Poetry from Abigail George

Man, with the gun
    I’ve never loved out of guilt. Don’t care
what people say or think about me. Don’t care that I live on an island.
Let’s start with what makes me happy
before I get to the unhappiness. This
is the location of the bones. They’re
found below. Underground this body
of flesh. The garden marks the road out.
Despair always created a tight feeling
in my chest. Showed a vision a Rilke
in my hands. Pictures of an unsmiling
Rilke. I’ve imagined Rilke in Austria,
France, Russia. As a pupil at a military
academy. The writer, the poet unleashed.
Rilke as the husband, the lover, the
father. For me, it was an exercise. Thinking
could he invent when inventing was
needed, dig, make repairs to. I think of seawalls, modern catastrophes, the
maths and science of distance, of
    paradise, of what lies ahead, the stigma
of substance abuse and illness. Taking
care of elderly parents, pride and ego,
insecurity and finding the motivation to write daily. This is
the age of women, so they say. Equality.
Men must stand up for the women.
Women have the vote but we must also have human rights.
People feel free to make comments
about my life. They’re like doves to
me, little earthquakes in the blood but
I keep them in the distance like the
journalists that have come to the house.
I keep them away like I keep my family away.
I think to myself that painters were kind to Mary. Jesus’ mother never
looked more beautiful or holy. I’m attentive in conversation with aunts and uncles.
I pay attention. Look closely at the mouths
of women. Their exquisite lips that enchant.
The men in my family are largely silent.
They only want to teach me. Lecture me.
In prayer, I am on my knees. When I ask
for forgiveness, I beg. When I love, there
are parts of my identity that simply fade away.
Decay is a hymn. Kissing is a hymn. Drowning is a
hymn. The asphalt jungle in which I
find myself in. It sucks the life out of me.
So, instead of hating, I cook rice. Eat
honey. Swim. Think of intimacy. Think that depression
is romantic. That it is all part of the process of becoming a writer. Thinking,
death to squalor. Death to poverty. Death to the man with the gun.

  Tik
    This is a generation defining itself.
Strange. This struggle to belong.
To give up the ghost of tik like a
paperback thriller. It’s killing our children. Our boys
are found navigating through the dark.
Held up by invisible hands. Those
boys can’t sleep either. Can’t
close their eyes. The thing is, tik
is a beast. My dreams are not
my dreams. There’s no love for
them. Mothers don’t believe in their sons.
I don’t sleep at night. It smells like almost rain, I close my eyes. Do everything he says.
(Yes, I’m afraid. Yes, I’m afraid). I’m frightened of him.
From dark drifting over bridges.
Streets fill with dirt, semen, mucus, spit. Sleepwalking
young men on the move. These clairvoyant anthropologists on the move facing
despair, poverty, hardship, violence,
brutality. Drinking together. Going to
club. Facing rivers turning into
ocean. In the blood is the tik-high floating
there like driftwood. Turning into
a hymn. Then a church. Then a
    waterfall of fire and flame. Then no
place is safe to go. Choking streets
filled with fear. I open my Jhumpa
Lahiri. I open my Salinger. My Updike. Boys walk in circles trying to find
the mountain. I think to myself that
everything is painful to me. I can’t get
up in the morning. I hear the birdsong
of the river. The paradise of the sea.
Wonder if the boys can hear it too.
I think of my brother who is addicted to
another kind of paradise. Wonder
about the youth in Hawai’i. Florida.
Berlin, Germany. Prague. Budapest.
India. New York. Phuket. It makes it
easier somehow for a while. These
boys can’t slow down. Can’t give up
the fight. The rush. There’s a volcanic sorrow here lying underground. Volcanic! It’s always
winter. Things that make me happy.
Things that make me sad.  Violence
crashing into a world of pain! Diary of a
bad week. Boys carrying around
pain diaries in their intellect. It’s
not their fault really. They’re not to blame for the gangs.
The Group Areas Act. Apartheid. If you really think about it.
The woman who never forgets
(for Ambronese, Babs, Mikale, Rooka)
    This diary of a bad week. Let me
not forget it. I remembered a time when my dreams were
not my dreams anymore. Let me
not forget it. Museums are full
of magic. The magic of perpetual
writing from the dead to the
living. The magic of Sundays, the rosary, the
chicken roasting in its juices.
Love me. Love me, lover. Tell
me that you love but that’s not you.
Tell me anyway because my heart
needs to believe that you’re my cure.
It’s good that you’re coming
home to me for Christmas. Tell me
that I mean the world to you. Whisper sweet nothings
in my ear while I try and seduce
you. Break into pieces of pale fire.
Nobody knows about the other
story. About waking up alone. Finding
myself in a hospital room as if that was somehow by choice. I know about
the river where Virginia Woolf drowned (River Ouse).
I know the sea in which Brink’s
Ingrid drowned herself. I know the feeling of not
being able to take it anymore. I know the room
in which Sylvia killed herself.
The drowning girl’s memory. Lovers and ghost.
Ghosts and lovers. I know about facing
winters alone, low and high, high and low, crashing into seawalls.
I know about facing uninspired
days. He loves her more than me.
She gave him a child. A tribe. I’ve
been inspired by both love and
silence. There’s no solid ground
when meeting with resistance.
All too soon adolescence was gone.
You are the brightest star with
your devil’s haircut. The most relevant
flashing through my mind. Once,
we were sisters. Now I cry about
her. I find old maps there in my mother’s
eyes. My sister’s a vision. Found
at a river’s edge. All her men are famous.
All her men are sad. She’s found
at a waterfall. The voice of humanity is found
in my soul. What-to-do. What-do-to
if you’re not loved. If you’re not loved. Find Paris. Find paradise. Slowly
become dominated by those seawalls.
The glaciers that come in winter
(for David Max Brown)
    The people who change the way they
think, change the world. The sea is a
mocking sea. Its undercurrent raw. Today I’m dominated by
depression. It dares to linger. I cast aside the telephone. Journaling.
Think about the last white president
of South Africa. Think about love. Think about
squalor with eyes half-closed. I have the
pleasure of family around me to make
up for everything I lost in my twenties.
I am left dreaming in this house by the
beach while everyone hurries around
me. I see a tunnel of light. Is it the exit.
Until family comes, you don’t really understand
why you’re here. What life is about.
Every measure of pain was intense in
youth. Now pain is more familiar
to me. I understand it. The numbness.
That bridge. That exquisite decay of
the bone parade made of flesh and blood
in the wild asphalt jungle. In wilderness.
There are glaciers that come in winter.
Winter that races in my veins. It’s just
that I find the heat intolerable in summer.
Can’t face people. Can’t face going out.
Look to the stars. My horoscope. The
kitchen table wisdom of my second mother.
Think of the celestial. Going the distance.
Never giving up. Can’t remember the
last time I was really brave. Thinking of people, names
I can’t remember. The rhythms have acoustic beats. Life is primitive on the good
days. I am ready now. Yes! Ready to
give my heart to the sun but it’s not just up to me.
I have made a friend for every break-
through. Energy cannot be created or destroyed,
at least that is what the scientists say. As
mankind we must always do our best.
Once, there was a country that needed
to be translated. All roads need to be
translated. Especially those roads that
have been too long. When you’ve been
down that difficult road, think of me.
Think of me. Think of me as a lighthouse.
Watch the tragic figures if you want
to. Don’t forget that the world can also
be tender. Don’t forget about the tenderness
found in empathy, sympathy. Intimacy.
Driftwood
(for David Max Brown)
    Where is all this wild water
coming from. Mother from the shadows find
a way. Find your way. Touch the ground
lightly for after all you’re my anchor.
I can feel the distance between us.
The revolutionary song of the distance.
I want to tell you to leave the light
on while I sleep (but you don’t). I turn
my head away from the monster, that
beast. Sister, tell me about your
courage and the anguish that you feel. Ice
running through your veins. Silent
all these years on the subject of love and
falling in love and not being in love
and who’re you dating or not dating.
Sister, you’ve never been quiet about
the men that you meet. The men who
fall in love-in love with you and
like the dead, you’re not here. You’re
never coming back. You’re not coming
home for Christmas or Easter. When
we were little I was your coach. I
could make you laugh. Now I’m the ghost
in your life. The tide is getting closer.
Don’t look away now. Please, don’t hurt me. I can’t breathe. You’re getting closer.
What do you see in their eyes, I want to
ask my sister. She thinks they can heal
her. You already have wings to fly. You’re not broken.
But she’s not listening to a word I say.
She doesn’t believe me and I wonder if
the stigma of illness is found there in
the wild or where she finds herself. In
the concrete jungle of Johannesburg.
She doesn’t want to share her planet
with me. Mother find a way from the
shadows to restore the love between your two little girls.
After all, we’re still your babies. People
make love. Women bring life into the
world. People fall in love. People live together.
She thinks that Prague will heal her.
That loving sad men will teach her to be loving.
To her I’m tragic. I’ve live all these years
on my own. That spells tragedy to her.
You don’t have to say anything. I’m okay. I’m not in love.
Now it is my turn not to believe her.
I want to tell that I know about healing.
Avalanche in my soul
    (It happened 15-years ago. You didn’t
speak about it then, but you’re speaking about it now.
Maybe that’s the difference.)
You must forget, my father said. Forget
about the past. The man in the workplace
who grabbed you, fondled you and stuck
his tongue down your throat. You must forget for
your own sanity. You must forget
the man whose name you can’t remember. The man who
changed his son’s diaper in front of you. The man you went
for coffee with. Had breakfast with.
It was Natasha who said he only wanted
your body. Lebogang said she had
the same experience. That he tried to
kiss her too. All these things you will remember for
the rest of your life. This is why you left Johannesburg.
Never pursued filmmaking. You were a
girl then. Now you’re more mature. A confident woman. Now you
think to yourself, you survived. You survived.
You survived it all to write about it.
You didn’t speak about it then but you’re speaking about it now. That’s the
difference. But my father is telling me to forget about it.
(It happened 15-years ago. You didn’t
speak about it then, but you’re speaking about it now. Maybe that’s the difference.)
I must forget, my father said. Forget
about the past. The man who made
an inappropriate comment about ‘whipping
me into submission’. The man in the
workplace who grabbed me, fondled
me and stuck his tongue down my throat. I must forget for
my own sanity. I must forget the man whose name I can’t remember.
The man who changed his son’s diaper in front
of me. The man I went for coffee
with. Had breakfast with. It was Natasha who said
he only wanted my body. What
he could do to it. Lebogang said
she had the same experience. That he tried to kiss her too.
All these things I will remember for
the rest of my life. It is why I left Johannesburg.
Never pursued filmmaking. I was a
girl then. Now I’m more mature. A confident woman. Now I
think to myself, I survived all of that shit. I survived.
I survived it all to write about it.
Pushcart Prize nominated Abigail George is a South African-based
blogger, essayist, poet and short story writer. Recipient of two
grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg, one from the
Centre for the Book in Cape Town, and another from ECPACC in East
London, she briefly studied film at the Newtown Film and Television
School in Johannesburg.