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From Calamities of Exile,
by Lawrence Weschler


Calamities of Exile During the months that followed, Breyten was passed among a battery of interrogators, but with one such agent -- the lead investigator for the domestic security police, a man named Kalfie (Little Calf) Broodryk -- he developed a peculiarly perverse relationship. At a moment when Breyten was exceptionally racked and vulnerable, Broodryk made a personal project of this new prisoner -- and Broodryk himself was, as Breyten now says, "really twisted, that guy ... really twisted."

The two of them got into a strange dance, indeed. Broodryk's idea of a good time was to have Breyten summoned from his cell after weeks in solitary and then escorted out of the prison gates to his own personal car, inside which there was a seventeen-year-old girl whom Broodryk introduced as his niece, supposedly studying to be a teacher. "He then left her alone with me. She claimed to be a fan of my poetry, and so emotional did she become at the thought of my plight that she ended up weeping. He was standing a little way off, hands in his pockets. When he'd enjoyed himself enough he came and had me escorted back to my cell." Perhaps Broodryk's most cynical display of power occurred one Saturday morning, when, accompanied only by his son, he came to take Breyten out of solitary and to drive him to his own home, for a walk through his garden, a meal with his family, a bit of badinage with his two young daughters -- this was, after all, the foremost poet in the language. He then invited Breyten to make use of his bathroom to wash up, even offered him the use of his own toothbrush, before hurrying him back to prison. But, once there, instead of escorting him immediately to his cell, he led him into a small side office, in the middle of which stood Yolande -- the first time they had seen one another since his arrest. And then Broodryk didn't leave the room: he just stood around, savoring a reunion made all the more agonizing by the previous few hours' cleverly choreographed hijinks.
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And yet, a few months later, Breyten was dedicating a new book, consisting entirely of poems composed during his imprisonment, to this very Broodryk. Broodryk's interest in allowing Breyten to continue writing such poetry and then in seeing to its publication seemed twofold -- in part to further toy with Breyten's mind, and in part to win points with the Afrikaner professoriat, whose cultural validation he appeared to crave. The regime's interest in allowing publication of the book was more convoluted. Many of Breyten's poems included gut-wrenchingly vivid evocations of his actual situation (only one of them was censored outright by the book's editor, the sister-in-law of foreign minister Pik Botha: a poem entitled "Help," which read, in its entirety, "Help!"). The decision to allow them to be published seemed to be another swirl in the Afrikaner pattern of simultaneous revulsion from and idealization of Breyten's poetry -- the notion that they could separate the language master from the terrorist. (Even with Breyten in prison, his poems continued to appear in school anthologies, though the box reserved for his photograph was regularly blanked out.)

Why Breyten was allowing the book's publication at all under those conditions -- by Perskor-Utigewers, an establishment printing house closely allied to the regime's elite Broederbond -- and, more gallingly, with that dedication, is another matter. Breyten claims that he was desperate to get out to the wider world a signal, any signal, that he was still alive, and, furthermore that he hoped that whatever royalties might accrue could be of some help to Yolande. As for the dedication, he says that it was a simple matter of horse trading, that Broodryk insisted on the dedication in exchange for allowing the book's publication. All of which may be true. But it is also true that by this point a frightening symbiosis between the two had developed, a relationship uncannily captured in one of the collection's poems:
I had dealings with the enemy
my eyes became entangled in the eyes of the enemy
with his eyes he held mine
the better for to stab me in the back


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Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press, USA. From Calamities of Exile by Lawrence Weschler, pp.167-168. Copyright © 1998 by Lawrence Weschler. All rights reserved.
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