Postcards from the High Seas


Crioula, you will tell the guitar
Of the night, and the dawn's small guitar
That you are a dark-skinned bride
            with Lela in Rotterdam

You'll never sell around the town
            From door to door
The thirst for sweet water that slaps
            In a tin can 


In the morning
It snowed on the temples of Europe
The lamp of my hand is a caravel
          Among the fjords of Norway

Since yesterday
It's been raining on the prow
            Steel rain that numbs
Our abandoned bones
            gnomon of silence without memory

Since yesterday
The ship is the landscape of a blind soul
And your name upon the ocean
           the sun in a fruit-tree's mouth


 I used to sell Kamoca
            On the streets of New York
I've played ourin among the girders
            Of skyscrapers under construction

In a building in Belfast
Remain the skulls and bones
            Of my contemporaries
The blood remains
Alive in the telephones' nostrils


The ears of the islander heard
The sun-drenched voice in the Olympian throat
Of a pestle in Finland

I saw patricians
           clad in togas
Speaking Creole
In vast auditoria

           Beyond the Pyrenees
           there are blacks and blacks
Immigrants to Germany
in the soup-making countries
the blacks of Europe


Crioula, on Sunday evenings
            with the sun on the bushes
You will say to the good-natured faces
            Of old cricket-players
That the names
            Of Djone
            Paliba and Salibana
Present themselves
white stamps on documents
            passport and laissez-passer 

At the doors of the embassies


Our mouths testify
            that the earth and the story
Emigrate with us under our tongues
To witness
            the dry knees and elbows
            of the colony of Cabiri

Along the chemins-de-fer
I give blows and receive them
From neighbouring governments
over land disputes
            And cultural norms

In a night of lunacy
In the colony of Sacassenje
We divided the land
            Between fruit-trees and seeds
            Between blood and scars
Having foreseen this I stayed at the border
Gripping the lock of my door


Now from the road
I watch the birth: the spring that watches
The shade of the shoulder-blades over the world
Striking the drum
            with the blood of Africa
            with the bones of Europe

Every evening my thumb returns
            And says to the mouth of the river
From Addis Ababa I came and drank
            In the cataracts of Ruacana

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Comments (1)

Breyten Breytenbach

A beautiful, moving, luminous poem! And translated with sensitive understanding of the original. Allow me to congratulate you and thank you for such fine work.

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