The new novel I’m working on features a gardener and it starts something like this (crappy first drafts are actually not meant for anyone’s eyes, but I need to get you in the picture):
Harry is a gardener. And a murderer.
Or so he was told by his five year old daughter Martha. She watched as he caught snails, probing into the cosy hidey-holes among leaves and leaf litter. Her blonde little eyebrows went up in concentration, her mouth pursed. She held onto the edge of the scuffed bucket while he dropped the snails in one by one. They landed with a dull thud, nearly weightless in their calcium carbonate shells.
After a moment of presumably concussion-induced immobility (if snails indeed have concussion prone nervous systems) they started to unfurl their squashy feet (one foot per snail) and tried out the plastic sides of the bucket for grip. Which, despite the sprinkling of salt, they found for a moment.
Then Harry reached for the salt shaker and dashed off a few more shakes of pure Australian sea salt onto the unsuspecting molluscs.
“Murderer,” Martha whispered.
This somehow resonates with a poem I wrote years ago and included in my self-published poetry collection Die dood is ‘n mooi blou blom (2009). So here is the original Afrikaans poem and after that my attempt at translation.
hier wil ek geen giwwe hê nie,
geen massamoord met korrels of dodelike druppels nie,
geen lokaas by ’n nes of growwesout vir slakke nie
dit laat my slapeloos –
ek wil persoonlik moor:
tussen my vingers druk ek plantluise plat
en trap ’n snywurm tot murgerige moes,
onkruid erd ek op en knak ’n knapsekêrel se stekelkop,
die stomp wat aanhou woeker
takel ek met byl en graaf totdat dit eindelik tuimel –
’n olifant wat weke later benerig breek,
die spreeu wat in my nok kom nes, verwilder ek
en draai die kuikentjies se dun nekkies om,
in ’n waterbak verdrink ’n duisend miere.
eendag wanneer kanker of koors deur my are kruip,
hou dan my hande terug,
bêre die grawe, die lemme en goed,
en bring maar
here I want no poisons
no mass murder with pellets or deadly drops
no bait at a nest or grains of salt for snails
it leaves me sleepless –
I’ll murder in person:
I squash the aphids between fingers
and grind a grub to mushy mess,
weeds I whip and snip a black jack’s stickle head,
the stump that shoots again
I attack with shovel and axe until it finally falls –
weeks later its bony body breaks,
the mynah nesting in my roof I chase away
and snap the chicks’ spindly necks,
in a water bowl a thousand ants are drowned.
someday when death like a cancer creeps into my veins
hold back my hands
put away the shovels, blades and stuff
the poison cup.