a footnote under the night of history

We present this work in honor of the Day of Reconciliation.

Breyten Breytenbach
South African
b. 1939


in the night when everything was black
burnt to a cross of ash
on the blind glass
and the dog’s bark a dark kite
blowing away in darkness
to where the moon
tears like the keel of a sinking boat
I dreamt my language

the title page smeared black
with signs now undecipherable raw
and inside the book
I saw my reflection
standing there three times

first among dead friends
with mottled grieving faces
like dogs staring directly into the blind window
while their thoughts like empty glasses
turning in the hands
and I was there
thin neck and moustache
our poems are slaves each with a full wave
feathers proudly on the head

then in a tableau at departure
in the garden of the night
with cape of white hair
my mother an aged virgin in my embrace
and further back
in the folds of memory
all other trusteds as torches of forgetting

were I now the prophet
sent to spy if there is life
in this world
or the senseless exile returning to say
our language was a footnote
under the illegible page history?

a last time on a bench in the empty garden
of a madhouse of toothless ageds
as skeletons with little bitter flesh
swaddled in the blanket
and wild tuft and eyes blind marbles

bow and mutter bow and mutter
many words oh many words
but only the whispering of dead slaves
but not enough to groove or make boat
and outside of the book beyond all listening
the bark and the wind and the ash
of the moon in dark water

Translation by Ampie Coetzee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.