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The Sentinel

Helen Moffett

Climbing the mountain with my father,
On a dry, wind-chapped spring day,
I realise this brings out the best in him.
I am reminded of a childhood,
In which he magically translated
The world for us, so that every rock,
Bird, bloom, bush, clod of earth
Spoke to us by name.
How patient he becomes,
Coaxing me up the slopes,
Alien and hunched, much bigger
And balder than in the softer Cape.
And courteous! He watches every step,
Every handhold – gently, “Always look
Before gripping a ledge – a berg-adder
Might be sunning itself.”
I have bigger worries: chest tight
At the thought of the chain ladder –
Its vertiginous drop.
But my dad has thought of everything;
At 67, he’s lugged a rope and gear along
So that he can belay me up and over my fears.

On top, giddy with relief,
I almost skip along the country’s roof;
But now my father has met several souls,
And is conversing at length in Sotho,
Of which I have only the courtesies.
As soon as we continue, I ask
A question straight from childhood,
“Daddy, what did they say?”
Still needing him to translate.

Oh God, we have reached that stage
Of starting to pack memories away
Against inevitable impossible loss.
Please God, let me keep this day
Always for when I need
A rope at my waist,
An interpreter for a world
Of unfamiliar tongues.

7 October 2004




LitNet: 08 August 2006

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