i funnel my body into a seat on a friendless train from Pretoria; i am a neglected pipe or saltwater stream running in a city train. i am, and home is standing under dirty water; and train is under dirty water; and lover- who used to hold water for me, and i for her has taken her mouth back. We are full of the tears in our water, the boil and the damage. i spill over quietly, down my face and hands in an attempt to shepherd the loneliness, disappointment and self-loathing out out out. The body cannot relax, or service relief, or freedom. It surrenders into tears—a salted circle— edged out into lines, into quits it cannot keep, cannot close the ugly things in pain. It surrenders in, a salted flag lowered down down down into the music in my earphones, and into the tissue, and outside the window where i am facing to look away from in here. Here is: the train and all the people in it, the self and all the pain in it, the swarming in my throat:
Aches leave the body on the miasma of sound:
the warm of ‘Ouch’,
the butter of breath in ‘shit!’,
the sword flattened on ‘fuck’,
Sometimes we are speaking from inside the rupture, the accident, the mourning, the crushed toe. We are blowing dry the tears in our eyes. When I bump my body on something I want to cry but I don’t feel like I’m allowed to anymore. ‘Sometimes we are too old to cry.’ I want to, but I just swear. I say to a friend: “That is how you bite the flood back, keep your shame to yourself, curse the weeping into saliva, into words ‘fucking.shiiit.ouch!’ or whatever wills itself to pick up the pain with you.” Sometimes I hold my chest in my face and pinch until the rising falls and I am okay. Today, i cannot hold, trap or shame the feeling that i am a broken, separate, the-second thing to be loved. i am worried about being seen like this, a Black Woman crying in a gautrain cart. And black and woman coupled are cloaks that have made me go unseen in places where money accompanies, frees, restrains, and then numbers people. And if money is my witness then, although i have gotten this far, i am no-one sitting in the corner of the cart; i am no-one under the track. And since i am all typically sad, i cry to typically sad music to urge the aching- comeaway, comeaway, comeaway.
In a plane, a girl I know asks me once ‘do you realize how often you speak about Blackness and Black things, the conversation always moves to black with you.’ My voice is saltwater stream, and the water says ‘really? I don’t think so’ and dries up.
I say girl, not to make her small but because the people like me are still ‘girl’ to me, when I’m not saying their name; except the people as old as my mother. Everyone calls me a woman; I don’t know the exact day that I graduated from girl to woman and away from my small sorrows and into thebig big big heart of woman . It doesn’t fit, or I don’t want it to. I forget to use that name unless I am talking about how I am routinely expected to break without screaming, to breakbutkeepalive, breakbutkeepquiet, breakbutkeepstill . I learn to say ‘Black womanhood’ to describe the different lives of my mother and the women I have known. I use my whole mouth. In public, I learn to speak about the poetry I am trying to do, I say: ‘I write about how I and the women I know live, love and scream into the body, sometimes at the same time but no one is listening to us but us’. I am learning to listen for the sound in my mouth, to be joyful, angry, and sad in the one body given to me, with the words given to me. I am writing to make sure that I am alive, that ‘girl’ is kept alive, and everything we do and feel is kept alive, but, not in the ways that life has been given to us.
In an Interview on SAfm, the radio caller, speaking with his legs wide open, says that he enjoyed the poems and the music we performed and he has no questions but rather a comment, he suggests that perhaps we should write about other things, that we are too concerned with ourselves and our feelings. The radio caller suggests we make ourselves open, a country with a sky he can look up to and recognize himself in. The radio caller is white. Anger burns up the body like crying, moves outoutout .
The train finally moves, it fetches the darkness and its flickering red lights, that darkness is lighter than mine. Then it fetches the light, and in the light are the trees, the neighbourhoods whose names i do not know, and the traffic below or across. i want to be there, there, there, anywhere but in myself. The train moves like this between the darkness and the light with me inside it. I am without light. Darkness with eyes, a house under water,
My throat is a sobbing stone, mute tears whisper for my mouth. My softness embarrasses and admonishes me. I did not tell anyone about the tears in the train before they happened, even though I felt them coming, and I do not tell anyone about the month of crying that followed. I do not ask for help. I am scarce; I do not have the magic to heal myself without people. But I do not ask for help.
Keep moving black train. Stop pick up the sadness
A constructed sah sah sah
survival of sorts a human concert
in carefully filled eyebrows for the visa photo I took earlier.
Moving: a photograph leaving home to say poems about loss
will you let me in? The woman in my eyes runs and runs and runs
out of the camera over the man’s hands
will you let me in? sah sah sah
will you use my damage stranger?
a year after the train, i move to china and practice how to say nǐ néng bāngzhù wǒ ma, which I think means ‘you can help me’ and not ‘can you please help me?’ i move to china and cry out loud— alone, sob in my bed, on the floor of my apartment, into the tiles. At coffee with a friend, I touch my chest to say that maybe i am unlovable and the water rises into my mouth.
i put it back, look away and calm myself. I hold myself away, like I have always held myself. i smile. i do not leave home unless i have to. i eat andeat and eat. i do not understand the language here; I do not want to learn it because I do not want to hear anything. i grieve in the one language purchased for me, i write in it too. i learn enough mandarin to get around the city and buy my groceries. I have come here for the silence, to hear nothing, sit still, reprimand the loneliness, and manage the collapse. I will catch myself or kill myself:
The earth cries and the water rises over the roof of a country. The pain is in the
Earth. On the news I watch as the ocean moves like a train filled with sad people
chasing a city. The city runs or hides, but those who cannot run or hide, grieve the
When I was younger and my cousin, Busi, died, I had a lump in my throat as big as a body, but I could not cry. If girl is a bucket, is woman a well? You carrythesorrowinyourhands, carry the sorrow in your eyes, carrythesorrowinyourmouth. What I remember of Busi is this: the day she lost her father she cried so much that the grownups said she had to stop, like she would finish the water in her body. Girl is a bucket. Girl that always looks back crying will dry up and become the woman who turned to salt. I don’t know if she stopped because we left and only came by once in a while to visit. What I know is that her eyes were light brown, lighter than anyone in my family had ever seen and I wanted to keep the light for myself. But not without its face, her covered laugh, and all the things she wanted to do and see in the world. At her funeral the preacher said, ‘we do not cry for girls who kill themselves’.
We do not cry for girls who kill themselves.
We do not cry for girls who kill themselves.
We do not cry for girls who kill themselves.
He said this at the same cemetery we had buried my mother’s sister, where the sand was as red as blood. The singing continued, Busi was accused, sentenced, lowered, and painfully- disremembered. We threw the red sand over her eyes and into the singing and we did not cry because we were not allowed to cry. I held my breath while my cousin was being accused of wasteful tenderness, of being in so much pain and wanting so desperately to not be in that pain that she killed herself. She was shamed for her softness, for her inability to withstand her pain, as if she had planned her illness and its consequence. Maybe there was a day when she wanted to ask for help and didn’t know who to ask and how to ask. Maybe her mouth was wounded too, maybe the thought of asking dried up her voice. Maybe, she was a house underwater.
Most people in good health can hold their breath underwater for approximately two minutes
We said we would grow up and be very rich together (we probably meant we couldn’t wait to not ask the parents for permission and money to go to places where we could carry on loving each other). I am desperate to die too, some days, I am tender. I cup the pills just like she did. There are weeks when I cannot withstand, weeks where I am without God. I am a girl who does not eat for days and lies about eating when asked. I am full; i am full with the emptiness. My face wears the cage, the smile, the teeth showing off the lipstick. I do not ask for help, I am a girl who kills herself too.
The earth cries and the water rises over the roof of a country. The earth like you is
In the train i am talking to myself and the soaring helplessness, the tired, the feeling of being ugly, being black, the slightness and unremarkable of me, woman, girl, the losses, the unemployment, the molestation, the cousin I cannot mourn even in private, the embarrassment of living in my mothers’ house at 28. My body weeps quietly in the train, takeitout-takeitout- take-it-out. My body is full of crooked waves and memories that float to the top with their eyes open and their mouths full of dirty water.
When you take a bath does the water tell you to die?
Months after the train, I step over myself for weeks with alcohol, sex and sleep. The way you walk through ghosts during the month you don’t believe in God anymore. I have been practicing to feel less in order to hold myself out of my way. I do this because I would like to keep some pains at the bottom of my chest, unnamed, and unsearched. I want to appear normal, without load. I drink; I convince myself that the gin will keep the pain away. I drink, I practice how to stop my tears, to be full of pain and look empty and happy and almost beautiful.
The news reporter says, the ocean is in every house in the neighbourhood and the chairs are all dead.
My sister whose tears spill easily, sometimes publicly, says our mother taught her how to cry. My sister says ‘Girl, I cry all the time, it’s so helpful’. We are sisters, twins, and where was I when she was being taught? Was she taught in our house? I let her tell me more about crying, about ways of evacuating pain. She shows me what her cry looks like and I show her mine. I am holding my breath. I am coming away. We laugh at how ugly we look crying like children, we laugh about how we are grownups still submerged and gasping. I don’t ask her for help.