I Saw Your Mother

I saw your mother
with two guards
through a glass plate
for one quarter hour
on the day that you died.

‘Extra visit, special favour’
I was told, and warned
‘The visit will be stopped
if politics is discussed.
Verstaan – understand!?’
on the day that you died

I couldn’t place
my arm around her,
around your mother
when she sobbed.

Fifteen minutes up
I was led
back to the workshop.
Your death, my wife,
one crime they managed
not to perpetrate.
on the day that you died

— Jeremy Cronin

Jeremy 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: Robin Malan, Ed. A Collection of Poems for the Young People of Southern Africa, 5th Ed. (Cape Town and Johannesburg: David Philip, 2004): 163; Inside; Andrew van der Vlies, “An Interview with Jeremy Cronin,” Contemporary Literature Vol. 49, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 514-540]