Tonight the Sky was Empty: A Poem by Abigail George

IMAGE: Surian Soosay
Image: Surian Soosay via Flickr


Fresh pipes are wasted as something blurred –
A foot, an eye, written on the body
A scrape of September from my knee
Examine my teeth. They are beautiful.
A lover stalks a lover.
In the end, they become husband and wife.

The moonlight is too intent for me.
What happened before my birth?
Do my parents remember burning away?
That there were aloes from Bethelsdorp.
There were embers that were flying.
Hair a field stopping for nothing.
Bones were anchors. A marriage.
They knew children would come eventually.

He puts his hands on her hips and they dance.
They do not have children yet.

My father knows everything there is to know about the works of Milton.
My mother’s skin tastes of salt, a paralysed river poured into a machine.
How he loves the canvas of her skin.
How he wishes that this

could go on forever and ever.
Before the children come.
She is the butcher’s wife.
She dreams of scrolls.
Are you there God Listening?
Are you having conversations with a prophet?
My mother has a garden state of mind.
Flowers bloomed in her hair there
that tasted like chrysanthemums,
the air that you found after going up the mountain.
My aunt is dying of cancer.
She is dying of breast cancer.
She will not make it to another
Birthday. Another Christmas.

I write imaginary letters
to a brother in rehab.
I found Ouma’s kitchen
in the fellowship of the wild.
I was a teenage runaway.
Does God answer prayer?

When the children do come.
Suddenly know there is a distance.
A separation that was not there before.
The children are strong.

They have to be.
Their parents soon realise that vows
well they were not enough.
Buying furniture, a house.

My mother’s hands feel like fire.
She is braiding my hair.
She wants me to look as beautiful
and as elegant as she does.

I am just a silhouette.
I have fallen in love with aviaries.
Gush and gush and a gush of glut.
Memory is bleak, a pageant of sorts.

I pull my nightgown over my head.
I remember when boys stalked my flesh.
Those days are long gone.
My thighs have their own narrative.

My voice is golden as it falls to decay.
Listen to the cat. The dog howls in the distance.
I have the loneliness of scars.
I was happy in the light.

In the darkness flux too.
I opened my eyes, remembered childhood.
When my parents’ gave each other
The silent treatment.

They are not lovers anymore.
Have not been for years. They were happy once.
Their unhappiness has filtered down to us.
Children made of evenings and tennis.

Children who are competitive at the swings.
Children who have now become lovers too.
Children whose lives have become so filled with dread.
Children who are afraid they will end up like their parents.

Poem (c) Abigail George
IMAGE: Surian Soosay via Flickr

About the author

Abigail George

Abigail George’s fiction was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film at Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg. She is the recipient of grants from the National Arts Council, Johannesburg, Centre for the Book in Cape Town, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council) in East London. She has been widely published from Australia, to Finland to Nigeria, and New Delhi, India to Istanbul, Turkey and Wales.
Her blog African Renaissance can be found online in Modern Diplomacy under Topics.
She contributed for a year to a symposium on Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine. She is a poet, fiction writer, feminist thinker, essayist, and a blogger at Goodreads.


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  • AG’s works are always lonely. I wonder why. Beautiful…
    Where did you get OUMA? That’s a tribal name deeply embedded in my community. It means BORN FACING DOWN. Ouma=male; Auma=female

    • Yeah, she taps into that soul loneliness more than any writer I have ever read. It is as if she’s always looking for something just beyond reach…

  • In Afrikaans in South Africa Ouma means ‘grandmother’ and Oupa means ‘grandfather’.

    That is what I called my paternal grandparents. I miss them very much. They played a large all-encompassing role in my childhood. My grandmother would ‘feed’ me. Usually soup in the winter filled with noodles and peas with cups and cups of strong hot tea. Sandwiches with thick homemade fig that I could not stand to eat I am sorry to say that now but I loved her for that. She would not eat with us, my dad and me. She would just sit in her corner of the room and watch us. Watch us eating what she prepared. She was the best cook in the world. I would proclaim over and over again. Now my brother is the best cook in the world. We had to survive our parents depression somehow and as children we did it through cooking and eating hard potatoes and meat in water that resembled a broth at the end of the day.

    Thank you Tindi and Sola for your comments. I think you will never know or understand what and how much your words mean to me. They get me through the days and the onslaught of weeks of sabbaticals. I often think that hardly anyone reads my work or finds it important or significant in any way. Yes, seriously I do.

    • Recognition is hard to come by for most writers in these times. It is what it is. There has always been a big element of luck in what we do, so there. You read stuff written by others being lauded everywhere and you think to yourself, I write just as well (or even better!), so why am I dwelling in obscurity? Believe me, it is a question I have asked myself more than once. So the element of lightning striking where it wills comes into play. Be encouraged, Abigail. Keep on exploring the ranges of your talent while seeking a bigger canvas to shine your light. Be encouraged. And thanks for the poetry!

  • Thank you Sola and you are so right about the element of luck in our work. I will never stop exploring ‘the canvas’ of that you can be sure of. As a writer you face rejection all the time. How do you deal with it? How do other writers deal with it? I am more encouraged than ever when I receive a rejection letter now. It tells me ‘to keep on writing’ even when all else fails. I love your words Sola. They will always inspire me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are the kind of editor every writer out there deserves.

  • Spot-on Sola. I’ll send you a mild link…
    AG’s right about publishers and their editors. I’ve learnt to treat them with the invectives they deserve.
    Thanks both.