Poems/Translations 2

Translations from “passies en passasies”, Marlise Joubert. Protea Bookhouse, 2007. 

Milkwood Beach

dunes put their bristly heads together.
listen listen to the clamour and soughing
of waves churned into milky streaks.

seabirds swerve to evade the wind
beating wings against the summery spray.
indiscernibly the dunes move their hips away.

from the distant swirling fog break free
vaporous joggers riders on their horses.
and all become a gallop across the beach against a sun

sinking his burning ship into fathomless waters.
gold turns the grey to a yoghurty cloud of rose-quartz.
a dog drags a seaweed limb across the sand.

to the left Table Mountain rises like a castle
from the encircling channels full of drifting smoke.
to the right stands Koeberg quietly nuclear
atoms singing unheard into the atmosphere.

facing a wide house shoots of maize thrust upward
from the patch of unduned sand.
the scorched leaves soon resemble sun-dried fish.

a housewife picks long-fingers of green beans
grills the Sunday yellow-tailed cod with lemon juice
laughs and drinks her peachy sparkling wine.

I stare at hazy figures dawdling peacefully with
kids and dogs in the lukewarm dusk
spilling in profusion onto homes already lit. another stallion
having rhythmically cantered through evaporates in cream.

windows and sliding doors stare back with dull
glassy eyes. the drone of a boat
fades. two small chairs are being folded up.

Koeberg is split darkly against the moon.

lovers embrace then tear apart.

in Table Mountain’s castle
someone is blowing out the candles.

[Translation: Pierre du Preez]


in memoriam: Lisbé

That’s when she stopped, she turned her face to the wind,
shut her eyes – Jorie Graham,
“Self-portrait as Apollo and Daphne”

steel needn’t have torn open her skimpy body
it was not necessary, such force hammering into her
repeatedly –
she’d already said her goodbyes, before entering the blood inferno
before the screwdriver hand of an intruder
threw her into water and fled

she’d already taken her leave before arriving back home
already greeted her children, in front of school
the colour of the boy’s shirt and the colour
of his watchful eyes
already straightened out her daughter’s gym-slip
against wear, such thin little shoulders
already taken a step back, into herself
into the cracked skull of a dream
a voice that would call
on the other side of the morning sun’s earthly cloak

she’d already died
when she greeted her husband at a station
taking him further along with nothing
but the weight of memories
of them
and especially of her
happiness balanced on a needlepoint
on every horizon glancing off the train window
the mountain growing bigger as it gets closer and her heart
so inexplicably light in his memory
the way breath rests on his tongue

her farewells already said
when she turned to go home
darkened in the last stillness of rest
without words without warning without any suspicion
far too early
the little communion
of her body
appallingly punctured

[translation: Leon de Kock]


woman in Afghanistan
after seeing the film Kandahar

the woman was on her way to Kandahar
the woman was on her way alone
in the sand in the dunes of blood
in the blood of the sun
to save her sister from suicide
before the coming of the great eclipse

alone on her way the woman was with her garment
a wave of blue a dissonant flag
across the yellow rivers of sand
etched against horizon upon horizon
like a person
with the shoulders of a woman
with the head of a woman
veiled against non-existence

the woman on her way to Kandahar
sways on the donkey-wagon
ignores the soldiers and landmines
the suffocating fire
listens fearlessly with her heart against a jar
sees men on crutches at the Red Cross Camp
hobble one-legged over a hill of stone
to be the first to grab the wooden legs
when they fall from the sky with parachutes

she gives her last money to a child
to take her to Kandahar
she refuses the gold ring which he
steals from a skeleton between sandbagged walls
and on the last day
just the other side of the last dune
in front of the yellow stone wall of Kandahar
in a procession of singers
and brides and wedding-guests
she is stopped by rebels
with the barrel of a gun against her cheek

she is pointed out as an unknown woman
uncovered behind her burka
by checkered shafts of light
she is turned away as the unwelcome one
who wanted to save her sister in Kandahar

before the coming of the eclipse
before her attempt at darkness
one sorrowful death too many in the sand
in the dunes of blood in the middle of the day
in the sunless night of Kandahar

[translation: Jacques Coetzee]



you walk at the hour of ox-red dusk
with the wild dogs
you sleep in your tent next to hippopotami
who noiselessly chew each blade of grass every night
or perhaps a buck that moves stealthily
past the bull-rushes
where danger might be lurking

your journey follows the footprints of Zambia
washed out by the Luangwa River
on the banks of a lake
in the dirt road of a reserve

by day your fingers play in the earth
sweep the ground away with little brushes
lay bare within boundaries the cracks of a time
when clay was still a story
and you can only decipher shards here or later
for future generations
enclosed in dissertations and museum halls

child, you are an artless archaeologist
lovely and alive in a safari suit
hesitant with your small hands
gloved in soft suede

until you come to this place
where all your years lie embedded
between shards
of memory underneath the skull
of my prehistoric heart

[translation: Jacques Coetzee]



horses are sovereigns of summits
and the wheat crowns of dunes and fire steeples
horses are kings cloaked in blue
ocre almond dappling like grey
blacker than ovens whiter than talc
manes tangling in eddies of wind
horses are kings with high hats and hooves
hurtling over mountains rivers and reefs
savannah and cliffs and rifts with fervour
oh sovereigns of stone with
hooves draped in banners
drumming on amethyst amethyst
hooves in stone simbal
dolomite dolomite

ruby are the orbs of horses
ruby like stars against the dusk
where the dust-devil turns where sands
circle like powder into nothing

brown are the eyes of horses
brown like mould on mud
where the sun lies down softly
in pans of summer water

horses are sovereigns who snort and gallop
across town squares and plateaus of people
horses carry cargo of children and noble riders
or clutches of old folk like huts on the back
horses neigh alone and rapt among rhythms of trees

horses are fish in fata morganas
swishing from the left and to the right
returning to the light as if gods
want to catch their heads in their nets
with hooves draped in banners
drumming drumming amethyst amethyst
hooves in stone simbals
dolomite dolomite

horses are princes decanting the galaxy
ash of the morning the tardy pace
horses are princes in a hand-held trot

with prancing muscles
dancing through the land
drumming drumming amethyst amethyst

horses are women who discover
secrets in the road
women with flanks that shimmer
in the sweat of day
camping among moons and in snow
in vapour and grass
lying down in a stable like a star in our pass

horses are kings and princes and fish and women
horses are more than salpetre of breath

[translation: Charl-Pierre Naudé]



I have to warn you about the wind that moves
the wind that moves the hair of curtains
I have to warn you about the scattering of feathers
the guineafowls dropped in our yard
I have to warn you about the moles that gnaw
the juicy roots the moles who blindly whore around
in the burrows of ambrosia o I have to warn you
about the shells of stars that hang in trees
because they shine in vain

I have to warn you
against the moon’s misty eye
the sun’s creamy cheek against your face
I have to warn you about the lamb with its back turned on us
with its broken paw and woolly head turned to the stove

I have to warn you
about the lamb that flap its ears in the fan of air
about the dogs barking down the street as they hunt for food
in rubbish bins
about the black rags of birds on the washingline
I have to warn you about my little box of rose paper
with all my jewels the earrings the pendants
and the topaz rings

I have to warn you that all this means nothing to love
less than words less than water less than bread
because love only has eyes for each other
love is without glasses in each other
love is eyes blown against each other

love is without everything without
love is a pine forest
love is a heaving pine forest
where the woodcutter
incessantly cuts

I have to warn you

[translation: Martjie Bosman]

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