After the Interrogation


There is the sack of skin, dark
or light, ready to give out
under small cunningly-applied pressures
its passage of blood
from the heart to the tongue.
There is firefall & gangrene,
there are forty-three days of interrogation
& a fifteen-year sentence in the works.
Plenty of time to dream in your cell
of a young woman's breasts:
the purple areolas deepening to black
at the nipples, of burying your head
between them & never coming up.
Death would be like that, you say–
something that makes you ache inside
the way a woman can make you ache.
Or a few sad fragments of speech
from The Cherry Orchard come back to you,
& your remember the first time you read it
how you wanted to cy, because it was true,
that sadness. Russia dying
into the twentieth century–what could have been
further from you life?–& yet Chekhov
was speaking only to you: telling you
he was once as scared as you were
of blank paper, of its stare, but just wrote
& wrote because all he wanted
was someone to talk to, that what was
writing anyway but someone talking
to someone he couldn't see.
How it came to you later, one morning
on Hoedjes Bay, up-coast from Capetown,
the wind driving the sand off the dunes
into your nostrils, your hair,
a few thick-necked cumuli
skudding inward toward land & no rain,
the waves crashing four abreast,
each one a mouth
talking & talking, slab after slab of language
heaved up from the sea–
& for the first time you knew
you were born to this life to write
in the open, to read the braille
surface of things & give emptiness
a face.
           Pigeons
scratching the cement in the cell-yard
wake you, but in your mind
you're back in Johannesburg,
that tree on State Street: the pigeons
underneath clucking like grandmothers
as they devour the pink clusters of fruit
they imagine have fallen only for them.
How they remind yo of the guards–
all appetite & affability.
And yet, nothing like the guards
at all. Who are not birds, but only men
doing a job, & you
are the job.
                        And it's only now, finally
awake from this morning's beating,
that you see it: the window.
The guards have left the window open.
But not out of carelessness, & not for the air.
So. All that blather about power
& how much of it the State can wield
over a person, when any child
could have told you–pain.
A ten-penny hose artfully employed,
a glass rod worked from the tip
of the penis to its root & then broken,
bending the arm past the elbow's
ability . . . . Enough pain
that they won't have to kill you, you'll
do it for them, that kind of power.
And that once dead, you are theirs.
Public. Molecular. Stripped of thought,
of its privacy, which terrifies them
as it once terrified you–the solitude
& particulars of moving through time.
Time, which goes only as far
as the window, which is four feet away
& is open & is seven flights down.
That everything you've written
since that morning by the ocean
is there, just past the widow, saying
don't do it–though something
in your body is moving anyway, & no one,
not even you, has a right to stop it.
But your arms are too mangled to pull.
You'll have to help. You'll have to make it
on words alone this time, drag yourself
by the tongue to the window,
lean far enough out
& let go . . .
                        Into a rush
of women's breasts, your wife, her breasts
sagging against her blouse as she bends
over the well in the courtyard at home
looking at her hair in the water. And in her hair
a pale-green comb of Malagasy tortoiseshell,
& you think, of all things, why that?
A comb. Something trivial & exquisite
your last thought on earth
as the cement shoves into you
so suddenly & so hard
it doesn't hurt–just the momentary
nausea, a few miserable syllables
coughed up with the blood, & then silence.
Silence by the well in Soweto. Silence
under the tree on State Street. Silence
with its boot in the door of your voice.


Lawrence Kearney, Kingdom Come, Wesleyan University Press, 1980.