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For Joop Bersee: Poetry by Abigail George

(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

Eat it for dinner. Voice of Eve. The sea.
Mum is the sleeping woman. Hands on
the wheel driving to the rehab facility.
Dad captains paradise. After the day we
had we’re all feeling sunburned and nostalgic.
Once, even my mother was complex and
flirtatious but this makes me feel sadness.
Now I betray her by thinking that she’s
unjust. Her sincerity towards other women,
(older women) crowds her. Rewards her.
Gives her life. I’m hateful. I’m hurtful. Wounded because
she’s never said that she’s proud of me
or that feeling would have come alive in
me. It’s summer but it feels like winter
has descended upon the house. Mourning
for flight. Nobody moves to switch on the lights.
We’re all missing my addict-brother. So
we all sit in the dark in front of the glare
of the television. Fighting for our survival.
Left at the ‘farm’ (please see rehab centre).
Our hearts are crushed by loss. The loss

of an aunt and mother to cancer. The loss
of another aunt and mother to diabetes.
This was just another kind of empty loss.
We were all in mourning for our something.
Perhaps childhood as we ate sticky ribs.
Chicken wings. I smell the rain the air, in our souls
that day made us forget that this was
visiting time and that in a way, soon, we
would be leaving my younger brother
behind again. The rehab facility. Gestures
on his part. Gestures on our part. Vultures
feeding. Crows fighting. Owl flying. In
this impoverished thin air it is enough to
want desire. Later on I pray for him tears
streaming down my cheeks for all the
wasted life of all those tribal young men.


(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

The sour heart of once when Zuma was my
president. This is for the youth involved in
the fees must fall campaign. South Africa is
burning. South Africa is going up in flames
but this has happened before. They called it
apartheid then. They still should be calling it
apartheid now. Apartheid just never went any-
where. It’s been here all along. Roles have
been switched. Street names have been changed.
Monuments have been built. Zuma was president.
They are saying that Zuma must fall. Zuma

must go. And, so, nothing will change. And, so,
everything will change but this will only happen
later. So, they say. So, they say. Globetrotter could have
fooled me all this time. I thought of leaving
here. I thought we were in the magic-throes of
a revolution. Here I was thinking, ‘Viva, revolution!’
My father has an old (in the autumn of his years
now) man’s wisdom. Perhaps one day President
Jacob Zuma too will have an old man’s wisdom to
keep him company in the midst of his great grandchildren
on his road to paradise. Perhaps they will say this
comrade-president well, he was a fallen warrior.


(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

The woman in the park (I am that woman) is
just a solitary figure. And so I find stories in poems.
Here’s a list of things to talk to my sister about.
Does she still want to move to Prague? The other
side of the world and work for Amazon. I want to
ask her about her day. She’s never anything but
fine. Can’t she ask how Voldi is, we haven’t heard
from him in a while. He ignores my messages on
social media. Voldi, our charismatic opera singing
cousin. How far is she with Jumpha Lahiri’s The
Lowland? Can I talk for a minute about her inner
woman? Does she read her angel book and how is
her garden? Will she miss, Greg, the American, who
has been in her life these past weeks? Why wasn’t

she spontaneous enough to go bungee jumping-
jumping with him. I breathe out. Ask her how she is.
She asks me how I am. The betrayal is there in our midst but
we ignore it. She’s wishing on Rilke’s Prague again.
Met someone there but he was just coming out of a
long-term relationship. I’m wishing on Paris. Writing
novels there but she doesn’t know this. I never tell
the cold her any of this. It is like an invasion to the
heart. She never asks me about my novel or writing. That’s the
betrayal, isn’t it, in our midst. It’s an angst-ridden-
winter and there’s the glimpse of an ocean in her eyes.


(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

I think of landmines and I think of you.
I think of war, famine, flood, disaster,
and I think of you. I think of you and
I know I’ll never love again. Think of
when I was in your arms and how I
wanted to stay there forever. I think of
driving in your car diving into a fever.
There was a time to dance in this love field.
Our expectations were obsessive that Saturday.
Mother’s face wore a defeated expression.
Her vanity retreated for now. I sit there as
around me families ‘barbecue’ (a word as
foreign to me as my sister’s Prague) at Shepherd’s Field.
I think of the rough and tumble of Jean Rhys’
Dominican sea. I think of God, the super-natural
wonder of my brother, the holy. The dark.
The farm (Shepherd’s Field) had goats, ducks,
geese, pigs, dogs. Three greenhouses (one
filled with carrots and basil, my brother showed us).
The others filled with flowers. He didn’t
show us the other two. Thought perhaps that
we’d lose interest. We took a long walk.
Everything was green like my brother’s fingers.

We ate sticky pork ribs and chicken wings.
Munched on apple and cucumber slices. Didn’t talk
about our flaws, recipes for perfection, an
ingredient list for taking him on. This made
my brother angry. I could see it in the tension
written on his face. (The rehab facility was
a farm was called Shepherd’s Field. It’s
summer but inside all of us it’s raining the
worries of a frozen sea. The death of us.
When we come home in the late afternoon
I leave my steak roll on the plate uneaten.
We all sit in a dark house to match our mood,
I guess. Later, we’ll warm the spaghetti
through on the stove and eat leftovers before
it spoils. All I see is his fondness for cocaine.
White lines of powder. Lines of snow. Still I
cannot grasp nor understand this fondness.

(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

I give you a large cup (always a large
cup) of tears to drink. A cup as large as
the River Euphrates. Your bloodless face,
swaying hips inspire. I half-existed (then)
in my depression to love you (then). I’ve
captured your light in my hands, this rut
of the twisted essence of touch, of smile,
of grief, of childhood motivation,

abandonment issues, of contribution to
the revolution-house. I remember how it
felt to hold you. I remember how it felt
to be in your arms. I felt dainty and sweet
and loved. It’s never left me even after
all these years. I think of your warm hands
on my body And, how this still excites me.
. Pavements are enchanting, wet and slick.
I don’t tell myself anymore that I need love
like a magnet. Once I loved men, powerful men
and I wanted to stay there forever. Once I
fell in love with women and wanted to stay
there forever, (women were powerful too
in my life) and discovered in my short life
that there’s really no difference between a
powerful man and a powerful woman. One
day I won’t be able to write anymore. Dad,
elderly, can’t write anymore. Shuffles when
he walks. One day I’ll shuffle when I walk.
When I think of you, I think of the things
that I love now. Swimming laps in the local
swimming pool. My cloud-heavy nephew
who I would give my life for. I know what
love is now. I can even forgive my mother
when she becomes irate. Vitriolic. Belligerent.
Sad. I think of the days of the love that I
had for you. I think of the city that I found
myself in (in my twenties). You took away
my sadness. I think of my youth. Then my early
twenties. Reading novels like Couples and
Disgrace. Reading Gillian Slovo. Watching
films like The English Patient and Lolita.
Think to myself of going from therapist to
therapist in my twenties. Think to myself,
thank God, I am more comfortable in my skin
than I’ve ever been nearing forty. I think
I know something about the science of love
now. Emotionally I’m much more mature.
Surer of myself. Life, well, is no longer about
stepping aside for ego. I’ll never love again. I
know this and I’ve made my peace with that.

Poems © Abigail George
Image: remixed

Abigail George
Abigail George
South African Abigail George is a blogger, essayist, short story writer, screenwriter, novelist, and poet. She briefly studied film in Johannesburg. She has two film projects in development and is the recipient of two grants from the National Arts Council, one from the Centre for the Book and another from ECPACC. Her publishers are Tendai Rinos Mwanaka (Zimbabwe, Mwanaka Media and Publishing or Mmap), Xavier Hennekinne (Australia/New Zealand, Gazebo Books), and Thanos Kalamidas (Finland, Ovi). Her literary representative is Morten Rand. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net nominated, and European Union Poetry Prize longlisted poet. Her poem “The Accident” was Identity Theory's Editor's Choice for Spring. Ink Sweat and Tears chose her poem “When light poured into me at the swimming pool” as a September Pick of the Month, and she recently made the shortlist of the Writing Ukraine Prize 2023. She is a poet/writer who believes in the transformative, restorative and healing powers of words. Her latest book is Letter To Petya Dubarova (Australia/New Zealand, Gazebo Books). Young Galaxies (a poetry book) was released in 2023 from Mmap and a memoir When Bad Mothers Happen is forthcoming. “Clarissa, Hector and Septimus Redefined” was recently published by Novelty Fiction in Kindle format.

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