I think of my wife Diana. Diana the paramedic with the reading hands, the quiet smile that plays on her lips while she eats my spaghetti.
I am standing on my flat’s balcony. Barefoot, her dark hair loose she hands me a cup of coffee, kisses my cheek, and asks me what I want to eat for supper. There’s birdsong. I look at the gardens of the ground floor flats. They stay with me like a page in a J.M. Coetzee novel. I think of campfires burning in the dark, telling ghost stories at Scout meetings, Khayalitsha burning, the children who lost their lives in that fire. I think of iron faces, winter news in the outline of this, as I read the newspaper. There’s nothing as beautiful as the woman in the photograph who is the bride of high summer days. That woman is Dawn, my mother. I think of Port Alfred, my father at the wheel of the car, I am fighting with my brother. We don’t speak. The last time I saw him was at my mother’s funeral. He was growing older.
He still looked handsome though in his dark suit and Rhodes tie. We spoke briefly. His son was at university studying music and his daughter was finishing off her last year of high school. After the funeral we get home, Diana and I make love, I watch a National Geographic documentary on how climate change and global warming is affecting the rainforest. I eat a pear, and catch the juice with the back of my hand dribbling down my chin. It’s drizzling. The clothes on the washing line is getting wet. It’s too late to save them. I think of my brother as I heat up the leftovers of a takeaway chicken curry from the night before. I eat standing at the kitchen counter. Drink a glass of water. Rinse my plate in the sink, dry it and pack it away. I think of Dawn, how bone-thin she was. She was a minister’s daughter, her mother an English teacher.
In the weeks to come I am overcome by grief. I buy dirty magazines. Hide it under my side of the bed. I start seeing a therapist again. Talk about the close relationship I had with my mother. How she was the only woman who ever really understood me. Sometimes I talk about Diana, how submissive she is, my brother, how we’re not close, how successful he is, how envious of that part of his life I am. I like this therapist. She reminds me of Dawn. The shape of her lips, her well-toned arms, she likes to wear dresses, heels. She’s very feminine, full of life, joie de vivre; she has children, a dreamy husband. The husband is stern-looking in the photograph, so are her two boys. I tell her about washing Dawn’s back, drawing infinite circles on Dawn’s back as a boy. How Dawn taught me how to drive, how she bought me my first typewriter.
The next documentary is on owls in Great Britain. There’s an owl flying through the air in slow motion on the screen. I look at Diana beside me. Her mouth is open. She’s wearing a slip. Her eyes flutter in sleep. I touch her face gently wanting her to wake up, wanting someone to talk to. I want to run her a bath, wash her back, and draw infinite circles on her back. I want to hold her hostage in my arms again, listen to her breath deepen as I kiss her neck and shoulders, gathering her to me. Later when we’re watching the National Geographic channel together I go to the kitchen to make a bedspread picnic of crackers and cheese and green olives in a bowl. We drink sparkling white wine in paper cups. I watch her fingers reach tentatively for the olives. She eats the cheese off the crackers before biting them in half.
I come to life in my brother’s Cape Town flat. This was Dawn’s idea. That I stay here while completing my degree. I never see my brother. When we meet up with each other we’re like strangers. Sometimes he picks me up, takes me for an expensive meal, and shows off his car. Then he disappears again. I never see him for weeks. The less I see of him, the better. I think he must think I’m very strange. All I do is study. I never invite friends over to the flat. I don’t have a girlfriend. I think he feels sorry for me. I hate thinking, feeling that. Mostly I eat pasta. I eat lots and lots of pasta, watch cooking shows, and learn how to use two remotes, take long walks up and down Long Street, and I buy ice cream which I eat with a dessert spoon out of the tub while watching Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and Ava Gardner films.
I’m watching an adult film. It’s a gay film. It’s the first time I see a man naked. The television is on mute. Outside it is raining men and women. I’m thinking of people who only say things to be polite. Of how before I do things now, I have to wait for the tiredness to lift from staying up the entire night studying. I’m thinking of my brother and Dawn. How everything around me is fragile when dissected. Sometime I think of the hospital room I found myself in when I was barely twenty for depression. I sleep with married men. I sleep with married men for money. I buy clothes with this money. Tell Dawn I have a job at a campus radio station. Dawn tells me I don’t need to buy new clothes. She tells me I should save the money, and that my brother will look after us. I don’t think of my dad who died in a car accident when I was a baby.
When you are too much alone with your own thoughts you go mad if there is no one to distract you from your studies, your cave, from your books. Whenever I feel like this I go to the beach. Wear my swimming shorts underneath my jeans. Find my own warm sandy space on the beach, spread out my towel and strip down to my swimming costume. I sunbathe. It gets hot, then hotter. I take out my sunscreen out of my tog bag. Put my sunglasses on. I want to fuck. I go swimming. The first wave hits my waist. I duck my head beneath the next one. In a way I feel free. I watch a couple run into the waves, the white girl shrieking in delight as her coloured boyfriend follows behind her. He splashes her, playfully grabbing her arm and pulling her in deeper while she laughs and screams. It’s like I’m watching a soap opera from far away through blurred vision.
I watch them kiss as they step out of the waves. The white girl is wearing a white bikini. She looks exquisite. The boy is holding onto her waist from behind. He is nuzzling her neck. They hold hands as they walk past me. I pick up my book. It’s Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I read, I swim, I turn brown in the sun, I drink warm soda from a can that I bought before I hit the beach, I pick up the book, I put down the book, and when I get bored I watch the people around me. A man reading a newspaper, his feet in leather sandals, sitting beneath an umbrella with a cooler bag, his wife (I presume) sitting next to him in a similar beach chair, also wearing sunglasses. She would intermittently press a sandwich in his hand or something to drink, or his reading glasses. She was paging through a glossy magazine. I watch young families, the mixed race couple until I fall asleep.
I’ve come out here to Grahamstown to write the great post-apartheid South African novel. I rent a room in a Bed and Breakfast. I sit outside by the fireplace in a patio chair. Rusty nails are coming out of it. I think too much. That’s the trouble with me. Instead of green hills I see blue hills. The trouble with madness is that you think too much. I let the sun shine on my face and try not to think too much. In a land far away, people are on the move as fast as mating rituals in the animal kingdom. They are getting out of bed, waking their children, taking showers, fixing breakfasts, fixing their hair (in that order). Yes, writing bold lists, drawing up hot itineraries like lost beak-nosed birds with fire in their belly. And like me they are surely writing out what their priorities for the day are. And later, everything around me is covered with an intense aura of pink light.
He is back from buying cigarettes. His name is Jakes. His hair is wet (from a ten-minute shower). I can’t shut him out no matter how hard I try. He is my education. He is my companion guide to angst. I know when he leaves he will not leave a note telling me where he has gone, what time he will be returning. He will have vanished into thin air like the thin man. Please love me I said in my youth and my early twenties. I met Jakes on the Translux bus to Grahamstown. He was young, and I’ve never been with someone so much younger than myself. I’ve always slept with married men. There were always children, a wife, but I had a connection with Jakes. When the bus stopped he gave me a blowjob in a bathroom stall. It feels incredible to be desired in this way. Jakes makes me think of the very first time I was with a man.
The man was older, European, a media and communications lecturer. I loved him from afar for the first semester. Turned out he had a thing for his students. He liked going down on them, being dominant, giving pleasure. He was the first man who kissed me. Afterwards I asked him how he knew I was gay. He said it was the love struck way I looked at him over James Baldwin. We would spend Sunday mornings going to church in the mornings and driving to the beach in the afternoons. He had a thing for the beach, church, fig preserve and for picnics. He cut a romantic figure in my solitary life. I told no one about this relationship which lasted the better part of a year. He introduced me to his golden cocker spaniel Sully. He introduced me to mediums and astrologers and consulting them on my future.
He introduced me to Cape wine tastings, weekends away to Franschoek, tiramisu, Anna Kavan, Karin Boye, Ann Quin and Anna Akhmatova. Jakes and I spent most of our time in the bedroom of the Bed and Breakfast in Grahamstown. I even took to smoking his menthol cigarettes. We’d watch soap operas, and cooking shows like I had when I was his age at university. He is young and restless, frustrated with his business and finance courses. On weekends he disappears with his friends. Let slip that there was a girlfriend who is a first year. Of course I was angry. I felt used but it was Jakes who reminded me that I had a life waiting for me back home and that there were two kinds of lovers in this world. I confide in Jakes. Tell him when I broke up with my lecturer I stopped going to church.
Religion didn’t seem important to me anymore. I don’t know why, it just didn’t. I thought of my maternal grandfather, Dawn’s father, the minister. How he would let me sit on his knee, brush my hair out of my eyes, tell me that I looked like Dawn, had Dawn’s eyes, her hands, her smile. How safe he made me feel every time I saw him behind the pulpit. Jakes said that in this world people love all the time. It didn’t always make sense when they left. I loved his energy, the fact that he seemed so lost and fragile to me, couldn’t decide what to study or follow his dream of becoming an actor. His head seemed to be in the clouds, messing around with a first year, a girl fresh out of high school. On our last night together Jakes and I ate a fancy steak in a fancy restaurant. I felt all the eyes in the restaurant on the two of us. Jakes said I was imagining things. We held hands, kissed when we left. It was dark. Nobody could see us.
Disguise yourself in any way, shape, and fish. Form, variety, tree, bulb, flower, seed and I will accept it. I think of Diana. Of how when I introduced her to Dawn I said, ‘this is my future wife,’ or something like that. I remember how gracious Dawn was to her.
The Simplicity Of Reading Matters
My father would read my journals with the savage intent of a beast. What on earth was he searching for? He read it over and over again furiously. Passion is a kind of love medicine. You never completely grow out of it. Searching for longing (I think here I was playing the same mind game my father was as he was looking through my thick black scrawl, my scribbling) you never completely grow out of that either like playing bingo or scrabble. I knew that my mother and her sisters (my mother was the youngest out of all of them) treated me differently. A child can feel the onset of the lack of mother-love like the early death of men in the faces of their fathers, their older or younger brothers. The world is always different for beautiful women. Nobody asks of them. And what of the illumination of pain? It is not as if they sit and think about the psychological analysis in the cerebral cortex of Ingrid Jonker’s black butterflies or Ingrid (still a beautiful woman) as she would have been in the autumn of her years surrounded by family, her family, her daughter, her grandchildren, manuscript after manuscript published and unpublished. Once she was a daughter who lived for a short while in exile in Europe. But what is Europe? What is the London, the Austrian, the German, the Parisian, the Scandinavian experience? Lonely cities every one although lovely but lonely especially if you have no one to share it with. The sights, the sounds, everything illuminated, images, accents, even the aroma of coffee and freshly baked bread wafting in-the-air different. Even the night glare is different in each city as different as it was for Carson McCullers as she set out to write her autobiography. Why is it that women, that it is female poets who are touched with an almost self-imposed exile in the hours leading up to before they end their life? I mean all the greats were like that. The great female poets.
They’re the source of inspiration for male writers, for their female contemporaries, for the youth, the generation that wants to live forever, for posterity, recorded in the annals of time for researchers who can be found behind the spires of university gates. Who want their poetry to be published in slim volumes and sold to their families and friends? To be criticised would be the death of them. For their poetry to be held up to the world, to a critic in jest would be the death of them. It would mean the end of that ode, or that sonnet, or that simple haiku, their handwritten beautiful cursive notes forever about the joys and the feast of autumn (here I think of Keats, the oh-so-talented and beautiful Rupert Brooke, the Romantic poets, the stunning verses of the war poets, old men, young men, the talented and the not so gifted but who find it within themselves to see the world and to write about it every day). Rolling hills through their beautiful eyes will be as soft, gentle, and voluptuous as a beautiful woman, her skin will be as rich and creamy and thick as thick slices of bread and butter, and the sea will eventually become breadcrumbs dusted off the kitchen table (useless, used over and over, described in hundreds of ways already and would have died a hundred deaths as well. I mean isn’t there only so many ways that you can describe the sea, its dream reality, its fishy airs-and-graces, fish with blinking-eyes that can only conjure up plankton, fish with bleeding gills like slits, the waves, all of their brilliant power, magnificent symmetry, imaginary and not imaginary sea-green brutality). The woman, the angelic goddess-muse well her skin is ripe, her flesh, blood and the throne of bones that her cells rest upon will become as rich as tea to him. Watch out for them, these poets for although their hearts long for solitary life they will need the laughter and screams of children around them, a woman’s conversation too.
They think (a grave error on their part) that their personal space must be filled with a great amount of sacrifice and loneliness, that to be a poet they must only think pure thoughts. Thoughts of wuthering heights, and that they must have little writing rituals even though they think they are mocked by their peers. They think they must suffer to be a poet. They must live somewhere out in the countryside and always write and think with a brilliant clarity of vision. And the best of them unfortunately think a lot about living in poverty, not having a stable income and not being able to provide for a wife and a family, finding a house. Most especially they think that they are about to fail miserably even before they attempt to write a masterpiece. A man’s poetry well their stems will be rewarded. They will grow, they will find their own journey, their own routes to follow and be nurtured and be peeled from the sky. But it is much easier for a man to find solitude, to find peace and rest, find a little piece of heaven for the roots of his poetry to take. A man will read voraciously, eat voraciously, have a quick temper if his friends do not find his ‘anticipatory nostalgia’ up to scratch and of course they, the male of the species must be free to travel to obscure places, to leave if he pleases. He must drink a little too in the spirit of things because it is in every poet’s nature, that and to fall in love too. And the best of them well they will sink into despair. They will think that everything they write is a failure. They will hide from the world, seek the company of other men because this is what all men do with notebook in hand and hands stained with ink they will want a stamp of approval. They will want someone to say there is depth there. And the best of them, the brightest star amongst them, and the cleverest will take their critics to heart and just sometimes it will crush him and his epic consciousness.
A drawing in the sand was never enough for me as a child. I was a child who wanted to be like Keats, an angel from another realm. I was an Alice-in-wonderland chasing after her white rabbit. I was a collector. Scattered-heaps-and-brushes-with-dandelions, earthen-potpourri, picked up (investigate-them-first-then-clean-them) shells on the beach, gulls feathers, pieces of driftwood, I tampered with stamps, ephemera, postcards, letters from overseas, from pen pals, school certificates (I shone with success, merits and excellence), notable stage roles (leads and supporting), photographs of family dead and alive, healing and in recovery, ribbons and barrettes for my hair just like Sylvia Plath when she was at Smith and I saw the miraculous healing power, instrument and hand of God in everything that I touched, that I stole, hid away from painted sight, that I looked at in my treasure box (an old shoebox that used to be filled with Sunday school shoes with buckles. I used to wear them with white school socks). I needed a network of dead poets around me, female poets, mother-figures (please don’t try and psychoanalyse me on that one because I think it is quite obvious). There was life. A life to live for and to die for. My mother entertained me or rather I entertained her like a circus-freak I think. Is it horrible, is it awful to think something like that, that your mother was a monster but because of the way she treated me she also educated me and I grew up very quickly in that house with no visible address marking it on the outside. It was also not listed in the telephone book. Pinkish-light-streaming-through-my-curtains-on- a-Saturday-night-the-telephone-that-never-rang-for-me-on-a-Saturday-night. I needed to talk to the dead. I must write I felt somehow what I was being taught to feel, think, and wonder about the world around me. What was I seeing?
Poverty, poverty of the mind, the cemetery of the mind, Dambudzo Marechera’s, spiritual poverty, children, smiling, laughing, screaming children living in poverty. There had to be an explanation for putting on a fur and then getting into a car, turning, twisting the key in the ignition and then inhaling the fumes of carbon monoxide. Anne Sexton. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Live or die she said, she growled, she moaned, she hissed under her breath. There had to be an explanation for a woman who lives to save the lives of her children and then sticks her head in the oven. Sylvia Plath. And then there was Ingrid Jonker who drowned herself. Beautiful women. Sad women. Women who suffered. Women like me who felt terminally like Alice-in-wonderland. How do I explain that? I was a child. And I was a strange child. I was reading D.H Lawrence in primary school. Not age-appropriate. Not that I could understand very much of it. My parents were very over-protective. My siblings and I lived a very sheltered existence. In school I was infatuated with Holden Caulfield and then when I became older even more so with the elusive Jerome David Salinger. I needed emotions. I needed to feel. I yearned for it. A lack of mother-love can do that to you. Perhaps that is why I write today. I sell my slim volumes of poetry to my father’s family and friends. I don’t think that this world knows what to make of me. Poetry to me is a wilderness. I love it there. It’s so organic. I am the creator making chain stitches, and there’s not a dead thing about them, they’re so elegant and leave me feeling satisfactory, pure and wholesome. When I write it is as if I am operating under the direction of another. The connection is permanent. Fingers weave active, endless imaginings like clouds, and nothing is wasted, even the wild has a certain sweetness rough though it is.
Thoughts are like skin, faintly in the beginning they are haunting and secretive, damning, larger than life, winter in my hands revisited again, and again ravishing me. They never touch my physical body though. Those fingers. There is no voice. Believe me it is easy for a child to think if she writes down the words on paper that roses are red that she is communicating with the dead.
Leave me alone. I’m a scorpion. I have vamp-fangs. Poison-and-oil, its twin dripping from them. But in the end I loved too much anyway. I fall hard. I fly high. People fall in love all the time so why the hell can’t I. Purity-being-dolls-forget-the-pain-is-that-what-the-terms-are?
Oh-shattered-pitiful-coming-from-pain-each-and-every-individual this can be family-life.
The adult in me wants a room. A quiet room in the sun and that receives a fair amount of light. An artist’s room. Artists need light like they need their workspace and their muse, their models, their inspiration, their entourage and of course a wife who would also function as a wonderfully efficient housekeeper. The room must only have the essentials. Of course like in Vincent van Gogh’s room there must be a bed and a desk. I have no use for an easel.
From my room I will watch the world go by and think of girls dancing in the pale moonlight arm-in-arm with their boyfriends or their husbands-to-be like my mother once was. She forced, dragged my father to go to dancing lessons. He was so terrible, always stepping on her toes.
In the end it’s the ghost of my paternal grandmother’s sea that saved me really if I have to be honest. She was a maid, a domestic worker who also did washing and ironing and raised five children and my grandfather worked as a barman. He would go down on his hands and knees, a grown man and scrub the floors of that country club. At night he would eat his leftover plate of grease of meat and potatoes. A plate of grease. Gosh he had beautiful hair. Of course he had also gone off ‘fought in the war’ in Kenya and when he returned to Port Elizabeth, to the suburb of South End (before the forced removals, the Group Areas Act, Europeans only understand, and apartheid seized the hearts and the minds of the white minority) he was given a bicycle (a bicycle you understand) and a coat. And when he died they gave his medals to my father. The black sheep of the family. You see, that I don’t understand at all. Guess what?
It is inevitable that reading matters, that life has hips and poetry too.
I gave myself up to the tenderness in the dark. I could feel them. I was always at their mercy, that they (other poets, my companions for life) needed me a little too much.
I guess the grief that they had carried throughout their own lives had not been enough for them to silence them. Even in death they thought out of the box.
The voices. I promised them everything will come out in the end for the good, for the good. I will permit it.
Within South Africa’s Borders and What They Can Teach Us
The integrity of the personality and poet is one that faces the philosophical gaze yet relevant opinion that winners in the political arena who are outspoken and authoritative women are generally feministic in their outlook and intellectual in their leanings towards the disposition of whatever firebrand, dazzling and political means. Digital empires and social media networking is neither a novel game or inasmuch gainful territory for the masses but for a sporadic few it means meaningful employment. When it comes to what is trending, forecasting or popular whether it be titular, misgivng, prophetic or revealing somewhat it seems that literature is either puritan or the writer thereof hero-worshiped in some way by not only the establishment but the masses have cause to as well.
Given that the pendulum can often swing in the opposite direction corruption marks an exit from a tribal group of broader-based affinity, rather a kind of predestined and ordered influence of sound presentiment where then each sector sought to dominate thinking and class structure, personal co-dependency, to now an individualistic format of thinking, a gap of seismic proportions that is steadily increasing. This secular arrangement is tantamount to a Roman world where glory means the innocents who live in steadfast poverty cease to exist amongst wealth and prosperity, culture, heritage, livelihoods and traditions and the brutality of the collapsing society due to the pandemic’s onset where we cannot build bridges to secure both financial and emotional security and psychological appeasement for the exhaustion that threatens our livelihood, which is Mother Earth and climate change.
Media, psychology, culture, poetry have all had their roles to play in the endowment of a cashstrapped and marginalised society. Largely the majority of a nation was overtaken by a minority which led to unsuccessful ways of dealing with the lack of training, skills and expertise to take the rest of Africa from a kind of purification plan from the minority to majority leadership.
Segregation is more than a story about the acquisition of justice, emancipation and liberation. It is about culturalism, socialism, the enslaved African mindset and attitude, standards of protocol, patriotism and process. This landscape is constantly changing. As poetry evolves, so do our poetic voices and challenges. Being that as it may we must look not to power, we must look not to our social interactions within the context of race and faith and images of force (authority and leadership, education and psychology, philosophical undertakings), we must look not to equate them with partisan truth and compartmentalised beauty but to art and artistic endeavours.
It has led to standing on platforms and talking shop on the mental strain, the underdevelopment of dealing with stressful and depressive episodes which has led to alcoholism, addiction and mental illness in families across the colour line in South Africa. The need for adequate medical information, change and impact to take place at all levels of civil society, political consent is a grave and urgent matter whereby the parties in question organise themselves into a coalition for the working classes. I think in that way both socialism in the sphere of a democracy will be recognised on the terms of policy and law makers and all stakeholders.
There are important thoughts, words, deeds and actions that generations of writers and South African poets have embraced definitively that has improved our social standing, that has necessitated equality and debate of the infinite time and space that exists in action. Whether it be political action, poetic action, economic action, mental and emotional action on the wellness of the physical body. But does the sensibility of what we are writing make sense, is it understood in a linear arrangement, can it be investigated further, the dynamism of information technology in this age of digital media, and how does poetry reach the masses if our laws cannot, what do principles and values stand for in lawless communities if you alone are a law abiding citizen.
Radicals have a passion for skating on thin ice. I think to improve the democracy we live in we have to look at what we yearn for. Not to fail, not to discriminate and to create art.
In the end, our psychological framework has become our internal adversary and the environment the external.
Boarding School In Mbabane, Swaziland
I have often spoken about death.
Sometimes it comes like a loud shout, a big bang deliberately but sometimes it is strangely quiet as if there is a royalty to its element. And then there is the earth that we fold the body physically into, throw dust on it and pay our respects or the ash that we hold in our hands. And then afterwards when the family gathers to eat, to sup together, to break bread there are a lot of things I assume they surrender, that they let go of or don’t. Head under water is the only place I can let go of all of these things. There is no echo, nothing to distract me, evaporate me like smoke and it’s the only place where I know of the top. It is not rain pouring down, wires growing from my head, nightmares that come to me in the middle of the night that worries me so, illness.
Its skin was red, orange and green, tasted like butter. A mango is delicious from the first time you taste it, I tasted my first proper mango in Swaziland (all that summery goodness came with its warmth, that sweetness on my breath, juice on my clothes, sticky fingers but shadows must meet somewhere and all I wanted to see was London). I remember the mangoes you kept for me until I came home from school (you would put it in the fridge until it was cool, the orange strings of flesh) or we would have avocado on toast, or French toast with fresh coriander leaves fried in creamy butter or hotdogs and chips as only you could make them where Swaziland was my home for a year. You died before your time, my second mother. Your hands pale, hair dark and as you became more ill with the more weight you lost but you were still beautiful to me. Leaves shake and rot in autumn, spin around, around and around. You were my star amongst all souls. I miss epic you every day. There’s a loss that comes with breathing. But the stranger in the ghost house has no voice. He does not speak of self-help, a shelf-life. A double life, red dust, dead parakeets, sweat running down his wife’s back, the madness and despair of Liberace. Something is unanchored yet still beautifully functions, is productive. It is called family and the awareness of coming home, a flag was planted here in the South’s wilderness where a genocide took place, there’s whisky in a glass, an afternoon cocktail. Books that are a sanctuary. An Eric Clapton record is playing. The red dust of this county does not speak of self-help. There is a suicide. A death in a river. And the police come. This is August: Osage County.
The police come in the middle of the night. Like the detectives in plainclothes that came to my house in the middle of the night when my brother took a knife and stabbed my father. Nothing romantic about it. About the onslaught of death, of it catching up to you like a thief in the night, a cat burglar, a cat drowning in a bag with her kittens, that is how I felt as if I was a drowning visitor. I saw guns that night I led a double life. I pretended I did not see or hear anything and inside I was numb. When I saw my father’s blood. It had an oppressive quality to it like everything in my life so far. The drugs refused to work. So I took more and more of them slept all day and all night.
The double life of the romantic jasmine. It lives and it dies and it lives and it dies. I can talk and talk and talk and no one will be listening to my conversations, eavesdropping on them. Down the winter road I came across men who stare at goats. Men who were good dancers or American soldiers who took German lovers during the war. Men who were good actors, some were heavy drinkers in my mind, and philanthropists. The knife was sharp. It struck air again and again and again. And then is was anchored in skin. I didn’t scream. I was a Scout’s knot.
Ran in my sandals to the neighbour’s house as fast as my feet could carry me. Outside the air felt cool as rain. How I wished it had rained? But there was no rain that night and they called the police.
There’s no romance in death. Hair and flesh coming loose. And still daddy was left standing, unafraid. My brother was prancing around all of us, smirking, smiling with cunning deceit, high he was having his cake and eating it too. Pinned daddy to the bed with his arms like shark teeth. My mother had ran away in the dark. I was left with notes of grief, a stem and a route to follow. A flowering bleeding heart making waves, beating fast. It was Christmas. But there were no presents only a winter road to follow.
To hell with it if I do not ever fall in love. It is a case of much ado about nothing. I have lost my mind and recuperated in hospitals. Once again become anchored to reality in recovery. I do not have a brother and I do not have a sister. I do not have a mother and I do not have a father. They live their own lives, so they amuse themselves, selfish people everyone. While I am kept sheltered in Pandora’s Box. It is a box filled with romantic villagers of my own making. What a comfort they are to me. I am an orphan on Okri’s famished road. I am Nabokov’s and Kubrick’s Lolita. And soon I will be forgotten like breath. The moveable a feast of sex, romance and death. Damaged, damaged, damaged but I must not speak of it.
It will be the death of me and I must live without the disease, the stain of trauma a while longer, sit on my throne, collect bones like arrows that fall from the sky. Curiosity has killed me. Men have killed me extraordinarily. But I have nine extraordinary lives and am left smiling like the Cheshire cat.
This is the brother who I am supposed to love. I do not admire him anymore. I feel nothing for him when I remember that night from hell. House of huger. House of hell, of madness and despair. If he had a gun we all would be dead. I cut up the onion, seduced by its layers. And I cry for what has been lost, gems every one. There are diamonds in my eyes and I blink them back. My youth, my youth, my youth and there is no ring. No ring on my finger, all those chronic wasted years. Now he is Lucifer manning the gate to the wards of hell. My beautiful, darling boy what has become of you?
The secrets that we keep are committed to memory. They’re lessons in the needs of people around us, a lesson in obedience, sometimes even wisdom. And it takes bold work for us to realise that the future is bright when sometimes we are challenged, when we have to mine glory. And make a ceremony out of it. There are profound ingredients that goes into making a spaghetti bolognaise. Family is of course the first priority. Next the butcher, mint from the garden and limes for the cocktails. Footsteps on the stairs and laughter scribbling in the air.
Perhaps avocadoes were the first fruits (food for thought) in the Garden of Eden even before Eve was made from Adam’s rib via the maturation of a human soul and a vortex in flux.
Sun and moon. They are miracle angelic beginners every one each day. Daughters nicknamed so for jasmine and yesterday, today and tomorrow. And then as if woken up from a dream the day begins.
Head under water. Silently pushing off from the wall of the swimming pool doing lap after lap. Here is where I find my sanctuary, my second home and solace from the world outside. I am not like the other girls. They’re all younger, thinner, and confident even though they’re still flat-chested, and flirtatious from where I am standing. Head under water again. I’m praying it won’t be the house from hell again tonight. I’m watching films, reading books, wiping my father’s bum (there are no secrets between us). We talk about our past lives, our nine lives, love and the measure of it, how the devil made work for idle hands during apartheid, during the Group Areas Act, the Nazi war lords, Hotel Rwanda. We talk about the women in his life, past and present, the first woman he ever loved and lost and the measure of it. I become distracted. He becomes distracted and I get up to make cups of creamy coffee, lukewarm coffee. We discuss Valkenburg (the mental institution in Cape Town where he resided for a few months), the first social worker he ever met. This is all for the book I am writing. Walking in his footsteps. Night after night I make a casserole and the two of us sit down to eat at the kitchen table. He walks, he shuffles, he walks, and he shuffles. Sometimes he sits outside with Misty, the dog in the sun. He is forgetful, he stammers, he has a short attention span but then again I guess memory loss comes with age. Last night he wet the bed. There are people who would make a mockery of this situation but when you’re knee deep in it with someone that you love, intimacy is nothing, acknowledging that he is becoming older is everything. I’ve become an old woman overnight. Suddenly I have grey hair, the wisdom of a lake, a slight tremor in my hands, I suffer from anxiety, and I can’t sleep at night. He calls for me in the middle of the night. He needs me and so this teaches me that I am not cruel. I am a woman now. Something has replaced the darkness in my life. I have discovered the stem of meditation. Its face, its route, my life’s journey in this crowded house and tears. My mother does the laundry. Not such a terrible woman after all. If only all women could be like her. Tough. Made of holy guts, an insatiable instinct, almost a clairvoyant instinct. She lives like a nun and eats like one these days. She eats like a bird making soup, after soup after soup that only the three of us eat. As an adult I have fallen in love with the terrific goodness of barley and the healthy protein of lentils. Split peas reminds me of eating a home cooked meal in the afternoon’s at my grandmother’s house in the afternoons. My paternal grandmother’s hands were beautiful. Wizened because she suffered from arthritis, dark brown and warm with the texture of the sun and freckled. She was my moon, my moonlight. A bowl of warm soup with home baked bread that tasted more nourishing and filling than the shop bought expensive kind. My mother promises us all a long life if we drink concoctions of herbs. Dried rosemary, tinctures, tonics, homemade green smoothies with parsley, spinach from our vegetable patch and coconut milk. Head under water I reflect, I meditate, I breathe easy. I swim with the fishes, schools of them in this swimming pool. It lights a candle in my heart when I swallow water. My brother makes stews with his home-grown carrots and corn. All I can make is spaghetti. Frieda’s spaghetti. It is so cold now. The world feels so cold. It feels as if Iraq has descended into my thoughts again. Sarajevo. Rwanda and the African Congo. I am a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But I must be strong to carry on, remain brave, act bold. Sometimes I can hear Tchaikovsky. My father has taken to his bed. He has depression. The William Styron kind. I wonder if John Updike ever suffered from depression. I know Hemingway certainly did. What about J.M. Coetzee, Radclyffe Hall, Vladimir Nabokov, Kubrick? And the filmmakers, writers and the poets who were heavy drinkers? But I leave that in God’s hands for his commentary, all those signals. I’m old before my time. I’m an old soul. Complicated, an empty vessel, envious of beauty like any woman, of youth, of the girl, of children in childhood and sometimes I feel dead inside (not numb or cold) but as if I have a dead mind. As if I am lame, pathetic, stupid and have one blue eye as blue as the sky on a wild Saturday and the other is green. As green as a mocking sea, mocking school of fishes carrying on, surfing along, swimming by on their own survival journey with their world occurring in an awful dead blue silence. With the fingers of the sky so far away from them. My babies are my books.
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