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Reading the Bones: Poems by Abigail George

Haiti SOS January 2010

here hope floats and is disguised
in every civilian even in heartache,
in brokenness, in helping hands
that reaches out of the ground or in the air.

bone chilling cold, stench rising
beneath eddies of reddish dust,
as rescue teams search to and fro
for survivors – another day comes to an end.

smart scientists say earthquakes
are elemental, particles of light
hit the ground, turn from gold
to moon-dance midnight black.

there is no more joy here,
no more laughter from children
no more smiles, innocence, purity
that holds you from every child’s stare.

it is like winter in a war zone
tranquil seawater, match point,
stone wives, fat, squalling babies
reminding us that nothing in life is permanent.

living from day to day
in a sea of dirty bodies
in an urban jungle, decay, a slum,
rubbish, grime – souls are transfixed.

no longer a country freed from the way
society treats its children
no longer splendid life but locked
in a brutal and sad battle for humanity.

once again it is history in the making
everything is not simple in black and white
death is darkness visible, shadows rising
daily there are choices to be made, one life to live.



Peel away the layers like the skin of an onion
thighs, hair, teeth, physical body, lips that chant
and enchant – this is Eunice the kitchen girl

She makes lopsided grins and conversations,
grimaces and denials – where does she come from?
Motherwell, Port Elizabeth; the friendly, windy city.

She melts my heart, my consciousness
Although it is subtle, generous, soul-defying,
it is a set wooden mask – only temporary

She is an old, yet mighty African queen,
an African dreamer, an African angel cleaning,
polishing the floor under my kitchen table

While I say nothing, while I communicate nothing
she goes about her work with a harmonious high-spiritedness.
She is sprightly and commanding; her art is not to fail at her duties.

I can’t take back what I now regret saying in a heated moment
Six word stories, two sentences stories that spilled,
that floated like hovering bullets in the air seeking impact.

Her self is living proof of stoicism,
practicalities, subterfuge and sabotage;
she knows her limitations well

I hug the memory of her smile to my chest
I hold my thoughts of her in high esteem
Nothing that I know of diminishes her daily bravery.

I know when death comes to visit this harbinger
it will be like a thief in the night;
It gives me a simple peace of mind.

It will carry her away to paradise without warning
Her memory will prevail, endure and persevere
like the battle studies of war.


Orange Farm on the 7 o’ clock news

Machine guns go da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da
Drowning out the swaying, barefoot crowds in the streets
Shooting rubber bullets through the air although they aren’t aimed to kill
Beating down half-defeated men and women, civilians on foot,
Absent parents; children out of sight, out of mind.

A father walks across the road with kids dressed for school
The girls’ hair neatly braided; the children walk hand-in-hand
There are seven of them; they walk; innocents, steadfast, pure,
Surrounded by mischief and mayhem, police spies;
Community leaders, mothers, fathers, all sisters and brothers.

There is the smell of burning rubber in the street,
In the air; calls for better service delivery for the community
In Orange Farm ignored; everyone is up in arms about this
Is this what is normal? Shouting in the streets, armed police?
Loud music on car radios, noise playing like a toy in a rattling tin?

It isn’t a dream anymore – the reality is here, the daily struggle
People barefoot, washing hung on lines in dirty slums
Barely making ends meet, staying alive with hunger in their bellies
Their crimes make them tattooed young warriors in jails and ganglands
We are falling apart; we are not making the ends to justify the means.

The beautiful dream; the rainbow, the African renaissance
Counting every two steps forward we take three back
We move forward and backward like a river seemingly with ease
What about the orphans who seek shelter from the rules of the wild
Children who play in time with toy handguns and grenades, toy soldiers

Children, who play at blowing stuff up, think paintball is kid’s stuff
All they have to cling to at night is despair, defeat and desperation
Street children trapped with their own machine secrets, dreams and lies;
Burning issues, sniffing glue, left to beg at car windows, shunned, abused
It can trace its history back to the beginning of time – the survival of the fittest

Where do corrupt politicians’ burn in hell for the lies they tell?
There are many wasted lives that struggled through the best years of their lives
Parents, noble teachers, pupils, singers, actors, musicians, pro-activists,
Kindred spirited team leaders, the marginalised youth; where are they now?
Who do we look at to regain our compassion for humanity, for every human life?


The Arrival of Education

One day I lost my eyes and I could not see
Then I realised I had to reach out, reach within
Here, was our future that always came, a clean seed
Relevant and thrilling, promising new beginnings
Amongst the undergrowth it was gold, like golden yellow fields
Its spinning brightness was lightly tangled, shining and blazing
Our speech was once silver but silence gives us a sanctuary.
Asking, ‘Woman what is your choice?’
Africa is like a locked box with no key – it is dangerous.
There is no exit side only a source of corrupt lunatics, maniacs.

With a hand in the dark to feel my way around,
to reach your heart, I imagine the night sky is moonlit,
Dreamy and the stars butterfly spirit sparkling
as my call crosses the bewildered universe
‘It is not yet done, do not dream it is over.
I am calling out your name.’
Who will flee?
It is only non-believers since the beginning of time
Who will flee believing that emancipation
Is only temporary.


Reading the bones

Here tears are unflinching eyewitnesses
and posed limbs carry blurry dreams,
in this hot climate, this zone, this phase
like a horse chewing at the bit; a half-living
thing made up of stars and bulging
factual constellations.

In this sweltering, settled country
of self-awareness and neuroses
of unsettling homesickness
as if stitched under the water
of a river, ocean and the sea
we shrink back from the mouths of fire starters.

Watery clouds, the pale, lonely
blue ribbon of the sky like a game of Solitaire
the width of a thread in my mind’s eye
Insiders whisper under foot,
hotter instincts have gone to splinters
as if to say forget this place of weeping.

On the ground, on pavements, on steps,
Under the fluffy slate of white clouds.
Life is burning in neon, pretty lights.
While we stir in our sleep, our bodies
hunched under the covers, our dreams
subliminal – we are no longer self-conscious.

The lids of our eyes flutter gently, rapidly
then very briefly in the moonlight; we dream of dim pictures;
times when we were happiest in our childhood
My mother’s eyes are dissolved behind
her huge sunglasses, we were watching the shells,
the weeds, wrecks, pebbles, driftwood, anglers

breakers that were beached, once soldiers of love and hate,
exiled, I hold their misshapen assembly in my hands
these dry lovely bones, these ancient fossils,
these museum pieces – I had to give it a name;
This discovery, a hallmark, I mark it, shelve it as
The secret life of dreamers and newcomers.

I have to forget relevant and compelling
notes on war, unique to our disturbing
history, take a pill that embeds itself
comfortably in my mouth; oh joy!
What is this heady rush of loveliness?
It is vital like composed radii or an atom.

Writhed bird grounded; shunned like an omen
explosions of veiled colour; blasé yet knowing.
In a forest of flowers like a giant war machine
Your destiny and lives lived furiously
on the edge was marked – long before the end of your lifetime.
There remain case histories to be written.


(c) Abigail George

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.


  1. Yes, her poetry is beautiful. She makes it seem so effortless. I love her poems more than her short stories. I wonder what a novel from her would be like…

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