The Ballad of Sandton Gaol

He sat within unbroken walls
and sipped imported beer.
Warm sun played on his shoulders
as he struggled not to hear
the all-pervasive strains that brought
midnight in Vegas near.

And all the inmates round the pool
stretched out and took their ease.
The dowagers drew back their skirts
to tan their leather knees
and who would grudge the simple souls
such simple joys as these?

Around him birds of paradise
flamed with a glorious light.
Palm fronds were still as stalactites
in subterranean night
and all the inmates round the pool,
surprisingly, were white.

Black gaolers walked their sorry pound
among their weary guests.
They carried drinks on trays, and were
immaculately dressed,
their collars, cuffs and trousers all
professionally pressed.

And once a week, lest they be deemed
unreasonably hard,
the gaolers drove their charges to
an exercising yard
where they could stretch the languid Rand
and flex the plastic card.

And this the insidious torture of
the exercising mall,
that all the goods were overpriced
and all the portions small,
and not a prisoner was returned
till he had spent his all.

He wandered aimless round the mall
and dreamed of roaming free,
remembered the Pacific coast
and walking in the sea,
and evenings spent in Amsterdam
in joyous company.

He longed to walk the country, as
an unconvicted man.
But there are crimes we can expunge
and those we never can.
His felony - he was not born
one of the gaolers' clan.

He thought of things he used to say
before he'd come to face
the pain of a divided land,
where history and race
conspired to speak of all the world
reflected in one place.

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