EXTRACT: Skinned by Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog

Photo © Karina Turok

every day I treat you as if you were mine

after an eighteenth-century engraving of Table Mountain*

We know that when one crosses the equator everything becomes
Wilderness: white becomes black, good becomes bad, culture becomes
A kind of barbarism in which nothing has a name:
Women throw a tit over the shoulder
Cannibals, winged lions, vulvas hanging down to the knees
One-eyed people bark and snakes stand upright in the trees.
Nobody will ever believe our relief when, one morning, we saw this
Table—something simply so miraculously ordinary in the wilderness
—something so civilised one at last could pin a memory there.
That’s why, when we named it, we didn’t honour any
God or king, but simply threw a big party on the
Southern tip and baptised it ‘Table Mountain’.
Now, listen carefully: because I had named you, I let you
Rise somewhat higher in my engraving—up—like a real
Table. So that with you as backdrop we could throw our arms
Northward, we could stylize your skyline against the wilderness
And, as famous logo, send you home, yes—we learnt
Quickly how the crumbs fall from international tables.
I draw your tabletop neatly—nothing will hang skew.
To the side of the bay I put those who we say call themselves Hottentots.
They eat raw intestines and look! to have his cow give milk, this man
blows into her bloody cunt. One has to know one’s bearings here, or what am
I talking about? To turn you into legend against the wilderness
I pull you slightly more to the front—that’s it, your feet close to shore.
Windeberg and Leeukop, a formal request—please throw your arms open
As if to embrace. To me it looks, and forgive me if I overestimate
Your reaching out, as if you and this continent have groaneth and
Travaileth in pain until you could be delivered into glorious liberty
By the children of God. Every piece of property I number and name
As they rise stepwise against your slopes—say what you want
But we did bring so much order to this place that on my engraving
I can add cultivated gardens blooming in the wilderness. And while
I’m at it, let me show the church somewhat larger in scale. Next to the jetty
There, let’s have the gallows—you never know, you know—this bay
Hangs full of heavily laden ships anchoring at this Place of Name.
For colour I plant two flags flying over order against the chaos.
(Whatever this engraving adds, whatever it leaves out, however wide
One casts the eye or carefully names—the mountain was the forerunner
Of how apartheid and forgiveness were applied against a continent’s clamour)

'prospect of the cape of good hope' plate 199. No. 114. Vol 2 p. 404.Collection of the Iziko museum

*’prospect of the cape of good hope’ plate 199. No. 114. Vol 2 p. 404. Collection of the Iziko museum.

*

litany

here along the long white shadow
where I thought where I thought I’d leave the litany of locust
of locust and death I’ll always hear the litany of sound
here along the long white shadow
where I grab lustre grab honour that once was lustre and white
the truth I’ve heard and how to molest it
that I travel I travel along the corn or chaff of my past
that my past crawls forth on its deadly knees without once looking up
that I claw on my knees claw to that place
that light place that does not want to dim
here along the long white shadow of mortal and molested truth
we buried many we buried without shroud or ritual
many we buried and from the graves it sprouts
the shadow sprouts of lustre, burdock and wheat the locusts of sound
here along the long white shadow
and my past sits so well in its teeth all along
its teeth sit well in the shadow of sulphur and lime it’s time
the time of assassin and shame and tin
I keep slipping slipping out of truth
while next to me along the long white shadow walks the shudder
that I was walks the long white shudder of ash
set me I who keep slipping in the long white shadow
out of time out of random and lies I want slipping from the shudder
along the emptiness of litany and shadow
set me set me from revenge and loss
from ruin set me from the long white scar the lichen and ash set me
free into remorse oh my hand my hand grabs the sheet like a throat

(written in 1996 during the first Truth and Reconciliation hearings and published in Country of My Skull, 1998)

*

Extracted from Skinnedpublished by Umuzi, R190. The book has been selected as one of AERODROME’s WinterReads.

GIVEAWAY: Win one of two copies of Skinned: A Selection of Translated Poems by Antjie Krog. To enter, email competition(at)aerodrome.co.za, with the book’s title in the subject line. In the body of the email please include your full name, contact number and physical address (including area code). Only readers resident in South Africa are eligible. Entries close at the end of July.

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