When i was six feet under Johannesburg I felt as if I was moving through the world and the world was a dream. I could explore the surface valiantly but my thoughts were no longer precise. I was cut off from people even though thought traffic and crowds surrounded me. In the city I found a barren wilderness, fierce people, breathed it all in, and compared myself to others. It filled me with the bitter seeds of sorrow and I felt like a skinny bird again, a child in time considering all the spiritual in nature. It is cold and I hope that soon this cold will go underground. I loved the smoke. I loved the raw, electric smell of pollution in the air, the rubbish in the streets, the wretched poor. One way for survival in the city is to grow old (you will grow old quickly and weary, tired and hurt from what you experience). Wisdom will fill you from your head down to your toes as you observe everything around you; the weight of life and suddenly what seems familiar will no longer feel familiar to you in the way it once did. For survival lots of things will have to happen to you. You will have to lose that pure innocence about you. You will not age gracefully. You will forget and there are sometimes things that you won’t forget.
For some people another person’s misery is their ministry, and they believe that that is their journey and mission that they have been called up to act upon for the rest of their lives wolf shirts
. Family should be close and a brother and sister closer. From there I always wondered where the dead go when they die. Is it enough to remember them in passing, lay flowers on their grave, or to let go of the thread of how simple life is when compared to the complex nature of physics, biology and mathematics.
The cemetery is paved with the flame of memory. I was always the girl, the woman who stood alone in the rain with a bunch of flowers in her hands. I can say this now. I am no longer opposed to it. In fact it makes me feel emancipated. I’ve turned the pressure on its head and called it something else, vitality. All my life I have felt connected to nature, the fog, and fields, the farms that belonged to my family. There were always faces of aunts and uncles at funerals that disoriented me because I could not place them. And I would say like a mantra as i stood at a grave or while I attended a wedding, ‘To all the ghosts dead or living from my past in the spirit of writing this I let go of you all. ‘
As a child my brother retreated into sports and it was a luxurious time for him, being an athlete with his limbs taking on a life of their own. But for me that period in time glittered with falsehoods, formidable isolation and neglect. Writing had not become my religion yet.
It was from him that i learnt how not to compare myself to other people and to question whether or not it (raising comparisons) was an experimental construct from youth or the life and death of miracles taking place in front of me. Or was it the natural coexistence of human nature next to an animal one? There is something poetic, something about the futility, the loneliness of the latitudes and longitudes of shore life. I longed so much for it that i began to write about the ocean that i had come to know as a child. I would spend a day on the beach with the warmth of the sun sucked inside of myself. Port Elizabeth is not Athol Fugard’s Port Elizabeth anymore. It’s become a moral dilemma. The youth have their own song, ambiguity, and their own fired up intensity about politics and the police. We are still digging for bodies that went missing years ago during apartheid. We are still digging for bodies that went missing last week. Life and death and always the heartache of it and the genuine moving sensation of pain that comes with suffering has become as natural as breath. In my shadow stood lone Brother Wolf and in my head I found the source of therapy in his song. When he sang the blues (of course he was just playing his radio in his bedroom but that was just his subconscious talking, driven to face reality, the truth, all the letters in l-o-v-e, all the words, the sticky fingers of ‘I love you’) it reminded me of the ocean.
How tranquil it was just to stand there in front of all its majesty, to observe the color of it, how it just seemed to go on and on and flow into infinity. It was magical and transparent all at the same time. The people seemed to be all patchwork and one-dimensional. When i took off my glasses they didn’t seem to be defined anymore by their limbs. They just seemed smudged and blurry effigies. Children bent on building castles, standing precariously in and around rock pools while fishing in them. I haven’t had an organic idea for a long time and by that i mean a fresh and new idea that had a sensibility of place and size. Everything happens in the city. People happen upon each other there. I did not see how I could love like our mama had loved us with her maternal instincts. Her love would come as a feast served up on plates instead of a therapist. Mama was formidable, a thinker and a doer. Her flesh felt like a hook, line and sinker, something brutal, otherworldly. I became a bird without wings, without a cage, without vital seed. In the light of the day was Mama’s garden and the extraordinary work she put into it. Mama liked to kill every thought of the hard work that i put into anything, every collective thread that i wanted people to remember me by, my cultural manifesto, and the legacy of my creative gifts.
But Brother Wolf taught me that perfection comes with hard work and separation anxiety. He never spoke in so many words. I had to watch and learn from his fixed and focused psychosomatic drive to achieve, to be brave, to see phenomena and vision indiscriminately where others could not. I have come to this beach today to remember, to see, to think, not to wallow even, not to drown as i once did with my head inside the development of a manuscript, divided siblings with their hearts raw, anguish bleeding figuratively into the contact they had with other people. In Port Elizabeth I learned to battle, sometimes weeping about the state of the nation and its upheaval and then came Marakana and Lonmin, the gold and platinum mines, workers striking for more pay. It had to affect me like any poet, writer, teacher or intellectual.