Athol Williams

When We See

Our block fell over.
Our tall precious block,
skyscraper high that held our
jewels of innocence – fell over
and smashed to the ground,
shattering like fragile truth.
We mourned our loss. ‘How,
how could this happen?’ we wailed.
Then we saw how. Another block,
another block had fallen against ours.
With hammer and anger we took to
the offending block. Righteousness
pounded it repeatedly, like heartbeats,
like marching soldiers’ boots,
like carpet bombs, like tank fire,
smashing it to pieces small enough
to plug the holes in our hearts and
our ears. And then we saw, we saw
that this block had been knocked over
by another block. And we saw
that block had been knocked over
by yet another block. The further
we looked the more blocks we saw,
each having knocked over another
and been knocked over itself.
Through time, the blocks lay,
each fallen against the next
like exhausted daughters leaning
against the shoulders of heartbroken
fathers leaning against eroded effigies
of their dreams, after their long journey
through deserts and decades of hunger
and centuries of pain and plunder
at the hands of saviours.

At the end of the line
of fallen blocks, we saw,
we saw how it all began,
the carnage, the tragedy,
our loss –
we saw who pushed
the first block, we saw,
we saw our reflections.

“When we see” was first published in New Contrast

Athol Williams is a South African poet and social philosopher who has published 4 collections of poems, an autobiography ‘Pushing Boulders’ and 4 children’s books.  His poetry awards include the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award (which he won twice), the Parallel Universe Poetry Competition (Oxford University) and runner-up for the South African Literary Award for Poetry.  He holds degrees from Harvard, MIT, LSE, London Business School, Wits and is currently a student of political philosophy at Oxford University.