On the Road to the Kouga, by Breyten Breytenbach

Op pad na die Kouga / On the Road to the Kouga

On the road to Upper-Kouga, through narrow passes over landscapes
that lie shimmering in the sun’s dying light,
where the dark defeats the world peak by peak,
we came over a crest
and turned off to where the moon passes over
as pale and safe as a word
in one’s own mother-trusted-tongue,
and there was light in the house:
it was good,
we were glad.

The people living there met us.
In the hearth the coals were still glowing –
where there’s a fire there’s always kneading-chatting.
We ate the fresh bread with mulberry and apricot jam
and we enjoyed the wine and later, outside,
we sniffed at the  oven
because it was still warm of the fragrance
of something from far away, coming to life.
And it was good, like that,
so that was that,
as it should be,
because we were no longer guests and hosts,
and we were glad.

We drank of the water that
trickled from the mountain.
We looked at the old and somber watchful mountains,
how they stand guard around the valley,
and at the stars and the mountain:
the cross above the ravine
and the others
like fires over a charred veldt.
We saw a little plume of smoke in the moonlight
and listened to how all the frogs chew in time,
all on one tooth,
and how the cicadas in the trees still sing praises
to the sun of yesterday-and-tomorrow,
and we were glad.

We don’t know the love-names of the stars.
The trees are gorgeous but unimaginable.
In the dark we do not see future visions.
In the dark
we discovered that the farms here
are named for longings
so heavy and so chilled;
“Begrudged”, “Depths-of-Sorrow”, “Inconvenient”
to up there in “Damnation Valley”.
But that’s not saying anything,
and it is good, like that,
and we were happy
to be with you.

May there always be a light in your house,
may the frogs remember you,
may your apples grow sweeter every year,
and your grape arbour greener,
may your friends always bring over some wine,
may the house you have built be redolent of
the fragrance of cedar wood and geranium leaves,
may the walls of your ditches not collapse
and fall apart too quickly,
so that the water can flow even more brightly in them,
may the stars and the mountains and the silence
stand guard over you and your family,
now and tomorrow and every morning and evening,
and every day’s night.