All Is Not Well

Older. (In seduction there is only theory and identity. Who submits and who is the one who dominates the situation.)

War has visited house by house during the riots. It tastes like a stale loaf that has been left out too long. A slice of hard, dry bread that you can crack between your fingers and leave your desire for longing for the light in my eyes. It feels as if it’s burning. Something on edge like ballet pointes. The frozen wasteland of the streets of Johannesburg. My brown nylon stockings are hung up to dry in the bathroom. The streets are a catapulted realm of new-found freedom exploding into stardom. Where and when does the external become important too and what becomes of all the rage, and all the sadness, take it all away from me, from my childhood? Is it Chatterley’s ghost – what is it that terrifies me so? Is it the cold comfort of the Scriptures? Do we live as we dream? ‘Take it all off he said. I want to watch you take it all off.’ I obeyed. The day I left you and not the other way round I put the disorder between us, the words that were said and could not be said into a box. How you dominated me, wounded me, what you made me feel with a glance, with one look, how you desired me and what you made me think when you ran your fingers up and down my spine asking me over and over, ‘Can you feel that? What does that make you feel?’ ‘It makes me feel calm, otherness.’ ‘Not happy. Don’t you feel happy child?’ ‘I feel as if there are boundaries between us.’ There are always boundaries between a man and a woman but you are too young to know that yet.’ ‘When you put your arms around me when I’m naked I feel epic.’ ‘Epic. Now that is a strange word for a child to use.’ ‘Isn’t that the word you use when you describe your books to your classes?’ ‘Yes, maybe.’ And I could feel him smile as he massaged my shoulders and kissed my neck. His arms feel like the handmaiden’s rope around my neck. There’s no place, no room for hysteria only violent phenomena in this bedroom. This is not my house. This is not my home. I don’t struggle. I just feel a release. It is sharp. He has introduced me to books and films, French films and pasta and wine, preserved figs, chai tea that I’ve become passionate about and J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. The Childhood of Jesus. The House Gun. I am so far away from my mother’s house, the house of a monster, her primitive hatred of me that ran like an electric current into my fingertips torturing me, and my cries that nobody heard. Her obsession, her mental abuse, no wife, no kindness had she for a mentally ill daughter. She was kind of a deranged person with her own emotional damages. One person to another and another funny kind of cruel person to me. I felt a violent despair for Robert. Could he see all of this in me? But the lover was something else. He made me cheese on toast. ‘So this is all a divorced father can make.’ He smiled. I smiled. And I remembered the mad, dark sea of Port Elizabeth, the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape, the green feast of Swaziland and how far I had come to eating cheese on toast. Electric hurt is the price every poet must pay. I slept with a lot of men in Johannesburg. Older, wiser, more experienced, divorced, married, some had children, some had one and some were lonely like I was. I think they all had a traumatic loneliness like I had. To sleep with someone like me I guess you had to have one.

I’ve thought of suicide. And I am sure everyone with a suicidal illness thinks of it at some point in their lives. I feel as if I have been part of the Otherness of the universe at large. They would say things to me although it would frustrate me sometimes stuff like, ‘It’s all part of Phenomena. Maintenance Shibuya Kaho . You don’t have to worry about that. I will take care of you child.’

When he entered me I thought I would experience hysteria, a flood of those traumatic experiences I had in childhood and adolescence would somehow be reawakened in me. It’s not that they would buy me beautiful things, a bracelet, a pretty relic, it was the things that they would say to me. Their intellect, their fierce intelligence, how they would make me laugh and when I telephoned them I could have a few minutes of their precious time listening to their brutally articulately voices at the other end. How they would make me blush.

She is not mummy. She is mummy’s sister. She’s been away a long time. She’s gone to heaven. Reminding me that Sunday is a ghost of a day. And so is the chicken. All of my life I’ve worshiped cake with a ‘higher learning’, a ‘poetic justice’, eating bread, cinnamon rolls and pudding like it came with the light of the world. Gold is the owlish sun-god Ra.

Port Elizabeth. Home. Home has given me burning driftwood wings. Up, up, up and then down, down, down like a moth inhaling smoke evaporating in air.

The air tastes like fried fish, smells like calamari rings, frying chips in oil that’s weeks old in the café. A man is following me home. He is calling after me. I begin to pick up speed, walk faster, think it will be suicide to stop, to pause, to think. I turn around. I know this man. I sometimes give him dry bread and hot tea. Today I give him bread and hot tea again. His clothes are splattered with paint. Mummy paints the world dead leaving me a portrait of the female poet.

Johannesburg. He is touching me. Warm breath upon my cheek. Chaste kiss upon chaste kiss. ‘I thought you couldn’t see me.’ ‘Don’t talk.’ He says with my hair in his mouth. ‘What shampoo do you use? It tastes like pineapple. Smells expensive.’ ‘It’s my perfume. You bought it for me remember.’ ‘It smells like pineapple. You put it on your hair. Now that makes me feel young. You think of me when you were doing that?’ ‘Its flowers.’ ‘Don’t talk.’ He begins to unbutton my blouse one button at a time, puts his hand down the front of my blouse. ‘Are you enjoying this?’ ‘Yes. Yes.’ I say half-heartedly. He pushes the hair off my neck and his hand lingers there. And all I can think about is my aunt. My dead aunt. The beautiful, elegant alcoholic with two daughters and four grandchildren and an abusive husband. A handsome abuser who had a porn star’s hairdo who would physically hurl her across rooms and bounce her head against walls for merciless psychopathic fun. I would think of America and of how studying there seemed even farther out of my reach now. My aunt has been away a long time now. Gone to heaven leaving me a leper with a stoned heart, with a mother who is ice and glass, brutal and aggressive, an untitled poem who has ancient motives like the eighteen gangs in the warfare climate of the northern areas in Port Elizabeth. My aunt made me want to live. There is no speaking of Christianity and of mummy’s bright faith as I feel his hand on my thigh, brushing my skin, stroking my bare stomach draining bravery out of my spirit, out of me and calling it promiscuity. And even then during the sexual impulse I would be making up stories. I would be in some parallel universe, dimensions away, not feeling my heart’s pain or sacrifice or hearing the particles of music, even a symphony in a pop song. I would see the winter stranger by the lake, monsters, the feast of Robert (the man I could not have), see my letters in my red box of memories, having courage and a love song in the wilderness, the believer’s spring essence. What a feeling it is to be loved, to kiss when you’re awake in this world, when you walk upon this earth. I was always waiting for this spell, this magic but it never came. Only men. Only the men and they would take and take and take and leave me disillusioned and sad and suffering from depression. Strange people. What strange people men are? They can bruise a girl and flee and feel nothing in the end.

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