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African Renaissance

The woman who ate everything

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I have no children of my own. In reality, I exist. In non-reality, I am non-existent. I am more demon, than angel now that Mick has gone. I still have those same fears and yearnings. My vagina has those same fears and yearnings. I thought that there would be this shared recognition between Mick and me. He had been the one for so long. The only man in my life. He chose another. I tell myself that on the dark nights when we could have been making love. Everything has become a river leading to honesty, breaking down walls of fears and yearnings. I wanted someone to tell me that I was beautiful, but the world in its entirety tells me that I am beautiful now. What am I living for, now that Mick has gone, I mean, he was on his way out of my life anyway? What is love in the modern age anyway? There is no time to play. My father never approved. But it was my choice, or Mick’s choice, or Mick’s mother’s choice. Believe me, it turned out all for the best anyway. He will marry, I will not. He will have those children; I will not have those children. I belong to the world, and the world belongs to me, and every global phenomenon in it. Is there any man in the world who can understand that? Inside my heart is breaking. Mick is leaving for forever. We’ll see each other around. We’ll wave. But we don’t dare hug anymore. That proximity, so close to sex, that rarefied atmosphere of friends who were almost lovers inside my head, no more, no more, no more. Now there is quiet respect. Now there is admiration. He’s doing his thing (filmmaking), and I’m doing my own thing (my writing). I doubt there will ever be room for collaboration.

I live in poverty. He is wealthy. I am an artist. He is an artist. And I suppose my choice of lovers, and the men whom I choose to love now is all on me. I do love, but it never ends up in the bedroom. It ends up in on the page. It ends up freeing me. I am a bird with fears and anxieties. I am just an average dragon-woman. I am just an average dragon-beast. I have everyday flame inside of me. Mick does not return my phone calls anymore. He does not come to the house anymore in his car. I still look out for him. I will be doing that until I am eighty years old. For now, another love has come. The world is on fire. He makes me laugh, and think, and feel in ways Mick never did. I am sad. I am happy again. I tell myself that this is just preparation. I’m hungry for it. I am going to do it again. This time, I am alone. I am on my own again. Of course, I tell myself, there’ll be sadness. Why, oh why, does there always have to be this sense of wishful thinking, why this sadness. Always flying solo. Mick, I wanted you to feel the cold like I do. But you are heat, and all-heart, and warmth. I will be writing to you until I am eighty years old. Still trying to win your heart. I am a voyager. The new love is also a voyager. I exist. He exists. It is a new day, and dawn is breaking over the globe, and I am generous and this love is also generous. More giving, more prepared to take me on. I do not think he will be calling me intense to my face, perhaps behind my back, not even then. Not even then behind my back. I am doped up on love again. Mick has become another city (and this new love has empires, empires to build). Mick has become another tale of love lost.

Nostalgia. Whatever love means, it is not Mick, and I am still writing this novella as if it was an introduction to Mick and my old love, as if this was a story about an old flame. But this is a story about a philosopher-educationalist, the impact he is making on the world around him. And for now, he is perfect for me. The thing you do not know about me is that I tell people what they want to hear mostly, but if I like you, I like you. And your home, becomes my home. My home is where the ocean meets the shore. My mother loves money. She loves that lifestyle. So, I have convinced myself that I can buy my mother’s life, I can buy her love. Men are the only fixtures in my life. The only men who save me are my editors. Love has a way of conquering all. We sleep to dream in this house. As painful as our past once was. We make believe happiness. It is only an invention that masks who we truly are. Like the seasons that are so determined to change, I will rise above these circumstances of falling in love, and then losing that love, and watching that brilliant, brilliant man walking away. And this, this will always be somewhat of a performance. People, believe me, don’t want honesty. Honesty kills trustworthiness, childhood continued into adolescence, and there is, here is the blue hour. There is, here is an unbearable lightness. Mick’s gone. Playful and sweet Mick’s been replaced by love. I should be used to this game by now. Playing this game. I do believe in love. Love is a jewel in the dust. Love is a turning point. There is even faith and obedience in love. Love is a state of emergency. And I have learned obedience from what I have suffered.

I am just a servant. Watched, observed, studied, and I know this. I know this like I know the back of my hand. The men will love me, and I will love them in return. I will love. I will be loved. And all the men I still love them. They are still very much alive, and human in a kind of memory form or blueprint to me. If they want to take me to bed now, there will be no hesitation on my part now. Just me. Dreamy, composed, and calm, and still as they enter me. Afterwards, they will leave me, as they all did in the past. Humiliation and embarrassment will return, along with progress and preparation. My life will go on as before. There will be love. I know it. There will always be love. This big dreamer, this damsel in distress mostly will betray nothing. This hunger is torture. This spiritual hunger is torture. But love, and falling in love is like a beautiful dream. The blue light of the day becomes even more blinding. And even the leaves have a kind of psychopathology. It is safer for me to embrace life in winter rain. And every day, even though the sun shines, the rain pours down upon my soul, the wilderness of my soul. My love, my love, I am writing again. You would be so proud of me if you could see me now. In the same way that I am proud of you. No more names. No more accusations. No more hugs. No more kisses on the cheek. No more sad looks. Your heart belongs to another. Your heart beats for another. Your daughter, your daughter. And, yes, I believe that there is righteousness and justice in the world. Yes, I do believe in love. Love can build the dimensions of a foundation, and this, and this, is how much it takes to love you.

David, this image of you in my imagination. And for me, love is suspended in mid-air, and for me it was always safer to embrace the life in winter rain, (as I have said before). There’s life in everything, everything, everything. There’s love in everything too. I never could understand love. Never saw it between my own parents. Only the sexual impulse in my mother, her modus operandi to have children, her depression, the fire in her eyes whenever she looked at the togetherness of my father and me, the peacock-blue eyeshadow on the lids of her eyes, the thick black mascara on her lashes, her G-strings, thongs reserved for the sex act. There were always empty bottles of sparkling wine under the bed, that I discovered the morning after. Whispers in the dark, finding my mother’s g-spot, amorous laughter (her amorous laughter), and daddy would sometimes forget that I could hear everything. The shower would run in the middle of the early hours of the morning. I would be looking for a pen to write with, and discover condoms in his side of the bedside table. How does a woman become a lover? How does a middle-aged, grand dame of a woman become a lover to either a man, or a boy nearly half her age? It happens. It happens. But husbands never leave their wives, unless of course the lady in question is half his wife’s age, or, looks like his daughter, or, has the looks his daughter has. A girl becomes a lover. In the books, that I’ve read from Updike to Kundera, Brazilian Paulo Coelho, and Russian American Vladimir Nabokov, it is girls that become lovers. It is girls that become wives. Just memories. Men are still men.

Boys are still boys. They look at her. Sometimes they stare at her. I am her. She is me. I take note of the stares, the smiles, their stares, their smiles, their proposals, and the flirting, the talk. The talk it burns me. And when I go home, I meditate on the way they look at me, speak to me, and imagine them, either going down on me, or, turning me on so much that we make love, or engage in sex acts. Having a good time. Pleasure is fun. And then I think of the kiss. Do you not only kiss people that you are in love with? Do you not only touch people, well, I touch men a certain way, that I like, that make me feel safe, that I would go to bed with given the chance. Love, or, rather the physical aspect of it makes me feel anxious when I remember what happened in the past. Anxiety and fear, and uncertainty, restless, frustration, apathetic. What if I can’t perform because of the medication, or the depression? It has happened to me in the past. In the past, I was humiliated. Most of all, he was humiliated because he thought that it was his fault that I could not climax. I was so young. In those situations what does a girl do. Admit everything about her past? Confess everything about her recovery, relapse after relapse, stints in mental institutions, state hospitals, expensive private clinics? A proposal is either decent, or, indecent. This kind of proposal from a man to a woman reminds her of her own sexual appeal, and sometimes this woman remembers those nights of her parents’ when her father and mother would turn into lovers. And then even daughter would become lover, touching herself in the dark, removing her panties, thinking of men.

Men old enough to be her father. Or, men standing in front of her desk, teaching her in the classroom. I knew (even then, even then), how to fly. How to focus on the fact that I had wings. I was mute. I was on remote control. I was a mute. I was a machine on lockdown when it came to my academic work. Running, like Haruki Marukami, made me feel. It didn’t make me feel the despairing emptiness. It is my mission to captivate man’s imagination. I tell myself that. Even when there is a monster beneath the bed giving me a fright. If I knew any better, I would think that it was my imagination running wild. A trick of the sunlight falling on God’s wisdom. I believe in diaries. It made me feel something other than erotic. I did not call my grandfather veteran then. Did not know what epilepsy was, and that it was just a form of trauma, like my own brain injury. That every brain injury stemmed from an incident. An incident of trauma (I loved my grandfather very much, and in my mind, he lives forever like all the men, the men I have loved). I did not know what combat fatigue was then, way back then. I did not know what shell shock was. And as I grew older, my paternal grandfather became a distant memory. The voices inside my head sound very far away now. I have had a good rest, if I can call peace, having peace of mind that. It has motivated me not to think about religion, but spirituality. I do not like the dark. It is true. My physical body wants nothing to do with it. Adeline Virginia Woolf never stopped writing. Emily Dickinson never stopped writing. Anne Sexton never stopped writing. I will never stop writing. My sister, my sister.

My sister. Born four years apart on the same day. We never speak. I think of the phases of our childhood, the chapters of our life together, and how we grew apart. She was play-white, with her blonde friends. I was the one who was of mixed-race descent. Who was fake? Who was fake? Now I steal her clothes. She wrote me off years ago, like both sides of the family. Both maternal and paternal family. My brother is the only sibling I have left. He has fallen in love. The girl is mad for him, wants to marry him. I am not included in their family plans. Soon, I must make my own way back into the world, like my paternal grandfather. You can see my slave ancestry from Cape Verde and Saint Helena in the texture and colour of my hair, my brown eyes. I am half-white, and half-black. There is Germanic-blood that runs in my mother’s veins. She is fair of complexion. She is beautiful, and larger than life, both complex and complicated, both religious, maladjusted, sexually abused, molested from early childhood (as I was), and when I look at her, even now, depressed, tangled hair, as we both miss my sister, her daughter, the one who looks like her, acts like her in the world, feels like her in the world, all I feel is affliction. Affliction for all the wounded in the world. It seems as if I only write about people who have left a mark on my soul. David, the Sussex-man, Mickey, Salinger, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Freud, Adler, Jung, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Ben Kies, Neville Alexander, Fikile Bam, Bhadra Ranchod, Gus Ferguson, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Mzi Mahola, Ayanda Billie, Razeen Davids, the new man in my life, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

And if there was any justice in the world, I would be with Rob. But I cannot catch a thief.The women despise me. The women despise me because I am unattached. I wear no ribbons and no pearls. I wear no wedding ring. Although I want to. I want to very much badly. I doubt that they (the women, the wives) will very much understand this, my reasons why I have never married, never had children, never met the one on that sunny road. The women will never understand my sunny disposition, the smile I wear pasted on my face. The fact that I go to war with girls and women every single day of my life. For most of my lifetime, I have gone to war with my mother over the adoration, affections, praise, and worship of my father. For my sister, it was different. It was my psychopathological disposition. The bipolar mood disorders. My ups and downs, lows and highs, the medication that numbed and deadened both the emotional, mental, every fibre of my moral being, and physical pain, and my spirit, my soul to the outside world around me. Now I imagine (my sister says). Now I tell stories (my sister, maternal family, my mother says). Now I have no wish to speak to my other half, my better half who will spend Christmas in Berlin this year with her German boyfriend. I do not love her anymore. Yet, I say that I love these people still. I wish them well. I forgive, but I have a long memory for painful things. My gift to the world is both twofold. My gifts are my soul, and my writing. Mahatma Gandhi’s gift to the world was his soul. Same with Luthuli, Mandela, Mbeki, Hani, and Arafat. I am waiting upon the world to save me.

So, mothers be good to your daughters. Your daughters will live like you do, learn like you, and love like you. I do not have the capacity to love anyone as much as I love the men. Do I loathe women? No. They loathe me. Do I desire women in the same way that I desire the men? No, I do not desire women. I am not a lesbian. Neither, neither am I a prostitute. I do not accept gifts of cash for the sex act. I think of the elitist allure of Salinger. Jerome David Salinger. I think of his epic hurt. I think of his epic hurts in life. I think of his epic hurts in love. I think of my own epic hurts in love. I cry like a baby. I can hold a man. I can hold a vulnerable man who can put it all on the line for love. I can hold a mentally ill man, a depressed man, a man who has lost everything, but do not ask me to do the same for a woman. You see, as I have said before. I only write about people who have left a mark on my soul. It is good to feel loved and accepted. Only men have loved and accepted me. Every obedient and disobedient part of me, whole, or, broken, with all of my heck, with all of my wise nature. Once lithium too was an idea, just an idea, this miracle salt, like Europe had been an idea.  I have later prophecies on my mind now. I have rewriting on my mind. I have proofreading screenplays, and pre-production in mind, but not a future filled with happiness, and prosperity, a family life, a life marked by settling down, raising children. I’m thinking of nations, and of bringing nations together, stopping wars, building democracies across Africa, reconciliation and equality, negotiation and diplomacy, generations marked by an unfolding.

An unfolding of a divine mystery. I think of the hours. I think of how I can fill those hours with activities in the same way John Nash did, in the same way Trump does with purpose. For all who are called to service, are called in the same way to sacrifice and responsibility, accountability and blessing too. I see abundance everywhere now, parachutes in September, and for my sister’s sake, and for people like her, the alignment of bipolar to brain injury. I stand in the shadow of the rhino, of Africa from the east to the west, the wildflowers of Africa, which are the voices of Africa. I think of the girl child, and the transformative powers on the confidence of the boy child (once sinner, once child soldier, now activist, scientist, inventor, educationalist). We are all living in changing times. I stand in the neutral shadowlands. You will never see my grief observed. You think you see me; you know me, you hear me speak, you think you have some sought of forewarned knowledge of me. You say hello, I say goodbye. It has always been like that for me in relationships, for in life, for in my life there is always more grief, and sadness, and emptiness for me, than happiness. I think of boys who have moves like Mick Jagger, and as I pass them by, I think of the high art of confessional fiction. I love. I am making progress there, but I do not kiss. I do not betray anyone. I do not write and tell. I do not kiss and tell. And believe you me, if I love you, I love you for you. For you are revolutionary, for you are photographer of the African National Congress in Tanzania, for you are educationalist, and even though you don’t even think it, you are philosopher.

I will love all these men for an eternity. Until the hereafter comes for me. I think of all the men, and their sons and daughters, and the women who have given them those sons and daughters, and I wonder to myself are they in love, are they still in love. I wonder sometimes, more ego talking than anything else, do they sometimes think of me. Think of me in their arms, tired. So, tired of life. Relationships are challenging to me. They challenge me on every level. As I am sure, every book that I write challenges the reader. For me, personal success overrides personal happiness. My father taught me that.

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

The Language of Africa’s Girl Child In Water and Tears

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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.

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African Renaissance

The Simplicity Of Reading Matters

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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.

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African Renaissance

Within South Africa’s Borders and What They Can Teach Us

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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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