When in Rome
by Abigail George
(for my paternal grandparents)
You and that see-through dark-haired girl, you love
her, don’t you. Let me count all the ways you love her.
I could be dead, or just missing, or just missing out
on you. Your name is a song inside my head, and mob
justice burns bright tonight. There’s so much of you
in the narrative and context of my stories. There will
always be so much of you. And we were never lovers,
nor boyfriend and girlfriend, just a crack in the system,
and you know how much I love you, and you know
about my nervous breakdown, that I never finished
high school, and I know you want to be a family-man,
I know you want to build a home; I know you want
to belong, but life means different things to us, to us.
My home is the world, my home is under Scandinavian
skies, my home is sexy-Swaziland, minor earth and
major sky. Your lips are like velvet, and my face is
made of stone. I think you’re the epitome of cool, want to
kiss you so much, pull you in real close, but you’re in
love with a dark-haired girl now, and I have to respect
you, and remember you, and remind you I loved you too,
I loved you before she did, I loved you first. It’s
lonely out here blogging away in this frozen wilderness,
but writing brings an order to my life, and my neck is
graceful, and you’ll never see me naked, it has been too
long, and so many things have gone unsaid between us.
So, this is goodbye then my loyal friend until I see you
in heaven. And I’m going to cry Argentina, there’s nothing
you can do about that. We could have been lovers. We
could have been lovers. We could have been lovers. And I’m
not maternal, although my throat has a masculine energy.
Hemingway is third time lucky
(for my paternal grandparents)
I’m lost, I’m lost, I confess. In a minute I’ll be gone. In another
minute I’ll belong to the past, escape the present. I’ll be stripped
bare. I’m a stranger to man, and I’m a stranger to woman, and all
I’ve ever wanted was to be in your arms, and be loved forever. But,
this relationship, or whatever it is, or was belongs to the past, and
I’ll count myself forever holy amongst the stars, and the passing of
time, and the illustration of dust, and the interpretation of prayer.
And all I ever wanted was you, dear boy, dear man, dear finite space,
and biological gap, and psychological warfare, and a wish bone to
lead me home, and universal sanctuary, and a university degree, and
a high school diploma, and now, and now I have none of these
trivia, none of these things that makes the woman, that marks the
career woman. And I have a mother, but she abandoned me at birth
because my father loved me more, and my sister despises me, and
my illness, my disease, my Christianity, my radical feminism, and
most of all me. I’m an extra, I’m a starlet-harlot, I’m a monkey who
does not want to behave, but I’ll only behave in your arms, except
that position is filled. It is nearly midnight, nearly turning-point when
I’m near-death, near-life, and in death I’ll be extraordinary and in
life I’ll be extra-ordinary. And if I ever get married, I promise to
submit, I promise to obey, I promise to love in sickness and in health.
I am in a tunnel fast approaching another bright light, another
nervous breakdown, and was I really so difficult, so different to love,
and you tell me in a thousand different ways of how much I’m impossible
to love, and the hallucinations, and the insomnia leave me bleary-
eyed, and I look you straight in the eye, I want to try and make
eye-contact with you, but you look away because you love another,
and I don’t binge-drink anymore, I’m no criminal mastermind,
fuck my intelligence, I’ve never slept with a married man, I’ve never
fallen for a woman, and even though I feel as if I’m a statistic, you
don’t, you don’t, you don’t love me anymore and I find it all so
difficult to be on my own, and I can’t bear the loneliness, I can’t
face you with another woman on your arm, and you say I look
like your daughter, and then I find it difficult to breathe, to look
away, because all I’ve ever wanted was you, and you tell your
secretary to tell me to fuck off and leave you alone. You’re work,
and I love your superstar personality, you were my sweet escape,
once my sweet embrace, and now because of the Sylvia Plath-
effect you want nothing to do with me, because of the mania and
the euphoric-high, because of the unstoppably catastrophic blue-
depression I guess I’m no good for anyone, but especially for you.
I’m a saint walking on water, I am Saul of Tarsus, I am Paul on
cocaine on the road to Damascus. I am the finite apostle glowing.
I’m swimming, my body like velvet, head above water rooting
for all daughters, and then drowning. Body-surfing, and then
head sinking beneath the vibrations of the waves, drowning again.
You have genie-daughters, while I have none. The lunar-phases
of endometriosis saw to my infertility. I have had orphan-abandonment
issues in the past. You have had abandonment issues in the past.
We’re both orphans. That’s the one thing that we have in common.
I can’t bear the rhetoric, the dogma, you can’t bear the church.
We should be in love, life-falling for each other but we’re not.
Abigail George’s fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film and television production at Newtown Film and Television School opposite the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. She is the writer of Africa Where Art Thou (2011), Feeding the Beasts (2012), All About My Mother (2012), Winter in Johannesburg (2014), Brother Wolf and Sister Wren (2015), and Sleeping Under the Kitchen Tables in the Northern Areas (2016). Her poetry has been widely published in anthologies, in print in South Africa, and in zines from Nigeria to Finland, and New Delhi, India to Istanbul, Turkey. She lives, works, and is inspired by the people of the Eastern Cape, South Africa.