no your body is no prison

Padmapani, Breyten Breytenbach

No your body is no prison
your understanding has petals
sweeter than moonlight
your hair is a secret
black wave
a banner against the light
two butterflies have settled
on the twigs above your nose
if only to upset my pen
and each ear is a beach
against the wash of tides
your eyes are two shelters in the desert
two tents with brilliant peacocks
and my eyelashes lament on your shoulders
your back is a glistening lance in water
and soon after dusk your small dunes
rose from my palms
your heart moves with the quick
soundlessness of chewing peanuts
your hands are tom thumb
and all his brownish friends
where your thighs meet your belly
struts a small proud plume
o hail to the jewel in the lotus
how sweet it must be
to dive upwards
into that nothingness
no your body is no prison

(translated by André Brink)

(South Africa)

The Poetry of Our World: An International Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (2000)

Breathing so unhindered

Last year, my friend visited South Africa and brought me back a book of poetry by Lindiwe Mabuza. I was immediately lost in its pages. This is the second poem in the collection.

Each Heavy Heart-beat, Lindiwe Mabuza

Each heavy heart-beat pulses still
Each heart of loaded centuries
Long buried
In the safe beds
Of these waters
Each heart-beat yet
Is living witness
To the freshness
Of our newfound

Each pregnant hill truthfully
Undulates before our eyes
In languages
Fecund in shades
Of green truths
So that now for the first time
In our brief moments
The very horizon
No longer lures
As it once did, as it did yesterday –
Is no more elusive
For all now know
That we chose
We chased
Not in vain
For we have now tasted a victory
That nourishes our dreams
So all our tomorrows
For our victory
Is the child
Of minds that master their own lives
Achieving what is divinely possible
Is our child
Yet our brawn
Yes our vision
Our brain
Now breathing free
You can touch it
Breathing so unhindered
In this place
Where all nature and beauty
Are stark naked
But like this river
Our nakedness hides
Deeper regions

Come now
This wonder close
Where our very breath
Those lofty blues
For us to see – for you
How contours
That were once
Very distant
Have been brought down
To levels that all may know
On our shores

Hold our breath
Help us cross this river’s
Steady unstoppable flow
For we have swum
In its currents
All over all the world
For there too
My freedom was won

Hold tight here this hand
It belongs to other dreams
That seemed forlorn

So much of pipe-dream
For sceptics
When so many patriots
Their youth
Their innocence
Their blood
Their life
Though not their spine
Chasing these dreams
We now hold
Across continents

Where are they today?
The cynics?
The detraction?
The nihilists?
The naysayers?
The prophets of doom?
Where are they?

It is time
For our merry-go-round
All around us
Thoughts breed new life
Pop here
There red, there white faces
From every window
Or balcony
All boldly saying
Let the world celebrate
Let’s go round and around
For we too are free
To merrily-go-around.

August 1995

Mabuza, Lindiwe. Footprints and Fingerprints. South Africa: Picador Africa, 2008.