Marcelle Olivier is on safari


the river was still for you. but i saw the men
get up and wade in, their army-pants
darken, and the reflection of loose stitching
float like fish between their legs.
we have to check for crocodiles, you said,
they like this stretch. and the wind sang
in the reeds, and a small bird sang back.

we crossed in the last light of a hateful sun.
with wet and heavy legs the men set up camp, dug
for the latrine, hung lamps in the sausage tree.
the shock of the soil as they pounded in pegs
pushed up a layer of dust to surround us.

in the night the hyenas were close. they yawned
around our waste-water tub and knocked
at the huddle of canvas chairs; they groomed
our cooking ash for scraps. they whooped
at one of the men who came out with a kettie
and in the sullen glare of an unfinished moon,
with still-damp trousers and a bare chest
as smooth and black as molasses, thought
it would be better this way, in case you did.

you kept me back like a child from the sea
by a worried, demanding grandparent full
of frowns and unbecoming teeth. all the morning
i walked behind you the smell of stale lavender
and piss cut my eyes; your tracks were still
there when i focused. against
a herd of buffalo your rifle would be useless,
but we saw none that day. a sable in the shade
of a palm drew us all in, and then caught fright.
the men rested for a short time, let me have my bag,
so i could brush my hair free of sand.

*marcelle olivier is a South African-born writer and archaeologist living in Cambridge, UK. You can read more of her poetry in, amongst others, Oxford Poetry, New Contrast, and Carapace.

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