Breyten Breytenbach

1939 / Bonnievale, Western Cape

letter to butcher from abroad

for Balthazar

the prisoner says

now I'm not sure
whether the sweet Lord roared
but a first fly is dancing
droning against the panes
a blossom tossed against the sky
the walls glisten with blood
one's heart hangs still
for fear this ecstasy might ebb
one gathers the minute bewilderments
as food for the journey of the ungainly gray human
squatting incarcerated in the body

the prisoner states

Li Changyin warned against holes for the rain
Never let your heart unfold with the flowers of spring
One inch of love is an inch of ashes
I hope you will pick out my gray bones
in the blown fires of the earth

as for me, I'll set out on a trip
I'll lie inside my body on the upper deck
to feel the tremors of the boat in my flesh
the ropes dozing all prepared in cool places
the mast will swing for direction against the blue
the sea will stir the sea will smell
the sea will be alive with dolphins
gulls will come to swarm above the heart

and then it will all be silenced to light
as sun with the sounds of a language
rapes each fiber grain and cell—
but I, I will go on a voyage

the prisoner confesses

when your dreams are finally crushed
and you await night's darkening far from your people
like the pine tree painfully yearning for a blaze of sails
its lament shuddering a white wind in the forest
to crouch on Monday mornings crippled like a crow
at the lips of the ocean
then one is ready
to tremble in the soil
and feed the insects
with confessed declarations

I can testify
I can describe the colors >from within
the walls are black the snot is gold
blood and pus are ice cream and berry juice
outside against the bulwarks the bird pecks and pecks

I stand on bricks before my fellow man
I am the statue of liberation
with electrodes tied to my balls
I try to scream light into this obscurity
while writing slogans in crimson urine
across my skin over the floor

throttled by the ropes of my guts
I slip on a bar of soap and break my neck
kill myself with the evening paper
tumble >from the tenth floor of heaven
to redemption on a street among people

and you, butcher

burdened with the security of the state
what are your thoughts when night begins to show her
skeleton
and the first burbling scream is forced
from the inmate
as if of birth
flooded by the fluids of parturition?

are you then humbled by this blood-smeared thing
with its humanoid shuddering shocks
and its broken breath of dying
in your hands?

does the heart also tighten in your throat
when you paw its slippery limbs
with the very hands that will caress the secrets of your wife?

tell me, butcher
so that the obstetrics you're made to perform
in the name of my survival
may be revealed to me
in my own tongue

the prisoner says

I don't want to die here
I want to be hanged outside in the desert
with my heart turned toward dawn's cold
where the mountains are flies gorging themselves on the
horizon
where sand burns with one million silver tongues
and the moon as rotten as a shipwreck
sinks through blue smoke

now tell me, butcher
before that thing becomes a curse
and you may plead only by mouths
of graves
before the risen prisoners of Africa
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