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Reading Cook Books on the Sly: Poems by Abigail George

Reading Cook Books on the Sly

I’ve found the abandoned
Collected every one I’ve come upon
Some have been scattered far and wide
Fast beneath the wards of hell
Some have been found useful
In their being, in their humanity
They have found their place on my canvas

Visitors have come to look at my canvas
Near future ghosts unnamed and unarmed
Hiding behind clean columns like Samson
The All-out-for-Revenge quilt covers sinners like me
Magda and the quiet society she kept
It came out of my head
When a poet dies there are always notes on grief

It is not something I want to take on
The secret life of all the connections
The abstract metaphor in every one
Like an exhibit on show for the world to see
Even the mannequins and the swans’ society
He has to deal with the pain somehow
He has to control it and his sadness too

Sons and daughters they’ve raised
Cloth of love they’ve shared for years
Cancer attacked the foundation – took them off
To hell for a decade and a half (called off remission)
I left them alone to catch a thief killing time
It’s hellish isolation, to have a broken wing
To wait for healing, the therapy in recovery

Cancer reached the wuthering heights of America
It became a country at war with itself
Child soldiers marching through – matchstick men every one
Thinking that they were the nation’s best
I didn’t place fresh dirt or wilted flowers on her grave
Water the wreathe, put a name to every face
That was there on that day

That made me feel so small and inadequate
We weren’t intimate friends but did that matter
In the end nothing did because with time
You forget and there is a kind of peace
In the forgetting that way – something is healed
Something is healed completely
This is the price I have paid and I must live with it.



If fish kissed the dry air they would die
And I wondered to myself what kind of
Death would that be. It would be brutal.
There would be a terrible silence
Balancing out the curve of the waves.
I stand very, very still watching heads
And how the cells of the shoreline marry

The cells of the curve of the waves
What is found in the middle of the day?
In understanding clarity, breath, suffering,
In the substance of clay and beneath the sandals
Of the disciples, the prodigal son who returns
And so it is important to have a passion to write
Like Isaiah and to remember the prophets

To remember poverty and times of war
Civil disobedience, and that there is no decline of hell
Humanity is as ancient as dust, silence, Hemingway
Lumumba, Biko, George Botha, Richard Rive
The universe is as ancient as higher learning and God
It is as vast as the Midwest’s plains in North America
Unspoiled by time, memory and place.

Under the elements of moonlight I find
Stars-a-diamond pinned into the fabric of darkness
All around me is the familiar from childhood
But it is cold like the spells of winter
The moon is perfect like a child’s prayer
Innocent, pure, a commodity, a Christmas present
It goes up in flame in my heart

I track ghosts. I watch them pace with grace.
I reach for a silver lining (too many clouds up there)
There are too many silver linings today.
I want to remember you as you once were
But you’re six feet under pushing up daisies
Come back to me. Come back to me.
I know it is impossible. This is an impossible task.

Magda, one of those heads that are floating
Out there near to me or more or less the horizon belongs to you.
If I shout your name, scream will you return to me?
Flesh dripping off your bones. Wounds evaporated after your swim.
Once again we’ll be connected together again, family.
I believe you have something to tell me and it is important.
That I think and listen a great deal but do not share as much as I should.



Cherub, you’re a constellation prospering
Your voice is lyrical, magic, and full of depth
Always rise again angelic little one
The world around you is waiting upon your arrival
Star people sit with their notebooks. Suns navigate them
They all have routes that border on God to follow
Under the blue steel of the sky’s history wilderness

Learn how to dance, collect shells and driftwood wrapped
Around seaweed on the beach, catch the ball,
Have a wandering soul in all of your dreams, and always journey
Moving forward, follow your guardian angel’s instinct
Remember Biko, and that difficult thoughts come from the heart
Think of silence when you experience deep pain
It is only a season. It will pass. Continue to journey moving forward.

Aren’t trees beautiful? Climb them. Build a tree house.
Play pretend. Pretend you are lost in a forest. You will find
God and silence, loss and suffering there.
And when you grow up you will unfortunately realise
That mankind is a violent species capable of brutality.
Childhood, innocence and purity is a gift bestowed upon us.
Live in that world and for as long as possible taste its sweetness.

You are so beautiful, so loved but one day
You will come to know of evil, great evil
It isn’t anybody’s fault really it is just the way
The world looks like on a canvas, how its machine turns and works
It is another language, light can’t be found there
But for now the world you live in is perfectly lovely
You’re surrounded by dream keepers

The wind touches your head outside in the garden.
You reach out for it with your arms, kick out with your legs.
You want to steal it with your wizened fingers.
And the world is clean, your family is a vision
There is nothing about a punishment of it.
Your mother holds you. Your father looks on proudly.
You are his son, his son, his son. He smiles

And it almost breaks my heart
But why should hearts be breaking?
Next month you’ll be a month old.
You’re growing nicely.
You’re as strong as a tiger (everybody loves you).
Every day you’re showered with kisses
It must come from all that love that we’ve stored up since childhood.



Can you taste her lips or is it my hunger you’re thinking of?

‘I do not want to forget that I exist because of evolution.’
The river-sea is black but it carries
The shadow of the moon on its back
It wears the right expression – intimacy
The bending moonlight says to the thick river-sea.
As thick as a jar of honey or molasses.
Fishermen are on their boats whispering to themselves
‘You gave me eyes God for yesterday’s and today’s catch.’
Tomorrow will see to itself with butterflies in my stomach
The fisherman looks down to see an oyster in his catch
The salt, the light all casts an enchanting spell

Can you taste her or is it my screaming you’re thinking of?

Surrender! I climb into the river and it feels so cool
It feels like silk, gentle. The river is independent from
The sea now. Before I splashed like a freckled whale.
Now I am caught drifting as a superwoman in humanity
I am caught between poverty and death and they consume me
And there is only one route for the reader to follow
Off to the temple, church or mosque, have the wedding
Make arrangements for attending the funeral
My agitation about the past is golden and etched into every word
That comes out of my mouth, my head, my mental faculty,
Not that anybody gives a damn so feed me oysters

Come for me. When will you come for me Saviour?

Is oysters, is it not the food of love, of the wealthy
I am hungry for oysters, kill them and box them up for me
Whenever I think of you, imagine you it is enough
More than enough, how you killed your sushi and red wine in exile
You were strong, working out in a gym daily,
Showing off your gorgeous muscles
Becoming a white collar hero
To all the young girls in the office
Was this your consolation prize?
Your love was a hunt, greed, both a miracle and had
The bad talent of a needle and dignified flowering bone.


Interrupting The Wanderer’s Soul

As they render an expression of intimacy –
Are the visions of stars dead (those playful things) to us?
As they keep themselves apart from daylight.



And when at last it came
To the end of the book
Then the idea came
Like the feast of seasons,
Another hell, and paradise
It came to me that our imagination
Is organic, and a wreck broken off
Our spiritual homes –
And so we continue to imagine,
Inspire, interpret the earth’s unconscious.
War is barbaric like the onset of dementia.

It is something humanity
Fails to understand completely
Little Boy, Fat Man, the bombing of Pearl Harbour
Japanese girls are zoo-pretty
Japan is majestic, ancient-country,
All its interiors have secrets
Yet the sky still speaks of blue,
Finding the poem, the haiku.
Welcome to Sarajevo, snipers, mass graves,
Denial, denial, denial and how touching
Tears, grief, plucking the funerals are

When seen from afar from another country
When seeing the faces of children
Obeying their mothers it reminds me of how
I did not obey my own as a child
Forget this war, forget this place of weeping
Earth can be beautiful in all its feast, its gold
Waiting simply upon African poets to describe it
Instead I speak about Japan and Sarajevo
I have not spoken much about African poets
They who live not in this world of human nature
But rather a cage of their own making and design

They walk on dirt roads African poets
With their shamanic wisdom and their sails
Inspire glowing skill. All of their words are familiar to me.
Their words are as old as the dinosaurs and stars.
The Milky Way and constellations.
A telescope, fóssils, totem poles, tribes,
Trees, Darwinism, the touch of the hands
Of my paternal grandmother, antiques,
The coelacanth, the dishes that are waiting
For me in the sink, the footprint of childhood
On the beach sucking a waterfall of sea.


The Birthday Present For Mummy

I have not yet begun to write about love,
About passion, unfinished things every one
You see I have not returned from
The wilderness yet. The patterns of history
Those dead things have interrupted my life’s work
It comes from childhood, from youth.
A nation’s enthusiasm for armies built
With guns, armour, ammunition, child soldiers
The dream-keeper’s angelic cousin’s romanticism
I am getting around to getting older
In the meantime men are growing colder.

Distance has begun to grow around us
She is the one who has led a sheltered life
A monogamous life and how strange that life must have been
A burned, empty, vacant soul spirited her away from me
Buried a secret life, a bitter life not like a man
A man always lives an exciting life
Because these are exciting times we’re living in
He leaves his wife behind at home refusing
To be told what to do all the time. His goals come first.
She is perfect. Perfect mouth. Perfect bird with broken wing.
Perfect, lovely one.
Spirituality keeps her going like a cuckoo clock.

When God met Sarah my grandmother
I could hardly breathe because I was so sad
There was just a gnawing need to escape the innermost reality
Is it a mistake to long for a mother – that flame?
The flame of the mother’s love-light
I watched my brother and felt the texture of a killing
I told myself to seize life and to grab a hold of it
A life in which I searched for the depth of things
I watched a boy and a girl become a man and a woman
They brought a child into this world
Music became like water.

It had its own confessional weight.
Purpose and motherhood comes with great sacrifice.
I hate this blue. The colour of the sky today.
It is a pale white like snow descending or white hair
Of the elderly (what else is white, what else is depressing
And cannot nurture, cannot speak, cannot speak truth).
Wet paint, paper, pills (capsules of truth, knowledge),
Sweet powder, all come with power, plates, that can be shattered,
Teacups that must stand for years behind glass
A family’s crockery, horses, unicorns, tiaras, diamonds,
People too.


© Abigail George
Image: Kurtis Garbutt

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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