A Little Deeper & Other Poem

on April 7, 2021
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it all started with a white school teacher 
locking  her grade 5 pupils  inside  a classroom
a black boy  in a corner breathing slowly  deeply   
by the strength  of his own legs
frantically  climbing  attempting  to escape
by way of the classroom window,
possessed by the fight or flight  
drowning     under the  laughter  of school children, 
because he felt  he was on the verge of dying.  
often confused with claustrophobia,  
                the nature of the fear is not  one of enclosed space    
the  fear is of being   trapped              
                 & this is a fear  that I have lived with   for a long time now.
when  the windows are shut 
           when the doors are locked                         
I reassure myself                 
             that everything is fine  
but only after  I have seen the keys,  
           & when I don’t see the  keys,   
I am overcome
             by this feeling of drowning
then to breathing slowly   deeply
              my  gentle lie
just to get some sleep.  
the sinking feeling a transition 
into    an  aversion   to signing things    
& once  a small ring   got stuck   on my finger
& as I struggled     to pull it off my heart racing,        
         all I was thinking   was      
 is this     what  commitment   would feel like.
there were talks of  hypnosis     once, 
until I thought       how could I live freely,   
knowing                  I once surrendered  my mind            
for another person's  spell.
     the essence of my  issue is control,  
because   I feel    once   I step    inside   an elevator    
I give myself to the machine    that may well stop in limbo 
perhaps the doors may jam closed   & remain that way for an eternity.
the truth is   rooted in the ground floor              
                        I have lied to  myself        
 saying that I elevate     by the strength  of my own legs
 my truth is   I have absolutely no trust  for  elevators
is the heart not imprisoned       behind the rib cage,              
is the soul not imprisoned        by the body,          
a heavy rock, sinking                 
with each year   a little deeper 
tightly  entangled with the seaweed  
on the ocean floor   is the same little boy  
still down there
& isn’t  it such  a wonder   
how for so long   he has somehow managed 
to hold his breath   for all these years.
Observations during a Siege  
a first observation  on laughter
   nothing was meant by it  it was  pure coincidence that a  Mexican pale lager 
  had the misfortune of being  named   ‘Corona’  the jokes were harmless
 & for a brief tender moment a light-heartedness     to ease tensions    
   with laughter described as medicinal    or another way to  keep  from crying. 
a second observation on a false sense of security 
  by definition,      panic  as   “a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety”   
   & who could have foreseen the commercial carnage 
       an aged psychologist  blames retail therapy        or buying to manage an emotional state      
   & so this was  the moment in time  when panic compelled a sudden rush  
              can you believe   survival comes at a cost 
a third observation on control
   lockdowns and curfews imposed,    under the guise of      ‘to protect  and serve’ 
Lagos, Nairobi, Soweto on the news   we are  under the siege      
     & to think  of all the things        we have in common     with the rest of the world
how protective measures become even deadlier   than the virus  itself.
a fourth observation on a loss of power
for some, the gravitas  of things yet to register      nor to infiltrate the depths of  the nervous system,   
   of all disinformation  the fake news    & above all the willingness to endanger others
  the reality of our fates intertwined   the laissez-faire approach   of those not willing to comply. 
a final  observation on  being desensitized
the  virus  the regional statistics the measuring of  ‘hotspots’  
the  ‘epicentres’ the active cases the number of   recoveries       the comparisons of  continental graphs  the mutations                 the vaccination conspiracy theories the  so-called South African variant            the numbers     the numbers declining the numbers increasing  the change
the deaths today   versus     the deaths yesterday   the value of a single life
the date of the first death in your country                the value of  a single life   
the  afterthought 
all the ways we have been changed by the siege.

Sihle Ntuli is a South African poet and classicist living in Durban. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Classical Civilisations and has previously lectured at the University of the Free State, where he was awarded the 2019 CTL Innovation Award for Curriculum Design and Delivery. His poetry was shortlisted for the DALRO Poetry Prize in 2017. He most recently became the author of the poetry chapbook, Rumblin in 2020. He has had work published in South Africa and across the African continent on notable journals such as Lolwe, Down River Road & The Johannesburg Review of Books.