page torn from the commonplace book

“Grab SHOULD by its D and skin it to its S.”

-Odysseas Elytis, from The Little Mariner


“I was still only a little boy and I was standing with my pa and we were also looking at little plants that had been burnt black by the frost– etrjies and tomatoes that time, we hadn’t planted our pumpkins yet– and it was me who asked, ‘Why? We worked so hard, Pa.’ I said. ‘Why must it come now?’ ‘It was a late frost,’ my father said. ‘I know, Pa,’ I said, ‘but why now?’ ‘Because that’s the way it is,’ he said. ‘But why is it that way just when the little seeds are starting to grow?’ ‘Because that is the way it is with the late frost.’ ‘But Pa,’ I said, because I still had questions…

“And that is when he hit me. ‘Listen now, Abraam’– nobody was yet calling me Buks– ‘Listen Abraam,’ he said, ‘The why is because it is the late frost. You don’t need to ask ‘Why.’ Throw that word away. It’s useless. ‘Why’ is because it is. Do you ask why the sun shines, the wind blows, the rain falls, the late frost comes? There is no why to what God does. He is why. Finish and klaar.’

Oupa in Coming Home, by Athol Fugard


“To be vulnerable is to be fully human. It’s the only way you can bleed into other people.”

-Antjie Krog, 1995, in an unpublished interview with Denis Hirson


“They say if your mother held you
on her right side, head in the moist curve
of her arm, you are lonely,
and if she held you on her left,
her breast breathing into your ear,
you are lonely.”

-Ingrid de Kok, from “This thing we learn from others”


Ladybird (a memory of my mother)

Gleam ochre
and a light breaks
out of the sea.
In the backyard
somewhere among the washing
and a tree full of pomegranates
your laugh in the morning
sudden and small
is like a ladybird
fallen on my hand.

-Ingrid Jonker



“Poetry is the consciousness of suffering, not its consolation.”

-Carolyn Forché


“The horse spoke: ‘I am The Only One.
The emptiness that rode me I have thrown.
This is my stable. I am growing quietly.
And I eat the silence that’s in here.’ ”

Tomas Tranströmer, from “The Palace”

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