Breyten Breytenbach

1939 / Bonnievale, Western Cape

For François Villon

there are things one never forgets, oh dissemblers—
cat's paws of darkness over closed eyelids
the brief clear gaping of the bullet's cough
car headlamps slitting the night to ribbons
painted white masks of the buffoon and the whore
the hangman's laughter like a dose of strychnine
the flesh-colored flame
that cannot scorch the satin purse
black rooks on red haystacks
a dwarf with a whistle on the elephant's back
the tower filled years since with whispering fire
the green swollen booming of the sea
the long broken downhill shuffle of old age
braking till it's worn to the knees—
these, the inalienable souvenirs
the heart's tiny mirrors lugged the length of the journey

we all walk that road
of life on its way to death—
murderers, burglars, drug addicts and firebugs
thugs, embezzlers, rapists
and fellow terrorists—
you like me tattooed in lineament and skin
single in our destiny—
till we climb through the gap
into the kitchen pantry
and the earth munches us to the bone
'finished; dispatched; cracked; home'

go well, friends, by the light of the body
go well, marked by what's never forgotten
to the final prison where all memory goes dark

hamba kahle!
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