Abigail George, Poems for Joop Bersee III

For you I would be insane and lovely at the same time

Here’s looking at you at fifty. You’re
fifty still living in your parents’ house.
You’re not happy. You’re living in the
shade of your sister’s happiness. She
left you years ago, ventured out into
the world on her own. You still think
you’ll get better in therapy. You still
hate your own face, and sharp objects.
Steak knives with their cool, clean, pure-
serrated edges. Masters of none-and-
everything. Masters of Jericho, Ruth. Boaz.
The dreams you once had, you dream of
them still. They’re like paper flowers.

And your voice is like the agreements
between them. Full of secrets, a fading
sunlight of day paying attention to the
resonant branches and their tensing
melody. You think back to all the hurt,
despondency, useless slipping-away-
from-you-frustration, (honest), and it
moves inside of you like the first man
who molested you. You go under the sea,
and become pure again (an innocent).
Your hair dark lines and haywire all
over your face. The road home all-pepper-
and-potholes. You’re still scared of

the dark. Yes, yes, you’re still scared of
the dark. And you’re all feminine-and-
masculine (girl with her hair cut like a boy). Still
you long for the safe truth of women.
What did you do with the angels I gave
you. I think of the coconut oil on my mother’s
hands as she combed and braided my hair
when I was a little girl. There’s a little
girl in the advertisement I’m watching
on television. It’s about hair. It’s about
hair. It’s about hair. African hair, whatever
that means. Oil, sheen, relaxer cream, and I’m looking

at the Portuguese man again who gave
me the eye in Johannesburg all those years ago.
I think about his smile that lit up my face,
his light-blue sweater as he leaned over
the counter, and I think of the hair on his
hands, his arms, the hair on his chest there
sticking out like a triangle. I think of his
European-lover-face, and how I went up in
smoke that day. How sexy he made me
feel, how beautiful, and desired, this Captain Fantastic
in the paradise that was Johannesburg then.

Understanding the measure of loss

I think of fruit, good olive oil, pasta, and
tuna casseroles when I think of her name. I
think of overripe tomatoes perfect for sauce.
Of just how much I loved you, and how you

never loved me back. I chose writing, and
you chose pilgrimage. You chose to travel
to exotic places, never sending me a postcard

from any of those places you traveled to.
My hands hold frozen chicken pieces in brine.
My fingers are stiff with cold to the bone.
I’m going to grill this chicken.

The streets are breathing after the rain while
I inhale, and exhale, this intellectual black sheep.
Autumn leaves outside my window. You’re

not here. I wish you were here. I wish you
weren’t here. Yes, I was always difficult to
love, and the writing is still an experiment.
I’m reading this book by Don Mattera. I

want to know my purpose, my identity, my
heritage, where I come from. I’m more than
of mixed-race descent. You taught me that.
You taught me to pray. To pray for a publisher for

my manuscript. You taught me many things.
To sow the seed for meaningful relationships, and
how to multiply seed. You taught me to hope
for my name to be known in every home, to

reach for the stars. The shape of this nation
is pure. The divine. I don’t remember the color
of your eyes anymore, the weakness in you. Only
that you loved all of me for a brief summer.

The sun always shines on television and the
Americans are always eating red spaghetti.

Discern, discern, discern, please, between your
goals and dreams. I can’t take my eyes off you.

Your works of flesh, of prize and lit award.
The wise will hear. So will the foolish girls.

Owner of a lonely heart weeping amongst the glaciers

Weather has its own body. Water-fat sang a gospel in
plants. Stems explored the muddy-blue. The photographer (my sister)
sang her own gospel with her camera documenting our
holiday. She chose everything. The food. The beach house,

which was a different one each year. We used
to drive down to the beach. Walk barefoot on the hot sand.
I would watch my nephew carefully. The music school behind his
wet stone eyes. We’d all get lost in the day. I made a fist in the
wet sand thinking of the hours I would spend writing and writing
in the cool bedroom that I shared with my sister. Conjuring
spells into love poems.

At night, we would all drink. Drink cocktails
that my sister made. Drink in the warm weather, eating
barbecue chicken and ribs. Pizza made on a fire. Drink in the
memory of family we used to religiously visit like the manic-
depressive cousin who sang opera we never heard from anymore.

Whose parents in their seventies were getting a divorce. This
was the future now. My sister, the photographer. My brother,
the financial planner, father, my mother, deaf and pretending
that she was still young and looked good for her age. My father,
elderly, diabetic, who had trouble with his legs. In public, he would
push away my arm. Embarrassed that he needed help to walk.
Weather had its own body that summer. Sunlight against the wall,
we’d all sleep in the afternoon. Wake up late in the mornings.

My sister would take charge in the kitchen. In the shops, carrying
packages. Now her heart is set on Prague. Falling in love.
Becoming wife, lover and mother. Walking past lakes. Leaving
her fragile family, nerve damage, hugging the shore life behind
in South Africa. I learned that summer that even poems have lungs.

Pushcart Prize nominated Abigail George is a South African blogger, essayist, poet, and short story writer. A recipient of grants from the NAC, the Centre for the Book, and ECPACC, Abigail’s work is forthcoming across Africa in Africanwriter.com, Bakwa, Jalada, New Coin, New Contrast, the New Ink Review, and Nthanda Review.

Read more of Abigail here.

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