So much pain as the leaves fall and gravity is a symphony. I am a million different people from the one day to the next falling, falling, falling. She thinks in the language of poetry.
Her head is stuck in the clouds. She never sleeps. All she sees is the melody is pain. That or a love story. That or the psychological framework of someone singing to her in a music room. All she wants is to be loved, if that were possible. But it seemed out of reach most days. Mostly. If she could just love. Love herself. Acquire identity.
If she could only be strong, but she was a kind of limited person. So she goes to her childhood sea and she never thinks of swimming anymore. She waits upon the clouds, gravity, a love story, sleep, the melody to take the pain away. Oh, she knows that will never happen.
She doesn’t fall asleep anymore. So she reads.
Jhumpa Lahiri short stories and she’s never won anything for her writing. She wonders if she will ever be a great writer. She looks at Lahiri’s impossible beauty and she looks at her failures, thinks of all the origins of smoke and mirrors when she smokes a menthol cigarette. She thinks herself a joke. She thinks herself a universal joke in the face of all these dilemmas she faces and that she thinks she conquers by the seat of her soul. But she is a limited person. She is not fearless. She is not confident. How can anyone live like this, she thinks at twenty two years of age. This road, this road, this open road. She doesn’t think happiness can hold her, that it can last forever. I need shelter. I need protection. These things are on her mind.
She writes them down. She writes them down. She knows what it is to be lonely. She’s felt that way since childhood. It is all she knows. She thinks of all the words she never said to her mother. How her father abandoned her. She wonders how she can get a move on with her life.
She thinks about the impermanence of life. Thinks of clarity. Thinks of peace. She thinks of all the dimensions in memory. That secret world. She is in a bit of a rush this morning. Preparing for her first job interview. She drinks a glass of orange juice. Calls that breakfast. She doesn’t know that the eating disorder she had in her teens will give her the health problems of an elderly woman in her thirties. That is so far off.
Today she is a working professional. She has never been in love yet.
She keeps putting it off. Octavia thinks she has all the time in the world to fall in love. Until tomorrow then. Love can wait she says.
But memories stay with you forever, the same way that the seagulls do of her town, the waves and she doesn’t know yet she’ll be chasing that childhood sea forever, lost in the labyrinths of an illusion. She has never been in love because she was never loved. She knows she would rather hurt than feel nothing, nothing at all. She wants people to need her. She wants to be loved. She does not know she will live with regret when she is an old woman. Her life will be bittersweet.
She was a secretive person by nature. It was part of her personality.
Ingrained within her since she was a child. Since her turbulent adolescence. Of course, she wanted truth. The man knew better. That was his particular job, his expertise. The skill set he had found directly and indirectly in his habitat and enviroment. The woman looked at the man and told herself that she was not in love. but the man in her life was the landscape of home to her. The picture of her every cathartic metamorphosis. The man was the, her authentic sanctuary. When she had been younger, walking away was the only thing that she knew how to do. Walking towards a man, towards a relationship. Finding herself there. She was old. Getting older.
Losing her identity in the shapes of things to come.
The onset of negativity and self-doubt, insecurity and chronic illness, disabling fatigue and depression. She was a restless figure even in the arms of a man. Before I go. You were someone I used to know, she says to her reflection. She looks tired. She is tired. Let me photograph this memory. In the arrangement of this light she is her most authentic self. Creative. Imaginative. Good. Kind. She was also her own worst enemy. A saboteur. The man thinks something else.
Something completely different. He thinks that nothing compares to this woman that he has chosen to be his wife. The woman is in his arms. They are dancing. Then walking down a street towards a restaurant that they both want to try out. He wants her to give him all her fears. He knows she is afraid.
That she is hesitant. That everything in love seems to hurt her. The man has left her twice before. Here is my heart. Here is my spirit.
Her eyes want to tell him that she is crushed. Crushed by life. Her spirit is broken. Has been broken a thousand times. The man knows that the woman is a secretive person by nature. The woman feels she can’t go on. There’s a side to me you don’t know. The man has made her his decision. Still the woman doesn’t feel good enough. As if she is not enough for him. She has been left before. Then, back then he thinks of those moments when all she had were her fears. I waited for you. I waited you. Look, I am here now, the man says, trying to console her with every action and response on his part and he wonders, wonders will it ever be enough.
There is hurt in her eyes. You left. You left me alone. You left me before, so, what is different this time. You will leave again. You will find a girl. A girl who is more than suitable for you. I am old.
Getting older. Oh, you say that you love me. Now you love me, but you left me before. You let me alone. So, certainly I was not good enough for you. You’ll hurt me again. You’ll leave me again, she say this with a kind of finality, a kind of certainty in her heart. She does not know yet that they will have children. A son. A daughter. That she will be happy.
The Renal Unit: Paper Towns Of A Borderless Woman
The hospital is a lovesick climate. The blessing of an emerald day.
Kite-flying. The fabric of a stream. The hidden wings of a child. The swell of a rosebud’s mute-bloom.
Thread of an owl through the air. The lengthened passage north.
Sinking-gathering-maturing cells of sunburnt flesh and bone. The Mediterranean-blue sky. The tarnished transaction of vital star meeting black hole. No, there’s nothing as beautiful. I come to life in my sister’s Cape Town flat. It is raining men and women and when the radiant sun comes out it rains golden. I think of people that only say things to be polite or diplomatic. I think of how before I do things now, I have to wait for the tiredness to lift. I think of my flesh and blood. And how everything around me is fragile and connected to God. Sometime I think of the hospital room I found myself in when I was barely 20-years old at Tara, then at Golden City Clinic, then at Hunterscraig Private Clinic. That was before the renal unit at the hospital where I was born. Now, I eat for three and four and five. I have to find my own way to be cheerful, and it feels like the day after Christmas in my hands.
The sun was unusually strong today. The waves seemed as angry as I was, and fury was like ice warmed up. He has a bear of a man for a step-father. I think of his sticky fingers on the counter-top. I think of the shape of autumn near my fingertips. The weather changing. Is it more climate than God? Whenever I wear a dress I think of Paris. I think of wearing Parisian-made dresses. I think of the love of my life and his daughter now. Of how he never saved me. I think of eating and drinking. I think of grief. I think of loss. I think of emptiness, futility, loneliness and silence. All harmless like vessels. I think of the country where I live. How heavenly it is. How metaphysical.
There’s a chill in the air as I eat alone in my room, and I think to myself that I am oceans away from the sun. I wonder if he told his wife what I said. That I was afraid of him. Making love to him. I was young. I was afraid. I thought of never going back. Never going home to the dysfunctionality I was brought up in. A sister, a daughter.
Siblings fighting. Competition and rivalry. I think of the desert. It offers freedom. I think of how vulnerable I felt in the hospital. I think of my sorrows. My so-called nuclear family. My poverty. My weaknesses. I think of freely-given bread. I am always looking for people to read my poetry and tell me what it is they think of it or rather me. As if it will add to my happiness. To my future. As if it will fix me or love me or mark me in letters ‘Return to sender’. I think of my house on fire. Pale fire. Milk in my hands washing away all my sins but it is never ever quite enough. I am never ever quite enough. I am not loved. I am unloved. I dream of digital copies of my books. The world is cold and made of gnarled oak, exoduses, and indigo children. People who are dumped on the ash heap of life. And for all of my life I have been one of them. No winter-husband. No autumn-children to rain on me. No blue river. There is no one to bring me flowers or to cook me a champagne breakfast.
Only the souls of bad men and good men.
The sun’s disappeared again. I think of my mother waving me goodbye with a doek around her head covering her hennaed hair. I’m crushing on the scenery out the bus’s window-seat. Thinking of how every portrait in nature and urban sprawl is sensual. I’ve quickly become a hunter for snapshots that light a brief flame inside of me, longing for a different South African culture, or delicious food. I’ve learnt to cultivate a passion for the people I meet wherever the mood or holiday takes me. I go. This, this is the awareness of another world’s earth and sky is not lost on me. When I was younger I lived to explore the rough and tough terrain of the open road. I would hop on the Translux by myself and travel to Johannesburg to visit maternal family. I’d climb into a taxi and visit Swaziland.
There are several ways to enjoy travelling. You can explore with your eyes, your taste buds, listening to birdsong and music, watching foot-traffic, watching the bright lights of the big city. I have packed a dress that goes anywhere (a church dress). The dress touches my ankles. The George-family (here I mean ‘George’ the town) attend services regularly. Pleading that you’re an atheist or not a regular churchgoer because you’ve somehow been hurt by the church won’t fly with these lamb curry, golden-roast potatoes Sunday eaters. On the bus I listen to a cassette tape on my walkman. A pale girl on the bus shares jellybeans with me. The Coloured aunty next to me has a Tupperware with her filled with vetkoek and mince that makes my mouth water.
The aunty and I make small talk about family and the weather and say nothing for the rest of the journey. I feel like a seasoned traveller at 16 years of age, even though I have only been to Johannesburg on my own and Wilderness, George and the Garden Route and Grahamstown. Snapshot. I can see into the backyards on this stretch of road that we turn into. I see tiny gardens and swimming pools. Snapshot. Trees and sky and blue hills escape into the periphery of a dense forest. Snapshot. I spy monkeys on the side of the road. Snapshot. Cars pull, snake, zigzag away from the bus. Families stop at the side of the road for a bite to eat. Those people looked like they lived to travel, living out of a suitcase, putting up a tent, eating sardines and baked beans out of a can. Snapshot. The open road is never-ending. Snapshot. I tried to read the sky. Forecast. Overcast.
Rainclouds were gathering up ahead. The weather was dismal, miserable, mocking. I was in another time and place. Snapshot. Cities and towns have personalities and characters too. I want mystical George to love all of me. The one true thing that is immortal is the journey you find yourself on. It goes on forever and forever. Snapshot. I loved discovering people. Whether it was someone who looked like a character on the bus, or a tourist with a foreign accent and backpack, people travelling on the road with their families, small children and then there was someone like me, someone who looked every inch the outsider. Snapshot. I glance at hitchhikers with their meagre possessions next to them at the side of the road, feeling sorry for them. In a split second they’re gone.
Soon the rain pours down. Gravid and swirling, spitting, then vicious rain covers everything on the way to mystical George. It is wet and cold when I arrive. My uncle is waiting for me. I am the only person who gets off here. I wave goodbye to the pale girl who is going to Cape Town. That Coloured aunty is sleeping. It’s the nineties and I’m taking the Translux to George to visit a cousin who is the same age as me. We’re both still in high school. I’m still in that awkward phase of erupting into nervous, girlish laughter when spoken to by a boy. I have skinny legs and wear glasses. I end up visiting family in George for a long weekend. This was way before the Knysna fire. It is a lovely road that we travel from PE to George. Voldi is a distant cousin who plays the piano by ear and sings opera. He strikes a romantic intellectual, brooding figure. He’s popular. He has green eyes and is devilishly handsome.
It was Voldi who taught me that you will discover all sorts of teachers on your sojourn in this life. Unforgettable teachers, who will for the most part shower you with advice and wisdom when you need it the most, treat you with kindness, a modicum of understanding and tolerance whenever the need arose. When I think back to that holiday, I think of how much we’ve changed as a generation. Of how now every millennial is interested in a digital reality, the advances in technology, social media handles. Now we’re so into discovering the mechanics of entrepreneurship, the dimensions of browsing and exploring the web. Travel is one of nature’s complexities. You either love to travel or hate it. We visit his friends.
It’s easy to fall in love with them, the clipped tones of their Afrikaans, their blonde hair bleached white by the sun. I had never been around boys like this before. They’re all Afrikaans, good-looking, earthy-farm types. I don’t fit in. There’s a sleepover at his friend’s house. We binge watch videos. I eat a fried egg while watching Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger play a husband and wife whose marriage is falling apart. I have this ability now to see where I belong, where I fit in and where I don’t. It was easy to feel their effortless confidence crowding me out from across the room, feel their physicality, their beauty transformed me, held me at arm’s length, made me feel brave enough to speak Afrikaans, find the words. They left me feeling jaded and insecure.
But this is a George I love, a mystical George, where George-rain shattered the edges of small-town life. This was a George of quiet suburban life, roast leg of lamb on Sundays, watched over by a hovering aunt making fudge on the stove top, me patiently stirring caramel goo until it changed consistency with an aunt’s educated guesswork. This was the George where my parents’ had their second honeymoon without us kids. One Sunday after the church service we visit Voldi’s Grade 11 Mathematics teacher. He has a lovely wife, a kind, interesting and sensitive face. He is English, white, I guess a liberal. He makes jokes. I’m shy.
This life, Voldi’s life, his joie de vivre did not mirror my own life. He was an extrovert, a social animal, the life and soul of the party. I was introverted and preferred to shy away from people keeping them at a distance. Instead of partying and drinking champagne I preferred to read a good book that was usually something interminably long and boring.
George still is a love letter to my soul. It wasn’t always adventure stomping ground or adventure country like Cape Town or Johannesburg but nonetheless I fell in love with the place repeatedly for many reasons. It was quiet (the people who lived there were a quiet kind of people), the town itself was unique, an undiscovered paradise and inspiration for the future-poet in me. For the rest of my life I would carry the memory of that holiday that I spent with my cousin Voldi from dream holiday to family road trips to visiting museums. I loved the quiet, simple life in George. I loved the open road that spelled freedom from my siblings and parents for two blissful weeks. As if in a dream I can see the woman, the poet, the writer I wanted to be.
I had explored the cities and towns of South Africa, never had the experience of backpacking throughout Europe. I only know this, that I cannot leave South Africa behind and explore the United Kingdom, the States, Canada and Ireland. This is how it ends. I am not yet a poet in search of identity. I am not yet a writer in search of identity, the writer always writing that novel. I’m chasing the sun while life flows around me. And the world seems to say, every road, I am your peace, your deliverer, your keeper and your caretaker, your sanctuary and home.
Ode to my Mother
There is a dwelling that I exist in. This far out between heaven and hell she is, my mother is still beautiful. She was beautiful, and relevant in away that I was not. Manuscripts erode all around me but she is innocent, still beautiful. Lovely. She is earth now. I’m average. I can’t helpit. I’m so basic at everything. I’m a still life next to her grave tears pouring out of me like there’s no tomorrow. No future or anything. I name her ‘water’. I name her ‘anything that is worthy of possession’. This far out she’s salt, light, cream, if I can help it the last city, the last blue country. A fragment of paradise ripped from the seats of the Opera House of Port Elizabeth, infestation, life. She is a Sunday morning after church. I thirst for her mouth. Her beautiful hands. Hair like silk down her back. She is Peter Pan chasing stars, and what this poem is, is not a poem about a river on becoming the sea. The reflection in the mirror is as unstable as electricity.
I wonder to myself just who does she think she is.I am wary of her.Of what she is capable of doing.You are living.I am dead. You’re warm.I’m cold through.I don’t know how to keep the regime under control. You’re unfinished. Tiger, you speak to me in tongues. These are dangerous times that we’reliving in, you say. You are joy, Yes, you are.You come in that stellar version. While I’m a field covered with the fabric of stars, and starlight. I do not know how to love you back. I see you in this photograph. You have lost all your hair to the chemotherapy, you’re wearing a wig, but you still look hot, and breathless, as exotic as a French woman’s beauty. Of course, you lose the battle for your own sanity. Father, the love of your life has lost his own struggle. It snows in winter-time in Johannesburg, and every time it snows, I think of you, every recovery, every relapse, summer, I think of all the people I’ve lost. That are never coming back to me, that are priceless, and free. Pain is such a waste. And, so, I wake up, look, dress, and live my life, also free.
The magnolia of nerve, now that is exactly what I need. A novel sense of adventure. I’ll never say that I love you again, and I will never even think it. I have cut it to shreds with the kitchen scissors. My mother does not love me, neither does my father, sister, and brother. Only strangers live for me. Live to love me as sister, daughter and vulnerable orphan. Someone far away is crying in the natural, but they are praying in the supernatural. I dedicated this poem to my art, to my daughters, to my sons. I see them all in rainbows, walking alone, by the sea, in the sun, and I have found the cure for loneliness and death, I am selling both. Cut to Radiohead. Cut to the memory police, cut to the absolute vertigo of desire, cut to tenderness, and tenderly, and tender eyes. Never forget where you came from Hercules, never forget your roots Homer, and so the men walked away, danced away from the reach of my arms, and inside I felt like dying, I could feel them ignoring me, the loneliness of the situation, conflict, and ignorance, and in my pain, I turned to writing poetry instead. Poems saved me from the lonely tears, from the paradise they once promised me.You see, pain is never wasted. All the men were in the end were narcissists in bloom. I think of the roots of my grief stemming from art, and father, and this is how I will get over all of you. I will write, I will fall in love again, I will teach, I will workshop poems,I’ll listen to Radiohead. Cut to the Bessie Head-generation, the Harlem Renaissance, the nocturnal sight of me writing my heart out, using my pen asa sword, and my sword as a pen. I’ll be valiant like wildflowers, and so this heart will be restored like flame, and the anatomy of rooms will belong to me.
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