Marlise Joubert

Marlise Joubert was born in Elim, Limpopo, South Africa. She grew up in Warmbaths [also known as Bela Bela] and has degrees in Librarianship and a BA Honours in Philosophy. After her studies, she worked as a journalist and librarian, including sixteen years at the Fine Arts Department Library of Stellenbosch University. From 2001, she worked for several years in the Protea Book Shop as an accountant and web designer.

Marlise is now a fulltime writer and painter. Her last exhibition of watercolour paintings, Wat die water onthou (What water remembers) took place in 2008 at the Absa KKNK in Oudtshoorn. She and her husband, Louis Esterhuizen, started the popular Afrikaans poetry website, Versindaba. She was the editor of four volumes of poetry containing work of all the poets participating in the yearly Versindaba poetry festivals in Stellenbosch. Her first volume of poetry was published in 1970. Her seventh volume of poetry: splintervlerk was published by Protea Boekhuis in 2011. She is also the author of three novels, of which the first, Klipkus, (Tafelberg, 1978) was translated by Ena Jansen into Dutch as Rode granaat (Anthos, 1981). She translated some poems of Yhuda Amichai into Afrikaans. She has received several awards for her radio dramas.

between going and staying

(a letter to Octavio Paz in reply to

Entre irse y quedarse)


here in Melkbos everything drifts, not going, not staying

the winter sun still in love with the glow of the sea


the long beach is now a bay of leisurely walkways

beside which the small town glistens like an egg


everything is far: Table Mountain, boats and seagulls

everything is nearby, eluding any sense of feeling


at the Damhuis we poets come together

the steak, the fish, the wine at rest in the colours of their names


children replay our years that have passed

unattached words are strewn across the tables


the light transforms the garden figures in a theatre

whilst cars brush past to other destinations


i discover myself in your eye, Octavio

like blood the day’s heart flows towards its end


on the way home the coast disappears in harbours and valleys

we had come and, yes, we had left: a breath’s journey away


(Unpublished poem by Marlise Joubert. Tr by/vert. deur Charl Cilliers, 2012)


passies en passasies




you walk against the ox red dusk

the wild dogs with you

you sleep in your tent beside the hippos

that gently munch every tuft of grass each night

or perhaps a puku stirring

past the reeds

where danger might skulk


your journey is in Zambia’s footsteps

pushing out along the Luangwa River

on the banks of a lake

on the dirt road of a reserve


by day your fingers play in the dust

brush away the earth with little brooms

revealing within markers the cracks of a time

when clay was still stories

and you can unravel only shards here or later

for posterity

pegged down in dissertations and museum spaces


child, you are a guileless archeologist

gorgeously alive in a safari suit

hesitant with your small hands

clad in soft suede


to here

where all your years lie swept in

between fragments

of memory          under the skull

of my prehistoric heart


(From: passies en passasies, Protea Boekhuis, 2007)

(Tr. by Tony & Gisela Ullyatt)



the language of stone




whatever you read in rock carvings

paper or stone accumulates

not in years, but in weight


not the weight of a body

but the weight of history


with volumes I grow deeper into you

without which I cannot breathe




I live in sleep’s stone language

in the earth and build a house

with all the words that you read


then cut the vein of a river in two

to become as we are

to become as we ought to be


when I got up I also remembered

that words can remember

no more than only the words


but your speech sounds like stone

rolling and sweeping all that lives before it

is the awakening of the land


and your voice breathes like something

in the weight of love or perhaps

in the mountain’s fold


and always devoted to blue


(From: passies en passasies, Protea Boekhuis, 2007)

(Tr. by Tony & Gisela Ullyatt)





blossom tongue


behind the easy chair

the irises still blooming

after four sterile days.


behind the vase of ribbed glass

cut-off arteries hang loose in the water.


behind purple butterflies bleeds the trauma

of a week ago, no, two or three

when purple forceps pinched my back,

rupturing the rotten cartilage like a nut –

bruising the jellied tissue soft as saffron

and snapping the orange stamen

of braided nerves.


behind the chair,

incessant and fervent,

with purple-spittled tongues

the irises bloom


before the sun squanders the crescent moon

and the stars’ firmament in perfect equilibrium

ligament by ligament


(From: splintervlerk, Protea Boekhuis, 2011)

(Tr. by Tony & Gisela Ullyatt)



to account for you


how could you already walk so ploddingly

on the stilts of your forefathers

how then could your hands grab shakily

at the sunflower in the backyard


child how can I rip you loose

from the black pasts’ banners

or the brutal tides in a land

blinding your small heart


to account for you in a city

that will never preserve your name

in either peace or exultation


to account for you

in your house where bricks

surrender to the crumbling

of yet another couple

where electronic gates

appear to shut tight

against hands hardened around

cold fires and bullets

like dying stars


child to account for you

in a fenceless avenue

or explosions on freeways

is tiresome for my fingers

that have already come to know of dreams

ossifying like dismissive angels


how then should I pronounce you so that damage

dies timidly apart on a mine-dump

so that nothing slits the soles of your feet

never coming near the first words

of your defenceless tongue


how should I then write you up

so that the moon you so admire


always hangs its flaming blossom

over your face


(From: splintervlerk, Protea Boekhuis, 2011)

(Tr. by Tony & Gisela Ullyatt)



Eikendal Blues



the morning’s autumn chill is caught

on the cheek like soft glass


my beloved pulls on his gray jacket

my beloved covers his chest

with a black shirt


the sky crystal blue the mountains

stock-still mounds of rock

and a patina on yesterday’s fynbos


we traipse toward the vineyard

to relish a midday meal

at the Bayede restaurant –

Hail to the King on the edge

of a flayed season


soft shadows moving through the dale

and vineyards lift green cloaks

from apple-yellow shoulders


on another continent the leaves become

translucent lime-green

with defenceless nails they claw

against another nomadic spring


my love and I sit down at a rickety table

beside the smooth shield of a pond

eating mussels and codfish

while somewhere in the country

here and there the earth drowns in blood


Hail to the King and the enemy

can come let us await him



suddenly the dam makes

an open eye stippled in the middle

with several pure white ducks

their bundled feathers tiny pillows of peace


on another continent

the first birds awaken now


I watch the ducks on the black pond

I try to become wise –

they do not ponder death

or tomorrow

they simply think of nothing


my love and I talk about dominant cultures

and the revolt of counter-cultures against them


while he looks at a young couple laughing

at tourists or waiters with plates

the unwearied play of children

in between gnarled oak trees




I would want to erase thoughts

of our mournful mortality I would want to

become wise and free like the floating

ducks with breaths that can swim together

over the water’s dark cold


how smooth my beloved in his skin

how vivid the line of his neck

how fervent and timid the bow of his lip


on another journey the leaves begin to erupt

while the mountains arrange blue banners

not far above the yellowing vineyard and nothing

nothing mourns openly

on this day –


finches’ nests stir the wind on the banks

and the white eye on the pond

is swept unnoticed beneath

a willow tree


my beloved wears a black shirt

I must remember it just so

behind him the restored white

back of a wine cellar and the colour

of autumn crystallising through

the thinning hair


on another continent the leaves

dazzle the horizon


Hail to the King

and the enemy can come –


we await him


(From: splintervlerk, Protea Boekhuis, 2011)

(Tr. by Tony & Gisela Ullyatt)





Tony Ullyatt was born in Nottingham, and educated inIndia,Sudan, andKenyabefore coming to do an undergraduate degree in English and French inDurban,South Africa. After finishing a Master’s degree in English at theUniversityofAuckland, he wrote a PhD on American poetry at Unisa. He has further Master’s degrees in Psychology, Myth Studies, and Applied Language Studies. He also has a PhD in Myth Studies. He has won prizes for his radio drama and poetry as well as the FNB/Vita Award for Translation. He is currently a Research Fellow at the University of the North-West’s Potchefstroom campus.

Gisela Ullyatt was born inBloemfontein, where she studied at the University of theFree State. After completing an Honours degree and a Master’s degree in German, she finished a Master’s degree in English (Applied Language Studies) as well as a Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Her poetry has appeared in journals both locally and internationally, and she is a prize-winning short-story writer. Through the University of the North-West, she is currently working on a PhD which undertakes a Buddhist reading of Mary Oliver’s poetry.

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