Xenophobia

The lizards on my wall are beginning to rust.
I don’t know how long they’ve been metal,
or when nerve and ligature, organs of sight,
marrow, powers of movement became thinly
beaten sheets of steel. Their eyes are holes now,
two cunning masks; how the back of each lizard
curves, just so, graceful movement – despite
their perfect stillness – only rust creeps
down their backs, flowing so terribly
slow off their claws and staining the wall.

These are big lizards, more than half a metre
each, flatter and wider than a Nile monitor.
One has lost half his tail, the stump not amputated,
just foreshortened. They travelled down through half
of Africa to get here. Their lives are beaten thin,
they’re just images projected on my wall:
tropical sunsets, drumbeats, huts crowned
with burning thatch, children begging at crossroads,
slug of snot on the upper lip, swollen bellies.
God knows what they are. Just lizards.

- first appeared in New Contrast