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African Renaissance

The relationship between mother and gifted child

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Vertigo inside of me. Burnt oats. Mother burnt the oats again. The bottom of the pot burnt. The oats tasted like ash, smelled like coals on the fire. Oats like cinders. “Eat. Eat everything.” She said. “Go on with yourself. That’s your food. That’s your breakfast.” I have often blamed Christ God for my unique set of circumstances, but I don’t anymore. My father’s sad that I lost the plot. Nobody understands. Nobody understands me. I’m alone, all alone in this world. Nobody to call my own. And the entire house smells like marijuana. My brother smokes his weed in the house now. The parental units don’t care. I’m ripe for the taking. It’s asking for the taking. I’m slave, and cook. I clean the house like a madwoman. Richard, my father’s close friend, speaks of ‘mental wellness’. Going on holiday. Listening to music. Being happy is a choice, he says. You can be happy. But I feel like Heidi in the Swiss mountains with her grandfather, blissfully unaware of the outside world, how dangerous it is to be a woman on your own. I think of the Duchess of Sussex, how elated, how happy she looks with her prince, how beautiful she looks every time she’s photographed. Her skin is flawless. Radiant. There are pools of grandeur, and admirers wherever she walks. She walks tall. Head above water. Surfing London, England’s ‘swampland’. Compared to her, I’m nobody. Nobody special. And the day is like cocaine. And the night is marked by sadness, and after winter, comes winning, winning spring. It’s beautiful supposedly, but I am not impressed by the wonders of the flora around me, by the environment marked by pollution, and global warming.

And the economic downturn of the recession, and climate change. We’re normal people. Their eyes tell me that. Tell me that I don’t belong. What’s normal anyway? I’m anti-normal. Smiling when I look at this photograph of you, from memory and desire. Oh, how I desired you. Still desire you, but you belong to someone else. Other people, who are kinder, and more understanding than my own people. They say that I’m mad, and call me mental patient. Oh, I was in high care. Oh, I was in a locked-up ward. Oh, I did try to take my own life, but could I be the most beautiful woman in the world, on your arm at a social function, or a family gathering just for a few hours, please, please. There’s a wasteland for you. Wasted potential. Wasted youth. To live normally, that means exactly what. The only goal that I have in my life is to write. I think of Charlie Chaplin’s mother in the asylum, a young Anne Sexton full of brio, and bold life modelling her Bostonian-heart out, (I don’t have that kind verve, don’t live according to that velocity). Oh, I’m sad, and lonely, but don’t worry for me. I’m proud to be a ghost nation. I’m governed by patience and virtue, patients and their psychological framework. Their philosophy of life in hospital, shielded away from the gaze of the world. I’m poet. I’m John Updike’s Bulgarian poetess. I must have courage. A woman’s guide to courage, but can someone help with the survival-kit. Men have always laughed at my sexual inexperience, and inadequacy. It was like a storm inside my head, you know. There’s a tangled web for you.

A spider’s web of deceit and lies, deception and self-sabotage, the pattern of self-destructive behaviour, and because of you, as if you didn’t know, I will never marry another. I don’t want to be anywhere near you. You are dead to me like stimulus, capacity, and impulse. Once, your hands were my hands. Once, your heart belonged to me. All I see now is your silhouette. You’re showman, I’m interloper in your relationships. You’ve travelled, made sense of the world around you, and now that you have a wife, you want nothing to do me with me. You don’t want to love me anymore. And I know it would have made a difference if I could have given you a child, to live and to breathe, but all I seem to get out of the day is meditative haiku this,  and you have the shadow of a fisherman in my bedroom in the early hours of the morning. Just like, for the rest of my life I will remain childlike. You gave me up. The spark, the love, the beautiful reflection of me, was there for the taking. You refused. You refused me. Walked away from me in a parking garage. In childhood, it will always be childhood for me, nothing is beyond reach. Everything is within limits. I wait. I’m left waiting. The poor girl, waiting in poverty, living in poverty, spiritual-poverty, the green dragons of men say. No man’s hands will write on my body now. My body is no longer a canvas. The youth is gone. Oh, youth is fleeting, but not the homesick feeling. Growing up, I always sought out introverts like myself, only finding that aspect of personality in older males. And as soon as I got older, they all faded away into the background. Excitement is like a store for me.

I go in there, anxiety and fear disappear, the anguish of not having a man. The ache is still there, but I’m too old for that life, that kind of time, to spend hours, or an entire afternoon in the company of a man, too tired for the games of the sexual transaction. You’re a parenthesis. I’m beginner, on repeat. With the thin needle of desire on repeat. Blood gives, blood takes. You have your career, your wife has her household and family to take care of, you’re both inter-dependants, take care of each other, wife and husband (you each have your duties), taking care to take care of each other in the good times, and sad times. There’s nobody to take care of my heartbreak. All I have is eccentric. My fondness for rubbish television, and J.M. Coetzee novels, (the greatest writer alive today). Films that only cost about a million to make. I remember when I stopped running. I mean running away. It was about the time you left me, and we said our goodbyes. There was finality for you. There was closure for you. You closed the door on the past, on our past. But it wasn’t completely over for me. Nowhere is the longest distance to traverse, and often there is no end in sight on that pilgrimage. Our end meant the rare appearance of a new world for me. Sickness came and went in my life. You were a non-supportive prop. It wasn’t over by a longshot for me. Not for me. Not for me. Awake, I am tidal, and pure. I feel the cold. Nobody feels the cold like I do. I’m dying. I’m dying to belong to a world, this planet, but you see, I could never fit, adjust, meet expectations high, or, low, justify. My relationships were always scandalous.

I was naïve, too young; he was old enough to be my father. You’re living your best life now. Yes, I want a connection, to this society, link up with likeminded people, who, like me, find living in poverty disabled disagreeable. I still have goals, plans, and this dream. I will speak at Harvard, Brown, Duke, Smith, Yale, and Princeton. I will attend an ivy league university like a Kennedy- heir. I will attend Columbia. Think with clarity and creativity. Then the world will love me, and that will be enough. I do pray. I pray for happiness for myself (but what is that without a man), and for personal success in all the spheres of my life. I’m forever home for the holidays now, glimpsing taverns in my neighbourhood from the safety of my mother’s car, the life-worlds therein, and I don’t know whether bitterness, or, resentment on the part of my aunt, that relationship, the year I spent at a mental institution, was responsible for the estrangement on my father’s side of the family. The ache is sharp. The knowledge of it was always mysteriously invisible to you. There’s Missionvale.It is not suburbia. I think of Cobra polish, Sunlight soap, Colgate egg shampoo, and the rich who know, who think nothing of sub-economic housing, families of ten people or more who have to fit into two rooms. A matchbox house is far beyond their understanding. They do not know of the kind of pressures, and stress, and hurting when a man can’t provide for his family. Can’t put food on the table. Can’t be caretaker, his wife, and mother-in-law nurturers to the children in the house, in matchbox housing. All the children are, are orphans anyway.

The absent parents who only have their own neglect into the life of addiction on their minds. Addiction to gun violence, addiction to a heinous promiscuous lifestyle, domestic violence, shocking physical, and sexual assault. They know nothing of the filth and stench of poverty, the stain, the organic language of menstrual blood, of blood, of blood spilled. I think of the prosperous with their Swiss chocolate, bouquets of flowers, gifts wrapped in tissue paper on birthdays. There’s Bethelsdorp. There’s Korsten. There’s Timothy Valley. There’s Schauderville. People there do not live the kind of sheltered paradise life that I live. People shoot in the streets. They shoot to kill. I feel like Krotoa. Only good enough for one man. Called out of native darkness into Dutch light. Come over the threshold, Krotoa. I give my name, my nationality, my life to you. Death is important. Death is king, for without this earth of things, all of our material possessions how can there be life. We need faith to receive the blessing, in order to obtain Christ’s reward, but without it we can still live, just without the guidebook (to salvation). Lazarus is still sleeping. I want to be the next Antjie Krog, not the next Ingrid Jonker. Arthur Nortje, the poet who won a scholarship to Oxford, he speaks. Arthur Nortje, the poet speaks to me. I feel to live vicariously through him. Through his Oxford. Through his romantic life, if he ever had one. This non-European, who looked like a pale king version of a European. Arthur Nortje, speaks with anticipatory nostalgia to me. He is walking alone; I am walking alone. He has a testimony; I have a testimony.

This is not the end for me. There is still the storytelling to be told of Hitler, Mussolini, Smuts and the Cape Corps. I have this map, you see. A map of the world, my mixed-race world. No telling where I still have to go. But I am Krotoa, relying on the spirit of giving from older Dutch males. There is a mother, or rather was the lack of one n my life. The tomcat is inspiration, magic spell, imagination to me. There is a mother, tarnished like seed, that carries with it, Sunday gravy, pork belly and roast potatoes. Wait a minute. There’s a thaw in the air. Just. Just. In the kitchen there she stands, a Jennifer making my life hell. There she goes again. On fire, this injustice, she screams at the top of her lungs of just how inadequate I am. I’m mute. I’m a mute. I think of the needle. The thin needle of desire from memory. How it left a mosquito bite on my arm playing a seduction game on my arm. How the words, “you’ll be okay, we’ve given you something to sedate you”, were given to me like communion wine, and the wafer of Jesus Christ’s body. And I think of Dennis Brutus, Arthur Nortje, Brian Walter, Harold Wilson, these men of genius. I think of Calvary. My cross, my cross. My cross. I’m glad I couldn’t see into their, my future. You never grew up in our house. Never smiled for the camera the way that we did. Hiding our grief in our interpersonal relationships in the way that we did. I ask myself all the time am I walking on a dream in being a poet, is he really, this great South African writer who lives in France and Spain in awe in of me, are people really talking about me, or, are they laughing at me.

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.

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African Renaissance

Slavery and the real life bending sinister

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What is slavery? It is nothing more than poverty of the mind. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. It is scarcity. It is lack. It is cumbersome. It is heavy. It is a burden.

What does it have to do with politics? Ask what it has to do with genocide.

What does it have to do with the power of having a slave mentality? Just as easily as we rise, we fall. A leaf. Ask yourself this. Does the leaf or gravity have the slave mentality or is it just a path to its consciousness, and if it is a meandering path to its consciousness what does that make of gravity? Gravity is easily the culprit or saboteur. A cup carries water but how does the water break through the physical wellness of the body to sate thirst, how does water flow through the universal meridians and find sanctuary in all the wild places that the ocean cannot contain, in code, in which case what observations come out of these natural and bohemian studies.

A slave is a slave is a slave. My grandfather was a slave. My great-grandfather was a slave. On both the paternal and maternal side they are non-existent for me. I live for my father. My father is not a slave. You see his mind is not enslaved. His psyche, his mental, emotional, physical wellness, intellectual prowess and integrity is intact inasmuch as he is not a slave to the peculiarities and eccentricities of the people he finds himself amongst.

In the stages of my own life I can see that I have been enslaved (my mindset and attitude was) by my body image, my identity of cosmic Africa, the cosmos, my self as an African, what I was entitled to, my basic self esteem. I was a slave to my sister, her dalliances, her whiteness, her renouncing Africa for America then Europe and I understood what loneliness, family, friendship and family finally meant and this frightened me a great deal because I realised I had never really loved myself before. I was a slave to every moment up until I heard James Baldwin speak up. I had truly been a slave to waiting for someone to release me and offer me relief somehow from this kind of suffering and cognitive thinking. I wanted happiness but the price for my freedom was this. Somebody else had to love me before I could.

Ask what slavery has cost us as humanity. Look back at history. When I look back at history, all my life I never felt safe. Whether it was the bogeyman, or a horror film, or apartheid, or reading about apartheid, acknowledging it was the difficult part. How would you even begin that dialogue? What could you partner with those hectic images that left you with an urgency and a sense of betrayal from God? So, I grew up with an unpleasant disdain for middle class families in South Africa. It was easy for me to picture them as racist which they were and still are to a certain degree and yet how could I not be? The thought of slavery and decolonization never left me even as a child as I sought to fight for the betterment of society and to right all the evil wrongs.

Slavery is everything. It is primitive. It is visible if you look hard enough. We haven’t even begun to talk about or discuss in rational terms without venting or becoming agitated or irrational about race relations in South Africa or slavery as a concept or narrative in Africa.

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African Renaissance

On watching David Mamet in an African context

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His boots made a squelching sound. In the whorl of her ear a squelching noise on the welcome home mat. The man was quick. The girl was slow. The woman was slow to speak. She was slow to communicate what she was thinking and feeling. The secret part of the actor was valid. Her fear, anxiety and chemistry becoming like the flapping wings of a Bach woman. After the interview came the hurricane. Late morning the man realizes his mistake. The woman remembers her parents’ relationship from childhood. The man remembers how the young woman looked the day he married her. He remembers their courtship and the day they got married. How he squinted at her through the sunlight that fell upon her hair that day at the beach. He had gone fishing. Caught nothing.

He had left her alone to read a magazine on the beach. The town was near decay. It was a tourist destination for the mega rich.  She will think one day (the girl inside of her) that she married the wrong one.  The apparitions come at night. The snow in winter. David Mamet is a mega rich American writer and Republican intellectual. He has made it. Millions won’t. Millions idolize him. Thousands want to be him. They want to live his life for him. They admire him for living so well. There is driftwood on the beach. The chips of wood are like a magnet almost as if they are chipping away something of life at the root heart of humanity. There is always a story to be told from life, from everything. Everyone has a story to tell. The girl sighs with a thousand other girls. Her soul is bitter. She has lost something. She feels she has lost everything because the guy has up and left her stranded with the baby. What is she thinking, what is she feeling? David Mamet is a well-known playwright. In a shining circle the bleak ones live in this world feeling nothing. Existing on the fringes of this life world. They wait in unison for the hereafter. I realize my mistake now. The young girl fell for the wrong guy. The twig sucks me in. The man walks in beauty. Wild geese are calling with a purpose. Music in Africa has its own language.

We are conditioned to think that nothing lasts forever in politics. The only thing that really lasts is a story. It has prophecy and legacy combined. Which one lasts longer? What of our playwrights and our songwriters? It is a summer evening. People are dancing in the street. The smell of barbecue is smoky. She looks at her face as she passes a shop window that is brightly lit up and doesn’t recognize her own face. The wretched and forlorn look upon her face. The young girl smells of bloom ad smoke. She thought she would give it up for Lent. David Mamet is a world-famous director and writer who understands the nature of art and truth when it comes to telling and writing original stories. He started his own theatre company. He married an actress. Conquerors know of miracles. The house has a room that has been standing empty for years. The naming of parts comes with having a range of intelligence, scrutiny, wearing a sorrowful mask, understanding suffering. The woman has a slender body. The actress has a stunning face. The woman has a confession. There is a sharp intake of breath as the man’s fist comes crashing down on the table. You cut your finger with a kitchen knife. Remember, the day you cut your finger with the kitchen knife. Or was it really your fingernail?

The director goes back and forth, back and forth cutting between the tension and the dialogue of the actors. He walks them through their paces. The actors take a well-deserved break. They talk and interact with each other. They smoke and laugh. The girl throughs her head back and sounds silly when she tries to put everyone else at ease when she is not with her own performance. There is some insecurity there. Some self-doubt. They run lines. The gravity of the thing comes into view. We all struggle. Don’t we all, someone in the group says. There are confessions. Then there are more confessions with a trimmed and a manicured nail. I am getting old. I can feel it in my bones. The flesh of my flesh was very tender that day I cut my finger with the kitchen knife. I sliced it like a pear. Prizes make you happy and sad. Here is the ballad of a growing intimacy, a camaraderie amongst the actors in this theatre company. They mill around. No one wants to end the flow of the conversation. They want to work. They don’t want to go home yet. It means sitting at home alone for some. It means a lonely night. The beauty of the dahlias is complicated. Will there be real flowers or plastic fruit on opening night on the table? My sister doesn’t phone to talk to me.

When she does telephone, she speaks to my mother. I wish I was more real than having this kind of a fake personality.  The actress is deciding whether to paint her toenails a fire engine red to stay in character. Pain helps you to grow. If you forsake pain, you also forsake growth. All of us should conquer something in life. Let us go into the wild that is calling. My life has always been on this path.

On the edge of uncertainty. My soul is gone to tell you the truth. It has lost a bit of its own mystery.

When I speak of David Mamet, I think that in the context of Africa that there is the worker Mamet in all of us. Whether it comes to the tradition of oral storytelling or not, the linear arrangement of the goal of the storyline or in the sheltered pose of the actor reading their lines from a script. The past slips out of its calling. Its shell of water. It passes away into nothingness. That means absolutely nothing and everything to me.

I feel it coming. I feel it coming on. Turning me around. This lonely night. Beyond the trees I feel the thaw.

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African Renaissance

Covid-19 and recovering from the first wave of the pandemic

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coronavirus people

I always wanted to be an African writer living and working in Paris. Eating onion soup and fresh bread rolls at a café for lunch but mostly I am a woman reading, translating work through editing, writing and working in the macrocosm of the narrative that is modern day Africa. I am a woman who feels compelled to tell stories. It is a fundamental part of my day and one of the basics of my life. I want to be honest, but it hasn’t brought me happiness all the way. I go outside and loneliness meets me there. It is too authentic for its own good. It smells like spirit and behaves like wild horses. I admit that I am like water. I am tired of braving hospital life after braving hospital life again. Swimming against the tide of the kindness of strangers. Those nurses and caregivers. Covid-19 there, there, there everywhere and then manifesting inside of me.

What to do with illness? The aberrations of mental illness and physical illness. What to speak of it and to whom? I drink coffee. Too much coffee. Underneath all that coffee is a field. A field of illness. Health is wealth. But I have realized this much too late. The pills glow at night and during the day I take them with gulps of water. My mind palace is awaiting harvest. Too divine. Every day is a day of hope and recovery and renewal. There was a man in the picture, but he is gone now. I thought a man was going to save me. But he didn’t. Now he sits in a house, occupied with thought and calling. All I have ownership of is purpose. It is capable of many beauties. Many things. Once I was in love. Now I find territories to conquer and one of them happens to be life itself. I am a warrior with intent. I am happy, content and satisfied to be a puppet again engineered by the ways of a materialistic society. A puppet named outsider. I don’t pay attention to my mother as often as I should have. I chide myself. I should have been more on her side, placated her more, laughed more with her then I wouldn’t have been rejected by her I tell myself. Now that I am older, I don’t know what truth is anymore. Most of the time life perplexes me. In all my life Rilke has been in my hands like summer. I dance towards battle.

There is certain kind of darkness visible in my nerves. I have known and lived alongside suffering emphasized by psychological insight. It has been majestic in the way that only inconsolable sorrow can be. I am too primitive for this world. I have known love but not enough of it to marry and be happy. My brother says there are married people who feel deeply unloved and who are unhappy. There began to be patterns in my life that marked me, and the world seemed to reject the sunlight inside of me, inside the ancestral worship, Christian psychiatrist of my head. On returning home I began to step out in faith. I watched Joyce Meyer. I wanted to be worthy. Even comets have the air of having a complex about them. Time has a refrain. It is leaving me and with its return come all the stars of the universe. I wanted to know more, do more, I wanted to know what my inheritance was. I remembered myself as a bone thin girl in my twenties wanting to be ambitious but already jaded of the people around me, in their spiritually diminishing crowds. Their mystery attracted me. Their personalities seemed to reject the introvert that I was. I always viewed it as a rejection of me. Rejection of self I suppose.

My mother’s destructive self-sabotaging behavior milking my father’s manic-depressive personality. My own dark struggle with mental illness defined who I was for much of my adult life. My middle sister made her escape to Europe, my paternal family into the church, establishing the bonds of close-knit nuclear family, religion and my maternal family into wealth and privilege. The quiet honey of money. Rich and thick. I found a spiritual habitat in writing poetry, cognitive behavioral therapy and stream of consciousness writing was unleashed. I found there that life shimmers in both joy and solace. I found the edge of the impossible in reasoning, balancing and prayer. We tend to find the human being in the minority, the lesser being in the outsider and locate glory in the majority. In the pages of my diary I find the destruction of the earth there, moral being. For as long as the man was in my life, he was wondrous, and I felt tethered and I discovered that the empirical nature of childhood functions as the creative’s unweaving. When I wrote I felt bird flight in my veins, bird flight in Provincial Hospital, bird flight in my brainwaves, in the cavernous vibrations of my body and something was manifested.

It felt as if I was manifesting the exposed. The spiritual embodiment of the plains of the journeys we mature in confidence in, the districts of human nature, the rooftops of the birds and while society paints the iris, we contemplate the beauty in the world. On the wings of the unpeeled, the astonishing, the extraordinary the capable scientists flutter in the medical fraternity, on the cusp of innovation in pharma. I am left to glitter. Like an octopus I wade into the supreme self-correcting depths. There was an otherworldly renewal to my limbs when I recovered from the first wave of Covid-19 and life felt supernatural to me. Everything was faster, faster, faster and I began to live in a magical reality. Millions live life like this. On this precarious edge of the device of breathing with this kind of survival mechanism built into them. When you descend into illness you also descend into a kind of sustained despair that never leaves. That seems to float like the leaves, that has the hardy vertebrae of branches, the activity found in furious churning of the gulping mouth of a shaking fish. I never contemplated my own death in the hospital.

I never contemplated that life would go on, that I would recover, that I would write again. The day was filled with silence and longing in the ward filled with young women. Psychotic. Aggressive were words that were used. I had my period when I was admitted to the hospital. The depression I had when I got out of the hospital had the body length of an elephant. It curled up inside of me like a snake connected to my bones in the fetal position. My mother had a kind of tender fragility leaning towards sainthood when I came home. My father was sad. My brother did not pick up the phone when the hospital telephoned him to come and fetch me. I had been discharged. My mother told me he had feared the worst. I had to stay an extra day in the hospital. My mother explained they were not ready for me to come home yet. What did that mean, I wondered? I still don’t know how I made it through that passage of time, fought my way through. All I know is I still need to heal. I still need to heal and that takes practice and getting used to, engaging, involving yourself in the pursuit of daily activities, not words.

Things are returning to normal. My brother wants to get away to Canada now. Even the holy is visible here in my childhood home. Incarnated here if it is possible to use a word like that. It feels as if some days there is an anointing on everything that I touch. The day is golden and bright with promise. You don’t come all the way back from the experience of near death. I want you to remember that.

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