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.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.