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African Renaissance

Childhood and Magda

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I haven’t got time for the pain. When I’m through with you, I will still hope.There’s an ocean meeting invincible ocean pouring into eyes,you are far away in another city now a devil in disguisewith sadness comes a mania of relief (it is just a part of me). There is a part of me that is an experiment. Just a playing field. I was born that way. To feel my way in this world with trepidation. To a ghost feeling her way on land. You’ve left, you’re gone, and you’re a ghost, something wickedly despicable but I understand you so much more now. The last time I spoke to my sister was a Sunday and I know that soon the months will turn into years between us.You,beauty personified with the sameness of Ezra Pound. I’ve abandoned you; you’re gone.

You’ve made history young standing with your ticket and your visa in hand at the boarding gate work for tomorrow. There’s something purified in the hoping for something sweet in the novelty of youth. So, the aftermath will come one by one. We’ll forgive each other like

the appearances of the moon. We’ll exchange gifts and we’ll remember the commodities of childhood. I’ll close that (I won’t pursue him). I hate him so much now I could spit blood. It came from childhood continued. The damage is done (what are the meanings of trauma and casualty) only this remains. When I’m through with you strangely I will still hope. I am standing in front of you asking for forgiveness. You’ve arrived on a scholarship. Left all the lions and elephants behind. Parents that you’re sick to death of the sight of, a sister who is mentally ill and who has all the sinister potential of making it anyway and a brother who doesn’t believe that smoking is for grownups. You’ve detached yourself from your childhood, grown as cool as an iceberg. Darling, you’ve made it as far as America. How far is up? To the blank slate face of the moon, the fat orange sun that shimmers and glitters in heat waves and so you stuff yourself with Chinese food and decide this is the life; to live like the rich do as you. Take their coats and hang them up with a number at an elite country club and do everything American as you can possibly do before you die. So, you forget about us. Four stone gods. Buddha-like in your consciousness, all owners of lonely hearts in a wilderness of biochemistry and decay. Once I nestled your head in my lap and breathed in the scent of your hair – of powder, scent, perfume, skin against skin, not yet old, wrinkly like fingers like prunes from a bath, smelling old; no longer an extraordinary machine. Now you can hardly bare me to touch you. I see less and less of you; you don’t ask to be taken care of; there are no longer whispers in the dark as we camp out in front of the television. There is only your magical thinking. Your purity, your humanity, your alchemy. You’re a mother, a wife waiting in the wings. Already posed in your natural habitat. Your dewy eyes are gems, once diamonds in the rough. Once you wore a crown of thorns in childhood. In those rough, tidal, shadow-boxing teenage years when bad, bad things happened to show up in your life. A yellow shout of melancholy with no bounce and of little hope and so your innocence was snuffed out and planted into a dead nothingness. And yet it still left you with the mind of an angel. Cradled you like a new-born, Magus. I think of anticipatory nostalgia. I say this with love. Caught in a trap. Once immobile. Then striding across playing fields cradled by lullabies and spent by beguiling motives. Journeys and a soul awash by winters and the glow, the matrimonial hush of seasons and so will I, goddess-like make you a daydream of a monster. I would never belong

I am not like that. Built perfectly in your world. I am poison. Not so good at navigating vertigo through sweet nothings, and flash love. I don’t cry anymore when my heart takes a dive. I wait to hear you say what you want. Your voice a soft blot. Swapping enduring stories that migrate anxiously from my mind to yours. Like a lilting, urgent freedom song. A songbird received with warmth and sincerity. I like those words memoir, smoked. Feeling my Achilles heel, my sobriety. An ache where my heart should be. You have been in my dreams all my lifemeltedmy heart made of stonewith a soul all patched up like skin. My comprehension on trial, my cowardice. This is me saying goodbye.

What does love mean to me then?Is it the winter rain here again, the machinery of haiku?

Leaves softly whispering on the ground. Words, words and more words. In imagination a purified Dadaist reality. Restored in a manner with alchemy and humanity. You are soul you know and that’s enough for me. The book on us is finished. The diaries burnt. I’ve got my head under a primitive sky. The sun’s impoverished. Walt Whitman’s blades of grass all lost on me. You’re as remote to me as an American utopia. The cogs and wheels are spinning. But what does that mean? There’s nothing sublime to it if you’re not here to hold me. Did cancer or illness that interrupted your life?Why did you not marry,or, find the right man?Why don’t you have children?Why aren’t you normal?All I can see is destruction mingled with burnt diaries. Where are the seeds yourMother originally sowed?Who anchored the roots of grief?And, introduced the weight of the world’s weariness. Your mother drinks lilac wine

Purple blooms upend themselves in the glass much more than a stain. But you don’t like that kind of distraction that stills nerves. The grownup kind of love. The kind of pain children bring with them into the world. The starry anticipation of tiredness. As people make closer contact with you, they become illusions. Fiercely torment you vulnerable-thinker.

You can never take off that hat. The psychological framework. The quality of your conversation. Is it heroic, stoic, and maladroit?It needs a wiser understanding. Your laughter needs no shelter. You walk the sky in a swimming pool. Conquer lap after lap after lap. At the end of the day you smell of rain. Your mouth keeps on after opinion. It keeps changing perspective. Are you really a poet (or is that a guise)?Where is your mask for the ball?You need food, sleep and a feast. You’re hungry for it all. You are hungry for everything. A network of business cards and data. Where is young Hemingway’s Diary?Where are the seeds Buddha planted?Where are the seeds Plath and Sexton planted?Your speech is rapid (just let it go to the palace and tribe of boredom). Like air in the bloodstream of an apricot.

Finding myself in the tender sea. (There’s no ignorance and confusion here). I listen to its brilliant blues murmur so varied. Tasting the salt in the eternal profound light.And when I leave that spirited energy there’s the night wind. There’s the man on the moon. There’s the television. There are giants, monsters, and talking heads. But there’s also a sense of quietness of peace in this paradise. No glut of shaking flight, fancy, fight that I’m anchored or terrified by. The newness of it all – because I am known in all of these territories. These regions, these districts. Storms will come but I will not be done in by their edges that tides simply fall off of and come undone by. The problem of pain is like the meaning of a river. It will pass. Summer will soon be here in this paradise. My brother is doing what he did when he was a boy. He used to steal my books, my Milan Kundera. That philosopher who was a writer. A philosopher who wrote books. And now he is turning the tables on us. Being a philosopher who is becoming a writer who writes and edits books. Pictures can tell you a thousand stories. The weather forecast or the change in climate. Currents that are trending in this paradise. I am a metallic stream-of-consciousness worshiper. Look how I’ve made it into an art. I’ve discovered it’s no longer strange to me. I’m channelling it and all its rituals. There’s a poignant sadness in its image. Aching dream of what could have been. And madness bordering on the useless storm of dark and suburban mania. Look at how birds will remind you of song. When you played truant and your parent’s inertia. And of water, the weight of it in this paradise.

Sinners never disappoint. And I do not envy them. Their crowning glory, their shape. Their smell lacks innocence, their unemployment. The lack of skills to put bread on the table to feed hungry mouths. I do not envy their presence. Where drunkards kiss the ligaments of the cold earth of the pavement. Mouth meeting another. The beer’s mouth both just imagining things. A better life for all, world peace. Once there was the unbearable lightness of youth. Chips and steak are on the menu. I can also talk of love, many things.Now young guys lie in the street. Face down like carrion. We’re young still and there’s an unbearable lightness that comes with it; poverty, unemployment. A silence so pure while a mouth defies gravity and neutral ground. Lectures on how the revolution must hurry up after speech after speech! It is not that this generation is speechless. Kevin Carter has been dead a long time. Photographers can drift. They drift like driftwood. Ribs, beer and dancing (darts for the men) are on the menu. I can also talk of the love of many finer things. Damn married fever but not as committed. Soon Magda will be forgotten like a wallflower. It’s not in my power to change that. Conjure it up. Only an echo followed her death. It played itself out at the graveside and inside the church. The music. The outside of me is built like a wallflower. Winter bright white light there’s an echo coming from somewhere. Shoes on the floor cold night a starry sky. Those shoes belong to me and I’ll lace them up in the morning. The echoes vibrate under the soles of my feet. Instead of going to bars and clubbing, she poured herself into reading her books. She cooked up a storm furiously. Imagining it was for two. Funny girl. Magda that shiny fractured thing.

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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