How Many Waves Away

How Many Waves Away

By Joergen Ostensen


I wrote this poem thinking about the boat ride back from Robben Island. As the boat slowly approached Cape Town's harbor, I kept looking back at the former prison; every wave became a reminder of how far away the island is from everything wonderful about life. South Africa's government kept political prisoners there from 1961 to 1991; among them was Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on the island.

Robben Island

Receding into the calm

Yellow glare of a setting sun

Receding into the clouds

That mask the infinite horizon.

Robben Island

And I can feel every wave

As this boat climbs and falls

Up and down

Up and down

Up and down

Slowly, gradually

Pitching forward further and further

With each passing wave.

Robben Island

Fading slowly

Less and less distinct

With each passing moment

Almost gone now

As the horizon haze

Prepares to erase the island from view.

Robben Island

And it's too windy to cry

As I just can't look away

While the mainland mountain looms

Its shadow dancing on my back

As every passing moment

Burns in my heart

Every passing moment

As the boat continues

Further and further and further away.

Robben Island

How far out in the middle of nothing

As the sun keeps falling

And each wave is a reminder of

How many waves away the island is

From the shadow mountain shore

How many waves away

From comrades, rallies, revolutions

How many waves away

From mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers

How many waves away

From smiles, hugs, dinner tables, bedtime stories

How many waves away

From love

How many waves away

From freedom

How many waves away

From life.

Robben Island

How many waves away


As it begins to disappear

Slowly vanishing from view

Enveloped in the end of day horizon haze

Swallowed now into the knee-buckling infinity that lies beyond.

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