DAUGHTERS SITTING TOGETHER AT THE KITCHEN TABLE
(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)
Here’s looking at you at fifty. You’re
fifty still living in your parents’ house.
You’re not happy. You’re living in the
shade of your sister’s happiness. She
left you years ago, ventured out into
the world on her own. You still think
you’ll get better in therapy. You still
hate your own face, and sharp objects.
Steak knives with their cool, clean, pure-
serrated edges. Masters of none-and-
everything. Masters of Jericho, Ruth. Boaz.
The dreams you once had, you dream of
them still. They’re like paper flowers.
And your voice is like the agreements
between them. Full of secrets, a fading
sunlight of day paying attention to the
resonant branches and their tensing-yet-restrained
melody. You think back to all the hurt,
despondency, useless slipping-away-
from-you-frustration, (honest), and it
moves inside of you like the first man
who molested you. You go under the sea,
and become pure again (an innocent).
Your hair dark lines, and haywire all
over your face. The road home all-pepper-
and-potholes. You’re still scared of
the dark. Yes, yes, you’re still scared of
the dark. And you’re all feminine-and-
masculine (girl with her hair cut like a boy). Still
you long for the safe truth of women.
What did you do with the angels I gave
you. I think of the coconut oil on my mother’s
hands as she combed and braided my hair
when I was a little girl. There’s a little
girl in the advertisement I’m watching
on television. It’s about hair. It’s about
hair. It’s about hair. African hair, whatever
that means. Oil, sheen, relaxer cream, and I’m looking
at the Portuguese man again who gave
me the eye in Johannesburg all those years ago.
I think about his smile that lit up my face,
his light-blue sweater as he leaned over
the counter, and I think of the hair on his
hands, his arms, the hair on his chest there
sticking out like a triangle. I think of his
European-lover-face, and how I went up in
smoke that day. How sexy he made me
feel, how beautiful, and desired, this Captain Fantastic
in the paradise that was Johannesburg then.
WITH LOVE AND SQUALOR
(For the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)
I tell myself repeatedly in the days that
come after. Her death was not in vain. It
is prosperous where she lives now inside
my mind. I live with the happy memories
of her. In her hands are two stars. In her
throat a lump of cloud. She never had to
face up to climate changes in high school.
There was no expectation of a dream husband
showing up. I think of her, and think of
death and life and grief and rain that comes
like a waterfall. Death is not meant for sissies
or angels. A waterfall of stars out gives me
the impression of psychotherapy. I’m here to
talk about death. The fact that death has a
life of its own and the more I talk about it
the more it comes with its own interpretations.
Moonlight is the psychotherapist. I look young
in the photograph. She looks younger, her
face without wrinkles and hair magazine-
wavy. I miss her and discover I will always
be missing her. She without flab, without
exhale, without an army of ammunition on
her back. Perhaps wherever she finds herself now she has
discovered a love for waterfalls in heaven.
I chant her name like a house until she fills
my soul again. Death, I guess you have your
reputation to consider after all. I inhale the
morning wind, pretend my second mother is
still around to go for a walk on the beach. Can
you see my tears. How I cry myself to sleep
now nights with a map of death in my hands.
I WOULD LIKE TO GIVE YOU SOME BOOKS AS A GIFT
(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)
You that wear the halo of the sun so well
with your guiding principles. Morality.
You that have given advice about my sister.
Taught me about revolution, education, and
philosopher. I know what has been absent
from my life now. All change frightens me,
you know. Experience is all a game. There’s
a crown of stars in your eyes. You are a
pilgrim. Your stare is cold and iron like the
moon, and we both know of this earth’s
anguish. The vehemence of life. You seem
to have been born knowing. Born gifted to
write about other worlds. You can make
abstract drawings of people from observing
them. Taught me to be faithful. That my
home is where the ocean meets the shore.
My mother never used to cook like this
when we were young. I sit through the silence.
Ignorant flight’s line. I don’t know how
to manage this fight within me anymore.
The comfort of food now means emptiness to
me. I’ve separated healing from the summer.
I listen to the evening, morning, water. It’s
as if some power switch has gone on inside
of me. You’re the cause of all of this ill-
inheritance, thoughts, reflections. Now I fear
no pain. No criticism. No ill feeling. It is
only the sun that compensates for the lack of you.
Poems © Abigail George
Image: Zoltan Tasi via Unsplash