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”?