“What are you running away from? I’m sad too, you know. Leaving behind the only world that I’ve ever known. Scooter’s the name by the way,” said a thickset guy who had bagged himself a window seat. His muscles showed through his Sunday shirt.
There was an awkward pause before the response came.
“The woman I love doesn’t love me. We’re distant cousins. She wants to become a nun as a matter of fact.” There was another pause. “And Hulk’s the name”.
Hulk wasn’t in the mood for conversation. He was thinking of the great-uncle he had just buried, so, he closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.
“Is she beautiful, or is she a plain Jane, ordinary, or a choir-singing church girl?” Scooter prodded seemingly oblivious to Hulk’s antics.
Hulk shifted in his seat. “Of course, she’s beautiful.She can dance, she can sing, she does needlepoint, and she is a staunch Catholic who attends Mass like clockwork.” Hulk threw a curious glance at his questioner, a hint of interest brewing up in him. Women were a tricky subject for him. All his previous love attempts had been just that—attempts. Perhaps if there was anything he could talk about, it was that. Share his woes with this petulant stranger he was meeting for the first time in his life.
“You do know that there are only two ways we’re going home, right?We go home alive or dead,”Scooter paused as if to allow the message sink in. “We either go back as heroes, or dismal failures at protecting our country. At protecting the innocent men, women, and children of our country.” There was another pause. It’s not just our lives on the line here.”
“Soldier boy, we’re in the army now. What are you running away from?”Hulk scowled dismissively, the spark of interest beginning to fade.
Scooter turned to look at the other young people in the bus who had just finished high school as if to see if someone had been listening in on their conversation.
“In my own case, I’m running away from boring Sundays. Church on Sundays. There was never anything nice to eat at home, you know.I‘m running away from poverty, from being classed as being from a different race.”Scooter was speaking casually like he hadn’t noticed the Hulk’s disinterest.
“Can you believe this class system? They want to call you white, or black, or brown, or Hottentot, or native.” Scooter was not looking at anyone in particular as he spoke. His head kept moving from the window to a face, back to the window, to Hulk, back to the window.
“I’m thinking of my mother. She cleans churches for a living. She cried when I left in my uniform. She told me, between sobs, that I looked good and handsome in it. She just stood there in the doorway of my bedroom sobbing into one of my father’s handkerchiefs.”A nostalgic smile was beginning to develop at the edges of Scooter’s lips. He paused to gaze out of the window again at the night sky.
“I believe in Kingdom Come. I’m Catholic. Was an altar boy. My whole life is the church. After the war, I’m going to Italy. I’m going to become a priest. Even though I know it will break my mother’s heart.” Hulk blurted outin a melancholic, almost remorseful, tone. Something about Scooter’s monologue had stirred up the nostalgia in him.
The bus was quiet now. The incessant chatter had all but disappeared. Everyone was lost in their own world. Most of them were thinking of the start of basic training in Cape Town. Scooter turned to look at him, the hint of a smile still on his face. He didn’t appear surprised at all that the his hitherto disinterested neighbour had responded to his speech. Then he began his rotation again—this time even slower and more methodical— from the window, to Hulk, to a random face and back to the window.
“I think of my dad, and my brothers when I read the Book of Job,”he said. “My eldest brother sells vetkoek on the golf course on weekends. Dad was a barman on a Friday and Saturday night.”He had a faraway look on his face as he spoke, like he wasn’t really seeing anyone as his head turned from one face to the other, and back to the window.
“I believe in roast chicken. The pleasures of trifle.” A mocking voice came from the back of the bus.
“I believe in the innocence of roast potatoes.” Chorused another.
“That one means business. Come sit here. Tell me all about your sweetheart. I’ve got all the time in the world before we get to Cape Town. I always wanted to go to the Mother-land. And you?” came the mockingvoice from the back of the bus again.
“You’re rolling your eyes at me now. Now you’re shrugging your shoulders. Oh, what’s that rustling sound. I thought it was a chocolate wrapper. Geez, Louise, I’m hungry. I’m starving.” Scooter made his way to the back of the bus with his padkos.
“Smoke?” Hulk asked nobody in particular.
“What did you say there?” came Scooter’s voice like an echo.
“I asked you if you wanted to smoke. I roll my own cigarettes. My old man had a pipe, smoked tobacco. It was really bad for his lungs. He passed. Last year. The cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I wish he were here; you know. Wish he could see me get married. Meet the perfect girl.” Hulk said sadly.
“Boys, listen up here. This is a non-smoking bus.Where is the exit route out of this place?” Scooter said from the safety of the back of the bus.
“I have a girlfriend. I loved how when we went to the beach, for instance, the sunlight would play upon her hair. She set me free. All I just wanted to say was that I never felt like this before, but my cries for help went unanswered, and that in itself is an answer, isn’t it?” said Scooter watching for a reaction on the face of the young man sitting next to him.
“Ah, a poet for all the nations. We have William Shakespeare in our midst. Sir, pray do tell, can you recite sonnets as well as prose for all of us.” Hulk jeered at Scooter.
“Nothing is real anymore. I think about her all the time. I dream about her. And I wonder what she’s doing. I told her not to wait for me.” Scooter continued to his audience of one.
“The stench of war is out there, waiting for you, waiting for me, waiting for all of us.” Nathaniel said softly to himself. “Pay no attention to this riff raff. Ignore this this duffle bag on my shoulder. But my family insisted on me packing some winter and summer clothes, two shirts and a tie in case I meet a member of the opposite sex in Kenya. The uncles insisted.Jones. I’m Nate Jones. Pleased to meet you.” Said Nathaniel with his hand outstretched.
“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. The name’s Cato.” Cato mumbled. He reached out his hand. Shook Nathaniel’s hand. Smiled in a friendly manner.
“My Christian name is Nathaniel. Do you have a sweetheart?” said Nathaniel biting his bottom lip, but Cato ignored him.
“So, where are you from soldier boy?” Nathaniel said again, eager to start up conversation.
“A windy city.” Cato mumbled again.
“Does she mean a lot to you?” Nathaniel put his arms behind his head, and whistled.
“Who?” Cato said peevishly, as if he didn’t like where the conversation was heading.
“Your sweetheart. Are you going to write to her?” Nathaniel asked, his eyes glued to a speck of dust on his trousers.
“No.” Cato said glibly.
“The strong and silent type. No crime against that soldier boy. So, you’re here because you want to see the world. Looking for adventure?” Nathaniel answered. Brushing the invisible speck off his pants with his right hand
“You could say that.” Cato mumbled again. “Something along those lines.”
“Don’t talk much. I’m tired. I don’t sleep very well. Wake me up when we get to Cape Town. Just tell me one thing before I doze off. Are you in love with her, is she the love of your life?”Nathaniel’s tone changed. He felt sorry for Cato.
“I’m going to marry her. I want her to be the mother of my children.” Cato said with a certain kind of pride in his voice.
“I’m a tortured soul too.” Nathaniel said looking into the aisle of the bus. Watching guys making their way to empty seats.
“You?” Cato said surprised.
“My girl died. Tell me when the sun is out.” Nathaniel said quietly, closing his eyes.
“Our lives are about to change forever.” Cato said staring out of the window. Watching the world go by.
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Nathaniel coughed a little.
“Believe me, the sun will breathe. Leaves will fall to the ground. Another winter has come and gone, and summer is all too beautiful.” Cato said with an otherwise expression in his eyes. He was becoming fond of Nate Jones.
“I bet you the drill sergeantwill say something along these lines. Boys, repeat after me. A soldier breaks all the rules out in the field.” Cato laughed.
“A soldier breaks all the rules but not in my camp. Something funny, sonny?” came Nathaniel’s voice.
“No, sir.” Cato started to play along with Nathaniel. Beginning to enjoy this game.
“A soldier is an actor.” Came Nathaniel’s voice again.
“A soldier is an actor.” Repeated Cato, guffawing and snorting in mock-derision.
“A soldier is a man who honours tradition.” Nathaniel saluted Cato.
“A soldier is a man who honours tradition.” Cato saluted Nathaniel back.
“No women? Seriously! Geeze, Louise.” Came Scooter’s voice from the back of the bus.
“No women out there for you, my friend.” Hulk guffawed.
“Hey, you. Hulk, I’m talking to you. You talk now as if we’re old friends. We’re not old friends.” Scooter said indignantly.
“This is a war we’re fighting. We’re not going to a church dance in a church hall.There’s nothing but sand, and more sand, and desert, and more desert where we’re going.” Hulk said unsmiling.
“This is meat and potatoes country out there. Is that what you’re saying?” came Scooter’s comrade’s voice.
“Don’t listen to everything that he says. He might be pulling your leg for all that you know.” Scooter admonished.
“Nobody was speaking to you.” Hulk said in a loud voice.
“You’re very good-looking, handsome even, I must say.” Scooter giggled, feeling slightly foolish, but brave too.
“Like I was saying, there’s no mystery girl out here with red lips, and smelling like perfume. It’s just wilderness.” Said Scooter’s comrade.
“Can’t say the same for you. I think it sounds like paradise. Heaven on earth. No father beating the hell out of you, and your old lady on a Friday, and a Saturday night.” Hulk said choosing his words with care.
“Slow and tender. I like girls with curlers in their hair. Kiss them slow and tender. Hold them in your arms, like this, they go crazy-mad for it. Fall for my line every time.” Scooter said smooching the air.
“The world is about to go to war, and all you can think of is girls. Shame.” Hulk literally spat the words out.
“Shame for you. I can tell you’ve never been kissed.”Scooted laughed out loud.
“Oh, really now. You some kind of fortune-teller?” Hulk said. He crossed his arms across his chest somewhat defensively.
“What are you thinking of, soldier boy? You thinking about a girl that you had to leave far behind. Describe her. Describe her to me, please. Was she the love of your life?” Nate asked Cato, but Cato pretended as if he didn’t hear the question.
“You think they’ll give us all rifles.” Scooter asked with a dumb grin on his face.
“War is not about running around with a gun, and shooting up people.” Hulk said. This statement changed the entire atmosphere on the bus.
“I know that. I was just making a joke. Sorry. Apologies. No need to be so serious. Lighten up.” Scooter said with a helpless look on his face. He began to crack his knuckles in an attempt to lighten the mood somewhat.
“I don’t need you to tell me to lighten up.” Hulk said somewhat aggressively.
“Sorry. Apologies. I thought since we’re all guys here, and everything I’d lighten up the mood.” Scooter shrugged his shoulders. He was a tall fellow. Stooped his shoulders whenever he walked.
“You thought wrong. It’s the principle. There’s a Hitler, and a Mussolini out there hellbent on starting a war.” Nate through his hands up in despair. He shared a look with Cato. They both laughed at this short exchange of words.
“My father was from Saint Helena.” Cato said looking out of the window, momentarily blinking back tears.
“He speaks.” Hulk said with a snigger.
“Saint Helena, where is that exactly? Never heard of it.” Scooter wore an interested look on his face, but pretended as if he had heard it all before.
“It’s an island in the middle of nowhere. Just sea, sea, and more sea for five days until you reach the shores of the Cape, or land, whichever first.” Cato said, as if he was reminiscing about better days.
“There’s no grass where we’re going. Guys, don’t worry about getting grass stains on your uniforms.” Nate commented, smiling broadly at Cato. He had good teeth.
“No grass, you mean like no grass. No grass under my faded shoes.We get a uniform, you say, with boots and all.” Scooter said with surprise in his voice.
“My mother, she couldn’t stop crying. My sisters, they couldn’t stop crying.” Hulk sounded pensive. One minute the centre of attention. Next, withdrawing from the group.
“There’s no wind where we’re going. No mountains, or rivers. Just sentry duty, and driving ambulances, carrying stretchers with young boys who are going to be amputees one day, carrying the lame, the wounded, the sick, and the dead. Putting the dead in body bags. Burying the dead. Marking gravesides with the cross.” Nate said leaning his entire frame into the seat. He pretended to make himself comfortable.
“Soldier boy, anybody ever tell you that you have a lovely personality, you know.” Scooter said wearing a curiously serious look on his face.
The Language of Africa’s Girl Child In Water and Tears
My youth is finished and along with it my bright star, and tears. I stopped thinking of the future.
You know I don’t know when exactly that happened all I know is one morning I woke up and I decided you are not loved, you are not loved. You will never be loved and the universe was laughing at me. There was no navigational system set on course for a husband, there was no solid path to follow to a career, no beautiful journey with challenges and an obstacle course to raise children only images of things, imaginary things like hallucinations, psychotropic medication that soon became not so imaginary and the usual Disney-fare, unicorns, talking mice and fairies and the Cheshire cat of which I speak so often in my short stories and a damned waterfall, David Livingstone’s waterfall, no trajectory, only adrenaline pumping through my veins. Whenever taste and sickness becomes fascinating your physical body begins to smile. Your fake mirror reflection smiles back at you, obsessed with the ethereal being you’ve become. Madness is my addiction. Missing it is my crush, my babysitter, my thin if I had an eating disorder or two. I think it’s sexy. Every day I’m seduced by it. Madness is my truth, my statement, the commentary I am making about the society that I live in today, my mother who is thin, who scolds me because I am not even though I tell her it is because of the psychotropic medication I am taking that makes me stay sane, put together, keeps me grounded but it seems to me she wants me to be high even though I am now healthy. I am fixed and the chemicals in my brain have formed their own social cohesion in their closet. Dopamine has her own shoes. Serotonin has a drawer full of pharmaceutical pamphlets. They’ve learned to be roommates, get along, and give each other motherly or hell sisterly advice. All I know is that they’ve got it into their brains sometimes to talk about me and my weight.
I don’t go anywhere about the weight theory. I don’t entertain it. There’s too many conspiracies about that out there. For a long time I thought thin was good, easy, effortless but now I just think it is just a sick mentality. Women come in all shapes and sizes. They’re good mothers, lovers, career women, filmmakers, photographers and take pleasure in everything that they do but they do not experience highs and lows. They do not crumble under pressure. My sister is a photographer. I just thought I’d put that in there. Skinny-sister, kohl-rimmed, peacock-eyes who spends her weekends in galleries or at dinner parties. A life, a life, a life. One must amuse one self.
There might be a leap of faith, but you can never forget about the madness but how can I forget about drowning, falling half-asleep in warm bathwater after I have taken my sleeping pills. I want someone to tell me that they have done those kinds of things too.
I am falling, falling, falling and oh it is so intoxicating and who is to blame for that. Even in therapy I do not talk about my promiscuity. My other-life in another life. There’s a shift that I cannot fix. The men protected me, said I had integrity but the women had eyes like slits, bits in the workplace and they all reminded me of my mother. They stripped me of everything. How daunting it was to be nineteen. To be twenty and sinking into madness, into despair, only finding hope in books and not to have found love yet, yet always the absence of it. Of course my expectations of finding love never grew. I had known what to expect from an early age. I grew up with it. My father worshiped me and I worshiped him (it was pure, it didn’t come with drama even though perhaps in the end it was only an illusion) and I would find that out all through my life you’d get dropped fast if you did not give in to the physical love. I had convinced myself as a young child that my parents were not made for each other. Instead they were all wrong for each other and they were not soul mates fated to be together in sickness and in health till death do us part. Young, old, young-at-heart, divorced with children, single flying solo so how could I ever forget not being the daughter who was adored, who was adorable, who brought home impressive merits one after the other, success after success, the scholarship girl, the Maths genius who went to space camp and worked in New York to pay her university tuition. I have forgot how to shine unfortunately (at thirty-four can a girl still shine, no, she should be having babies, her wedding dress wrapped away delicately in tissue paper). I have forgotten how to illuminate, to blur reality, to blur the normal until it feels like snow, winter settling, filling, being driven, channelled, wedged into the sides of a lake, feeling your way into this world as the interloper, always the Outsider, the loner and not feeling that that is the weirdest part of all. I don’t dream anymore and people who have died, crossed over they visit me in my dreams and ask me after staring at me (poor brilliant girl are you still sick, what happened to all your fierce intelligence and potential when you were fourteen years old in high school) for the longest time, ‘Do you remember me?’ and I say in return. ‘Yes, yes, of course I do. You were my English teacher who died of pancreatic cancer before your time or you were diabetic, alcoholic, pill popping aunt who died before your time. You were my favourite teacher. You were my favourite aunt, my second mother and now you’ve gone dead on me.’ I wish you both were still here. Unfortunately I am still sick but nobody really seems to understand what is wrong with me when my sister seems to have the perfect life. Hatred, I will never let her go. I will never surrender her, clever girl.
What does it matter if I am a stupid girl or a clever girl? Mourning is destructive. Morning is sabotage set loose. Dreamlike, slow, metaphysical braiding the soul with the spirit, a broken self-portrait.
And what do you remember about our childhood I ask my soul and it replies nonchalantly. I want to, need to, desire to remember nothing.
The abnormal, what does that mean? Why, why do we use our heart as a weapon? My mother’s tears come to me in angelic dreams. Is this all that she had hoped for me? Misery and failure. The wolves at the door.
I am bleeding. Space. Exile. History. Nerves. Fatigue. I give it room to breathe. It is the only thing that makes me feel as if I am a woman now. Mothers and daughters must talk about these kind of things, bond over them but we never did. Insanity isn’t it?
What my mother taught me about female poets is that their words were like bows, arrows, apples wasting, falling in heaps and that a child’s eyes can see everything. Vanessa Woolf, my veil, and my apprentice. I will caution you as Achilles was cautioned. As I’m sure Virginia an incest survivor and victim of sexual violence will tell you.
I am growing old. I am growing older. Who will be my mummy then, make me tea, and see that I get out of bed, open my curtains. I believe that she thinks I have always been a threat to her. She is killing me. Her knives are sharp.
The great thing about childhood and two sisters (hating you hating me) sharing a mother, a father and a brother are that there are outgoing scars, there are wounds, that the material that they are made up of is luminous but that there is also a haunting sensation of death and there you will find an honesty open and truthful, perhaps dazed and adventures that will always lay scattered before me, before us as a family. Salvage it as a stamp, an axed scrap or splinter, an album that you page through with trembling fingers looking at dark wonder after dark wonder and one day you know it will be destroyed. Observe the comic. There is both comedy and tragedy in it. Observe the bird, its agony and often its own attempted-suicide as it falls from the nest. Sacrifice is totally unsexy.
I began to fly, see things in a different light once I reached out to books. Marvellous, wonderful things that made up for my childhood and my mother forgetting me, for her to see that I was simply non-existent in her eyes. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in my eyes became the beet king and queen to me perched on their earth-thrones. She was both a mother and an older sister to me. Don’t talk to me about dysfunctional families. Every family is dysfunctional in their own way. Don’t talk to me about cruelty to animals. All human beings are animals. They‘re barbaric. Tears are simply water. Believe me they can be wiped away. They shouldn’t define who you are, or your pain.
By this time it is winter. I hate love. Always have. Ever since I was a child. Don’t touch me. I would think. Don’t kiss me to say hello. Abuse can do that to you. Estrange you from people, your immediate family, and the common people. The only thing I love is madness. It’s Hollywood to me it really is. A bright light city. You have to be so careful letting people in to see the real you, trusting people and even as you are reading this I am hating you too. Look it just comes with the territory, the district. I cannot trust anyone. Mummy you really hurt me. Remember that. I need to know what humanity up close and personal really means. I was never taught what it was. Human rights were always hip during apartheid, post-apartheid, the African Renaissance, for our Rainbow children (I’d rather grieve than say Rainbow Nation). But what on earth were they? I knew as a child mine were always denied or was I simply living in a state of denial.
I could not have wished for better rejection letters. ‘You write with such energy, variety but we cannot publish this.’ Oh that one I remember with wit, it had tasted like spit before it had tasted like honey, milk, butter cookies but also bitterness and hurt. I took it quite personally. Reject. I felt that that word was illegal. Simply put. My mother constantly reminded me it was just a label. It was just as storm in a teacup. My sister smiled as if it had made her happy, joyful but already I had suffered an early death. I knew what the words suffering and sorrow meant. I also thought the rejection of my poetry and haiku was political. My guess the proverb of a skeleton.
‘I enjoyed reading this but unfortunately it will not be placed first.’ They liked it. They liked it. I was overcome, overwhelmed, felt jubilant. But still nothing was good enough. I learned to hate women by hating my emotional, my elegant, and my beautiful mother and I became another version of her but of course I was not vigilant of this in youth. Adolescence, how I miss it. Living in borrowed ignorance. I really am an orphan.
This soft, erotic woman with the strength of a man in her arms, and in her tennis legs, her beautiful white teeth biting into the soft yellow sunny-side up of a fried egg while I watched her and shrieked at her where was my own breakfast while she would just smile, her Mona Lisa smile. She was my Trojan horse, my little shop of horrors, my cancer years, my addiction for all of my life and so her pain became my illustrious pain, her struggles became my own, her burning winter became my project and soon I was the anonymous ghost-child who was a flower in the attic turned into a thief. My sensual-flawed-mother, exotic-smother over her only son.
My sister was happy. She thought she made the right life choices. Perfect doll-child. Perfect adult wearing the perfect shoes, undergarments made of lace, the daughter who is not part of me, the winter guest (I say this in all of my short stories to remain anonymous but there I am a rag doll like M. Night Shyamalan in all of his films) There I am in my little cute box, wooden, not flesh, not blood, not made of skin only violently curious (thinking I am a branch. I am a tree. I am a leaf. I am a stem. I obey. I am Whitman’s grass. I am the weather girl. We’re anticipating clouds today.) She wants no part of me, no portion because perhaps there is meat-to-my-bones.
I seldom worship God. I seldom wonder why that is.
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.
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