Oceans separate S. African capes

The Philadelphia Inquirer
January 04, 2004

(Two towns at the tip of South Africa, Cape Point and Cape Agulhas, claim to lie at the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans merge.)
I. At Cape Point, water tosses salt against hot cliffs.
The town points to a line where, they say,
the eastern waves
collide with ripples from the west, while tourists pay
to stare into the flat undifferentiated gray.
Cape Agulhas sells charts that say two oceans trade
their salt at 20 longitude, their town's address.
They try to draw a line through water; the line falls in
upon itself, erased by the single ocean's ebb and rise.
II. In 1966, "the war" still meant Hiroshima and Dresden;
by '68, we said "the war" and meant My Lai and Tet,
forgetting there's no line dividing war from war.
One war's ashes blow into the next war's flame, sprayed on trees and fields, rising in one unbroken wave
of smoke, choking the single ocean, scorching
dates and names.

Deborah Burnham

Deborah Burnham is the associate director of critical writing at the University of Pennsylvania and a longtime resident of Powelton Village.

This is the fifth of a year-end series of commissioned poems based on recent Inquirer headlines. The original headline, "Oceans separate S. African capes," appeared Dec. 14 on A21.