uneven edges, rough,
angled, wobbly, as I stare at turrets, fantasy steeples soaring
above Barcelona amid sharp shadows in blazing sun.

I follow a lilt
to a harpist’s flowing melody,
a flimsy thread hidden in an arc of modern columns,
music dancing around pillared light and shade.

Awestruck, I enter
a new world
of carefree combinations with each step,
a cacophony of color and clatter, mosaic walls in every hue, ceramics
patterned bright and bold, or a perfect blend of muted pastels.

I run up ramps
a child again, down slopes,
into a maze of all that’s possible
around the next corner. In Gaudi’s world,

infinite and whimsical,
there’s no way
to get lost, I can simply be—
blazing, playing
with light. 

~Denise Segal Umans 

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