On evening news, I watched smoke billow
above Alexandra, Durban and Soweto
like a raised hand appealing mercy.
Displaced families huddled in white
tent camps flapping in the veld
or packed inside church halls
between bundles of belongings
salvaged to start again.
You were Dad’s university colleague,
invited to stay in our guesthouse
when Alexandra classified your body
as an invasive species from the Congo,
draining the environment of jobs,
infecting it with crime,
and needing to be removed.
I caught pieces of your presence
while you were with us:
the slick and thud of the sliding door,
muffled chatter in French on a cellphone,
flashes of red and green clothing
between drawn curtains.
Your pungent cologne and body odor,
sharp with a stench of restlessness,
lingered in the air of the guesthouse
after you moved on, as did your name
that remains with me as a haunting
evoked in Aleppo’s fire and ash,
human chains curving between borders
and Calais’s sprawling tent city,
as I wonder if you ever made it home,
or if home became spare beds and couches.