breyton breytonbach

In A Burning Sea

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how often were we wrapped in coolness on the floor
the smell of turpentine and fire
the canvases white to our empty eyes
night’s indifference
and the moon a smile somewhere outside
out of sight
days decompose like seasons beyond the panes
leaves of rain, a face, a cloud, this poem
I wanted to leave my imprint on you
to brand you with the flaming hour
of being alone
no fire sings as clear
as the silver ashes of your movements
and your melancholy body
I wanted to draw that sadness from you
so that you might be revealed
the way a city opens
on a bright landscape
filled with pigeons and the fire of trees
and silver crows also out of sight in the night
and the moon a mouth that one can ignite
and then I wished that you could laugh
and your body bitter
my hands of porcelain on your hips
your breath such a dark-dark pain
a sword at my ear
how often were we here
where only silver shadows stir
only through you I had to deny myself
through you alone I knew I had no harbor
in a burning sea


– Breyton Breytonbach


This Is The Season

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this is the season when the dreamer,
swathed in dark remembrances
like an infant swaddled in the weavings of night,
often sobs in his sleep

this is the season when he finds a copper coin
under stripped trees in the lane,
the bankrupt moon, a rusted leaf,
the barking dog,
and precipitously the heart tumbles
and memory brings back
widgeons in the reed-bush,
crackling evenings,
waves combed in tresses on the beach,
your beautiful hips
a violin with a scroll at heaven’s door
for the tongue to enter your bliss

awareness is a boat nosing for the open sea
and life a body slithering over its side,
sinking like a sob
to wash up tomorrow among rocks
for the postmortem opening-up
in search of meaning

when the moon is full of rot
I shall go to Santiago de Cuba
I shall go to Santiago
in a carriage of black water

this is the season when church bells peal
and snow must slip over towers and spires and peaks
silence shroud the hollows of the city
like cold come from heaven

Estos dias, iguales a otros dias de otros años:
these days exactly like the days of earlier years
with people exactly like those of then
with the same hours and the dead
with similar desires
and the old-old restlessness of before
is here

nothing happens
you’re not alone
with the sleepless cold, you come
you go, you don’t know where
or why

put on angel wings, love,
and I’ll suck my tongue
while playing the violin
in a carriage of black water


– Breyton Breytonbach


New York, September 12, 2001

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‘Then it went dark. Real dark. Like snow.’
—words of a survivor

will the hand endure moving over this paper
will any poem have enough weight
to leave a line of flight above the desolate landscape
ever enough face to lift against death’s dark silence
who will tell today

the huge anthill of people remains quiet
somber and bright but obscure
as if the brown effluvium of sputtering towers
sweeps still the skyline with a filthy flag
who will weep today

today images wail for voice behind the eyes
planes as bombs stuffed with shrapnel of soft bodies
then the fire inferno flame-flowers from skyscrapers
human flares like falling angels from the highest floor
down, down all along shimmering buildings of glass and steel
fluted in abandoned beauty and fluttering
weightless and willowy and flame-winged to streamline
fleeting reflections in the fugitive language of forgetting
the hellhound of destruction has a red tongue of laughter

who will tell and who will count
gouged eyes do not understand the blue of sky
through a dismal and chilly nuclear winter
people stumble people shuffle
stumble-people shuffle-people worm-white-people

where lie the faces
old before their end or their wedding
grayed in ashes from head to toe
as if clothed in coats of the snowing knowing of ages

beneath rummage and debris rosy corpses move and mumble
and in East River confidential files and folders float
with shreds and feathers lacerated human meat
scorched confetti for the dog’s feast
who will tell tomorrow tomorrow

where are the faces
will the tongue still think
still pulse its dark lair
with flamed memory of bliss
will words still drink oblivion
will any poem some day ever carry sufficient weight
to leave the script of scraps recalling fall and forgetting

will death remain quivering in the paper


– Breyten Breytenbach