November 28, 2021

Susan Smith

HOW DO YOU SLEEP BEN VAN BEURDEN

to the executive CEO of Royal Dutch Shell
on behalf of the sea creatures and waters of the Wild Coast

how do you sleep
ben van beurden
how do you sleep in the hague
with the cries of dying
whales blowing through your dreams
how do you cushion
your ears ben van beurden
against the piercing cries
of water’s heralds how do you hem
with glistening brocade and thick velvet
the onslaught of decibels the whorling
broken aftershocks of anxiety the
desiccation of the smallest
invertebrates of chunks
of whale of wombs of dolphins
the explosion of tympanic membranes
that navigated survival
across thousands of nautical miles
the clicks and growls the pulses and the snaps
of subaquatic tongues

how do you sleep ben

in the royal dutch shell
in the arms of neocolonialism
your oil basting the palms
of gwede and his cronies your mouth
glistening from the feast of giant
shrimp and lobster

how do you sleep ben van beurden

how do you sleep how do you tuck
your children in at night
how do you comfort your grandchildren
how do you read them stories
about the earth that was beautiful
once upon a time and whole
before you

how do you sleep

how do you sit
at your table
ben van beurden
with the bodies
of your children neatly
carved into forearms and rounds
thighs and silverside
doused in a delicate gravy

it is after all you
ben van beurden
who breaks the bread
who eats

—tr. from the Afrikaans by Peter Midgley

 

Afrikaans Original:

HOE SLAAP JY BEN VAN BEURDEN

aan die hoof uitvoerende bestuurder van Royal Dutch Shell
namens die seelewe en waters van die Wildekus

hoe slaap jy
ben van beurden
hoe slaap jy in die haag
met die beuels van sterwende
walvisse wat deur jou drome
blaas hoe kussing
jy jou ore ben van beurden
teen die heroute van water
se priemende krete hoe voering
jy met glansbrokaat en digte fluweel
die aanslag van desibels die kolkende
skeurende nágolwe van angs die
uitmekaarruk van nietige
ongewerlweldes van hompe walvis
van buike en vinne van dolfyne
die ontploffing van hoormembrane
wat oor duisende seemyle
tyd en plek en oorlewing moes navigeer
die klikke die gromme die polse die klappe
van onderwatertaal

hoe slaap jy ben

hoe slaap jy in die koninklike
nederlandse shell in die arms
van neokolonialisme jou olie
bedruip die handpalms
van gwede en trawante jou mond
blink by die feesmaal van konings-
garnale en kreef

hoe slaap jy ben van beurden

hoe slaap jy hoe vou jy
jou kinders toe
hoe sus jy jou kleinkinders
hoe lees jy vir hulle stories
oor die aarde wat eens
mooi was en héél
vóór jou

hoe slaap jy

hoe sit jy aan
by jou eie tafel
ben van beurden
met die liggaampies
van jou kinders netjies
in voorarmpies en boudjies
in magies en dytjies opgesny
verbros in ‘n sousie

dis immers jy
ben van beurden
wat die brood breek en eet

from Poets Respond
November 28, 2021

__________

Peter Midgley: “News broke late in November the Royal Dutch Shell intends to start seismic testing off the South African Wild Coast—without having done environmental impact assessments that meet acceptable current standards. The response to Shell’s decision has been swift and vocal. Susan Smith originally posted an early draft of the Afrikaans poem on her personal Facebook page, where I found it. Recognizing its importance as a response to Shell’s recklessness, I immediately translated it and sent a copy of the translation to the author. The New Frame article offers a good analysis of the situation.” (web)

 

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