After the barbecue

As the conversation turns to origins,
I sense a shifting alliance around the table.
South outnumbers North,
and a geography warped by longing
briefly weakens a union.

But he is used to this,
and understands;
goes to check on the children
who are babbling away in three languages,
even though there can be no snakes
where they play in the garden.

We talk of litchis, starfruit and papaya,
of mangoes, plantains and avocado,
of salsa and biltong and conch ceviche,
of bland coconut water they sell in Sainsbury’s,
and the futile search for cactus fruit.

We talk of hot summers and mild winters,
of tropical storms with thunder and lightning;
the smells of ozone, red mud and burnt sugarcane,
while you clear away the remains of overcooked meat
that was not slaughtered by anyone we know.

But there were gunshots in the night
outside our walled gardens,
violent protests
in high definition in our living rooms,
soldiers in the streets
of shanty towns where we never went,
orphans in crumbling hospitals
we could afford to avoid,
hungry children begging at the lights
outside our air-conditioned cars,
rapes in the dark fields
far from our favourite restaurants.

Angry resentment for the sins of our fathers,
multiplied beyond any chance of atonement.

You experienced much worse first-hand,
and I am ashamed.

He comes back with a bowl of cherries,
reports that the girls have found snails.
It is only raining a little, and it is not too cold.

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