So, mother, like Johannesburg, you cut me in deep, imaginative and resourceful ways. A cut from you was a project. Thinking of you, staring at you, looking at you, your progress illuminated the world around me. Everything was brighter and so, I was always regaining strength. The love I had for you was lost on the pages of my journal. Lost (always lost). You laugh and say nothing and it hurts. The bright heights of it. Lying on my back I’ve been draped with a blackening world’s information. When evening comes it is even more poetic than the previous day’s evening. And when I spy the afternoon sun, that great yellow balloon, I am a woman found who dares not speak of the insanity (bipolar) found in her family. I have lived in chosen exile. On the surface prayer is like a vision, cold is a delight, the silver lining that passes by, salt and air meeting on the wind. In poverty there is always decay, the song of a choirgirl, crystals of light, a graffiti of them. I trace them on my arm, the windows and my palms. What he, the lover does not know won’t kill him like it kills me? I am slowly destroying myself. I have nowhere to go but down, down, down and there is no one to rescue me, to pull me out from under the dark towards the light.
His roses looked (for some reason) like cabbages to me. Red cabbages, a red song for the mad girl, a flower for my bleeding heart. The boy I used to play chess with in the park, sit on the grass barefoot, walk to the library with. He doesn’t have a name. His face doesn’t exist in my memory anymore. He has become a dark line, a dark fantasy although I can still hear his voice but it is from far away. All these affairs of the heart have made me feel strangely creative. They slide through me, teach me, whisper to me in the dark. I hate the dark. I need the light to burn bright even in the middle of the night. I pull sheets over mirrors. And I imagine the lover whose dark hair smelled of rain. The rain of a child’s world. This is my sky, my grass, my rage (I view the world as an Outsider). Girls are drinking beers in fancy restaurants trying to make conversation. Crystals of light evaporate in winter rain outside my window. Sexuality is really not of the flesh although most people think it is. It is of the mind. It is of the ego. It is intellectual. When is childhood ever at an end? This planet is unstable. I am unstable. I was tangled in an obsession for being a ghostly not of the flesh sexual object. I thought that that would open doors for me to humanity for humanity’s sake. I thought I would be able to hear the chords of the earth’s harmony. It kills me to say this. Madness can be as magnificent as euphoria. If only my childhood was different. Anne Sexton. Sylvia Plath. Robert Lowell. Confessional poetry down a brick lane. Confessional poetry for a coquettish girl. How beautiful and extraordinary those words seem to me now and forever more.
When is childhood ever at an end for a writer, years of history and the educating of a young girl’s mind? I saw pictures of a formidable brick wall seeming to close in on me in those affairs of the heart and the mind. Disjointed, evaporated fragments of the spirit. And every one becoming more and more apparent to me as the long days and the longer nights went by of my late adolescence and early twenties. Everything is disjointed, in fragments, there’s no clarity in what I have written down to me the reader. Everything is a journey. I’ve had enough of feeling this wretched way. Enough of the dead heat of a hot summer season, a season of fruits challenging me to think and to escape into a voyage in the dark, a sheltered experience, the blue-eyed wonder of the sky, stars falling down, stars in my lover’s eyes pleading with me with a clean perception during the midnight hour, scrutinising me openly with likeminded possibilities like clouds gathering across the sky. Everything in life is a journey. One must walk the path of inexperience to get to modernity, influence, perception and wisdom. I think a writer, writers like Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Keats, Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a poet like Emily Dickinson knew this.
Two Muslim girls are standing outside my office window smoking as if their lives depended on it. I hated the taste and smell of cigarettes when I lived in my hometown before I left for Johannesburg. I don’t know where the children get the impulse to smoke from these days. At this moment I am concentrating on improving myself. Having a set routine, sleep hygiene, working on not having sleep deprivation, writing in my journal. And I wonder do they think of me, the men, as often as I think of them or do not think of them? The sexual impulse is sacred but I never saw this between a man and a woman, never grew up with it only with the realisation that sin matters. I couldn’t stand to be happy. When darkness fell upon the city of Johannesburg, I came undone under his fingertips. I didn’t know why I hated myself so. Why certain books changed my life? Why I could only surrender when a man touched me? Love comes with paradise, tears, the explanations, the words, the observations that comes with gravity, the love songs, and it will leave you wanting lying in the dark. There is no such thing as organic time or a clock. White meringue weddings are for girls, for orchids, for arum lilies, for tea light candles, delicate material like lace (not meant for a wonder guts like me, a tough cookie). I will not appear the same in the photograph as I do in memory. What do children communicate when they laugh, when they smile? Is their world not filled with joy? Why not mine?
The faded leaves of grass under school shoes, bubble-gum stuck under a school desk, reading Athol Fugard’s A Road to Mecca, remembering all of these childhood things brings something temporary to the surface. Not tension, not indifference, but a feeling of love for being young and not being in an adult world yet. A feeling of being fearless, so motivated that I got the lead role of an archaeologist (or anthropologist, I forget) in a house play. I don’t know what courage means anymore. Can you see the fragments now? How disjointed the narrative is? But is it enough? Is it enough to want desire? Sometimes I think that is enough. The sexual transaction can be far removed from being ‘a moveable feast’. Dampness seeps into the lining of my coat as I enter the hotel in Johannesburg (fifteen years ago) with someone else this time. He does not put his hand in the small of my back. He does not offer to buy me a drink. He falls asleep almost immediately as his head hits the pillow. The relationship is over before I know it for sure.
They don’t come back to me. Am I so forlorn? Is youth and wisdom wasted upon me? Maybe they’re seeking much more high maintenance girls. I just wanted someone to understand me. It wasn’t so much the educating part of it that I wanted. Dead writers have taught me that the pinnacle of creative expression is to challenge conventional wisdom always. I’ve surrounded myself, invoking their spirit, reading and rereading lines of their work, succumbing to their world of madness. The world is not the same for women as it is for men. The role that women plays is still a diminished one in the equilibrium of space and time although there have been women who have been visionaries just as much as men have been. Women have taught by example, led by example just as much as men have but what these women have known is that wisdom comes later rather than sooner. It comes with maturity. Darkness falls and I feel an emptiness inside. I am alone and I’ve finally surrendered to it. I am more in love with love than being in love with someone. I am Eve taken from Adam’s rib. A daughter doing what her mother did and did not do.
Secrets, keeping secrets is a demanding world. And then there is the rural countryside filled with patches of grass, the history of how to grow pomegranates, catch fish, the heritage of ruins, rain pouring down like a ritual taking its place in the hierarchy of the food chain, seasons that come upon us and pass, steps, leaps, stars, human stains, animal stains, blood, shark teeth, a school of fish, whales. This world is meant for sessions of personal injury, hurt, deep pain, smiling laughter, you calling your daughter darling, the grim existence, and the caged existence of the young poet. I am capable (every young poet is) even though the cigarette smoke’s vapour’s injury starts with a mocking signal. I am not lost. Bold heaven is pulling at vital me. I am a romantic as I become more and more curious and the objects around me transfix me. The death of a relationship is in the air like horses in a race to the finish line, an aloe’s sap and tears, mirrors, your reflections, encounters with angels above and angels below on the earth’s alchemic plane as consciousness travels the globe, alongside the dimensions of spirit, the elements of soul.
The poems of Ted Hughes is the music that has shaped my nutritious isolation, my night swimming, my eternal waiting, and my frantic, hysterical weeping. My night swimming comes with its own frequency and rhythm. My limbs take on a life of its own (so poetic, I am guarded against humanity, my imagination, inspiration, the Milky Way, the knowledge of other galaxies, the light of the shy laughter of a couple not far off from me swimming in the dark), suspended between the pull of gravity on earth’s plane and other parallel dimensions. The parallel dimension of my pure flesh and intricate bloodwork, my dreams and goals, the gift of my personal space (that most private area), an arena that so few have viewed. Daughters do not always become mothers and mothers are not always perfect. They have their flaws. Ordinary mothers. Extraordinary mothers. Put them in a box. Every goddess-mother. I see my mother’s brilliance pick a valuable and beautiful object up and suddenly I’m transported to the room in a mansion. And there I shut Pandora’s Box. Plant a flag there. If only God could hand out a medal for every birth-pang. Every mother has pulled funny faces when she was a child, held a cloud of a helium-filled balloon in her fist by its string before it became a shred, dreamed of a childhood continued when she became a youth in her sleep, as she paged through fashion magazines reading her horoscope not knowing yet that her future was predestined, that she was predestined to be a sexual object on her wedding night, a friend and confidante when she was wooed by her future husband, that her eldest daughter would be a failure, her second a major success and her third child would be a Scout, a quiet, bookish, loner as a boy who suffered from asthma and a beautiful intellectual, funny and sweet, a deeply imaginative-thinker, oh-so-serious who would be charming and artistic, sensitive and understanding as he grew older, and that this introverted leader would be both spiritual and show humility when it was called for in political meetings, a man after Winston Churchill’s and Abraham Lincoln’s own heart.
Betrayal is lethal. Plath a gone girl in young womanhood reaching dazzling heights like me. Live or die. Those were Anne Sexton’s words. Pure. Introspective. Demanding a haunting interpretation. Yet their craft and bittersweet verse still defies terrifying and manipulative electricity, attachment, movement. Clever girls. Mother had daughters who were clever girls. You were no woman in black, mother. I put my suicidal illness inside a jar like a butterfly and leave it there for the moment. I escape into the pages of my journal, those hard lines, the physical, emotional, and mental appetite beckoning. The landscape changes every day in leaps from green. Once I was in pursuit of Hughes, advancing upon him, closer to the flame in his psychological framework’s psyche, harvesting his cool gaze, that tower, that secret winter. His throne burns me, my guilt flares lap after lap in the Olympic-sized local swimming pool like diamonds in the sky marking the distance to the stairway to Heaven, the ladder to the Milky Way. Hughes sits at my table (I want to say that he should explain himself). Mice in the kitchen, tails between their legs in the universal-solitary-shape of death after being wounded by the mousetrap, no survival guide for them, escape-route, seductive exit and their whiskers no longer move baffled by the world around them, there’s just an ode to the mute and I begin reading my letter from home that serves to improve the fragile, loved half-lie I’ve been living.
Where, when did Pablo Neruda find the time to write twenty love poems and a song of despair? Hughes is in my life again. His Winter Pollen. I’m staring at his photograph. He comes to me as if in a dream sequence. He is even more handsome than I remembered. I remember going back to the city’s elements. The city of Johannesburg. The watery-prophetic eyes of women and children, decay, dirt, spiritual poverty and that there’s nothing pretty or picturesque about the pain of the mind. It can be more acute than the pain of the body. Johannesburg to me is a kind of Hemingway Paris. A psychological construct made up of childhood dialogue, the female writer who speaks in code, the young women who would slip away in the early hours of the morning arm-in-arm with their dream man of the night after a nightclub closed. Johannesburg was a Freedom Land’s anchor, a feast where the abnormal became normal, running with scissors, poetry in my twenties, knives, guns in the air. Sacrifice is not effortless. Midnight is but a voyage into the goal of a dream. Laughter keeps me alive. I seem to have been born with this intuition. Even now Johannesburg makes me think of the stale smoke of a cigarette and men who have moustaches.
Boats have become arks. Girls have become quiet women. Here there are no ducks in the park in their own world of silence marking time with their song. My sister adores her reflection, her face is a lake, the face of a scholarship girl. I watch her swallow shiny things, flicker, go up in flames, rise towards truth in the flesh and the spirit, her celestial madness and I ask myself does she never feel fear or vulnerable, does she never meditate on the sun only on our silence. She was a pianist when she was younger, tap-tap-tapping the clouds of the keys. I can only survive with the memory of my Johannesburg. I can no longer kill the sirens with their elegant-shapes. The sirens who slit their wrists, jump off bridges, leave the car running, and hang themselves. They’re becoming as rare as the rainforest, pilgrims. Perhaps they were too pure for this world, the heat of their sensitivity could not withstand any thing, withstand a pilgrimage, listening to the noise in a glitter-ball-world, arrows of ballads flying through the air landing at their feet like dew, sounding like a symphony or Beethoven. Every dress, every heel, silk stockings, perfume is a gift but who will receive them? Daughters? Orphans? The Salvation Army? A fete’s jumble sale? Is it for a wedding, a baby’s christening? Beautiful women become ghosts of themselves like leaves. Now, weaving delicious spice sinking inside a curry-pot, (wet masala, mother-in-law, ginger and garlic, turmeric, fragrant curry leaves), I concentrate on the bowl, open my mouth wide to taste.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Triumphs And The African Renaissance
How does a continent decline? Corruption. Misappropriation of funds. Leadership, where leadership, the leaders of South Africa, or the leaders of a particular individual African country, where there is a continual struggle for power, for ownership. In my mind, the struggles, our burdens are as follows. Control, and self-control amongst politicians, dictatorships, no succession plan, genocide, civil war. It even points to our, all the men and women we call the visionary-leader. The servant-leader. Then there is power in the wrong hands. Financial woes. Citizens voting politicians into power who mess up monumentally. Power struggles amongst parties, coalitions. Poor mental health which leads to poor thinking, mistakes, poor decision-making. Poor decision-making stems from poor mental health. If the leaders of a control are mentally well, we will prosper. Then there is the majority of the world. This is affecting the online global platform as well. Digital, print media. Both the corporate and the public sector.
Sectors of industry, of transport, and foreign policy. Policy is key. We know this. We know the art of the deal. We also know of corruption. Of Cronyism. Suffering from mental woes, every depression, every malady, every mood, every brain disorder in the book. Taking medication for it. The sleepless nights. The insomnia. What drives the progress of a united and totally emancipated Africa? We must understand all of that. It has taken us centuries, but we have reached the perspective of understanding. Now we must progress even more. Enlightenment? Ask, how does a continent progress from the objectification, of the subjugation of poverty, tothe level-headednessof greatness, to knowledge, and beyond. To not only build visionary-leaders, servant-leaders, industrialists, leaders of industry, but philosophers in the vein of Nietzsche, psychologists like Freud, Adler, Jung,teachers like Montessori. The Greeks Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Homer they had it. Chutzpah. The Greek teachers, scholars.
We must not forget our composers like Moses Molelekwa. Nobody ever dies in vain. There is always the legacy, the succession plan, who will come after, who will take up the mantle, rewrite history. Even the dead speak.The powers that be in this century are basically the same that we were facing when the Dutch came, and then when the Settlers came. Indoctrination followed; churches and mission schools were built. The Khoi were educated about God. They learned to pray. They were taught about the cross, Calvary, and the resurrection. Indigenous homesteads were broken down. Farms were built. Land was taken. Class, hunger, disability and poverty are problems not unique to one individual country in Africa. Hunger is the greatest scourge that we as mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, sons and daughters are facing in the Northern Areas. I speak of the Northern Areas, of the Eastern Cape, of South Africa. We can look at the shocking statistics. but it is symptomatic of African itself. It is greater than Africa.
Hunger is linked to mental health. Education is linked to mental health. Our children are gifted beyond measure. At this point in time, I will look at South Africa in particular. At the Northern Chapters I will sometimes discuss. This is important. We are dealing with those Africans of mixed-race descent. Descendants from the Dutch, English, the Europeans, the Portuguese, the French, the Khoi, the African, Saint Helena, Cape Verde, Dominica. Slaves as far back as the English India Company, and thereafter the Dutch East India Company. Yes, yes, we must all be recognised. The Coloured must be recognised. The Coloured identity must be recognised. The Coloured intelligentsia is in crisis. We must recognise in the greater scheme of things. From time to time, I will talk about the Northern Areas. Their families. Their schools. Their workplaces. A kind of emotional and financial security that goes beyond just job-security must also be discussed in the plainest terms possible when it comes to the Northern Chapters.
The Northern Areas which are found all over Africa.All this time men, gifted, gifted men. Young men have been living like outlaws on the fringes, the fringes of society. They are ignored, killed, murdered, land in jail, with no possible future of rehabilitation, where they can contribute positively to the society around them. Truancy is linked to poverty. A lot of the social problems in South Africa. How do these young men, to their families, become a father figure to their children? Education and discipline can both free your mind from the perspective that you are only learned, you are only intelligent, I can only hire you if you have a university degree. You can only open up a business if you studied finance, or economics, or accountancy, or if you’re going to inherit the family business. These days even families, generations, have something to inherit if they are the indigenous peoples of South Africa. This ideal, ideal of a unified Africa is a beautiful dream, but there is a lot of work still to be done. The problems we are experiencing are teachers.
Teaching is the noblest profession in the world. But do we even dare discuss mental health and the teaching profession, the workplace, the church, our schools, the hierarchy found in the business-arena in the same breath. Businessmen want to talk business, business ventures, hedge funds, the economy, the global recession and how that is going to affect the JSE, and African economy, the world economy at the end of the day.Changes. We need to see changes; we need to see transformation in every sphere of our country. We need to recognise class. We need to understand what it is. Why the dichotomy between the working classes, the poor, the middle class, and the upper middle class exist. We live in an era filled with tech. Everywhere you look. Everywhere you use an app, or WhatsApp, or your tablet, or your cell phone. Virtual space, technology, the digital divide, affirmative action, broader based black empowerment. We are all as leaders and citizens out of touch with reality. The reality we are living in is a non-reality.
If we are aware of our problems, financial, security, emotional, mental health, what is class? Where do all our problems fit in with prizewinning, all of our elegant solutions. The rich think they have it. Prosperity. Education. Wealth. Considerable wealth. There’s a fault line, but with who, which sector of government is the fault lying with. We are living in a new era. We Africans are not totally conscientized to that fact that because we live on this incredible continent, we do not lack resources. Africa is still plundered to this day. I said to myself that someday someone might be looking for this, or, rather asking what the key to knowledge is? How does undergraduate at a university prepare themselves for the great unknown. The workforce. The workplace. They go for interviews, they hand in the resumes, the panel asks them questions about their education, background to get to know them better. Knowledge. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is the key to all-understanding. We learn from our collective experiences in life.
From the time we are born, our entire childhood. Education is a lifelong learning experience. You never stop learning, questioning, asking. You never stop communicating. This inter-connectedness we have as Africans is lifelong. We have to have faith in each other that Africa will go the distance. At finding solutions. One of the problems that we are dealing with right on the continent is that there was a genocide in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis. One solution we must, must discuss is virtual space. We must discuss practicalities. Entrepreneurship. To build, create, sustain prosperity, wealth, progress in Africa. When describing oppression, the oppressed female, we must also take cognisance of the fact that we should also be empowering young women, raising them up touplift, and then to empower the next generation of women to come into the political arena, into education as teachers, administration, the corporate sector and the public sector. Recognise an African woman’s chutzpah, intelligence, as equal, as noble equal.
Why would we say that we know who we are as Africans, what, and who we represent when clearly, we don’t even recognise those of mixed-race descent. We are not overcoming the severe problems that every individual African has faced basically on every level, and every and each phase of its own development. There is poverty. There are squatters. There is homelessness. There is disability in this poverty, amongst squatters, and amongst the homeless. There is the even bigger Pandora’s box of feeding millions. Of hunger, which is a huge undertaking. Then there is the leadership-question. Often men in leadership roles often serve in a patriarchal system. It is theirs and theirs alone. Roles of leadership in Africa should be open to both men and women. Let us come to a topic not spoken about often. Our loneliness. In Africa there is loneliness amongst races, amongst people of different faiths.Corruption is taking what does not belong to you in the first place. Cronyism is the function whereby you increase favour and wealth.
Prosperity and influence amongst your own. Then we come to the debate of political powers. Political leaders should be held accountable for the mistakes they have made in their position. We must ask, every Northern Chapter, every Northern Areas across the diaspora, all Africans must ask the following. What am I contributing to Africa, to African society, to the communities, status quo, norms and values of the Northern Areas? The Eastern Cape is one of the most undeveloped areas in South Africa. Many live in the rural countryside, townships are over-populated, racial discrimination is rife, the areas in the Northern Areas are crime-ridden, poverty-stricken, the youth are disadvantaged, marginalised. They are in need of knowledge, education, employment, work opportunities, skills, and expertise. Also, the self-awareness to understand their lineage, their cultural background, their heritage and traditions. We must look at the scale of hunger. The landscape of poverty as it exists for the majority of Africans.
Hunger is the key issue holding us back from Africa’s progress, our prosperity.What will Africa be remembered for one day, the sibling rivalry between Dinga and Chaka? What will Patrice Lumumba be remembered for one day, Kwame Nkrumah, Stephen Bantu Biko? Black Consciousness must become the consciousness of every individual African. Remember Ruth First, remember Dulcie September, Dennis Brutus who mentored the poet Arthur Nortje, our intelligentsia, the intelligentsia Neville Alexander, Fikile Bam and George Bizos. Forward thinkers. Thought-leaders.Visionaries. Every African intellectual that has walked in this world, we must take hold of the lesson. We had great leaders of integrity, who understood the difference between civil disobedience, now we must look at both the inherent psychological framework of Africa, the African, because that is where the root, the cause, the issue of faith, of our social ills, our political problems arise from. Now in this era, we know where we are going to.
African leaders, her visionaries know the direction in which we are progressing. The era, reaching the nexus of the middle of the African Renaissance. Now our writers must begin to write. Where is our female Chinua Achebe, J.M. Coetzee, Wole Soyinka, Onyeka Nwelue. There was our Doris Lessing. There was our Nadine Gordimer. There is our Thuli Madosela. Our Winnie Madikezela-Mandela. Where is our Susan Sontag, our Virginia Woolf? What is the difference between consciousness and becoming conscientized?Apartheid and colonialism, genocide and civil war will mark our attitudes until Kingdom Come will always be a part of our collective consciousness of who we are as Africans. We must break down our stereotypes, and use this era of our Renaissance, our African Renaissance to move forward. Not hold African, the youth, the next generation accountable, responsible, for the sins of our past. The only way to wash away those sins is to use the tradition we have always had, storytelling.We speak about diversity, ethnicism.
We must continue to speak about diversity, the multi-ethnic groups in Africa, throughout Africa, that exist in the totality of this novel sensibility, this almost spiritual sensibility (yes, we are making progress, progress is there for all of us to familiarise ourselves with, now we must work towards not only equality, but the emancipation of woman-figures). Build women into political leaders, business leaders, entrepreneurs, artists. Gender diversity still exists. What is wrong with that scenario? Is it so wrong? Gender equality will progress in its own time, and as we know time in Africa heals everything. Everything. Timing in Africa is a spiritual concept. Dealing with divinity. Then we come to the aspects of healing, oral storytelling. Healing from the genocide Africa has witnessed, apartheid, xenophobia, colonialism, prejudice, it is going to be a completely natural process.In films, we are still portrayed as having still this slave-mentality. We are the colonialised native working the land, planting the cotton, working on plantations. We are the Hottentot.
Prejudice, prejudice, slave-mentality no more, nor more. No more. For this is a new era, our era, the nexus of the African Renaissance. We must, we must look to solutions not just for the individual, male or female. Grasp them as if our very life depended upon it, Africa’s very livelihood, the younger folk, that generation has a belief, a mandate, a commission. In time, we will understand that every generation has a mission to fulfil.We need to discover a novel belief in the changes taking place across a broad spectrum in Africa. What we are struggling with are what previous leaders struggled with too. Liberty, our liberties as a socialised, central Africa. An absolute emancipation from oppression. The youth want what the adolescent Mandela wanted when he left the Eastern Cape for Johannesburg. Ask yourself this, was it really freedom, or was it destiny whispering sweet nothings in the first democratically-elected, first president of the majority of this continent. It was like that for all of us. It is like that for this generation.
This generation of future leaders, future visionaries. Visionaries in every field, every area, in every arena.Mentorship. We need mentorship. Strong and dynamic mentorship. Mentors are leaders too. To be an apprentice, to want to be an apprentice in the era of this African Renaissance, but specifically not looking at African storytellers, African artists, photographers, novelists, the canon of African literature. Then there are our African scientists, our African mathematicians, our African administrators’. I say African, because that is our identity at the core of our intrinsic personality, at the heart of our character. We are being, but we are collectively an Africa, not in stasis, but marked for freedom. It will come not only with independence from colonialism, and apartheid, racial discrimination and xenophobia, it will come with our personal freedom. Look, we must understand what it means to be African. Not accept it as a phenomenological we are looking at African visionaries, we are looking at the emancipation of our female leaders.
No longer will they be put away from sight, in a Pandora’s box. Women have a voice that speaks to the millions on this continent. The chapter is just beginning.
Letter to genius African poet Beaton Galafa
Dear friend, in the lateness of the afternoon I would like to give you some books as a gift. I think of you in Malawi. Today, it was one of those summer days that seemed to go on forever. Somehow this realization makes me feel quite sad and empty. Sent out three sample chapters today. My first outing as a novelist. Oh, such a perfect day filled with good intentions. I think of xenophobia and poverty, the haves and the have nots, old age that is rooted in poverty, death in cities, the lethargy of particles and atoms and the spaces between them, and how this is not such a good time for me. It is hot weather. I try most of all not to love when I am writing, and to be loved in return. I feel overwhelmed.
I think of Uzbekhistsni sheep in winter as the season advances upon us. I think of the letters I am leaving behind from the diary of a poet. It is important to keep notebooks. Daylight is fading fast outside. I am Virginia Woolf. I am Jean Rhys. I am Petya Dubarova. I am the twins Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. In my father’s house I exist in an age of innocence, and live with a quiet courage. In the centre of this wasteland is a fragmented summer filled with decay and sabotage. I think of Christ in the illusion and genius illumination of this world. Standing in this asphalt jungle, while I realise that I have no link to the outside world. I can see the similarities between this world and the universe. The familiar and the unseen going the distance. This was supposed to be a poem about Black Consciousness, the mysteries of my sorrows, constellations beyond the trees, and emptiness. That emotional rollercoaster ride. It will be hours until I sleep. What is prayer, and the search for hope in the middle of a starry night. I search for a common ground in my writing.
Forgiven, but not forgotten. There was a home and a family that belonged to you. You have revealed your true self to me and now I must do the same for you. Coming home from the sea, I make myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen after dropping off archival material at the South End Museum for the perusal of the curator and his secretary. Ice in my veins. Held captive by words and dead poets. Haunted by the genocide in Rwanda, capitalism, imperialism, Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, and Tanzania. The world is burning now. Soldiers are turning into dust. I am a robot. Drinking her coffee, barefoot in jeans with her hair tied back with a scarf that has orange flowers on. I am also a volcano lover, compatriot, and poet swimming in this large cup of tears that I drink from.
This state of despair and unhappiness is organic in nature. To live the winning way I have to write, to become conscietized in this global political climate. These brutal lectures are the harvest of Maya Angelou and Oprah’s friendship. Let this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between two poets. One from Malawi, and one from South Africa. For to question everything in life is a powerful meditation on this landscape of information, and to question nothing is like saying that poets are both the life, the living dynamics, and the death of what defeats modern society. We are Moses in the wilderness of funeral decay, and there is a kind of grassroots silence in that reckoning with the vivacious rapture of the world, and the human being’s physical body, and emotional, mental and verbal blank slate incomplete and stainless.
Why I write: The autobiography of a poet
Why didn’t you love me mum like Paris, across the valley’s face, the blood-instinct of the poet’s existence, about diaries and the man who can’t be moved. Your skin was a working class experiment. This resurrection life is now in me. As you say. As you say. Impossible for the grave and lithium to keep me down. You never told me that you were ever, ever proud of me, of all of my academic qualifications, the fact that I turned out to be a poet, that I have written 10 books. You are the paper tiger empress. Worthy of that title, mother. I map out my life. The bite of Port Elizabeth, the human zoo of Mossel Bay, the volcano of Cape Town, the greeness of Swaziland, my slave ancestry of Humansdorp, winter in Johannesburg, the Northern Areas where I have lived my entire life as Bay poet. I think of all the areas of my life that have played major thematic roles in my writing life. I think of this goalless unplanned day. You have successfully breezed through life. I have not. I am middle-aged and I am still struggling with this. The lack of mother love, tenderness that can only come from a kind of custard apple nourishing home-cooking.
Tiredness and ill health, exhaustion and fatigue have ruled my life. You were the exact opposite, mother. You were tennis legs, conjured up prime rib amongst the men in this meat town. I was the consummate actress fading into the background. Fading from view. Every detail of my life, the noise, the distractions, the indifference to relationships, mental and physical health, compared to your enigmatic one. I was the prizewinning intellectual of the family. I lived my childhood and adolescence in an ice house. You were the florist, arranging flowers, my life for yours, and so, we lived vicariously through each other. I lived your dreams. You lived mine. I say the wrong things. You are right. Always right. I expect too much of people. It is only because of the high expectations you had for me mum. You were hypersexual, hypocritical, malicious, vindictive to me your flesh and blood daughter.
We share a gene pool. We share a bloodline. I have led a solitary life in your shadow, mum. A non-eventful life. You had two daughters. I would read dad’s textbooks on philosophy, theology, religion, art and literature. The way I am going to deal with the past is to pretend that I never existed in it, only received circumstance after circumstance after circumstance. I have been quiet, infinitely reserved, morose, in a predictable fashion. I tell myself this. I am happy being alone. I am done with your mental cruelty. I am done with dealing with issues of trauma, and not healing. Not receiving any kind of reward for it. I was only happy when I was the birthday girl, or the arrogant ballerina, seduced by my father’s inner sanctum.
Whenever he was writing up his research for his thesis, watching television without a beer, or, nursing a whisky tumbler in his hand, or in his study working at his desk, that was pretty much his inner sanctum. I adored him for that. For the perfect childhood he gave me. Mum did not choose me. Even as a child I watched myself carefully in her presence. Dad took me to church. Church gave me grace. Expounded the virtues, the nature of man, and the life of Christianity. Media and film school taught me about the panache of Spike Lee and addiction, and the Brahma Kumaris taught me about karma, the powers of positive thinking, and meditation. Whenever I worked at something I made progress with it. My writing is very much the private me. I am perpetually exhausted with the idea of being the poet of moving people who do not want to be moved by my growing bouts of ill health, loving people with exquisite vigour who refuse, refuse to love me unconditionally. Cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, maternal, estranged, immediate and paternal family.
They are daft organisms crawling on the churning belly of the whale of this life that I have absolutely nothing in common with. Other families belong to nuclear families. I never did. I am trying to grasp the ceaseless evolution of this life, this poetic life, the writing life, the dark edge of my own life in void and in flux, the black holes and starry wonb of vivid and brilliant introspection, the clandestine assignment of my physical and mental reflection projecting and illuminating itself in what I create, or, respond to, reject, or, observe. And the argument always is, has been, why does everything in my life fill me to the armegeddon-brink of emptiness. Then I think of summer this year. I think of my sister visiting friends in Berlin over Christmas. Hot winds in faint light in Hemingway’s Africa. Discovering Alice James’ lesbianism at the end of her life while she lay dying of breast cancer. Salinger during the war meeting Hemingway. I think to myself who will take my mother’s place one day. Who will become the next father substitute in my life. The pouring rain is like champagne. Images of people soaking up the sun in the clouds. In the verses, there is more than just an accumulation of a lifetime gathering there. I think of Ezra Pound’s Alba, and his ‘petals on a wet-black bough’. The love of TSE’s life.
How I am the bride of nature through the shutters, how it is the supernatural that washes away my sins, I am the caretaker of conscious-reconciliation, the chief of negotiation, and chilled to the bone as the rain begins to spit down. Nervous energy like a slow war in the air as I finish deciphering with primal instinct, this, my second novel. The Island of Petya Dubarova. I think to myself that she will undoubtedly have her fame, her glory; her breakthrough.
I am a two-armed woman trying to find a field where I can grow like faith, like potatoes, like a spreading leaf falling into a natural descent, and following the routes marked by paper ships. I am done with this village. The manuscript is done. The end came suddenly. Marked as always by fear, and anxiety.
All I seem to feel is claustrophobic. So, now I am poet and novelist. Cobra King.
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