From the Air

From the Air

He said that he could see it from the air,
clipped in beneath his glider, almost free
below cloud-base. He said from there
you spy things that the road-bound never see.
It’s marked out like a picture-book, he said.
Tucked in away behind some folded hill
the graveyards lie. Here the assembled dead
are ranked by time. The older graves are still

there in their place. Some tended once a year,
some with stones or flowers, dates and names.
The old-time regular deceased lie there.
And all around them, file on file, the graves
of the new dead, packed with red earth
and marked with a cross or a stick or nothing,
and the grass still not grown about them
and the new ones, rows of pits,
and the diggers digging more,
fresh earth in raw heaps,
gaping holes.

And round these, fields of clear land, he said,
waiting to be cultivated with the dead.


My brother Raymond was a hang-glider pilot, and he is the source of the story contained in this poem. The poem is also the only one I have written which consistently makes me money – it has been anthologized for schools, and I still receive a few thousand Rands every now and again.

  1. Warren said:

    The freshly dug holes struck a chord with me. I’ve just had teeth extracted, when I was a child my mother interpreted my draems and if teeth featured in the story it was a symbol for death. I’ve also made the association of teeth with gravestones because of this.

  2. Malcolm Freeman said:

    I love the imagery in this poem. It really contrasts the changes which have occurred in society. This is one of the first poems that I introduce my learners to at school because I believe it is very relevant to the state of society.

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