Still the Sirens


The sirens of oppression I referred to in my first collection (1963) were still present in South Africa in 1989, as they seem to be as well in Gaza in 2009 thanks to Israel’s bombing spree.

                                                            — Dennis Brutus, Durban 1/1/09


Still the sirens

Still the sirens
stitch the night air with terror —
pierce hearing’s membranes
with shrieks of pain and fear:
still they weave the mesh
that traps the heart in anguish,
flash bright bars of power
that cage memory in mourning and loss.

Still sirens haunt the night air.

Someday there will be peace
someday the sirens will be still
someday we will be free.


Dennis Brutus is a South African poet.  Active against Apartheid, he was arrested in 1963 and imprisoned for 18 months on Robben Island.  After his release, he became a political refugee in the United States.  Today he is based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, engaged in poetry and activism against all forms of oppression and exploitation.  “Still the sirens” is included in Poetry & Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader (Eds. Lee Suster and Aisha Karim, Haymarket Books, 2006).  In 2009, the Centre for Civil Society will circulate a Dennis Brutus poem every day, beginning with this poem.  If you want to get a Brutus poem each day, subscribe to the Debate list at