For Mxolesi Nyezwa
Feeling that I have is of starvation.
I cannot explain it.
Like going crazy
For the cutest boy
In your favourite class.
He would look like in jeans.
Hell I did not care.
That year my face was frozen
For eternity in photographs.
I was there to learn. To be educated.
Not to go fishing for Jesus mind you.
Or make a channel for His peace.
Or be a sunbeam. Amen.
Gethsemane was just a garden to me. Amen.
So what if a whale swallowed Jonah? Amen
He had a lot of time to think, meditate, pray. Amen.
Or having a fainting spell in assembly. Amen.
I liked Easter. Didn’t mind eating
Fish for five days in a row. Amen.
In the aftermath of adolescence I thought
There would be plenty of time for love.
But it never came for me.
I complete tasks in high school
In a Hitchcock induced frenzy.
Then I remember all of those girls’ faces.
I thought to myself that all of them were
Probably going straight to Dante’s hell.
After their proposals and white weddings.
Given time, I knew they would lose their looks.
They would turn into their mothers, and aunts.
My only friend could just watch.
A mute standing on the sidelines.
I spoke proper.
I have had successive Great Depressions.
I found Rilke, Hemingway.
Paris. A Moveable Feast.
Dear I put the roast in the oven.
Watch it while I go inward.
Nausea. While my fingers melt
Across the wilted pages of these books.
There is no more asylum to be found
In the country, that is Mr Muirhead.
There is only measures
Of devastation. Only rain.
Only the mysterious nature
In never becoming a bride.
For Dambudzo Marechera
Our precious books,
Conversations with our children
The dining room table, minutia,
Church and the sacred.
They all arouse something within us.
In the final analysis the wuthering heights
Between the bride and groom
Will be reached in the conversations
They will have after their children
Have left their childhood home for university.
Will she stay for him? Will he stay for her?
Not forgetting they took those all-important vows.
It seems as if they lived together
With their communication
Having been uninterrupted for years.
I am their daughter.
Is it not it my place to say something?
To do something once they begin
To sleep in separate beds.
This woman goes her way. Behaving badly.
The man goes his. In the opposite direction.
They have changed my childhood world forever.
And in this damaged inner silence. What am I to do?
Look the other way? I would rather have hysteria thank you.
In addition, this I did not ask for. Illness. Take it away.
Depression. Out spot, out. Out with you human stain.
I want no part of it that has not yet found the exit out.
There is planting, planning, fingers, fists clenching
And unclenching a poem.
And yes, I want that badly enough.
Hands tightening, there are no more poems for mummy.
No more birthday presents for her.
She is gone on a pilgrimage.
I can see it in that faraway look in her eyes.
She no longer acknowledges him.
He no longer acknowledges her.
Yes, something like Noah’s ark.
They are autumn, going off to wars.
In Africa, I have my own fears.
Ugly ducklings turning into swans.
But the human voices
That I hear bring me tulips.
I have all-knowing eyes
Marching like the king of tigers.
I can hear footsteps in the dark.
What on earth am I still
Doing here in their house?
All I see is flowers. They need water.
The oranges are not the only fruit.
They are waiting for me in the waiting room. Lucky me.
I feel like childhood lasagne. Waiting for the roast.
An unquiet crazy is coming on.
For Vonani Bila
Africa is a country.
She wears her ancestral rituals
With pride to charm the tourists.
But this is not a poem about tourists,
Or the fact that Africa is a country
Or that she wears her ancestral rituals
With pride. It is about poets.
Poets called Sylvia Plath,
Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell
We all met each other in Boston.
If you can survive childhood trauma
You can survive anything.
If you can survive depression
In adolescence, you can survive anything.
Take my word for it
You will come back, you will survive,
You’ll live another day, you’ll forget
The very worst of it. You will learn how to breathe
All over again. Let me tell you
Of the knowledge, I have of fur.
I know it very well.
Turning that key in the ignition,
Sabotaging myself in secret, quiet ways,
Finding sanctuary, hope.
Where do I live now? It is dark here. There is driftwood.
I have reduced events, people, even my mother, to a thing.
My daughter to a thing.
A place where the damaged things can survive prettily.
These surroundings have become my country.
Other people know me by my name.
Perhaps you know me.
I won a Pulitzer. Live and die.
I know both inside-and-out.
My blood can be found
Behind red-bricked walls of silence.
This hospital too. But people
Will grow in this silence,
In this arena to compensate
Looking at me looking
At the flowers that will surely die.
Adults speak to me
As if I am from outer space, an alien.
What to do about all of this nonsense,
Silliness and gobbledegook?
I have two-heads now,
Feel vacant. Family-life does
Not and will never suit me.
Tell me am I the lotus flower?
Growing, growing in mud. I want out of here.
Roots tap dancing into chilled earth.
Where is my coat, my hat, my scarf?
My umbrella and my reliable walking shoes?
For Bessie Head
He wanted to introduce himself.
He knew she was older. That time is a palace
He dared not shift for it has
Its own paradigms.
He watched the figure of a woman
Who seemed to be doing
The freestyle in the institution’s
The pool is her chamber,
A mansion of men wearing shorts.
He could only describe her as being ethereal.
Otherworldly, and angelic.
She reminded him of someone
He used to know as a boy.
A woman who made him French toast
But for now, he wanted all the photographs
Of his mother. Wanted to have them all
Destroyed like the guitar.
The aftershocks of his mental illness,
And depression. The doctor said so
While writing out a prescription.
Actually they have all confronted him for long enough.
The swimmer was as graceful
In the pool as his mother was when he was eight
And she took him for his first horse-riding lesson.
This is what people in the Midwest do.
They teach their children how to
Ride horses. They do not talk about genocide or cancer.
She died of breast cancer two years ago.
This elegant poem was more
Of an anatomy of a reminder.
Taking pictures was his revenge.
Against the boys that refused to be friends with him in high school.
The photographs belonged to him in the same way his mother did.
His silence has the aura of columns in a newspaper.
Yet he could still diagnose
Threads that he could still discriminate.
When his mother
Used to speak forever
About going back to work
Once, she was in remission.
How my father told every family member
He could get his hands on
How proud he was of his son.
‘I really admire his coping skills.
You know under these circumstances.
Losing a mother so young.’
His father was almost boastful.
You know he wrote that poem
About his mother that he read aloud
In the church. I nearly broke-down.
All the young man wanted
Was to see the woman again.
All he wanted to do was take her picture.
For Virginia Woolf
Look here. Its simplicity I am after.
I want to go surfing in an ice storm in winter.
I want to feel winter, and the cold
Humming in my bones.
Call my madness ordinary.
And my physical body a thing of beauty.
I dare you. I have no need for sleep.
Or for reality for that matter.
Look outside. Reality is in darkness.
If we open Pandora’s Box what will we find.
Nazi sympathisers. Where did I put that roast perfect dear?
Never mind. It will come too like the villagers.
Mother I am home. Where is your face of love?
You can search my suitcases if you want to.
What do you hope to find there?
Companionship, horror, ancestral rituals?
A love story, the Johannesburg people?
Or an optic illusion that I’m an exotic
Force of nature to behold.
Look at me. My sharp, bold recovery.
I want your love like Plato’s wisdom.
I am fading away. It is called lack of mother-love.
Give a little. Won’t you please just give a little?
Instead of taking everything, give in.
Give in. This guilt-trip is like a visit
To the beach. Long overdue don’t you think?
You have never loved me. Say it.
Say it to my face.
Once upon a time estranged.
Stranger, stranger, strange how I am saying these words.
They have absolutely no meaning for me.
Doctors said you could not have children.
Instead, you proved them wrong.
Went and had three.
This means its warfare and anything goes.
Love me just a little.
Fulfil your obligations or do as you please.
Listen. I am fed up. I am wiser now.
Do not scream at me, and tell me I am not your daughter.
You will not dishonour me ever again.
This is your last shot.
If you want to fight, we will fight as men do.
To the death.
You are not so young anymore.
It’s exposed in your
Skin, legs, shoulders, arms, breasts.
I know I will win. I am still a girl.
For Mzi Mahola
We will fight.
Until we’ll only be identified
By our loved ones. By our teeth or fingerprints.
We will box. We will put on our boxing gloves.
This is no laughing matter.
I am damn serious. Say you love me. I will not ask again.
Promise. Is it really so difficult? So hard.
Saying those three words
Will mean surely the life or death of me?
All this time I have watched you from afar
Believe me I have watched all your wrongdoing.
I have programmed your intimacy.
Men always glorified you.
You were a wife.
You were an extraordinary female sex machine.
Everything came effortlessly to you.
However, not to me your daughter.
The dark-haired, flaming insomniac.
I cannot make you love me.
I cannot make the wheels, and machinery
Of love for that world to turn
Effortlessly, effortlessly, effortlessly.
Your movements have become my own.
Still I am a child.
I am your child. And it is a huge,
Impossible task for you to say
Those three words, ‘I love you.’
Why not say, ‘I love you not.’
Why, why give me flowers instead?
While doing historical research
I feasted on mistresses.
Creativity, I am your bride.
Now there is a planting.
They also said there was not enough
Concrete proof of stigmata,
Blood as fluid like water, the shroud of Turin
Or Lazarus. Religion is my Manhattan.
You are my Sarajevo, my Iraq mother dear.
My Israel and my Palestine too.
My Bosnia-Herzegovina. My apartheid South Africa.
You are my post-apartheid South Africa.
You are my Rwanda. You are my Northern Uganda.
You are an SS soldier stealing important art works.
Confiscating them and hiding them away
Until the war is over.
Pain was never a complete mystery to me.
Pain came with infertility. Mental illness.
Like the desire to have a child has never left me.
For Ingrid Jonker
I have desires.
I guess when my parents
Were still lovers
Swimming towards the light
In each other’s eyes.
Was not forbidden.
Nothing was forbidden.
It is the religion
Of married people.
It means physically they are healthy.
The minutia of married life followed.
Living in a flat opposite a well-stocked library.
Then my father was still writing.
Writing his doctoral thesis.
Then they found themselves buying a house.
Then they picked out furniture
For the rooms inside that house
That soon would be childproofed.
Touch is a life sentence for me.
Yet I still have desires.
I map out grocery lists of them.
In that respect, I am like any other
Woman who is afraid to understand
Loneliness-amplified or the survival-rate
Of people who are mentally ill.
Of a childhood home
Collapsing under the pressures
Of the depths of domestic sin disguised as character flaws
Awaiting each inner child in that house.
Church called out
To the matriarch of that house.
Her marching orders long ago.
Beloved bride in her white lace.
Perfumed hair. No disgrace.
Why must I be forbidden to go there?
To those women
Who have husbands and children?
All I see is tenderness.
All I see is what I do not have.
No ammunition on my back.
It is shame that I feel on my part.
I know now what I am suited for now.
The life of a nun. Holier than thou.
My body is meant to be Christ’s bride.
Clean, pure, and sated by religion.