Monday, July 6, 2009


One of my favourite poems is a children's poem by that wonderfully eccentric American, Shel Silverstein. It's short, simple, and very moving. I only discovered it as an adult, and I think its impact is all the greater because of that: every time I read
Where The Sidewalk Ends I can't help being filled with an irrepressible, almost indescribable longing, not unlike the Iberian concept of sodade / saudade, as exemplified by the great barefoot diva Cesaria Evora in her heart-wrenchingly wistful ballads about her native Cape Verde. For me, the poem evokes the blissful naivete of childhood as surely as an exile's longing for home; the old cliche that the past is another country becomes, suddenly, very apt.

Of course, we are wont to paint the things we remember in richer colours than what they actually were: I just have to think of my first winter in London: cold, miserable, aching for the high skies and fierce sun of Africa, forgetting about things like crime and corruption, for example. It's probably just as well. Editing out negativity seems to be hard-wired into life; why else would mothers go through the excruciating horror of labour pain again? (So many mothers have told me they don't remember the pain. And no, this was without analgesia.) So too, do I paint my childhood memories in rather rosy colours, glossing over the murky patches that were not infrequently there. Yet, as far as the poem is concerned, these colours are very very real to me. Ever stopped to wonder that as the past recedes from us, our memories become more real than the reality they refer to, because they are all we have? We can never go back. And I'm not trying to sound fatalistic and Eeyorish. It just occurred to me that Pieter-Dirk Uys' quip is so true: "The future is certain. It's the past that's unpredictable".

Here's the poem, anyway:

Where The Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.