Look At Me

I miss you most when I am most alone with my innermost thoughts. When I am walking, perhaps talking to another student at the college. My innermost thoughts are just dreams, waking memories. I turn to look for you and then I chastise myself because you are never there. I turn to look for you hard sometimes in a passing embrace between a couple or perhaps when I see someone who looks like you from afar. A fleeting gesture of romance – passé and after all your hard work that was all that you achieved in the end. The solution was love or what you imagined it to be. Your nose had been caught often in a book. Now when we pass each other we both stare coolly ahead, oblivious to the world at large, to each other’s past impassioned pleas, imagined infidelities and shielded by an impenetrable gaze.

Professor Mahola was startled out of his reverie by a passing student’s greeting.

A simple remainder of what has passed – what is left behind is this: a self-righteous person who is lovelorn, a Prima Donna who aspires to lead both a hermetic life and to be incredulously pious. Lecherous prig, pig, leech. She screeched a thousand, a hundred murderous, damning insults in her head but nothing, nothing can calm, can dull the quandary that she found herself in. He remembered her slipping into something slinky. The negligee felt, soft and cool against his skin as she lay beside him in the bed. The fabric was silky, slinky and smooth. No longer the teen screaming drama queen but the sordid little drama queen. You had the evening perfectly prepared. You had lectured yourself over and over how to catch your professor’s eye and now you had the perfect opportunity to be the elegant hostess.

She watched the daytime dramas after her lectures; talk shows and she taped any show that she missed. When she took her bath at night or stood in the shower she imagined that she could see into and through her body at the democracy of the veins. The past sometimes left fingerprints for future reference.

She was no longer a girl who was demure and docile in the presence of the opposite sex but a woman who was alluring and feminine. Whose walk was sensuous, whose body was curved and talk light hearted, conversation intelligent.

The geometric patterns of light at play on the leaves reminded her of the cufflinks on his sleeve as he prepared to leave to a literary awards ceremony. With a backward glance he would say, “I promise I won’t be back too late.”

Sumaya Naidoo’s upbringing had taught her that discretion was the better part of valour. Professor Mahola, of the English Literature department at the University of Port Elizabeth seemed perfect and she was the partner who seemed less than perfect – flawed. She watched him sleep and wondered what the language of love was; picture perfect or alchemic.

She wondered why she hadn’t noticed his haggardness (which she had mistaken for rugged handsomeness), his dark, black hair, slightly curling and greying at the edges, lean frame, his hubris, turkey neck, his indifference towards what she championed for or whether or not her preference for that evening’s meal was the mundane or for the exotic. He didn’t like lipstick. He dismissed it as hedonistic. A streak of red across her lips always signalled emergency. Kohl-rimmed eyes, perfume, teeth stained yellow, eyes bloodshot the morning after promiscuity. Her mood swings signalled depression and emotional instability.

Perhaps that is why in retrospect he had chosen her out of all the girls in the class. She was intelligent, she did not smoke or drink, frequent bars, nightclubs, and she was attractive but also insecure.

He always disregarded her impertinence, rudeness, cruelty and her standoffishness, arrogance and recklessness as immaturity in class when she aggressively debated. Once they had met in a supermarket aisle and they briefly nodded to each other. He remembered her although then she seemed devoid of sexuality. What she was wearing and wore to class never betrayed her sensuality; her mouth was provocative and sensual. After that meeting they spoke after class, on the telephone, at a film festival and they emailed each other. He had brown eyes, dark hair and he was taller than her. She had always thought that was romantic like Lord Byron – a knight in shining armour. She excelled at fidelity, secrecy, privacy, the ownership of both persuasion and possession and so she thought, guarding her rights against the whispered voices that say, he is married you know and standing up for her self. He was married. He was divorced now. His wife had remarried and moved abroad with their two young sons.

Her arms, her back, the back of her legs and her neck were moth brown like driftwood. She proofread the book he was working on as extra credit. She was his best student. They lived in harmony unlike his married friends, he confided in her and the one friend he had who was separated.

She wondered sometimes if it was appropriate that he told her since some of them worked at the university but then she dismissed it, thinking that he had probably told his male friends about her. Did that make her a mistress, a harlot? When he started talking about his children for the nth time she finally began to ask herself divorce or denial?

There were the ones who really hurt. There were names that belonged in a little black book of secrets, misery, heartbreak, lies and loss.

Sweet talk. Sweet nothings. He runs his fingers up her spine. If this was happiness then on some days it felt as if she had died and gone to heaven.

You have made me so happy, she said but he could not bring himself to say the same words, even though he felt the same. Slowly as he realised before her that day by day they were no longer in sync. They were moving out of reach. He was the first, he realised, in a line, a succession.

Soon she will find him tiresome. Handsome! He scoffed. There is a vacancy and urgency behind her eyes. She was an amalgamation of the woman of his dreams or as close as he could come at this age. Wouldn’t that intimidate anyone? He would hold her hand, charming, old school, old fashioned. Whenever they watched television he reached for her hand and they would sit with their fingers intertwined. Now when she came into the room and took up her seat at the back of the class he realised she was beautiful. Striking. Crikey!

Gone were the baggy clothes, the extra pounds mysteriously disappeared and the dark circles under her eyes. The unsmiling, serious student, articulate and domineering whenever her intelligence materialised. She laughs and embraces people non-discriminately on the campus.

He would notice that others were beginning to notice too – the male students clamoured around her outside of class and the female students – Amazons from another time zone – are attracted to her for different reasons.

She is formidable. Intense. Intensity has been replaced by wisdom, worldly laissez faire sophistication.

He would take charge. End the affair. Say it was for the best. He has his male pride.

In the beginning he made risotto, chicken tetrazzini. Everything was always very fancy, to impress and he was always going out of his way to show off his experience in the kitchen.

First he admonished her and then he reminded her. “Take care of yourself.” She always promised she would. She had subsisted on comfort food, macaroni and cheese, lots of pasta and fattening sauces, greasy pizza, fried chicken, roast chicken, mashed potato, spaghetti, potato salad, cheese (feta and cheddar) and creamy apple pie.

Later that evening he looks taken aback when she puts her arms around his neck and stands on tiptoe, kisses his cheek. He smiles. “What? What? I read a lot. I watch a lot of films. In the bedroom she confesses quietly that it is her first time. Ambitious would sum up her academic career in one word. How could he have missed that on the first day of the new semester as she floated into his class with a slipstream of other students? He had taken her for a dilettante. Everything had come too easy for her.

He is excited by her ideas, her impressions on everything; they debated about everything whether they were in his office working together or in his bedroom. He convinced himself perhaps this time it was different. She was older in more ways than one – than the others – even though she was younger than them and more emotionally mature and grounded. He likes the way she fusses around him to make sure that he is comfortable. She has decorated her own place – a flat where she lives alone – with flair. He approves. He catches her off guard when he kisses her on the mouth. He anticipates reproach but none is forthcoming. He kisses her forehead. He kisses her lips and only then does she withdraw from his embrace. He watches her with intelligence. Her pose, her extroversion that is uncharacteristic of her. He reads her external behaviour and her non-verbal cues like a scientist. She is forward (pretence) and too trusting of his practised and elegant advances but he finds her electrifying.

Her face unsmiling. She looks like a goddess. She is innocent. “How should I wear my hair for class? Up or down? Which do you prefer?” He would prefer down but he is noncommittal even though he can see it is important to her. When she wears her hair down it frames her face. It had been shorter at the beginning of the year like a pixie cut but another boyfriend who she was no longer seeing asked her to grow it back. Later that evening as they lay side by side there is a new desire, a new fire in her eyes. To forego discretion as he had once put it so succinctly one evening would mean that a woman is no better than a common whore.

What do you think inspires home wreckers and misanthropes? Prostitutes bill sex as a means to an end, he continued while he wondering what exactly was he flailing at.

She said nothing in her defence, unsmiling, lips pursed in a moue. She wondered just how quickly she could get rid of him. She had been running and he had been waiting outside her flat in his car for her. Her feet hurt and she was tired. Volunteering had taken up all of her free time and she was thinking of doing a diploma in management the following year but only if she had the spare time. He was jealous, he was cold, he was snivelling and she felt irritated, annoyed even and she felt she had every right to be. This is what men do. Men are weak. When they are uncharitable, malign your character and accuse you of unimaginable sins.

She went into the kitchenette for a glass of water, came back into the sitting room and sat down on the sofa. He was smoking. We were both consenting adults. I think you should leave now. She decided that was what she was going to say and leave it at that. She had enough credits in his class to pass and it was only a few more weeks until the exams and she would leave the campus and find a new place to stay or decide whether or not she wanted to go home for Christmas.

“I am not a monster. It would be very cunning of you to lay a charge of sexual harassment against me. To say that I raped you.” It was his reputation and tenure at stake here so he had to cover all his bases.

He had expected histrionics. Perhaps he should not have come at all. Her demeanour had frightened him when he left. Her face was blank. What people don’t understand, she said time and time over and over again to herself, misanthropes are incapable of love. She was strong and he was weak. Perhaps all men who were brilliant, who were educated, cultured at some indecipherable turning point in their lives were misogynists.

If he had hurt her, it didn’t mean she would love him any less. Like all the rest he would go unequivocally into her little black book. Silly men! Men like boys, women like girls. Sometimes she would cry herself to sleep when she watched orphans, refugee camps on television, children who were soldiers in war-torn African countries or the violent backlash between activists and the police in protest marches across the globe.

The next day his beautiful, independent and wise protégé was in class. She was alone in the world. She didn’t have anyone. The protagonist in the story she had written was estranged from her family because she had a mental illness. He tried to catch her eye and to imagine what she was thinking or what she was feeling. He felt like kicking himself. A glimpse was all he was longing for. But not once as he read the story she had written aloud to the class did she look up. When the bell rang, she was the first out the door.

So it went on for the rest of the term. He was embarrassed and mortified at what he had said and alluded to in a moment of supreme weakness.

He saw her at the track one day and watched her from afar as she stretched her limbs, jogged on the spot, ran up and down the bleachers. He noticed that she looked thinner. Her face haggard and her face looked tired; as if she was carried the weight of the world or the wars of the world on her shoulders. She sat down and took a gulp of what he presumes to be a sports drink. Those things were filled with electrolytes so he supposed they were good for her. She hunched over to tie what he assumed was her lace but then he noticed that her shoulders were trembling. She was crying. Tears, perspiration, moisture blended together.

She wiped her tears away with her sleeve and he realised she was just a child. Everything had been pretence. She acted older, she assuaged his insecurities about his teaching abilities, she was gifted, talented and that went without saying. She assumed responsibility when she didn’t have to. What he remembered most of all was that to her their relationship had never been a game. Mind games. She had never posed being sultry or that their lovemaking was a thrill, always spoke respectfully of his wife and she never asked him questions about the divorce or why didn’t he see his children more often instead of spending time with her. She understood things about him that he could never put into words, with one look; with one gesture they could, as odd as it sounded almost telepathically communicate. What had he described her as being? Formidable. She was fashioning a life for herself, a conjugal love, a husband who was a friend, gentle teacher, mentor, educated, clever and a best friend who would also protect her. They would represent the family she always wanted. He could see that now clear as day why now she had always loved making him smile. She mistook his seriousness for grumpiness.
It had all been an act. He walked slowly to his car, dragging his heels.

Oh, God, he asked himself. Forgive me, what have I done?

Just like people say when something bad has happened and they call an emergency service.

The Life of a Bohemian

Pale are the ripples that curl on top of these drinks we are having. Mine tastes like dark chocolate (the expensive kind you can only get at specific shops). We’re sitting outside the benches of a restaurant, not rushing to get anywhere. I want to be saturated by you, launched into oblivion. Paul walks by and waves. I ignore him but you don’t. You wave back. I feel something curl up inside of me and dive into a small nothingness.

You’re on the phone talking to someone about ‘the New York people’. Good heavens, how small I feel. I feel as small as the cup they have brought my coffee in. I hate this coffee but I drink it anyway. I wished I had ordered something I really would have enjoyed like a milkshake or ice cream. But that’s what girls do in high school when they go out with their friends over the weekend, not when you go out with a man much older than you.

Next to you I want to seem more grown up. I don’t know what the dos and don’ts are yet of this relationship. I know Paul does not like me. I am not his type of girl but then I am not your type of girl too and I have no idea why you are wasting your time on me. A chill runs through me, down my spine. I am itching to leave, to want to talk to you. Your telephone call is making me become hysterical.

Who on earth are these ‘New York people’ and what do you have in common with them, why are you meeting up with them for lunch, why don’t you take me out for lunch instead, what does this mean for your career; is there a promotion in the offing? Of course I forget to ask you about all of this later on when we’re finally alone and as it ends up I discover you’re not much of a talker, you’re not funny, you’re different in a special kind of way from anyone I’ve ever met. The side I see is the side of the dark horse. I call you up all the time. I have not learnt yet that men can sense your desperation at getting their attention. You’re either with him, your son, you won’t even tell me his name, or you did and I’ve forgotten but that is what the state of our relationship means to you. It is purely physical. It is based on me not opening my mouth when I strongly dislike something you have done or said. For example when you raise your voice to me and when you’ve become tired of me and drop me off in the middle of the night racing off to get home to tuck him in and say goodnight. I see red. When we eat it is always catered food from a shoot or from the production house where you work.

I did so many things wrong. So many things I can’t take back. Have you built your empire yet, my experiment? Everything, everything was an experiment. I had to learn how to eat in front of a man, brush crumbs, specks of food off my chest in a pretty way, all ladylike. I had to learn how to dress myself in the dark when the entire planet was pitch black. I wanted to see how you looked at women my age through your eyes. Did you find them magical? I know you did not find me magical for long. I was too young and I was silly, naive. I would say stupid things not to be mean, petty or nasty or jealous but just because it was in the heat of the history of the moment. I didn’t feel I was growing older with you. I felt as if I was growing younger and younger. There were days when I played the ‘good girl’ and days when I didn’t.

I gave you my blood as we lay side by side, your body was cool (a winter tree in the Balkans), my face pale, drained to the colour of water. Your eyes are black circles and for now, at least, it is my property, the last frontier where I care about every word. Lying here, I give you ‘your space’. Your voice is Tolstoy’s, Hemingway’s, Updike’s, Styron’s, Mcewan’s, Greene’s, Fugard’s, Kundera’s, Rilke’s while I am the incarnate of Radcliffe Hall crossing both genders effortlessly. You betray nothing. There is a small boy in the picture but you don’t introduce him to me. Obsessions are unhealthy creatures. They make you mentally ill, emotionally unstable; leave you with a chemistry of deep sadness in your life. I have my writing. It keeps me from disintegrating into fractions. I should stop now before I begin to make myself cry.

In the early hours of the morning everything you say is said slowly. Words no longer hold any meaning to them.

In my dreams I would walk on hot, shouts of needy blue air, driftwood that came from the ocean bed, white bones as white as white writing, and musings. I made Johannesburg my temporary home. I had known no love like this before. The love of a city’s life, its motions, its vibrant pulse, its people and its daily sacrifice of life in muti murders, stabbings, assaults, cars, trucks and taxis piled up on the highway, accidents that could have been avoided if the driver had not fallen asleep at the wheel or speeded. There was always meat being cooked in the city. Restaurants set up just with a chair and table on the pavement while pap was being stirred and a stew was being cooked, here next to the skyline. There was never any shortage of inspiration. I could not stand people with all their grassroots foibles and they could not stand me, me, the intellectual.

I didn’t really believe or want to believe in love. I had seen nothing of it growing up, only glassy-eyed semblances of it that drove me stir-crazy as a child, stir-crazy as a young woman, so much so that I landed in a clinic in Port Elizabeth. And then just as this stir-craziness would seem to settle I would land up in another phase, I would become infatuated with melancholy, what do they call it now, depression and a sickening sadness that seeped into my body right down to my bones, soaking, saturating everything I touched. There would come periods of my life that I would find difficulty explaining away in recovery. But how would you have known this. There was no one around from my previous life, thank God, to tell you this.

Women around me became still. Composed in light, iced me out, with one stroke, with words or none, they could kill. They were mute monuments with mouths that had hard, angry lines. In the future, a time far off from the time of light, in a dry spell, in a passage of darkness then only would they embrace me. Women are emotional and jealous over little nothings, painting red over blue feelings, feeling triumphant when they have humiliated or made someone feel pitiful, pathetic. Women are omnipotent like that, that’s where they get there pillars of strength from. From putting other, younger, more or less vulnerable women down, bringing them down to earth, shoving dirt and filth and rubbish into their gaping, fishy mouths, the dead abstract, the ethereal in their heads. Because it was done to them, now they do it to others.

You, the man in my life, made me cry. When I tried to eat everything tasted like paper. I could not keep anything down so I stopped forcing myself to eat. I drank water and coffee, ate fruit. But everything tasted bitter. I willed myself to stop but could not. How could I know back then it was all a part of growing up? Weeping would come after the scorched earth systems of the sunset. Instead tongues are silenced permanently and one is left to wonder where the dead goes when they die. The death trap sucks your breath away. Perhaps fatally I wanted to insert too much of myself in you, that unseen intellectual side of me that was as cold as a frozen lake. Lipstick on a the body of a dead woman in an open casket, even in death she must be made to look attractive, lovely, even when she can no longer look you in the eye and smile or heaven forbid, flirt. And yet you taught me so much about everything It hurt when you squeezed the truth out of me, when you mocked me, when you scolded me like an errant child, told me to shut up, stop screaming, stop being so loud. You said it so fiercely, with such force that I immediately did what you asked me to and felt smaller in your prescence, young but then I was young, I was a girl. You were grown up. We were a wrong fit from the start. More than a decade between us with nothing in common to keep us glued together in conversation, in laughter; it was work, hard, disciplined work (that was what we were committed to together). Without it we would drift apart, fall into discontent, feel disconnected. I would give habitation to speechlessness and you to your pride (as we already know pride and the knife-edge of arrogance comes before a fall).

Where are you now, gone long into history? No longer a satellite orbiting my world, my planet, are you far flung into the galaxy, into Hawking’s A Brief History of Time? Our time together was not so brief. We lasted a year and then I was ‘widowed’. I’m thankful now for the words you drilled inside my head, I wasn’t then. I showered you with gifts, there were books, old films I thought you’d appreciate. You thought you didn’t have to make much of an effort. I was just a friend with benefits. Listen, becoming a woman means much more than learning about ‘the birds and the bees’, the rub, the stain of love, the infatuation of a college girl’s crush, feminism, how women’s self-esteem evolved in Gloria Steinem’s ‘Revolution from within’ and menstruation but I gathered that when you spent time with me, it was like a vapour. There was no absolute reason for you to listen to me, even now when we have nothing in common.

There were days when I wanted to scream with the roar of a lioness. Sounds coming from deep inside of me that were unfamiliar yet relevant, peeling and unpeeling from the back of my throat in the night air, but it failed in some trivial manner and didn’t balk at your indifference to me. There were nights when nothing was said between the two of us. When my thoughts were grotesque and yet I still couldn’t express myself. Who made me this way, I asked the universe? What God is this, so big on action that speaks louder than words. So big on human beings being attuned into a return to love, that many splendid thing on the one hand and on the other hand a man picks up a rock to smash against another man’s head because of a rumour going around. A rumour of a man who had been sleeping with his wife, and if he had been sober he would have divorced his wife.

A child, who does not know how to swim, drowns in the sea. On the other hand there’s been a murder in a family, paedophiles walk the streets, human bodies are for rent on beds with flowers of urine stains and missing persons with faces that do not rot, grow old, do not receive a burial in a marked grave. No one was charged. There’s a rape with no docket because the victim did not give a statement. There’s an entire family wiped out in a blaze of fire. I knew nothing of this because I was young and delicate, a white swan who thought this life was getting expensive and even when your fingers were greasy from the fish and chips I still thought you were magnificent. Every winter has a guest and that year you were mine. You polished and refined me and I found a splendid freedom in you, in what you did.

When it comes to men I am always left neglected. How can this be the best part of my life when I haven’t yet given the best part of me? You gave nothing while I, a shy animal, a quivering bird gave everything, everything away for free. You drained me of my ordinariness, my pretensions, expelled ice crystals in the language of your body, stimulated fire in my brain, left me to observe you, your cauldron of needs and your arrows of nerves. The stars in your dark eyes were my arrows too except, only my losses were my losses, it split me in two, nothing in the end very masculine about their substance as they melted into the distance.

The Journals of Nabokov’s Lolita if she had become a Writer

Losing pieces of your identity already in childhood.

At the end of every pilgrimage in my childhood, there was a line that was always a painful experience for me in my consciousness growing up and with time its intensity and disillusionment increases. It has taught me that only knowingness and completeness can begin with the path of self-awareness. And now that partnership, reconciliation and compassion in this still divided society on this continent that we live in forces us to grow together and see each other in a more real and accurate light. It is a way of seeing people in communities who live in poverty, the clarity of struggle, the monotony of routine and who are starved of art, poetry, and literature. It is a way of finding themselves poised in an exhilaratingly tender world, but they only hear the lonely sounds of weeping and it has become like a machine. Its mystique strengthens our soul.

All children are pretty.

We can choose to see the landscape we live in as a desert or a paradise but what do the most vulnerable citizens of this planet see it as? We cannot solve the escalating problems of today without imagining and visualising the end results of solutions. Even writing comes with its own mythological totem pole and so we must create new images of our life and background through our stories, the wealth of our collective life experiences. There are still feelings of fear and vulnerability that continually tests us, the philosophy of man, the anatomy of melancholia, our multiple identities, contemporary man and it is a powerful dynamic for any writer and poet to live in today. Life mirrors art and art imitates life in comic, dramatic and alluring ways. What is humanity? It is the frail human bones of the human condition, it is you and I and it is all our stories. The page is only a dead landscape until you fill it up with words and language creating a center of interest. At heart are we still war children?

I lift the immaculate transfer of the mental ropes and the chains (it’s an improvement). It is a only a song of despair from my childhood experience that took me to dark places and saw me cross the lines of society, the borders of rivers of light that traversed the palimpsest of the red columns of my heart. This transfer felt like a magical thing. I went from standing at the edge, to freedom (with all the parts of the machine, a mantle, and all the futile parts of fairytales, making imprints of circles in the sky above a storm, raging insomnia). Something changes when we grow older. People feel alone in different ways as they lay down in darkness, slide into a pose repeatedly; listen to me, pay attention.

Will I leave you guessing at the intensity behind my words? Will you embrace me when I fall, my art, this potent vessel and a poet in her gilded cage, journeying onwards into oblivion? I gesture to the moon and stars and back again, like a memory pinned down in a stream. A mother’s poised flesh, a neck, words that are flying like bats remind me of how quickly love turns to hate. Pale in alluring portraits of smoke and mirrors and the heart grows bitter and cold like a lake, which is when depression and madness collapses in on itself and all hell tends to break loose. The house is falling, falling down around me, like the melody that comes from fingers on a guitar or a flame that has a negative quality to it, more disconnected and fragile. Dazzling is the shock of trauma when you’re in the middle of it.

Don’t put it together for my sake. I melted where my skin touched the skin of water. Under I was more human, bolder yet still lost and cheated. My heart felt like snow, I could sense arteries turning white. What was once a red catalyst bleeding in hushed tones is now Braille, wet and bittersweet, reminding me that there were still guns at every rising of the sun. Don’t put it together for my sake. Whether I wanted them to be there or not, whether I wanted to wake up or not. It is only my reflection that is dead in the water.

Don’t put it together for my sake.

Writers are mostly voyagers with clean perceptions, clarity of vision when faced with the parallel world, elements of the darkest parts of humanity. Good morning, midnight. We hold each other up with the rites of public scrutiny; tell ourselves criticism will be the death of us (what does that mean to the most inexperienced). I want to drown. I want that experience. The experience of being compelled to sacrifice that loveliness of the haunting game of connecting truths to the politician who is at the core of you. No half-life lived for me. Give me a manual for being fragile, so I can disable and correct all the information effortlessly on these cold lines. Let me journal them. Read everything Africa and you will triumph because since childhood you have been an apt pupil pouring your knowledge into a distillate, standing at the edge. If it was bleak, left you with the gift of elation at and memory of the ghost of potatoes and meat on your plate. If you feel darkness in moments of being, if you feel the loss of your ego, it diminishing and that the only possession you will leave this world with is your physical body, then this is a journey you must remain loyal to its cumulative progress. When I don’t eat, when I don’t sleep there’s an intelligence that is frozen solid, given substance in the madness. There’s a reason for everything under the sun. Emancipation always leads to conversation even if it is on the other side of the world.

The question I ask myself most often these days is, what are other writers thinking, examining here, what do their soul’s look like, what is the most poetic/emotive thing to come from their background and what is the most sacred thing to them and about the information they are giving me through their literary world? We’re sitting on millions of years of creation here; art, earth, sky, diamonds, rage, literature, vision, feminism, summer, writers, writers, writers writing. There’s a writer born every second. Most of all we need each other. Good morning, midnight, hour of blue.I find in that still life quiet the writer’s soul longs for, the silence that is like a terrible scar before it marks itself as refuge, it manages itself as an intense feeling of joy, a hunting ritual, a spiritual rite, an extraordinary state of calm in that identity of all identities that is created without borders, joints where there is always a motivating space for beautiful learning.

I often wonder at the family and background, the self-assessment of African writers and think to myself that the voices, male and female will fuse in a sacred contract and their storytelling that will emerge, will emerge (with a word that has become second-nature to me) as a collective. We will prosper, cross that universal threshold together, changing, seizing the spinning web of history, becoming penning confessors of the intimate, commune with the virgin birth of interpretation with the anonymous, the creative myth, gift and the creative impulse falling into whole infinity. Should we be calling ourselves just plain and simple writers? Which is the most authentic? Why should we label ourselves? A home of writers is a profound community, like mind will often meet like mind. A community of writers is a home wherever you find yourself in the world.

Our self-possessed generation writing for the most part out of defiance is making the cause the statement, the platform ‘the waves’. If our muse is wrapped in stone, then so has been deception, identity theory, social and political commentary for, if our soul is the ghost of our spirit then what we have learnt must either be shielded or go underground. That’s the undisclosed beauty of and the brutal violence in mortal thinking that we are always in supply of. This journey is an ancient one, savage and lonely. The pattern of the pensive mechanism attached to the clarity of light is bold in the vision of literary creation and pen-and-watercolour imagination as it is to the dark side. The underpinning alchemy the experimental constructs in the absence of margins and destruction is giving us the clue to the exit, an entreaty to immortality.

Youth has taught me the key to sacrifice. Of where writers of colour will build empires of gold where no one can touch us. I write because I am instructed to and because it is the sum parts of my pilgrimage. It is a song of despair from childhood experience, a hiding place, where I feel alone in different ways, where I speak with my hands, a distillate in a wasteland of rumours of darkness and hard laughter. If I am not writing, then I am not living, my mind is not free, a clown not realising his goal beautifully. It is merely a view of life through a lens where I sometimes feel at the mercy of the inhabitants, a stranger in their strange world, ill from living the image of urban burnout. The road of recovery is hard, toughs you out from inside-out.

Beneath us, the surface is us writers’ always making examinations, hunting the unicorn, the flight, the thread, the accident of the kaleidoscope drowning in us and the life of kismet, dream of velocity, sweetness in the belly. So we become the sun, the stars that shine perfectly and limitless, the footprint, the intact channel, the feathered plumes of love. We become more humane with the aid of the sight of our two eyes, the nervous, sometimes lunatic vision in our mind’s eye. What is the situation? We are the situation. What is the conflict? We are the conflict and both are internal, both have terrifying explanations, both burn and as we follow that light as it bounces off phenomena, we store it or abandon it. We’re Masai-dreaming-philosophical-mode, signs of vertigo showing through, turning people into objects but this is what writers do – we anticipate, we prepare for it, the missing link, the alibi, and the last of the human freedoms, to choose your attitude between history and reliving it.

The life of a female writer is not liberating until she forgoes contact with identity and ego, until it comes down to battle lines drawn between boundary and voice. Until she gives the whole of herself to further study, education, research and her life, her being and soul is governed by that. Until that is a picture of what home means to her. I do not speak for this generation, the scholar, the wife and the mother who is also a writer. People have their own truth and language is still a strange tongue for me. Truth is as if we plant ourselves in a river and so we become enmeshed by it to the point where we cannot tell where we meet it and where we, our live, warm human body ends.

To me, I fear voyeurs, walking around with my life history inside their heads and then there’s me, ever so willing to give it up at a moment’s notice without any hesitation at all. What is wrong with me? What finally defeated me, all of that anger bottled up, fizzing inside of me? Was it the holocaust in childhood that exploded in my face like the freezing cold in winter, while I played in the dirt, played at ‘being mother’ or was it the war veteran inside of me’s damage, rage and brutality, the poet’s inside-out abnormal sensitivity, the black dog of depression, that coveted prize of recovery, pushing by like a pulse, that followed spells of mental illness that came in youth.

On the wings of a poet writing about a prayer for hope: Nothing about youth diminishes, about dying and culture. It is still a shock to the system when it arrives on the scenario, the scene of the volume of sky meeting a child caught in the drift of time. A storm is raging inside my head, deep inside I am a still life, a figure’s reflection glittering. The dead does not speak of trivia. They no longer can bask in the orange disc of the sun with their infinitely perfect bodies, perfect smiles. They have left us to invest in a shroud. Couriered shrouds are as foreign to the inhabitant as the splitting of the atom, population dynamics and the restoration of a refugee’s spirit on childhood dirt.

The female writer speaks in code. Women speak in colour, in structured wavelengths of them, crossing over from thought to speech with poetry written on their walls of their silence, of their honeyed wonderings, their glimpses into the expanding illuminations of flame. If only we did not realise too late that we’re stained from childhood.

The Lonely Mind of the Outsider

Clarissa is fifteen. Hector is a year older. Septimus is two years older than Clarissa is.

The silence was magnificent. In that silence poured rain and perhaps it was seeking shelter as much as she, Clarissa was. Rain. It is purity lit up. A symbol. The veil lifted up. Humanity lit up, lifted up in a way. As cold as ice. Plums stored in the refrigerator. Whatever was stolen is this. Birdsong, footstomping on the stair by children scribbling in the air, the stars survival, the change in climate. There is a map, a voice to everything (even ghost stories, even imagination, even Lolita, she found her voice at the end of it all). Moth speak. Moth dance like the matron.
The unkind matron. The fat, bosomy matron with pillows for lips. Could she not be kind? Could her army of foot soldiers not be kind?

‘I have always wanted to be beautiful and now I have two men who are kind of in love with me. Septimus is protective of me. Hector wants to confide in me. Sometimes I feel like I am kind of a joke between them. Mirror, mirror on the bathroom wall, do I want to be touched? Do I want to play their game after school in Septimus’s sitting room? I cannot believe that anyone can love me the way that Hector loves me. Is it a profound, enriching love or a selfish love? The afternoons are not the real world that I spend in their company. Septimus goes to another school. Septimus is clever and a prefect. He walks around without any doubt that he belongs here. He belongs in this real world.’

Clarissa writes in her journal. I am in love with Hector but Hector is in love with Septimus. Clarissa is the joke. The real world spits me out. It says you do not belong here. All I can do is make an examination of love. Away from the ward in the hospital now. The silence in Clarissa’s bedroom was magnificent. The rain was making spit balls against her windowpane. The cat was sleeping in a foetal position at the bottom of her bed. Hector and Septimus would understand. They would nod their dark heads in sympathy. You felt strange. Of course, you would feel strange. Of course, you would feel estranged from humanity. Youth is a wasteland. Youth is a wilderness. When I look back on my adolescence, I hope I will forget the carrion.

‘I am lovely.’ She told her reflection in the mirror. ‘I am clever. I have all this knowledge. Gosh, what am I of all people going to do with it? Sleep on it. I will sleep on it. They have decided that I am loyal and trustworthy. I will not reveal their secret to the world. I will not say that Hector and Septimus are in love and that they care a great deal for each other. I will not say that Septimus stroked my leg and that I had to try very hard not to flinch as if it was making me uncomfortable. One day I will forget this. One day I will forget how he stroked my leg. How much passion was in that amorous stroke and how gentle Hector was when he kissed me on the lips. After all, it was just a game the three of us were playing after school.’

Clarissa writes in her journal. I cannot decide whom I love best. Hector or Septimus. They are both clever. Talented. One wants to become a pharmacist. The other, a doctor. When Hector is doctor, he says he will deliver babies. Hector will bring life into this world as he brings life to me. They both say I have suffered a trauma. Hector reads me poetry. Hector writes me letters. What am I looking for? I know I am only a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I say sheepishly, ‘Why don’t the two of you walk ahead of me. I will catch up.’ Then they infuriate me. They ignore me. They walk ahead of me. I am jealous. I do not know why but I am jealous. Their heads are together. Hector is leaning towards Septimus. Then I wish I were dead.

‘Goodbye Hector. Goodbye Septimus. Goodbye cruel world. Goodbye matrons and the matron’s bosom. Goodbye fish fingers, cold toast and orange juice. Goodbye pineapple juice in the afternoon after lunch. Goodbye blurred lines of the surreal. Goodbye to Hemingway is a moveable feast. I do not need to go to Paris to figure out that it is a moveable feast. I do not have to drink coffee at a café and watch the world go by. Observe people as if they were worms, bugs or insects. A cat put to sleep using a bell jar. I must find the exit out. Finally. If I do not, everything will be a loss. Goodbye Lolita. I have imagined you for a long time. Lipstick on your pouty mouth. Red nail polish on your toes.’

The piano chair is in the corner of her bedroom. There are books that are found on every conceivable open space. They stand in the gap for her. They make a way for her. Her books. Her books. They are her religion filled with flowers of doctrine that bloom. They are her pilgrimage. She touches pages that have been turned by other hands except herself. She discovers words like elongate, thick, intimacy, school of thought, philosophy, metamorphosis, narcissism, bodily and ballad. ‘Much ado’ is a sheet of music. The masculine and the feminine nature rings inside her head like an echo. They feel like the words of a Shakespearian sonnet reverberating throughout the cells of her physical body.

‘My world on the other hand is caving in and before all the walls collapse I have to find myself. I am on fire like the phoenix. Watch me, Clarissa of all people, find herself and spread her wings like a blanket of snow across a field in winter. I saw people filtering in and out of a dream world. Foot traffic. I abandoned my soul, kissed air, hung there for a moment suspended in disbelief. Could they not feel my anguish? Did they have goals as I did? Who did they fashion themselves after? How did they live in a mundane world? I know what it means to be made a mockery of. Swift is the human nature that covets the forbidden. Now even my metallic sun’s paradise has dissolved, evaporated and I have been left pretty much alone.’

In an essay for her English class, Clarissa decides to write about hospital life. How she felt at ‘land’s end’ that she was married to the illness and that she would be for the rest of her life. There would be no divorce courts. There would be no separation, that whatever this illness was it was within her. It had all-knowing eyes. It had vision. It had awakened her spirit. Cut loose her soul like her mother’s soul was cut loose in her garden as she planted and replanted bulbs lovingly and with so much energy into dirt, bees and mist, earthworms, plucky snails, dragonflies with their angel wings and all. Clarissa knew what it was like to suffer and to cry. This much she told Hector but Hector had already stopped speaking to her. Avoiding her.

‘When I am thirty-five I will have the same fat thighs as my Auntie Ava. I do not throw dinner parties. I am not the socialite, the host nor the life of the party. I do not lip synch the words to a rock or an indie band. I would rather die than do any of those these. I do not go to the library anymore. I am too scared somebody from my past will see me like this. Whale. They will say. Look at her now. She is no longer arrogant. She no longer fist punches the air. She no longer says, ‘I have a question?’ She was never popular but she was in a way because everybody knew her name. Everybody knew she never ate lunch. Clarissa loved books. I love books. I am Clarissa. I am a vision. I am Sappho incarnate. I am a visionary.’

Diary, it is because of my madness that Hector keeps his distance from me now. In assembly, he talks to Janice, Veronica, Miranda, Sylvie, Adele, Elizabeth, Shakira (who is kind, popular and the cleverest by far in our form). Inside I feel a kind of heady violence. If the world keeps this up. Keeps viewing me as a stranger. I have been to hell and back. Is there no one out there who can understand that? I told Hector I would take his secret to the grave with me but it seems everywhere I go people stare. They know and they hate me for it. They hate me for telling because madness is something that you should keep to yourself. The hospital life. The family being counselled by a vastly inexperienced psychologist. It is because of Elizabeth Donkin.

One day, I, Clarissa, brought Septimus’s mother flowers. She thanked me profusely while my mother waited outside in the car. Of course, they are not love letters. The letters that Hector writes me. I was a woman before women had wings. I am a survivor of emotional and mental abuse. I am an idiot fish, fashioning lame stroke after lame stroke in the water, chlorine burning my eyes, a branch taking root inside the visions that I have of high school at the local swimming school. I am not like the other girls. I am tall and clever. The other girls (it is their nature) to sit on the sidelines and watch the boys swim up and down, the lifesavers. The will flit, and flirt these pretty butterflies with their lovely bones, leaving me, Clarissa out in the cold. Uninvited.

Family life. They dance around her. Her parents, and her younger brother and sister. They do not know what to make of her. Is she ill or is she happy? What to make of her discontent? Her crooked laughter cripples them but she needs a crutch. Clarissa needs something to balance on. She flickers. She loves the yellow sunlight. Clarissa remembers how she and Hector used to walk to school in the mornings (that was a ballad). How they walked side by side. How sometimes her head was thrown back into the light. Hector is not doing it anymore for her. She feels now how could they ever have been friends. How could they ever confided in each other?

Clarissa writes in her diary. You could already see that in those sessions he could not wait to enter private practice with its hospital corners neatly tucked in. The madness comes in tinny waves. Sometimes they make thud-thud-thud. Sometimes it is a thunderclap followed by extreme bursts of lighting. Sometimes it is a ghost story, a wasteland like youth, a wilderness history, a bitter orange, the scent of meat and potatoes in a watery broth people kind of madness.
I should in retrospect have said nothing to Hector and he in turn would have said nothing to Septimus. I have a feeling that Septimus is behind all of this. It is because of Elizabeth Donkin. The mad hospital. The insane asylum? The loony bin? Lunatic girl there is no going back now.

‘I am in the desert of despair amongst landscapes, faiths and relations. There is something so pure about being. Humanity. Human nature and then there is the evil in the world. I deserved a medal for the role that I play. Crazy is just another role I play. Daughter, sister, friend and poet. Those are roles too.’ The Indian psychologist stared at her. Clarissa wanted to ask her.
Haven’t you ever seen crazy before up close and personal? Take a good look at this show.
‘Don’t you understand I need to be wrapped up, literally bandaged in tenderness? I need to feel and I know what the matter is. I do not feel anymore. What I feel is helpless, empty, useless, and all I feel is grief for what I never experienced.

The things that I quit and for thinking that I was a failure. What is wrong with me? Other people live. They move forward inching, tunneling their way towards a vision planted in the stars, kismet. I am caught in a vortex. Inside my head, it is as if there is a black hole and I am swimming inside of it but I never reach the end of the other side. This flux makes me feel disoriented. I come here every week. I come here so that you can help me. I do not want to finger paint. Making explosions the colours of rainbows on paper. You have got me to think for myself. You have got me to this point in my life. I still will not be able to dance as if nobody is watching me. I have desires, dreams, am goals. I need. I cling. I want.

‘Yes, yes go on. I see we are making progress.’ Said the Indian psychologist with her takeaway coffee on her desk. From where Clarissa was sitting, the psychologist’s hair looked greasy.
‘She must put Amla oil on her hair and after her husband makes love to her she must feel as if she is a queen. Wedding vows are a sacred contract. Wives have thrones and spare keys to unlock the kingdoms of their husbands. What do adolescent girls have? What do young and inexperienced women have in their twenties? What do unmarried women have? They have books. Romance novels. Nobody to read poetry to them. An emptiness in their soul, trivia or a third eye.’ Clarissa thought to herself.

There were paintings from the occupational therapy class hanging up to dry in her office. She is making waves. She is making crazy. Yes, you see we are finally making progress if you want to see it that way, Clarissa thought to herself. She wanted to add. I do not trust you. I take everything that you say with a pinch of salt. You think you know me but you the fact is you do not know anything about me. Where I am coming from, my background, my family life, the hospital life. You are rich. You are married. You have a son. You have it easy. No doubt, high school was a breeze for you. I do not think you were ever bullied by your mother (by the way, my mother is a tyrant), by the children who hung around the swings with their unnerving competitive and threatening behaviour (by the way, they were tyrants too).

‘Your hair. Do you always have to wear it the same way? Why not try something new. Try something different.’

Go to hell, lady. Clarissa wanted to say vehemently. Why don’t you like this? Why don’t you approve of me? Is it because I am crazy, stuck up, aloof and indifferent, stupid woman? Well, I don’t like you either. I am not a fan of yours either.
‘I like it like this.’ Clarissa answered.
‘Change is good for a person. To shake things up a bit.’ The Indian doctor took a sip from her takeaway coffee.
Clarissa wanted to get up and leave. Clarissa wanted Hector but she was dead to him. If she was to all intents and purposes dead to him, he must be dead to her. She had to bury him in the past.

Clarissa was a volt. Clarissa was electricity. Clarissa had personal velocity. The woman inside of her had bloomed when Hector had kissed her chastely on the lips (while Septimus had watched out of the corner of her eye). She had felt excitement building up inside of her as if she was going to throw a party for the first time her adolescent life and girls like Janice, Veronica, Miranda, Sylvie, Adele, Elizabeth, and Shakira were going to come. The popular crowd. It would be a boy and girl party. The excitement became like a sickness every time she touched herself the way Septimus touched her. She felt hot, and bothered by the brightness that enveloped her senses, her intuition. She felt starved of sensibilities, of what felt real, pure.

Clarissa writes in her journal. Septimus is in love with Hector. He is in love with Hector’s walk, his talk and the way he wears his hair. Septimus has told me all of these things in confidence. The world shapes itself around me now as I dance to the beat of their drum. The drums of two egomaniacs. Now that they both do not speak to me, I do not have to dance to that drum anymore. I can call them egomaniacs. I wish someone would fall in love with me the same way that Septimus seems to have fallen in love with Hector. They do not want to remember the good times the three of us had together. Night comes with the insanity of both frustration and insomnia. Night has become an experiment. I drink coffee and am awake for hours.

‘I will be healed. Humanity will heal me. Watching television will heal me. English teachers will save me. I do not know why the atrocities of war still fill me with hope. Hope that good will prevail over evil.’ The Indian psychologist looks me up and down coolly with a steely-eyed determination. She is a woman, a mother. She despises the female who is an intellectual.

‘But we are not talking about the problems. Your despair and indecision. You seem hell-bent on talking about post-apartheid South Africa. You seem to be talking from one direction only. A kind of a nearsightedness. You need to look at the bigger picture, at all of the details. You have to learn how to save yourself and not depend on others to do that for you, Clarissa.’

Clarissa wrote in her journal. I know she despises me. Her hair was so greasy. She could probably fry an egg with all of that grease on the bonnet of a car. All of those beautiful words. I will bow down to them. I will pick and pick at them. The fruit on the bough. What I need to do is to translate this pain, the wound into something beautiful. It needs to be illuminated.

The spotlight leaves tracks on the stage. She feels a nervous energy inside of her just by her ribcage. Tonight she will shine. Clarissa will shine and she will forget that she is not loved nor wanted in the same way that Hector is wanted by Septimus. As soon as she walks out onto the stage at the Opera House, she will forget the tyrants.

To Virginia Woolf’s Lighthouse

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘The light. What do you think of the light?’
‘It’s day. The light comes with day. The sun comes with dawn.’
‘It’s hot.’
‘It’s always hot. It’s South Africa.’
‘It’s post-apartheid South Africa.’ However, what she really wanted to say was I am in love with you. Marc, I am in love with the light in your serious brown eyes. Talk to me about anything.
‘You always have to be right about everything.’
‘You don’t think I have a superiority complex.’
‘No.’ she lied. ‘No. Who told you that?’
‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. I don’t really care. I mean if you say it’s not true then it’s not true.’ Marc shrugged his shoulders. It made him look even more handsome to her.
‘We should go to the beach.’
‘I don’t like the beach.’
‘Everybody likes the beach.’
‘By now you should know that I am not everyone.’ He turned around to look at her with concern in his eyes.
‘Are you okay?’
‘No, no I’m fine. I just had an argument with my mother again this morning. I don’t think she likes me very much.’
‘Maybe she doesn’t like the world. Maybe that’s what really bothering her, not you. Maybe your parents don’t have sex anymore. Don’t worry about you so much.’ Then Marc leaned in and hugged her hard.
‘I like the light today. It makes me happy. You make me happy. You make me laugh.’
‘Thanks.’ Marc said and smiled. He wasn’t wearing his glasses today.
‘I hate high school.’
‘Maybe you hate high school because you read Virginia Woolf.’
‘I think all her books are masterpieces.’
‘So what was Sylvia Plath’s masterpiece?’
‘Ariel. Chose another one Marc.’
‘Chose a masterpiece of Rainer Maria Rilke and Goethe.’
‘For Rilke I would have to choose and this is difficult but it is a book I love. Letters to a Young Poet. For Goethe it would have to be Faust. Please don’t choose Shakespeare but if you did because poetry is my first love I would have to choose his sonnets over his plays.’
‘Do you think we would ever get married like that?’
‘Like what? A marriage of convenience you mean.’
‘Maybe. Perhaps.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

Her hair was like a rosebush. It was full of tangles after her swim. In her eyes was the waves and the lighthouse. An empty house in an English novel on the coat that was once filled with children. Rumpus and an unmarried woman by the name of Lily Briscoe in her imagination. Her face was touched with salt and light followed the glimmer of the sailboats on the horizon. It was the anglers’ doing, catching all of those fish for an eternity. In reality, she lived in post-apartheid South Africa. In reality, she wrote novels. In her twenties, she lived in the adolescent wasteland of Johannesburg, a wilderness of people who had no concern for others.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘What are you really thinking about Marc?’
‘I am thinking about the first time I have sex.’
‘You’re thinking about the performance.’
‘You can’t really act as if you’re in love. You have to feel it. You have to feel all that loveliness in your bones. Would you choose madness or becoming a bride?’
‘Marc, you should know the answer to that one by now. I would choose madness.’
‘You know what? You are depressing. You’re stressing me out.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

In her thirties, after her homecoming, after that celebration she began to write. It would not leave her. The phenomena of moths flapping their wings incessantly in the light as if they were glad to see her as she rinsed the sea and the smell of the day out of her hair in the bathroom sink. Her father was calling. They would have a light supper together of tuna fish sandwiches and red cappuccinos. The world around her had lost its exploratory feel and she became engaged in writing about relationships instead of having them with the opposite sex. She detached herself from having a myriad of beautiful things.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘Let’s sit here and have lunch.’
‘What did you bring?’
‘Tuna fish sandwiches. Do you want to swap?’
‘There’s ants here.’
‘Ants aren’t going to kill us. Sit Marc. They’re not going to steal our lunches.’
‘I have peanut butter. Did you make your own lunch?’
‘My mother makes my lunch.’
‘We had wine with our lunch yesterday.’
‘What did you have?’
‘We had chicken. We always have chicken on Sundays.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

She removed herself from the world at large and material possessions. She no longer attacked vehemently the gender betrayal and the class system. Women who had the vote should now also have equal pay if they were to have equal rights. She knew how other woman lived. They were happy with their lot in their own way. Their families were dysfunctional in their own way. The married woman. The married man. She had nothing in common with them. Even the intellectual woman who wanted the same powers and killer instinct that the intellectual man had but did you see women building empires.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘Do you love me Marc?’
‘Of course I love you. We are best friends remember.’
‘Will we always be this close?’ As it happened, their friendship dissolved before their last year of high school ended.

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

The intellectual woman although she wanted the powers of an intellectual man did not want to be haunted the same way he was. She did not want to be reduced to a thing like the housewife with her domestic responsibilities. The homemaker, standing barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen taking out the meat from the refrigerator to defrost. To her in some way with her hair that was like a rosebush there were still feelings in her in that pathetic, lame way to long for things that although you wish for them you know will never be yours. It will never be enough to be fulfilled. She knew it would never satisfy her.

Early twenties, Johannesburg, 2002

‘Rain. You smell like rain. Your hair. I like your hair like this.’ A style like a ponytail never goes out of fashion. She wanted to say. A man whispered sweet nothings in her ear in a club where the music was too loud. Did she smell like childhood rain, rain from a garden sprinkler (where are you now mum, she thought to herself to save me from this)? She wondered to herself. Was it the kind of rain that smelled like leftover old spaghetti sauce that you heated up on the stove on a rainy day kind of rain with the fragrance of half an onion lingering in the fridge? Sigmund Freud’s kind of rain. For her there would always be sexual healing in that word ‘rain’.

‘You are a good girl. A very good girl. I’m sure you make your parents very proud.’
‘What about your parents?’ she asks slyly or shyly.
‘I think that is why I drink sometimes.’ He answers her candidly.
‘Your parents?’
‘My parents. I think it’s a product of my childhood. Does anyone have a happy childhood? I was always being told I had potential but I don’t know if I ever lived up to their expectations. In high school, I was always the disappointment of the family I guess. The black sheep.’ He squeezed her as he said this. In reply she mouthed, ‘Me and you both I guess looking for happiness in all the wrong places on a Saturday night in a club in downtown Johannesburg.’

‘I like you, you know.’ He had glassy eyes and she was moody. He was drinking too much and she had not even touched her drink. The ice was melting fast. She was thirsty.
‘What do you say? Do you want to get out of this place?’ he staggered a bit. ‘We can sit in my car.’ As they walked outside, he put his arm around her waist.
She wanted to ask him, ‘Does this mean we are a couple now? Do you think you own me? Do you think I am your possession?’

‘Look here, what kind of underwear are you wearing or aren’t you wearing any?’ She felt dirty and saintly at the same time. She abhorred the situation but she was caught up in the thrill of it as well. All she had to do was listen to his conversation, laugh with him, laugh at his unfunny jokes, stare into his eyes, moan at every inappropriate stroke, touch and caress.

‘Have you ever been with a man, lady? You hardly touched your drink. You could have at least had a drink with me. My wife. She nags. She whines. If you could just hear her. She was going on about this and about that today. It is a never-ending stuck record. How I never spend quality time with the boys, they’re just kids, what kind of advice should I give them? On the direction to take with their lives? They’re just kids. Both of them are just interested in computers. You ever watch pornography. You are pretty in that way you know. Okay. Okay. I apologise. I went too far. What good girls don’t get half the time is how highly sexed men are you know?

‘I’m sorry. I still respect you. Do you want to come with me? It’s warmer in my car. I can put the radio on and the heater and we can just talk, that’s if you want to do that.’ He begins to laugh and this makes me smile. Suddenly we are at his car and I do not have a care in the world. He knows what he wants. He knows what he has paid for. I am cold. The idea of sex. The idea of sex in the backseat of his car. I want my mother. He doesn’t even know how old I am. He doesn’t care. Does his wife know where he is? Out at a club drinking with a volunteer who works with mentally challenged and physically disabled adults. A female who is half his age.

‘This is not your first time is it?’ He looks at me a bit worried for the first time. I can pretend for your sake stupid boy that it is not and lose my virginity to a married loser person who is smashed out of his face, his skull. Brain cells tripping high. I need love as I need the light. The light breeze in my homeland of my hometown. The primitive intimacy of my tribe, my family. Do you want to know something? I want to ask him. Do you know I was in a hospital for crazies? Yes, that’s the right term. I was normal for a long time and then I woke up one day as if curled up in the foetal position in a psychiatric hospital. Discovered it was not a dream.

Go ahead. Do your business? See if I care. Just don’t ask me if I am okay. Don’t ask me if I am comfortable. Just make me forget about the fact that bad mothers happen in the wilderness off the sunny road, that sometimes mums don’t love their children, their mentally ill and anorexic daughters or they never said it enough when they were growing up. Sometimes they don’t have the time of day for their adult daughters. She wants to forget that I even exist. The woman who gave birth to me. The woman who brought me into this world. The woman who took me to psychiatrist who studied in Vienna and thought I had schizophrenia.

He was gentle. I remember that. He was open, vulnerable and insecure. I was emotional, vulnerable and inhibitory. He was hurting. I was hurting. Wounds are sometimes the most precious things in the world. They make the world beautiful in the end. See. Even a wreck can be indescribably beautiful. He didn’t touch my face. God, I hate when they do that because it spells a closeness, an intimacy that was not there before. Married people can be the loneliest people in the world. I learned that long ago from my dad. He taught me that. He live it. He told me stories about it. Stories from his childhood. Stories about the wuthering heights of apartheid South Africa.

Sex was different from lovemaking. Love was involved in one and not the other. Decision was involved in one and not the other, preparation, planting and progress. Sometimes there were two parties involved. Sometimes sex was lovemaking. Sometimes lovemaking was sex. Sometimes promiscuousness, intimacy, experience were involved to create this incredible emotional effect. The phenomenon of lovemaking could mean everything and nothing at the same time. You could create a bond between life partners or it could be a game. A dangerous, manipulative hurting game. Promiscuity was something else altogether. A one-night stand.

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

Thirty years old. Another birthday. Hone alone. She stood naked in front of the mirror surveying her triumph. Youth. Youth was still on her side. All the girls who had succumbed to motherhood around her from high school were losing their looks. Tired, strained, stressed out, depressed, humiliated although not all children were brats but then again not all children were angels. She pinched her skin. She was still thin. Thank God for that. She possessed skinniness as if nature possessed the world. Like a child observing the landscapes of life in rock pools.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘How far did you get?’
‘You’ve got the Periodic Table so I couldn’t complete all these equations.’
‘Let’s take a break. Let’s listen to Shirley Bassey.’
‘Do you still have some of that wine left over from Sunday?’
‘I don’t think so. Why?’
‘We don’t drink in our house. My grandfather used to drink. I’ve never drank red wine before.’
‘Did he beat up on your grandmother? Your grandfather?’ Marc asked opening and shutting kitchen cupboards. ‘Nothing here I’m afraid. You’re out of luck.’
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Why are there so many things you don’t want to talk about? You are like a walking book of secrets.’
‘I like my secrets.’
‘Secrets are like open wounds. The more you don’t talk about it, the more it is like rubbing salt into that open wound. It stings. It burns.’
‘I have my scar tissue and you have yours. You know me so well. You are so wise, Marc.’ She rolled her eyes in mock-jest.
‘Why do you want a drink? Besides wine doesn’t really make your drunk.’
‘Doesn’t it make you forget that you’re lonely and sad and that nobody loves you, Marc?’
‘I love you even when you are this impossible to read and even when you are moody. I am going to put Shirley Bassey on. I don’t understand why you’re so moody today.’
‘I want to drink because I’m happy and because I want to remember this day forever.’ She could not believe it. She was happy. She was being honest. Too honest. She looked at his face.
She wanted to remember it forever. She wanted to remember what he was wearing.
‘You look funny.’ She laughed.
‘Why do I look funny?’
‘You’re wearing your glasses. You never wear your glasses to school.’
‘I still don’t understand why it’s so funny.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

The geeky river of language contained in a gene pool, even the gene pool of a rock pool was a private one. Biology was a beautiful subject dedicated to laws and sometimes amusing understanding. Its wards contain compromising powers and complex, complicated chambers. She remembered a dark-haired boy she used to know. All the boys she used to know where dark-haired and intellectual. This one wanted to be a family doctor and deliver babies. He had a superiority complex but she had loved him. What does an adolescent girl do when they fall in love with their best friend?

How do they forget the wars they fought and how they made up again? She remembered most of all how they both were in love with physics and music. All she could think about now was he rich (he was always good that way, talking about financial security) did he fulfill all his dreams, was he married, does he deliver babies, what color eye shadow and lipstick does his wife wear when they go out and eat in fancy restaurants, go to functions? What kind of shoes does she prefer, heels or ballet shoes? Does she have a good pair of legs? Does she listen to his speeches, how does his wife feel in his arms when they make love? Was she a Mrs. Ramsay?

She remembered his general knowledge, his laughter and while he progressed in school he left her far behind. At the end of the day, of high school he passed with distinction while she could barely keep up with him. She did not know yet then that she wanted to write and become a serious writer, a novelist. In the end, she became a strong swimmer. Today she was alone at the heated swimming pool. It was a beautiful day. Her arms were branches, warm and brown, the texture of bright leaves as bright as her eyes. The water danced and rippled around her. She felt a sudden anguish when she remembered Marc, her first love, her best friend.

Then everything went pale (the colour of the day). Everything went blank. There was a silence.
Then there was a tunnel notched into the blunt shadows of her subconscious. She began to swim and forget at the same time. The sky was like a blue atom above her head flowering like grease in breakfast pans across regions in nations across the world. There were a million clouds in the air. The ether was a white spot. The day was fluid. There was no wind to snatch tangles of her hair and twist it into a state as she cooled down after her swim. Damn those anglers! What a life? As if to say, they were free and she was not. As if she could never be, free.

Engraved on her skull was a blueprint, a school of thought of Johannesburg as she had seen it in the light. The winter light in its streets, its alleys outside of the club. Sunlight glaring. Glinting over skylines. Illuminated. Hinting at the experience of feminine sexuality up against a rough. About the morning after. Do you see that in films or only the heroic protagonist wearing the clothes that she had worn to the nightclub the previous night? She should drink. That experience would be good for her. It would help her to blend into the crowd. Fit into the maelstrom of society. People would say to themselves, men in particular, ‘Who was that girl?’

Marc had been her only friend in high school. She had never told him that she had been in love with him. In Johannesburg in her twenties, she befriended homosexuals. They had beautiful hands, light eyes, these tall Amazons. They told wonderful stories. For some reason they reminded her of Marc. Marc’s loyalty. They reminded her of how important it is to laugh, to dance, and to eat good food with friends. Thirty something and still missing her first love, Marc. Wires were growing from her head now and she smiled as she towel dried her hair. She had always had a love, hate relationship with her hair, with her ego, her lack of self-control.

The thing with writers. They never forget anything. If you are a woman, you never forget the men who left you, the men you drank with, danced with, and who shared cigarettes with you. The ones who got away.

Early twenties, Johannesburg, 2002

‘Switch off the light. Switch off the light. I don’t want people to see me like this.’
‘You’re dressed.’
‘No, actually I’m not.’
‘Okay, so you’re half-dressed. That was fun.’
‘That was what you would call fun.’ She was sad. Kaput.
‘You’re so tense sweetie. Here, let me massage your shoulders. I have to park the car first. It’s not safe out there this time of night. Never know what you might find out there out on the street.’
‘Don’t do that.’ She wanted to say. ‘Don’t leave me out there in the cold. Invite me in. Into your house, wolf in sheep’s clothing. Do your worst. I’ll still wake up brilliant in the morning.’ She thought to herself even though she knew it was dangerous thinking.
‘It’s late. Do you want me to drop you off somewhere? How much? How much do you want?’ She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
‘You’re not serious, are you? How much? Do you think I’m a prostitute?’ Do you think you would just leave me out here on the street to walk home in the dark?’ She felt her hands starting to shake. Shark. Coward. She started trembling all over. If was capable of this, then he was capable of anything. He was capable just as much of doing bodily harm and not for the first time, she was frightened.
‘Easy there. Quiet down. I still respect you.’ He laughed then and she felt dirty. He put his hand on her knee. ‘Honestly I still respect you. I had a really nice time, and you?’ He laughed again.
‘Did you lose something? Your innocence of the manic-depressive world around you?’ That was a dig at her now.
‘What?’
‘I’m sorry if you were expecting roses and moonlight. Coffee for two after the afternoon rush in a quiet place. Get out of my car. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of your mind games, lady. Go home to your mother. She should have taught you not to get into a man’s car in the early hours of the morning after a club empties out.’
‘My mother doesn’t want me.’ She wanted to scream in his arrogant face with its sharp features. A face that she thought beautiful in the moonlight. It was still a beautiful face though. The tone of his voice had changed.
‘Oh excuse me; I thought you wanted the same thing that I did. I thought you wanted a good time. Didn’t you know that is all that men have on their brain? Sex. If it isn’t sex, it’s the chase or pornography. Get the joke? There is no joke. This is a man’s world and I’m educating you about a man’s world.’
She thought to herself once upon a time Marc, you were my Louis Macniece, my Philip Larkin. You were nothing like these men. She thought to herself. Brutes. Gigantic and flashy brutes they were.

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

The day. Poetry sublime. Symbolism wasting away. Uncertainty all around her. Status and power in the men around her. Limits. Limits. This had always been, to all intents and purposes was her survival kit for mental illness. The sea.

The Imagined Journal Entries of Sylvia Plath

The page frees me in a sense, in a way I can’t describe. I write and that’s my life. I am a mother and a wife and a lover and a poet and I feel that is also just a part of my life. Sometimes the two meet and sometimes they don’t. Sphere upon sphere upon another sphere. Poetry is a god to me. When I write I am a woman on her own. Reality is out of the picture and it doesn’t seem to count for anything really. It’s never enough for me. I stand and watch the busyness of life, observing nature and most of all human nature and I slowly empty out. It’s a useful exercise kind of like transcendental meditation. I know nothing about it. It’s just something I read as a girl in a book long ago when I was at college and at the time it was just too much for me to handle. The thought of going out of myself made me go numb and cold. It gave me the shivers. If I was alone I would go mad with grief and rage and I would be that girl again.

I think I’ve been supportive. I’ve been encouraging. All I see is constellations in words and it is driving me sweetly out of my mind. I am the rabbit in Wonderland and there I go down that hole. There are people out there who have peace around them all the time. Why can’t I be one of those people? Life is a cruel trick. I want to escape from my reality. Women don’t set out to alienate men. It’s not their lot in life. Men and women are supposed to get along so they can walk down that sunny road, settle down and marry and have those kids and start the modern family. Sylvia and Ted are just complex, endlessly searching particles bumping into each other for clarity like oil and water, like acid rain. Now we, the both of this ‘us’ that he keeps on talking about have this one thing in common and that is poetry and the goal was for us to work together but now it is working against us. I never dreamed that this would be kismet.

Last night I was electric. I told him where to get off and come hell or high water I am going to stick to it. So sticking to my guns, that’s me. I put the universe under observation. To be a wonder, I sometimes long for that. To sparkle, to vibrate, to feel that there’s enough in the world, to bask in the revelation that there’s an abundance healing the world of all its iniquities through ritual, that there’s healing across family bloodlines. I long to be so innocent and pure and that I would have no knowledge of the raw energy of blood and guts in writing poetry. I go inside. Inside the deepness, the thoroughfare of the sense and sensibility of every female poet and what do I find there wherever I look. Boxes that are locked and keys that need to be found, a heart that needs to be connected to the material, the physical part of the universe to view even the light and dark battling it out.

Poetry has become my life work, my death of self, a force to be reckoned with steely-eyed determination, my love, my creative impulse and passion. It is the fruit of my spirit and the way of my soul. I have found the world, worlds really that exist in my consciousness, that state I can only reach when I am very still and quiet. The state I could reach when I was young. You only have that kind of inclination when you are young and you don’t live in a constant state of denial of fear and the ego and insecurity. So I have found consciousness, that clear and fluid stream of thought that tends to linger. The heavenly creation of a dream does not. And when you wake up in the morning there is action and vision and doing your ablutions, brushing the curls out of your hair, there’s a sense of orderliness in the routine. There is always something human. I must have courage now. This is not my first hurt.

I see myself as a poet and a female writer second. There’s no contest. All of life is feeding ghosts that came before and after, running on your own personal velocity, the flow of poetic motion, a writer saying, ‘I need an ending to this’ blasting through his or her dream. Inside the mind/vision of a poet means going into the black and that there are always two possibilities within reach, life or death, feeding the gods of beasts or feeling ghosts near your fingertips, depression or feeling that you’re more normal, stable than the next person. I think I have found my ending. Once you are there you’re running, running with scissors (and didn’t even know it). For writers all of life is childhood continued. As a writer, now is the time of my life. Sylvia write every day, that is the purest sum of parts of a writer. Don’t edit. Don’t censor yourself. Before you show ‘the work’ to anyone else, journal with intent.

Loss is a hard fall. You’re standing and then the world becomes something of a hallucination. Writing no longer is a task for me. Feeling broken is a splendiferous stain. Held up to the world it is my main inspiration. It packs it in, crosses thresholds, divides, and flaunts, what it isn’t is anonymous. In my writing I don’t have to don a mask and mask my pain. I don’t have to filter my moods and then I turn to my reflection and say, ‘Bravo, Sylvia. You’ve done the impossible. Bravo.’ Perhaps it is true. I am behaving like a spoilt, coddled child. But if I take him back what does that say about me, all my principles, the family values I cherish. People talk and what if they do. It is none of my business what they think of me, of us, of this wounded relationship. Poets do not know how to live. We only know how to die.

Daily I get glimpses of the portrait of a writer. It feels kind of surreal to me (more like a dream) especially the consciousness of the writer and the ‘thought-magic’ that we wield and that we harbour in our communities. In front of the writer lies a battlefield. The portrait’s skin and its flesh and bone and blood are made up of history and poverty, the divide between everything that came before, the divide that lies between the powerful and the vulnerable and a rich diversity. It houses the thought and the community I have spoken of before. At heart we, the writer are creative beings. The poet is the mystic being finding everything around him bearable and unbearable. Always reckoning those two forces of nature, those two cycles, seasons in the circle of life. I write because it’s my life. Writers write because it is their saving grace. I write because I don’t know what to do with the raw energy I have of blood and guts.

I regard the world as delicious images crowding my mind, jostling for position and a fairy tale filled with angels and demons. There’s always entrapment by ghosts. Oh, how they want to belong, those kindred spirits and what they wouldn’t give to feel alive again. They vanish and appear at will and call our name in the wee hours of the morning scaring us half to death, they taste like air, smoke, honey, blood and they thirst for land. What they wouldn’t give to walk and talk, speak truths and be tourists?

Today has been the colour of rain. A pale, washed-out colour and a dreary mood was hanging in the air but then Frieda smiled at me and then everything was alright in the world again. I am like a wounded animal, a hungry bear in the wild and there are days when I feel as if I am a woman on a mission. A mission to find love and I can’t rest until I have rekindled it in the ones I have lost. Poetry is my voice, my light, my sport.

I must be obedient and forgiving. Isn’t that what a wife is supposed to be? He had the audacity to stand there and lecture me as if I was a bad person, a bad mother. Have I been a bad wife? I don’t know. Have I neglected my children and been too self-absorbed? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I don’t find enough time in the day anymore to write like I used to. I remember how my husband used to help with little Frieda and especially Nicholas when I wanted some time to myself. But most importantly when I wanted to write. When I first met Ted all I wanted to do was make him happy. To see him smile, read his poetry and what an effort he made by reading mine and giving me helpful advice just lifted my spirits. It felt like a dream being near him, listening to him and now I have lost that dream and I must dream another. I have lost him to another woman. Is she better than I am? Is she a lady? Is she the perfect woman?

I want to be a poet. I want to a modern poet and I want to be the best modern poet out there. I just have to find a way out of this near-madness, this state of melancholy, the pathetic little me syndrome, the pain, and the sorrow that I feel comes upon me. I have to reach for the formidable and become that. I have to reach for the celestial. Depression is the sickness of our time. I see it all around me. In the sick, men who are stressed out by their jobs, women who have babies get depressed, people who leave home for brighter, greener pastures. Then there are those who retire, who get old, on the faces of immigrants and even the young people who go to university, people who get homesick for the loved ones they left behind. Ah, the pain of the mind the doctor would say to me. All you need is rest. You have a young family and they must keep you running up and down at all hours of the day. I’ve never stopped believing in that.

Maybe it is all in my mind, the pain of the mind. I went to the doctor. I was feeling out of sorts. Not the way I usually felt and all he said was that the children and their energy must wear me out. So I was put into a situation where I had to agree. It is just this belief that I am something special because I have this talent. ‘Don’t gush. It’s only poetry and most people find poetry obscure. Who reads it?’ My mother said. ‘Don’t be in awe of yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you forget to see that God is in the details and all around you. Always remember that I love you for who you are. I don’t think he is the right kind of man for you.’ I have time now to reflect when I am on my own and he comes and watches the children for me and keeps an eye on them while I can get some work done. The writing of poetry does not come with instructions. Scientists dispel myths. Poets have to reckon with truth.

There’s something sensual about writing and the order and the routine in it. I wish it could last forever but it doesn’t. It’s temporary like the sun-age on the surface of a ripe cloudburst. I feel as if I’m an alcoholic, hippie or a druggie while I experience the sensation of the morning quiet. I take it all in. My consciousness becomes a dream factory that I am still trying to find all the answers to. It must be very cold where he is tonight, wherever he is. I don’t care where he is and who his with. If I did it might mean that I still love him, that I covet feeling his the warmth of him beside me at night? He makes my heart and nerves still and soft. He fills my head with accusations and lies and every time that we come into contact now, I feel like a chip of glass. I must keep my chin up and my head held high but these days I’m prone to panic. What one earth will guide me to the courage I was once accustomed to having?

When I enter the body of poetry a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction washes over me. There are explosions of tiny waves behind my eyes. My soul has made it thus far. I have to end the poverty in my mind but I find a cold comfort in the not knowing of things. If depression happened in nature what would we call it then? Would it be organic in origin? In a marriage when it ends whom is to blame for its demise. Who is the culprit? On the approaching betrayal in any relationship I have this to say. Lock down your heart dear and look away. It means that there may be something incomplete in the moving against the current of love. It means to love and die simultaneously. I think there’s a theory behind light. When my body feels full of that stuff, the light, and the hidden energies in my aura I feel as if I have got free tickets to the centre of winter.

Virginia Woolf’s Winter Revisited

The argument was about nothing really. I really cannot remember who started it first. It was between a girl, barely out of adolescence and her married boyfriend. Perhaps I told him that I did not think that my mother really loved or accepted the choices I made in my life and that I thought he could be supportive of me. Was he really listening? Girls need their mothers more than they need their fathers. Girls need devoted parents. All I could feel was emotional. He was cold and non-committal. I knew my place and he knew his. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs was, ‘Listen to me, please!’ I already knew it would be ignored.

‘We’re not making love anymore?’
‘So what? We can do other things. We are not in the primitive ages anymore. We can talk. You know what I want. I want a married life.’
‘That’s why I have a wife. I can talk to her.’
‘This is not a relationship?’
‘I know this is not a relationship.’
‘All this talk is making me depressed.’
‘Go home. Go home to your family, lady. Go home to your mother and your father.’
‘Why do you want to hurt me?’
‘This is the end of whatever dream you had.’
‘Of course I can see that. I can see it when you look at me. Please don’t talk to me like this?’
‘You want me to tell you that I need you. I don’t need you. You don’t need me as much as you think you do.’
‘I’m in pain. Can’t you see that?’
‘Yes, you’re in pain. You are giving me a headache. Go away. Leave me alone and stop calling me. What if my wife picked up? What then? This is not love. When people treat each other this way. This, this is not love.’
‘When you were young did you ever map your life out? Of who you were going to get married to? Your wife? Your life? Your children?’
‘You’ll grow up and then one day you’ll wake up and I’ll be the last thing you remember. The last thing on your mind. You will not have to put me on your itinerary. You won’t have to make as if you cook and clean on my account.’
‘We always fight. I realise that now.’
‘Good. Then leave.’
‘Please?’
‘Go. Just go. In the end you’ll see it is better that way.’
‘Talk to me. Humour me. Tell me a story about a lost, frightened girl who comes to the big city with a myriad of dreams. In the end, none of her dreams comes true. She sleeps with men in hotels. She is hurt. Flesh is flesh. What happens to a lady and a man? Do they meet and always fall in love? What happens then is that nothing good comes from it? The man leaves and she does not have any self-worth.’
‘You don’t deserve this. The way I have treated you. Go out into the world. Make something of yourself. You are young. You are attractive. That is the dream world, the high art of the female outsider. I need to know that you are going to be fine about this.’
‘You need to know that you are fine with the fact that you are ending my world as I know it.’
‘Do you want to smoke?’
‘I don’t smoke. You know that.’
‘You need to relax. So this is the first time then for you.’
‘Men have left me before. This is not the first time. You were not the first. You are going to make me cry. Maybe it is best if you don’t say anything anymore.’
‘Have a cigarette with me anyway.’
‘Cigarettes make me cough. They taste terrible.’
‘You never complained before. Now you are complaining.’
‘Things were different before. By that, I mean I was going to see you again. I was happy that I was going to see you again. I would have done anything in the world for you, you know. I know how to love someone. Someone even like you. Someone powerful and insecure and full doubts and insecurities.’
‘So you have discovered a man’s secret at last. That we are much more vulnerable than a woman.’
‘And no doubt I will keep discovering it over and over again. I really do not mind if you smoke that last cigarette now. Let me just find my shoes and the rest of my clothes. I’ll go now.’

The world is not my home. Everything in this world seems to be a test or temporary. Fading out as the sunset at the end of the day or illuminating human flaws, truths that are eternal for us. We are indulgent creatures. We need trust. We need loyalty. We need kindness. We need family even though children can be selfish brats sometimes and husbands and wives and friends. We flirt. We flit. We make nests and then when they are empty there is a depression that never leaves us and that is why children come home for the holidays. The unseen is eternal. Ghost stories. Christmas. Fish. I have left childhood behind. They were gifts of great spiritual maturity.

The psychiatrist teaches me how to let go, surrender if you will but how does a person let go of the only world (childhood) that she (I) have ever known. All is gold. We speak about the feelings of being emotionally bankrupt. Unable to deal with the voices in unison in society that are blocking mine out. She says I also have to be heard. People have to listen to me too. Gone are the passages of contentment in books. I have no time to waste on something that I feel does not exist for me or for those who live in spiritual poverty. I have to learn how to love, how to marry but my parents were not good examples of this. I have to own this space, she says.

I am a dreamer. I am a dreamer who has goals, as I am sure Virginia Woolf had goals with the relationships she had, with her writing, with her diaries and letters, with her marriage. Perhaps I desire the same things she did. In her lifetime. In her world. Who made up the rules anyway? I had a bad past and then I think of Alice in her terrifying trippy wonderland. Woolf knew of gender betrayal, constructing sympathy for her characters in her novels. Her hair as fine as Whitman’s blades of grass. Woolf’s words come in waves. They cut me deep. Their serious depth, desolate isolation, rejection and suicidal despair is there for the world to see, to read.

As an adolescent, Woolf was already an intellectual. As an adolescent, I was already an intellectual. There was no psychoanalyst for her violent madness. Her outbursts. Sometimes I think I cannot walk down that road again. It is not a sunny road. It is not the road to Oz. There is a landmark exhilaration when dawn comes as if to say light beckons now, awake! With the light comes the awareness of a new day, vitality and energy for the nerves in your brain cells. Night comes with the same minutia. It is only now that the sun has faded away. The moon and the tapestry of stars is out.

Lovers embrace in dark bedrooms across the world but I am in mourning because I cannot be with that one man who changed my world, who changed my world with one caress. A precarious touch and instantly there was a change in my suffering and my head, my biology was wired differently. The lonely cannot exist. Spiritually they die. The identity is decaying as they speak, walk, and think, constructing sentences, a string of verbal and non-verbal communication. So what if I am a virgin again. Virgins thinks of sensuality and sexuality just as much as other people do but differently.

Sensuality becomes noble. Sexuality becomes an electric waiting game. Why are there all these games in this life, in this world? Sexuality is not something that is alien to the virgin. She reads about it. Sometimes when she reads about it, she will think of her infertility, her breasts, her shoulders, the nape of her neck. The physical parts of her body that are the most sensitive to touch. Sometimes when she reads about it, she will blush. The weather is comic. First, there is sun, and then it is as if rain clouds are gathering and then the sun comes out again. I think of the dark room. I think of the lovers and how I will never be a part of that world again.

It hurts too much to think, to breathe over what I have lost. What is a man? What is an older man? Grey hair at his temples. Wisdom beyond his years. Influence within his reach. Power. Powerful. Kings of their empires. Trophy wives at their sides or their best friends. Children. Children. Children. The children I will never have. What is love? Instead, I have research, my writing, and those are things that I am passionate about. I am a feminist but I am also a daughter who still a child. Wanting attention. Wanting approval. Wanting gifts. I need a change of suffering. World did you hear me? I need a change of suffering.

It is time women begin to listen to each other. It is time we all called each other feminists. It is a new word for me. Feminist. What does it mean? It has its own beauty. It has its own identity. The tragedy of the relationship that faltered is that it was both romantic and playful as it neared its end. The mood was spiritual and pensive. He was the land and I was the sea. My hands and feet were made of clay. Easily melted away by water. While his empires were made of (guess), steel girders planted into the ground, held down by gravity. He destroyed me. With every measure of success that he acquires he lives on now in relative wealth. I live with my parents.

From here on out it, life is an unknown destination. From here on out life is unpredictable. I am 35 going on 40. Silence is wonderful when all you hear is birdsong. Backyards have their own wisdom. Trees seem to fill that precious hour. Pour into your humanity. This, this is my tribe. Nature. Time is precious. So is life. They are sacred. I am an arrangement of combinations of particles, matter, opportunities, challenges, threads, cells and platelets that communicate with each other. Just as Virginia Woolf lined her pockets with stones and stepped into the River Ouse.

Just as she communicates to me from the world or the region that she is in now, the beautiful drowning visitor I communicate with the profound and the concrete. The lake’s surface is built like concrete. Perfect for skating but the skin, the fabric of what she was wearing, her shiny forehead is down there somewhere. Winter in the end. It is always winter in the end that rises up to meet me. In my dreams, there is a remote area in Greenland. Like the end of winter, we do not always remember childhood. It gives itself to us in dreams after the innocence; the light goes out in the world of a child.

How we appear in our parents eyes, in the end does it matter? It only really matters if we are happy individuals who become happy adults instead of functioning in dysfunctional households. Women keep on meeting different men all the time, up close and personal. Women want intimacy. Men want sex. I loved that book. Instead, I gave it to him. A boy. A man. I cannot remember which posture his shoulders and his height was brought to my attention. Thinking that it would heal some part of me. The broken parts of me. Parts I had misplaced so deep that I hoped nobody could find them. I needed music and he was my source of everything.

Romanticism, pleasure, pain, intimacies and finding desolate landscape after desolate landscape but the truths that I found in the book was not the same for him as it was for me so I had to give up on him. He could not be my Leonard Woolf. It took me a long time to work him out of my system.

‘Have you ever seen a man naked? You don’t have any reason to be afraid. I am not going to hurt you.’ He makes a ceremony out of everything. Lighting the candles, pouring the wine and giving me a glass of wine that I pretend to drink in tiny sips. Incense and scented candles are burning. I can even smell the scent of roses. Does every female writer ever have an experience of lesbian passion? Echoes in a wasteland. Images from a wilderness. The female writer is an intuitive. She is a catalyst.

I lay on the bed in sweltering Durban thinking, if only he knew. Would it matter? Would it make a difference? I knew why he wanted to see me. It was not for conversation. He meant to educate me. I had come such a long way. From Johannesburg to Durban for this. For this charade to play itself out. That I was innocent. That I was so delicate my bones could break. I would be staying a week in his flat. I knew we would not leave to see the sights. Durban had beaches and restaurants that served up spicy Indian cuisine. Of course, he was going to hurt me.

Of course, he was going to break my heart but there had been a line filled with monsters, beasts, and men, wolves, older men before him who had pressured me into doing something I did not want to do. Who had in the end made it out to be my idea? Then there was one man who wanted to photograph me, another who wanted to call me by another name. Probably the name of a lover who had left him or the other way around. I feel his mouth against mine, that slight pressure. His breath is warm. His mouth, his lips are dry. What was his name again? He did something important. He was on television. He made a lot of money. He was engaged. He had a son. So young. Youth wasted. I have always wanted the qualities of a young mother.

‘Take your clothes off but do it slowly.’ He said authoritatively.
‘Why?’ I asked shyly.
‘You haven’t done this before so I want it to be special for you. I want you to feel safe, comfortable. Aren’t you happy with me? With everything that I’ve done for you today?’ he whined. Yes, I could hear a whine in his voice. He was so close. We were too far into this game and so I had to go ahead with it. I had to go ahead with this snowball effect. He had paid for everything. Paid me to come here. Met me at the bus. Carried my suitcases.

We ate leftovers. Cold pizza. Yes, he had paid for this sexual transaction well in advance. I thought to myself. What was I supposed to say to that? He did take me to the beach. I was not hungry. I did not want anything to eat. I could see he was crestfallen by this. I knew instinctively that I had to make it up to him somehow but how, but why? I felt foolish for coming. He thought he knew my reasons for coming. That I was in love with him. He was the fool and not me. I could have laughed aloud but he had gone to all this trouble of making me feel safe and comfortable. Now I am home, 35, and over a decade later.

What brings me bliss is cooking? It is therapeutic. Life is made up of moments. Some happy. Some unpleasant that sound like Verdi, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. There is something special about behaving as if it is the end of the virgin’s world. You become a woman. What does that mean exactly? I am seeing a new psychiatrist after my last nervous breakdown. The new pills seem to be helping me cope. It is funny how a psychiatric patient does not need or want sex. You seem to lose that impulse, and that sex drive. Where does it go? What happens to it? Is it numbed? There is shark-infested waters out there. There is evil and danger.

They are called men. The thirst for relationships has left me. Once again, I am an empty vessel.

‘Mum, how are you?’ I felt the coins in my jean jacket. I wanted home. I wanted mum.
‘Fine. Why are you calling? Is something wrong?’ I could hear the whine in her voice.
‘No. Nothing.’ I replied. I hummed.
‘Your friend. Your girlfriend. Is she nice? Where are the both of you staying? Are you getting a lot of sun?’ She seemed to perk up a bit.
‘Everything is fine.’ Why was I lying? Why did I run away from home again? Was it because of the complex and complicated relationship I had with my sad, elegant, longsuffering mother?

Why did I do this to her? My father had left us. He was there physically but he had left us to our own devices. Two women on their own. A single parent had to be both mother and father. I could blame the anorexia on him. The distant father who wanted a social life and a wife who could be an active participant in that world. He wanted someone who would attend functions on his arm, smiling and nodding her head, looking out for him. Two women on their own. My mother did not really understand mental illness. Then one day unexpectedly he returned. After a hospital stay.

We were father and daughter, hostile tributes aside that had to count for something. With my mother away in Johannesburg, my father and I confide in each other now. Frank talk exposing illness.

Everything else was forgotten. I look at my books. No one will ever know where it really came from. No one will know the man who really inspired me to the wuthering heights, who helped my gift along. One day as I have said before I will never have youth on my side. Youth is wasted on the young. Will this make me bitter or crazy down the line? I am already crazy. I am already too thin. The skin and bone of an anorexic woman have many ghost stories to tell. Skinny legs. The flesh of a bird. I feel it in my bones. I feel the lonely life of crazy in my bones. It was planted there somehow like a sonnet, keys to a post-apartheid future.

Psychoanalysis is filled with statements. Wrecks with gut symmetries. Frail beauty. Here humanity becomes relentless as they once did at the discovery of treasure after treasure in the wilderness of the rural countryside in another life. Writers are dreamers. Dreamers who plunge into all the universal symbolism has to offer. Expressions of suffering, heritage and knowledge.
Is writing a book like childbirth, a Darwinian experience, a sensorial experiment, an engagement? The problems with symbolism is that it gives us a sense of our own mortality. A sense of false hope. In a dream, we might come upon a cauldron of water. What does this mean?

The only thing that fits that kind of dream-reality in our existence is the warm sea, destination anywhere of the shoreline, the swimming pool or to go bathing in a river, wading into that weight of water. Once upon a time, we too were fish. Once upon a time, we too were intuitive children. Mushrooms are beautiful delicate things. The melons for this time of year are beautiful too. Food is too glorious for words. Food is like sex. We need it for our survival. If we do not have children to follow in our footsteps who will write history over repeatedly.

Light comes in waves. They come in their own time. Their own medium of survival therapy. Their own ceremony in the shadows. The real world, reality, sanity, normal is a trap. Light is made up of the angelic. It is made up of the otherworldliness against the common particles of this world. I have gone so high. I have crashed romantically trying to live with the decisions I have made. Atonement can be beautiful like videotape. There is no room for lies only a lighthouse, only fulfillment, only videotape. A man can have sexual fulfillment. For a woman fulfilment is mingled in her blood, if she can see her unborn children in her lover’s eyes.

Had Virginia Woolf known love? Real love with Vita Sackville-West? What did she think of marriage? I write for women and I write for men. I am a feminist and a humanist but the question is can I be both. I have also known lesbian passion but it was never quite enough. It was driftwood. It was cats and dogs. It was a constellation. It was the red shred of a balloon in the hand of a screaming child. It was paste. It was a vital breathing lesson. It was gold and bright and illumined my world for a fraction. It was the investigation of a distillate. I feel a disembodiment when I talk about that time, feeling her fingers in mine, brushing her hair out of her face.

I feel that there are apparitions inside my head. They come with their own prepared speeches, airs and graces. These damned adventurers. Did Virginia Woolf write enough, too much, or too little? Would she have liked to have children, a child, and a son? What is so dead wrong with married life for me? Would I not grow if I had companionship, if I had love, if I had someone to take care of me? Someone to lean on. Sometimes I feel so cold. My nerves tingling in my hands as if in this universe there are other worlds out there that are magical, stranger than fiction, haiku, Mr Muirhead, famous people. Now I am older but am I wiser?

Ghosts. Ghosts. Ghosts. They all have their own stories to tell. What the hell? I kissed a girl, have slept with men. Have known love as Woolf’s Orlando in my dreams and reality. There is this other feeling. I cling to things. To beautiful things. It is the feeling you get inside you heart as you find the words inside your head when you sing along to your favourite song on the radio. Who was she? Who was Virginia Woolf? Will the real Virginia Woolf please stand up? Will everyone who is anyone please stand up and give Virginia Woolf a standing ovation for making it so far, thus far? Was her life complete or incomplete?

The sea. Trough. Crest. Trough. Crest. The waves emit their own frequency. I have the season ticket for the swimming pool. There is two hardboiled eggs for everyone for breakfast. Toast galore. A wasteland of breakfasts in middle class homes. The accomplished man that I see in front of me does not care for me anymore in any way. I am the least of his worries. Now I must survive. My mother is no longer at the height of her awareness as a bride. She no longer has those virginal mental faculties within reach, that ego of an adolescent girl now that she has brought children into the world. I must swim. I must regain something that I have lost.

I must recover. I must evolve for a revolution from within to take place.

Snow Falling On Garden City Clinic

Stupidly we make our way to the church.

There has been a death in the family. The chicken soup has been made. We are all distracted. In the kitchen on the counter top, the vinegar holds up in its robes of motherhood the pickles, the onions and the olives extraordinarily. We need the exploration of food to make it through the day. We need routine like we need to find prayer in today’s goals and dreams. My mother’s belly burned me like that when she carried me in her womb. Her belly was a jewel. Diamond? Pale? In it, I found nurture and moonlight, expressions of night, rest and placenta. While I slept, I was patched with a surge of vulnerable taproots that cannot be traced anymore.

Pockets are waking. Things of illusion, beautiful things of imagination like celestial light, the tapestry of stars and the stem work of relief. Like health, that most elusive thing we are all fighting to protect each other. Speech is ice. Then there are those mornings when it pours down cats and dogs. When I feel myself falling into morning. When I feel as if there is ice in my lungs. Leftover potato salad has never tasted so good. It came straight out of the fridge onto my lap. This is the aftermath. My feast of vertigo. My lunch of closure. I am eating it with a fork.

It comes with flashbacks of relationships that are now just as dead to me as my aunt who is buried six feet under, pushing up daisies. It was both alcoholism and diabetes. She stopped breathing in her hospital bed. She was wasting away in front of her family. I think of the boys I never smoked with. I think of the men I never kissed. This is how I live now. I remember. In the palace of that fluid world of the distinguished older man who was made of substance, experience and influence, I was the one who found herself living by the skin of her teeth. I have a psychiatrist’s appointment this week.

What will she have to say, that beautiful, headstrong Afrikaner that I have absolutely nothing in common with? As a poet, I am on a journey. It is killing me. I am alone and it is killing me. I will myself not to cry those tears of self-pity. During the appointment, will we talk about my estranged family or my poetry, my addictions, my emotional instability or how I am coping under all of these circumstances? I do not need therapy. I do not need the anti-depressants that will deliver me from sin and damnation. I just want to inspire people. I want to make a difference. I want to save people. Are things like that not laudable?

Are they not worthy of praise? I stopped drinking before it really became a problem. The breakthrough came when I saw what it did to my aunt and the relationships she had with her sons. They lost all respect for her. They loved her, how could that of all things change but it made them sad as if they were losing the best part of themselves. When history finally becomes a dream, the wuthering heights of darkness is lost, something is communicated to the world at large through the scent of rosebushes and the fragrances of bacon frying in its own grease and fat.

‘I want to take you to a place that you feel comfortable.’ How I live and breathe for those words every six months from my psychiatrist. Going to the lab every six months. Sitting in that chair and prepping myself for when the nurse prods my skin and the needle goes in. I do not want to be a part of this anymore I want to scream but I cannot do that because too many people depend upon me. Back to the kitchen with me. What is on the menu tonight? Memory and desire from childhood. Chicken with thyme and potatoes. Mum’s version. I do the preparation. Cutting and peeling. Mapping out supper.

In two or three hours we will all take our places at the kitchen table and they, what is left of my family will eat what I have prepared. I will grace and my father will tuck in. As I said before I do not need the anti-depressants that will deliver me from sin and damnation. Why death? Why life? Why the impulse to pick up a book, lose interest in it and then to put it down again and forget about it? Why the sex drive, the impulse to pay for intimacy, the maintenance of the woman who provides the sexual transaction? Why reconciliation? Why oral traditions and indigenous knowledge systems? Why the intellectually superior types?

Why is the woman still inferior to man when it comes to writing, spirituality, philosophy and painting? Whispering madness. It will only be a man who will find themselves alone on a mountain. Now I speak to the one person in the world who came closest to understanding me. My future adult self says that I miss you as if the world misses a hurricane or a tsunami. I want my revenge on every dark-haired boy. Perhaps then, I will understand love. The proof of sin is in the doing and then in asking for forgiveness. I go to the beach. I take my shoes off and walk towards the water. The wind is up. I sit down, cross my feet. I roll up my jeans to my knees.

I watch the children with their buckets and spades and I think of the children I will never have. I watch the surfers, the couples sitting on towels who flirt with each other. I watch the young girls in bikinis who sunbathe. Infertility can do that to you. Make you give up all hope. From madness to now, more and again that can do it to you too. I am an armchair traveller reading geniuses. I think it is the only safe merchandise I have in my house that cannot hurt me. I have never been a part of a couple since my early twenties. There are too many delusions, illusions, paradigms shifting, phoenixes finding the exit out and ghost stories.

These days I depend too much on my intuition at the grocery store. What would my father like? What would my father love? I think of my childhood as I stir, cook, peel, remove the scrapings, the eggshells and make space for the perishables going to the compost heap and the other stuff that is going in the dirt bags, the wasteland. I remember how competitive my siblings and I were at the swings. In the yard, there is blue skies and sunshine. There are dogs chasing birds. My dad scratches both of them between their ears. I can hear the speaker from a tent church on the other side of the world. I have to plant something. Something green. A green feast.

We already have trees. We have flowers. We have rosebushes. Life searches for life. I am lost but I cannot run away from home anymore. I am no longer that teenage runaway. Running up streets and down streets. Making a home in libraries in Johannesburg and Swaziland. One a city. One a country. What do people do? They celebrate life. They participate in activities. Some meaningful and some not. In the mornings, I go and check to see if my dad is quite literally still alive. He has so many aches and pains. If he snores then I know he is okay. If he turns around in bed, I know he is okay.

Sometimes, just sometimes my heart beats faster and faster. Sometimes I feel very afraid for absolutely no reason at all.

‘Coffee, dad?’ I pull the blanket that was hiding his face away from it. His eyes are open.
‘Morning. How are you? How did you sleep? Yes, please bring me some. Thanks. I need some so I can wake up properly.’ Before I answer him, I hand him the steaming hot cup of coffee. I know in twenty minutes it will still be standing next to the bed cold.
‘How did you sleep, dad?’
‘Not so good.’
‘Do you want to talk about it, dad?’
‘I dreamt about Jan Hollingshead again. The good times we had together. The fact that I loved her. I loved her a great deal. Not the way a man loves a woman but in a much more spiritual sense. You know?’
‘Yes I know dad. I know what you mean.’ It came to me how naturally, human nature is flawed.

We have the same conversations. We drink lots of lukewarm tea. We talk about our doctors, about our counselling sessions, about the flashbacks we have sometimes, our nervous breakdowns, our hospitalisations. What people used to call institutionalisations in the old days.
Mostly we speak in monosyllables or say nothing at all. My mother has disappeared to Johannesburg to visit my sister. There is a thrill to the day. All we seem to eat these days is chicken. Chicken sandwiches with wilted lettuce. Dry chicken with broccoli and potato bake. Roast chicken with the juices running dry. Takeaway chicken. Chicken curry. Chicken stew.

Chicken soup with noodles. This chicken was a chronic metaphor for mental illness in the wards of Elizabeth Donkin, Hunterscraig, Tara, Valkenburg and Garden City Clinic. All the wards that my father had been in for his illness and how I had followed him, in his footsteps. I watched the waves. A young couple’s embrace. I did not wish I could be part of that game (too many snakes, too many ladders, and not many exit routes, too many destinations leading to anywhere and nowhere fast). The girl had a loveliness to her. Her youth was on her side and I was losing mine.

I knew that embrace was not real. It was only temporary like the happiness a fairy tale gave you before you had to put the book away. There was a sadness to the day. There was also a knowledge from it that I had to take away from it. It was almost as if the vibrations of the day was armed with a tragic heaviness, and it inspired loneliness within me. The seas grandeur was not as grandiose as the universe’s. All of this knowledge terrified me. I knew the girl would lose her looks as I had lost my appeal to older men. Now I was just old and my intelligence did not just seem to terrify me, it terrified the men too.

Mothers do not tell you that with intuition comes reading other people’s minds. Nothing would ever inspire me to put on a bathing costume again to go swimming in the sea in front of all these clowns who were jazzed up like lizards with the golden embrace and the texture of the warmth of the sunshine. Call it self-pity then if you want or lack of confidence for a better word. My physical body had seemed to take on a life of its own now. It was surer of itself. I was no longer a stupid girl wanting a man’s attention, willing to do anything for it, not seeing through their fake postures as they waited for me in bed to emerge from the bathroom in hotels.

I knew some had wives, some had girlfriends, some had children or a child on the way, some had bonds, some had overdrafts, some had mortgages (which meant absolutely nothing to me no matter how hard I tried to remember) and I was putting myself in a bad way. Just because he was divorced did not mean he was going to marry me. In my twenties, I was not intelligent or wise. I was just a sponge. Soaking up information happily or trembling as he folded me into his arms whispering sweet nothings into my ear. I never smoked with him. The man who I thought was the one who was going to rescue me.

Save me from a fate worse than death in the big celestial light city. I watched him smoke. I drowned as he smoked. As he flirted with other girls. In his game, I was a pawn. Easy to get rid of. I never had that killer instinct his other women, his other girls had. At night these men, these older men would make incredible gestures, they would go to all this trouble to see that I was comfortable and I in all innocence mistook that to mean that now we were in a relationship. Now we were truly in love but now I realise they were like stars to me. All of these men could see my future self.

As I look at my infirm father and he turns to look at me and smile with fatherly concern written on his face, I wonder do all of those men I slept with still remember me and smile at their daughters with fatherly concern written on their faces. It is a face I recognise like rain pouring down.

Please Help

My sister has the paper tiger empress down to an art.

I have embraced the physical art of suffering. I have surrendered to the primitive, the ancestral, the universal, and the totem. I am the clever experiment. Driftwood in my hands. Exposure to a wilderness in my head. Darkness invisible is the land that borders on God. I long for the roar of the sea, zoo pretty, lush with its stone voice. In the sea, my body becomes creative.

Every impulse is recognised. Like a footstep on cobblestones or gravel. To me the sea is sacred. It has always been a sacred mystery to me since childhood. Salt cells in my hair. Light shining through me like a lighthouse. I am little but I am also tall. I am brown but I am also poetry. Waves in motion. The sun in motion.

There I am breathing in salt and light until my feet no longer tread land. I begin to forget female writing, becoming Virginia Woolf, how lonely the house is now without the sounds of my mother moving around the rooms. There is just empty space. Where there is empty space there is also faith and loyalties, religion, a church, prayer, and spirituality.

My father and I have built those foundations. There are powerful forces in mothers. Although they have never experienced their children’s pain, they feel it. As if, they have gone through it themselves. I felt something shift inside of me. For the first time truth is illuminated. Everything begins to blossom around me. I took my pills this morning and dressed.

I waited for the world to show up. I waited for grief too, and anxiety to show up and make waves. I was patient. Too kind for words. I had to be in order to survive. I had an idea of a river of dust, of privacy, of shelter, isolation, personal space and unquiet bleeding. A woman’s unseen bleeding. There were parts of me that understood that life was precious.

There were also parts of me that understood that life was wild and free. It inspired people, not only writers. It made you feel electric and it was an insane trip. A rollercoaster ride. I am damaged. There I said it. I brought it to life in this world like Frankenstein. Other people, worldly or spiritual are damaged too. Other people like me are also mentally ill.

Other people are also beautiful shadows swinging from the chandeliers. Other people also have visions of being neglected, and abandoned. I have put all my thirst and my longing onto a page. I have to erase it somehow. The lonely hunter within me hints at diminishing its powerful hold over me.

‘You are my disabled sister.’ She said on the telephone. Her voice was cool. It did not matter to me. Her voice was always winter. An asylum. This was how I lived now. With disability. It was not a tragic affair. I had built up my intuition, the psychic pathways to my third eye. My sister was my Hiroshima. Fat Boy. Little Man. We were no longer playing at Little Women.

I have always believed though that I had the qualities of a young mother. I remember sticky fruit in the hands of children, soup and bread, apartheid South Africa when I could not play on the swings or else my father would be arrested. To me there was always a ballad in everything. I remember how we made a Noah’s ark, and Jonah’s whale out of a fruit tree. A mulberry tree.
It stained the clothes on the line as it stains my heart now. Trees chaperone the garden now. My sister works in a bank. My mother busies herself with spiritual meetings, and her garden. She does not see me. I am invisible to both. Politics can crush you especially the politics in family life. Humanity will survive. Humanity will continue to dream, have those visions.

I believe in suffering, longing and thirst. It is a product of my childhood. I believe other children, and other adults are products of their childhood too. I have believed in it since childhood. The wounding of my heart started early for me. The early loss of innocence separated me from other girls and boys all through my early life. Those formative years.

So for a long while in my life there was spiritual poverty. I had a great father though who gave me everything. Books and culture. He shared his passions with me and I told him the secrets of my soul. Girls need mothers like fish need to live and breathe in the ocean. Daughters need their fathers too.

When people abandon you, when people neglect you, you end up in a bad way, in an anguished and terrible shape. You will either become phenomenal. A phenomenal success or a failure. You will either just completely waste away as an adult or contribute nothing to the world. You will never learn to love or you will change the world. You will learn to save yourself.

You will learn what family, being part of the world at large and humanity really means. I had been deprived my whole life of this beautiful and elegant woman who was also an elegant and beautiful monster. Abuse shattered me. Night and day, was a voyage into dark but it taught me how to become ambitious? It taught me to become a modern girl.

It taught me how to spread my wings out and fly. It taught me to harvest tunnel vision, set goals for myself, dream, and to reach for the sun, that brilliant, brilliant light, the moon and my dark side. A child has lovely bones. When they say their first words or discover something novel, they enchant.

I wanted her to dedicate her life to me but she had work, two other children and a manic-depressive for a husband. She had the emotions of a wife. Chef, lover, teacher, mentor, tennis player, sister. She was a wife in apartheid South Africa and continued to be a wife and a mother in post-apartheid South Africa. She planted rosebushes. She lived. She loved with grace, mercy.

She baked but it was never for me. The modern human, be it the child prodigy, the gifted, the genius, the writer, the poet, the artist as the Outsider, all have suffered for their art. Their intelligence is elegant. For women the illusion is this, that we are the sum of our experiences, that we live in order to die, that to make sense of the world we must be educated.

Empowered and uplifted by the opposite sex, and the sexual transaction. The divine wonder that illuminates the world around us knits our brain cells and us together. Man creates. Through his creation he dominates. In our dreams comes the journey, the invisible monsters, and the fork in the road, the music, and the footsteps in the dark, imagination, what we worship.

The imaginary waves, the hallucination, the surreal, reality, the painted blurred lines, and the mental drum. The truth that exists for me is not the same that exists for you. Inside of Africa and outside of Africa. What does it mean to be human? What does the word humanity mean and how does it transform us, our view of the world, our thinking, our perspective on illness?

I can see the glare of the light now. At the end of the day, my father puts me back together again. It is his voice that I hear and that of my ‘second mother’. Magda Dumont. I have been deprived, homeless, lived in a shelter with other women who have also been deprived, homeless and have gone on living from shelter to shelter. I have been a wreck. I have been ‘shipwrecked’.

I have been to the lighthouse and back. I have been dashed against those rocks. I have been a ghost, told those ghost stories and come back furiously to life after being comaed. The veil of illness has begun to branch out into my body, that mental switch. Humanity has a body of fire, so does Africa, and the phoenix.

The flame of mental illness and disability licks that mental switch. To love is give something of your spirit, your soul away. Why did you not love me mummy? The physical me has been counselled, but what clinical psychologists seem to understand really well is textbook knowledge but not the day-to-day lifestyle of mental illness or suicidal depression.

The potential that humanity has for forgiveness is the same potential we have for being kind beings. It should not be alien to us, but for some it is alien. As much as I am baffled by, the expectations that society places on a woman by the world that she lives in, the pressure that they put on women not to call themselves feminists, or to even play that role.

To get no kind of certain pleasure out of life is difficult. Humanity is not perfect. It seems as if all the negatives have a perfect timing. They seem to weigh in over the decisions that God has in mind for us mostly leaving us building up the furious, those brick walls inside of us. Sorrow is nothing. War studies, battling stress, overcoming the limits of man and womankind.

Studying, observing love is pure. All love is meant to be pure. When I read, read anything from books to opinion, to essays, to short stories it is funny that I do not feel that isolation from my mother, the woman who struggled to bring me into this world, who waited five years for a baby, who went from doctor to doctor seeking a cure for infertility.

To realise that you are not accepted for whom you are, to gain no approval from loved ones because of illness has grief written all over it. I have a message. It is simple. Live with a force of human nature even though you are broken. Live as if that is your greatest intention. Your obsession. Your knowledge is powerful. Invent yourself again. Reinvent earth. Its textures.

The universe is there for the taking. In the end, as it has always nurtured humanity, the broken, it will and can nurture you. Your knowledge of prayer and your knowledge of fear. You cannot have one without the other. I have not found a cure for illness yet or disability. The closest that I have come to it is this. Laughter and being a daughter. Being caring. Being a poet and a writer.

I am carving out a place in the world for me, a future to live, a gifting, and in kind, I must serve to deserve others. It is a desert out there made out of ancient dust. The sun has baked that earth for centuries. Cacti has made it their home out there. The ground is not fertile not even for germs but when the rains come as they must come; memory and desire are washed away.

I will remember birthdays, Christmases, Easters, telephone calls made collect, Tara, Hunterscraig, relapse and recovery into oblivion with my hair splitting at the ends, running out of shampoo, and other women’s necessary things if you know what I mean. I was trying to live. I promise. I was trying to live. My brain pulp. It was in need of medicine. Yes, pharmaceuticals.

Can you feel it hanging in the air? Nerves. Nerve. It is there like language and mother tongue.

I breathe in the shape of aloes, that green feast. I breathe in lessons of despair and isolation. Am I not Antigone’s representative? Her disciple?

Dance with me as I write these words now. I will cha-cha it out of my system. I remember the lightness of youth so pure, so pure in girls and boys, but not me. In the heat of adolescence, I was left standing, carrion, and carrion, viewed the world from a foetal position, and cooked those meat and potatoes until there was nothing left of the meat but a dry hiss, a grandmother’s kiss. I remember that house. My grandmother’s kitchen. Sitting at her kitchen table and eating wisdom. Not getting enough of what my father grew up on. I remember solitude as if I remember the playing fields of an adolescent. I dream to the beat of haiku. Her hands smelled of camphor. This memory is precious to me. Grandmothers are always precious in the eyes of their grandchildren.

This world dazzles me. The world of the father and the daughter. It has a rich tapestry. God is woven into the details, and so is the gene pool of creativity. The outside world is disturbing to me. If I grab a hold of it, it will surely mean the death of me. This journal is my handbook. This notebook is worth its weight in gold. I am going for glory. I need new shoes. Shoes that do not pinch my feet. It is summer. I will need sandals. I need love like I need an appendectomy scar. What is it, what is love if you have never received it? What is wrong with me? Sorrow wounds me. Can you of all people understand that? Can you get to grips with that?

There is an art to experiencing life. You take the sweetness of it all. You take the sweetness of the wasteland, the history wilderness, the shape and landscape of it all. You drink it in. It is ritual. At the heart of it, that is what experience is. A ritual. A rite of passage. I am not finished with earth yet, with the material, with the observations of possessions, with the elegant stories that I keep on brushing up against. People have hurt me. The world has hurt me but still I go on living. Not dancing but living in a way that is against other people’s ideas of what it means to be alive. To be authentic is a savage way of life. I prefer stories to the wild measures of love.

Do you pray? I pray. Do you meditate? I meditate. Do you believe in yourself? I believe in myself. It must be why I am still here. The house is big. The television is in one room. Other rooms are filled with books. There are three studies. There is an office space. I had a childhood. Now I have another childhood. A grown up wonderland except instead of a rabbit I have ghost stories. I voyage up and down the house. I sail, brush against the cool walls, open my hands to receive what cool opportunities the world has for me in the form of canned fruit, the pomegranate and other fruit trees. It is a palace out there for the taking, but there is also blood.

I am not buying into that though. My history is beautiful. It is amongst the most beautiful things that I won in the end, and that I possess. There is pain there on that painted pilgrimage, suffering too. I have hid medicine there. It has a muscle called rejuvenation. People have called me by many names. In the end, what are tears good for? It has fed this eagle. I have fallen into the darkness of society. I have also seen the light. It is brilliant if you wait long enough for the afternoon sun, and when it hits your eyes it will hurt. You will be reminded, of everything that you have lost but also gained in the run for guarded illumination.

Soil erosion reminds me of something being loosed into the wild nature of things. Solitude is wasted on the young. They do not want to think or spend their time with books. Things of that kind of nature bores them, those machines would prefer being smashed out of their heads on a Saturday night with the warmth, the pressure of the body of the opposite sex against them. No love story there. If I had grown up like that no doubt I would be an alcoholic in recovery by now. My mother is leaving us. My father, daddy, and I am to take care of him while she splits.

She will come back. Back to her garden, her house, her ‘other’ life (meaning spiritual). My sister lives in the big city. A Johannesburg kind of big city. Her bones are not kind. Her mind, tone of her voice, her attitude. She sits on a throne at a bank. She runs marathons. She treats her dogs as if they were her children. She has buried me, cut the heads off the daisies to show me that she is what this world desires. She is what this world calls woman, beautiful, independent, and career-minded. I am disabled and with disability comes illness, isolation, despair and hardship. She is dangerous. I never had those wings. Never lived in an otherworldly place. People tell me stories. They think I am a ghost. They think I feel nothing when they smirk.

These people do not remember that once I too was a young woman. A young woman with sun in her hair. Once upon a time, a man took me in his arms. Perhaps there was a union there. I am not a woman to her. My sister is no church Christian. She thinks she is cultured and educated. She has won over my mother, that glittering prize. I am wise. In this picture, I am the shaman. I sing the blues. Inside something is scattered though. Must be my heart. There is ice growing, growing in my lungs (yes, there are days when it is difficult to breathe and to realise that I am not wanted, that I have wasted my life loving and wanting difficult people.

People who have watered gardens and watched them grow. Like water in wild places, unaccustomed to being swam in by young children with growing limbs, pleasure, excitement, elated galore, I remember my mother feeding me soup in childhood. I remember how obediently I opened up my mouth and how I received that nourishing warmth. I remember how beautiful her hands were and her wedding ring and how that morning she had braided my hair. Twisting it into a plait as if she was kneading bread before we both watched it tentatively rise after putting yeast in. I stood next to her on tiptoe. She stood clicking her heels on the tiled floor in the kitchen.

‘Magic see.’ she would say.

‘Magic.’ I would say after her.

Afterwards I lost the magic. Somewhere I lost the magic. She writes. I am lonely. The world is full of people but somehow I have lost my head, and my way home and I am on a downward spiral. I am afraid I can no longer lie and walk with my chin up. The world does not feel as if it is full of possibilities for me anymore. I have met all the people I have wanted to. All my dreams have come true. Nobody truly loves genius. If they tell you that they do, they are in fact lying to you. Does humanity appreciate genius? No. Do they respect or admire it? No, I really do not think so.

They want it for themselves especially those who watch true leaders from a distance. I am sad. She writes. Whom is she writing to reach her? The Magi. I have no one to talk to me, to find me interesting, elegant and intelligent but I have the world at my feet. I am my father’s brilliant chef, his nurse, his confidante, his companion, and his daughter. The house. This house. It smells like chicken. To me houses smell of kitchens, that or burnt pots, rubbish food or chicken. The innocence left behind of a childhood kitchen is almost enough to move me to tears. Did chicken smell the same in apartheid South Africa, the wuthering heights of apartheid South Africa and now post-apartheid South Africa?

I am reminded that I am my father’s daughter. That I am not built for that. To be every spoonful of a delicate dessert in the mouths of the liberals. The best I can hope for is a ghost story, becoming Woolf. Days pass and it just my father and I pottering around the house. Rooms empty. I explore them as if I am a child again with glee. I take an online test. At the end of answering a list of questions, it tells me that I am an eagle. I am experiencing childhood all over again. As if, I am playing with my dolls again or rummy with my adoring boy cousins all much older than I am. Always in high spirits. Those good-looking healthy specimens.

Rain clouds my mind. She says to her father. His eyes are closed. He is sleeping but she has no one else to talk to her. This is how she passes her almost-comaed days. How do I write? Am I a good writer? I am a terrible writer. A liar, a failure, a front, a faker, a poser, and an actor. Give it to me straight world. I am what I am because I am a product of my own miserable life, my actions, and the choices that I have made and had to live with. I am not here to get along with people. In all my years, I have never got along with people.

I am the lone wolf, the loner, the Outsider. Earth is beautiful but to me it is one helluva of a hallucination. Surreal, imaginative, the real somewhat diminished, humanity evaporated at every turn. My father and I used to go for long walks. She writes. We walked around the church, next to the highway until we reached the local garage. My father would go inside and use the rest room while I waited for him. The cashiers would watch us grimly. I would turn my head and look away if I caught their gaze. I would look at the specials; look at the pretty packaging and think of how my mother disowned me because I was not ‘a proper woman’.

Too much, like your father. She would say. I think she would say it in an angry way and in a way, she was much more angry with herself than at me I would ponder. There had never been any success in the relationships I had with people. With the opposite sex in particular. Women, girls never held me in high esteem. Everything I know, my education started at my father’s knee. I never had the caring, overly protective, nurturer of a mother. I am dying inside but I do not say anything. If I did, it would pretty much be over for me. It would mean tickets. She writes sucking on the end of her pen. Pleased with the dark smudge on the page. Wet ink.

Almost as if, it was a kind of symbol for her mood. Her thick slice of bread with butter. My mother will not take pictures with me. There is a lump in her throat now. There are butterflies in her stomach. My mother. My mother. My mother. She writes in quick succession. The woman who gave me life disregards me now as if I do not live. As if, I do not exist. All around me now, the scent of tragic innocence, an air of disgrace, circles of values and principles, perspectives and views of the world. I dance madly to the beat of my own African drum. A drum of my own making. I am a feminist. Are you proud of me mummy? Tea please, daddy.

Winter trees wet with the cold. Watch nature’s bride. Watch the leaves merry dance on the ground, in the air, swimming, swimming mournfully in gutters. Heaven can wait. Paradise too but she thinks to herself that they mean the same thing. She writes in her journal. Everybody says she is wise. She is the writer. She is the poet. She is the fundi, the woman of letters, and the woman who reads books but who also unfortunately cannot create life, placenta, a baby’s patella, and mitochondria. There are other women in the family who can do this. Family, women who are not afraid of the world who live in America.

The land of milk and honey, rick and thick. Other women can do this in the family. Bring life into the world. Indian women who live in crime-ridden Johannesburg, women who live in New Zealand, Swaziland. Ice makes a journal. Broth. Daddy’s infirm body curled up under blankets like a cat. Mum is gone. It is just her way. My sister the extraordinary machine is gone. It is just her way.

There is no love story for me, no perks, just a wasteland of steaks and grease, just endless days that seem to stretch out into a blue nothing. You can feel it good on some days. Peace. Peace of mind. On other days, it feels hard to live just getting by on the basics. Foodstuffs and nothing else. If it were not for the pharmaceuticals, I would drink. I would be a coward; I would be the worst possible mother in the world. I would not feed my children. I would abandon those kids I created. I promise you this. So thank the stars that I cannot conceive. Infertility is written into my chromosomes.

Woven like a tapestry. Information on overload. You see outsiders can break you. They can break your spirit but your family are the worst. They can stab you in the back, walk away, do heinous things behind your back and you will still have to allow them to come back into your life. Truth is stranger than fiction. They can sabotage you and destroy you.

They will laugh and smile in your face while you cower in fear in front of them. Vulnerable as a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car, knowing that the life is soon going to be crushed out of it. Before I came home, I needed to know that I was not alone. It was just another winter for me. An uninvited winter. A blood knot. I can hear the shrill malice in my mother’s voice. Her voice is tap dancing on my bones. My skull. Her nervous, anxious energy becomes my nervous and anxious energy. I wanted to be sheltered with my whole heart but perhaps I never gave enough of myself as a child. She writes down a conversation.

A conversation that she has in her head and it goes mostly something like this. Always the same conversation because for three weeks now there has only been two inhabitants in the house. A father and a daughter. An old man and a watchful-eyed daughter, ever-present. You think you can do this to me. You think you can do this to me because I am not like your other daughter. You think you can do this to me because I am an affront to everything that your wife stands for. Does she love you daddy as I do? Tell me that. Do you have any other potbellied, elegant solutions for our life together?

Do you know how much it hurts me when you chose them over me? Your wife and your other daughter who cannot even bring herself to call me, to talk to me a little, to forgive me over some slight, some petty issue, a thing that is now past tense? Them and me. Always in this, little, little fight club. Are they your entourage? For a long time now, I have guessed that I am not good enough because I am mentally ill. You can heal broken bones. Cancer goes into remission but what about the song and dance of clinical depression. What about the ammunition that a hypomania carries? Help me to help you. Help me to help myself.

Broken, wasted, searching, and living with a kind of useless mentality that I have yet to come to grips with completely. I know this, that close-knit families pollute my fractured mind, identity and ego. This knowledge makes me more productive. It is like porridge to me. Manna. Family and friendship means nothing to me like land and lasagna, ownership and oats, property and taking the piss out of people, if you decide to treat me badly or to nurture me that is human nature. It means nothing to me. I kept showing up but unfortunately, nobody else did. In my case, blood was not thicker than water. I want perfection. Every writer wants perfection. I want family but have been disinherited like that Monaco princess. Every writer wants a home, wants a family.

Every poet wants to bring the chaos and disorder in the world, that maelstrom to a complete halt. Everybody wants to bang their drum, have their cake, and eat it too. Is the rain as lonely as I am? Including the people who live on those prairies where Native Americans once lived alongside totems and shamanic wisdom. Everything in life is a gift including your enemies, your parents, your siblings, your estranged family, and the black sheep in the family. Are mountains lonely? The valleys, the instructions to the mouth of the river of where it all began, of home, of the family wilderness.

Her roses are invincible, the middle child in the photograph (is it because I am not pretty, is it because of the disability, the unworldly illness). I am not brave enough to dance alone. To be that queen, the queen of the revolution from within, to stop the echo of the ego from vibrating from within. There is the unbearable lightness. Dream with me.

Blindfolded

There has been a flood not a conservation of water but everything that the child eats seems to taste like snow dripping like aloe sap. Secrets can be earth-shattering. Humanity is not meant to keep secrets. Secrets can kill. So their bodies flowed with the water and its carcass became two, and there is an obsession that they carry with them to the grave. Hearing voices, even in spirit Di steals. There is potential in its metallic caress but also nausea, paranoia, and insanity. My skin is a wall, a hellish ruin. A home where I do not want to be. The child Felicity cannot wail anymore. She cannot be held in Di’s arms anymore. This happy ending is washed out. The children involved have been brainwashed.

They both met the wolves at the door. Di’s last words must have been, ‘Beg.’ Then again she held no more power over him. James Smith’s addictions will never die and in his poetry there are shades of sirens. But Felicity and Di are also there, ghosts. Time was just pretend. People, women growing older around him while Di and Felicity stayed forever young. Tucked in a filthy grave made of earth both with their beautiful. With their dark exotic hair and foreign air but they are still in a homeless space. Di surfacing a grown up in a maze, an experiment and in the end she has won but in the end where is her speech. Her perspective, her poetry? Everything cannot have been destroyed.

What would she say? If she was still alive today. James Smith said, ‘Heal Di. Your words are practically magic. They give you an identity. At night, future stories will come to you in dreams. You are the only one who can make you feel safe. I divulge all of the world in my poetry.’ When he put his hands on her body and wrote love poems, loose translations naming the abandonment of body parts. Di was both an adored survivor but she loved to wear disguises. And after all the damages were done Smith said, May all their souls rest in peace’. Forgive me Saint Maybe.

What is there left to salvage? She wears a scarf around her neck. One of my own and now Felicity is an Eskimo princess pure through and through. Our foreignness appears less so now. You can be more bold now indiscreet. Now I live like a cloistered nun. Oh I much prefer it that way. I was dying before but I never had the words for it or the strength to say it when pain conquered everything. Now there is no more cold and no more talking. No more waking and aloof indifference. No more stupid winter London sky. Unstable water, pathetic people sitting on the park benches feeding the ducks.

You’re as frozen as the earth we’re covered in. Your atoms are merely biology, plenty scientific but here is where we say our goodbyes. At the opening of the graves. A kiss for a kingdom. Just a taste. A kiss for the dying but, see, it is far too late for that. It’s salt. Don’t ridicule me. Your behaviour has been far from exemplary. Di found herself locked in an embrace. Safe in the dark. Smith was a poet. Di was a poet with shark teeth. A torso stretched out in the local swimming pool. Daily she would begin a water baptism, a ceremony. There is a writer’s diary in water. The body is an earthworm, and like last chances they search for an intersection.

Once upon a time James, Di and their small daughter Felicity were a family. Then dysfunction ruled the day. James dreamt of his work, Felicity’s legacy. Di in her solitary moments was blue as she braided Felicity’s hair, prepared porridge for the breakfast for the three of them. I have to leave a note was all that Di could think of. I have to put my castles in the air in order. Di was the one who stood over the kitchen sink scratching the grease from the pan that James had fried the bacon in with her fingernails. Every landscape is an image. They have delicious photographs of families, of functions, of get-togethers that Di and James and Felicity was not a part of.

You see in the end I was not so tough sweetie on top of the lake. That list, my recipes keep them hold onto them, save them for the keeper. I’m not a complete hard-hearted fool. Just wounded. I know you’ve been about town and made no secret about it. There are pearls of wisdom. This swarm of words from a summer journal. I threw it into the sea.