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Poem: In the Favelas

Books & Poetry

In this week’s Poet’s Corner, Valerie Volk contributes a poem about Rio de Janeiro’s confronting hillside slums, from her South American travelogue collection.

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In the Favelas

Hillside, Rio de Janeiro

‘Slum tourism’
sneered a moralising friend.

I thought of this
as our small group
trekked through alleys,
deep in the favelas,
climbed interminable steep small stairs,
gazed curiously at faces
that stared back indifferently.

Their world, ruled by drug lords,
Crime bosses, poverty and need …
How do these people of Rocinha,
see us, the dilettante tourists,
stepping carefully on broken ground?
Don’t wear your rings or watches!
Leave your wallets back at the hotel!
Cautiously, we pick our way,
cameras snapping at the sight
of tangled wires for stolen power,
of deep canals that take
the sewerage to the sea,
of grinding cycles of a poverty
that no one can escape.

And we who walk among them,
do we have the right to drive away,
return to luxury hotels,
download our photos
for display to friends back home,
while shaking heads in wonder
that anyone can live like this?

My friend was right, for we have been,
to our eternal shame,
‘Slum tourists!’

Valerie Volk’s poem is from ‘Of Llamas and Piranhas’, her latest collection about travels to and through South America. She has published a number of other books and chapbooks that include poetry collections, verse novels and adaptive fiction, details of which can be found here. She has been a past contributor to InDaily Poet’s Corner, along with various literary journals and anthologies. A former teacher, lecturer and education program director, she holds a PhD in Education Studies. Two more poems from ‘Of Llamas’ can be found here and here.

Readers’ original and unpublished poems of up to 40 lines can be emailed, with postal address, to Submissions should be in the body of the email, not as attachments. A poetry book will be awarded to each accepted contributor.


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