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African Renaissance

Labyrinths

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Petya Dubarova, you grew up in Burgas. I grew up in a port town. I grew taller and thinner by the sea buzzing with bluebottles every January. This is a kind of lamentation for thunder, manifestos, and my father the king-man, the Parisian rooftops of Picasso and Modigliani, Rilke, Hemingway and Salinger. Petya Dubarova, I say your name like we’re friends, or, something. The only thing that we have in common is that we are two female poets via Bulgaria and Africa. Like we went to school together, had sleepovers. Stuff. Shared our poetry with each other like homework instructions. I have known the experience of death in the asylum. Family pain. Philosophy poured out into verse. The exquisite fire-red lipstick of my sister. Dream and poetry. I was an actor on stage. The vanishing curve of my hip, hint of a smile on my lips I warmed to the audience. The words of Abigail George are words oblivious to empty love. The other truth. Diary of a poet. Of a misfit. My fragile mental health, how those words ring inside my head like the tune of a roman wedding. Women poets meet the light and the darkness. Poetry will never feed you, but it fed the plays of Sarah Kane. Giorgio Manganelli, Salvatore Quasimodo and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Alda Merini. And, me. My love, sexual desire, pain, torture both physical and psychological and death. Crave psychosis. That hand to God. Love me or kill me. The voice is all. The lonely victory. I say to it, come on out and join the dance. Grotesque and curious is the spider’s web. My childhood was a web too. Isolated, the business enterprise of impoverished loneliness. I have a secret brain disease. It is known as manic depression, or, the schizoid personality disordered female brain in society.

There is no male nor female mind. No dominant sex when it comes to the poets. I think of Petya Dubarova’s Burgas. Her sea. Behind the walls of the big house, you will find the sea and me. Both deceived by youth and forgiveness, sleep and memory. The sea and me have known all restoration through psychoanalysis and therapists. The gold dust of lithium therapy. Gone am I with the rainy season, domesticity, sketches in pen scratches, liberty, elders, and the ill/un-well poetess. My father uses a walker. My mother drives the car. I have had two relapses this year already. April and October. I go to the sea. Walk on the beach amongst the black ghosts dressed in the costume of breaking code. Think of being kissed by the sea. I see normal people. They see me. My sister is a normal girl. My mother was a normal girl. I am anti-normal. Anti-muse. I think of Brighton. Think of every female poet who has ever thought of committing suicide. Think of my four attempts now. Of how it felt the first time, then the second, then the third, then the fourth. This kind of fragility in me. In imperfect and random me you will find the things you love. Flowers and roots and stems and sap. I am the sap you spat out. I am replaced by other women’s daughters. The magic salt (lithium) saved my life. Afrikaner psychiatrists. There’s something wrong with me. Guess everyone can tell. There’s something wrong with me inside. Guess my heart is broken from all of those years of trauma. Trauma, syndrome, perspective, mental cruelty. Guess they are all just plain words for all to rhyme, see and hear. You love me. Then you don’t. You accept me. Then you don’t. I think of desire. Then I don’t. I write. That’s what I have always done. Like it is a form of revenge or something.

They say like father like daughter. That I am just as madness as him. Just as lunatic. Just as a black sheep. Just as burnt out from life. If I could smoke my life away, believe me I would. If I could drink my life away, believe me I would if I could, if I was so inclined. I am poet gone mad. You’re all of me, dad, and I’m all of what you are. I think I know what I am. The psychosocial action of the black vein in a leaf. I think of stigma and discrimination. The dynamic that exists between mother and daughter. Winner standing in the milieu of the gap and her miserable daughter at being a failure at having no children and spouse. I’ll turn into an island, you’ll see. I think of you mother as I do of the flowers in your garden. How like them you are. How filled with focus and concentration you are hip and knee-deep in your work. You’re rather something special, made of vital poetic substance, I wish you could love me the way that I love you, be proud of me the way that I am proud of you instead of you thinking of me as your mentally ill daughter. I’ll turn into a bird, you’ll see. I’m ink catching a fish catching a genius, and the owl screams while the bat twitches and the mole snitches, and the moonlight is zen. Zen. Tonight, I’m thinking of my paternal grandfather. I’m thinking of his smarts, his tattoos, his children, his alcoholism, his baptism, his restoration, and how I flesh him out now in words. How he spoke the language of the Second World War. How he was a cold sea, a waking child in the middle of the night. How much I loved him. How much I’ll always love him in the big night’s dark grasses, and mountain air. The valley of it all razed with guns and bullets. All the people I have loved are gone, or, are dead. Flung all over the world. Never to return again to me. America, Berlin, Swaziland, Johannesburg. They all tell me how difficult it is to love me, my madness-life from the glass ceiling to the chandeliers. It is difficult to love someone like me, they say. I’m a cold sea too. I’m Bulgaria. I’m Africa. I live within a hemisphere of social isolation, and fear and anxiety, and stars like fireworks inside the cellular network of every nerve fibre of my brain. You’re perfect grandfather. I’m rebellious. Your other grand-daughter had a Berlin Christmas. I’ve turned into an island, you see. You’re abundant, grandfather. In everything I do, I see, I know, I acknowledge, I write. You’re still attached to me like a wishbone.

You stand in solemn-mode armed with a bayonet. Then, saint, you’re home with five mouths to feed. I never went to university. You never went to university. I never finished school. All I ever wanted to be was a poet and an editor like Ezra Pound. An admirer of Pound’s Alba and Sappho, Antigone and Joan of Arc. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And the island’s name is Saint Helena. If you’re a flower mother, then so am I. If you’re summer good-looking, then I am wintertime’s bulbs stuck in gravity and earth. I am third eye wiser. I am the wheel, the spark. I am loneliness. I am both alone and lonely in this world of ours. With one light on, I know you are home mother. With one foot upon the stair, wind in your hair, you’re simply put an angelic flame. You, like my grandfather are a saint. You’re the axis, the planets, the stars, the sunlight. You’re the riot of the phantom thread, the golden thread of this planet, the rollercoaster machinery of Monkey Island, the theme park of Africa, the aloof poetess of Bulgaria. I am mulatto (of mixed-race descent). You, Petya, as pale as milk. Hair as thick as molasses. The colour of honey. In photographs I did not smile either when I was your age. Even in death, frozen in time you bloom at specific will. With the focus, growth-process, the speed of a flower. Like a wildflower. Like all wildflowers. I am so pale. The colour of death. Down into the yards of the grave of the sea I must go. Book passage there. Rooms made of star signs and water, silence and music, the hours. Don’t go look down there into the abyss, I told myself. I knew of a love once. He gave me National Geographic books to read. He’s long gone to the States now. I know he’ll make a roaring success of himself in the image of Fitzgerald. Thought he’d be perfect for me. Thought I’d be perfect for him. He pulled me up from the funeral waters to his heart. I was alive again. We lived for each other, Petya. Then the day came when we had to say goodbye. The moon sat above the silent streets that night when the moonlight left my soul. Dove warbling in my throat talks across the page. My heart is lonely again.

My head is a foolish wasteland of cowardice and fear, my heart is a cage, all I can think of is the pain of this relationship. We’ll both be estranged for the rest of our lives. He’ll fall in love with another, I know this. But I want him right now and this room spins. My heart wants to scream out loud. I’m always falling, tumbling down, rambling, falling like a leaf to a shroud, like vapour from a cloud. I’m always falling in love. I haven’t always been very successful at it. The love affair is wasted on me. I can see no potential in it for me. It makes me feel empty inside. I want to be more than a grain of sand. The tears are always falling. Petya, did you know love in your short life? Aspire to it. It feels so empty without him here now. The music, the hours, the silence, the water that I slipped into for my baptism. I was baptised in the local swimming pool by an apostle. Life feels so empty. Petya, could we have been intimate friends. Shared everything, everything. All I can think about is this guy. I wish he was still around to make me laugh. America is like another constellation.

If you wanted to be found, we could have found each other. If I wanted to found, you could have found me. When I dance, I hope you’re coming for me, but you don’t. You don’t see my grace. You don’t see the way that I see the sea. It hurt so much to let you go. To see you standing there for the last time. The last time. For you, I’m the hungry lioness. I’m a carcass that wild birds feast and claw their way upon. All I can think of is you. But you’re gone. Gone to America. You can do anything. You can do anything you want with this heart of mine. Loving you has only caused me pain. The wound will never heal, feels like it. Feels that way inclined. You’re leaving town. I’m left hanging around. How sweet is was to call your name, how sweet it was to know desire, how sweet it was to have you in my life, call you friend, call you love. I have known others. In a way they’re dead to me now, they’ve moved on. Onward. Where did you go, where am I going, after this? That sunny road will always be so incomplete. Nothing I can do about the pain. You’re not here. You’re not here. You’re a pale king on your throne. I tell myself that the young king never loved wretched little me back. I’m just a poor girl, impoverished and lonely. Call it a secret then. Call it desire. Your Monkey Island, Petya, has become mine. So, I live to survive, to fight another day. I live to write. That’s part of my deception. That was part of your deception too, Petya.

He was a young king. My sister is in Berlin. It is raining there. I long for your Bulgaria to kiss this pain away. I long for my Africa to kiss this pain away. I keep waiting for the telephone to ring long distance. Hear the sound of their voices again. But it is just a hallucination. Part of my personality type now. To hear voices. There are no voices now. Only goodbye. He’s gone. The music has stopped playing. All I see now are false people around me, haunting me with the triumphs of their ghost nation, with their falsities, or their niceties. And sometimes even their loneliness, their false bravado, their librettos written on their chests. All I wanted was to love, and be loved in return, and for a short while I was. He was too. Gone, only to be forgotten. Gone, forever and a day, until the hours to the next sunset. In return for his silence, he gets mine, Petya. I think of Burgas this time of year. Could it be summer where you are, where your bones are, where your poetry is? For my entire life I have worn a mask, Petya. I’ve experienced trials in living, in loving, in writing, in productivity. For me, the world has been wintertime all these long decades. Help me to live, Petya. Please, please help me. Behind me is the northern star of the death wish. Make it go away, I tell my identity. I am through with it. I have known such a little love in my short life. No view of the world. No view of bride. No view of groom.  I am shy of the world, of the universe. There is nothing left there for me in it except to drown in the waterfall of it. Pull myself away from the current phase in my life. This relapse into the doll-like flowers of winter. Leaves in a hat. Do not touch it. Leave it behind. Tithe in the collection plate. Leave it there to always mark my father’s place. Petya is magical, funny and truly soulful. Petya’s poetry is classical, timeless, and a must-see. I am uncut, un-magical, un-funny, not soulful. For if I were soulful, Petya, then wouldn’t someone fall in love with my soul. I am Japan from memory, from meme, from verse, from rhyme. I am diarist. I am insomniac. I am lovesick and want to be seduced. I am old. I am older. You will always be young. You will always be younger. Although in my estimation all female poets are wise at any age. I will not read about the male poets anymore. Except Nick Laird. I really dig Nick Laird’s poetry. His wife’s (Zadie Smith) novels. I’ve read Updike. Read Hemingway. Read Salinger. There was a time when I wanted everything. There was a time when I wanted it all. Then came a time when I only wanted the pursuit of happiness. Now all I want is to be truly happy, exposed as poet. It seems everyone who marries meets at university.

I think of you all the time, with love, with respect, with admiration. Why am I so sad? I lost the love my life again. It feels as if I’m in my twenties again. You with the sad eyes, what am I going to do with you. You love, you love, you love and nobody loves you back. Her eyes look so sad. The reflection cast in tones, in silver, in speech and pause. The young king never loved me back. Inside I feel so sad and over-wrought. Ill. Ill. Ill. Healthwise. Yet still feminine and all I want to do is shine. Like you. Like you. Like you. I’m old. Too old for you. You’re a prisoner. I’m a woman. You’re leaving me. Father, brother, mother, sister. Greener pastures and the fairer sex await on the other side. I think of you smoking your last cigarette of the day. You’re perfect. You’re perfect just the way you are. I could glorify you in a handwritten poem. Kiss. Kiss. I could kiss you. Forgive you. Be in it for the long haul. You’re in love, my love. You’re leaving town. I’m swinging from the chandeliers. Burning the candle at both ends. Open your mouth and let me kiss you. You’re thrilling and formidable. How come I’ve never found love. Don’t want it. Don’t need it. I’ rather partake in cheesecake. I think of you. I think of you all the time. I always have and I always will. I feel as if my own heart is breaking. Everything I have ever done, is done. And here I am writing again to you David, my love. Always David. Always my love. And I will always be forever yours, but you are taken and someone else’s dream man. She loves you. Go to her. This will be goodbye then. All I want to know is this. Did you love me, once? Afraid? Yes, I am afraid. I am scared of the dark (for example). All I want is you. You. You. But we are children of the, (this is difficult to say, difficult for me to admit to), we are children of the revolution. We are children of the struggle. You know it. You know it. I know it. And all I can think of is being in your arms and loving you. Go to her. Go to your life partner. You made a commitment to her. Go.

I’ve been in the wilderness for a long time. Half of Moses. You have your journey. You have your own journey. But do we meet again as friends, or lovers, or maybe nothing at all. I was always even as a little girl falling in love with father substitutes. I would tell them all I know. This would make them smile. I am a child of the revolution. And you? How I love you, David. How I love you, David. How I love you, David. How I love you, David. I will go on loving you for an eternity. Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me. I will, adore, worship and love you forever. In the middle of the night I am the girl not in reach of anyone, except you. David, you are the only constant in my life. In the silence (which is as unbearable as the loneliness, the futility of always being the outsider looking in), David is the only constant in my life. Ignore what everyone else says, and run away with me. Let’s elope if this love has substance, and if this is for real. David, I only want to love you. David, David, David, David, take me away from all of this hell and fury, this misery that loves company, live with me and be my love. You, David, of all people understand what I think, what I feel, what I know, how I react to your voice. Is this hello or goodbye? I don’t know yet. The decision, is up to you, David. If you want me, I am here. I am waiting for you. I am waiting for love. Wait until I see your eyes again, that smile, that laugh. I look young enough again to be your daughter. I don’t care what other people say. I love you, Dawid. I always have. All these years. How can I regret anything? You are yours. You are man, and I am Eve. I think of you all the time. Hearts will be broken. I look at you and I see that you need someone who just not only loves you but understands you completely. But you are not a free man, or, perhaps you are. I pray. I pray for you. Think of your silhouette in the dark. Think of you in the morning. I am all alone. I have always been all alone. You are my light in the dark. Whenever I think of you, I think of you as lover, and friend. You make me laugh. You make me want you. You make me want to be a better person, a better woman, kinder, more understanding. I love, love you. I adore you. I worship you. My life is just beginning. Yours?

Tell me, how are you. Are you loved? I think of you all the time. Can’t get your name out of my head. You make me forget my dreams. I only want to dream them with you. Nobody loves me really for me. I pull the hair back from my face. Holding my hair up with bobby pins. I dance for you, and then suddenly I’m in love, and all I can think of is you. How imperfect you are. I am too. How perfect you look. Even after all these years you still look the same to me. You’re the music inside my head. The love song inside my head. Joy Division in the background. Remember when I was working as a cocktail waitress in the bar that we met. Are you nothing but a careless whisper? A heart-shaped bullet passing straight through transparent me. Nothing but yesterday. Words pass me by. Words pass me by now. Words are like bees. Words are like the mist. Words are like circles, paradigm shifts (shifting in the light of day). You were once a chance. You were once an opportunity for a love affair and matters of the heart. I can only see my shadow now on the pavement in front of me leading me home. My mother doesn’t love me in the right way. She tries, like I tried to tell you once that perhaps I had feelings for you. Remember this. Remember. Je me souviens. You left me first. Standing there, looking at your gorgeous back as you waked away from me. I felt devastated, left. Empty, left. Left behind, left behind, left to fend for myself. It was a kind of prophetic omen for everything in my life. Go to your devoted wife. Your beautiful daughter you created together. My cold, cold heart was not undone by you, but by God. There’ve been so many loves over the years, my love, and all I can think of is one. For now. A novelist, the lecturer, the creative consultant, the educationalist, the producer, the researcher, the filmmaker, the clinical psychologist, the magistrate, and the list goes on and on. I know I have loved, I will love, and so forth. But I don’t want to get all Coco Chanel all over you, or Norma Jean Baker, or Britney Spears, or the Kardashian clan. I don’t just want to exist; I also want to live. I want love. I want to love but I am terrified of it. But the novelist was my first love, and Swaziland was my first love, and my second mother will never see the light of day again. And so, I write. I write to save all, impact the world, make a change, heal the world, heal myself. Always thinking of the novelist, always thinking of what could have been. Me, 16, with the sad eyes. Time to grow up. Time for recovery, and not relapse. Time to think, to mature, to remain confident. And all the girls are so, so pretty. And all the boys are so, so handsome. And all the good men have gone. All the women are married. All the handsome men are gay, so Robbie Williams sings in Love Supreme. Nobody wants to kiss someone who has been raped. No one wants to know her name.

 The wedding dress is reserved for women who want to be lovers who turn into mothers. No one hears this woman crying, sobbing into her pillow at night. Every one ignores, has ignored her pleas for help. So, she thinks of her first loves. Her second mother sleeping in the graveyard alongside Ingrid Jonker, she thinks of eddies of dust on the mountains in the pure greenness of Swaziland, and she thinks of her novelist. Always saying hello, goodbye. On reading women, the phoenix and somehow finding the exit out, Petya, pain is the hardest thing. It’s flippered. Like home, it has a soul, body, and mind of its own. It has the call of a swallow swallowing song, releasing the god of dew in the morning. Sometimes pain is like you, looks like you, talks like you. And I remember the days I called you Simon, Jacob, Elijah, Nicolas, Patrick, or Benedict, or Ignatius, or someone else’s name, that I just don’t care to remember at all anymore. You’re older, you’re wiser, you left me innocent and sweet, but your romance was a masquerade, a sham of deceit, and lies. Love, so naïve, so trusting, so maybe it is for the long-term haul, maybe it’s just a short-term plan in the interim, while you wait for someone else to love you. I’ve been in the arms of poverty. Poverty is familiar to me. The world, my world, is tilting again. Shadows disappear. Shades appear in the gloom. You’re like a fish. Here, and not here. There, and not there. Nature makes beautiful things. The flowers you don’t buy, I buy for myself. The chocolates, and wine you don’t buy, I buy for myself. I want to make a tree out of you. Trees are cool. They help put a kind of fizz over the day. I feel myself falling, falling, falling. I’m exhausted. Think of the mad Zelda Fitzgerald who didn’t like Hemingway’s friendship with her husband, the exquisitely put together advertising genius Assia Wevill, think of Marilyn Monroe at the acting studio, wanting to become an ‘actor’, not just an actress flirting with the camera. I fall into the swell, the push-and-pull of night. I don’t behave. The waves inside my head spill over into day.

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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