As children we were crazy about
flint and glinting mica; from construction sites we collected bricks
the colour of brass and rust for crayons, and smooth stones from pathways.
Even the jewel-like shards of glass that grew at the supermarket
and the broken stones at the drive-in where suppliers
stacked cartons of tinned food. Sometimes I gifted you
my envy on a sliver that shone in the water
and which you threw away as soon as it was dry. (This searching,
discarding, searching – does one inherit it? Is one taught
finger exercises to let go, to own, or is it
a longing to be able to remember, finally?) I found a piece of amber
the size of my thumb-tip and was thrilled for a few minutes
about something that I had never desired. One time
a chalk-toad made me happy, then it was used
as a paper-weight, then it was lost. Did I say
remember? It would be nice to speak of oddities
to see every object as so unique, it forces
my hand to decide. The fact is, the hands pick up
and let go, or hold on firmly and let go or
hold on to something else until each completes the other.
And this – placed in a coat pocket and later found
and hardly noticed. But enough – I want to talk
about the stones. The stones that stand at a beach in the South
like shining cartons that are opened a finger-width
each year by the breaking waves and are filled with pressed,
salted sand and bound with ropes made of quartz. You can’t
miss them. Drive down to Hoëbaai, stop at the parking lot
then follow the dirt track that winds its way up the hillock.
From there you will see it, stacked up against the rolling
seawall, the cartons that are filled to the point of bursting.
Translated from the German by Sridala Swami and Jeet Thayil