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African Renaissance

Ingrid Jonker’s Black Butterflies

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Let us tell ghost stories.

Jonker is a ghost of her former self, but she is still in the land of the living — a tragic beauty in a state of personal turmoil and crisis.

“There is no time like the future to seal my fate,” she thinks to herself, with growing uncertainty. She is unbearably nervous tonight. She fidgets. Her fingers twitch. The clock on the wall opposite her distracts her and she smokes cigarette after cigarette and then dashes them in an ashtray. She feels exposed, she paces up and down, but she still attaches no serious damage or blame to her last love affair. She was gentle and loving with her small daughter, Simone today. Simone is a beautiful child. Sweet and well behaved.       

In Paris, she was already a writer in exile — cursed, perturbed and a voyeur who had high-maintenance tastes. She is still unclear about what she is going to do about her lover. Her resolve unraveled that night in the flat. Her beauty meant nothing to her. She was not conceited. What had her attractive looks brought her but ill-fated relationships, rejection, pain and suffering? Nothing dulled or sated her desire for love, for life, for a hot and heavy intellectual debate, which her voice was the center of. In retrospect, living in Apartheid, participating in conversations with other colored and black writers, poets and intellectuals at secret literary meetings had made her begin to doubt what she was living for.

She wanted to be taken seriously as a woman, but more importantly, as a writer. They were dangerously in hate with a patriarchal system. The essence of the identity being passed to her was a fate worse than death and could not guarantee security in her chosen field or career.

Love will change you in an indescribable way. It will make the strong weak, strong hearts weak, render the intellectual speechless, comedians will vanish and be replaced by philosophers; the funny will be replaced by philosophy and everything that was laughable before is serious and stimulating. The challenges of the human condition become painfully obvious. Death is the ultimate sacrifice, invisible and mysterious. Ingrid Jonker made a decision for herself that was useless.

There is no earthly justification for what she did. Removing the very substance of her gift, her genius from this world, by taking her own life, by drowning herself in the sea.

As they pulled the limp body from the ocean, the subject in death mirrored life. There was a chill in her embrace. Her fingers were numb. She was haunting, pale and beautiful, lacking tenderness. Her cheeks were wet as if from tears. Her mouth is full. Her lips are cool, as if she has drunk her fill. Her appetite is sated. She sleeps to dream, she does not speak and there is no lapsed recovery from the multiple meanings of words. There will no longer be the willing prerogative of an insomniac to stay up the whole night and blot out the stain of her sins by writing.

The male police officers’ hair was windswept. They talked amongst themselves.

The breeze was salty, the morning tide came in, the breakers crashed against the rocks, the foam raced towards the shore, birds circling overhead perched on rocks and altered states were trapped in a war of nerves. Her eyes stared into the pale, blue sky. The beginning of the day was like her work, imaginative. It gave recognition to curious incidents in the still, mournful air of the morning. It concerned itself with the decline of evil and the harmful beginnings of the harvest of desolation.

The shadow of a ghost of a haunting memory refused to disappear into a hazy reverie. The poet, Ingrid Jonker, is dead. Her face has an unsmiling seriousness on it. Even in death, she is angelic. Her demeanor never giving way to the trouble or unfounded insecurity that lay underneath.

She is authentic, a true original, a unique. She will never know this in her own lifetime. Her life when held up to scrutiny in death will revere it. She knew what the imagination was capable of, the loneliness of the heart and when it was ready to surrender to a temporary escape into a romance. Her innocence and vulnerability reminds me of women ahead of the times they were born into, women who were visionaries, leaders, and had to endure great humiliation from powerful men, women from a more traditional public realm. Women like Joan of Arc, Saartjie Baartman, Susan Sontag, Princess Diana, Sylvia Plath and Marilyn Monroe.

She is barefoot in her flat. Her hair is dark, wild and free and falls across her face. Yet in her eyes, there is a declaration of having been to hell and back again. There has been a radical change in her behavior since she came back from Paris that has not escaped her but she does not speak of her experiences there, of the lingering sadness that torments her. The ‘unhappiness’ does not have a name yet, but soon the world will know and there is nothing she can do to protect her daughter from it.

Fate is like a drowned thing, an empty shell reserved for the sound of silence invoking the sound of the ocean. She has decided she is a poor activist, wife, mother, woman and lover. Simone, her daughter, wants to make her smile but she is tired of playing games.

Nonetheless she plays along, pretends to catch the joke, and today, when the journalist came for the interview, there was a glimmer of a smile on her face when her picture was taken. The picture of her as the famous, prize-winning poet. ‘The female voice of her generation’ was a small consolation to her. Without her father’s love, she felt lost. Fame meant little or nothing to her and the turning point came now, this night. How different would things be in the morning for people that she had been estranged from for years, she wondered quietly to herself?

How many times, I wonder, did she have to redirect her focus when tears blurred her vision when she cried, when she was working? How do you survive a blessed and cursed childhood? What made her laugh, this sensitive, delicate woman? Who made her smile? The elementary particles of light became diffused on her face. It was translucent, her face was dreamy and her lashes were damp. There is a distracting air near the incident now as they wait for the coroner. Simone woke up in the stillness of the flat and went in search of her mother. She searched the rooms one by one and found that they were empty.

Where does this story begin? The car is hurtling down the road past everything a young Ingrid knows and loves. This is the world of a child, a babyish language, tea parties in the shade with her sister, barefoot on the sandy beach searching for beautiful feathers, smooth pebbles and colorful shells. Now history has turned the page. Their father has come to fetch them to live with him and his family. Their idyllic childhood is over forever.

 

This article/commentary was published as creative non-fiction on the online magazine StoryTime as Ingrid’s Ghost.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

Advice From A Mother, Missive To A Writer Father and Excerpt From A Book Forthcoming

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E-V-E-R-L-A-S-T-I-N-G. It could be a poem/or testimony/or the start of a new beginning. Or an extract from the introduction to “The Overcomers”. All I had was a wristwatch and a page in a diary. I remember the time when no one would speak to me. Now I speak to all the sassy particles and powerfully good dimensions of the world. Now I am flicker. Now I am spark. This I guess is my inheritance. And when I look back now to the time when I saw no beauty or imagination in the issues I was having, when all I had on my mind was body shaming’s dysmorphia and how much I was eating. When I considered a lettuce salad and yogurt a substitute for all the lack in my life. When I didn’t see one ounce of enchantment in my struggle or the battlefield of my mind. My inheritance includes a gold that is indestructible as God. So, I guess this is a full circle moment for me but for me everything starts and ends in movements ordained By God. And the lesson is that even though you don’t know what your inheritance will be, God knows. He knows exactly how cool you are.

Excerpt from the chapter “10 Things I Love About You”, a book I am writing about “Overcoming”.

1. “The fullness of your destiny awaits.”

2. “You realise everything moves in seasons.”

3. “I want you to accomplish all your dreams.”

4. “Every characteristic of your soul is built for and constantly being reinvented for success.”

5. “You have the response of competency in every situation.”

6. “You are the evidence of God’s blessing, promotion and inheritance in his life.”

7. “You know and understand what your inheritance is.”

8. “You believe in God’s unconditional trust”.

9. “You understand that the vision God has for your life He planted the seed in the past, is watering it in the present so that it can manifest itself in the future.

10. “When you know and understand the totality of failure and overcoming and winning over both adversity and adversary.”

Excerpt from the chapter “Advice From My Mother”. Give a man space. Give a man his space, daughter. Give a man room for his intuition to become like the frontiers of space, the boundaries of space, the territories of space. Give a man room for him to release and manifest this intuition and his potential. Daughter, understand that this is the fundamental reasoning behind making him happy. It will allow him to become the best version of himself. His faith in himself will increase and he will inspire the magnitude of greatness in others, and all the qualities of greatness in himself. You will then see the daydreamer in his soul, the childlike wonder he possesses when he is at work, atonement and forgiveness in his enduring love. Be the reading light in his world in daylight, and the innocent in his nightfall. Teach him to be an Elijah waiting for the abundance of rain.

Excerpt from the chapter “Positive Reports Of Abundance In Your Life”. This is something about the introduction of abundance in my own life. It is a story about transformative love, enduring love, redemptive love and a return to love and what I heard in my spirit today about setting up miracles into power, into redemption, into salvation in my life. Believing in miracles, in abundance means to stay encouraged in the face of absolute negativity, to be boldly confident like Captain Kirk, to think with unlimited power (knowledge is power, God is power, being authentic is powerful) like Zimbabwean-born Mufti Menk, and when your thinking is unlimited you begin to manifest love, see love, envision love and this is a love that is not subject to laws or principles or change as Mother Teresa portrayed in life. It is one of a kind and when you love like this you become one of a kind too. One of a kind people walk through life with grace and abundance. To love is the singular most important assignment we can have in this world.

Excerpt from the chapter “The Daydreamer Chronicles”. This is one of the pages from my diary that I journaled this morning. I was hurting this morning so this is what I wrote to counteract feeling wounded. One of a kind people walk through life with grace and abundance. They realise when failure and dismissal by others come to you it is only an abundance of rain teaching you how to be an Elijah, a force of good in the world, a force to be reckoned with, a force of bold confidence, leadership ability and greatness. To be great. Where do I begin? With the years that I have lost. I have notched up twenty odd years of lost. What you have lost can never be measured. The only person who can measure that is God in all of his supersonic dimensions. I have realised that the word “lost” means it is only a season that becomes your reckoning for a divine harvest.

How will we exist without illusion in all the dimensions of the non-reality that we are living in now. It is the space, the inter-connectedness, how we relate to each other across the widening spaces of humanity’s birthplace, earth’s almost sovereign rank in the universe, that will either count as the final frontier. There is the catastrophe of wildflowers at the back of my hand. My grandmother’s porcelain teacups are as delicate and fragile as her consciousness. Nobody loves a warrior at first. Then they’re called epic or legendary. So they gather reputation, praise and adoration to themselves like Rilke did with his Orpheus’ sonnets. Rilke danced around the sun, embraced the moonlight found in nightfall. Hemingway was a captain. Salinger a tuning point. In Updike’s features a vulnerability showed itself there in the pages of every domestic scenario that he ever wrote about. Last year, we ate ice cream and cake on my brother’s birthday and like a comet around the sun, I felt him slip away into an impatient man from my reach. I let him go. Saw in his eyes the empires he would build in flight. Away from the world he had known as a child I called them red furious beasts, my brother called them flying-monsters. He wanted a family. Truthfully, I wanted a family too. God had a family. He called it humanity at large. This was amazing to me. His complex sensibility at work. Here we go. Here we go. Into the aqua-coloured veins and texture of platelets of the virtual world where sea meets sky and azure is really blue.

Sorry about this. I keep apologising. I am writing a love language unto myself to exit out from the realisation that I am losing the singular most important person in my life, my dad. So, I am writing love letters to myself today, all day long. Dear dad, you exist for me like the sun, two suns, moonlight, the stars, all the planets in alignment that our atomic God created. I am because of you elderly statesman, articulate and expressive orator, defender and giant of all who you knew once an autumn ago. I thought when I was a child that you only lived to exist for me as I exist for you. You have survived the volcano, and deserve all the thoughtful support and positive praise that I can give you now in this autumn. I adore you dad. I always will. You teach me daily to master the pain.

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African Renaissance

Tears: The Water Diary, How To Live Alone And Be Inspired By Murakami

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I hated learning how to drive. It didn’t mean the gateway of indepence for me. The driving lesson filled me with anxiety and impending doom. What it meant was that I had to leave childhood behind. There is ‘us’ for every breadwinner after an unsettling homesickness. Friendships fell away after my

mania in this neighbourhood. Girls as old as me had babies after quietly graduating from university. Everybody had the varsity blues. They settled down with their families dividing their daily hours within the workplace, their households, the framework of career.

I drive. I drive past my high school. Pass houses, pretty leafy suburbs, Muslim schoolchildren. I can smell fast food in the air. It’s a mix of rotisserie chicken, Chinese food, Cape Malay, mystic pizza, and strays. Open fields where children played soccer. Bipolar is a gift of fire. In the middle of the night those same children would wake to the syndrome of gunfire and now we come ‘to walking’ away. The lessons we learn from it. I tell myself to breathe.

I do know what it is to miss a thing of beauty. All I know is I am tired. I am tired of lying down, sleeping a lot and taking deep breaths. I try not to think about abortion. The memory of fingerprints, the mysterious invisible, Joshua and Moses. Of course, I know that Lazarus is just sleeping. God was looking for disciples. He found them in fishermen. Not women. Not girls. Certainly not feminists. I try not to think about it. The song I just heard playing on the radio. Where the American girl goes to have an abortion at a clinic.

The people in the WhatsApp Mental Wellness Group that Ashley added me to was for single men and women living with bipolar mood disorder. The other people in the ‘tribe’ complained about me. They said I was sending too many messages and keeping them up at night. Ashley shouted at me. I didn’t say a word. My brother captured a bullfrog in the garden and put him in a bucket in the kitchen. We covered the bucket with a pane of glass so we could watch Leonardo’s movements. We named him, fed him and gave him water. Then one day he died. The circumstances seemed mysterious to me. I phoned Ashley with tears streaming down my face and amidst sobs I told him my sister and I were fighting. He told me in no uncertain terms was he going to feel sorry for me and to stop my psychotic behaviour. That did not shut me up. It just made me cry harder. He said he had things to do and that we’d talk later. I felt as if I was undeserving of this kind of suffering at this point.

Leonardo had become my friend. Our mind is powerful. It can elevate us to success or help us pursue happiness. If only Ashley had listened to me and felt sad because I felt sadness in that moment. That the condition of the world changed even when an animal passed away was not lost on me. I left the group soon after. I would start the day with an affirmation and full of enthusiasm and wish everyone well and to be the best version of themselves. So much for positive reinforcement to carry you through a stressful morning. I felt that I was not acknowledged in the group and then felt ignored. There was a gay filmmaker. She was a lesbian but she also had affairs with men. I thought if you were gay that you were gay. I didn’t know that you could switch sides. There must have been about eight of us in the Whatsapp group. Four remained quiet, not saying a word but witnessing my gaiety and whenever Ashley took it upon himself to take me to task for my errant behavior. I would be publicly humiliated. He would say pointedly, ‘you’re not special Abigail’, or ‘there are others here just like you with their own story and problems’, and then the cliffhanger, ‘some here have a family, a child, children and I’m sorry but you’ll just never know what that feels like’. He meant to have a child and a spouse and to live his life and be happy on top of all of that. Ashley never allowed me to feel the way that I was feeling.

In the years to come we saw each other on and off again. He would come and visit me, talk about himself and chainsmoke in my parents’ sitting room. He’s living in another country now teaching videography and media studies to kids. He’s met a girl. She’s not Michelle Brown. Michelle Brown was aggressive, stubborn, and headstrong. Michelle Brown was a principled intellectual teaching English to Chinese businessmen who struggled with the language. The girl he’s met is the polar opposite of Michelle Brown. She’s a girl that Ashley has never introduced me to. They like taking selfies together that appear all over his social media platforms. I miss him and I don’t miss him. I miss his dark head, the smell of his cigarettes, his sunglasses, his smile but these are the same things I don’t miss about him. He did a documentary on his father that I feel he stole from me. Let me explain. I tend to overthink. He asked for funding from ECPACC which was the exact place that I was going to ask for funding from for my film on my dad’s life. I went on and on about this to everyone in my vicinity. But he had achieved what I could not achieve in that moment. He’s not your friend, my mother says. My sister advised me to stay away from him because he was not good for my mental health. He sent me his father’s documentary from the country he lives in now. I miss him asking me for an ashtray.

The group gave me an identity. I began to miss it. Nearly a year later or perhaps it was a few months I asked if I could be added back into the group. Ashley said so many people had left he was no longer running the group. He had also become too busy to run the group. I missed the group even though I had only really spoken in depth to two people. I had only spoken to someone whose name escapes me now and Ashley. I have great and fond and deep memories of our times together and of our friendship. He was and is very forgiving and is a gentle soul. He was always there for me and I think of the times I could have just called him up in a heartbeat when he lived in the same country as me.

There’s a shadow in my face that only the man could see. I have to look after my father. The Johannesburg producer is asking me to come for a Christmas holiday but he’s not willing to pay me for my content, my intellectual property. It’s driving me insane. Trying to land proper paying writing gigs. I don’t know what to do. I’m frightened but this is the way the world works and I am only learning this now. I can’t. I tell myself and slowly type the words. I have to look after my father. My father has mentored me all my life. I can’t abandon him now that he needs me the most. The Scriptures say to honour my father and my mother and my days will be long. Sister Joel, a very good friend of the family, tells me Allah will reward me with paradise one day for what I am doing for my father. This gives me hope when I feel hopeless. The light that was dimmed is awakened once again. Sometimes the door is closed because Allah wants to protect you. I saw that in a post on Facebook yesterday late last night while I was scrolling. No matter how much my present circumstances hurt, wounded me, drove me to distraction or made me feel emotionally damaged on a daily basis I must understand that there’s a bigger picture in the frame and it’s having a spiritual outlook on one’s life.

I am angry at the world today. Dr Jordan B. Peterson is right. There’s suffering. There’s worship of that suffering (I’m guilty of worshipping my own suffering). There’s malevolence in the world and unspeakable horror. I’m suffering because I’m tired, overworked and underpaid and I am watching my father die in front of me, withering away. He is alive but he doesn’t want to be and in my tears there is a water diary. It feels as if I am drowning everyday but then I make dua. (what the Muslims call prayer). That’s the difference. Prayer and meditation on all the good in this world and in my life does wonders for the soul. The universe and the soul is somewhat renewed. You begin to see the truth and beauty that Keats spoke about. I listen to Sam Harris on the Waking Up app. He is talking to a poet.

Dear Virgil, I am so sorry I didn’t know how to love, how to love you back and I was always so frightened of what the future might bring and the separation from my mentally ill parents. I hope you can forgive me one day.

I turn to the world and say, I am ready for what will come. Life is short. Time is precious. The future is now. I tell myself not to give in, not to give up. I say to the world. Let us once again believe in hope and reconciliation and social cohesion. Let us bow our heads and go down on our knees and pray for peace.

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African Renaissance

Memoir Of A Renaissance And The Powers Of Silence In A Letter

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Everything is so environmental these days in my life. I am cold even if it is summer outside. It’s summer now. I have been dictated to by film my entire life. Right now I am waiting for a sunrise to come up. I am thinking of my childhood. I am a stream-of-consciousness multi-dimensional type when it comes to my literary work tutored in the success of law and principle by my faith and I can’t focus. I can’t seem to concentrate because all I can think about is your sadness and your broken heart and your faith that carried you through all of that. It is your raw and unflinching honesty that moves me, that is my muse now and a desert. The psychological framework of a desert. I think of all of these narratives that you carry deep inside your heart as yours, as majestic, as promising. You’re magnificent in every way possible, you’re a man of honor and valor and excellence. Happy birthday for tomorrow. Always.

Another chapter in my life has come to an end.

What is this cool poetry that runs as deep as unchecked art? What are these times I am living for? I remember what it felt like as water tugged at the very essence of my soul in high school. Inside the amoebic depths of the local swimming pool I was mitochondria. I am alone in the stillness of the day turning into night. The dogs are giving me a tutorial in venting hunger and anger. I fed them eggs and rice last night in a cocoon of blackness. That was what the realization, the paranoia, the delusion was encased in. The universe was a duvet of starry filled blackness as I watched the three females eat. The man was never coming back and an agitation moved through me. I was chasing the sea again. Once I knew what swept off my feet romanticism was and even felt like. To see agency in a man. To be a woman and to have access to that energy. To have that invitation. I live for language and the performing arts now. For this kind of poetic transformation the world offers up to me now as captain as I write to reach that swept off my feet romanticism repeatedly just to feel alive in the moment again.

What poetry offers the soul in times of loneliness is solace at the end of a relationship and the beginning of closure. The silence and the hours are all around me. A vagrant has come to my door. He always comes and begs for something to eat but his manner has turned into advances a few times and I had begun to feel frightened and torn. Not safe on so many occasions. My mother did not stand up for me. My father was elderly. He knew this. That I was a flying solo bird and he was beginning to exploit me in the worst possible case scenario. I think of the man who is my muse now. The soldier on the battlefield carrying a gun and nothing but strategic thinking holding him up. The man taking care of his mother, taking her grocery shopping, taking her to the clinic. It has been a year. He is knocking. The vagrant. I ignore the rub of that persistent knocking. My mother is tired. She lies curled up like a child under a warm blanket on the sofa in the lounge drinking her coffee. I remember her lipstick mark on a mug from childhood. I am a novelist now. The book was released in August of this year in Australia and the districts of New Zealand. The book Letter To Petya Dubarova. It was a Pick Of The Week in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Brisbane Times and The Age just this year. Am I proud I wrote a book on my personal experience of mental illness and suicide in my family to another poet? I don’t know.

Then I am flashed on a screen on a weekday afternoon being interviewed about this book and I go there. Of all the places in this world I could go. I go there. I say, “I Googled suicide and depression” (like an expert on the subject matter). Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that because in the Q&A afterwards someone asks me hesitantly, tiredly, wine-tired (there had been a wine tasting before I zoomed into that room in a small town in the Karoo) about that. I answered as honestly as I could and with care. I gave it some thought beforehand and took it upon myself to answer sensitively. I only have the sinew of wit for company now and Netflix. The man is long gone into the shadows. Am I writing this to him or for him I don’t know. He told me he belonged to a club. An aviation club. He loved airplanes and flight. He had been in the air force before the army. He was an avid skateboarder as a youth and had even placed in competition. When I think about him I think of poetry and the girl I once was in high school that he had loved from afar. There had been others. Always others. In the last email I read from him he had written I have moved on. I had difficulty letting go. He is and was and always will be the love of my life. How Jane Austen.

The evening is pale. The silence is tender. The words are golden and in my hands they’re an emboldened tapestry with multi-layered threads. All I have are these words now to remember the shine of the afternoon as I waited barefoot for him in the sitting room of my parents house. He would pull up in the driveway in the wide expanse of his silver car. I would talk and he would listen. He would talk and I would listen. Now there is nothing but isolation hidden in the waves and vibrations of day, in the light, in the powerful blue of the sky. I am crying and I know why. We had goals, plans, dreams. Had I imagined them? They are more of an illusion now. Illusion withheld, illusion encountered, oh you bewildering illusion. The man is caught up in a novel era. I am distracted. I can’t fall asleep like clockwork. Not the way I used to. I’m still up in the middle of the night counting sheep. You see, I can still hear his voice inside my head and he’s still a vessel of pure light. It’s been years now. The hour takes me under. I am alert and the sound is psychological. He was a catalyst in unchartered territory where waters run deep. I carry his signature upon my heart. Always.

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