Ingrid de Kok was born in 1951 and grew up in Stilfontein, a gold mining town.
Educated in South Africa and Canada, she worked at the Centre for Extra-Mural
Studies at the University of Cape Town. Her published collections include
Familiar Ground, Transfer and Terrestrial Things, and her work has been
published widely in South Africa and translated into nine languages across the
world. Her latest book is Other Signs (Kwela Books, 2011). The poem here
has appeared in Seasonal Fires: New and Selected Poems.

What Kind of Man?

Tony Yengeni: 'What kind of man are you? ... I am talking about the man behind the wet bag.'
Captain Jeffrey T. Benzien: '... I ask myself the same question.'

It's the question we come back to.
After the political explanations
and the filmy flicker of gulags, concentration,
re-education and ethnic cleansing camps,
prisons and killings in the townships and fields,
here at the commission we ask again,
can't get away from it, leave it alone:
'What kind of man are you?'

What kind of man mounts another
in deadly erotic mimicry,
then puts a wet bag over his head
to suffocate him for 'the truth'?

Lets her baby cry for her
from a nearby cell,
threatens to stop the crying?

Roasts meat on coals
while a man is burning on a nearby pyre?

Gives evidence like this
in daylight; but can give no account?

What kind of man are you?
What type? We ask and he asks too
like Victorians at a seminar.
Is it in the script, the shape of the head,
the family gene?
Graphology, phrenology or the devil?

Nothing left but to screen his body.
We have no other measure
but body as lie detector,
truth serum, weathervane.

We look at his misshapen cheek,
how it turns away from questioning,
as if he's an abused child;

at his mouth, its elastic pantomime;

at his sagging chin, glottal Adam's apple,
throat no longer crisp from a morning razor;

at his eyes' pouches, pitted olives, dunes;

at the eyes themselves,
how they sweat, don't weep;

his ears, peaks on a listening uniform;

the hand with its thumb intact, its active fingers;

and the apparently depressed, possibly sedated,
shuffling lumbering cumbersome body
which then helpfully and earnestly
performs in slow motion with perfect memory
its training, its function: a tantric posture with wet bag
that just for a moment is so unbelievable
it looks like a pillow fight between brothers.

Though of the heart we cannot speak
encased in its grille of gristle

the body almost but doesn't explain
'What kind of man are you?'

This kind, we will possibly answer,
(pointing straight, sideways,
upwards, down, inside out),
this kind.

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