Letters From A Father To A Daughter

I miss my mother more and more every day. My wife says a lot of unkind things about people that I don’t like but perhaps that is just her way. But on our wedding day she was my Cinderella. I was her prince. For the young making love is just for fun. I have never read Charles Bukowski, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Nadine Gordimer, and J.M. Coetzee. I’ve never even heard of Salinger. They have all swept my eldest daughter away. Sometimes I think to myself will she ever be a bride? Will she ever fall in love? Feel what her dad felt as he looked at his new wife. With our married life ahead of us. A day old. Will a man ever take her in his arms and say, ‘I love you best?’ But these are just the thoughts of an old man in the autumn of his years. This morning I felt depressed. The world can do that to you when you’re infirm. You think nothing will ever hurt you again. You’re built like an impenetrable fortress in the mountains at the end of the world. Our marriage had promised us new beginnings. Wonderful beginnings. But now there’s silence. I cry for what I have lost. Not real tears. Just a sob or two that wracks my body. She’s not so far away from me. The two double beds are in the same room. Gerda is reading by the light from a lamp while I search for my pharmaceuticals. Swallow my tablets as if they were aspirin. Curbing my enthusiasm as I watch her disrobe. Looking at her now I realise how much I still love her. Let me count the ways. Love has a delicate smell. It means to offer you the rituals of sacrifice, buying a house, moving furniture, a wife by the name of Gerda staring at her reflection in the mirror while she brushes the tangles out of her hair, pats her hair down, puts a stocking on and wraps a scarf around her head. She is still beautiful, but not just to me, to other people as well. I still think I didn’t deserve her. Is she happy? Have I made her happy? She stayed with me for better or for the worst. I ministered to my children. I lectured my children when it needed to be done. To set them straight. To set them on their life journey. Their pilgrimage of sorts. And I took them all, my loving, boisterous family from hell to an eternity of hell. And of course in the wards of hell, or the wards of Valkenburg, there is not much of a presence of becoming indoctrinated by religion. I didn’t find Buddha when I was in Valkenburg. I didn’t turn in a Brahmin. I was only introduced to that much later when my children were teen-agers. Things like meditation. I did give up smoking, but not red meat. Wiping the fat off my lips. I never drank much. I hated the stuff. I saw what it did to my own father. Gerda is silent. In her own world, and I wonder (it is not for the first time) what is she thinking about? Does she still love me as much as I love her? What I wouldn’t do to embrace her like I did the first night of our married life? I hate this loneliness that is flowering inside of me like a lotus. I must write about what I like, what I mesmerises my all-knowing, all-seeing eyes, about the difficulties of married life, the first meal my wife cooked for me as my wife, how I watched the movements of my wife at our wedding feast set out in a church hall, filled with Johannesburg people, and a few members of my family. I must write about what makes me emotional (yes, even men get emotional, over-excited about the annihilation of evil by good). I must write about what makes me misty-eyed, what cuts me deep where the depths of suicidal illness awaits, watching my children in Victoria Park playing while I watched them from afar, sitting on a park bench that was once reserved for Whites only in a White people’s park. Over weekends the park would usually be deserted. I’d get chocolate and packets of crisps for the children. I’d see their smiles. Their laughter and sticky fingers would lift me. Give me a buoyant mood. Perhaps you are sensing that I am not telling you the whole truth. There were days when I had to force myself to get out of bed. I was a man who had plenty of responsibilities. I couldn’t just give in, quit life, quit family life, lie on the sofa, stop taking cold, refreshing showers that restored some vitality, some energy to my brain, and clarity of thought, vision and self-actualisation to my insight. I couldn’t escape my children, I couldn’t not acknowledge them (their pain was my pain, their emotional fabric in time, was my emotional fabric in time and place, and their moments of childhood depression stopped me dead in my tracks). I couldn’t just quit my children’s world, divorce their mother, live without the difficulties of a husband, live in a bachelor pad with relative freedom, no domestic responsibilities from their world, because they needed me. My family needed me. And as I watched my small children looking at all the things I couldn’t buy for them (their choices they already knew had to fit my pocket), things like that would melt my heart in the Greek’s shop, and as they carefully made their purchases I was eternally grateful that I had made it through another day. I had made it through another manic depressive episode. No more aspirin for me. I had put Valkenburg behind me. There was Elizabeth Donkin, and the beginning of lithium therapy. There was my beautiful wearing blue jeans, a comfortable jersey that I had seen her in many times, and a white shirt. There was my wife getting out of the car. I was waiting for her on the steps of ward F. Waiting for her perfunctory kiss on the cheek. Waiting to sit down in well-worn chairs.
‘How are you?’
‘I’ve missed you.’
‘I’ve missed you too. When are you coming home?’
Well, the conversation would go something like that.
I watched her shield her eyes, looking, looking, and looking for me. And then her field of vision changed. Her eyes met mine. And then she was locking the car door. Making her way towards me with that day’s newspaper, a selection of magazines, bottles of juices, or a fruit basket. And the depression, with its elated highs that felt so invincible, that made me feel exquisite frustration, the faith that I had that the feelings were killing me, every day would come with their turning points. My heart was suicidal depression’s apprentice. My brain was its master. I put my wife on a pedestal, but did she know it? In the beginning before I was married, I thought of all women as sex objects. Did I tell her how much I loved her? I worshiped the ground she walked on. Before her I was not romantic. Before I met my future wife my style and technique of a lover was dry when I was depressed. She made me into the man I am today. Throughout it all she convinced me to choose life, discriminate death. For every season there is a senseless tragedy. In love nothing is insignificant.
‘Off to the old age home with you.’ She said the other day. It broke my heart to hear her say that. We don’t make love anymore. We sleep in separate beds. There’s a distance between us now that I can’t describe. It has no time or place. It’s like a bridge. If we stayed together or even for as long as we have it is only because of the children. Sometimes I wonder what my wife was like as a child. The grief she must have felt as a young child after losing a sibling, a brother. But we never spoke about things like that. I never yearned to ask my fiancé, or new bride anything that would make her feel uncomfortable. In her eyes, I wanted to be give her only good memories. I wanted to make her forget about the pain of her childhood the way she made me forget about my own painful childhood. How I was bullied, terrorised on the playground, teased, called names.
As a child I was a watcher, a dreamer. I was always in love with books. With self-learning. With teaching myself new things about the world around me. Life experience. That’s what White people called it. White people had cars. White people sold. White people were business minded professionals. When I was a child I fell in love with education. Maybe that’s when I became a teacher. In childhood. I had an unquiet mind. I still do. There are a lot of rituals when I go to church on Sunday morning. There’s the breaking of bread and Holy Communion. It’s not real wine of course. It’s just grape juice. I’m a changed man when I leave the church (less depressed. I feel less lonely. I don’t know why that is. Maybe is has to with the biochemistry of the brain, or social activities, being involved in something even if it is as mundane as going to church). And the bread is not the thin wafers we used to get at the Union Congregational Church that the children looked at so longingly in their innocent hearts with that angelic shine on their faces. My wife and I would bite into the wafers. With that one bite the body of Christ was now part of our spirit, our soul consciousness, our physical bodies. Abigail couldn’t understand that she had to be confirmed before she could partake of the body of Christ and the drinking of grape juice. She told me that we (it was always we even though I was the one behind the steering wheel of the car) road past Mrs Turner in the street, and that although Mrs Turner (Abigail called her Mrs Turnip behind her back after that day) saw us, must have recognised our car she didn’t wave back. Well her body is all weirdly shaped like a turnip was Abigail’s thought and I told her that’s what happened to people as they got older. Everything physical changed and sometimes they started to forget things too like their manners (etiquette to Abigail).
I just smiled and then I laughed and said, ‘Really? Maybe she didn’t see us.’
‘Daddy, really? Are you sure? She looked right at me and I waved and I waved and I waved and she still didn’t wave back.’
I couldn’t tell her this then. She was too young. An innocent. They could hurt me, but I would not let them hurt my children.
The following year we started going to Pearson Congregational Church which was situated in Central. Everyone who went there was White. You love your children. You really do whether they’ve done something good or bad. You’re the one person in the world they can to when they need anything. If they ask you for money you bend down and you tell them to pick the money off the money tree. You tell them that you love them because that is the remedy for everything. When they’re sick you nurse them back to health. When it’s their birthday you buy them a cake, presents wrapped in brightly coloured paper, blow up balloons, and you give them a party and invite all the neighbourhood. You give them a hug when they it the most even when they’re at their most rebellious nature. Shower them with fatherly concern when giving advice. It’s also your honour, and privilege to provide daily inspiration from a verse in the Bible, to school projects. But when they get depressed of course you worry for them. You have discussions behind a closed bedroom door in the middle of the night that go and go on until the early hours of the morning and you think back to when you were in high school. I was from a different generation. The more things change the more they stay the same. Isn’t that what the adage says? Should we all go and talk to someone like a family counsellor, a therapist. Gerda was always the one who was two steps ahead of me. She didn’t come out and say it or tell me what she was thinking. She took Abigail when she was barely out of her teens to a psychiatrist who studied in Vienna. He had wild hair like Einstein. She had been prepared for an eventuality of this magnitude. She was the one who had been prepared. Not me. And there was a part of me that felt like a failure. I had been completely blindsided. I had not seen the diagnosis coming. Not from a mile away. My beautiful, darling daughter. My darling, darling daughter was a manic depressive just like me. Bipolar. Bipolar. Bipolar. I was struck dumb. Speechless. What could I say? How could I comfort her? She hated school. She hated every minute every second of it. A monumental waste of her time it was she said. She already knew that everything she was being taught came out of a textbook that supported the cause of a colonial master. That supported a White cause. A liberal’s issues. Not hers by a long shot. We had to do a lot of talking, and listening, and the having of more conversations behind a closed bedroom door at night to try and convince her to stay in school. They were lots of tears. Everybody cried. There were arguments. There were times when she stayed with her aunt in Johannesburg and we would be under the false impression that now everything would be all right again in her world. We had dreams for me. She was brought up with norms and values. And we didn’t, couldn’t just let her throw her life away like that. Somehow, somewhere when she was fifteen years old she had written away to The London Film School. ‘So she wants to run away to London now.’ Gerda sighed. She wore a perplexed look on her face, chewing her bottom lip in pensive mode. I thought back to Abigail’s last words of the conversation the three of us had, mother, father, with their rebellious, fiercely intelligent, highly temperamental daughter. ‘I hate you.’ She almost spat. ‘You’re killing me. If I stay here I’ll die. You’ll see. I’ll show all of you. I’ll kill myself if I don’t go to film school. I want to go to London.’
Gerda had more intuition, knowledge and insight into how females thought and bonded and suddenly at midnight she bloomed. Her face pale in the moonlight, with aquiline features that her daughter Abigail had inherited from her but not her tennis legs or her mother’s love for that game. I couldn’t make out her face but I knew it was shining full of love for me, and for our daughter. All three of our children had been conceived in love.
‘Where will she stay? Where will she sleep? What will she eat every day for breakfast, lunch, and supper? Is she sleeping now I wonder? She just sits glued in front of that television all hours of the day and night. Ambrose tell me, what do you think I should do? We? Us? She’ll never be accepted. I read that story. It’s terrible. But if I say that to her it will break her heart. She’s fifteen going on sixteen.’
Back and forth my flashbacks goes. Presently we are here. The house is quiet haunted by ghosts from the past. Stephen. Jean. Magdalene. My parents. Gerda’s own mother and father passed away when Abigail was still a baby. Baby Ethan is sleeping soundly between his parents on their double bed. He is a real busybody. He only has eyes for his mother Already he has two milk teeth which has everyone in a frenzy in the household.
I wish sometimes that I had listened more, praised her cooking skills (even though she burnt the pots more times than I could keep track of), given more attention to my wife. Had not treated her like I had treated all the women in my life. Indentured slave girls only there to make me tea, be my secretary, flirt with. Women who would stroke my ego given the chance. She had given me everything of herself that she could as a wife, but I had not been completely open with her. Only in retrospect when I look back at the events of the past decade and they shaped all three of our children’s futures did I see how selfish and arrogant I had been. I had not come clean. Pharmaceuticals cannot wash away sins. With my silence I had passed down three life sentences. I wish I had done something. Said anything to console my wife it would be twenty years until we got our daughter back. Have I made Gerda happy, and what about my children, are they happy? Are they successful? Have my children fulfilled all their childhood goals? People change from one generation to the next. That’s the thing with people, milestones and events. They are always changing, and yet always staying the same. I thought I would be my daughter’s anchor in that moment like my mother had been in mine.

‘Fine. If you want to go then leave. We won’t stand in your way if this is going to make you happy.’ I said with my eyes meeting the floor we covered in carpet.

I didn’t want her to see the dejection in my eyes. I would miss her laughter, our talks, heated discussions, and debates. Mostly I would miss her presence. But she was depressed. She hated school. She had done very badly in the exams. Magdalene was still alive then. So Swaziland it was then for O and A levels and then The London Film School that is if she could get a British Council scholarship if she was lucky.

My mother had been my anchor throughout my depressive episodes. The crushing highs that took me to the wuthering heights of Rhodes and London and the numbing, frustrating lows that took me to my bed. Sometimes I would just lay on the bed still in my suit.my body was not sore, did not feel tired, my eyes were burning, but sleep would not come, only a numb sensation starting from the top of me head that would make its way down to the tips of my toes. Every parent wants to protect their child, sometimes protect them from everything. The world isn’t all bad. Tomorrow isn’t going to be all doom and gloom like today was. There are good people in this world who are just as affected by sickness, chronic illness, cancers, diseases

Madness? Madness! What is madness? What a question! Do people question John Nash? Do they call him mad, insane, tell him that he’s weird? Do they question this genius’s sanity, his intelligence, or do they just write him off as wired differently from the rest of the human race. Is he an anomaly? One evening my children came to me. My son looked at me. Tall, dark, and handsome, one would be forgiven for thinking his introversion is arrogance he said, ‘Dad. It’s time for you to sit down and write your story. Write your memoir. Write your autobiography if you will.’ To tell you the truth it has been two years now, nearly three. I can’t clearly recall if that conversation ever took place. I can’t remember who said what, when, the how I was going to go about it. I have written about depression. I have written about mental health. I have written books. South End. The aftermath of the forced removals. To be honest with you people didn’t stand in line for me sign that book. My guess that that was a sign. A sign from God. I paid attention. I listened. And I turned my attentions elsewhere to committee meetings, reading the newspapers. People just didn’t like me to talk about apartheid. That book quietly disappeared, and went out of print. People just weren’t into that vibe. The book wasn’t giving off good vibrations so people weren’t turning up to buy that book. But out of everything that I have written so far that book is my favourite. I have written about depression before from a sufferer’s perspective, and that little book turned out to be an enormous bit of loose cannon, then a diamond in the rough, and then a little gem of a book.

People like to romanticise apartheid now but I don’t. They put up pictures, photographs, paintings of struggle heroes and heroines in museums. There are public holidays, streets, buildings, foundations, bursaries, books, poetry, memoirs, autobiographies named after them, written in memory of them and some of them are even given honorary doctorates. Some posthumously. All I think about these days in the autumn of my years as I watch television at night, bits and pieces of the news, well, it means absolutely nothing to me. Climate change, global warning, it’s just the recession that has hit us all the hardest. My friends are no longer here. Most of them have passed on. I remember them fondly. Sometimes with tears in my eyes. I’m an old man now. I’m losing my hair. My wife, young and pretty. She will always be young and pretty to me. The blushing bride in her white lace on her wedding day. I remember I lost one of my white gloves between signing the register (I have a Scout’s knot in my throat now when I think back to my wedding day. My own children won’t understand this. They won’t understand what married life is until my son steps over that threshold with his new wife. Until my girls have said, ‘In sickness and health. Till death do us part.’ Come hell or high water I will be here for them all until the day I can’t be here anymore. I do what I can. I put the apron on and wash the dishes. Dry them carefully. Pack them away. The women in this house are always rearranging the furniture in the kitchen. But that has nothing to do with me. I play my part. I have a role to play in this family. I am the patriarch of this household. I am father. I am uncle. I am nurturer, caretaker, provider, and breadwinner. If we must eat pies for supper, then I walk down the road and buy them. I swing my arms. I walk much more these days than I did before but not far. Not far.) So now where was I? Right. I lost my white glove and Gerda was laughing at me. I got lucky. I didn’t really deserve her you know what with everything I put her and the children through. But somehow we made it to the other side. She’s angelic. She is. My wife. My wife. My wife. Abigail is the oldest and the brightest star in my universe. My Beethoven and my Kubrick. She has been through so much. Up streets and down streets. Johannesburg and Swaziland. Film school. School after school after school.
Psychometric tests. She’s done them all, and they have all said the same thing. She’s been psychoanalysed to death by psychologist after psychologist but she has a fighting spirit. All my children have fighting spirits. My son has done the impossible. He has given me an heir to the throne. Words can’t express what I feel when I look at his son. My son. My son and his son. Abigail, well, I think she thinks too much (she’s curious about everything, every impulse that the human species has, everything negative that happens in the world, the aftershocks are always of biblical proportions. I worry for her. Her personality is different. She lives by a completely different set of rules. People who live with depression often do live a life made up with a mind-set of elegant mathematics. She doesn’t think like a woman. My son and daughter are both complex creatures. Their mother elegant, and cold. When she descended upon Port Elizabeth after the honeymoon she seemed so exotic, so out of place here but she soon picked out furniture for out flat. Made it comfy. We had so many plans, dreams and goals. It was very, very difficult to conceive children. It took us five years and then we had Abigail, who was followed by another short stop and then my son, my son. Ambrose, my son. He is my namesake. He is my pride and joy. All I do these days is talk, and talk, and talk. Mostly about the past before I forget. I have to remember to write down everything I say because if I forget then who will remember the forced removals, South End, Fairview (where my mother had property, a domestic worker of all people, a seamstress at one of the best high schools in the country. She saved her money for a rainy day and bought land.) I think if you want to romanticise anything don’t romanticise your education, romanticise your culture, your heritage instead. Don’t romanticise mental illness, your London experience, or your European experience, visits to castles, trips in gondolas, the palace of Versailles, romanticise your family life, your domestic duties. Romanticise writing. Abigail is a poet. My second daughter has done very well for herself. Well, she lives in Johannesburg, works in a bank. She’s moneyed. Now she’s a socialite, a connoisseur if I ever saw one. I just didn’t mean to bring up one. If I don’t write nobody will remember anything about the Coloured identity, psyche and intellect in the Northern Areas from my generation. We’ll all be six feet under, pushing up daisies pretty soon. And then what? Ghosts. Getting a dead man to tell you a story about his childhood days is like squeezing blood from a stone. Have you ever tried squeezing blood from a stone? I remember when I was writing up my historical research about the London Missionary Society the state of mind I was in. I was on a hypomanic high while I was writing most of it. Nearing a complete collapse. I thought my professor would tell me, ‘Ambrose, what is this? It’s a complete and utter disaster from start to finish’. But I persevered. He’s in Canada now or dead. But I give my peace wherever he is. He was a part of my life for a very long time. I appreciated all his help. He was very liberal of course in his ideas of politics of course. We would never have tea together. That’s what I mean. Sometimes after driving hours from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown. After making the trip I would make my way to his office and to my utter astonishment he would not be there. The door would be locked. It would sometimes bring tears to my eyes. Yes. He made me cry. For ten years up and down. I was principal at the time at a public school in a sub-economic area. I taught the kids there to reach for the stars. I can never seem to place names to all the faces who stop me in the street or who kindly offer me a lift home. I take their hand. And in their faces even when I don’t recognise them all I see is affection, honesty, and gratitude for what I taught them, for what I said, even though I was tough on them. I sometimes took a lot of heat for what I said from Inspectors, from irate parents who would come to see after I had given their angel six of the best. There was no detention in those days. Corporal punishment wasn’t abhorred as it is now. I loved those kids like I loved my three children at home. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Where are all of them now, I wonder to myself sometimes? Are they all successful? Are they making money? Are they paying their mortgages, seeing to the bills, or are they unemployed. In the good old days when we had a near perfectly run education system even in the Northern Areas (even though it was under an apartheid government run by Coloured Affairs) many of my kids made their way to universities overseas. Many of them live their now, are raising their own families there now. Many have it to easy. They’re living the easy life. And they’ve completely erased the past. The poverty, the spiritual poverty, the hunger, the desire to learn on the faces of the children who came from much more impoverished homes. Matchstick houses we called them in those days. They’re still standing in the Northern Areas to this day a symbol of racial hatred for all the world to see. Our society is traumatised. People are traumatised. The youth are affected mostly by drugs. The drug of choice these days for Coloured youth is tik. Babies having babies. More and more children being born out of wedlock. Where is this taking place? In the Northern Areas.

Dreaming of Malibu

There is nothing lost in translation when coming home to the mock husband. I am not coping because I am not the doctor. Because I am not the one who is fluent in the doctor’s language no matter how hard I try. How will I be able to benefit from wearing that white laboratory coat, stethoscope around the neck, with that particular bedside manner? Where is my infinite piano? Watch this. Watch this romance. It is clever math, no; it is elegant math with all of its violent alertness under my fingertips. What is the weather like in Los Angeles? What is a winter like in Los Angeles? What will my head say to my heart as I walk on that beach, or breathe in that valid air from that Parisian meadow with my moral compass to navigate me on those open roads, the wide open spaces of the Midwest? What will my limbs say to each other in London if I ever get around to having that London experience forgoing all my responsibilities as a writer and a poet in South Africa? For is not that what I am primarily. A South African writer and poet living in a post-apartheid apocalyptic city. City life as opposed to life in the rural countryside. Searching for greener pastures in the asphalt garden where everything is golden and chameleon-like. I have never wanted the experience of loss. The measure of loss but life has given me that responsibility. Sutures too.

And panic and I have had to thread both against threadbare knuckles. I have covered myself up with an American quilt. It has become my shroud. It has become my cover in other poetry. But I feel it all the time now. The warmth of anxiety. I feel it humming, humming, and humming in my bones. Singing to the leaves on the winter trees. Guests every one. They are like bees. They are a rapturous swarm. What do I know without having a sophisticated culture, a knowledge and education beyond this tidal moon and sun and then I think of the planets. How like the planets I am? I know my place. I know my place so well now that I cannot give it up. And why would I? There will never be a case of mistaken identity. All I will ever know about life is the predictions of Sappho, poetry and writing. And how sometimes how beautifully unpredictable life can be otherwise. There are storms in the dark and we need to speak about the acute pain from those storms in beautiful and wonderful ways. Mostly the image of depression is that of a wild thing. When I am crazy, I know that is when I am most alive. When I am not crazy, when I am most sober is also when I am most alive but I do not know it. All feeling leaves me and I long for the stress of crazy. I long for someone to tell me I am beautiful.

You are mine. The pain of Sarajevo is in my blood. Mingled there in my blood. Staring back at me in my blood and but what can I do but stare back at it? The door was somehow left ajar for me and my heart was bursting. It ready to be split open like a pomegranate. Seeds everywhere like seawater. I found wild oblivion, the safe passage from suffering in those seeds. At first I could not speak of the fantasy that I held in my hands and that my head wished for so ardently. I could not interpret those promised lands that my mocking husband returned from. I needed land and yet I needed to be reborn as well. I needed stress, a tour of the flesh like I needed the back of my hand. I flickered and then I was buried once again amongst the flowers. And with dirt upon my head I soon realised that I was supposed to be the beautiful keeper of the vanished and the unexamined. The apprehended. I do not want to age. To age means to give up your mortality like an artist giving up their brushes. To age means to give up everything. To age means that you are not bold anymore and that you do not have anything to be brave over. It just happens to be in your blood to think these things. Never mind how you try not to. I need to write to you of the quiet courage of our mothers and our grandmothers. So pay attention.

Mental Illness In The Wards Of Elizabeth Donkin

I am at Hunterscraig. I am here because I am not coping anymore. I am not coping because I am not the doctor. Because I am not the pharmacist with their jagged little pills. With their pharmaceuticals. Because I am not the one who is fluent in the doctor’s language no matter how hard I try. How will I be able to benefit from wearing that white laboratory coat, stethoscope around the neck, with that particular bedside manner? Where is my infinite piano? Watch this. Watch this romance. It is clever math, no, it is elegant math with all of its violent alertness under my fingertips. What is the weather like in Los Angeles? What is a winter like in Los Angeles? What will my head say to my heart as I walk on that beach, or breathe in that valid air from that Parisian meadow with my moral compass to navigate me on those open roads, the wide open spaces of the Midwest? What will my limbs say to each other in London if I ever get around to having that London experience forgoing all my responsibilities as a writer and a poet in South Africa? For isn’t that what I am first and foremost. A South African writer and poet living in a post-apartheid apocalyptic city. City life as opposed to life in the rural countryside. Searching for greener pastures in the asphalt garden where everything is golden and chameleon-like. I have never wanted the experience of loss. The measure of loss but life has given me that responsibility. Sutures too. And panic and I have had to thread both against threadbare knuckles. I have covered myself up with an American quilt. It has become my shroud. It has become my cover in other poetry. But I feel it all the time now. The warmth of anxiety. I feel it humming, humming, and humming in my bones. Singing to the leaves on the winter trees. Guests every one. They’re like bees. They’re a rapturous swarm. What do I know without having a sophisticated culture, a knowledge and education beyond this tidal moon and sun and then I think of the planets. How like the planets I am? I know my place. I know my place so well now that I cannot give it up. And why would I? There will never be a case of mistaken identity. All I will ever know about life is the predictions of Sappho, poetry and writing. And how sometimes how beautifully unpredictable life can be otherwise. There are storms in the dark and we need to speak about the acute pain from those storms in beautiful and wonderful ways. Mostly the image of depression is that of a wild thing. When I’m crazy I know that is when I am most alive. When I am not crazy, when I am most sober is also when I am most alive but I don’t know it. All feeling leaves me and I long for the stress of crazy. I long for someone to tell me I’m beautiful. And to the mock wife that I would give my eternal screaming life for. You are mine. The pain of Sarajevo is in my blood. Mingled there in my blood. Staring back at me in my blood and but what can I do but stare back at it? The door was somehow left ajar for me and my heart was bursting. It ready to be split open like a pomegranate. Seeds everywhere like seawater. I found wild oblivion, the safe passage from suffering in those seeds. At first I could not speak of the fantasy that I held in my hands and that my head wished for so ardently. I could not interpret those promised lands that my mocking husband returned from. I needed land and yet I needed to be reborn as well. I needed stress, a tour of the flesh like I needed the back of my hand. I flickered and then I was buried once again amongst the flowers. And with dirt upon my head I soon realised that I was supposed to be the beautiful keeper of the vanished and the unexamined. The apprehended. I do not want to age. To age means to give up your mortality like an artist giving up their brushes. To age means to give up everything. To age means that you are not bold anymore and that you don’t have anything to be brave over. It just happens to be in your blood to think these things. Never mind how you try not to. I need to write to you of the quiet courage of our mothers and our grandmothers. So pay attention to my birthday notes. Grief is only a warning. Denial too. I need to find out why the brightness dies so effortlessly and with artful commitment. The heart of commitment. And the flowers heads. Every one. The night is blue. The night is dying and whatever flame of light and love I have treasured in my hands from the smiles of my children with bars of chocolate in their hands those are the walls of my prison cell. Inside my head there are brick walls. In my arms there are cells too like the laughter of clowns. The pathetic frustration and laughter of clowns that will never be enough. Nobody deserved this. Nobody deserves this depression and the lid of this pressure that catapults them from yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I find myself at the local swimming pool. The air is cool. The temperature is freezing as I pull the sweater over my head. My limbs have found freedom in a sense. My children have already found themselves in the water. I can hear them laughing. It makes my heart smile. I leave the stressors of the daily grind behind me. I long to pull away from the wall and to kick my legs as if I was swimming in my childhood quarry again with my friends. I can feel my heart hammering inside my chest. In the water my limbs find a harmony. I find a harmony. This is something precious. A father spending time with his children. My oldest has a faraway look in her eyes. She has just started high school and every pang, every hurt that she feels I feel it too. The other two are just babies. They know nothing of the grown up world and I thank God for that. That they will remain children and innocents for a while longer. I wish this with my whole heart but already I feel that I have damaged them irrevocably in some way. I wish I could turn back the past but I can’t. It is out of my hands now. I do not know what will happen in the near future. I know nothing of my failure as a parent to protect them from the dangerous and shark infested waters of this cruel world. I know nothing yet of their own failures.

They’re so innocent. I look upon the magnificent angelic shine on their faces. Those were the days I worshiped the ground their mother walked upon. I climb down the steps at the side of the swimming pool. I feel as if I am an authentic unique. The water gets a hold of my legs. It takes a few minutes for me to gather my bearings. I feel the weight of water around me. My older daughter’s face is sullen. She has not become rebellious yet but I know that one of these fine days she will refuse to pray with us. She will give me the silent treatment and the cold shoulder as the chip that she carries on her shoulder grows and grows. She will no longer be the loving dutiful daughter she once was and tell me all her secrets. She will no longer think of herself as being beautiful and wonderful. She will begin to see herself as less than perfect, less than extraordinary, less than beautiful and wonderful. She will, and it breaks my heart to say this, begin to see herself as flawed. Her mother will become less familiar to her because she will find it therapeutic to spend quality time with her other children who see no wrong in her. And then she stretches out her arms and begins to swim elegant stroke after elegant stroke. She loses herself in the womb ceremony of the water. She finds herself here.

My wife and I have never discussed having prodigies for children but prodigies they are but aren’t all mother’s children prodigies? I have been an educationalist for decades now so I am the expert. I know what I am talking about. I have met many gifted children who have had no one sadly to believe in them and so they have been lost through the system and the establishment. These gifted children have had no platform and so they have in return become delinquent and criminal. The girls have become shop assistants and lovers and the young men work at menial labour toughening themselves against the injustices of the world that they find themselves in. They get married too early. They have those kids too early and sometimes they become fathers when they are mere children themselves. Their sunny road is not sunny for long and so they turn to alcoholism and the insanity of addiction and sometimes become demagogues yielding violence and brutalising their wives, their children and their families. I have met all of them in my teaching career and I saved those that I could save. I saved those that were in my power to save but unfortunately I could not save every one when their parents themselves are lost too. There were times when I came too late on the scene, on the scenario.

Madness is a hands down bloodied affair. Madness is much more than searching with your whole heart for sobriety from addiction. This time around my stay at Hunterscraig was a few weeks. I sat and listened to my children my muscles tired, aching and sore. Afterwards we would get cool drinks for everyone. Sometimes ice lollies, popsicles, sweets, caramel popcorn and bubble gum. Things that children would enjoy. I would get the morning paper if I had not read it yet at school with my morning tea and sandwiches. Under water the images I had of other people, other people and my children’s reality would appear blurred, unnatural and disturbing. They would all appear surreal, Dadaist, subliminal. The love a father has for his children will make him weak at the knees. It will make him realise his own limitations, his own flaws and his own weaknesses. I will always remember the touch of my first love, that first empty page, those clean lines of that notebook that I filled with scrawl scribbling away, my dogs, my children’s birthday parties, the wards at Hunterscraig. High care, the discreet nature of madness. How ordinary madness could be, how cool it was for the James Deans of the world but not for you and the wuthering heights of it. I thought of Bethlehem a lot. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it was because of the illness, the nature of it. I try not to think of the most disturbing things that I felt and that I saw and that of course happened to me. The sodomy. The rape of a young man. A man who was younger than me and clearly out of his sane mind. He did not realise what was happening around him. I did not try and encourage myself to remember anything when I left the hospital or that posh clinic. I wanted to leave it all behind me. I wanted to embrace the life I had with my wife and three children. I had worked hard for it. I had sweat blood and tears for it. I needed to do the right thing by my wife. She had stood by me so now it was all up to me to stand by her. Rituals are intensely felt especially religious rituals.

And when I want to calm the anxiety that rises again and again like sweet waves with those jagged little pharmaceuticals this is how I remember Helen Martins. The Magi and the Owl House; their tethers tug like flame at my heartstrings and I wonder about her wounds, her coy magical healing, did she ever prepare a delicious, warm cake for her friend, that social worker that Fugard spoke so highly of. What stalked her for so long; a lifetime and then she had to go and die still so young, fighting fit? Oh, suicide is a forlorn, lonely way to go. Don’t do it, I would have said and she would have looked at me. Our eyes, I imagined would have connected the way the white sunlight connects with the angles and corners of shadows of furniture, against the wall, against the panes, against panels and cupboards, on summertime afternoons and then I would have understood her motives, the intention behind it all, the mystery, the spell that ‘it’, suicide, had cast over her, her life’s work and as I wander through her house I can feel her presence. Her perfect presence. She was that most perfect thing. She was that most perfect artist. I don’t think her unstable. She doesn’t haunt me, my waking thoughts as much as her body of magnificent work, her ‘art’ does; if I can call it that. Writers write, poets lose themselves in translation, philosophers who pose as academics during the day intellectualise debate over wine and sushi until the early hours of the morning. When did she know her jig was up, that her time had come to bid this cruel world adieu in the worst possible way? Who found her with her insides eaten away? I read Fugard’s The Road to Mecca. I was jealous. Jealousy and cowardice are in the sticky blood of every writer and it simply does not boil away to a faint, hot zone of grieving nothingness, fumbling bits and pieces like crushed autumn leaves dead in the centre of the flushed palm of your hand. Helen’s Mecca cast its own spell on me. To me it felt magical. A love spell launched into the language of the pathways of a warring fraction of nerves, anxious to please like a child with the limbs, eyes, soft, sweet-smelling tufts of hair and a smile of a doll’s features and yet, a spell that was blank up front, to take comfort in that blankness as if it was purified like a chalice of Communion wine and it was also a spell that spelled, ‘be faithful as a servant of God, a man of the cloth’. So what if I am not the Doctor. So what if I am not the pharmacist. I am in a ward of crazy thirsting for sobriety. He, Fugard, seemed to craft the impossible in a way that did justice to Helen, the insecure, little, belittled bird afraid of the outside world; Helen, the Outsider in a way I knew I could never because I did not get the ‘hook’, the ‘bait’ but fishing for information, our keen sense, our powers of observation of human behaviour is what writers and poets know best as we drink our coffee, brew pots of tea, grow a hunched back bent over our ancient computer. How did she, Helen who was not so insecure after all, build that wall around her? How did she approach each subject, each project; as an assignment? Did she miss the feeling of the warmth in her bedroom of another human being? The company of her dead husband, their daily rituals filled with breakfasts, hot, buttered toasts, meals that came out of cans, processed foods that could easily be heated up and eaten with bread like pilchards or sardines. They would probably have imbibed hot drinks during the day; warm milk at bedtime, lukewarm tea when it was called for, the bitter taste of coffee with grounds at the bottom of the cup in the morning. I think she had an inkling she would live on even in death and in her gift that she left to the world, was the method in her madness. Colour Me In. Colour in those apparitions. Did these apparitions that came to life see her as a mystic; a prophetess bound for crucifixion and resurrection, with her own shroud of Turin, God forbid, did they come to life under her splayed fingertips, come to her from above, heaven-sent, as natural as night and day? Were they angelic utterances whispered in her ear while she slumbered, as she turned in her sleep, twisting the sheets between her legs until finally she dreamed until daybreak or were they the of hallucinations induced by the isolated landscape, the barren countryside which surrounded her, the wilderness of her antisocial behaviour of her own making, induced by the mind of a woman slowly going mad, losing common sense, lacking that quintessential backbone of what made the English, the liberal-minded, so organised in their group or sporting activities like tennis for example, cricket or high tea; activities that required teams and cliques, so formal even in their games, proud of their progeny that followed in their footsteps, productive in the world, a world of their own making that was to a certain extent selfish, self-absorbed, not welcoming and friendly to people they considered to be not a fit partner in their climate; so genteel were they and conservative in their broad outlook on life. When I read of how people take their lives into their own hands I wonder what will happen, if there will ever be any substantial record of proof of their life here on earth. In the end, does it really matter to them, I question, yes, perhaps I judge their actions harshly and too quickly but to me it does matter because I was brought up that way; to believe that there is something holy and godlike about your spirit, your soul, your physical and emotional body and to take what does not belong wholeheartedly to you is stealing and there is nothing pretty about being caught after the act. If only, I imagine people who stumble across, infiltrate the place where the deceased lays, the body arranged in death, find the fragile creature as if taking a nap, resting, face composed, still, nothing amiss except the silence in the room where the unfortunate act of defiance, of quiet desperation had taken place without anyone’s knowledge. You learn and you live to surrender. You learn to let go of the past and live. If only, I had come sooner, not said this, said that in a moment when all my thoughts were focussed perfectly, perhaps if I had acted swiftly but depression is both mean-spirited and long-suffering and there is no escape from that if it is passed down from generation to generation, inherent in the highly feminine woman prone to emotional outbursts, hysterics, tantrums, panic attacks, melancholy, mania, self-medication with painkillers and potions brewed with herbs and the effeminate man. Most people live in altered states of minds when something traumatic has happened to them. Most people think that therapy can help them with this. Sitting down face-to-face with someone who has studied the maladies of the mind for years and years they bare the deepest, darkest secrets of their soul and then leave, feeling relieved, as if they have just done something noble. They think they will find the answers their soul is seeking once a week ongoing sometimes for several years or for their natural life. They find someone who they feel is suitable, someone motherly, fatherly or someone young who reminds them of a loved one, someone they lost or who even reminds them of their own children or a substitute for the absent parent from their childhood and adolescence and young adult life. But I was really writing this about Helen Martins and for her, in defence of her and of the life she lived. Some people just can’t help making waves and the more flawed they are, the more they can’t stop making waves. Perhaps she found the answers she was looking for, the elegant solutions she craved like scientists or mathematicians craved in their own work, in her art, her sculptures, her friendship. I wanted to make sense of her thinking. What was it, inside her head that was making her tick insatiably, behind her eyes that was making her see, what exactly was her fruitful, the blooming flowers of her subconscious telling her to do, willing her to do consciously, conscientiously, consistently, efficiently and at a time unbeknownst to the world at large while she was still alive. In death, she has survived it all that she couldn’t in life and yet she is still remembered as a woman made of skin and bone; a bone-woman, shapeless, caught in a thoroughfare like kittens to be drowned in a bag; her features like a sandscape, opening and shutting, through which seawater spills. Martyrs are made of this. And whenever I am troubled my thoughts turn to Gethsemane and whatever was deathly illumined there. I lived in a brutalised society when I was a child. I witnessed my mother and my father arguing back and forth sometimes, back and forth relentlessly. I think of my own violent alertness when it came to anything cultural, knowledgeable and educational. It is both an explosion and a stagnation. The church. This dream world at large that is both poetry-flecked. How my golden flesh and the notebook from my heart that rhythm vibrates and resonates and I want to say to God. The living God that I worship and can find no wrong with. I want to say to this angelic host that he is my earth, my stone and rain and that he is most of all is my Sappho. He is the frame of my spirit. And of course all the tenderness of the natural world. Madness is just another sickness that will make you tremble. That will make you weep Remember this. That there will never be anything extraordinary about that. I don’t need to love or be loved in return As much as I need to swim towards the light. Towards the illusion that is both honesty and hostility keeping the dog on the leash as he discovers the minutia in the essences of humanity. Children playing in the child’s world in childhood dirt. The gardener planting, soil erosion, the fields, the roses and the altered states of mind that keeps humanity under wraps. For is not the church not another country? Far and away beautiful and lovely. A bride holding a book. The pages majestic. The pages smelling of roses. And together we will discover why humanity is important to humanity? Why is poetry needed? By poets and humanity alike? And night I make tea or my daughter and we escape to the sitting room. I wonder at the bittersweet oranges we use to make holes in when we were children and suck the juice out of them. Why skin and hair? The tapestry of flesh. I need trees and leaves Grass and the seasons. Precious mountains and wild life with all their simple orchestrated movements. The unmistaken frame and rapture of it all. There’s beauty in everything in the simple ceremony of pouring tea. Drinking it primitively. The sunrise is in the image of a woman. Her femininity. What would we call that muscle? Would we call those wings lungs? A well of tidiness. Springing up relentlessly. There’s blood in the old life. Blood in the new one. Prospering breath after breath. So empires are built. The crown of laughter Poetry and studying the poem’s death underneath the surface of it all. Whatever is in the nature of praying meditatively and of discovering happiness behind the aloof façade of illness and mental sickness? Sickening creative ritual and impulse is where I live now. I live yonder. I could not choose words. Because I did not have it within me to possess me. I only had everything that glistened. When will this impulse end? I did not call for it. I did not want to possess it. Although I know now that it wanted to possess me infinitely. The only response that I had was to shed tears, was for my physical body to be wracked with sobs and with every sob and with every story a light would shine on this illness. I needed hysteria. I don’t know why. I just know this. That I needed it. And then I found a leap of faith. The beginnings of a leap of faith. And I turned towards the face of God. I found honour and privilege there. And in the whine of language I found something else. Writing soothed my soul like nothing else did. Writing calmed the storms with black clouds that still had those patterns of silver linings within my heart. Hysteria is fashionable. Do you know how fashionable it is? Grief is fashionable too. Grief for your old life and your old ways of thinking. I am still here. I am a father and a grandfather. I am no longer a son. I have to fight. I have to fight this mental sickness. And that is why I have to fight because I am loved and because I love and because I am surrounded by the face of love. Illness will never dwindle in my life. It will always have its own turning point. It will always have its own pawns and revolutionaries. I know I need to make adjustments to my character and my personality. To cope, to live, to rejoice jubilantly that after all of this with my heroic friends that have passed on to the hereafter, my friends who have crossed over that I am still here. It is night time. It is night land in this posh clinic at the end of the world. I of course only think that it is at the end of the world. I cannot fall sleep. I have been here for weeks now. My children are put to bed at night by my wife. I cannot know of course what she is thinking, feeling and dreaming. I only know that perhaps she carries all the burdens of the world on her shoulders tonight. I love her. God knows how I love her. But I don’t quite know how she loves me. She does not know yet how to let go of me. She does not yet know how to surrender me to the fabric of time and the tapestry of the universe. I do. I do. I do. But we have taken vows in a church in front of our family and all of our friends. All of those unified lethal elements. It is cold. It is a winter’s night. I drink a glass of water and wonder what it is made of. I think of the Periodic Table. Teaching it to a classroom filled with misfits who have no idea of their own genius and potential. Once upon a time before I was a principal of a school I was an inexperienced chain-smoking manic depressive teacher. I didn’t think then that I had it in me to be a principal of a school. I didn’t think I had it in me to be a leader but I became one in the end and was it because of everything I experienced or in spite of those challenges. In spite of those obstacles that turned out to be opportunities in disguise throughout everything. I don’t know. All I have now are conversations that I have with my daughter Abigail to keep me sane, from the wreck that is my ego, the illusion of the man and his illness.

Let silence speak for itself like a birthday party (a series of poetry)

This daughter has grit
And brick walls and all
A solitary moon
In all her feverish anticipation
Waiting upon the machine
And those ancestors.
Why do I suffer in relationships?
There’s a darkness within me
There’s a darkness within you
I don’t take kindly to your jokes
Nor the endless possibility
In your voice and the masterpiece

That is your world
Your splintered home
At the end of the world
Let silence speak for itself like a birthday
Grief is only a warning. Denial too.
I need to find out why the brightness dies
And the flowers heads. Every one.
These winter branches are mine
The anniversary of this winter
Is also mine. My mute grief
Over every black leaf is mine
We have captured our lungs for eternity

I need to see you in a photograph
I need to see you painted
In oils and watercolours
There’s the existence of faith
And pure hope as I take you in my arms
To have and to hold
From this day forward
Jubilant is the trumpet and saxophone
All their rituals have logic
This landscape was fashioned by a gardener
I stand mute at the edge of the lake
The gorgeous lake’s mouth

Is full of jewelled water
Wind drifts like driftwood
The weight of water is inescapable
What is human? This stain
Is human. What is beautiful?
Eyes and this ordinary madness.
What captures the light?
Klimt. Is it injustice? Sickness?
The right and the wronged?
There’s too much earth and world
In the desire that we have for each other
This letter is meant out of love.

The lover of Jane Eyre and the wild Sargasso Sea

Come with me to this wide open place
This place of husband and wife, companions
This known yet unknown place of wonder
There is still a distance from the rest
Of the planets, the turning moon and sun
The tides of the ocean, the Pacific and Indian
Which is where we’ll keep on meeting
When there is a scarcity of the faces of love
Reach deep within yourself and look inside your heart
For all the assumptions that are lying there
In wait for you drenched in circumspection
For child are you not a warrior made in perfection?
The laws of suffering are not meant for you
It is not the place for you. Your childhood
Filled you with dignity and hope will not empower
You but also uplift you. You with your mind
Are meant for a beautiful life filled with passion
And many dappled things such as the poetry
Of language of the wreck at the end of the world
The gracious lady that is the ship wreck and light house
Waves may have called to you like they did to that ship
For you are not just imagined. You are a myriad of things.
All the pretty horses on the prairies
I know what I have to be delivered from
It is silence, the despair of silence, the bleak
Landscape of the rural post-apartheid countryside
But I need the fragrant air that is vital, fresh
My bones need to acquire it – that certain pleasure
My lungs need to be filled with more than grace
I am in need of wings and a rosary
You are reduced to be being a thing that is worshiped
Put on a pedestal or put on a throne wearing a crown
Once you were that sought after
You were the vision that we have of ourselves
Enough to transform and transfigure our souls
Winters will be deposited here long after
We have summered here in the hot zone of this climate
You are the filthy lover of this dream I have of you
You are the dreamer and the exotic perfumed one
You are my cure for me to be purified and my tonic
How I long for your arms and for your warm embrace
You are my extraordinary emergency service
Bright, vivid, vivacious and signalling red
War is my country but then again so are you
My Paris, my Hemingway, my moveable feast.

Sardines on toast please

No daughters and sons have I although
I am still a lover of other mothers’ children.
I delight in them. I have discovered I can
Do clever things with my hands. Artistic things.
Instead of braiding hair I can intuitively thread words.
They are my fish. It is no longer winter here.
I am no longer a guest in my own country
I praise your silence and the personal space
You left behind and I feel the tightness in my heart
I praise you I praise all of you but most of all
I have been left behind in a tunnel into the black
There is insomnia even in a sermon
And electric wavelengths in a lecture room
A female writer journaling away in her diary
But where are the children and the husband
She has none. She is afraid of those words
That those words will make cell walls around her
That those words will become her prison
Winter with its shark teeth that threatens
To overwhelm her every waking thought and moment
She thinks of grief and remembers her childhood
And the fact that her mother never held her hand

When she crossed the road or believed in her
When looking left then right what is she grieving for?
What is she living for? What is she praying for?
Midnight’s children. Children who live under the bridge
They smoke cigarettes as if their lives depended on it
In another poem. In another lifetime, another life
There was a mistake. There was a little obsession
A predestined promise of procrastination that smelled
Like perfume. And then too soon you will realise
That you should not have walked away in that moment
Even though you were forgiven child of God
Child of an extraordinary God stripped of all
Illusion and fear of expectation
And like Marie Antoinette was led to a guillotine
Aren’t we all at some stage in our lives?
Don’t we have to live with our misgivings?
And with being misrepresented, dancing around
Golden laughter in our mouths that we don’t
Want to escape from. We want to search forever more
For that most singular delusion swinging swiftly
I like my innocence and I like my imperfections
I like the fact that I’m flawed and that I’m confessing to it.

The moveable feasts of chandeliers and wealth

They spoke of wealth (of course I had none)
Their clothes spoke of it, their speech and their
Blonde-honeyed hair, every freckle on their nose,
Knee and cheek. It was always flowers
And poetry that made my broken heart smile.
The light from the sun. Now that was my chandelier.
I always wonder why I felt so small in your world
You are still my dream as tender as a Paris meadow
Diving into the closet under the bed
Filled with monsters and with wild beasts
Dressed to the nines dressed to impressed
I am that woman who sleeps alone who eats alone
In her forest. I wait and watch for you the flowing river
In childhood we were loyal to each other
We were blossoming us sisters and that is the truth
You were my manna from heaven
You were my Moses and my burning bush
I believed that you existed with all your airs and graces
You took your powerful singing place amongst
All the gods and goddesses and I worshiped
You then as I worship you then as you dance
Far and away outwards from my embrace.

Breasts and the phenomena of infertility

All my life I have never wanted children
I have longed for companions but never children
To take care of or to take care of me
When I am at my most infirm in old age
I have always had a travelling heart
And that has been with me season after season
Of all the dark, mocking falling leaves.

There is stagnation between the laughter of clowns
That marks all of us. In the details of their heavy made-up
Faces. The wigs that hides their true features from all of us.
There is a sadness and a pathetic frustration
That lies there like the trees at the bottom of a lake.
Drowning visitors every one never to be seen
By humanity again. Touched by the hands of humanity
Again. And so we say that our fears have lethal airs
And graces. We begin to search for the exit out.
Our moral compass navigates us through the elements
Of air and fire. And whenever our hearts are pure again

We the lovers of futility and imposters
In our dreams. We will become voyagers once again
Our minds and hearts turned into ice, asylum pieces
Every one. The frame psychological. The work
The world and the fabric of the universe darker still
Than our childhood. A child’s world touched by
Swaziland’s mountains, valleys, Lazarus and greener
Pastures, sleep and the richness of a father’s madness.
Humanity goes forward into the exploratory studies
Of both man and woman to find souls there
Some find that they are touched by love

Others find mental sickness, and aberrations
Illness composed of jagged pharmaceuticals, doctors
And pharmacists, a bright palace of harmonious
Music, lords and ladies of the stellar night
Dancing their cold hearts and lungs out as fast
As their legs and feet can carry them. They don’t
Need a world of inquiries. They’re all strangers
In the dead of night and they’re all singing the blues.
Stringing, threading, braiding love knots, Scout
Knots, clotting blood knots feeling the tightness
In their chests while the rest of us live and die.

That Day On The Beach

It felt so real. The rain, the leaves, the lovemaking (but was there any passion, or was it just perfunctory. I did not feel any pleasure. It felt like I was twenty-two again. Living amongst xenophobic South Africans, and Johannesburg people, I sensed winter coming on acutely). And then there was the kiss. Something inside of me died (well I always felt a succession of deaths after writing, and I went cold). Yet there was something there that was still absent. I woke up then. How could I put it into the words? There are no consequences on the astral plane. You lose everything if you think of desire as being simplistic. Oh no, it is much, much more complicated than that. So complex that scientists in North America are studying it. My dreaming of late left me depressive. The illness was returning. There were signs. A homosexual man with beautiful eyes, and sensitive hands passed me on the street. I wanted to find that confidence that I saw in his swagger on the page. I thought if I could do that it would explain everything, especially what I had been dreaming about. I needed to know why romance to me was like a lighthouse. I was always swimming away from it, backing away, getting shipwrecked. Left wondering why I was never anchored?

It was scary. I couldn’t define the moment or the place. Where I was? It did feel as if I had been spirited away to another dimension. Perhaps dreaming vividly can do that do you? This man in my dream well he reminded me of someone who I had met a long time ago. A lecturer I had fallen in love with. Madly in love with. Naïve and sexually inexperienced, he became my world for nearly two years. He was an investment. He was an assignment. He would turn out later to be the love of my life. But with dreaming came a terror. The dreams were not real, and in the dreams I was happy. I was oblivious to the hidden dangers that I experienced when I was awake. When I was experiencing reality. When I say happy what I mean by that is that I felt no fear of anything real or imagined. No fear of hypomanic psychosis or the anxiety, the physical tremors that came with hallucinatory images. There was no darkness. In my dreams there was no longer any experience of suffering, or depression, or the rigid pull of madness, and the mercy of the flight from it in high care. Being on suicide watch. There was no night-land. There were only ordinary people. Ordinary people falling in love, making love, talking, and having conversations about love.

I would dream about all of these things. What was my subconscious trying to tell the self-conscious actor in me? That I should discriminate? That I should do something else with my life other than write? That I should put aside my writing rituals, using cooking as therapy, and go out into the world, find a husband, have those children, walk down that yellow brick road, that sunny road, and accept that happiness took too much commitment, too much energy, time, but just do it anyway. Do it brilliantly. Do it excellently. Do it wisely. Do it effortlessly. If I could bake a chocolate chiffon cake effortlessly, could it not be effortless to bring up children the same way? If I could make a lasagne, or bolognaise excellently by following my sister’s neatly handwritten instructions, could I not make an excellent wife for someone, but that would mean I would have to come clean. That would mean I would have to submit to questioning, to interrogation, of how my mother had ‘touched’ me as a child. The baths we took together. She would always leave the door open. Call me while my father lay sleeping, and ask me to wash her back. I don’t want to remember. I feel a terror whenever anyone touches me.

Don’t let’s go there. I don’t want to think about it. Please. Please. I’m asking you nicely. But she didn’t understand. Educated. Cultured. Highly favoured. Thought highly of. How on earth could she be expected to understand the physical aberration of sexual abuse? The damaged psyche, and mind of the vulnerable child raised in an abusive environment day after day slowly becoming programmed to live complicity with both denial and grief. That explicit violation, that graphic violence, when she could not glimpse into my world. The world of abandonment, and neglect. I thought my father knew. I thought he did. That’s why there were barriers in my childhood world. I thought that we were being protected, shielded from children who were rough. In retrospect I became wiser. Instead I wanted to be like my mum when I grew up, but I was never as elegant and beautiful as she was. Never. I had failed her. I had failed both of my parents in that regard.

Skin against skin like fabric, like sleep, like water in wild places. I don’t need you to show me that you love me, I need you to tell me. I need it like breath, like self-pity, like fractured air, like remembering my Ouma’s wizened hands by arthritis, but know this dearest lover. I know we won’t be together forever. There is a part of me that is terrified of the letting go of you. Seeing you gone from the world of the living to the world of the dead. The world of the dead filled with the utmost of biblical proportions. Realise this. I’m a failure. As a woman I’m a failure, because I would be a failure in raising your children, or dancing with you under the moonlight, or being innocent as you enter me, my hair framing my face. Know this. You do not know anything about me although I might toy with you, or give you my physical body, sate you, leave your body glistening with sweat, and lying beside you in the dark watch you sleep. Watching over until the early hours of the morning. I know you will leave me lover. I don’t blame you. Your children. Show me pictures of them. Show me pictures of your angels. Show me a picture of your soft love light. You know my terms by now.

Call me up if you want to talk, or have a good time. I’ll listen to all of your troubles. I will love you like that. I will make you my world for one night. Your wife I imagine is nothing like me. Is she anything like my mother, I wonder to myself? Women who are anything like my mother always have this need to be worshiped. Women who are anything like my mother terrify me still. I am nothing like that beautiful, elegant woman in the photograph that you have your arm around. Does she truly make you happy? If she does them I am happy for you. I will not miss you. You don’t want to know anything about me, believe me. You don’t want to hear stories about my childhood, my competitive streak, how successful we have all become at not being successful at marriage though, but we’ve passed through life with flying colours with everything against us. We’ve accomplished, my siblings and me I through thick and thin, our flimsy dreams, those goals our parents had for us excellently, though not as excellently as I would have liked for my own life. No elixir of a sunny road for me and my sister. Have a heart and don’t wake up yet.

The only place where I don’t feel a fool, where I feel safe is here in your arms lover. Here I forget about Dante’s hell, genocide, and the holocaust. Let me forget about Rwanda and Auschwitz. Bergen-Belsen and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Let me forget about that day on the beach. Tracing the Caesarean scar, fingering it as if all the stitches would collapse into thin air, and I wouldn’t exist in this world. I would be gone without a trace. Help me to understand the lack of mother-love. Win. Win. Win. My teen-age heart would chant as my name would be read out. I would make my way to the stage and the principal would hand me something beautiful. A certificate. Intelligence was never enough. A vague kind of prettiness, an attractive personality was just never quite enough. Please, please, don’t let’s go there of all places to a time I’m through navigating. My own personal hell was what invisible people called childhood. I am Alice. I have a Cheshire cat. I live in my own wonderland, and I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone take that away from me. I don’t want to remember the lack of mother-love. The quiet, that open door leading to the passage of promiscuity.

The hair was always damp at the nape of her neck, curling slightly because of the steam. With the scent of soap on my hands I would wash her back in circles. I remember her hunched shoulders. She hunched her shoulders (was she hiding her breasts, was she insecure, or was she just tired of her highly-sexed manic depressive husband). After dressing she would show her Caesarean scar. Tell me how the doctor had taken me from out of her, like Jonah and the whale. Now grownup I have more of her personality than my father’s. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t look at my face. It will have to be in the dark if you want to really make love to me. Why do you desire me, me in the first place? Are you anticipating my permission? What are the terms of love, of being boyfriend and girlfriend, of the mother who says she is tired, cannot read my essay. I am not a child of Buddha. I am a child of something lesser. Self-actualise that. First I’ll go down on you. In front of you on my hands and knees I will beg you to humiliate me. I will, promise. A psychologist doesn’t come with multiple choice questions where you have to color the blank dot in next to the correct answer.

To tell you the truth I have no desire to become a wife in real life. I don’t find it appealing in any way. It’s not attractive to me. Like the way the words Los Angeles moves me. Its waves gives me the feeling of good vibrations. It seems married life would mean I would have to give up the writing life. I would have to put on a pretty face in photographs and smile. And what if he drinks? And what if he smokes? How many children does he want to have? Does he like red meat? Does he like exotic dishes like couscous, will I have to become adept at trying out new recipes, or will he like to eat out, and try fancy restaurants, eat dinner there every night, or is he a steak and a potatoes man like my grandfather once was. He had two children by another woman. My grandmother persevered. She was a strong woman. I could not be that strong if my husband looked for love with another woman, and took her to bed. My mother has taught me nothing extraordinary and everything about women. How the seed of manipulation is planted inside the man’s eye. How different a woman’s personality is from a man’s. Her sensuality. The second sex’s femininity, and sexuality.

How man must be forgiven for thinking only of his own aura, his identity, his psyche, his ego, the frailty of his mother, and how much more delicate she becomes now that she has grown older. Now that a man’s mother has become elderly, ended up in a home, the best his salary can buy, he becomes aware of his own mortality. All people should be encourage to grow something. To plant something. To nurture something on a patch of land. Plant a tree, or forest. My mother did. She would spend hours hard at work in her garden. We had a perfumed, moneyed garden in apartheid South Africa and post-apartheid South Africa. That was mum’s triumph. She had no close female relationships. To me that made her exotic. As an adult I have no close female relationships. I should have seen it coming. Instead of marking it as a milestone. Why didn’t you love me mum? That day on the beach I called out your name. Why didn’t you turn around and wait for me to catch up to you? You made me hate you. But you couldn’t hear me. And I felt like a child in time waiting for you again. Like the day you forget to pick me up from my extra lesson, my rehearsal.

The day we didn’t have enough money to pay for our groceries (it was a Sunday. You were wearing your church heels. You looked impeccable as always. I was wearing white stockings. How you never smudged your creamy pink lipstick that found its way into the creases of your lips was always a small wonder to me). You, you, you left me standing next to our trolley filled with bags of food that would last us for the four weeks of the month. Went home which was twenty minutes away from the shopping mall to get dad’s credit card because you did not have enough money on your own or salary had not been paid into yours yet. Vincent, my cousin who was staying with us because he was doing a bridging course at the local college who was older than me, more mature than me, turned his head, and walked away from me. He ignored my plaintive stare. And I wish he had waited with me. That would have been kind of him. But Vincent was never kind to me. Only until he found the sunny road of having a spouse, raising two kids of his own. Did he buy his Indian wife flowers, expensive perfume? Did his son and his daughter know that at night he found himself engrossed by erotica, downloading it off the internet, that and violent pornography too. I guess that’s what every man does. Find women electric. When do they first become aware of that? That desire.

Like the desire I feel not when I’m their company, but in my dreams. Of course I remember everything. The heat of the day. Dust. That Sunday morning. I remember the cashier smiled a crooked little smile, and I looked away. I remember the young man not much older than my cousin who had put the groceries in the trolley. He did not meet his eyes. Men grow cold as girls grow old, right? Right. Beautiful children are always surrounded by an aura of the mystique of sexuality. Are girls going to grow into being promiscuous or virtuous? Are they going to obtain a degree and change the world around them, or make a man happy, serve his needs, butter his toast, make his breakfast, have children, become unhappy, drink too much of that merlot, or cabernet, and lose their looks no matter how intelligent they are in the beginning? In their formative years. Women do not find romanticism in pornography. They want flowers, and expensive perfume. They want a house, spacious enough for their family to grow, to fill with the heart’s desires. Everything expensive, expensive, you see.

Everything of the best, you see, you see. But I’m easy. I’m your relief lover. I’m your release. I have a natural born killer instinct. My physical body is all you’ll ever want, need, desire. I am your conquest. Although you’ll never know anything about my spiritual poverty, only how insatiable you make me feel. Tender is the night, my darling. We met on a beautiful summer afternoon. It felt like a summer’s day. I wanted to brush your dark hair that framed your features out of your face, out of your eyes. Of course I immediately fell for you, walked by your side, fell in with you, in step with you, kept up with your pace, warmed to your life, to your genuine dignity. You must understand all I felt was gratitude. I stopped thinking about the arrival of death. The wish-fulfilment that I sometimes carry with me in my darkest hours, and thoughts of despair. When it comes in waves, fashioned by cutting through the quiet light I think of you, of us. I watched you very carefully. How you would punctuate your sentences with a hand gesture and all I could think about was that hand on my wrist, or that hand in my hand. All I could think about was that hand on my shoulder, in the small of my back.

All I dreamed about was that hand on the nape of my neck. And that childhood barriers were no more. I became angelic, ethereal, otherworldly, and you were my prize for all the effortless commitment, and refreshing hard work I had put in for all my adult life. That made me feel pure, that washed away all my sins in time. I felt highly favoured. And then there came turning points, the unquiet otherness of revolution, selfhood illumined, and imagination. You began to inspire me. We did not have to speak for hours, or childhood. Thank you. Thank you for everything that you did for me, and most of all, your generosity, for the long hours that we spent in each other’s other company. Thank you for the laughter that you awakened inside of me, and I am elated that I could perhaps in some small, treasured way have done the same for gifted you. Thank you for your talents. For passing on your knowledge, your life experience, your influence to me. For wiping away my invisible tears, my rain, and my moods that were like a season of bad weather, for your inspiration, and everything that composed itself around that landscapes of my picturesque happiness. I know who you are now.

Some days the negativity is still there. I know that that will always be so. It’s a fact of life. But the silver lining is also a fact of life. Golden, golden. Always golden, like my glorious notebook. There is nothing that I can do about that, and there is a succession of men in a never-ending line. I know they will never stay for an indefinite period in my life, but they will teach me for as long as they can all they know about the world around them. They will accept me for who am I in the role that I decide to play while I am in their company. The petulant child, the docile girl, the gamine adolescent, or the adult woman in her thirties who now accepts her infertility, her education, and her culture as only she can. On her own terms. She will call it self-control, order, and the blurred lines that veil all the legalities in between. It is not that I want to forget the decisions I made in my early twenties, it is not that I want to forget my depression, it is not that I want to forget about my the chosen field of my career, my choices, whether they were the right life choices, whether promiscuity is a lifestyle, or phase, or why it comes more naturally to some women than it does to others. Fact remains. I remember.

Always will. Goes without saying. What more can I say, offer as proof for my life, for my love, for my desire, for my willingness to surrender, and permitting myself to life, love, desire, and willingness? And now it comes down to this. Yes, I was always going to come around to this. I know why I had to meet you. Both of you. I’ve accepted what you had to teach me, and this is the time for me to move forward. You are no longer my possessions. My Keats and my Shakespeare. I know why we will never meet again. But I have accepted that now. Why I had to dissolve in that euphoric happiness, and let my spirit be cleansed by it. It’s all coming back to me now with so much intense clarity of thought. The romanticism is coming back to me. I am wiser now. Shelved that day on the beach into memory. A past that is now dead to me. But the both of you. All of you will never be dead to me. Wise thoughts. Annihilating wisdom. She did not love me, my mum, but you did. She did not desire any part of me, like the both of you did. One in an introverted, old-fashioned, gentlemanly-like predisposition, and the other madly. I don’t think of you as ancient.

I never thought of you as an old man (perhaps shy when you made your intentions known, what you really were after in the end, I didn’t understand, let me explain why, or have explained to the best of my ability here in this story, only it is not a story. For surely you can read between the lines. Read that I am writing to reach you. Perhaps one day you will get this), only older, wiser, much more advanced than I was. Your skin was only a fabric. You annihilate that day on the beach. Everything negative from my childhood. The lack of mother-love. Her lack of desiring of me as a child, adolescent, and young adult. Conversation with me as an adult woman filled her own needs, and desires. You are my turning point. You are the inspiration, the fluid escape behind the poetry that I write, and send out into the universe. You are my light. My Southern cross. You are my lighthouse. ‘You reduced me to a thing’ constructed of an inter-dependant psychological framework. The room that I go to to escape from the rest of the world’s magic, when I want to be alone, or when I want to write. Separate myself from the predetermined original, and cast myself out into the spiritual world.

I had to become the otherworldly, ethereal feminine instead of just existing in the realities of this world. I grow into a shamanic Cinderella in that otherness world, grow attachment to my writing rituals once again. Grow attachment to the invisible. There is a new man in my life. There will always be a new man in my life. I can’t summon up love, adopt it, or yet make the proper adjustments yet. Perhaps this time I will not destroy what has been given to me by God. You are my manual. You are my survival guide. I must believe now that another man will take your place, and that I will love again, but this time this love, the romanticism that will take place will be different, and once again I will feel safe. And this man will be a sage. This man will be a scribe. This man will be an artist. This man will do a great many things in his lifetime, and I will be by his side as he builds his kingdom, empire after empire (so this is why we had to meet. This is why I have to feel a succession of deaths after I write something, put it away before I send it out into the world, like a shaman’s smoke signals. This is why I had to desire you, feel the pain of the mind acutely, and feel anchored by sensitivity.

And love, and the humiliation, the ardour, the embarrassment, the shame, the blessed abundance of wisdom that comes with it all. With wanting it all. If the glove fits. And most of all the measure of it all. Perhaps the next man will be a poet. Rhyming the cosmos telepathically with his eye to the telescope to every star in the fabric of the universe. Will it be under his self-control? Will it make him alert to his innerness, his humanity, humility, his own shimmering depression, and attempt at greatness, or accomplishing great things? You can talk, and talk, and talk about your empire, and the empires you want to conquer, and the fact that you want to go on to build a kingdom. I’ll be quiet. Rest my head against your shoulder, sit next to you, be your pretty woman if that’s what it takes. Go down, down, down to the depths of your despair, your moments of humiliation (not mine), of utter desolation (yours not mine), and I will finger that sacred gold band as if it belonged to me. Imagine all kinds of things (this is what makes me a dangerous woman. This is why I will never be yours for long). Can you imagine all the difficulties of a mental illness? How I will threaten your world, your livelihood?

Instead let me imagine the pure light of the angelic off your face, and learn to erase it from memory. Let me erase the shine of it off your face dearest until it is once more like a blank slate. I’ll imagine that white wedding lace, the happiest day of my life that belonged to me and you, our union before God, in front of guests in the church where our children will be baptised, what do you say to that? Cat got your tongue? Are you strong enough to remain by my side, to be my man, to take me on, that and the illness? Stories are meant for books, for the literary establishment, for publishers and editors. Despair is meant for tortured poets. I can act to death, sometimes with a little success. I can produce many, many wonderful things with my female intuition, and my feminine understanding, and sensitivity, swap recipes, torture spices in the kitchen, wipe down counter tops with smiling finesse, but you will never see that side of me unfortunately for long. Soon I will take to my bed. I need my rest. So do the voices that rain down on my parade, rain down on me like coins in the metro (Ezra Pound’s metro). And I will go from Alba to Orlando, the face of love to camping out in a mysterious desert in the wilderness surrounded by shrub, and heatwaves. So this is it then for me. Time to say adieu.

Time for me to go from happy go lucky to frustrated. It can take me hours to do menial chores, or not to do them at all. Parting lover is such sweet sorrow, but like everything I do it damn well. I impress as I move from the world of the ordinary mundane, the ordinary madness, to the world of very real, very exquisite madness. I need books. What you don’t understand is I need my books. Without them to be quite honest I feel quite lost, don’t have the energy to take a shower, wash my hair, and brush the tangles out of it. I need information. Anything will do. Take this shroud away from me. The darkness. The negativity. The depravity. Give me up instead to purity. I don’t know why it’s not making any sense to you when it makes perfect sense to me. I need plenty of them. I need them around me. Covet them. I need them within reach. Need to make sense of the words. I need to find something to do. To fill up my personal space, the hours in the hospital, from keeping me from going bored, or high, or low. Depressed that I cannot keep you, have you, consume you at any time or hour of the day. And in my writing the highs, and lows shows. There is no more you therefore there is no more inspiration.

There is no more ardour. Once childhood governed me, like that day on the beach with my mother always governs me. She’s dancing away from me, out of my reach. And I’m dying a fate worse than death. Doesn’t every child who is at first vaguely away of the lack of mother-love? I’m always rewinding that death cassette. And I dance too slowly to the music. I can never catch up to elegant her. Although I wish that the two of us could be watching television together right now. Though I’d be reading (engrossed in a novel), and you’d be watching the World Cup. But the reality of the situation is that you probably are. And the woman in your life is your wife. Confess. Confess, I hiss. You will not be under any obligation to be there, from relapse to recovery, although I would want that very much. But I would want you to know that without me telling you. Do you worry for me, darling? Darling, well don’t. I don’t want your pity. There is no remedy for it anyway. No remedy for this chronic illness. Electricity and I go good together. We’re perfect for each other. It cuts right through like a blade. You put that blade against my wrist and what else do you but put pressure on it. Blood divine.

Oh, blood divine.

Adolescent Girls

‘He says you smell like crushed pineapple and coconut oil.’
‘Is that a good sign?’
She nodded her head carefully making sure she was understood.
‘He says he wants to make out with you.’
‘Oh really.’ She blushes but you can see that it makes her happy.
‘So?’
‘So, do you want to?’
‘Want to what?’
‘Stupid girl. Do you want to go and make out with him in the woodshed?’
‘I don’t know. Do you think he respects me?’
‘Why do you ask that? It’s not about respect. Don’t you want to be popular? Don’t you want to be my rival?’ Elizabeth turns her head to hide the smile on her face.

I’m sure it’s cold in the woodshed. Already it sends chills down my spine. Elizabeth is popular. Elizabeth doesn’t care what anybody thinks about her. She drinks and she smokes. I am her friend. I don’t know why she likes me. Seems to have accepted me. To me there is a silent threat in the brave that go ballooning, the family tucking into the potato salad at the funeral, expressions from a family picnic in childhood, from memory and desire a cook for all seasons from childhood, and that roast in the oven with its juices running dry. The triptych expressions of a modern day Picasso. It is all a feast of vertigo to wash away my sins. I hear voices.

I have heard them since childhood. They came out of the closet at night like vampires. Dancing like mad at the bottom of my bed. Chattering away like hummingbirds. They come out from under my bed. They are armchair travellers in their private self-worlds. Those ghost people have wings. They have an angelic shine to them. They breathe in ice. I am the experimental nation. The boy can’t see. He doesn’t have a third eye. He’s handsome. He drinks and smokes too. When the others come for me I have different personalities. I’m obsessed with the supernatural, reincarnation, illusion and imagination. But I’m also obsessed with celebrities, swimming, Egyptology, genius, philosophy and couples.

‘But what’s it really like?’ she began to whimper.
‘What’s it like?’ Elizabeth repeated with a snort and not for the first time I wonder why we’re friends. Is it only because she sometimes copies down my homework for class. Is it only because I am cleverer than her by far.
‘Okay this is what you do. Pretend he’s like a vampire going in for the kill. Why’re you such a scared cat now all of a sudden? Don’t you want to do this?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Look. It’s not that hard. He’ll perhaps hold your arms down, sink his teeth into your neck and all you have to do is perhaps moan a little kind of like you’re enjoying it. That’s all you have to do. It’s not history or calculus. It is really not that hard.’
‘But why me?’ Elizabeth just rolled her eyes.
‘Because you look white and talk posh, Coconut.’ Was Elizabeth’s reply. And then she realised that she could back out of it if she wanted too.

I wear the shroud of troubled and illness well. Assia Wevill little earthquakes shooting off inside her heart. Assia Wevill little earthquakes shooting off inside her mouth. The perspiration glistened on her skin. She certainly never seemed wasted on anything other than the otherworldly. Sylvia. Syliva. I will scream I promise I will if I ever hear that name again. I can hear her breathing down my neck. I can smell the gas. Can’t feel her pulse. I am letting her go, surrendering her to night land. For isn’t night time, and the dark where she belongs with her head filled with the elegant math of night time and dark. I always feel dissatisfied with my writing as if I have never done enough. And Ted looks at me as if he knows better. Lift your head. Arch your back. As if that is all I can do. Look perfect on his arm. Flirt and flit. You don’t talk English proper but that’s okay you were a beautiful child who grew up into a beautiful woman. But I want to tell them that I have news for them beauty does not last forever.

Housebound cooking and cleaning like mad and looking after his children. Teaching them German. Death becomes you. They all stand around him. They all smile and nod. I wonder what it will be like to sleep with his doppelganger who will probably have half of his intelligence, his wit and charisma. Ted’s poetry reminded me of how vital our humanity is to us. And every day he makes promises he will never keep. He tells me that the bruises will go away. But I know better. I know they will never go away. And what I say goes. And the bruises will never go away. There I said it a second time and you can’t make me take it back. I didn’t know who I was on my way to seduce when we went to Devon. Strange as it may seem now. I didn’t ask myself beforehand, make notes in my journal that I was going to seduce Ted Hughes the future Poet Laureate. Luncheon of meat and potatoes again. My lunch of blood. How I wished I would never have to cook another meal for Ted’s father again.

So inglorious of everything I said and did. Ted and I would just have to look at each other and he would say something, do anything. It was almost as if she was there in the room with us. Spying on us. All suicides go to heaven. They’re on a heavenly course. Navigating the silver linings of clouds. Wet hair smelling of driftwood. Feet finding footholds at the bottom of the lake. Sinking fast. Swim seraphim. Swim you modern day Sappho. You phoenix, you but you refuse to rise out of the ashes. Where’s your spirit quiet little contemporary, you funny little stranger you? Are you commandeering bliss? Stoker’s Dracula is hideously obscured by history. After that all the men that I met in my life seemed severely damaged to me as if I could see the childhood trauma on their fingertips. Fashioned after Stoker’s Dracula. Every one of them. Their wives were no longer thin, gamine brides awash in the illuminating glow of newlywed radiance.

Do not go in there. The voice said to no one in particular. You will be skinned alive. But I don’t know that voice. It is not familiar to me so I don’t pay attention to it. I also do not move from where I am standing. I am not yet a woman. I am not yet Orlando. I am not yet Lady Lazarus. If I go in there I will become a vampire. I will become a female version of whatever is in the woodshed. I don’t want to play this game anymore. The boys leave my sister and me alone. We are left standing on the periphery. We’re interlopers.

‘Don’t you want to see what’s in there?’ I ask my sister tugging on her arm. She’s ignoring me. Something else has torn her interest from me. So I turn back with her to follow her home.

There’s a loss that comes with breathing. But the stranger in the ghost house has no voice. He does not speak of self-help, a shelf-life and a double life, red dust, dead parakeets, sweat running down his wife’s back, the madness and despair of Liberace. Something is unanchored yet still beautifully functions. Something is productive. It is called family and the awareness of coming home, a flag was planted here in the South’s wilderness where a genocide took place, there’s whisky in a glass. There are books that are a sanctuary. An Eric Clapton record is playing. The red dust of this county does not speak of self-help. There is a suicide. A death in a river. And the police come. The police come in the middle of the night. Like the detectives in plainclothes that came to my house in the middle of the night when my brother took a knife and stabbed my father. Nothing romantic about it. About the onslaught of death, of it catching up to you.

Like a thief in the night, a cat burglar, a cat drowning in a bag with her kittens, that is how I felt as if I was a drowning visitor. I saw guns that night I led a double life. I pretended I did not see or hear anything and inside I was numb. When I saw my father’s blood. It had an oppressive quality. Like everything in my life so far. The drugs refused to work. So I took more and more of them slept all day and all night. The double life of the romantic jasmine. It lives and it dies and it lives and it dies. I can talk and talk and talk and no one will be listening. Down the winter road I came across men who stare at goats. Men who were good dancers. Men who were good actors, some were heavy drinkers in my mind, and philanthropists. The knife was sharp. It struck air again and again and again. And then is was anchored in skin. I didn’t scream. I was a Scout’s knot. Ran in my sandals to the neighbour’s house as fast as my feet could carry me. Outside the air felt cool as rain.

How I wished it had rained? But there was no rain that night and they called the police. Down that winter road there’s no romance in death, hair and flesh coming loose. And still daddy was left standing, unafraid. My brother was prancing around all of us, smirking, smiling. With cunning deceit, high he was having his cake and eating it too. Pinned daddy to the bed with his arms like shark teeth. My mother had ran away in the dark. I was left with notes, a stem and a route to follow. A flowering bleeding heart making waves, beating fast. It was Christmas. It was Christmas. But there were no presents. To hell with it if I do not ever fall in love. It is a case of much ado about nothing. I have lost my mind and recuperated in hospitals. Once again become anchored to reality in recovery. I do not have a brother and I do not have a sister. I do not have a mother and I do not have a father. They live their own lives, so they amuse themselves. While I am kept sheltered in Pandora’s Box.

It is a box filled with romantic villagers. It is a box of my own making. What a comfort they are to me. I am an orphan on Okri’s famished road. I am Nabokov’s and Kubrick’s Lolita. And soon I will be forgotten like breath. The moveable feast of sex, romance and death. Damaged, damaged, damaged but I must not speak of it. It will be the death of me and I must live a while longer, sit on my throne, collect bones like arrows that fall from the sky. I must collect bones like dust because curiosity has killed me but I have nine extraordinary lives. I am left smiling like the Cheshire cat. This is the brother who I am supposed to love. I do not admire him anymore. I feel nothing for him. When I remember that night from hell. If he had a gun we all would be dead. I cut up the onion, seduced by its layers. And I cry for what has been lost, gems every one. My youth, my youth, my youth and there is no ring no ring on my finger, all those chronic wasted years. Now he is Lucifer manning.

The gate to the wards of hell. My boy what has become of you? Water. The secrets that we keep are committed to memory. They’re lessons in the needs of people around us, a lesson in obedience, sometimes even wisdom. And it takes bold work for us to realise that the future is bright when sometimes we are challenged, when we have to mine glory. And make a ceremony out of it. There are profound ingredients that goes into making a spaghetti bolognaise. Family is of course the first priority. Next the butcher, mint from the garden and limes for the cocktails. Footsteps on the stairs and laughter scribbling in the air. With the advent of avocados and mangoes perhaps they were the first fruits. Food for thought in the Garden of Eden even before Eve was made from Adam’s rib via the maturation of a human soul and a vortex in flux. Young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I cannot live in water forever. My mother is outside in her garden working in the hard ground of winter dragging rose bush after perfumed rose bush. One side of the house a vegetable garden, the other filled with the seductive theory of fruit trees.

And then as if woken up from a dream the day begins.