The last place for a waterfall, no mountains or valleys,
horizons flat as summer seas, then from thirty miles,
a white tower of spray punctures the blue sky.
Closer, you hear thunder, though there is no storm,
see double rainbows, bright bridges across air,
feel a welcome drizzle in searing, blistering heat.
Closer, you part a bush, stand on the edge of a chasm;
the wide Zambezi glides forward, then plunges deep
into a wound in the earth’s crust, a break in basalt.
The ground trembles with shock, you shout but hear
nothing except a raging roar as solid water
explodes up in your face, blinds you, engulfs you.
Down in the Devil’s Cataract, the river cuts frantic
zigzags through deep gorges until it pours into a pool
where a dead hippo bounces up like a rubber ball.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2015. 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 editor in 2015 was Ken MacLeod.
Sound and scale, and the unexpectedness of the sights, from far away and from up close. We may never visit these Falls, but we can take every word here on trust.
Mosi-oa-Tunya is the indigenous name for the Victoria Falls. It translates from the Kololo language as ‘Smoke That Thunders’, which is a wonderful description and is the official name in Zambia. Photographs had not prepared me for the reality. It is truly one of the seven wonders of the natural world: awesome; overwhelming. I’ve come back to this subject many times, always attempting to convey how I felt when I first saw the falls in 1977, at the end of the rainy season at its most thunderous. It is so much more than a waterfall.