If I Should Tell You

By BREYTEN BREYTENBACH

If I should tell you they come to this place,
those who’d written out their lying lives, that they move
languidly yet deft like butterflies, one by one they come,
a movement in the penumbra, each with a shimmering
shield or carapace on the back stretching from neck
to the fold of the knees, and over the shield
a thin membrane-like cape, but it is as a darkened page
or a tanned human skin, you cannot read the faces,
the arms but protuberances and the hands
making helpless gestures of writing, black is the world
when there’s no more sun, dusky gesticulations,
high in depths of the universe meteors scoot,
up to the lip of this sombre cleft in the crust
plunging to subterranean valley-floors, and the faces
one last time lifted like those of dogs
who know not where blindness derives from,
meteor is metaphor,
write and write,
and then jump or flutter, and that down here in the slit
where movement is a final shiver you try to read the scribbles
on skin pages, dark strokes on butterfly-wings remembering
the journeys and loves of old battlefields, and see worded there:
“If I should tell you . . . ”

 

Breyten Breytenbach’s works include All One Horse, Mouroir, Notes from the Middle World, A Season in Paradise, Dog Heart, The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution, and Voice Over.

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If I Should Tell You

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