Motho ke Motho ka Batho Babang

(A Person is a Person Because of Other People)

By holding my mirror out of the window I see
Clear to the end of the passage.
There’s a person down there.
A prisoner polishing a doorhandle.
In the mirror I see him see
My face in the mirror,
I see the fingertips of his free hand
Bunch together, as if to make
An object the size of a badge
Which travels up to his forehead
The place of an imaginary cap.
                  (This means: A warder.)
Two fingers are extended in a vee
And wiggle like two antennae.
                  (He’s being watched.)
A finger of his free hand makes a watch-hand’s arc
On the wrist of his polishing arm without
Disrupting the slow-slow rhythm of his work.
                  (Later. Maybe, later we can speak.)
Hey! Wat maak jy daar?
                  — a voice from around the corner.
No. Just polishing baas.
He turns his back to me, now watch
His free hand, the talkative one,
Slips quietly behind
                  — Strength brother, it says,
In my mirror,
                  A black fist.

— Jeremy Cronin

insideJeremy Cronin was raised in a white, middle-class family in Cape Town, South Africa. A member of the banned South African Communist Party, he was arrested in 1976 and charged with conspiring with the African Nationalist Congress to circulate anti-apartheid propaganda. He plead guilty and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison under the Terrorism Act. Six months into his sentence, his wife, Anne-Marie, died of a brain tumor. Three of his seven years were spent in a maximum security prison on death row. Cronin began writing poetry while awaiting trial and continued writing secretly in throughout his incarceration. Many of his poems were smuggled out, and when he was released in May 1983, he gathered and revised them into the collection Inside.

[Research note: Inside (; Andrew van der Vlies, “An Interview with Jeremy Cronin Contemporary Literature Vol. 49, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 514-540.]