I’m not going to telephone anyone today, especially my sister in Cape Town. I just want to be by myself. There’s a jerking of loneliness rushing through me, as if like a sun. It’s violent. There’s an up-flux, with an up-continuum continuing into the void of my heart. It goes up and comes down. I don’t like going out when I’m sad. I leave meeting suitable men on blind dates to my sister. There’s the smell from memory of lemony and rosemary roast chicken. It’s coming from the kitchen. If I’m diabetic, I’ll just have to take more pills. I’ve tried eating less, but it makes no difference whether it’s pudding I’m eating, or broccoli. You don’t know what it’s like to be me. You don’t know what winter feels like to me. What it feels like when I try too hard, or what my father’s voice sounds like inside my head. It sounds like a drum beating, beating away. The past is made up of perfect moments. You remember you, but never the interminable silences; you remember your first love with such melodrama, such comic tragedy, such love and misery. Perhaps the three of us, our mother’s pride and joy, were looking for love in all the wrong places, or perhaps we had to make up for being born on the wrong side of the tracks. I try not to think of my sister’s tenderness, especially when it concerns my brother. Leadership is about influence. I never influenced either sister or brother.
Sometimes, I cry for things that I’ve lost on my journey, people who have passed on, moved away to another city, country. They’re way out of my line of vision, now. Every family must find their own way to be happy. I love you as you are, my dearest brother. I love you as you are, and I didn’t tell you that often enough; and memories always find their way back (don’t they), and they say tomorrow is forever, because tomorrow has no beginning, middle or end. It is just an eternity. Lauren plucked my eyebrows when she was still my brother’s girlfriend. Now, she’s married to the perfect guy, and they’re having a daughter. She’s changed her religion. It turns out that my brother was the broken one in their relationship, and not her. On Sundays, she would make us chicken. That is how I will always remember her. You don’t get to travel light in this world when you’re a poet. There are desperate histories there of despair and hardship. I worshiped my brother. I thought that he was dazzling and sweet, and his smoking weed or a joint or marijuana didn’t change that one bit. I could see that other people loved him, and still thought he was dazzling, too. I think of the size of the planets. Can love compare to that? When a man’s tongue is out of control, his life is out of control.
You know what, the night glare enthrals me. I’m hunting down the ghost of my elderly father. There are things like ghosts. It is a hot, dry summer with water restrictions. Our parents and you thought rehab was necessary. Let go of the world, I want to tell you. All is a majority. Once, we were made of water and stars and moonlight and the yellowing pages of books, but who made up these rules? We followed them like fools, growing up. The kingdom of God is within. I have finally left childhood radiance behind. Spiritual maturity is when we become like the Christ figure. I hope they are teaching you that where you are. It’s summer. I am listening to your music. Lying on your bed, I’m barefoot. You’re light years away. You’re not here. You’re here, but you’re also not here. You’re in rehab, and we’re all made of water and rain, and my tears are like a waterfall. I think of the dirty dishes I must wash in the sink. I thought of myself as unlovable. I thought of my brother as always being surrounded by love. Goodness knows, we knew of deceit, and how often our parents had fallen out of love with each other over the years. My greatest fear was that I would be a failure. Sometimes, when I looked at my mother, I wondered whether that was her greatest fear, too.
I think of the stories I must read to your son. The garden I must water for your sake. That has been your “sanctuary” for all these months. How, before you left, you could never sleep at night. Are you growing spiritually, I wonder? I think of you in your sadness. Silence closing in on your loneliness, but isn’t that daylight’s business, the cold in the morning hitting your volcano-face, summer touching you as you work outside? Your limbs are gaining vigour (as I write this) and perspective. I guess there’s life and order in that kind of routine. I am in need of crayons to colour you in – your passion, your green history, your progress, your borders and your trembling voice as you talk to your son. I miss your shortbread. I miss you riding around in your car with young goddesses with their fluffy hair, who wear too much makeup. You drinking single malt whiskies – but you’ll have to stop doing that. You’re unworthy, I often told myself, without even thinking too much about it, going over it in my mind, giving any thought to it. I could have been beautiful, or unconventional-looking or plain or unattractive; instead, I chose unworthy, and it stuck for most of my adolescence. For a long time, I thought that people respected beauty, and not success.
You’ll really, really have to stop getting high. Stop doing that altogether. And, I wonder whether your soul will make it, after all, when you come home to us, to the romance of family life. Or, will you build a nest, call it a cuckoo’s nest and fly away in whichever direction the world will take you. My father, our father, the artist, sleeps the sleep of the abyss-dead in the hot afternoon. In this house, we do nothing but sleep and eat. Live to survive another day, like the winter leaf finding refuge in the blue light. We find our way through instinct. I kiss his old, tired-looking face. Tell him to take the cup by the handle. Everything goes electric when he cannot walk. Make it to the bathroom. I see it in his eyes. He can’t believe he’s old. I repair him with food. I’m not a good cook, but I try making mostly pastas, making spaghetti. I count out his pills. I need my dazzling brother, but even when he is here, he isn’t here; oh, his soul is somewhere in the house, but physically he’s gone off somewhere, playing music.
I iron my dad’s handkerchiefs for church. He has one good suit. I wonder whether they (the pills) are really doing him any good. His limbs play up. Sometimes, they’re invincible, and sometimes not. My father, the poet, is a gentleman. He’s like a tree, a tall oak, and his children are climbing the branches of the tree. He knits flesh in his hands. I think of my father as a young man. I think of him doing research for his doctoral thesis. Think of him travelling from archive to archive. I think of my own journey, journeying into the centre of this summer. Then, I am sad, and I think to myself about whether this is the last summer that we’ll spend together as father-daughter. Look at this thin sea in my hands, the tide in my hands, the current telling me to step back from the strange, silent sunshine of the day. There’s the stimulus of jade glass fragments in my heart, and evening swallows, a Chinese dragon breathing fire, and I’m turning the page. I’m turning the page. I give up this day to the rain. Kept telling myself, I needed to do something which I had never done before.
I am standing on a diving board. I am standing on a diving board, but nothing feels real to me. I think of Julian’s guitar – my sister’s ex. I think of his sister, Sara, and her frail deeds, her wheelchair. I think of water. I think of the radio, which has become so sacred to my father. He needs to pass the time, somehow. I think of repairs to the heart, and the leftovers that I will heat up in the microwave later on; posts on social media, and the image of antelope that linger. Weather has its own body. Water fat sang a gospel in plants. Stems explored the muddy blue. The photographer (my sister) sang her own gospel with her camera, documenting our holiday. She chose everything. She chose the food and the beach house, which was a different one each year. We used to drive down to the beach. Walk barefoot on the hot sand. I would watch my nephew carefully. The break had to come, and the shift in her mood against all of us. She was goodness, and I was crazy. Our brother, our dazzling brother, with a joint in his hand and nursing a beer, would lose himself in music, barbecuing meat, amusing his son; and I, I was always falling in love.
I remember now. I remember everything. I remember my brother’s defiance, my mother’s tears and heartache and defeatist attitude. The music school behind her eyes, and I would see the sea in his father’s knuckles. And my brother would be the butcher, the baker lighting a fire between his girlfriend and his son. We’d all get lost in the day. I made a fist in the wet sand, thinking of the hours I would spend writing and writing in the cool bedroom that I shared with my sister. Conjuring spells into love poems. At night, we would all drink. Drink cocktails that my sister made. Drink in the warm weather, eating barbecue chicken and pork ribs. Pizza made on a fire. Drink in the memory of family we used to visit religiously in Wilderness, like the manic-depressive cousin who sang opera, whom we never heard from anymore. His parents, in their seventies, were getting a divorce. I knew I had to control myself. I knew I had to love myself, but that was, of course, easier said than done. There was something sinister about it to me.
This was the future now. My sister played the role of the photographer. My brother, the marijuana-smoking financial planner, father; my mother, deaf and pretending that she was still young and looked good for her age. My father, elderly, diabetic, having trouble with his legs. In public, he would push away my arm. He was embarrassed that he needed help to walk. Weather had its own body that summer. Sunlight against the wall, we’d all sleep in the afternoon. Wake up late in the mornings. My sister would take charge in the kitchen, in the shops, carrying packages, cooking bacon and scrambling the eggs. Now, her heart is set on Prague, falling in love, becoming wife, lover and mother, walking past lakes. I don’t think she remembers her paternal grandparents and what they sacrificed for their children and their grandchildren. She’s a throbbing vein; and I think of Marlon Caldwell, the married man I kissed on the lips. How warm his lips were, the disconnect I felt inside my head, that somehow it was wrong, but I leaned forward anyway and he took me in his arms; and how, afterwards, I only ever saw him again with his wife after that, or on his motorcycle speeding away from me.
Soon, soon, my sister would be leaving her fragile family life behind in South Africa, to teach English in Prague, and I learned that summer that even poems have lungs.
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