Slave Lodge, Cape Town

Slave Lodge, Cape Town*


She is the woman who, after disappearing in the curse

of a ship, finds herself newly arrived under the mountain.


They call her no name, then a new name in another language,

they write her name on page 472, Slave Lodge Census 1714.


Maria of Ceylon, counted, accounted for in the roll call,

in a pebbled courtyard where she counts stones,


digs at the dirt in cracks between the stones, marks hours

until the hour when the doors are opened for the pleasure


of free men. No, in any language, should be understood,

but she is the silenced goods and worth three inches of tobacco


to the man who’s trading her. When men with strange voices

fall on her in turn, she is the woman with numbers rattling


behind her teeth – eka, deka, tuna, hatara, paha, haya, hata,

ata, navaya, dahaya – counting stones, counting shapes


in the red of her eyelids, who is unravelling threads of herself.

She pulls them out, lays them warp and weft, on the stone floor,


reweaves the fabric of her flesh. She is the woman who is waiting

for the rain, waiting for the Yala Monsoon to uproot her silence.


*Built in 1679 to house the slaves of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape. The doors of the Lodge were open to free men between eight and nine every evening, to be used as a brothel.


© Seni Seneviratne

Published in, Drifting Down the Lane, Art & Poetry Explorations, by Harriette Lawler, Agnes Marton