We present this work in honor of the poet’s 70th birthday.
Am I that woman in the dance raising inexperience like light addressing herself like a feather to her most elusive whereness? Strange flower growing soft out of the frame of language trying on sandals and flinging into writing unscathed by writing.
Winding the body’s lexicon it hit me in the takeaway shown my treasure in nothing I wavered: submit or escape it’s a question of what is lost in the beat of a voluptuous skirt what battle is evaded what dire endearing enemy abandoned.
Strange as if lit from within with the indicative expounding from neckline to poem curve I learned to conjugate affairs but for what if the nitty-gritty of nothing like eternity consisted in leaving me naked doubtlessly an odd privilege.
What if time were lawless? Where do you keep what wasn’t? They go on like this and that you never know what kills you and January sun and you just came just like a breath and worked me to confine my body’s surrounds to the exacting beauty of lack.
And I who’d thought to interject geography as flamboyant sun retrace my past in slip-ups sweet-talking myself tough and even pin on you a trinket clinched knees sissy feet which you’ll interpret as expertise but is just a pretense for hurt.
If together where the belly bends if I contracted and opened for you if something like a sky disclosed to what encloses inside blue if you drew me so disposed if I existed where you lost me if a spasm and other orphandoms if imperfection is a gift.
Contrary to the clock hands too long in two voices unreleased you walk me through my legs to tumult with no predicate while I angle for the occasional avails of female cunning tattooing the flipside of language digits an animal won’t give up.
Night is a house to wander with Spanish moss poison I mean, to look for looseness beyond your foremost failure maybe that was the attraction out of all you gave me and got how you tossed me into boleos heart antsy the secret clear.
All equally alone (Between) the sound and the inertia
Sometimes I only want A contact The time Enough to feel like I’m doing something Something that makes me special (Someone that makes me special)
I take off the armor I remain exposed, I remain in doubt What I was pretending to be Melts in my feet I take off the armor I remain exposed, I remain in doubt There’s only organs and skin And so I let myself fall My feet are tired from running
Of crystal The city
I watch as The secret life Collapses Brilliant courage
All equally alone The carry the bones on the outside
We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Heritage Day.
Somewhere in some dark decade stands my father without work, unknown to me and my brother deep in the Paarl winter and a school holiday. As the temperature drops, he, my father, fixes a thermos of coffee, buys some meat pies and we chug up Du Toit’s Kloof Pass in his old 57 Ford, where he wills the mountain – under cold cloud, tan and blue rockface bright and wet with rain – he wills these to open and let his children in, even as he apologises – my strict and angry fearsome father – even as he apologises for his existence then and there his whereabouts declared to the warden or ranger in government issue, ever-present around the next turn or lazing in a jeep in the next lay-by: “No sir, just driving. Yes, sir, my car.”
At the highest point of the pass we stop to eat, and he, my father, this strict and angry, fearsome father, my father whom I love and his dark face, he pries open a universe that strangely he makes ours, that is no longer mine: a wily old grey baboon, well-hid against salt-and-pepper rock, eyeing us; some impossibly magnificent bird of prey rarely seen, racing to its nest as the weather turns. And we are up there close I think to my father’s God, the wind howling and cloud rushing over us, awed and small in that big car swaying in the gale.
Silence. A sudden still point as the universe pauses, inhales and gathers its grace. Then, the silent, feather-like fall of snowflakes as to us it grants a brief bright kingdom unseen by the ranger. And for some minutes a car with three stunned occupants rests on a mountain top outside the fast ever-darkening turn of our growing up; too brief to light the dark years when I would learn:
how the bright, clear haunts of crab and trout where we swim in summer now in winter a brown rage over rock; how mountain and pine and fynbos or the mouse-drawn falcon of my veld; the one last, mustard-dry koekemakranka of summer that my father tosses through the air to hit the ground and puff like a smoke bomb; and once, also in summer somewhere, a loquacious piet-my-vrou; or the miraculous whirligig of waterhondjies streaking across a tea-coloured pool cradled by tan rock and fern-green fern; my first and only owl, large and mysterious in a deep stand of pine, big owl we never knew were there until you swooped away, stirred by our voices; how I too would be woken and learn that this tree and bird, this world the earth and this child’s home already fell beyond his possessives.
And how, once north through the dry Bushmanland with its black rock, over a rise in the road, the sudden green like the strange and familiar sibilants in Keimoes and Kakamas. And the rush of the guttural was the water over rock at Augrabies. The Garieb over rock at Augrabies, at Augrabies where the boom swings down, the gate-watch tight-lipped as a sermon: “Die Kleurlingkant is vol” as he waves through a car filled with bronzed impatient white youth laughing at us, at my father, my father my silent father in whom a gaze grows distant and the child who learns this pain past metaphor. How like a baboon law and state just turned its fuck-you arse on us and ambled off.
Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would like to speak directly to the dead—the September dead. Those children of ancestors born in every continent on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…; born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles, wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes, feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable; all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil—wanton or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their higher or lower status among others of its kind. Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts. Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be seduced by blitz. To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say—no words stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you have become. And I have nothing to give either—except this gesture, this thread thrown between your humanity and mine: I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through the darkness of its knell.
You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions Isak Dinesen
I never had a farm in Africa, nor was I at the hills of Ngong, and perhaps because I was a rebellious youth, I refused to read the book. Isak was a country on my mind, never a body skinny and consumed by the syphilis, an echoless shadow the grass cut through without any perceived musicality.
For years I held the book in my hand and my hands would tremble. I recall the rain falling over the prairies. If I closed my eyes I would see those men lingering at sunset, seen from that false luminosity that only the written page can give.
Death moved the doors. The lover or the money vanished like leaves. I never had a farm in Africa; I never felt the smell of coffee invading the rooms at sunrise. There were only lions occupying my sleep, their roaring was the only memorable thing as I awoke.