I would like to give you a giraffe
like the one in the central park of Cuidad Juárez.
In that northern Mexican town
they treat their giraffe like a tourist.
I’d watch our giraffe amble along Buitengracht,
meander through Bo Kaap and District Six.
Volunteers would gently shoo her into the Groote Schuur Estate
where she would learn to gallop with the zebras and savour
pine needles. We would close the highways,
guarantee her safe passage – caught in the City’s gridlock
drivers sitting patiently, listening to her journey
on the radio. Cape Town would applaud
and ululate when she reached refuge.
It would feel like 1990 again when Madiba
gave his freedom speech at City Hall: cheering crowds, gees.
Or even 1994 when everyone queued
all day seared by the sun to vote for the first time.
We’d tell stories about the giraffe,
about her long legs galumphing on the slopes
of Table Mountain. Our evening news
would recount what she ate,
which visiting dignitaries took photographs
with her. We’d picnic next to her enclosure,
nod hello to all the people we don’t know,
swap recipes for koeksusters, bredie, umngqusho.
Each time we drove or walked or bussed into town
we’d twist our necks to catch a glimpse of our very own giraffe.
After a few months we’d forget to look, snarl in the traffic,
snarl everywhere. Go back to saying those and them;
abandon our picnics, use our own recipes.
Maybe I won’t give you a giraffe Cape Town, maybe I won’t.
Kerry Hammerton has published poetry in various South African literary magazines and anthologies, and in the UK in Magma and the anthology Hallelujah for 50ft Women (Bloodaxe Books 2015). She has two collections: These are the lies I told you (Modjaji Books, 2010) and The Weather Report (2014). Kerry has an MA in Creative Writing from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. www.kerryhammerton.com
“This poem was written in Shazea Quraishi’s course Hearing Voices: Reading and Responding to World Poetry in Translation. The prompt asked us to brainstorm words/phrases that are specific to our lives and place in the world and incorporate them in a poem. One of the poems given as an example was ‘Giraffe in Juárez’ by Martin Camps. I was really struck by this idea of a giraffe in a strange city, and how the giraffe became a part of the city including the lovely lines ‘the generous children who pretend/ she is an overgrown cat’. It made me think of what it would be like if we had a giraffe wandering the streets of Cape Town. It is a social poem – I don’t usually write these – and was written in frustration of how social-geography and some attitudes have not changed in Cape Town since democratic elections in 1994. I hope that some of the South African and Cape Town references are understandable to a more general audience.”