Athol Williams


It is easy to watch from up here; I am
perched above the treetop, sunk into
my first-floor-living-room armchair, invisible
to the opera of colourful figures performing
like clockwork at the sun’s drawing of curtains.
I don’t know the musical names they have
inherited, but I know them, as they know me.

An odd character appears, that unsettles the others
and stirs in me a dark fear that lay dormant
for centuries. Its name I know, a pied crow,
large and shiny black, neck white-collared,
like an Afro-Asian slave wearing a metal shackle
around his neck. I foolishly wonder if the crow
hears the cries and dreams of forgotten fathers
labouring through its veins, as I hear in mine,
when my anger stills, and I listen closely.

The black intrusion blows away and I
return to the tree in my garden that sings
with the voices of those in little brown jackets
or dark blue gowns or bright yellow shirts
as the morning rays weave their way
between strands of cloud and green-leafed
branches, to form a warm pool, that swirls
around joyfully on my chest.

“Birdwatching” was first published in New Coin

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.