There is a global village in the glass of milk that stares me down.
Knocks me off my feet. I even find the technology of the bloodline of the phoenix staring back at me there. Its eye is filled with wonder, bright starlight, my sister’s Phuket and India. Her New York state of mind. The wolf is changing. Shifting perspective. He blooms in both the natural and the supernatural world. Too much. I have too much and then too little. Too much time alone. Then too little time alone.
Angry and then sad and then hurt. The hurt is a museum that fills my bones. Once I felt I could be a writer, a novelist anywhere. Was my mother a fierce mother to be. There is a journal inside my heart. A knitting factory. This place of weeping can be dazzling too. To all the impressions in the clouds of a glass of milk.
The owls are wise and patriotic as the world changes around them. It fills them with grace and mercy. It instructs my work. It does like the ringing of the church bells. Long ago I tried talking to female writers. I tried to tell them that I liked their view on things as if I was talking to a brave confidante or my mother. So, now I pay attention to the song in the wind. I call it plenty talented. Gifted beyond compare. Those female writers never paid me any attention or enough attention and I moved on from that world. Everything is electric. Soul searching the dimensions of yesterday. Conversation intense like collecting coins or stamps or painting a mural. I believe in God and crashing into things. The woman is emotional and sensitive.
Ignorant and cultured. Sophisticated but kind.
Stitch me back together again. Feasting on stones. I am left digging to find your soul. I must forgive you. We are two daughters. How can I not remember that. Perhaps this is a treatise on loneliness. Yes, it is significant. I remember jasmine in my hands. J.M. Coetzee’s birthday party in Grahamstown this year. His eightieth. I am Keats.
The romantic age. Forests are being educated. The are days when the sun breathes with energy, light and vitality. With the hand in the small of her back. The glories of love, he whispered in her ear. You are all the glories of love when I look into your eyes, when I hold you in my arms, tight around the waist and feel you tremble in my arms. It was true, the girl did not care for furs, she did not care for laces, all she could see was the boy’s smile as wide as the ocean-river, even his hair had swagger, she told her father with a laugh. She was happy. The boy made her happy. It was clear to see. The stars shone like diamonds in the sky. Starlight was in her eyes when she stared at the boy, into his brown eyes. And at home after a night on the boy’s arm, she wrote in her journal, pen in her mouth, biting her bottom lip pensively as she thought of all the ways to describe love, as she thought of all the ways she could reach the boy through her words for he could see everything. Every emotion, every feeling on her face, her sweet upturned face as she looked at him, or studied his profile, or glanced in his direction whenever he made her feel shy.
You keep me standing tall in ways only my father did before. You keep me strong in the eye of the storm. You are a sanctuary, you are a room, you are silence, you are guardian of the moonlight, you are more than Mr Clooney’s smile, you are perfection even though you are imperfect and I am imperfect. I fear my love that sometimes I might overthink the situation, that you might fall out of love with me, my smile, my dress, my intelligence, and will you always be good to me, will I always be good to you, my love, my love, my love. And I want to help you through it all. Nothing is going to keep our dreams apart now, my love. We are moving on through it all. Through the dark clouds in our coffee, through the dark clouds on the horizon, through the rain, we are still going to dance, we are still going to kiss, we are still going to hold hands and each other through it all. Fire and ice doesn’t matter. We are going to stand tall, defeat is not the name of the game. The name of the game is love. The name of the game is love.
Let us remember that we did it all for love, the girl said, turning her face away from the boy with the magic, and her unborn children in his eyes. The boy with his hand in the small of her back.
We all face psychological challenges. I have said this before. Trying to understand the purity and morality of the code of faith, empathy and love. We, or rather the tyrants within us patronise the fact sometimes that everything in life is navigational. There are days when I do not understand the psychological framework of winter, nor illusion. I listen to the voice of the birds. It gives me all the features of hope. I think of the multiculturalism found in hospitality and I think of hope. We are all called to the philosophy of kindness.
Sometimes my spirit boughs down to betrayal but I have all the symbols of the artist as poet on my side. We need poetry and the African novelist in a COVID-19 World. Humanity needs philosophers. As a poet I write on climate, tonight the sky was empty of stars, as a novelist I conceptualise the narrative as a kind of psychological therapy and survival kit, as a philosopher I know this. There is illness and chronic illness, there is healing and then there is healing, but it reminds us that we are alive. To Dambudzo Marechera. To the African novelist. To us. To the African Renaissance. All our connections for the most part are emotional as well as universal. Sometimes I think of the resting place of the Khoi. Their origins in the Kat River Settlement.
In much the same way I think of writing an African novel, I think of the truly great, the truly great philosopher, the truly great artist who in the midst of this pandemic wakes, still gets up in the morning, and works their well-established heart out.
Alcoholism: Cloud Briefly Visible For A Moment Above Zelda Fitzgerald’s Head
I think of total exhaustion and being. How it takes me from winter to summer. Then I think of you and the space, the gap you in-habit for me.
The thing is I don’t distrust you, or pain. I think of you unburdened.
I think of you but you’re light years away from me now. Once I called you home. Once you called me sanctuary. Your hands were like a hat full of leaves, a porcelain teacup full of blue sky. Now all I know is betrayal, ghost protocol, the estrangement of the heart, the page, the frozen sea. I am the surgeon. You are the vibes in my fingers at the operating table. You are the phases of a Saturday morning, the leveling out of daylight. There’s nothing common about you. About your system of arrows, your symphony of sorrows. You’re light, I’m a bird found with an olive branch in it’s mouth. The notes found here in this world’s paradise are tentative. I’m thinking of you again. Now what is so wrong about that. You were romance, and I was homelessness. Now all that I know of love is extinct for me.
Zelda is waiting for the light. We’re all waiting on the museum. She’s waiting for the light. I’m waiting for the light. The world is full of stories for us to sup on. Even you must have one. The text sparkles.
It stretches out into the widening silence. Zelda is fathoming. The old girl has hit her head. She is bleeding from the wound. Her heart over the years has been faithful. Zelda is young and smart and no-nonsense. The priest must come over the vastness of desert and city jungle. The priest must come to pray for me. Zelda is not holy like the tubers and fossils found underground are. I’m left to clutch at the bird in my hand.
Zelda is eating sunflower seeds and honey. The old girl pours milk into her tea. I’m falling in love with Tarzan. Me Jane. Let’s give thanks. Let’s celebrate the galaxies. New and old.
I fear photographs and the cold sea’s philosophy. Now we all grow like wildflowers. Anywhere that we please. Like the seed of a mustard tree.
There’s nothing as beautiful as the newspaper man eating fresh plums.
The woods, mushrooms, potatoes. The vibrations of foliage. Daylight.
Glory. A tender swarm. The triumph of an athlete. The redemption of a sinner. Spring found in the desert. A Saturday morning. Leaf! Oh, sacred leaf! Universal winter. Cat. The action of rope found in blood.
The shadow of a woman found in the venerable wild. There’s nothing as beautiful as deep-blue love. The echo of a bird. An icy wind that freezes everything green but the gap of time. A page in a book. Golden people. Fire. Bright places. Novel places. Iron faces. The out-lines of a lonely season and hills. There’s nothing as beautiful as the woman in the photograph. The bride of high summer days. The confession of a sinner. The perfumed juice of a pear. Bird. Field.
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.
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