Category Archives: Poetry

Imperfect Body

In 2006 something broke. A culmination of events – I had bought a house in Port Elizabeth. Drug dealers moved in next door. They housed prostitutes that would scream to be let out during the day then were drugged at night and let out onto the streets. They returned night after night for more drugs.  I reported the drug dealers to the police and so started a fight I would never win. First my car was stolen. The lead drug dealer came to me the next day and said, “We took your car last night to cover the loss of the drugs the police took because you reported us.” I learnt, in my battle with forces I didn’t understand, how deep corruption lies and also how there are some battles that can’t be won. At the same time I watched a dear friend die because our public health service is so horrific. They fed her disprins while she was bleeding internally. Finally my partner, whom I had been with for three years, decided to move on partly because I had become so obsessed with winning a battle I could not win that I became unreasonable, unstable and riddled with anger and fear.  I woke up one morning looked at myself in the mirror and cut all my hair off. I then spent three days lying in front of a fire doing nothing, eating very little. It rained and stormed for those three days. On the fourth day the sun came out. I got up and began to move. Slowly. Then I put music on and for another two days I danced. I bruised my body. I exhausted myself. The dance became a dance I performed publically called “imperfect body”.  I drew on the Butoh style of dancing because it felt right. It was a dance of darkness. The dance also became this poem. I’ve decided to share it because a friend of mine, Bruce Haynes, who has been a poet since he was a young boy, has been exploring through embodied movement and connection to objects and spaces his ‘conscious madness’. He writes, “This time I was dreaming awake rather than awake but dreaming. Awake within the safe ritual space of art or conscious madness”. Imperfect Body was that moment of raw alert, wakefulness held within ‘the safe ritual space of art/conscious madness.’

IMPERFECT BODY

Her back caves
Loaded and heavy
Close to the earth
Neck collapses
Hair bits trail the ground
Spittle slips the lip
& drops.

In the thumb agony
Pulling outwards away
Sending chest forward
Head extending neck
Pulling the lips
Teeth stare.

Deep, deep in body tissue
Unravels the rage
Stiff the back muscles
The halt of eyes open & rigid
Chest breath & fast.

In the stomach lies freedom
Stretch towards the world
Back arched
V-rib & long
To tip of elongated fingers.

In the breath lies an animal
Small & quivering
Insteps coil
Torso felled forward
Rippling spine.

From head to heart
A sweep
An ache.

The Forest : An Autobiography

A homage to all of those who struggle with past trauma and wish to be free of the internal pain and shame that has weaved itself to our bones. My only way forward sometimes is to think that I am not alone and that there are others walking the world who sometimes struggle as I do. May we all find peace. May we all find happiness. May we know that no feeling, not even the most painful, can last.

Forest: An Autobiography

I Wall

There was a girl.  She had long hair and liked to dance.

She lived by herself in the forest which is an odd place for a little girl to live.  She entered the forest early when her friends were playing in the garden safely secured from outside by a wall.

Living in the forest was comfortable.  Some would say she was lost but she didn’t feel lost.  You can only be lost if you have somewhere to go and she didn’t need to go anywhere in particular so long as she was going. She took paths at random. Sometimes she would go nowhere at all and stand under a huge tree. 

She didn’t meet many people.  When she did they told her that she should return to the safe garden secured from outside by a wall.  Eventually she agreed. But the garden behind the wall, only had one or two trees.  It saddened her to hear their voices in the wind.  She longed to be surrounded by that whispering.

Behind the wall it was nice at first.  Warm and cosy.  It seemed like it should be safe.  She knew she would get breakfast.  She knew where she was going each day.  Her paths where chosen for her:  going to the bathroom, going to the kitchen, the lounge and the garden.  She learned how to expect and how to please and the silence stopped happening.  Then the trees were chopped down and it was a very sad place to be.

She had to stay behind the wall until she was all grown up.  There was no other way out.

II Bark

There was a girl with blonde hair.  She was from the forest.

The little girl met two people:  a man and a woman.

The man loved the little girl but hated the forest with its secrets and its many different ways.  He hated it because he longed to know the forest but was afraid.  The trees whisperings were peaceful but their sounds could tell you the  real source of joy and your darkest fear.  The man knew this.  He also knew that no matter how many times he ran away from the forest, it still existed, growing, being, surrounding.

The woman was too busy hiding behind walls, buildings and structures to want to walk with him.  So the girl was called to accompany him.  She only knew her way and although she tried to tell the man this he still tried to enter the forest through her.  Of course he could not and the more he tried the more the girl withdrew deeper and deeper – hiding – until she slipped behind a tree leaving her body while her soul took refuge deep beneath the bark. 

Stale air and a stifling silence fell broken only by the sudden roar of wind trying to escape her lips. Her body now lived in corridors made of black tiles and pierced mirrors splitting head from neck. Her body, without protection, got torn and pierced by passing people. 

III Roots

There was a girl who grew up to be a woman.  It was a surprise to her because she thought that if she tried hard enough no one would notice her and she could stay a little girl forever.  Then she would not have to look beyond the forest. She could pretend not to know. 

Once the little girl accepted that she was a woman she tried to live a woman’s life.  She began walking through the forest with opening eyes staring at the river that had stopped flowing and noticing the forest growing smaller and smaller.

She said goodbye to the man and the woman and left them waiting for her to come back.  She did not return. 

She wept a lot.  She cried hot tears and they pierced deep into the little girls heart cracking the bark and revealing the emptiness that had become the shell of her voice.  The wind sometimes broke from her lips and the trees whispered their reply.

The woman walks the world.   She loves. Deeply.  She breaks.  Easily.

She is learning that roots do run deep, branches don’t reach the sky.  This is just a brief movement in the leaves.

First written in 1996.

Fierce Opposites

I recently returned to the Eastern Cape for a hike that started at the mouth of the Kowie river and ended at the mouth of the Fish River. We zig zagged our way from the coast into the interior and back again tromping through the coastal and riverine forests of the Riet river and canoeing up the Kleinemonde. The final day was a long and hot trail along the coast until we reached the Great Fish. The river that is symbolic of so much of the division that still holds South Africa in its clutches. The British sent their excess populations to South Africa as human fences against the Xhosa tribes. The Fish was the designated boundary over which 100 years of battle was fought. As a white South African I have to continually feel and acknowledge the atrocities of the apartheid regime and the unjust system that inhibited so many South Africans. But what do I do with my British-ness? There are many white South African’s that consciously work with the pains of our history but do the British do so. I was born in England. We left the soggy isle when I was twenty-two months old to come to South Africa. I grew up hearing about ‘home’ as another place far away that we visited every two years. No one ever spoke to me about colonialism and about the horror of the concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer war. It was only as an adult that I sat with both the pain of what past white people have done to black people and the pain of what the place that I was supposed to call home has done to all South African people whether they are Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu or Afrikaans. Afrikaans people and ‘Black’ people are asked to forgive and forget. I find this ridiculous. When has the British nation ever said ‘sorry’ or compensated in any way for what has been done? I wrote this poem while staying in the middle of the Eastern Cape bush on a farm just outside Grahamstown in 2006. I was reading Anjie Krog’s ‘The country of my Skull’ and it shook me to the bone. It is not a very good poem but is an attempt to deal with what my ancestors have been responsible for, to exorcise their deeds from me and to claim out loud that the only home I’ve ever really known is the Eastern Cape bush. Doing the ‘Shipwreck Trail’ this December and driving through the potholed roads of the grubby but beautiful Eastern Cape I remembered those feelings.

What can I tell you about this Eastern Cape?
I can recite things to you
Steve Biko
Cradock Four
Tires burning in New Brighton
Cattle lying dead
Frightened, alarm secured, suburban families
Pride-less men
& Silent women
Silent women suffering

I can tell you I come back here again and again
To the aloes and euphorbias
To ride the roads
The tar to the sea
The dirt at the back of mountain villages
To walk the hills, riverbeds and coastlines

I belong here
Where pain and betrayal are matched
By passion and vitality
Here my childhood memories find peace
My wounds have space to bleed
Here amongst the smiles of people
Shadowed by the ghosts of dreams
My ancestors cannot find me
Here there is no more need for hope

2006