The Exile of Sheikh Yusuf

In the two years that followed
the academic misunderstanding
I was down there a lot.

Down Strandfontein road, past the wheeling cliffs of the bird sanctuary
past the cliffs of Swartklip
to where the outcrops of sandstone thin out
and give way to the sands of Macassar.

Generally there was no one there, save the occasional fellow angler.
Most days the only company was the rusted and bullet-riddled car wrecks
mired in the sand
that the army had used for target practice.
The wind whistled through them in a strangely comforting way

Plenty fish!
Belman, galjoen, kabeljou, steenbras.

You canít go there now.
Itís been built up
in cheerful primary colours
as a resort for the people of Khayelitsha

You canít begrudge anyone a swim in the sea
and an ice cream for the kids
but you just canít fish down there anymore,
not unless thereís six of you and you have guns.

Is this not a kind of exile?
Exile comes in many shapes
and now we must fish elsewhere

I was alone there and thought of Sheikh Yusuf
the rebel leader from Indonesia
exiled to Macassar by the Dutch
bringing Islam to the Cape.

I looked up to see the faces in an English pub fade away
I was alone and thought of Sheikh Yusuf
and the sands of Macassar.

Did he find love?
Would it have been more merciful for the Dutch to kill him?
Did he look to sea and dream of another beach, fringed by palm trees,
and was there a woman
with almond eyes?

Abdullah Ibrahim came home from New York
and went to Manenburg.
A news photographer caught his stricken face.

There is a circle of Islam around Cape Town
and Sheikh Yusuf has a kramat at Faure
but certainty is not faith
and exile comes in many shapes.

A thin gruel with yesterdays bread
an ache in the chest
a stone in the belly
a pain in the arse
the sound of a roundabout in the distance
exile is all this only to learn
that a place is only a place.

After I came back
I went to the kramat on a hot singing day
It was still and peaceful
three sacred white cattle with long horns
munched on a pile of green cabbage.
I walked up the stone passway and saw the graves
spoke to the guy who sings from the tower.

I saw Sheikh Yusuf looking out to sea
over the sands of Macassar.

Poems