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last hike by Marcelle Olivier

the track has changed.
the melancholy of its spine,
the rattle of its dust, the verge
of succulents and scented bush

i once, naively, tied to my heart
and vowed to share with you:
i would convert you yet; i would
bind you to this landscape like salt,

i said. i would teach you
to recognise the smell of water
as it tails the stains of old earth
and then – soon – you would

no longer believe in thirst.
now shame has headed me off,
and shifted the signs,
and nothing familiar shows. i try

to make my way across borders
to locate the remains of the path
(an unemotive, adult punishment)
and i look to see the shelter i know

should be there – an arched overhang
rimming with red dancers, yolked
bodies and manes, and smears of fat
from handprints killing time –

but cannot find it. you would
say i needed a map, or worse,
that i should not have come back;
you would say: let us not go there

again. the dry heat on the plain
beneath the escarpment
shimmers into the distance,
an immeasurable flock of fish

beating at the ground, briefly
airborne, briefly hopeful; death
comes, harshly, with drought.
seated, i chart the outline of the ridges

either side of me; i reread
the disappointment of erosion
to annul the temptation
of walking further, and cast

my eyes at the half-formed track
home – a bruised inventory
of my many murders; my countless
small suicides. it seems i must

slaughter my juvenilia here, at the altar
of poor judgement, where the record
of our life together trails back
along the edge of a vast fiction.

before turning, i watch
as a vein hitched to the sun
bleeds out to grease the horizon
with the coming of dusk.

– Featured in New Contrast issue 197

Artwork by Neil Badenhorst – Close friends stories pt 1 (2021)