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Charl-Pierre Naudé

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Poem and its translation

Myself and Gabeba Baderoon were part of an interactive, bi-national project between South Africa and Belgium, in which Belgian writers and South Africans translated one another’s work, among other exercises. The project was kindly sponsored by the Belgian Ministry of Culture.

Here is a poem I wrote, followed by Gabeba’s translation:

Die slaper en die stad

               Antwerpen, 2006

Die slaper sluit sy oë
dig soos deksels oor konstruksiegate –
en droom
diep,
van die netwerk van tonnels onder die stad
wat in dae van ouds
soos die waterweë was.
In die bouwerk van lang, gewelfde gange
en vertakkings het ’n seekat
van blinde water geklots
in nou rioolbeuke,
’n spieëlbeeld van die rooster
van stadstrate, bo;
(waar toeristebootjies later
kortstondig sou vaar)
’n labirint,
’n skemerige,
onderaardse, gedroomde Venesië,
die toegeplankte stad,
en van vergete:
’n kabbeling skielik, soos die paling
van ’n courtisane se serp, wat weerkaats in die water;
of klokkegelag, gemoffel in die opslae van ’n rot;
’n koopmansdogter, beskou as besete want sy kon ruik
met haar voete
nes ’n vlinder, wat haar kettings slaaplopend sleep
oor die vlakwaterspieëls van ’n paleis …

meerminne, blind en gebottel
in die toegeboude gragte, bloedlose,
onderwêreldse inkvisse sonder ink, wat liefdeloos stamp
teen die kiele …
Vlermuise, soos merels wat spikkel teen ’n baksteenhemel.
En dis hy, hý wat op die naat
staan van dié twee wêrelde –
die jong handelaar,
die dromer
wat met trappies af vlug na benede,
en sy klippies bedoel vir háár
en sy lewe in ’n tweegeveg in die stroom
verloor het, in 1547.
Ek word wakker.
Die kerkers is lánk reeds leeg gepomp,
maar die drome bly kleef.
Ek wentel met die trappies af
die gerestoureerde wande
van die wakker ure binne,
waar die mure met hul sepia geheue
ook versinners van ons, die klante, is:
’n kelderrestaurant,
tafels, kerslig –
skimme, skimme almal.
’n Glinstering van oë
soos vuurvlieë bo ’n moeras;
en oorkant my
háár oë wat steeds blink
bewoë,
soos die sprinkeling blink klippies
wat gestort is lank gelede
en bly dryf,
bly dryf
in die water wat hier was.

*

The Dreamer and the City

The dreamer shuts his eyes
tight as manhole covers
and dreams
deeply,
of the network of tunnels below the city
that long ago
were like waterways.
In the long, vaulted passages
and their tributaries, an octopus
of blind water throbs
in thin sewage aisles,
mirror of the grid of city streets above;
(where later, for a brief time,
sightseeing boats plied)
a labyrinth,
a dusky,
subterranean, dream-Venice,
a city paved over
and forgotten.
A sudden ripple, like the eel
of a courtesan’s scarf reflected
in the water, or a peal of laughter
muffled in the scuttling of rats,
a merchant’s daughter, named mad
because she could sense smell
with her feet,
like a butterfly, dragging her chains while sleepwalking
across the shallow water-mirrors of the palace.

Mermaids, blind and caught
in the enclosed canals, bloodless,
underworld ink-fish without ink, knocking
lovelessly against the keels.
Bats, like crows dappling a brick sky.
And it is he, at the fault-line
between the worlds,
the young merchant,
the dreamer
who fled down the stairs
and lost the little stones intended for her,
and his life in a duel
in the stream in 1547.
I wake.
The dungeons have long since been pumped dry,
but the dreams remain.
I wind down the stairs
past the restored walls, enter
the vaulted room and the waking hours,
where the walls with their sepia memories
invent us, the patrons:
in a cellar-restaurant,
tables, candlelight -
phantoms, phantoms everyone.
Glittering eyes
like fireflies over a swamp,
and opposite me,
her eyes,
still glistening
with despair,
like the scattered, glinting stones
that fell here so long ago
but are drifting, still drifting
in the water of the past.

Translated by Gabeba Baderoon