When I was loved by you
by Abigail George
For my mother and my father
Bombs danced inside my
Head. Behind my eyes. Went off
In my soul. Made fireworks
In my chest. I didn’t know
Then what I know now.
That there was room to grow
Infinitely. Now nearing
Middle-age I don’t test myself
Like that anymore. I’ve
Given up on men and women
And having a small tribe of
Children. On having love and relationships.
I’ve given up on improving
Myself. Calling that
Progress or maturation. Once your
Voice was thunder and your
Touch electric but I’ve
Given up the ghost of
Your personality. I have
Gone the distance for you.
I am rain now breaking over pillows of verdant grass
And winter pavement.
The plural of wisdom
To me now is to keep
On moving. To live under a sky so blue with
Gladness. I am falling like
The sun’s birth day. I am
Alive. I am falling. I am mistress. I am master.
My truth is divine. Divine.
Father, you’re an expert at
Your ‘craft’. Mother, you were
Always a dynamo in the
Kitchen sewing-sewing a-
Way in my childhood. You
Shaped your daughters to
Follow men. You’re worried
Now about wrinkles and
Grey hair. Growing old and
Infirm in your own way.
Falling to the river in your
Dreams. My father looks at
Me as if to say goodbye forever.
Searching for my sister in middle age
Her name is much like the noisy
Movement of the coastline of the
Pacific. Her pain is remote and ghostly
To me as the streets and alleys of
California and Manhattan. She is
Young and beautiful. Holiness and
Machine. She is pure. Half-asleep
She is atrophied fire, rain, and air.
In my robust hands her hair blossoms
With the instinct of thunder. At
My kitchen table I feed the pillows
Of her red mouth trout and salmon.
Perhaps our frailest mother and father
Should have divorced years ago
When they were still young enough
To fall in love again. Marry other
People. Now they are too set in their
Own ways. They have built up a
Lifetime of habits in their vein walls.
Let me protect her and let her anchor
Me like a mirror. A glass of red wine
In the evening blinds her soul. The planet
Of all her nerves and jitters are not
Yet dead. One day our brown
Faces will be heavy with wrinkles.
Our hands will be prunes and our
Perfume will no longer bloom. We’ll fade
Away into the sun. Lines where our
Heart, lungs, liver once were. The vast
Tissues and organs of our immune
System running on empty. Nothing
Left to predict anymore. My hands scan
Everything. The distant underground maneuvering
The chains of the sea. Its switch from purple
At midnight to sea-green during the day.
We’re people merely acting out our problems.
Women acting a lonely bit part here and there.
Lonely rain, overwhelmingly the outsider
Marks the extinction of my sister’s flesh
And familiar bloodwork. She compensates
For far too many things that have gone
Wrong in her life. No milk in our breasts
For sons and daughters. Childhood not forgotten.
We braid our hair in silence. Oil on our hands.
Oil on our hands. The silent moon of our mother above us.
The hottest state of the sun of our father.
Faraway human voices speak softly to me.
The ghost of the adolescent Melissa Burjins
Gravid belly filled with stars
Gravid belly starless night
I burn with weariness in my soul
The rehabilitation of Hiroshima
And Nagasaki. Vacant rooms
Across continents smothered
By ancestors. Swimming in fields
Of carrion. Once upon a time
Kafka had a tyrant for a father.
I had a tyrant for a mother. Athletes
Are built tough. The bird’s shadow
At the window. Winter pavements
Shining with abalone and slick.
My eyes are empty. My soul is
A shell. There are rooms in my
Lungs that remind me of partings
That are faded. Stripped and jerking.
In the letting go you will find the
Climbing singing scorching weather.
I write books for a living. I call
It an ‘art’. That is all my nerves
Can take. Not love. Not men. Not women.
And so I open my notebook and
The day’s work begins with doubts.
Anxiety. Insecurity. Uncertainty.
My feet in a cement bucket/bath/field.
I am never to return to the girl
I was before. The flame is twisting,
Drowning, burning in my heart.
I want to kiss her lips. Take her hand
In mine. Tell her that I love her.
While I raise up the veil of the sun
In so many splendid ways and call
Upon the bride of the environment.
Gravid belly. Stars fill the night sky.
I remember all of her. All that she said.
In childhood I live next to a field,
A ‘bush’ that was always burning
Up in flames in the summer heat.
I don’t know where my mother’s depression
Began and ended. She’s a legend.
Her laughter is still epic. She was
A bride and a bridesmaid. Orphaned
When I was a small child. She is
Alive. Her throat is camouflage. Harpoon-
Ready. It is morning and joy is still
Young. This ghost house of leaves.
The museum filled with ordinary families at teatime
The future of seawater
Dust singing of sick birds.
My sister was the former and I, the latter.
The night is spiritual.
Your country is a haunted
Land filled with the
Proverbial thirst. The measures
Of longing. Of dying
To belong to feast and
The imperative. Every
Broken family is filled
With cracks in their system.
Their lungs overflowing with flame like a
Fireplace in a mansion.
I don’t know whether
This shoreline will still
Be here in a decade. I’m thinking of the wind.
Feasting my eyes on gulls.
It’s beautiful out here.
The singing geography of
Here reminds me of
Alice in her wonderland.
A word like ‘emphasis’.
I am a woman hard at
Work. Sunday means church but ‘Buddha’
And me sit outside.
He is nearly three years
Old. Daddy and the washed out weather-eye,
His father, my brother,
Went to church early
This morning. There is dirt under
His fingernails. The mirth
Of air is in his lungs.
He is my morning flame.
He is my scribbled knight.
He brings me thanksgiving. He does
Not belong to the bonfire
World of men yet. I kiss
His wrinkled feet and hands.
Coal for eyes. Foal legs.
In his hands he holds the ripples of
An autumn leaf. His lips are
Moths’ wings. Tongue fluid
And slack chewing gum.
Chewing, chewing between grass, far
Off clouds and two kites.
When it comes to transformations of the intellect
I hate hospitals. Dad
Is there recuperating
From an illness. His leg
Could be amputated.
We took him to the
Emergency unit on a
Saturday morning. It
Feels as if something is missing.
Daddy is not here. It
Feels as if winter is upon
Us once more. Dad is not
Here. I hate hospitals.
Beds folded down with their
Neat hospital corners.
A leaf has fallen from
A tree defying gravity.
The wind catches in
My hair outside the hospital.
I think I’m going to
Be sad. The stairs are empty.
The parking lot is full. Women are
Placenta rich. She is a
Bird. She wears white stockings
Of shade and shadow as intimate
As common sense.
Here you will find women
In uniform. The nurse
With her shroud and coffee.
The psychiatrist made of stone.
The security guard.
The nurse pushing the wheelchair.
You think they will
Make you feel better.
But they don’t. They don’t.
The rooftops of Paris
Remind me of you,
Daddy. Here the ancient
Sun comes. Evenings
Pinkish light. The river
Is wild. The wild is dark. Lonely.
Dad, I hate hospitals.
You’re in the wrong country.
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.