poetry

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

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Goya

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Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
with candles on the brim of his hat
straddles the rim of a dark century dark horses
my beloved
mouth-blind and the scream of terror
a dead stone in the head the head
of a dog squinting over earth’s hump

and inscribes his black paintings
on plaster of house walls the house
of the deaf masks under a rotten
rolling moon
my beloved

black as blood
black as bread
black as murder
black as chaos
black as execution
white like the fire flashing from the muzzle
of the gun
the bull smothers in his own blood
life is quicklime muffling the bones

from dark heaven arises a carnival
of cripples condemned ones a flare
of ghosts his hand remembers
does the hand still remember
the fawning of idiot king and retarded princesses
the bayonet in the freedom fighter’s gut
the crowning of the sardine remember
still the slender outline
the pale flesh and the dark fleece
of Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana
de Silva Alvarez de Toledo
la Duquesa de Alba
my beloved

his maja in red and black and gold
dark horses in the night the night
a populacho in procession
black like insomnia
our god is a mule
a muted blinding cry
a wall of darker fire

it is said poetry completes
what history leaves out
black like death
my beloved
my beloved

I’m so glad we live in peaceful times

 

– Breyten Breytenbach

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There Is No Time

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there is no time
time is man’s skin
it cracks and crackles and shrinks
in life’s passing-by
in the fire of being
telling the hours
then letting them be
in the ever reverberating
moment of silence

in the smoking dance
of the evening star and the midnight sun
in the curl of the leaf
in the dove’s swiftly
graceful and fluttered
gesture of dying

there is no time
time is the shooting
comet of recall
strewing heaven with the sparks
of stories no one will ever hear again

time’s my love for you
the lizard movements
in your body that come and go
to fill the hollows
with the fire of telling
those many faces of departure

there is no time
just the pulse of the heart
as pain under eye-shells

just the emptied tell-skin
of this poem
splotched and measured
by cancer words of forgetting
like lizard shit

 

– Breyten Breytenbach

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Today I Went Down

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today I went down on your body
while windows were thick white eyes
and hearkened the clogged cavities
in the small darkroom of your chest,
hedging an eternity over the aching voice
from your gorgeous throat,
agony and exaltation flow in one divide
if I may make so bold,
your thighs are a loveword your hair
night’s glittering lining of secret disport:
I aimed for the innermost moon
and rent, moved by the syntax and the slow
of sadness and of joy, so
I love you, love you so

when the blinding comes,
the discomposure of silence,
it must be high up the hills
where hundreds of poor
stamp their feet in the dust, and drums
and woman voices like this ululating skyline
gag the final ecstasy

 

– Breyten Breytenbach

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Rebel Song

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give me a pen
so I may sing
that life is not in vain

give me a season
an autumn a spring
to see sky with open eyes
when the peach tree vomits its white plenitude
a tyranny will be brought to earth

let mothers lament;
may breasts become dry
and wombs shrivel
when the scaffold finally weans its own

give me that love
which won’t rot between fingers,
give me a love like this love I must give you,
my dove

grant me a heart
that will pulsate its throb
more strongly than the white thrashing
heart of a terrified dove in the dark
knock louder than bitter bullets

give me a heart
small fountain of blood
to spout blossoms of bliss
for blood is never for naught

I need to die before I’m dead
when my heart is still fertile and red
before I eat the darkened soil of doubt

give me two lips
and bright ink for tongue
to write the earth
one vast love letter
swollen with the milk of mercy

sweeter day by day
spilling all bitterness
burning as summer
burns sweeter

then let it be summer
without blindfolds or ravens
allow the gallows to give the peach tree
its red fruit of satisfaction

and grant me a love song
of doves of atonement
so I may sing my life was not in vain

for as I die
to wide eyes
under sky
my red song will not lie
my red song will never die

 

– Breyten Breytenbach

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Green

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The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.

She opened her eyes, and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone,
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

 

– David Herbert Lawrence

Stunning Sprout Fields

A Love Song

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Reject me not if I should say to you
I do forget the sounding of your voice,
I do forget your eyes that searching through
The mists perceive our marriage, and rejoice.

Yet, when the apple-blossom opens wide
Under the pallid moonlight’s fingering,
I see your blanched face at my breast, and hide
My eyes from diligent work, malingering.

Ah, then, upon my bedroom I do draw
The blind to hide the garden, where the moon
Enjoys the open blossoms as they straw
Their beauty for his taking, boon for boon.

And I do lift my aching arms to you,
And I do lift my anguished, avid breast,
And I do weep for very pain of you,
And fling myself at the doors of sleep, for rest.

And I do toss through the troubled night for you,
Dreaming your yielded mouth is given to mine,
Feeling your strong breast carry me on into
The peace where sleep is stronger even than wine.

 

– David Herbert Lawrence

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