Visiting Winter: a Johannesburg Quintet

Visiting Winter: a Johannesburg Quintet
1. Visiting Winter

a wee bit frosting
by night
buys a wheen o
sun block
Naw, ye’ll no see me
back north
he hoasts
cauld n beery

2. Scrap

Metal, we take anything metal, baas.
they move slow through the garden    eyes raking

we clear out plant stakes    rusty braai    riddle
unnameable parts    your old netball pole —

later we drive out    they’re still in the street
shopping trolley full    securing their score

3. Boy’s Home

Although it’s winter
this garden still blooms.

In a shady corner
an outhouse — one room.

4. Sheet Metal Worker

Nineteen Forty-Six
Ah come oot here
frae Motherwell

when ah retired
Ah’d 243
blacks    37

n 13 whites —
maist o thaim
Afrikaners —

under me

5. Migrants


This strange winter, its low grinning sun
hot on my head, the houses cold

under clear skies, the hadidahs’
rooky clack as dusk takes hold.


We drink in bars with wood fires
huddled close, my clothes too thin. 

This strange city on its golden reef
cocks its alarms, locks itself in.

We make spoons in a narrow bed,
tomorrow we’ll find your father’s gun.
William Bonar

first published in Gutter, 6

Reproduced by permission of the author.
William Bonar

Recently retired after working in education for 30 years, William Bonar is now a full-time writer. He is a founder member of St Mungo’s Mirrorball, Glasgow’s network of poets and lovers of poetry.

Read more about this poet
About Visiting Winter: a Johannesburg Quintet

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2012. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editors in 2012 were Zoë Strachan and Louise Welsh.

Editors' comment:

Scottish literature still seems squeamish about exploring our country’s imperialism. This refreshingly original series of poems takes us far from Scotland’s shores, but Scotland is here too.

Author's note:

I have travelled with my partner to her home city of Johannesburg on several occasions. The social and physical artefacts of Apartheid lie barely below the surface like fossil seeds needing only a little water and light to germinate. Johannesburg is a confusing, uneasy city like no other I have ever visited, full of paradoxes, extreme contrasts and deep-seated insecurities. I have tried to reflect this mood by making a collage of verses. The idea of ‘Winter’ as a colonial Scot deluding himself through an alcoholic haze that he has left the dreich auld country behind for the easy life in the sun was my way in to the paradoxes. The overwhelming paradox is that material comfort comes with stifling, claustrophobic fear and insecurity. I have tried to reflect this in the tight rhymes and language of 'Migrants'.