Poetry International Poetry International
Gedicht

Charl-Pierre Naudé

The mercenary

The former SADF soldier is a mercenary these days
and thus well-equipped, in a manner of speaking,
to approach the same issue from opposite sides.
“It was end of the rainy season in Mozambique,” he told me
on the high plateau, where he now hunts cattle thieves.
“Blank curtains of water would still drop from the sky;
the most devastating phase of the war was behind.
Soft trunks, of the vanishing forest – of humans too –
were fermenting in the dank ground and marshlands . . . ”
An undertow of rapture, maybe awe, in his voice.
“ . . . I was with a regular patrol
                                                 on a desolate stretch
when we spotted this figure alongside the road.
He was walking very fast and determinedly,
a calabash of sorts swinging from an arm,
tossing his palms in front of his mouth very lightly
and blowing into them, every now and then.
It’s never really cold in those reaches, though –
as if stopping, to play with a die,
maybe to alleviate a long mission’s tediousness.
Tied to his back: a corrugated iron sheet; a quiver with kindle.
As we drove past he seemed to be muttering,
and oblivious of others
                                                 fell to his knees suddenly.
The war had created many forms of insanity . . .
moments later up and walking on, more concertedly,
falling to his knees in the distance again, as I looked back.
One of the other guys in the armoured vehicle hastily
crossed his heart seeing such apparent, fervent Hail Marys:
there are not too many ways to get to a destination . . .
Two days later, on the way back, we passed him again
fifty kilometres north from the first time.
I wondered from how far south he’d been coming,
who he was talking to so incessantly and lovingly
in the butterfly locket of his hands.
                                                       A sweetheart?
Many had lost all their loved ones in that war.
I saw him stop dead, to cradle the air in his palms, maybe
a small animal I thought, a hamster, first in his crotch
then in an armpit, against a sudden flaring of the breeze.
I went up closer, to where he was crouching at a crossroad,
heard him whispering ‘Almost there, almost there’
into his cupped hands. I know a bit of the language.
He looked scared stiff when he saw me next to him.
The locals avoid soldiers and try not to talk to them.
The others in the Unimog kept smirking at the madman.
I asked him to show me what was in his hands.
He held out his calloused palms reluctantly.
                                                                      It was an ember.
The razed village he came from had no more fire
and he was chosen to fetch it, eighty kilometres on.
He’d braved bullets and risked his life to scoop the carbon-winged fledgling
from a fallen frieze, in a church that had just been mortarred.
Nights he would rest, make a fire; next morning
set out again, the best coals in his earthenware pot,
ending each night the leg of his journey
blowing on the last embers and carefully
pealing each one, out of its shawl of ash.
This he confessed to me in a fearful tone
with slain eyes, as if I were interrogating him . . .
And I could picture him sleeping, half awake and curled up
with his breathing charge next to him swaddled in her own glow –
a lover, that freight of light bones in her moody nightdress.
I wished the man good luck, gave his shoulder a press
while he blew into his hands again fanning on
                                                                 the small goddess,
his precious pet, Prometheus’ fire.”

Die Onbaatsugtige

Die Onbaatsugtige

Die voormalige SAW-lid is deesdae ’n huursoldaat
en dus goed toegerus om by wyse van spreke
dieselfde saak van twee kante te benader.
“Dit was einde van die reënseisoen in Mosambiek,”
vertel hy, op die hoë plato waar hy nou veediewe jag.
“Bleek gordyne water het nog af en toe uitgesak;
die vernietigendste fase van die oorlog was afgelope.
Sagte rompe van die uitgeroeide bos en van mense ook
het in die klam grond en moeraslande lê en gis . . . ”
’n Sweempie verrrukking, miskien ootmoed, in sy stem.
“ . . . Ek was op roetinepatrollie
                                              in ’n verlate gebied
toe ons op ’n eensame figuur langs die pad afkom.
Hy was haastig en vasbeslote op pad iewers heen,
’n kalbas of iets dergeliks wat bengel aan sy arm
en het sy hande liggies voor sy gesig geskommel
elke nou en dan, en in sy palms geblaas.
Tog is dit nooit in die jaar daar koud nie;
asof  hy stop, en met ’n dobbelsteentjie speel
om ’n rukkie te rus op ’n baie lang sending.
Op sy rug: ’n sinkplaat; ’n koker houtjies.  
In die verbyry het dit gelyk hy prewel by homself,
en onbewus van ander
                                           skielik op sy knieë val.
Die oorlog het vele vorms van waansin geskep . . .
’n Oomblik later loop hy verder, meer verbete,
in die verte weer op sy knieë, toe ek vlugtig terugkyk.
Een van die ouens in die pantservoertuig het haastig die kruis
geslaan in aanskoue van wat lyk na Ave Marias:    
die wyses van ’n bestemming bereik, is bra beperk . . .  
Twee dae later op die terugpad kom ons hom weer teë,
vyftig kilometer noord van die eerste ontmoeting.
Ek het gewonder van hoe ver suid hy kom;
met wie hy so knaend en so liefdevol gesels
in die oopknip-medaljon van sy hande.  
                                                           Sy liefling?
Vele het in die oorlog ál hul geliefdes verloor.
Ek onthou hom in sy spore vassteek, om die lug in sy palms te wieg,
miskien ’n klein diertjie, dag ek, ’n marmotjie, eers in sy kruis
en toe in ’n oksel te koester, teen ’n skielike opwaai van die bries.
Ek het nader gestaan, na waar hy hurk in die kruispad;
hom ‘Amper daar, amper daar’ hoor fluister
in sy bakgemaakte hande. Ek maak uit van sy taal.
Hy’t doodbang gelyk toe ek langs hom kom staan.
Die locals vermy soldate en praat nie eintlik met hulle nie.
Die ander in die Unimog het vir die malle gegrinnik.
Toe vra ek hom om my te wys wat in sy hande is.
Hy’t sy geëelte palms huiwerig uitgehou.
                                                             Dit was ’n brandende kool.  
In sy verwoeste nedersetting was nie meer vuur nie
en die lot het op hom geval om dit te gaan haal
in die naaste buurdorp, tagtig kilometer ver.
Hy het koeëls getroef en sy lewe gewaag om die gevlerkte vlamkuiken
van ’n ingestorte kroonlys af te skep, in ’n kerk wat onder skoot gekom het.
Snags sou hy rus, ’n vuurtjie maak; die môre weer verder
met die beste kole in sy erdepotjie,
en saans die skof eindig met enkele kooltjies
wat hy een-een aanblaas, en lig uit ’n jakkie as.
Dit het hy aan my gebieg, in ’n vreesbevange toon
met ’n verslane blik, soos voor ’n militêre ondervraer.
En ek kon my voorstel hoe hy wakker slaap, opgekrul
langs sy ademende toevertroueling in haar windsels eie gloed,
verlief op die vraggie bene in haar toornige nagrokkie.
Ek het hom voorspoed toegewens en sy skouer ’n drukkie gegee
terwyl hy weer in sy hande blaas,
                                                      die wieke instoot onder
sy klein godin, die kosbare troeteldier: Prometeus se vuur.”
Close

Die Onbaatsugtige

Die voormalige SAW-lid is deesdae ’n huursoldaat
en dus goed toegerus om by wyse van spreke
dieselfde saak van twee kante te benader.
“Dit was einde van die reënseisoen in Mosambiek,”
vertel hy, op die hoë plato waar hy nou veediewe jag.
“Bleek gordyne water het nog af en toe uitgesak;
die vernietigendste fase van die oorlog was afgelope.
Sagte rompe van die uitgeroeide bos en van mense ook
het in die klam grond en moeraslande lê en gis . . . ”
’n Sweempie verrrukking, miskien ootmoed, in sy stem.
“ . . . Ek was op roetinepatrollie
                                              in ’n verlate gebied
toe ons op ’n eensame figuur langs die pad afkom.
Hy was haastig en vasbeslote op pad iewers heen,
’n kalbas of iets dergeliks wat bengel aan sy arm
en het sy hande liggies voor sy gesig geskommel
elke nou en dan, en in sy palms geblaas.
Tog is dit nooit in die jaar daar koud nie;
asof  hy stop, en met ’n dobbelsteentjie speel
om ’n rukkie te rus op ’n baie lang sending.
Op sy rug: ’n sinkplaat; ’n koker houtjies.  
In die verbyry het dit gelyk hy prewel by homself,
en onbewus van ander
                                           skielik op sy knieë val.
Die oorlog het vele vorms van waansin geskep . . .
’n Oomblik later loop hy verder, meer verbete,
in die verte weer op sy knieë, toe ek vlugtig terugkyk.
Een van die ouens in die pantservoertuig het haastig die kruis
geslaan in aanskoue van wat lyk na Ave Marias:    
die wyses van ’n bestemming bereik, is bra beperk . . .  
Twee dae later op die terugpad kom ons hom weer teë,
vyftig kilometer noord van die eerste ontmoeting.
Ek het gewonder van hoe ver suid hy kom;
met wie hy so knaend en so liefdevol gesels
in die oopknip-medaljon van sy hande.  
                                                           Sy liefling?
Vele het in die oorlog ál hul geliefdes verloor.
Ek onthou hom in sy spore vassteek, om die lug in sy palms te wieg,
miskien ’n klein diertjie, dag ek, ’n marmotjie, eers in sy kruis
en toe in ’n oksel te koester, teen ’n skielike opwaai van die bries.
Ek het nader gestaan, na waar hy hurk in die kruispad;
hom ‘Amper daar, amper daar’ hoor fluister
in sy bakgemaakte hande. Ek maak uit van sy taal.
Hy’t doodbang gelyk toe ek langs hom kom staan.
Die locals vermy soldate en praat nie eintlik met hulle nie.
Die ander in die Unimog het vir die malle gegrinnik.
Toe vra ek hom om my te wys wat in sy hande is.
Hy’t sy geëelte palms huiwerig uitgehou.
                                                             Dit was ’n brandende kool.  
In sy verwoeste nedersetting was nie meer vuur nie
en die lot het op hom geval om dit te gaan haal
in die naaste buurdorp, tagtig kilometer ver.
Hy het koeëls getroef en sy lewe gewaag om die gevlerkte vlamkuiken
van ’n ingestorte kroonlys af te skep, in ’n kerk wat onder skoot gekom het.
Snags sou hy rus, ’n vuurtjie maak; die môre weer verder
met die beste kole in sy erdepotjie,
en saans die skof eindig met enkele kooltjies
wat hy een-een aanblaas, en lig uit ’n jakkie as.
Dit het hy aan my gebieg, in ’n vreesbevange toon
met ’n verslane blik, soos voor ’n militêre ondervraer.
En ek kon my voorstel hoe hy wakker slaap, opgekrul
langs sy ademende toevertroueling in haar windsels eie gloed,
verlief op die vraggie bene in haar toornige nagrokkie.
Ek het hom voorspoed toegewens en sy skouer ’n drukkie gegee
terwyl hy weer in sy hande blaas,
                                                      die wieke instoot onder
sy klein godin, die kosbare troeteldier: Prometeus se vuur.”

The mercenary

The former SADF soldier is a mercenary these days
and thus well-equipped, in a manner of speaking,
to approach the same issue from opposite sides.
“It was end of the rainy season in Mozambique,” he told me
on the high plateau, where he now hunts cattle thieves.
“Blank curtains of water would still drop from the sky;
the most devastating phase of the war was behind.
Soft trunks, of the vanishing forest – of humans too –
were fermenting in the dank ground and marshlands . . . ”
An undertow of rapture, maybe awe, in his voice.
“ . . . I was with a regular patrol
                                                 on a desolate stretch
when we spotted this figure alongside the road.
He was walking very fast and determinedly,
a calabash of sorts swinging from an arm,
tossing his palms in front of his mouth very lightly
and blowing into them, every now and then.
It’s never really cold in those reaches, though –
as if stopping, to play with a die,
maybe to alleviate a long mission’s tediousness.
Tied to his back: a corrugated iron sheet; a quiver with kindle.
As we drove past he seemed to be muttering,
and oblivious of others
                                                 fell to his knees suddenly.
The war had created many forms of insanity . . .
moments later up and walking on, more concertedly,
falling to his knees in the distance again, as I looked back.
One of the other guys in the armoured vehicle hastily
crossed his heart seeing such apparent, fervent Hail Marys:
there are not too many ways to get to a destination . . .
Two days later, on the way back, we passed him again
fifty kilometres north from the first time.
I wondered from how far south he’d been coming,
who he was talking to so incessantly and lovingly
in the butterfly locket of his hands.
                                                       A sweetheart?
Many had lost all their loved ones in that war.
I saw him stop dead, to cradle the air in his palms, maybe
a small animal I thought, a hamster, first in his crotch
then in an armpit, against a sudden flaring of the breeze.
I went up closer, to where he was crouching at a crossroad,
heard him whispering ‘Almost there, almost there’
into his cupped hands. I know a bit of the language.
He looked scared stiff when he saw me next to him.
The locals avoid soldiers and try not to talk to them.
The others in the Unimog kept smirking at the madman.
I asked him to show me what was in his hands.
He held out his calloused palms reluctantly.
                                                                      It was an ember.
The razed village he came from had no more fire
and he was chosen to fetch it, eighty kilometres on.
He’d braved bullets and risked his life to scoop the carbon-winged fledgling
from a fallen frieze, in a church that had just been mortarred.
Nights he would rest, make a fire; next morning
set out again, the best coals in his earthenware pot,
ending each night the leg of his journey
blowing on the last embers and carefully
pealing each one, out of its shawl of ash.
This he confessed to me in a fearful tone
with slain eyes, as if I were interrogating him . . .
And I could picture him sleeping, half awake and curled up
with his breathing charge next to him swaddled in her own glow –
a lover, that freight of light bones in her moody nightdress.
I wished the man good luck, gave his shoulder a press
while he blew into his hands again fanning on
                                                                 the small goddess,
his precious pet, Prometheus’ fire.”
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