Imagining Home: Exploring the Politics of Space and Identity through Poetry

Imagining Home: Exploring the Politics of Space and Identity through Poetry

In Italo Calvino’s book, Invisible Cities, a fictional Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan dozens of different cities he claims to have visited. Yet each distinct description in fact describes one city: Venice. Like Marco Polo’s Venice, the homeland of an immigrant is created and re-created many times in the imagination, shaped by what is remembered and what is forgotten, letters from loved ones left behind, news handed person to person. Each homeland is distinct to the immigrant who imagines it, and yet the vision of a single homeland connects all immigrants from a particular place.

Winner of the 2018–2019 International Migration and Diaspora Politics Poetry Contest, this poem draws from themes encountered during the course to explore the idea of imagined homelands in the context of immigration.

What time is it in Jo’burg?

You can never tell the time 

here, with the grey. 

It presses at windows, hugs cars,

seeks ill-cut doors, bathroom air vents.

You can never tell the time 

here, it’s either dark or grey, those are the only times of day.

What time is it in Jo’burg?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Is it time for a calling to rise below the blood-streaked skies?

Is it time to be following the ants to their source,

and stopping up the hole?

Are you dusting off my photo

while you chip away at thickly sweet pap,

swallowing the lumps with your cup of tea?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Is it time to be leaning out the car shouting into the tar?

Do lizards bake in the midday sun, 

alongside their beaded doppelgängers?

Is it time for you to go home?

Does the air thicken around your body

enfolding you, as I once did?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Is the light turning without pity all across the city?

Bright within, dark without, 

shadows thrown carelessly across old scars and new.

And you, are you padding across the cooling ground

welcoming the shadows as lovers?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Here. 

You can never tell the time 

here, with the grey. 

You can never tell the time 

here, it’s either dark or grey, those are the only times of day.

What time is it in Jo’burg?


2 Responses
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