I want you to feel the cold like I do, weep like I do, make sense of the senseless world around you like I do. I want you to imagine the unbearable lightness, futility, looseness of things past holding you back, courage for the broken with the frame of mind of coming out of the pit. Imagine the ghosts that congregate around you in interiors, the print of wet leaves spilling over, the goddess-mother. Imagine the anonymous millions eking out a living, living on borrowed time, borrowed ladders, the silent and remote rural countryside, sleepy villages, violent unrest, a street collection, tin cans rattling with coins, poets insanely connected to the membrane of humanity. This is the end of modern civilization (as we know it). What is waiting to meet racing us on the horizon if not immortality, the point of hellish terrain meeting eternity closing in on us cleverly and with speed?
Life is different for
Lovers of poetry, they see that
‘Poetic’ energy everywhere
They go in the wounded, in ritual
In nature, the veiled psychological
The surface of the silence is a
Sure fire of intelligence like
The dissolve of the seasons
As it moves from unity to one
Redolent picture to the next
Determined to change because
It is in their nature like a fisherman’s
Thievery of the flapping soul of the
Fish in its belly
Life is different for poets
Caution is anathema to them
If the poet says the bay is moonlit
Or a man has a wife made of stone
Or that there is healing in the
Elementary, mercy in a Black River,
Then his dream is his truth
Animals have always beguiled
The poet, to feel inspired is not
Enough there is always the road
Like the all-consuming view of the
Sun as remote to me as sea glass
That is the miracle of the poet
How intimate he is with nature
Its singing perfumed machinery
And the estate of the moon
Illuminated bold loveliness
Breathing down my neck-its light
Buried in my hair along with
The flag of stars-potent waves
Steeped in the history of riverbeds.
I wished someone could have told me in my youth not to doubt in my heart and that what I am writing about now is made up of something pure and everlasting. Even though we can never predict what is going to happen in the future, that knowing of all knowing rogue subterfuge. I mustn’t become complacent in my faith and neither should you. I’m walking too. We’re accomplices walking that road, master and apprentice, teacher and learner, reader of a writer’s notes and a writer making notes. Mother’s milk across nations is the milk of human kindness but not in my house. My mum is a wretched kind of woman, emotionally unstable with the moodswings of an alcoholic in search of their next buzz. She’s sprouting snakes from her head and I’m transported to childhood. She’s made me hate her again. I’ve grown to love that hate. Her womb fashioned me. Perhaps in a perfect world I would have been freer.
You are the song I love to sing
goddess-mother, as you illuminate
the world around you I am illuminated.
She moves me like the force of natural disasters, abandons me with the gaiety of a child and buries her swan-neck in the sand when I am on the verge of tears, inconsolable or a breakdown. I think she knows what she does. Pain feels like an iceberg, separation anxiety, a disorder psychological in origin or a deadline rising up to meet me. There was a phase in my life, a period that has thankfully passed now when just watching my beloved satisfied me. I could feel the dance of time, its motion spinning through me, spinning through the air every time he looked at me. But I am not an affected girl anymore reading romance novels. The art and the game of mindless devotion no longer move me, that and the gulf of passionate and warm embraces no longer closing in on a blue shirt and me. It makes me ill to think of that place in time. Beloveds’ have given way to books and research, more of a rigorous academic lifestyle. It suits me.
Missing you listening to the river
could you be dead in the arms of angels
a hallucination in a gang the Salvation Army
Can you see me? Look, I am vanishing. I am vanishing like the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland. A hiss and I melt like ice cubes in a glass. The house is crowded what with all the live people and the ghosts. Wounded, I poisoned my body with food eating everything in sight until it was over and only scraps, gravy, mashed potato were left on the plate. I tried to fight against it but I couldn’t. Self-pity and worthlessness reigned supreme. My late grandfather was mute on most issues. I seemed to have inherited that part of his personality. Discontent is evil and its bad cop good cop twin, spirit, makes me feel. In this house we sleep to dream and not the other way around. I do not have my mother’s tennis legs. I have not inherited her features. No, I look like my father. My hair is a bird’s nest. I have failed miserably because I am not lovely. I do not sit still. I am not quiet. I do not speak only when I am spoken to. I am an egoist, my brother says. ‘Catherine you must stop being an egoist.’ How can I stop when I don’t even know what that means, when I don’t even reach for it, when I don’t even bother.
I gave away something I treasured
Something personal – a book of poems
Filled with dreaming and secrets
That I have breathed into life on
Blue lines, thin, cold, pale pages
Perhaps if my first memory of childhood were wading into a river searching for symmetry amongst the pebbles I wouldn’t have pushed the red self-destruct button. If I hadn’t waited for that beautiful winter woman of a mother to speak I wouldn’t have met and cradled darkness halfway down the night sky, with a field of stars in magnificent and otherworldly bloom. What if I had carried a painted moon in my hands and the sun in my pocket? (What if God were the sun in my eyes? What if I could fathom out the blue skies, skipped on the cement in my backyard, played hopscotch, stature and Simon Says? What if I had experienced all of that as a child instead of the family drama? Is this what my mother wanted for her children, for them to rage against her, bully her, curse her out, wear her nerves thin and try and control her because those were the lessons that she had in turn taught them? We might have soft hearts but we can cut you like a knife, deceive and manipulate and hate. Let’s not forget that most negative of all negative words.
You betray nothing say nothing
It wasn’t as if I did not care for you
Or love you was indifferent to
Your feelings your serious intent
I wasn’t ready for the major
Responsibility for the blood to boil
Inside my veins for your embrace that
I’ve never forgotten the rush of
Blood to my head you did not come
With signs, instructions and labels
This is what you left me with
Heavy with light like the whirling
Brightness of stars I called your home
Your country a black hole of vertigo
Love was a ghost inside my head
My sister has returned to Johannesburg. The house is quiet. It is late afternoon. I must cook. It is a sensible kind of thing to do because when the house comes alive then everyone will be hungry. And so the minced meat is cooking, boiling in water in its own oils and juices. The pot is simmering away. I still have to watch it though. I sniff the air. The kitchen smells like the inside of a butcher. Blood, animal guts, skin, entrails and raw. It’s no fun preparing food and then eating for one, freezing the leftovers, eating out of the pan with a spoon instead of a fork in your pyjamas. But who is going to see that anyway. Who is going to tell on me?
You come to
Me now in a dream
Of wildflowers in
Summer rain’s open
Spaces leaving its
Imprint on ancient
It’s the first week of the New Year and my sister arrived brown and healthy looking from Thailand. I note disapproval in her eyes. She looks me over as she steps into the house. She’s beautiful, much like my mother, so much like her in mood and behaviour. Sometimes she scares me half to death. She has brought me a T-shirt that says, ‘I love Phuket’. Instead of the word ‘love’ there’s a big red heart. She stayed for ten days spreading her money around, buying golf shirts, socks and vests for my father, picking up the book by Simone de Beauvoir that I ordered at Fogarty’s without question. She went shopping with my mother. The two of them joined at the hip, leaving me out of their bubbly conversation, ignoring me as if I didn’t have a clue. She didn’t say it. She didn’t have to. I know what my sister is thinking.
Turning as dark
As the other side of
Humanity, a volcano
Upon the alien subterfuge
Of the roughness of the galaxy
That is how I imagine you
Her mood tasted like medicine, Lithium, Zyprexa, a bitter pill to swallow. She is thinking, ‘Look how normal I am compared to you. Fast-forward to the future. I am a self-righteous, bright and independent working girl. I will not have a replay of my formative years in slow motion. I have forgiven, moved on, pushed everything to the side that is most alarming in quiet, meditative thought, everything that is past has gone into history. I am not about to unpack that again. I am living this perfect life and you are not. You’re nearly middle aged. You can’t change now, Catherine. It is too late.’ I don’t have anything to circumvent that mendacity. I feel empty inside, a little lost. She has that affect on me and so do images of hard, sophisticated and successful women. Why do I want to escape? I want to say, ‘Look at me.’ I want to scream but that would be a crime. Ladies do not scream.
I can feel the sea in
My fingers mixed with
Salt, sand and light-
The roof of the virgin sky its
Beauty burning bright-blue
Overhead there are two pairs
Of eyes here yours and mine
Ladies wear lipstick, hats, they go to church, speak in hushed tones, blush and they don’t use words like ‘sex’, ‘sexual’, ‘feminist’ or ‘queer’. What they do not do is become advocates in their community on the awareness of social issues.
Sly drenched skin empty cold spasm
Proof of finding the headline problematic brutal
In my head always in my head
Once I did find love, a sweetness, someone compatible, older and experienced. Ah, it was outside of the home, the dysfunction, the anger and it numbed me. Those seeds were sown but that is a scene from the past. It burned my heart, fired me up from the inside and threaded the bare minimum from my intellect to connect with the pulse of life and all things that were opposite to my creativity, all things that were opposite to and represented by my mum. If life can be cruel then falling in love is even crueller. You never choose whom you’re going to fall in love with, the environment and the circumstances you find yourself in when it does happen. All that jazz is not just jazz. It is like hitting your head against a glass ceiling or a brick wall. It hurts. I talk about love here because this is the only way I can express my love for my mother through talk, my journal entries and stories.
It takes to love you-
A divine you, with
My head a bird’s nest,
My heart a scar
And the image of this
In my imagination.
For all of my life in front of me lay the world and it appeared to me to be a stage. To succeed all I had to do was act and everything that I wanted came to me except my mum. I was a pilgrim but traveling lost its shine over time. The more years that went by, the more I wanted to stay in one place, grounded, stable. If I was anxious as a child I didn’t should it. I was fearless, a toughie.
And there reality
Is revealed in the icy grip
Of the winter rain-cold
And wet demonstrating
That time is an earthly thing,
A meditation of sorts.
You strike me like a blade.