‘The Ducks are on the move Father Squirrel.’ Said Mother Squirrel.
‘What do you want me to do about their gay marriage? They have rights too you know. Are they kissing? Now that would be something.’ Said Father Squirrel.
‘In the eyes of the Lord, it is not acceptable. Maybe I could wish or stop it from ever having happened, maybe? Protect Mamphele Curious Squirrel, your daughter from the politics of the animal life in this farmyard.
‘What is that? What is that noise? I have been hearing it ever since this morning.’ asked Mamphele Curious Squirrel.
‘The animals are gathering for the animal caucus.It is going to change everything. Be the change you want to see in the world Mamphele Curious Squirrel. Never forget that. You will go far. Perhaps even to the World Bank. Everybody who is anybody in the farmyard is going to be there.’ Said Patricia Mother Squirrel. ‘Please, Mamphele Curious Squirrel, do not stare at the Ducks.’
The Ducks had confused all animal life on the farm.
‘How can two Mother Ducks raise ducklings? There must be a Mother Duck and a Father Duck. It is not normal. It is called politics, I think. Dad says everything is political. All I see around me are Mothers and Fathers. What is wrong with them? Is it in their genes?’ Mamphele Curious Squirrel asked.
‘Good question. It can happen.’ Said Father Squirrel behind his nut.
‘Do not encourage him Father Squirrel.’ Mother Squirrel said with a sigh.
It was spring. A pale September. This time of year before the harvest, the whole farm came to life like the farmer’s wife’s prizewinning rose garden. Her rosebushes was known throughout the country.
Helen Mother Duck, Lindiwe Father Duck, and their wide-eyed ducklings wide-eyed with fear, excitement, trepidation and anticipation as they made their way to the pond on the farm. The ducklings all wore matching kerchiefs around their necks with red tie-dyed bandanas wiggled their way through the hole in the fence in the orchard filled with the licking flames of sunlight dancing off apricots, leaves of grass, the open air of the mountains in the distance.
‘Oh, what a beautiful day. You know preparations for the animal caucus is underway.’ Mother Duck said to Father Duck. The ducklings were looking forward to going to the pond. The older ones by a few minutes were playing ‘I Spy’. The younger ones tried to keep up with their older siblings but fell over their feet. Dust in the air, mud on their kerchief, they dusted themselves off, wriggled their behinds and set off once again in the direction of the pond.
‘I worry about Thabo. He gets around that snake. Even though he is a snake, I still like him. The trouble is because he is whom he is, the people that he knows. He is a very diplomatic fellow, and he is a damn good negotiator. I worry about him. I lose sleep nights just thinking about him sitting on the fence all day long with nothing to keep his hands busy. Now if he had a foundation then maybe he could make a real contribution.’
‘He does not have hands dear that’s the trouble to keep him busy. There, there dear. You have other responsibilities now.’
‘All together now, family.’ Father Duck said. ‘Left, right. Left, right. March, march, march on. No dilly-dallying. Remember, there is no wizard. Now remember what I told you. At the hole in the fence, you wait for me to take the lead. I lead. The strongest must always lead. No stopping to breathe in the robust country air.
‘Oh, just look at my happy family. Today I am so proud of my ducklings.’ Mother Duck looked at herself in a puddle admiring her reflection.
‘Will there be breadcrumbs, mother?’ asked one of her ducklings.
‘There will be swimming. I can promise you that.’ Mother Duck said as she fluffed out her tail.
The ducklings had never swum before.
‘Remember there is no Oz.’ Father Duck yelled.
‘Oh, dear, are you okay?Is it the voices again? Are you seeing things? Order, order ducklings. Do not forget yourselves and the values you were raised with.’ Mother Duck asked in a worried tone of voice but she was used to his outbursts. Her own mother had raised her eyebrows because of her daughter’s choice of life partner. To say that Father Duck had had a certain reputation in the farmyard was to say the least. Some of the animals had called him a poet. Others a mad-duck. Mother Duck remembered what she had told her mother to try, and win her over.
‘No, no Mother Duck. It is just the pressure of this caucus. I think I will have to say something, you know because of our family situation. He for she and all of that. People just do not understand our family.’ Father Duck replied.
‘I love him, mother. I really, really do mean that. I want to build a home with him and raise a family. Please try, and understand that. There is no one else in this world that can understand him the way I do.’ Mother Duck had said plaintively stating her case.
In her day, Mother Duck had been raised with certain values. She had been a very sophisticated and intelligent bird.
‘Mother Duck, I have not slept at all in days.’ Father Duck managed in a small voice.
‘Do not worry, dear. I will be brave for the both of us. Remember this is a big step for both of us.’ Mother Duck replied.
‘Mother Duck, two heads are better than one.’ Father Duck
The children of the farm were not encouraged to name the ducklings. Unfortunately, for the Duck family they usually made their way to the kitchen table and then the dining room table
‘Wait. Stop. Wait for me, I said. I am your father. I do the leading around here. You do the following. Stay out of the way of the border collies Boston, Stoker and Thumper. Their bark is just as bad, as or even worse than their bite. Enough is enough with this Life is not a game. There is a great design to life.’ Said Father Duck but his children would not listen to him. They looked at him grunting with his giant potbelly halfway through the hole in the fence holding their sides, tears falling down their cheeks.
‘Look at dad.’ They nudged each other between guffaws.
‘Children, my precious ducklings, please behave yourselves. Stop undermining your father. He has a weak heart ever since that time he had a run in with the farmer’s wife.’
It was a perfect morning. The ducklings paid much more attention to their mother than they ever did to their father. Mother Duck laid down the law. Rules were rules when it came to Mother Duck. She was very clever. Had still kept her figure. At the end of the day, Father Duck turned to in a crisis Mother Duck. When he felt depressed. When he needed someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off, to talk about ‘that day’ when he had come very close to being a roasted chicken served to the family, his neck strangled, feathers pulled out of him but the ducklings were very innocent of their father’s wild days.
‘Youth is wasted on the young Mother Duck. Where are you Mother Duck? Save me Mother Duck. You are the only one that can under these atmospheric conditions.’ Said Father Duck.
‘Watch your constitution, dear. Not in front of the children, dear. We will have a conversation about this later on, dear. I agree, children should be seen and not heard, dear. I am coming. I am coming. Hold your horses Father Duck before your guts have you for garters Now, is it the other way around, or is it that your guts will have you for breakfast. Children, behave.’ Mother Duck pushed and pushed and pushed. As she pushed and pushed with all her might, she thought to herself. If only he had not overeaten that morning (he was always promising these days that he would watch his weight), and that had been his third helping. She remembered the words of her mother. The words her mother had heard playing on the radio.
‘The early bird will catch the worm. If you love him. If that is your decision then I will support you but do not get too attached or to used to the good times of animal life on a working farm. You will see. Things are done differently out there than a city allotment, my girl.’
‘Yes, dear.’ Mother Duck answered sanguinely. ‘Ducklings do you see the pond. Where are you, dear? Dear.’ Mother Duck looked around her to find Father Duck.
‘I just have to catch my breath, Mother Duck.’
The ducklings gathered around their mother not certain what to do next.
‘It is easy. Just watch me my chicks. It is just a simple, gliding action. That is all there is to it. You just ease your body onto the surface of the water. Just do not look down. Float. Pretty soon you will all be floating like butterflies.’ Mother Duck put on a brave face. When confronted with misery, the macabre incidents on the farm, the twists and turns of daily animal life Mother Duck always put on a brave face.
‘Duckie. I need you. Well, that is that then. This is all on me now and your father was so looking forward to giving you your first swimming lesson.’ ‘Duckie’ was Mother Duck’s pet name for Father Duck. He knew he was in trouble when she used it, when she needed his help desperately, or when her brave front was failing.
‘Are all my twelve ducklings accounted for? When I shout your name, yell ‘present’ as loud as you can and then shake your tail feathers’
‘Off you go my beauty. Swim, swim, and swim. Do not forget that when you get in the water push off in the direction of the fields and just kick as hard as you can with your feet.’
Absolutely nothing discouraged Mother Duck. The people who had owned the allotment where she had been born and raised, and abandoned by her father (somebody had left the gate open one day and he decided to ‘escape’ the good life forever, her mother had admitted to her one winter’s evening) were church people.
‘What is our mantra darling ducklings?’ Mother Duck trilled.
‘Show no fear.’
‘Now where was I? Yes, Sylvia. Eleven to go. Just perfect. Sylvia. You are setting a good responsibility for your brothers and sisters. I am so proud of you. Holding thumbs.’
‘Do not jinx me mum.’ Sylvia shouted.
‘Well, I love you too, Sylvia. Now, now, look who is here. Your father. Okay, chicks. Like I said there is nothing to it.’
‘Oh, you mean Shakes the housecat.’
‘The one and only.’
‘He is always trying to corrupt me.’
‘I know my place, Mother Duck. I know my place in the world.’ Said Father Duck morosely.
‘Well, well. What is Shakes the Cat up to now?’
‘Up to his old tricks, that is what it is, Mother Duck.’ Said Father Duck.
‘Praise Sylvia. Go on. I do not have time to talk about Shakes. Look at what we made.’
‘Oh, I thought they would all be out on the water by this time.’
‘Must I do everything, Duckie?’ Mother Duck exasperatedly.
‘I am looking at all of our children and as usual they surround you and laugh at me. Just like Felix the Cat.’ Said Father Duck. ‘I just do not have it within me to walk away from someone who is talking to me even if they do think that they are high and mightier than me. I have twelve ducklings and an elegant wife. What does Shakes the Cat have besides a collar with his name on it? Pride of place in the family home.’
‘Enough of Shakes the Cat now. Just look at our children.’ Mother Duck squeezed Father Duck’s feathers conspiratorially.
By now, all the ducklings had presented themselves to their mother and had made the transition from land to pond water smoothly.
‘In a perfect world, ‘Mother Duck whispered to Father Duck so her beloved ducklings could not hear. ‘Every day would be this perfect in the farmyard. Take for example banter with the rest of the animal world. Animals would be looking out for each other and not trying to bring each other down or corrupt each other. Watch out for that pond scum chicks.’ Mother Duck shouted out gaily.
‘Sometimes, I have to confess this to you, Mother Duck, I think that Shakes the Cat besides being a know it all snob is also a politician. Eating gourmet fish all day long can brainwash cats.’
‘Just what we need in our lives. A political cat whose swagger ends up making waves while the rest of us just survive animal life in the fanfare of this farm narrowly. Head and chin up is what I always say, Mother Duck.’
Boston, Stoker, and Thumper the border collies were sulking in a corner under the shade of a mulberry tree. They wanted to go fishing with the family who lived and worked on the farm, bark at fish in the river, drown tadpoles by holding them down with their paws, but they were moping. The family had bundled themselves into the car for church. Sunday morning service and then lunch at a neighbouring farm. The barbecued meat would be falling off the bone. Father Duck came close Mother Duck had to get the smelling salts for him. Shakes the Cat was always saying that there were pills for things like that. That there were pills for every physical ailment underneath the sun. The children would swim in the dam. Get sunburnt. The teenage girls would slather coconut oil on their shoulders, neck, and arms and sunbathe on their towels until they turned brown. The younger ones would soak in the dam until their fingers turned into prunes. The sun would make them thirsty and bored robots. Tired of swimming, they would just sit in the water; tracing their names on the water. With the wind in their hair, they would watch the sun go down.
Jacob would watch these same girls from afar when they came from neighbouring farms to visit the daughters of the farm. He would get excited as if they were coming to see him. Soon he would be slaughtered. Replaced as if he never was. Jacob always liked having women around him. All his life Jacob had been a doubting Thomas. He had low self-esteem even though he was the biggest pig on the farm. In fact, he was the biggest pig on earth. Even the farmer said so. ‘Dirty, filthy pig. Dirty, rotten scoundrel. All you ever do is laze around while I do most of the work here. You have no work ethic. You do not know what the meaning of the word is. You better be dreaming about a better life in the afterlife while you still have a chance. Pig. Pig-face. Piggy smells. Yes, piggy smells. Not just here, here, and here but everywhere. Every day I am done with you, I smell like you. My pits, my armpits smell like you. My gonads smell like you. Do you know what a gonad is? Do you pig? You should. You sure know what to do with it, if you know what I mean. Jacob could never understand why Cyril was so cruel to him. Why Cyril would say those cruel words to him? Some days, Cyril would go on and on non-stop. You know how I know that. Do you, Jacob the fat pig, know how come I smell like you? Why do I smell like your doo-doo Jacob? My wife tells me that. She tells that every night before I go to bed that I should shower or take a bath and marinate for an hour in my own filth before I come to bed. This is what you do to me. At least you are worth your weight in gold. I can feast on you for months pig. For a season. That is three months and if you had brain cells, you pig, you would know how long that is. Poor Jacob. He had to endure this kind of abuse day in and day out. The farmer would sneer at him, kick him in his side and make his life a living hell. One day, the farmer walked past him and said, ‘Not long now. Fattening you up. Christmas is around the corner.’ What Jacob did not know was that the farmer would never dream of killing his prize possession. Every night, he dreamed that he was transformed into a man. A man bigger than the farmer. If he was a giant pig, he could destroy the farmer but if he was a man, he could marry the farmer’s teenage daughter and ride her until kingdom come. Giddy up, he would say (but that is if he was a man) and she would moan his name repeatedly. He would see to it that she did. ‘Oh, Jacob. Oh, Jacob. Oh, Jacob. Please, do not stop. Ride me repeatedly. Yes, yes, yes.’ Jacob smiled to himself when he thought of this. It also gave him a tingling feeling. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter was that Jacob was a pig, with trotters, piglets, a sow, and swill. He would be the main speaker at the animal caucus. He would and could only be a farming man like Cyril in his piggy dreams. Jacob thought to himself, ‘Oh, Cyril, what did I ever do to you?’ They were friends once. When Jacob was born, Cyril had named him. Cyril had been so proud of him but over the years, their relationship had sadly deteriorated. Cyril spat on the ground when he walked past Jacob now. Jacob remembered the days when a younger, sprightlier Cyril had told him whenever he walked past Jacob how much he loved him. There was a mutual adoration society and then one day, Jacob woke up almost unable to walk because of his size. All he could do was eat and eat and eat. Cyril walked past him and said, ‘Good morning, monster.’ When Jacob heard that barb, it twisted like a thistle in his heart. Jacob cried. Of course, when pigs cry it is not noticeable to any form of human life. Same goes for cows, pigs, hens, frogs, rabbits, snakes, birds, sheep, lambs, spiders, horses and piglets.
‘Mandy, do you know, but if you did not know I am about to tell you anyway. Let you out of your misery. You are making a terrifying sound. Snoring like that.’ Said Felix the Cat.
‘I cannot help myself. I have to turn. The sun is on the other side of the farmhouse this time of day.’
‘Oh, is that what it is. I thought it was snoring. Well, whatever.’ Said Felix the Cat.
‘Watch out for who?’Said Felix the Cat.
‘Boston, Stoker, and Thumper. They are on the move.’ Mandy the piglet said smiling deliciously to herself.
‘Oh, those miscreants that think they are so clever. Have they nothing constructive and productive to do with their time? I, on the other hand, am a highly functioning animal. I do not have to call other animals to order with a gavel. Well, I cannot hear you if you mumble to yourself.’ Said Felix the cat, licking his paw as if he was the cat that had got the cream.
‘I was not mumbling.’
‘I think the last time I saw that big Thumper was saying something about smelling bacon frying.’
‘Really?’ Mandy asked in a very small voice.
You, Felix think you are very sophisticated because you sleep in the house and I have to sleep in a muddy hole. It was not the most unpleasant place in the world. Mandy longed to say this with her whole heart but she kind. She was a nice piglet. She had pretty manners. If only her nose was not so big, so twitchy all the time. If only she did not think of food all the time.
You are so mean, Felix. Leave Mandy alone. She is depressed.
We are all depressed. I mean what with the icebergs melting, climate change
You are just a fat cat who enjoys eating gravy and tuna from a can.
Do we not all enjoy eating gravy and eating tuna from the can.
Felix liked to think he was cleverer than everyone else was on the farm. The children loved him, adored him. He was always getting treats.
I think that you are fat, Felix.
Moi? I have to say that you are mistaken Wendy Spider. Look at you. Look at me. Now look at you again, this time carefully as if you have a paper bag over your head and you have cut holes in it for your eyes. Look at yourself, up and down. From side to side, very, very carefully. I am Felix the Cat. I am perfect. Now take this imaginary paper bag off your head. Look at me. Look at you. Fat. Did you say I was fat? I have an eating disorder, if you must know.
‘I have a gun (and crates of rotten tomatoes that my comrades have gathered from my farm. Do not worry there is plenty for everybody and if you like your bredies, there are enough tomatoes for your bredies too. See, I only want to be your friend and comrade. We are in the revolution together).’
‘Who is this clown?’
‘I am Julius.’
‘Oh, he thinks he has a message. He thinks he is another reincarnation living vicariously through the Buddha. Oh, I think I saw this in a made for television movie that was broadcast on etv.’
‘No need to get alarmed. Please do not stand up. I said, do not stand up. Did I not tell you not to be alarmed? I am confused now, cadre. Animals screeching. Animals running to the exits. Look, if I take it out. I promise not to use it. Ahem, not to hurt anyone with it. It was a joke. It was all a joke.’
‘The damage has been done already. We are never getting out of this barn alive.’
‘I am frightened for my kids. I have daughters. What is this world coming to that anyone can carry a loaded automatic handgun?’
‘We all need a reason for living. What is my reason for living?’
‘It is only a handgun. I have a permit for it. It is also for my own protection. Remember those words so that they do not become a memory for you.’ Julius the spirited horse smiled.
‘No, no, no, no, no, no. This is not happening. Look, here, you moegoe, if I have to speak in the language that only you will understand, this is not apartheid, awe? Awe. We are free now. We are free to speak our minds. I can tyoi-tyoi with the best of them. I will not stand to see the Rainbow Nation’s long walk to humiliation and ridicule in front of the world press and national media. Do not make a mockery of my South Africa?’
‘Ag, sies man.These pigs.Ek is nou rerig gatvol van die nonsens. I am leaving this caucus. I do not want to be a politician but I take the gravy train everywhere I go. What am I going to do if I leave political life, teach, lecture, or retire?’
‘Why do the young animals on this farm have to be so dramatic? In the old days, all it took to ruffle someone’s feathers was to have gone to a university and flash your degree. Oh, by the way, I have six honorary degrees.’
‘Really?’ yawned Thuli.
‘Hey, girlfriend. Want some gum?’
‘Oh, hey Winnie. No, I am fine.’
‘You looking mighty fine. You have pretty hair Thuli. Girlfriend, you look sexy. When you get older, you think I must not take the time to look sexy but nowadays everybody in politics is sexy. They think it is supposed to be what you know, what you have between your ears and whom you are networking with. No, no, no it is not about that. It is how you look. The external point of view. ’ Said Winnie. ‘Who does your hair, chommie? Women these days. They say they do not want to be political or be politically motivated. Ag, strond. What do you think Thuli? Patrice is so handsome. You know who else is handsome. My grandson, Julius. Perhaps you have heard of him. He moves in high circles.’
‘You must stop protecting him.’
‘I have to. He is a very sensitive young man. To tell you the truth he does not like being in the spotlight. He calls me ‘Ouma’. I am very proud of him. I tell him, ‘If there is a revolution do this first and then that but you think he would listen to a cadre. Do you think woman to woman it is because I am a woman? Do you think it is because I am a strong woman?’
‘Oh, Winnie. I do not know what to tell you. You are an old soul.’
‘Aiesh sista! You know it. Keep on talking to me.’
‘I have a gun. It is in my back pocket. I can feel it there. If I grab it and pull hard, my package will come out and I will stick it to you. No, I will poke you with it inside and out.I promise you I will poke you. Do not look at me like that. As if, as if I am a terrible mistake. Revolution. Revolution. Revolution. Bang, bang, bang I will make national headlines. No international headlines. The world will know and feel the wrath of Julius rooikoppie. Ag, Julius is just playing. It is not a real gun. See, it is not even loaded with real bullets. He-he-he-he-he. What does Julius know about guns? I told him to buy that expensive leather jacket. Yes, yes, it was I. Winnie, I pinky swear it. Julius knows more about fashion than he does about guns. My Juju.’
‘I will shoot you if you disagree with me. You, yes, you. You were nodding your head. Why were you nodding your head? Oh, you were sleeping. These proceedings bore you. This is a caucus. Animals. Even Jacob knows about animals. They graze the whole daylong. Enough I say. Enough. I bring South Africa to its hands. I bring South Africa down to its toes. Down on one knee. Oh, no. That is marriage. I mean I bring you all down to your knees. I am the fox. I am the hare. No, I am the wolf in sheep’s clothing. I am the wolf in the fairy tale. I am going to eat you up. I am going to eat you up. I am going to eat you all up. Please do not interrupt me speaker of the house. The time is over for South Africa to graze in the countryside. I am taking grassroots to the next level. Ouma, join me as I sing this sweet refrain.Chant with me. Sing with me, cadres, revolution, revolution, revolution.’
‘Please sit down, Julius or else we will have you escorted out of your seat from this caucus. We are the authorities.’
‘No, speaker of the house. I am the authority here. You are the bad people. Me, good. You, bad. I am going to through a rotten tomato at you Thabo, for always sitting on the fence and another one for you Jacob. I am going to throw a rotten tomato at you Patrice because you are so rich and gave half your fortune away to charity and can afford to buy as many expensive leather jackets as you want to hang in your designer wardrobe. Please, speaker of the house. I do not want to leave. It gets very lonely for me on the farm. Sometimes I even get depressed watching animals graze the whole daylong.’
‘Order Julius. Order.’
‘Aiesh. I am so misunderstood.’
The Language of Africa’s Girl Child In Water and Tears
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.
The Simplicity Of Reading Matters
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.
Within South Africa’s Borders and What They Can Teach Us
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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