She was still young (which means that
she didn’t have grandchildren yet). She
was a waterfall. She had survived the
cancer once before but now she’s gone,
gone, gone. The Indians gathered in the
church hall. The women had cooked.
The people eat egg salad and pickled onions.
They eat soup with honest hearts forgetting
about the beautiful woman they had just
buried. The children are angels. Early
morning turns into afternoon. The day
is death. The day is liquid-sunshine. The
day is beautiful. There’s a spell and a
mantra in her husband’s eyes. In her sons’
eyes. The women eat the chicken daintily
with their fingers. There’s birdsong
and wind. Bougainvillaea and a choir.
The day is gospel and unsleeping. I remember
the pianist had a beard. How some men
stood around and smoked as if their lives
depended on that, and how everyone ate
and ate and ate until they were satisfied.
Body gone under the sea
The words crinkle under my fingertips.
They come to me as if in a spiritual vision.
They sky collects hours before sunset.
Before the moon’s glitzy shroud making
its way like a tapestry across early morning
darkness. She was like a binary star.
It was as if she could translate everything
in the system into water (even sin). Her
heart was crafted from prayer into
melancholy and despair. I think of her eyes
filled with the museum of tears. The
souls she released from her pen, (because
to me every poem I have ever written
has a soul). I think of her pain. I think of
my own pain. I think of all her rituals, her
writing, her speaking, her loving, her
offerings, and then I think of my own.
I think of this very ripe pregnant fig in my hand
that I’m about to eat. The greenness of
it. The delight I will experience in eating
it, and then I think of her, Ingrid, the mother.
Ingrid, the poet, the daughter, the lover.
Ingrid Jonker. Body gone under the sea.
The people are first out in dawn’s light
Sometimes is it better to let it go. The
glamour of early morning. Mother is
summer rain. Father is a collection of
burnt diaries. Photographs have been lost.
Perhaps they’re the real survivors’ in
the end. The ocean, the light of day, the
river, the moonlight is holy. The artist’s
sacred vision. I am long thin legs. Slender
frame standing in the empty space of a
bright green garden. I slice the red and
green peppers. Red and green chillies
alongside my brother in the kitchen. That night
holding my pillow tight tears taste metallic,
and everything was a mantis-dance. I
think of the Portuguese man in Johannesburg
who gave me the eye. I don’t want to
be in this home. Perhaps it’s time for me
to leave again, and soon. The universe
in which I lived once was better than this. I’m watchful.
Concentrating on the invisible blue map drawn
near winter-fingertips in the cold air. I
think to myself that a bird’s flight plan
is intricate, but you’re not here to hold
me anymore. Perhaps it’s time to leave soon.
I’m waiting for the storm to come. I pick the
book up. I’m reading John Updike. I’m still waiting.
Sometimes I can’t stand the pain
I think of the blackness of the ocean at
night. I think of the greenness of it during
the day. I think of you. I think of ink-stained
fingers singing with fresh exhaustion, and
a day’s work. Head dipping in a blue circle
in a swimming pool. I think of my mother
and father having an argument when I was
a child. They thought I couldn’t hear. Didn’t
see the suitcase standing at the door. The night
my mother nearly left us all. Sometimes it
seems to me that the moon just hovers in
the sky. Silent like Mikale, who with unhurried
movements begins to start his car and drives
away. I hear my sister’s voice on the telephone sinking further
and further away inside my head. Improvise,
she says, and the word comes with a flux of
grief. So, I improvise. I act a bit part here,
and a bit part there. There’s this image of a
summer apple in my hand, and I flee into
the dim light. The key is a plum in my hand.
So, long ago I shut the door on you in easy-
to-remember choreographed steps, but now
you’re here again in dream, in myth, in memory.
In social media, home for Christmas with
your mansion of blonde hair and I can’t stand the pain.
Poem to my inner child
Much later, because the telephone rang
I left my work. I was writing that death for
me is not goodbye to the earth and the sea.
Forgotten cities. A child that was carried in the womb
for nine months. Thirst. Branches that are
pure. The day that is windswept. This is
the secret life of the alcoholic. A Bukowski-kind
of alcoholic. I think of the blue lines across
the page. What inspired him. I think of the
thin woman with the thin arms and the
fading tan. Sandals on her feet. Her bra
sticking out. She’s my mother. She smiles
at me and I smile back and then everything
in my world is all right again. I write in
deep night. I eat strange fruit and love for
me is like an arrow to the heart. Rain
needs love. Rain needs to speak too. Its
boundaries are giving. I’m longing for
autumn. The intimacy of quiet days, new
music, the fizz of the ginger beer my mother
made in my childhood. I sink my teeth into
the origins of this western life as the world
turns. Trying to get the words right. I write
to erase the pain. I tell myself to grieve no
more. Past is past. I tell myself to watch
the birds. Birds in flight. Birds in the sun.
Hours break. Tipping backwards into the
wind like a waterfall etched into rock formations.
Grief is the sun and the cave is dark, dark, dark and as
I close my eyes please know that I am fragile.
Abigail George has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (with her work of fiction Wash Away My Sins) and her writing has appeared numerous times in print in South Africa, in various anthologies, and in various e-zines worldwide. She is the writer of eight books including essays, life writing, memoir pieces, novellas, poetry, and a self-published story collection.
Abigail lives, works, and is inspired by the people and mountains of the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She is the author of the poetry collections Africa Where Art Thou (Drum Beat Media, 2011) and Feeding the Beasts (Drum Beat Media, 2012), and the short story collection Winter in Johannesburg (Drum Beat Media, 2013).
Read more of Abigail here.