The Archbishop chairs the first session
May 13, 2016
Carpe Omnia (early this century…)
May 18, 2016

The transcriber speaks

by Ingrid de Kok

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
April 1996. East London, South Africa

I was the commission’s own captive,
Its anonymous after-hours scribe,
Professional blank slate.
Word by word by word
From winding tape to hieroglyphic key,
From sign to sign, I listened and wrote.
Like bricks for a kiln or tiles for a roof
Or the sweeping of leaves into piles for burning:
I don’t know which:
Word upon word upon word.
At first unpunctuated
Apart from quotations and full stops.
But how to transcribe silence from tape?
Is weeping a pause or a word?
What written sign for a strangled throat?
And a witness pointing? That I described,
When officials identified direction and name.
But what if she stared?
And if the silence seemed to stretch
Past the police guard, into the street
Away to a door or a grave or a child,
Was it my job to conclude:
“The witness was silent. There was nothing left to say”?


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