There is a dwelling that I exist in. This far out between heaven and hell she is, my mother is still beautiful. She was beautiful, and relevant in a way that I was not. Manuscripts erode all around me but she is innocent, still beautiful. Lovely. She is earth now. I’m average. I can’t help it. I’m so basic at everything. I’m still life next to her grave tears pouring out of me like there’s no tomorrow. No future or anything. I name her ‘water’. I name her ‘anything that is worthy of possession’. This far out she’s salt, light, cream, if I can help it the last city, the last blue country. A fragment of paradise ripped from the seats of the Opera House of Port Elizabeth, infestation, life. She is a Sunday morning after church. I thirst for her mouth. Her beautiful hands. Hair like silk down her back. She is Peter Pan chasing stars, and what this poem is, is not a poem about a river becoming the sea. The reflection in the mirror is as unstable as electricity.
I wonder to myself just who she thinks she is. I am wary of her. Of what she is capable of doing. You are living. I am dead. You’re warm. I’m cold though. I don’t know how to keep the regime under control. You’re unfinished. Tiger, you speak to me in tongues. These are dangerous times that we’re living in, you say. You are joy, Yes, you are. You come in that stellar version. While I’m a field covered with the fabric of stars, and starlight. I do not know how to love you back. I see you in this photograph. You have lost all your hair to chemotherapy, you’re wearing a wig, but you still look hot, and breathless, as exotic as a Frenchwoman’s beauty. Of course, you lose the battle for your own sanity. Father, the love of your life has lost his own struggle. It snows in winter-time in Johannesburg, and every time it snows, I think of you, every recovery, every relapse, summer, and I think of all the people I’ve lost.
That is never coming back to me, that is priceless, and free. Pain is such a waste. And, so, I wake up, look, dress, and live my life, also free. The magnolia of nerves, now that is exactly what I need. A novel sense of adventure. I’ll never say that I love you again, and I will never even think about it. I have cut it to shreds with the kitchen scissors. My mother does not love me, neither does my father, sister, and brother. Only strangers live for me. Live to love me as a sister, daughter and vulnerable orphan. Someone far away is crying in the natural, but they are praying in the supernatural. I dedicated this poem to my art, to my daughters, to my sons. I see them all in rainbows, walking alone, by the sea, in the sun, and I have found the cure for loneliness and death, I am selling both. Cut to Radiohead.
Cut to the memory police, cut to the absolute vertigo of desire, cut to tenderness, and tenderly, and tender eyes. Never forget where you came from Hercules, never forget your roots Homer, and so the men walked away, danced away from the reach of my arms, and inside I felt like dying, I could feel them ignoring me, the loneliness of the situation, conflict, and ignorance, and in my pain, I turned to writing poetry instead. Poems saved me from the lonely tears, from the paradise they once promised me. You see, pain is never wasted. All the men in the end were narcissists in bloom. I think of the roots of my grief stemming from art, and father, and this is how I will get over all of you. I will write, I will fall in love again, I will teach, I will workshop poems, I’ll listen to Radiohead.
Cut to the Bessie Head-generation, the Harlem Renaissance, the nocturnal sight of me writing my heart out, using my pen as a sword, and my sword as a pen. I’ll be valiant like wildflowers, and so this heart will be restored like flame, and the anatomy of rooms will belong to me.
I think of the Russian-psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salome and the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I think of our relationship in that sense, with that sensibility, the highlights of my writing career, the poetic forces that shaped me, that I had to reckon with and that I knew that I had to improve.
I think of ex-president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki’s father, Govan Mbeki and how sure the stalwarts knew of where they wanted to go, the space in history they wanted to inhabit, the seeds they sowed, the seasons they produced in their lifetime that was profitable, how adaptable their learning mindsets were. I think of our connections and how the love of my life, my love let me go. I think of how limited I am, how limited the man who was summer in my life was limited too and I think of how my perception of the world has changed over the years when it comes to relationships.
I think of how I have inherited my brother’s daughter, how I am raising her, teaching her, feeding her, nurturing her and how I eat this elephant bit by bit although I am thin on the mothering instinct and the resources to traditionally conspire with mother nature and the supernatural to nurture. I think of the stress on my life now that the poet has left me. I have given him a name. The poet. I call the man the poet. The space that I am in now, the wilderness and I remember how I told him that we would build empires of gold together.
I think of a Secretary-general’s job. Being an adept multitasker and the chief executive officer of the organisation and how I am the chief executive officer of my mother’s house now, cleaning and cooking, running the household, raising my brother’s daughter, handling and dealing with responsibility with emotional maturity, depth and brevity. I plan meals, I do the prep, I do the shopping, I run errands with joie de vivre. I make peanut butter sandwiches and hot coffee, I buy the biggest cabbage I can find in the shops.
I make burgers and I buy stewing beef at the butchery. I buy bottled water. It is five rands to refill the bottles. I make conversation with strangers because I am lonely. The poet could always bring a smile to my face, he could always make me laugh. I think of the life I might have lived and the child I could have brought into the world, because three years ago there had still been time but now that time has passed and I am middle-aged. I am older and I cannot have children anymore.
I think of Sylvia Plath making “botanical drawings” in her poetry, and all of Jerome David Salinger’s unpublished manuscripts and the “living legacy” that he left behind in them. I think of Ernest Hemingway deciding to call Paris “a moveable feast”. I remember how F. Scott Fitzgerald never stopped loving his Zelda.
I remember being present at the editor Robert Berold’s farm just outside Makhanda while his wife Mindy Stafford prepared a delicious supper for a group of poets and the South African poet Mxolisi Nyezwa signed a copy of his book Malikhanye, how my heart broke when I heard the news of Mzikayise Mzi Mahola’s passing, Brian Walter coming to visit and how he presented me with books that the Helenvale Poets had written and how touched I was by this. I handed him a parting gift of a crocheted hot water bottle.
I think now of relationships past, present and future. I think now of friendships past, present and future. I think of my solitude that I carry in the soles of my feet, from the tips of my toes to the crown of my head, in my withering and sometimes hot-tempered stare. I think of the noise, the rumpus room, the emptiness in the cracks found in my heart now that you’re no longer in my life. Can anything bring you back to life, can anything bring you back to me, the poet?
What is there for me to do but write poetry against depression and the man with pale fire in his eyes, bread and flame in his hands, the pale fire in bread and my psychosocial education. I pray for the man’s happiness in Cambodia everyday. I write to him, and all my letters are marked return to sender. I no longer exist in his world. I write for all poets, for my mother, for my sister, for the people who have a room at the Salvation Army as I once had a room at the Salvation Army when I was attending film school in Johannesburg.
I will wait for you to wake me up in the morning for the rest of this lifetime. I think of the first time you seduced me, and the second and the third. Now I long for you in memory. I think of you. I think of your touch and your skin. Your skin and logic. It is not easy to decipher you. To remember that all I have ever conquered is the illusion of you. But there is something else that I have conquered and that is the mental institution. The only time it comes up now is when I ask that memory speaks to me and in the hospital or the mental wards that I have inhabited there is a personal freedom to be found in its battle cry.