Antjie Krog is, along with Breyten Breytenbach, one of South Africaís most famous Afrikaans poets. She has won many awards, and recently has come to prominence as a writer of non-fiction with her book Country of My Skull. Down to my Last Skin (Random House), the first collection of her poems translated into English, was published in 2000.





the day surrenders to its sadness

the day surrenders to its sadness
over palm tree and roof the rain reigns mercilessly
the small white house with trellis and high verandah
stands like a warm cow her backside to the rain
eyes tightly shut

inside a woman moves from window to window
as beautiful as sunlight through vine leaves
as beautiful the drops on green
the rain on avocado bark
on the flintstone of leaves
the bougainvillaea sparkling wet, sly
keel green on apricots

the double hibiscus groans desperate and red in the dark

the intimacy inside is tangible
children sleeping damp in their room
the man in front of the heater
with art book cigarette and wine his eyes
glance up somewhat drenched in love

dusk snuffles softly against the gutters
a woman wanders from one steamed window to another
and sees the house constantly from an outside perspective
disabled and thanks to the light in every window
barely conscious of the total magnitude

a warm cow her backside to the rain

 
 
 
 
 
latin-american love song

neither the moist intimacy of your eyelids fair as fennel
nor the violence of your body withholding behind sheets
nor what comes to me as your life
will have so much slender mercy for me
as to see you sleeping

perhaps I see you sometimes
for the first time

you with your chest of guava and grape
your hands cool as spoons
your haughty griefs stain every corner blue

we will endure with each other

even if the sun culls the rooftops
even if the state cooks clichés
we will fill our hearts with colour
and the fireworks of finches
even if my eyes ride a rag to the horizon
even if the moon comes bareback
even if the mountain forms a conspiracy against the night

we will persist with each other
sometimes I see you for the first time

 
 
 
 
 
my words of love

my words of love grow more tenuous than the sound of lilac
my language frayed
dazed and softened I feel myself through your stubborn struggle

you still hold me close like no-one else
you still choose my side like no-one else
against your chest I lie and I confess
you hunt my every gesture
you catch up with me everywhere
you pull me down between bush and grass
on the footpath you turn me around
so that I must look you in the eye
you kick me in the balls
you shake me by the skin of my neck
you hold me, prick in the back, on the straight and narrow

(translated by Karen Press)
 
 
 
 
 
marital psalm

this marriage is my shepherd
I shall not want
in a swoon he loves me
and lusts after me with disconcerting fitness
man who makes me possible
(though I can fight him spectacularly)
(the way we make a double bed
shows an undivided indestructible pact)

sometimes he catches me by the hind leg
as one big piece of solid treachery
persecutes me
fucks me day and night
violates every millimetre of private space
smothers every glint in my eye which could lead to writing

"do our children successfully in respectable schools have to see
how their friends read about their motherís splashing cunt
and their fatherís perished cock
I mean my wife
jesus! somewhere a manís got to draw the line"

I will fear no evil
the rod and the staff they comfort me

 
 
 
 
 
stripping

while you undress
I watch through my lashes
that bloody thick cock
prudish and self-righteous it hangs
head neatly wrinkled and clear cut
about its place between the balls Ė wincing in my direction

and I think of its years and years of conquest
night after fucking night through pregnancies
menstruation abortion pill-indifference
sorrow how many lectures given honours
received shopping done with semen dripping
on the everyday pad from all sides
that blade cuts

that cock goddamit does more than conquer
it determines how generous the mood
how matter-of-fact how daring the expenditure
standing upright it is bend or open-up
and you better be impressed my sister
not merely lushy or horny
but in bloody awe, yes!
everything every godfucking thing revolves around the maintenance of cock
and the thing has no heart no brain no soul
itís dictatorial a fat-lipped autocrat
it besieges the reclusive clitoris
a misterís Mister

somewhere you note numbers and statistics
that morning in Paris and again that night
your hands full of tit

I am waiting for the day
oh I look forward to the day the cock crumbles
that it doesnít want to
that in a rosepoint pout it swings only hither and dither
that it doesnít ever want to flare
but wiggle waggles unwillingly
boils over like a jam pot or fritters away like a balloon

and come it will come
because rumour has it
that for generations
the women in my family kapater their men with
yes with stares
oh jesus, and then we slither away like fertile snakes in the grass
taking shit from nobody
and they tell me
my aunts and my nieces and sisters they laugh and tell me
how oneís body starts chatting then how it dances into tune
at last coming home to its own juices

 
 
 
 
 
birth

at last this lovely little mammoth godawful in roses and blood
straining lovely between my legs tore loose
tumbled, no slipped out besmeared into my arms yelling birth
yelling pain yelling strength oh I throb throb throb about my
boychild my onlyest my loveliest my smallest my most superlative sound
wash him with colostrum
his arms next to his body wrap him in nappies
in a manger of songs shy murmurs from a twilight room
and feed him
feed him oh free feed him from my heart

 
 
 
 
 
how and with what?

I dig rennets from the sink sieve
oats and rinds burp into the drain outside the window
the nappy liners are being stunk out into the toilet
the dirty nappies sunlight soaped
bottoms washed powdered
the one cries with hunger
the other with anger
the eldest with his nervous vegetable knife voice
carves a whole superman flight through the noise

my man closes the door against us all
and turns up the Mozart piano concerto

and I go crazy

my voice yells a mixerpulpershreddermincer
my nose leaks like a fridge
my eyes quake like eggs in boiling water
my ears are post boxes pouting with calendars and junk mail
my children assault me with their rowdiness
           selfishness
           cheekiness
           destructiveness
their fears complexes insecurities threats needs
           beat my "image as mother" into soft steak on the wooden floor
I smell of vomit and shit and sweat
           of semen and leeks
I illustrate a kitchen
           with hair whipping dull against novilon skin
           the milk coupons of my back bent uninterestedly inside the gown
           the legs veined like blue soap
           slippers like pot scourers
I sulk like a flour bag
I am chipped like a jug
my hands drier and older than yesterdayís toast
give half-hearted slaps against the clamour

I go outside and sit on the step this Sunday morning
neither sober nor embarrassed
wondering

how and with what does one survive this?

 
 
 
 
 
transparency of the sole

the light over my desk
streams into darkness
I await my visitors on paper

my four children
finely balanced between anal and dorsal
tiny fins at the throat constantly stirring
eyes uncommonly soft
in the shallow brackish water your mother treads clay
with metaphors
come here across dictionaries and blank pages
how I love this delicate little school
these fish of mine in their four-strong flotilla
lure so close now what should I feed you?

dear child of the lean flank
yield to the seabed
yes the stretching makes you
ache but mother holds you to her mother
is here

the lower eye like fatherís wondrous blue
migrates cautiously with a complex bunching
of nerve and muscle
till itís up beside the other
pert little mouth almost pulled out of shape
with time the tongue will settle in its groove
pigment of the upper flank beginning to darken

unobtrusive between sand and stone you lie
meshed with bedrock never
again to prey or take flight
I press my mouth against each distended face mother knows

you will survive the tide

(translated by Denis Hirson)
 
 
 
 
 
for my son

the earth hangs unfinished
and when the wind starts
the child stands in Kloof Street with his school bag

child of mine! I call to his back
there where my heart is tightest

as always I am elsewhere
I think him into almonds
and arms full of pulled up light
I trace his whispers in my matrix of blood

shyly the child shoots across the street
the wind takes his orthodontic drool

it is me
          your mother
but his eyes are on the brink of leaving me
the earth lies unfinished
the wind splinters from him all that is child
and I tighten about him
past guilt past all neglect

I love him
way
way beyond heart

 
 
 
 
 
ma will be late

that I come back to you
tired and without memory
that the kitchen door is open I

shuffle in with suitcases hurriedly bought presents
my familyís distressed dreams
slink down the corridor the windows stained

with their abandoned language in the hard
bathroom light I brush my teeth
put a pill on my tongue: Thur

that I walk past where my daughter sleeps
her sheet neatly folded beneath her chin
on the dressing table silkworms rear in gold

that I can pass my sons
frowning like fists against their pillows
their restless undertones bruise the room

that I can rummage a nightie from the drawer
slip into the dark slit behind your back
that the warmth flows across to me

makes me neither poet nor human
in the ambush of breath
I die into woman

 
 
 
 
 
letter-poem lullaby for Ntombizana Atoo

1.

hush-hush
sleep-a-bye
sweet
sleep soft
sleep whole
sleep blackly tilted

childest child of mine
childling born wet born now

outside orbits the earth
so ah and you
so softly bloused in blue

let wind take your nostrils
let earth take eyes and ears and tongue
let fire let rain take your skin

inside crackles your tongue
your fists tiny roses clenched in plum
you     you lay in a baylet
for the last time made holy by blood and yourself
shush now
shush now

childkin black     childkin veld
childkin nobody
to nothing ever held
childkin breast      childkin thirst

hush-hush
sleep-a-bye
sweet
sleep soft
sleep whole
sleep blackly tilted

 
2.

the wind is all over the sky
with my voice on its way to you
you who lies irrefutably stippled
somewhere in cloth and herb
in songlets and pain
your vertebrae curving against whatís to come
hold on dear child
against it all

that you could see the earth
clinging with suns and moons and comets and meteorites
the windfiltered sky
in tufts of fire tomatoes fly out among leaves
the moon reports in milk
in the thorn trees next to the road
     the stars also hum their way to you
you have to see
you have to hear how the sun lures the wind over your threshold
taste how the water changes to still ivory plates in the setting sun

dear child the earth glows of heaven

 
3.

I will come and claim you from bones and bullets and violence and aids
from muteness from stupidity from the corrupt faces of men
Iíll gather you from millions of refugees
from hunger and thirst from the damp of cries and the stink of tolerated grief
the desperate mangle of dreams
from the back Iíll recognise the brave stalk of your neck
I will catch up with you
and pull you out by the arm

because you have to see differently
for us Africans - us the children of the abyss
we all have to balance differently
this continent drifting like a big black plundered heart on the globe
continent that is us
continent throbbing with blood in the vast ventricles of desert
     and forest savannah and stone
forlorn continent
on which so many lost figures commit lost deeds of forlorn trust
big aggressive heart on which thousands die daily without sound
decaying in heaps
into raking brooms of bones

I want it to be you my smallest
that between your ribs
you have to feel the tremor that things have to be different
that something has to become true of what we are

that what we are as Africans is something so soft so humanly skinned
so profoundly constitutionally big and light and kind as soul
so caring as to surpass all understanding

motho ke motho ke batho babang
rather
we are what we are because we are of each other

why do we keep on then being so wrong?

I lay my cheek next to yours
I want to breathe into you
to care
to care
hush-hush

 
4.

I want to join your shoulderblades into tiny wings
     to breast the roaming despair
lovely thing I am so close to you your cheek lies in peach down
your necklet wobbles this side that side
next to your mother who sleeps with her head turned towards you
do you hear me?
everything is so lucid tonight
your mouth has loosened a little from the breast
do you hear me?
I who am all-that-is-white
who am lightningwhite and indissolubly always only myself
I want you to make this continent yours
     bask in your hands this morose mumbling heart
     cradle it so that Africa at last splays out its clogged crooked valves
     rig its full sails to the wind and navigate the earth in celebration
it has become yours
it has become mine
it is ours

dark outside
a chain rustles and I hear magazines slip off into the grass
I stop breathing and bend over you
my finger touching your fist
which slips open and holds me immediately
tightly
your mother stirs
loveliest thinniken thing I have just come to say hi!
and welcome
and that something of me will go with you
and that you neednít know of it

 
5.

weep
weep for the past centuries and their defeated mutilated survivors
weep for the injustice and the closed perspective of greed

how does one become new?
how does one find a mechanism into the future
underneath all this dictatorial dust and portions of obese scum

the moment that humanity lifts her head
let us recognise it!

because the heart waits on her banner

my eyes screw loose
on the road to the millennium

may the coming epoch belong to Africa
revealed by an obstinate landscape of words
and a little girl with wild plaits and cheeky slender neck
making poems along the dusty road singing forward the wayÖ

(translated by the poet)