Joan Hambidge – vertaling in Engels

Joan Hambidge – vertaal deur/translated by Jo Nel, Charl JF Cilliers & the author 

Joan Hambidge
Joan Hambidge

Joan Hambidge is Professor of Afrikaans Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town. Her latest volume of poems is Visums by verstek (2011). She is a regular book reviewer and writes articles on literature and films. She conducts MA courses in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town. Joan has two doctorates. She has also published several satirical and non-satirical novels such as Die Judaskus, Palindroom and Kladboek. Die buigsaamheid van verdriet (2006) is a volume of selected poems. She is also known for her essays on literary theory. For her poetry she was awarded the Eugène Marais Prize and the Litera Prize.  Another volume of poetry, Lot se vrou, will be published shortly.




So hard to download all the rememberings.

The internet connection is unstable

and the files are too large for my inbox.

What is more, I’m struggling to delete them.

An answering machine warns of heavy traffic…

Oh how I abhor the use of words

such as files, delete and traffic!

Technical concepts that interrupt my poem,

like you for whom meditation means

emptying, cleaning out, a clear mind.

So hard to download all the memories.

How much less complicated was it not

before the internet. Now we are at the mercy

of the babblings of a hasty sms,

the siege of an e-mail, warfare on a blog and, dammit,

that one connection

that can end in instability, in peril.

The whole day I have been exploring

reasons for our temporisation.

And in a different light I meditate

on a connection in a poem downloading slowly

and causing a whole system to freeze.


( Charl JF Cilliers)




Tokio, A Meditation


Does silence have a structure?, your late-night email

asked me here in the light of another time zone

while I struggled with wifi in a room of the Shiba Park hotel.

My reply kept getting stuck, skittish, floundering

like a fish that was about to lose its ki.

Just behind the hotel there was a funeral parlour,

a karaoke bar and a park for indolent walks.

This email’s like a smouldering fire, I reply.

I still cannot get an on-line connection.

Yesterday at the temple, washed my hands, left a coin.

Like me, the gods here are silent in all the conflicting languages.

In an unsent email there is a scorching soundlessness.


(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)



New York



Tonight I double-lock the door

and in my memory see your majestic skyline.

The city – like this traveller –

grows more guarded, but not more silent;

nothing can ever supersede

your imposing, tumbling Twin Towers:

in their very absence doubly absent.

In Chinatown the small call boxes still boast

their petite pagoda roofs and Harlem remains in darkness,

an expanse of hatred, malice and insurgency.

In Greenwich Village people give an account of how

it happened: in slow motion, as if in a dream,

first one and then another blast.

Armageddon. Descent into Hell. Doomsday.

You have seen other wars come and go,

have become a haven for soldiers fighting

in the old world; have drawn strangers to your bosom;

for guests from far and near you skyscraper ever higher.

You become the whole world in a city.

In 1927 you rejoiced when Charles Lindbergh

completed a breath-catching solo flight from here to Paris.

In 1929 you lived through Wall Street,

a state of total loss, a black depression.

So it is then: a city of high points, beacons, an Empire State,

a Statue of Liberty, while a deep subway keeps murmuring and toiling.

Much-celebrated city, with a heart called Central Park:

Once more I walk down 5th Avenue, see ships on the Hudson,

hear yellow cabs restlessly idling close to Greenwich Village.

So many poets have sought sanctuary in you.

One even foretold this last onslaught upon you:

“we must love one another or die…”

Is Deep Throat still showing on 42nd?

And does a deadbeat still call out: “Spare me a dime?”

I stand in Times Square and wonder who

on Broadway tonight will play out

the American Dream in cryptic shards of sound?

A Brooklyn Bridge across which survivors, coated in dust, keep fleeing?

A David Mamet with hot-blooded dagger thrusts?

An exuberant restaging of Hair or Oh, Calcutta!

would strike a false note, be out of place…

City of many names: forest of stone,

the Big Apple

the city that never sleeps,

“the city so nice they named it twice”…

Make me your Fiorello la Guardia,

an honorary citizen, an ambassador,

for you who remain standing,

in spite of adversity.


(From: Visums by Verstek, H & R, 2011) 

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)





A small matchbox

kervansaray international holiday courts

packed with memories and impressions.

In so many cities a collected memento:

from Havana, soap, its fragrance lost, a fold-up toothbrush

from Acapulco’s Zen Hotel, a tube of toothpaste from Kyoto.

I play at  Alice In Wonderland: grow larger and smaller

in front of all the travel doors of memory.

There was a time when I drowned in my tears: a tolling bell

of parting, rejection, the end of a relationship,

impelled the journey. The ginger cat’s smile lingers.

One late summer afternoon I drove into Edinburgh,

amazed at the pink tinge of a city

ablaze with the colours of sunset.

Now it is an inward journey in the knowledge that all

my impressions are imaged in such a small matchbox.


(From: Visums by Verstek, H & R, 2011) 

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)





You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. – Samuel Johnson


or rather, river too wide to be

controlled. In 1666 a fire devoured

your heart. You survived, were rebuilt,

endured plagues, wars, invasions, deaths.

Yet you have never gripped my imagination. I am

merely tarrying here, viewing your landmarks such as the Thames,

Westminster, Buckingham Palace, too many to recount.

You are, have always been, merely a gateway to other cities,

en route to Dublin, Glasgow, Vienna. A meal ticket.

Forgive me! This is, in the first place (and the last),

about me, not you. I do not find myself in Mexico

longing for Granada; nor singing the praises of Petticoat Lane

in a cold city with a Tube that stretches far and wide.

(and hidden from sight, evils walk round at night, like Jack the Ripper.)

I hate your Cockney sounds, your double-decker buses,

your detachment, your ruefulness, your haughtiness.

An Englishman in New York, my foot!

But wait. There is indeed something that lifts you above

others (apart from strange sounds and colours):

Madam Tussauds.

Imitation, cloning, likenesses.

Here I stand, a visitor to the house of spent passion,

love that has flown; The Tales of Hoffman is playing,

but there is no more life.

Here you take me back to the bluebeard room,

to all the wax images of my lost, heart-rending relationships.

Fortunately my head – like that of the Madam – is not being chopped

off. Your detachment thus commemorated.


(From: Visums by Verstek, H & R, 2011) 

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)



Santiago de Chile


O beloved, tormented city:

I know of your distress,

your Costanero Norte cut off,

Santiaguinos trapped in

your dark underground and Estacion.

In my mind I walk across

the Alameda and wonder if Sanhattan

is still standing. Is the snow on the Andes melting?

Is the Cordillera de la Costa

aware of your setback? Is the Mapoche flourishing?

Is the Tupungato volcano

dormantly spluttering?

O beloved, tormented city:

La Chascona, that monument,

is hopefully unscathed?

“Beyond the country’s walls,

beside the snow’s crystal lattice,

behind the river’s green leafiness,

under the nitrate and thorns

I came upon drops of blood,

and every drop burned

like fire.” The words of the poet

of La Chascona remain

alive in me all the way to Machu Picchu

and the morning glow of the Urubamba’s

spluttering soleful sounds of longing.


(From: Visums by Verstek, H & R, 2011) 

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)




Krung Thep Mahanakhon


City of Angels,

Big City ,

Eternal City of Jewels,

Impenetrable City,

how does one evoke you in my language,

not in Pali or Sanskrit?

In your words you are called

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya

Witsanukam Prasit

apparently the longest name on earth,

according to The Lonely Planet.

My poetry needs something more passionate, more urgent:

For me you are the Venice of the East

with your rivers and canals properly protected

against inundations and floods and other calamities.

Who watches over you?

In my imagination I see

children sailing over klongs

during jubilant festivities,

and on Queen Sirikit’s birthday,

so it is said, there are cheerful decorations and lights

in her honour. Angelic, bounteous, I am told,

as the leave granted, during a Brahmin festive season,

for frenzied rice-picking,

and for perhaps gaining some fleeting

understanding of you?

Without ceremony

or long-windedness,

your excess articulated in your name.

I do not understand you:

could never get you trimmed

down: even though I was there.


(From: Visums by Verstek, H & R, 2011) 

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)


Charl JF Cilliers  was born in 1941 in Cape Town. Initially he went into the field of electronics and lectured for 4 years. He then joined Parliament as a translator in 1968 and retired in 1998 as Editor of Hansard. His first volume of poems West-Falling Light appeared in 1971, to be followed by Has Winter No Wisdom in 1978. His Collected Poems 1960 – 2008 appeared in 2008 and The Journey in 2010. His latest volume of poetry , A momentary stay.  was published in 2011. He also published a volume of children’s poems, Fireflies Facing The Moon, in 2008. He has retired to the Cape West Coast where he continues to write.


My sweet old etcetera


It’s through Latin

Etruscan becomes comprehensible –

and even Egyptian hieroglyphics

are effortlessly deciphered

by experts; now explicable.

But who will someday grasp

the alphabet of our ruins?


Mysteriously you construct

a plastic model ship

of the Titanic – while I drift

on the Dead Sea

anticipating deliverance.

Archaelogical research

cannot simplify

the destruction

which you multiply.


(Tr. by Jo Nel)



One night-stand


The scène is always the same:



The next day constantly a mind fuck:


and regret.


To fall in love is like placing a bet.


(Tr. by the author)



 Writing as fucking


To write a sapphic verse

close before midnight

leads to many problems

(ignoring “vicious mathematics” …)

to find a non-off-beat image

for our for(ever)ness:

the pen is mightier than the sword:

does not work; too phallic, sexist,

sounds like penis-envy…

when two lips speak together:

does not reveal much of our softness/tenderness;

rubyfruit jungle:

is false, fruit-

less romanticism;

dark labyrinth:

too desperately literary;

bitter lemons:

cute poetic cunninglingus.


To write a (love)poem

like this, creates


about that which merely is.


(Tr. by the author)




For Margaret Rosabel Mezzabotta


Untimely, premature your exit

to an unknown region.

The soul, I remember this morning,

needs the slow maturation of wine.

If hastily uncorked or poured

wine suffers bottle shock.

You would have been able to verify

this for me: an obscure reference

to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

But to comprehend your death

is an undecodable hieroglyphic

in a dark impassable alleyway.

Death reverses the order of words,

it makes us look back, remember, even

seize small moments of chance –

like my cleaning your glasses once,

discussing dark symbols with you.

For this funeral oration, or rather declamation —

as a poet I am completely unprepared,

no, undeclared, undeserving…

The so-called consolatio or comfort

of a medium (Look, she sends you a rose)

or the flickering of a candle,

undoes nothing. What does “passing away”

mean? That you had to leave – in my book

anyway – far too rapidly

for heaven? That your soul was forced out

seemingly without warning. That roses fade,

candles cease to flicker…

Still I wanted to ask:

“Who scratched out Nefertiti’s one eye

so that she was blinded on the other side?”


(Tr. by the author)



My parents




From my birdlike mother,

I inherited my unhappy, dissatisfied, unpleasing nature:

Yesterday, was a better day.

From my forceful, burly father,

my dreamy, romantic, undaunted disposition.


The one can place words like blocks;

the other’s dreamy nature almost blocked

by others…


And me?

Their heirloom?

The one part of the Janus head

looks back to what was;

the other half to what words

may unblock.




Oh it was always so effortless, so easy

to turn away from you my parents,

the eternal addressees

of this poem and my prayers.


This is an elegy

before you leave for the other side

and because a funereal poem might be inappropriate

at this time of deadly silence.


For her my crooked old mother

for him my burly father

something which is shorter than a letter

worthier than a legacy

more lasting than a gravestone

more reliable than an insurance policy

more worthy than a family ring.


Every poem which stems

from me with affection

due to them.


Her voice the metre of my verses

his hand the form of my words.




They are the salt of the earth

yes, the salt of the earth

because their tears

their tears

stream like salt

like salt

over their cheeks

They are the salt of the earth

my parents

lamenting in silence

over their children’s tears

streaming like salt

like salt

over their cheeks





tonight I recall a letter to you

written in my niggling handwriting

from a faraway country:


It is winter in New Haven

at night I hear the silence

of the snow falling

like the wings of departing swallows


O Mother

I carry the heavy burden

of feeling the descending words

the feathers of a departing swallow


O Mother

O Mother

I carry the heavy burden

of words descending on me

like black swallows.




Tonight I suddenly recall

how you called

out: “Everything is against me!”

and about three decades later

I realise


how you struggled

to fit us all in

on your 30 Day Old Mutual



Another policy

another late shift

an extra work load.


And I?


I keep myself busy with a policy

with almost no investment value.

It fails to fit on a normal calender,

it prefers the unpredictable hour

and yes, it does not protect you

against disillusion

or similar feelings

as a published poem betraying the poet.




When I was younger

and oh so unsure


they were merely in the way


but now I return

incessantly to them

my parents so sure

and understanding,

prepared to stand surety


Does a pun lurks there

in being “sure” and “stand surety”

if merely in a poem?





I carry you

a graft on my body.

I dreamt of you last night:

you are playing in an orchestra

with your old cronies

at a small, village wedding

with many dirty, stacked plates.

You hand me a glass of wine…


How real, tangible

the dream feels which according to Cirlot

might indicate an approaching death.

Yes, my father presents me with a glass

from which I pour life

with full abundance.




My mother prefers

Not to be mentioned in my verses.

Yet my first searching, rambling poem

written in a faraway USA

in cold winter snow, was addressed to her.


Previously I spoke to her through

other woman poets in my letters.

Poetry learnt by heart

now written from the heart.

My mother prefers

not to be mentioned in my verses.

Yet all words stem

from the restrained, confined mother womb.


Oh mother forgive me this tres-

pass, this intrusion

of your privacy,

due to the unsevered umbilical cord.




Look at them, my parents,

sitting as a young engaged couple

on a sofa in a Jewish studio.

You smile with a little hat on your head

holding Dad’s hand.

Many decades later I realise:

we choose undoubtedly our parents

prenatal and astral.


Here they are, my parents,


the two old wrecks

in a poem by their second eldest.

I see them after being 50 years together:

on that day I phone them up

from a faraway place.


I place them neatly

– as if for a photo shoot –

for a final analysis,

for an unharmed version,

in a thankful cadeau.

A coup de chapeau!


(Tr. by the author)





Although I lost my religion long before my virginity


yes it was traumatic   to copy others

in this process   me I copycat    could I understand in Rome

the first original shall we say, most original city

of the arts understand why artists create

represent passion in a painting hanging upside

down from roofs   everything for art’s sake

I must confess: I even cried


when I saw Michelangelo’s Pieta


as it becomes more than a mother

not comprehending the death

of her beloved firstborn   look at the fingers

they are stretched out   searching    

the son’s cold broken knee

the head backwards   the loin cloth unravel-

ling  how long will it take before the body de-

composes?  the muscles breaking down


Even the holes in hand and foot

recalled in breathtaking detail

(Remember: He was pierced)


For me death here becomes colder than marble


(Tr. by the author)



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