Though his Geography teacher taught him all about how the earth spins, he never thought the world would turn on him through his former classmate. Let us keep us his name in fear of public reprisals–
of which he gets every day. Most of the years he was not working but, things went on well for him. It was after Matric when everybody he knew showed their true colours. Right now, he does not know the distinction between good or evil. Satanists want to change the curriculum that everybody is accustomed to in the name of A SECULAR STATE. Yes, our twenty year old democracy possess all of that in the name of Freedom but, Panyaza Lesufi must tread carefully before we have another SCHOOL ZOMBIE CASE. See, apart from a select few fake preachers, there are true healers who only get called upon when the going gets tough, when another man’s child get most feared influenza deadlier than EBOLA VIRUS, the healers get called upon to come exorcise the travelling demons of THE WALKING DEAD. Back to the true story, many men rise after they have fallen out of favour. Not this one. Thus until he get to know the difference between GOD and THE DEVIL.
Though his Geography teacher taught him all about how the earth spins, he never thought the world would turn on him through his former classmate. Let us keep us his name in fear of public reprisals–
There is nothing lost in translation when coming home to the mock husband. I am not coping because I am not the doctor. Because I am not the one who is fluent in the doctor’s language no matter how hard I try. How will I be able to benefit from wearing that white laboratory coat, stethoscope around the neck, with that particular bedside manner? Where is my infinite piano? Watch this. Watch this romance. It is clever math, no; it is elegant math with all of its violent alertness under my fingertips. What is the weather like in Los Angeles? What is a winter like in Los Angeles? What will my head say to my heart as I walk on that beach, or breathe in that valid air from that Parisian meadow with my moral compass to navigate me on those open roads, the wide open spaces of the Midwest? What will my limbs say to each other in London if I ever get around to having that London experience forgoing all my responsibilities as a writer and a poet in South Africa? For is not that what I am primarily. A South African writer and poet living in a post-apartheid apocalyptic city. City life as opposed to life in the rural countryside. Searching for greener pastures in the asphalt garden where everything is golden and chameleon-like. I have never wanted the experience of loss. The measure of loss but life has given me that responsibility. Sutures too.
And panic and I have had to thread both against threadbare knuckles. I have covered myself up with an American quilt. It has become my shroud. It has become my cover in other poetry. But I feel it all the time now. The warmth of anxiety. I feel it humming, humming, and humming in my bones. Singing to the leaves on the winter trees. Guests every one. They are like bees. They are a rapturous swarm. What do I know without having a sophisticated culture, a knowledge and education beyond this tidal moon and sun and then I think of the planets. How like the planets I am? I know my place. I know my place so well now that I cannot give it up. And why would I? There will never be a case of mistaken identity. All I will ever know about life is the predictions of Sappho, poetry and writing. And how sometimes how beautifully unpredictable life can be otherwise. There are storms in the dark and we need to speak about the acute pain from those storms in beautiful and wonderful ways. Mostly the image of depression is that of a wild thing. When I am crazy, I know that is when I am most alive. When I am not crazy, when I am most sober is also when I am most alive but I do not know it. All feeling leaves me and I long for the stress of crazy. I long for someone to tell me I am beautiful.
You are mine. The pain of Sarajevo is in my blood. Mingled there in my blood. Staring back at me in my blood and but what can I do but stare back at it? The door was somehow left ajar for me and my heart was bursting. It ready to be split open like a pomegranate. Seeds everywhere like seawater. I found wild oblivion, the safe passage from suffering in those seeds. At first I could not speak of the fantasy that I held in my hands and that my head wished for so ardently. I could not interpret those promised lands that my mocking husband returned from. I needed land and yet I needed to be reborn as well. I needed stress, a tour of the flesh like I needed the back of my hand. I flickered and then I was buried once again amongst the flowers. And with dirt upon my head I soon realised that I was supposed to be the beautiful keeper of the vanished and the unexamined. The apprehended. I do not want to age. To age means to give up your mortality like an artist giving up their brushes. To age means to give up everything. To age means that you are not bold anymore and that you do not have anything to be brave over. It just happens to be in your blood to think these things. Never mind how you try not to. I need to write to you of the quiet courage of our mothers and our grandmothers. So pay attention.
I will not smile because that is not what attracts you to me. Instead it is fire. Instead it is sitting in the school benches once upon a time, breathing lessons, celestial navigation, driftwood, and a forest of winter trees, the force of the night swimmers, the beach and making each one in its exclusivity sound poetic. Sound the most exquisitely poetic. What is the first memory, the first desire, the primitive attraction and separation anxiety of the magnificence of creativity in the origins of the organisation of feminine intelligence in contemporary poetry? Is the proper voice not the voice of the lover, the voice of the child full of jubilant innocence?
The voices of mother and father in unison giving their child their first standing ovation, grandparents in attendance looking on priggishly mere caretakers of the illumined situation? How quickly pasts are mended, futures are healed and mended? Here is the beginning stages of the organisation of the origins of feminine intelligence. She is schooled in thoughts of culture, a masculine wisdom, vision, and educated by an otherness in luminous stream of consciousness thinking, writing. We need to be drenched in both perspective and identity. Our winning power (that which will never cease) lies in trying not to destroy everything that is above us, and that we believe in. Even our failures must inspire us. For the woman who can’t have children her infertility must inspire her to greater heights.
Whatever was taken was the brightness from the air that made up the shine of artistic genius and it was given to me like the besotted Milky Way, the tangled fabric of the stars from the universe at night, the moon and stars inseparable intuits from the beginning of time. Both pulling down the shine of artistic genius a veil as thick as a tapestry. Is the sanity of a female poet as graceful as a shipwreck left to the gracious mercy of being the bride and bridegroom of nature as we think it is? Aren’t we all, aren’t you just a little bit at the mercy of the creativity’s elusive artistry. Its ravishing blues, the breakdown to end all breakdowns, the be all and end all of the nervous breakdowns? Is it just chemical?
Is the sexual impulse, and that drive just the glamourous rub of love, as glamourous as lipstick? Does the female poet promise that it, her words can never be more than that? Sometimes I catch myself saying those words without really meaning to say it, to say them. I try and detach myself from the glowing artful truth of them. Composing stillness, a courageous stillness, the stillness of intelligence, which is a feminine intelligence is poorer for having known the poverty of the world, and spiritual poverty. With all of the perversions that we discover in this world. With the intimacies, braveries, warriors we learn to let go, surrender if you will. We must or how can we live? We are all waiting for gifts. As a reward for futility or to take upon as just another responsibility.
There was a journal full of darkness in this most primitive of landscapes. Where winter promises snow, the harvesting of into the black, of one bleak and desolate landscape after the other the female poet projects herself into the canvas of her work. Her life becomes the poetry. Art mirrors life. Life mirrors art. The reflection of the female poet is a studious, effortless and conscientious project. The female poet only has to be wild and knowledgeable. She is an animal with a gull’s wings and fortitude. She instructs, she corrects, she astonishes, she admonishes and she knows that to live in this world she has to be the swan. She has to swim.
But she must also have the insight of the ugly duckling, the Cinderella phenomenon, the Plath effect. A female poet knows when to sing, when to be mischievous, when to be the swimmer, the bride, give in to the environment, nature and when to love until she can feel it humming in her bones, giving into it through the fabric of her skin. The female poet in love knows when to surrender. The female poet when casting spells knows when to surrender. The words are there for us to go back to like a complicated film of us in a breath-taking way. A female poet does not need the eye of the public to watch her every move to know that she has made a difference in the world. She only needs a child’s all-knowing eyes.
When it comes to rain it always dances like the gestures of imagination, and like the chilled earth in your hand that roses grow from, that fields of grass wrestle with themselves in, trees are not the interlopers but merely angels in another dimension with their branches acting like wings. You can tell yourself that here’s the breakthrough I’ve been looking for. Here’s the book of secrets my heart’s been longing for. And then you will realise that these are all gifts within the hours of your quiet desperation.
And that the vision of the female poet is in full bloom when she stands at the mouth of a river or not. When she’s hungry, whatever the origins of her beauty is, and most especially when she’s gone underground like some animal seeking shelter from the elements. There she stands. Blooming beautifully with her gift. Her poetry is fresh. It is her pound of flesh. It is her Renaissance. Isn’t the ancient dust under her bare feet delectable, hard won although it is a romance that is as good as dead, and she wants evidence of the cities, of life there because she doesn’t think she’ll make it if she’s plain? If she’s ordinary, if her madness is staggeringly ordinary and most of all if her poetry is not useful, pure enough.
Please do not cry too hard, it is not your fault
That I got rid of myself.
Trying too hard to make you proud,
I ignored reality and the commoness of being,
In fear that my being a typical youth
Might raise your brows. At least,
If I was not normal I could have
Been a rebel. But all I seem to be against
Is the intrusion of sunlight on my mornings.
I became a being of little significance
To the world, a wallflower choked by the
Weeds in your little garden.
My dear Jules*, I think you are a beautiful person
But a terrible liar. I think every time
Your husband loved you enough
To feed you, and bathe you and wipe you off;
You wished he didn’t.
You hate that he had to but you should know
You are more than enough of a person
To admit it. And good God you deserve
Ice cream and walking on the beach
And a day to cry! But you will need him for that too.
Darling, he will need your hand for it too.
I just thought someone should tell you. And
That I survived this long thanks to your emails
About the ducks in your garden
And everyone around you’s Alzheimer’s.
To my best friend, the one
Who started to stop liking good music
And Friday nights in:
You can keep the photo collage of our
Time as friends I never took down from
My living room wall
Since I was still able to look at the pictures
And see the happiness and not the
People I depended on for that happiness.
Really, take it! No one has to know
We forgot to know each other lately.
You were always a person of the world
While I could never seem to climb out
Of my own. For a while now
I’ve been my own keeper, burying myself
Alive under memories and nostalgia while
You grew up, I guess.
Anyway, I wish you all the good luck
You can bear and all the bruises on your
Heart it takes you to learn that you’re
Not his saviour and tequila is not yours.
To all the teachers who influenced me
In my short time alive: Because of you
I appreciate Literature but because of you
I appreciate Literature and that’s not
Making me a lot of money or making me too
Many friends. Thank you.
A big ‘fuck you’ to the boy who didn’t get to break my heart.
I wanted so badly to be known by you, to get felt up
And used by you like all the girls around you did.
But you were too busy being the ideal guy
To pay me any mind.
I know I’m partly to blame, I overcompensated
Your gentry and underplayed my interest. Still.
I hope you feel a tinge of guilt when you hear about this.
A special word of thanks to my neighbour,
Who only ever wanted to know how I was,
When his key didn’t
Unlock his front door fast enough.
If you were some nosy little shit,
You might have walked in on me standing in my window
On the 15th floor of our apartment building,
Ready to fall into the night.
You might have been able to stop me.
Finally, to my colleagues:
I will not miss the random
Conversations at tea and at lunch
About bad television series and how much you
Hate the people you love.
When this body wakes up, I will be dead, and glad
To be rid of this miserable person.
Well, I find myself standing at this point, again, staring at my iPhone with exasperation, wondering why he hasn’t called yet, and wondering if I was so wrong to continue straight at the famous end-of-date cross road. No left turn, no right turn, no good night kiss?
Maybe I gave away too much too quickly, those little messages – sent for no particular reason, in between meetings, during lunch, at the gym, everywhere – did they make me come across as being too involved, a little desperate, maybe? But what is desperate about wanting to be loved, especially when you haven’t seen a decent man in ages? The licentious ones are everywhere, heaven forbid, the childish, condescending type of man who perceives a woman as the modern version of a slave, born to mother him, and fulfill all his needs without question.
I admit that it has been a while since I met anyone whose departure has been worth tossing and turning over. Is that why I’m sitting here persecuting myself over this man’s inability to like me back? Ok, so maybe he does fascinate me, yes, that little bit. And maybe he isn’t that bad, not that elevated on the corporate ladder, but he knows how to bring out the little girl in me. Yes, he does. He says very little, but speaks volumes. I liked it the other day, when he spontaneously bought that blue dress at the flea market, and made me swear that I would only wear it when I am feeling beautiful. For the first time I didn’t care that something wasn’t an expensive designer piece. It was the sincerity behind the deed that really spoke to my heart. I want a man like that, who just flows with me, and begs for no approval, because he knows what he is doing.
Maybe it was the way he would call at twelve midnight, wanting to talk about nothing in particular, nothing life changing, then say it’s okay when I cut the call short because I would have an early meeting the next day. Was I too busy, too self-absorbed, too unavailable? Maybe I was too hurried to notice him needing me, in his small, silent ways, trying to find me, but I was too busy needing nothing from him, too busy being independent.
And what happened after the starter arrived, after he mentioned the two daughters that I have never ever heard anything about, until tonight? Ok, so he has never mentioned them before, so what? This was only our first real date. How much must a man say before he has said all that he needs to say? Am I really that allergic to baby and mama drama that I flee at the very first mention of the word baby? And maybe the flat yeahs and ohs, which followed that little event, are the reason why I am going to bed alone tonight. It’s not my fault that my ideal man has no entourage of wailing babies behind him. But then again, what does that have to do with the simple fact that I just adore Bheki, and I love his company, and the way he thinks, and the way he talks with his hands, and the way he just laughs from deep inside?
Can someone please tell me again why I am sitting here, sinking in self-pity while he continues with the rest of the party elsewhere without me? I just don’t see him sulking over me. He is too composed, and too self-sustaining for that. Or maybe I seemed like a self-righteous control freak when I emphasised how critical it is for a man to understand his moral obligation towards his wife and children. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the word wife, or children. Maybe I came across as being too ripe for the picking, too expectant? Sigh.
Maybe I should have agreed to go over to his place when he asked me. And he did ask with decency, and caution. What did I have to lose anyway? I have stayed over so many times before with guys I didn’t really like anyway, how much more disastrous could this time have been, really? Would he have thought me cheap if I stayed over after our first official date? I don’t know, but that little sad twinkle in his eyes when I said no, said he wouldn’t have.
I am sick of fabulously rich, and boring, James. He will never leave his wife, nor his other mistress… And I am tired of lonely Saturday nights with bottles of expensive wine, used as an anesthetic to the gawking seriousness of my frustrating single-hood. Yes I feel like a hopeless misfit, because even those members of the female populace who are obviously much less appealing than yours truly, seem to somehow get it right with some type of a man. And then the wedding traffic starts, invitation after invitation, cordially asking me to share in bidding someone else’s solitude goodbye.
I feel like crying when I see my friends tear-filled and overwhelmed at the altar. Some of them don’t even love these poor men, for heaven’s sake! I am willing to marry for love. Will it ever be me standing there, all angelic with sparkling eyes, possessed by love, ready to devote myself to that one special man till the end of time? I believe that I have been blessed with reasonably good genes, I will obviously produce very good-looking babies, not to mention my not-so-average IQ. And I think I am tolerable, my irksome mannerisms are nothing an ordinary soccer-crazy man from Soweto or a mining magnate from Dainfern can’t endure. Yet, in spite of it all, here I am. It is a bit awkward, not to mention impossible, for me to find rationale or balance in the idea that I am sitting here alone, frantic and almost in tears, waiting for this (very wonderful I might add…) man to validate me with a little phone call. Sigh.
We all seem to find it hard to comprehend why people somehow feel they don’t know who they married. Weird, right? It depends on how you look at it. Sometimes we give more than we get and get a rude awakening halfway done the line, but obviously that’s not what causes such problems. I get the feeling that somewhere, somehow we just seem to lose ourselves during the journey and get comfortable on the road that lost us in the first place. Maybe just to clarify what I am going on about lets deal with the basics.
In times of disagreement what do you do? Do you wait until you have calm down and then talk it over? Or maybe you brace the argument until you are all too frustrated to listen to the other shouting? Or better yet you just agree to disagree and leave it at that? In my case we talk about it sometimes while tempers are still flaring and when we realize its going nowhere we leave it until we have calmed down, but recently I have realized I am the only one who wants to talk about issues. It’s as though I am the only one who wants to resolve things, and honestly its upsetting me, I mean shouldn’t we both want to resolve the issues? Must I be the one to probe and push ‘us’ to resolutions? And at the end of the day, it seems as though I am the only one having to compromise which by the way annoys the life out of me. I have always believed this marriage thing is about giving and taking on both parties not just one, was I wrong? I guess I sometimes over believe, if there is such a thing.
Let’s look at another aspect, teamwork. When you are tired dear I will happily do anything for you, then why is it so hard for you to do the same for me? Am I incapable of being tired? Obviously you don’t know how my day has been because like you said it’s just out of courtesy that you ask anyone about their day, it is not a survey to know about everything that happened to you on that day, so whether I am exhausted you won’t know because you are not listening when I tell you about my day, right? My idea is; I know I ought to cook for you dear, I know that but is it impossible for you to cook for me? Must I always ask it of you? Not that it makes much of a difference because you say no! So if you won’t cook for me why on earth should I cook for you? Why not come up with a policy: he who is hungry should find and make food? Because honestly it works fine for me. To be honest how do you get tired of doing nothing? Really, how is that even possible?
When you came up with the philosophy that no one should do what they don’t want, you didn’t take into consideration issues like compromise and circumstance. For example, I may not feel like making supper but I will make it because you spent the day at work, or using your theory, just because I don’t feel like cooking, I shouldn’t even if you are ill? That ideology basically works when you live alone as it only works in the instance where you have no one else whom you hold dear and thus you would have to be a hermit!
My conclusion, well you will never change until you read this or until something drastic happens like your thoughts happen to have a date with mine, which very well maybe catastrophic!
I woke up last night and saw you in the kitchen drinking juice with Mommy, but Mommy said I should go back to bed right now because you were tired and you couldn’t talk. But you looked so different daddy with that huge beard, but I guess I was still sleepy. Why didn’t you come to hug me daddy and tuck me in as always?
Mommy slept late and when I came to wake her up the door was locked. I cried and cried because you always said I could come in when I am scared. Mommy spoke through the door. I should stop crying because I would wake you up. She said I should go back to bed and she would send you in when I was quiet. I am sorry I fell asleep and didn’t see you come in. When I woke again you were gone. Mommy said you only had one day and had to catch the flight back to fight the war.
I love it when you send me letters as you know I love to read, but Mommy said you were too busy to write. She said she gets very lonely at times and she misses you. I miss you too daddy. Mommy got a new hair cut yesterday. I asked her if you were coming and she looked sad. She said she just wanted to look pretty. She wanted to feel good, just for herself.
Mommy said I could sleep over at Nala’s house. She said she would pick me up but I got tired of waiting and decided to walk home. I know where Mommy hides the key so I let myself in. Daddy, I could see that you had come back because I saw your boots in the lounge. I put them on and stomped around. I wanted to kick all those bad men who want to fight you. Don’t let them hurt you daddy, you know Mommy and I would miss you so much.
Mommy got angry when she saw me in your boots. She shouted at me when I told her I missed you so much, I just wanted to feel close to you. She said I had strange ideas. Do you think so Daddy?
Mommy threw the boots out and said men were all the same, they walked in and made a mess. I know you don’t do that daddy because you always but your boots on the shoes rack.
Daddy I have to stop now. Mommy read my later and said you are going to be too sad when you read my letter. She said I should write and tell you all about school. I am going to throw this away and write a new one, or perhaps I will save this until you come. I miss you Daddy so if you come back when I am sleeping, could you wake me? Please?
I love you Daddy.
PS. Daddy, could you cut your beard? I prefer you without it, but, I will still love you if you don’t. I don’t want the enemy to recognise you.
Trust hummed the tune to “My Redeemer Lives” as he turned the corner into Rissik Street. The unwieldy weight of his spruce-top acoustic guitar danced across his back with each step. Trust always played back each song on the playlist in his head and reminded himself of what chords he needed to play and the changes in the strumming pattern at each section of the song. By the time he got to the last song, which was usually after about twenty minutes, he would be at Commissioner Street, in the safer part of Johannesburg. It was a nerve-wrecking experience, every Saturday, having to walk down Rissik Street whilst trying not to show just how terrified he was. He was eight minutes away from Park Station and halfway through song number three, “Take it all” when five, maybe six, unkempt boys who looked older than they should, surrounded him.
A short one stood in front of him placing his face uncomfortably close to his.”We don’t want to talk shit with you, just give us the phone, Baba,” he said.
Trust stuttered, “I, I don’t have a… ” He felt a sharp object press into his lower abdomen and complied. As the thugs fled in different directions, Trust took panicked breaths and, for the first time, smelled the stale alcohol from the short thug’s breath, and something else. White spots appeared in his eyes, blocking more and more of what he should have been seeing. Then black ones, yellow ones and red ones. He felt faint, and felt himself fall to the ground as a capacious pain shot out from where the knife had poked him. “At least they didn’t take my guitar,” he thought, as he fell to the pavement in slow motion. He heard the hollow thump of his guitar hitting the pavement, and then he heard nothing.
My father told me that when he was my age he wanted to be a painter, actually, not just a painter but an artist. However, after a short stint in Paris with more girlfriends than galleries he decided that he wasn’t good enough to be an artist. There were other who were gifted, he was merely persistent and even on that count, not persistent enough since he abandoned paint and Paris and decided to light up the sky instead. Now I don’t know exactly what he did, the word electrician was often thrown around, words like switch gear too. All I do know is that while my dad lived, he lit up the room, quite literally.
Una laps the pond water like a dog. Her eyes stare into the sharded reflection of her animal self. None to see her in the moonlight. It’s her and the pondweed-and-frog smell of the night. She wonders how it is that all she ever feels, really feels, deep down, is utter confusion – a constant state of not being in touch, missing out on vital truths, seeing them in outline perhaps but never grasping them in her spacious moon-brain. The pitted moon – how far from the earth and closer to the sun, yet always one part in utter darkness.
She envies the clear conviction and certainty of people who live in her world. Why aren’t they aware of the bendable, stretchable universe and the chaos. The limitations of her mind perplex her. Why can’t she reach out and touch those shadows that circle around her like dancers.
The lights in the house glow orange and comforting. She watches, like an outsider, through the curtains into her home. Her children move in the lounge and the man stands clutching an oven-glove watching a fascinating moment on the little television across the room. She hears the hum of TV talk and human conversation. It’s a very pretty sight – moving and comforting – yes.
To be a part of that and not – an interesting position.
She pushes her hands into the grass and slowly gets up. Brushes the pond-side bits and pieces off her cotton dress and slips sandals onto her feet, spits the hair out of her mouth, straightens her cardigan.
He steps onto the veranda and frowns into the darkness. “Una,” he calls, “did you get the teddy bear?”
She’d forgotten about the child’s bedtime comfort. She’d come out to look for it among the trees where the children had been playing. They both knew the drama that would ensue.
“No,” she said.
“Well come in anyway. It’s late and sooner or later he’ll have to learn to do without the thing.”
The limp thing smelt of her little son’s adenoids and perspiration. It was almost hairless where he had rubbed it and held it night after night. There were patches covering the holes where stuffing had leaked out. It had a green waistcoat and its eyes were dulled with scratches. An object of love and security.
In that warm house there is never time to reflect, to talk to the quiet. Out here in the autumn darkness she feels less like the squeezed teddy bear.
“Una!” there is a note of impatience now.
I’m coming into the warm world again, to be filled with business and cooking and you. I’m leaving behind my animal self, leaving it crouching in the long grass, gazing at the moon.