Compatriots, friends and sisters in Nelson Mandela Bay


I am waiting for someone to tell me that they see my value. Dorianne Laux, the American poet was a sanitorium cook, a gas station manager and cook. Did she only find her worth when she turned poet. She was born in Augusta, Maine. Nobody knows what I have carried gently and otherwise I want to tell her. I am a witness. Particular because of my upbringing. There are days when I ask my reflection in the bathroom mirror when are you going to start to live? Birds have layers to them like an onion. Sound, illumination, contesting the innovation of the air with their wings apparent they go forth. Onwards.

Dorianne Laux perhaps said that all that poetry is is preparation for death but does pain end is my question. With your painted third eye sister-guru can you see my sorrows and feel my tears in the long distances between us? I’ve had difficult relationships with my siblings. I’ve struggled to find myself within intimacy, within relationships with the opposite sex and there are days when everything around me seems to be in sync. The world, the betterment of society, positive outcomes, and in those moments I tell myself that the world is an efficient place. We don’t have to fight for anything. We have more than enough resources.

I think of the star and the silence of the river. The swan’s honesty, beauty and truth, the island and the gull but the question hangs in the air suspended there from the rafters does pain end? I am lonely and my reflection says me too. And so with that refrain the formal structure of trauma begins. These sibling relationships that were supposed to shield me from others did not. There is an assessment and an imperfect evaluation when it comes to the people in my life. I invest in the feeling of safety. Safety for me is books. I speak of loneliness and memory as if they never have experienced my sorrows.

I tell myself I must assess the results of my efforts to prove that I am legit. I explore the mundane to find myself at the end of the world. I research the faces of women to find myself there but I only find a river of money and the mission statement of a territorial anointing. There are days when I tell myself to focus on the internal, not on the external. So I turned to screenwriting and told myself to focus on the happiness I have inside myself and the joy I bring to others. It is so easy I have discovered to fall into brooding and negative patterns of thinking. Filmmaking to me became as noble a profession as teaching.

In the picture the pretty lady standing next to him is wearing pink lipstick and huge sunglasses. She looks like my sister and is extraordinarily lovely. I count the lemons on the sitting room table. I don’t want him to leave the room. I can’t take my eyes off him. Soon he’ll be in another country.

I study her features. I wonder what it would be like to be her. To feel him moving on top of me and inside of me. I don’t know her. I have never met her. She is going to be a child psychologist one day. She lives alone in that house (her mother’s house) but she’s planning on selling it. He’s going on holiday to Brazil. You can’t leave her behind if you’re planning on marrying her, I wanted to tell him. I waited for him to come and say goodbye to me but he never did. He left. It was a cold winter day and it was pouring with rain. There was snow on the mountains in the Eastern Cape. IMy memories almost always seemed to be made up of an obituary of a relationship coming to an end and the glow of winter. I see her in my mind’s eye in his flat preparing a meal. He will eat his supper until he’s sated. They’ll spend the rest of the evening watching television. Probably end up messing around on the couch. She’ll comb his hair with his fingers as he holds her tight. Maybe she’ll sit on his lap and they’ll take selfies. I’m faraway. I’m capturing the castle.

He used to come over and tell me everything. He told me about the women he slept with. I used to write a lot of love poems to him that made him not come and see me for over a year. He yelled at me once but I was patient and kind. He called my clinical depression  psychosis but I remained calm and didn’t even flinch. I told myself I was in love with him. I told myself I would wait for him. The things a woman would do for a man out of a quiet fear and desperation.

“There’s nothing wrong with you Gail. There’s plenty wrong with the people in this house but you have nothing to worry about.” The man turned to look at her pensive face and hugged her tight to him. He had a way of twisting sobriety out of those moments whenever she felt unsteady on her feet.

“You make me feel normal. We must cook for you before you go.” but she let it go when she saw that he wasn’t excited about her invitation.

“I’ve been meaning to go to Brazil. I told you.” He took a cigarette out of a box on the table and asked for an ashtray.

“I wish I could be more adventurous like you.” She sat opposite him. He never stayed for long. He could only sit still for the length that it took to smoke two cigarettes and then he vanished. He never called before he came over either. She was where he always expected her to be. At home surrounded by dogs and her elderly father.

“Are you happy Gail? Really happy?”

“Most days Eugene.”

“You look good.”

“Who are you seeing now? The girl I mean.”

“She’s not like us. Which I like. She’s not an intellectual I mean.”

“Don’t be sad.”

“I’m not.”

“Don’t be sad that I’m leaving.”

“I’m not.”

“You don’t have to put on a pose for me.”

“I know Eugene.”

I don’t know who I am. Most days I feel invisible and tired. I’m Antigone. I’m Sexton’s gold. I’m so Plathian in my outlook. You have to look good to feel good. I’m a ghost in the land of the living. I used to feel alive and self-aware knowing he lived 10 minutes away. I don’t know what I’ll do without him or rather the illusion of him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think of you traipsing up streets and down Rilke’s cobblestone streets, ‘taking the tram’, in your own words a dumb Gemini who spends her Saturdays watching series on Netflix. 

I carry such sadness with me. My clothes have felt heavy for years. Dear life, I tell her, you have never known love only the loneliness and desperation of a woman who has a graceful neck. Nape you are a treasure. Hands you emit soul. Stars light up the innerness of the tapestry against the wall. I pull the blanket over my face hiding away from the world.

Organic endings. Organic endings found at the end of the world, the bottom of the ocean, in daylight, moonlight, in dreams, goals and nighttime but where am I? Where do I figure? The leaf falls. The branch quivers. The twig breaks under the crunch of a boot. My soul finds a seat on a bench. I am gravity. I am a cloud. I am a horse. The organic ending of the day when it comes into view is radiant. The sun brushes against the sky. I think of autumn’s weather and how proud winter is every year. The lamp burns. I cannot stand to switch it off. It is perfect. I am imperfect. Even in the gathering stages in the womb when I was nothing but an embryo I was imperfect. I feel blue. Perhaps if there were people around I would feel differently. I would embrace grit. You are starling, I tell myself. I wipe the steam off the bathroom mirror. Naked. I stand there naked but I don’t look at my body. Instead I look at my face. I start crying. I don’t blink back my tears. I begin to cry unashamedly for everything that I have lost. I write a series of film synopses to myself. I write them to escape from my daily life. To find the exit out. I bang against the wall with my fists. I hit the wall until my arms hurt. I sink to the cold toilet seat with my head in my hands and don’t hold anything back. The sobs came then. Power surged through me. I felt electric. Couldn’t imagine the vision of myself then. The poetics of the situation.

Loneliness lives where the heart lives. It has an aorta, it bleeds and it has a mass of seismic veins. He’s been gone for a few days now and still the heaviness doesn’t lift. I brush my hair and find myself thinking of the other man who lived very briefly in my awareness before he too vanished. There is a potato tree outside of my window. I stood watching the wizened branches glistening fatly with sunlight. I stood with the cellphone to my ear marveling at nature. Feeling strangely comforted now that he was far away and out of reach. Eugene. I mouthed his name. He would not call. That was part of his nature. To forget. To forget me. I was on hold with the medical aid company listening to a pre-recorded voice.

The wind was blowing. There was a strong wind. It howled. It screeched in corners. It shrieked. It sounded wounded. It sounded like an animal. Something went doom-doom-doom in my heart. When you live with dysfunction you take to joy when you can. You take to it with enthusiasm. The room is cold. The blankets are cold. The bed is cold. How am I going to live until I am an old woman with the realization that I have allowed no one to love me. I’ve metamorphosized into a creature. I am compelled now not to leave the house, to tend to my mother’s garden, to type a little and work on my graduate studies programme and to cook meals for two. I aim to please my father who has become my world. I am not unhappy, am I?

My feet are cold. I should take hot baths at night but I don’t. My sister who lives in Europe should telephone me more often but she doesn’t. I want her to. Very badly but in her eyes I am a failure. She has a succession of men in her life. I’ve never had a succession of men in my life. There was the German art student, the American who played varsity football but was a cinematographer now and then there was the English rascal who wouldn’t commit to her. I could hold a mirror up to her and see a reflection of my own loneliness and despair. Her life had been different from my own. Very different. The snow is falling. I can feel it in my bones. The ground is hard. The branches sing in the wind. I promised there would come a day when I feel gloriously alive to the world around me. Of course there are days when I feel like that. There are other days when I feel simply wretched.

The other man stopped coming to the house after the lockdown. My mother stopped him at the front door and said I was not at home. I was with someone else. We were going to be out the entire weekend. He had asked me to marry him. He had lived next door as a boy and was an ex-army man. I never heard from him again after my covid scare. For two months I was in an isolation booth. He didn’t believe me or he had a wife. That was the end of that relationship.

“But was it a genuine relationship?” my brother asked me, lighting the tip of his cigarette with his joint.

I imagined in the lateness of the evening that the other man had transmogrified into a Lothario. I had never felt good enough for him. He had a stint in Russia. I don’t know what he did there. If I’d asked him I’m certain he would have told me. Perhaps not everything. Maybe it’s more wishful thinking on my part. I began to write for Jay in the summer of the initial lockdown. The year that will never be forgotten. The year that millions died. Jay was a Zambian producer who lived and worked in Johannesburg. It was the year I thought I had been waiting for my entire life. My life as a scriptwriter was just beginning.

I began to imagine the other man. In places first. I imagined that we were together again. It felt sweet. The day had a euphoric fragrance to it. I remembered him pressing me up against the wall, my hand on the back of his neck, my back arched. There were people unknown to me but who were real around us in the scenario that was playing itself out. At night my body began to ache for him. Truth began to have layers to it.

There are ways of being in this world that are unbearable. I am that rare individual. I am accepting of suffering.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Abigail George
Abigail George
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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