“Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” by Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith


Sun City Resort, Bophuthatswana,
South Africa 1994

Slash on the horizon, shameless throne
of skin and gimme, the behemoth
relentlessly winks and rises from
Bophuthatswana’s dull copper dust.
In its wake, roads burp sudden shanties,
grimy boys mournfully consider
the blur of traffic. Roadside vendors
hawk sugarcane, sticks of dried kudu.
Billboards bellow their gilt deceptions:
You’re just steps away from your fortune!
Win up to 25,000 rand!
Bullet monorails blitz the border
of this drooping Vegas, where neon,
damned insistent upon perkiness,
blazes at noon. The privileged pale
gape and gamble, grin into the sleek
eeriness of patent-polished shoes.
They stumble into sticky theaters
to sweat out the formidable plot
of Tongue Love, gobble greasy whitefish
and hacked white potatoes, hoard their chips—
all part of the gold organized fun.
Black folks, bused in at dawn from the camps,
bustle about in much-bleached cotton,
sweep stench from faux Oriental carpets,
hawk tokens and convince the revelers
they are having the time of their lives.

Her skin aflame in the merriment,
Ruth fights sleep in her booth. Stooped peddler
of scratch-and-scratch-and scratch one more time,
she is circled by tossed-off tickets,
cups of dying ice, losers’ spittle.
Chemical hair rides high on her head.

Hey, look out! It’s the bogus earthquake!
The ground shakes, crevices sputter steam,
columns of flame climb toward their deadline.
Miles from the Sun, a family runs
from their pock-roofed shack. Chills sculpt their awe
as the computerized inferno
erupts in its measured orange rumba.
The grandmother runs for her battered
bucket, draws water by the false light,
tilts up her face, shivers, praises God.
She knows not to question miracles.
Listen. Her rotting teeth click like dice.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets


Patricia Smith: “Back in 1994, I traveled to South Africa for the first all-inclusive elections, and took a regrettable but mesmerizing trip to Sun City, which is as glittering, overwrought and insidiously icky as the brochures suggest. In this poem, I tried to poke through the bling-bling veneer to reveal some of the commercial nastiness that makes the place such a travesty. Oh, and my name’s Patricia Smith, I’m now 53, and I’m having a kickass year.” (website)

Rattle Logo