south africa

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

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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

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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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14th September – On This Day In History

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Born:

1957 Kepler Wessels (South African cricketer)

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Died:

2009 Patrick Swayze (actor & dancer – Dirty Dancing)

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On This Day:

2012 Ferry sinks off Indonesia, killing 21

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Have a good Friday, 14th September