Wednesday, April 29, 2009


An intruder
Through the unlocked door
Came in
From sleep I heard the screaming
Blood runs cold as ice
Blind panic down the passage
To find safety
To get help
To get out
To survive
And there a seventeen year old boy
On the ground
The villain child
From across the way help
Drunk from festivities
An April wedding
Cold champagne
Flowers and cake
Four men
Beers in hand
Without speaking
The blows are delivered
I hear the boy moan in pain
I hear one of the men
I am in a parallel universe
This is a dream
My family, my son, my loved ones, my friends
In the house
What were you doing?
I am hungry; I am starving his explanation – his apology?
What ifs run like wild fire through my mind
Violent crime brought home
What if I had disturbed him?
Did he have a weapon?
A gun?
What would he take from me?
Me and him
Us and them
Another blow and the boy restrained lies on the ground
A kick is delivered to his head and ribs
The viciousness sickens me
He is a threat to my and our safety – he is wrong – he deserves this
He deserves this?
The police arrive
They bring dogs and flashlights
The beating continues in their hands
They hit him with truncheons – they will make him talk
They take a statement
Bleary eyed and shocked we bear witness as he is loaded into the van
He does not talk as men leer at him through the bars
He is silent
It is dark and I can’t even see his face
I don’t think I can see his face
We assimilate
We break down
We exchange information and newspaper headlines
This is Africa
Thank God no one was hurt
A statement is written down – charges laid
Our defender is tearful
He apologises to the officer
This is my first time he says
Like it’s a rite of passage
Like it was inevitable the day would come
He reveals the bite marks on his shoulder
Is the boy another Statistic of Poverty stricken Africa?
We need to get him to the hospital
We need to get him ARV’s
Just in case
The skin may be broken
There is no blood
The skin
Oh no my dear
So much more
A groomsman bears a bump on his forehead from head butting the boy to submission
He is drunk
It’s the only language they understand he says
I am sorry if the violence offended you
It’s not fair to generalize
They shot my family
I was on the deck of a sports bar overlooking the sea
First cold beer in hand
Got the call
My mother, father, sister, brother, aunt shot
They survived
They were liberals
They fought in the struggle
My father convinced us it would be alright to stay
It’s not
It’s not
I think of my aunt murdered in front of her children for a cell phone
I think of the value of life
I think of the boy and his life
I think of what he could have done to me
My brother
How his intrusion at a celebration shattered something so deep in me I don’t know if it can be fixed
They did not find a weapon
We searched
But what if he had?
Would he have shown us mercy?Why does he deserve to get away with it?
Who will he hurt next?
In some ways I hoped they’d find something
So I could have the easy answer
His beating
Was greater than him and his intrusion
His beating
Was about something older and deeper than him
In one night he became the vessel for our distrust and anger
He became our regret
And our vengeance
He became the face of every rapist and gun-toting criminal
This man boy
Who when my heavily pregnant friend held onto his arm looked at her and said
It is going to be ok…It will be ok
Why should I fucking care?
They drove away with him
This beaten kid
This despicable
I watch my Friends face – he has tears in his eyes
He was our protector
Without him something so much worse could have happened
This is South Africa
This is what happens here
We are lucky…
They drive him off to a government hospital to get the drugs
We sit waiting for the light
Waiting to leave
We are high on adrenalin
We are amped
We are fearful
We have breakfast together overlooking the Indian Ocean
My friend flies a kite with his four-year-old son who slept clutching his teddy bear through the whole ordeal
He does not know his father and mother defended him
He does not know the danger they faced
He is fine.
We laugh
We make jokes
We save face
We try to make sense
Package the experience in a palatable pill
We scratch the surface of the wound
Our laughter is loud and unruly
The jokes inappropriate
My brother recounts his experience of violence
At least you felt humanity someone says
What can I say?
I cried for my aunt today
I did not cry back then
I cried for the countless victims of violence
I cried for some part of me that died in that beach cottage
I cried in relief
I cried in anger
I cried in empathy
And I still do not know how to reconcile
That some of those tears
Were for the boy in the police van
Who would be locked in a cell for the night and released in the morning
Who will probably return to a life of crime
Who will probably become more violent
Who will probably be another statistic
Because there is nothing else
Because this is Africa

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Adventures of Starfish Woman

I like the supermarket.
The Supermarket is like chicken soup for the soul.
The great escape.
Place of peace and safety if you don’t think too hard about it.
The supermarket is a basket of contradictions.
Sometimes it can be the loneliest place on earth – nothing can affirm this more than shopping for one.
The fluorescent light offers no refuge – its’ showy cold gleam lays everything bare, unashamedly flaunting the goods, in a supermarket there is no thing such as false modesty.
The supermarket does not need ambience
Everything is laid out to appear its most inviting
It would be naïve to think there is not some sort of serious strategy in positioning chocolate bars so close to the check out.
The supermarket veneer is everything a consumer would hope for it to be,
Shelves just high enough to reach for that box of maldon salt
Produce washed and perfect flowing out of barrels of abundance
Everything is in season all the time in the supermarket
Generic music filters through hidden speakers – songs just familiar enough to recognize but not distracting enough to veer from the task at hand
The supermarket is a grand manipulator and I am putty in its hands.
In the supermarket you can be anyone you want
The delicious anonymity of worshipping in the church of convenience
I sashay down the aisles
My shoulders pinned back and my head held high
I walk the catwalk like the next best thing
Confident and carefree I pick up a pack of pads with wings – I imagine myself in white pants running through a field of daisies
Fresh and confident, always dry
I don’t buy the no-name brand ones which are a good deal cheaper, no; today is about the branding, living the highlife and paying with plastic
Smiling models on boxes of hair dye urge me on
Come on, you’re worth it.
I smile, “you guys – you’re just so kind! Well why the hell not! I try to decide between a flaming red or an ashy blonde, my dark hair hangs limp as a dishcloth.
I decide on red and the box model smiles approvingly
Good choice. Just wait until he sees you with hair like that!
I smile like the cat that got the cream ‘It’s for me – I don’t need to impress anybody.
The endormorphines flow like warmed honey with every item
I place in my basket
I imagine myself lithe and sun kissed, my delicate ankles bare in a pair of Black Capri pants,
My blouse is from some overpriced boutique in Venice, cream suddenly looks very good on me, my JP Todd’s are as comfortable as slippers, and I smell like Pure Joy, other women harassed by small children with grubby hands stare as I go by – I smile at them. I smile like I believe it. I smile like I have never known a day’s sorrow in my entire life. They look at me and wish they could be me instead of returning to their dull domestic lives and like the supermarket I con them with my mega watt smile and my designer bag, I convince them in one moment that they’re missing out on the time of their lives – and they buy it…yes, they buy it.
I choose the most perfect red pepper, a bottle of Moet and Chandon I wince at the price but egg myself on – who cares if next week I live on air and water – today I am someone else, someone who drinks French champagne like box wine, who eats antipasto and wild mushroom risotto, fois gras and a reduction of balsamic vinegar.
I move aisle by aisle my hips swinging seductively – I get to the cleaning products and remember that I need a bottle of Handy Andy – I stop myself mid movement – Don’t be ridiculous – Handy Andy? Are you kidding? Women like you don’t clean! Send the maid next week – but I don’t have a maid – you do today – The internal argument is broken by the sound of a man’s voice – I whirl around smiling like the beauty I am – “Yes” I say as if I were to the manner born.
I’m sorry he says – it’s just that I think you dropped this – I look from his kind eyes to his outstretched hands and gasp in horror
There in his pink palm a wad of coupons – stapled together. I’d cut them out of various magazines – it had taken me hours – I had prided myself on being so thrifty and shrewd
You must be mistaken I find myself saying – I don’t use coupons – I tilt my basket in his direction – he looks at the champagne and then he looks at me.
Shit. Shit he’s not buying it- he’s not buying.
There is an awkward moment and then he says I’m sorry, it’s just that one is stuck to your shoe, my mistake, poor sod who lost them, some good savings here, and then he walks away and I feel like the boat has sailed and I consider running after him but I am too far gone…
I look down and in one instant, crash back into sad and sorry reality
I am wearing sheepskin slippers. I am wearing sheepskin slippers and I am mortified.
Ahead of me I catch my reflection in the gleaming glass refrigerators
The figure I draw is less lithe, less tanned, less manicured and refined, less beautiful – my hair is stringy, my shirt is stained, my pants are faded and hang as limp as my hair and again I am wearing sheepskin slippers.
I am nauseous; I gag at my reflection looking back at me against a backdrop of frozen chickens and fish fingers
The lie of my basket hangs heavy in my hands
The reflection waves at me – begging recognition – begging to wake up…
Please tell me this is just some awful dream.
The exit feels like the other side of the world – I need to get out of here.
My breath comes in short sharp gulps – I am hyperventilating
Dizzy with lack of oxygen I stumble towards the fridge doors, grabbing the handle for support I sink down against the smooth cold glass
It is like diving; deep down into aqua blue, bubbles float out of my mouth their rainbow prisms gleaming
Schools of brightly coloured fish fingers swim past leaving trails of their breadcrumb coating with 98% less fat
A decapitated chicken does a tap dance and a string of sausages applaud
The horror and delight I feel mingles like some horrible nightmare and I catch myself laughing hysterically
A frozen trout stares at me with its glassy eyes – its stomach hangs open – gutted and bare – pink flesh peeps through – he smiles at me and swims away
Neon lights begin to flicker – some strobe that will not cease – it is bright – too bright to open my eyes
I think of Heaven
I think of Jesus
“Have you found Jesus?”
I laugh at the familiar joke! I didn’t know he was lost to begin with!
Oh God
Oh God no
Please if you are listening to me do not let me die in the supermarket
I can see the headlines
Accompanying it a picture of me sprawled out – my eyes glassy and vacant – my tongue lolling out of my mouth, my legs spread – a hole in the crotch of my pants – a sheepskin slipper lying a few feet away –
A box of I&J Fish fingers in my hands
Oh my god
I cannot suffer the humiliation.
All at once a voice swims through my reverie penetrating the horrific vision
I am here to help you the voice says
Is it? Is it… James Earl Jones?
Just relax. I am going to get you out of here as soon as possible. You are going to be ok.
I squint in the glare of the light – searching for the face that belongs to the voice – for a fraction of a second I believe that the voice has emanated from the box of fish fingers thawing on my lap –
I lift the box to my ear like a telephone
Hello God – Is that you?
The voice sounds tinny – I can hear the sea as if I’d cupped a shell to my ear – It soothes me, I feel calm
I am floating on a white wave – I ride the crest – I sprawl like a starfish my body a sponge soaking up warmth and light
The flashing pulse of red light draws me in – suddenly voices coming at me from all angles – the familiar sting of a needle shoots into my arm – it smells like…it smells like hospital.
I concentrate
I concentrate on trying to focus
The world in Technicolor brilliance like a bad acid trip is distilled in all its glory
James Earl Jones is not James Earl Jones but a twenty year old with a badge that reads “I AM HERE TO HELP YOU” below the supermarket logo.
He smiles at me
He looks s like an angel – if angels were Goths and had pimples
You’re back he says
Where am I?
He smiles again – he has food stuck between his teeth
More silence
I swim down again
Deep dark depths of amniotic fluid
I am pure
I am unborn
I sound out a few final words to the angel
“Did I pee myself?”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Beautiful You

Beautiful you
My heart is still as a butterfly wing tonight
The starry thorns of our contentment bristling in a January breeze
Oh how I long for the calm so that I may once again know the storm.
I realize today and paper thin the fragility of my life and that becomes the pen, the words, the light.
Half of me for all of you
Rapturous promise of all hope and glory. I just had to tell you
I don’t know who I am anymore
I felt like someone and now what?
Please know
All of everything tonight.
The person you loved lies buried under the sea.
I am the relic of your desire and my own self loathing.
I come silent and bare
To the place where words are the only voice
And time my only foe.
I have loved you through an hourglass.


You ask for proof
Of love
As if you could sift through a vat of salt
And source that grain
That remarkable grain
That says
I do
You ask for promises
For honesty
You open me like some first print book
Rifle through the pages
Skip to the end
Read between the lines to find the story
I don’t tell
The story you believe to be – the grand mythology
You ask for years
Pulled from my breast like long yellow ribbons
You fly kites with them
On sunny days
You say ‘perhaps then’, ‘one day’, ‘next year’
You plan time
The days commanded by fingertips
Wind themselves into folding zig zags of maps
Tributaries and time lines
The geography of our love
You make promises
Statements, four letter words
You say ‘never’, ‘hurt’,
You say ‘always’
I know better
You open yourself
Your own pages, you scrawl and entwine me in the chapters of your soul
You say ‘read me’
You say ‘You’ll miss the best part’
I ask you where the twist in the plot is – the dénouement
You say ‘this is how much I love you’
Impossibly measured doses of you
Said with such sincerity
They strike my heart like blows from a hammer
When did I become so cynical?
When did I stop measuring, planning, reading?
We hold hands
Our fingers laced
The knot of love
Tight, strong
So easily pulled undone.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Story of Starfish Woman who could not go to sleep (Part Four)

For most of my life I have apologized
Whether it was valid or not
If there was someone saying sorry it was me.
You name it and I have apologized for it
Earthquakes, Tsunamis, broken hearts and broken dishes
Spilt milk, dead goldfish, trolley collisions, death, the holocaust, apartheid
I am sorry.
I am an apologist.
I’m sorry, I beg your pardon, sorry, sorry, I am truly sorry.
Am I sorry?
Mostly I am
Mostly I believe that the apology is highly overrated
I am sorry your entire family was wiped out in a genocide – could you pass the peas?
I’m sorry that my forefathers were colonial fuckers who screwed you over
I am sorry that I am emotionally unavailable
I am sorry that I fell asleep
I am sorry that I forgot your birthday
I am sorry that I am not more like him
I am sorry that I am sorry.
Enough already.
The thing about sorry is that it doesn’t really make it better does it? The word just falls flat, it’s inadequate.
Sorry. Sorry.
Sorry is its own form of blasphemy
The word is overused and I am guilty of it.
Do we even know what we are apologizing for?Do we care?Should we?
In my life I have apologized whether it was warranted or not.
I did it to keep the peace
I did it because I didn’t know what else to say.
I said it because it was the only acceptable thing to say.
I apologized for myself
My bad mood, my weight, my love, my drunkenness, my work, my thoughts, my feelings.
Tonight I tore up the last of our pictures.
I relished destroying the ones that you wanted, the keepsakes you’d take and put in some box – the ones you’d show to your grandkids’, the ones you’d look at when you’re old and reminisce and wish you could go back
But it’s too late.
I am not a spiteful person.
Reading this I am sure you would think otherwise
I have been driven to spiteful action but I am not a spiteful person.
I am also out of ‘sorry’
I filled out my quotient of apologies
I am out of sorry like the neighbors are out of sugar or milk.
I will make peace with it.
I will.
And I will not apologize for not apologizing for being spiteful and sullen and sad.
Sorry is passive.
Sorry is for sissies.
Sorry doesn’t give a shit about sorry
Sorry is the nation’s pacifier
Sorry is not a salve or balm to heal the wounds
Just some word that had a great spin-doctor.
Sorry is obligatory.
“Say Sorry to Sally darling – Say sorry for drowning her Barbie in the toilet”
“But I’m not sorry! She pinched me!”
“It doesn’t matter – Just say it!”
Sorry is selfish – sorry is the antithesis of an apology, Sorry is said to soothe the conscience of the one saying it
Sorry should come with a warning
I have waited for sorry a long time from many people. School bullies who teased me relentlessly, Friends who were unkind, sorry for wounds that run deeper than any cut or bruise, sorry for making you feel worthless, sorry for leaving you alone, sorry for not protecting you when all you needed was to be protected, sorry for not being your friend because sometimes it was just too hard, sorry for calling you those names, sorry I don’t love you. Sorry I never have, sorry but you are not the one I want to be with. Sorry… Sorry…
For so long I have believed that Sorry is a magic word, that in having you say it everything will be ok. That somehow I will be at peace with myself and you. That the past will be erased or at least washed over in watercolour, made palatable.
Tonight I put sorry to rest.
The apologies I never received and the apologies I made that made me feel less of me, for what I thought was more of you.
It’s easy to be honest at 2am
It’s easy to be anything or anyone other than yourself.
I am not sorry for meeting you on a Wednesday in the frozen food section with a box of tampons in my left hand.
I am not sorry for calling you everyday just to say hi and to tell you I miss you.
I am not sorry that I hoped and prayed for you for most of my life.
I am not sorry that I cried like a baby when Princess Diana died and Nelson Mandela walked free.
I am not sorry that I said I loved you often and unashamedly to friends, to family, to pets, to you.
I am not sorry that I am an idealist
I am not sorry that I am me
And perhaps that really doesn’t quite cut it, and perhaps you would rather I regret because it will make you feel better
Either way the apology you leave will never be enough and I was a fool for thinking it, and even if it carried as much weight as I had hoped it would it won’t make you love me the way I ought to be loved, It won’t stop the ache that I have at times like these when the house is silent and I am alone, It won’t right the wrongs or bring world peace
It will just be a wordthat we wish meant more than it did
So next time you’re about to apologize
Please spare it
It isn’t going to save the starving in Ethiopia or Zimbabwe
It isn’t going to stop the war in the Middle East or bring back the lives of loved ones we’ve lost
It’s not going to stop the creation of bombs or guns
It’s not going to stop the criminals, the thieves, the sad, and the lonely from being what they are.
It’s not going to make up for the past and without action it will never pave the way for a future.
I have learnt enough to know that either way it fucks out in the end.
It’s not going to stop the sadness and misery
It’s not going to shelter the homeless or clothe the poor
And when you wind up your window to the street kid at the stop street and dismiss the beggar with a sorry
It does what only an apology can do
Fuck all.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Story of Starfish Woman who could not go to sleep: Part Three

Love by Emily DickinsonXXII

I GAVE myself to him,

And took himself for pay.

The solemn contract of a life

Was ratified this way.

The wealth might disappoint,

Myself a poorer prove

Than this great purchaser suspect,

The daily own of Love

Depreciate the vision;

But, till the merchant buy,

Still fable, in the isles of spice,

The subtle cargoes lie.

At least, ’t is mutual risk,—

Some found it mutual gain;

Sweet debt of Life,—each night to owe,

Insolvent, every noon.

We were the original Bourgeois Couple,
We drank fine wines from Chile and held lavish dinner parties al fresco.
We shopped at organic markets and ate seasonal vegetables; we used truffle oil and Parma ham
We made our own pasta from scratch and rolled it through the machine by hand
We laughed at ourselves with the confidence of those who cannot be touched.
We hoarded books by Austin and Dickens, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was so passé – we listened to opera on scratchy old records, Bach and Mozart,
We read the Mail and Guardian and the New York Times.
We discussed philosophy and psychology,
We were existentialists through and through
We prided ourselves on our ability to reject religious dogma
Yet when I found a lump in my right breast you went to confession for the first time in twelve years.
We were the ideal – married friends envied our freedom
Single friends wanted to be us.
I grew my hair long and wore gypsy skirts ordered from India, hand dyed organic cotton,
We shopped at vintage clothes stores and you developed a penchant for tweed.
We smoked hashish from a hubbly bubbly and sometimes rose scented tobacco from Turkey,
We had picnics in the Botanical Gardens, reading poems by dead poets sipping tea that had absorbed the sun.
We practiced yoga and meditation,
We were transcendental, incidental, confidential, monumental,
We gave to charity
We sent money to build schools in rural areas with names we could not pronounce,
We decorated our home with African art and black and white photos of ourselves
A holiday in Prague, Rome, Venice, Marrakesh.
You wore a hat, you listened to Frank Sinatra, you sang Mac the Knife in the Shower, you washed your face with expensive face cleansers and tried to avoid at all costs premature aging.
It was the time of our lives.
It was the best of times and the worst of times.
We holidayed in Cape Town; we burnt incense and smoked cigars,
You marvelled at the mountain
You felt small, insignificant, you were afraid you would die and no one would come to your funeral.
I’ll be there I said.
You shook your head. No – you’ll be long gone. You’ll slit your wrists in the bath and colour the water red. The neighbours will shake their heads and say “She stopped taking her medication”
We read the Kama Sutra, we practiced tantric sex.
I fell pregnant in June.
You were upset.
I had an abortion.
You started work on a novel – it was your life’s work – I didn’t like it, too postmodern.

You said “What the hell do you know anyway”.
I began to write religiously
I would type and type and type and still have more to say
It was like the words emerged from some vast place deep inside that could never be silenced.
I told a lot of truths
I told a lot of lies
I wrote plays, I wrote fairytales, I wrote deep, dark poems about tortured women.
I felt sad
I got published.
You stopped writing.
You said you felt unfulfilled. UnAfrican you said.
You went to become a Sangoma.
You started eating meat.
We went to an Ashram. We soaked up knowledge like a sponge.
You said “Maybe we should have a baby”
I said “I’m too young”
You became moody and sullen. You said life was passing you by. You were tired of suburbia, the city, our friends, and our routine.
You were terrified of regret – fear drove you to impulse and impulse drove you to action – it was natural therefore that action led you to guilt and best of all regret.
You met her in a bar, she drank absinthe and smoked a pipe. Cherry tobacco you said.
Her hair was the colour of wheat fields long down her back and she had legs all the way to nirvana.
She spoke like Marlene Dietrich and she laughed at your jokes,
She had a tattoo behind her right knee; she was fluent in Russian and French.
In her pussy you found heaven
In her breasts you found yourself.
She was your soul mate you said
You had waited your whole life to find her.
I cried in the bath
I cried in bed
I cried until the tears stopped coming.
You held my hand
It’s for the best you said
I will always love you but we’ve gone as far as we can go.
We have to be realistic about this.
We want different things
You’re right I said.
I want you and you want her.
Let’s come to some sort of agreement.
Perhaps you can have us both.
We’re not your average Joes, we read books, we are modern, we are open, we do not own one another.
I let you go to her
I let you read her your poems and wear your shirts
I let you come home smelling of her perfume
Your cheeks flushed when she called
You took her to the theatre and art openings
She’d really like to meet you, you said
I turned up the volume
I blocked out the sound of your voice
I stopped listening to our music
I bought albums by Indie bands and smoked grass in the bath
I went out alone and sat on park benches
I cut my hair and wore black
I found silence
I found peace
And then I came home and found you
You kissed differently after you’d been with her
You made love like another person
A person you imagined to be younger, smarter, better than you.
You cried in the bath
You cried yourself to sleep.
She moved to China
She tired of your smell
She said she was bored and too young for this shit.
You looked like a little boy staring out the window.
I made you toast soldiers with marmite and butter the way my mother did.
We drank sweet, milky tea and I listened.
I listened to you talk about the times you spent with her
I listened to you cry for her
I listened to the words float out of your mouth like bubbles and pop in the air.
I felt tired.
I felt incomplete.
I longed for who we were before it all began
For simplicity
For monogamy.
We went to couples counselling
The therapists name was Audrey and she had long red hair
She liked the colour purple and dogs.
She listened to our stories, we laughed and we cried, we screamed at each other and ignored each other
We unpicked the thread of who we were, unravelling our whole relationship, we went way back to the first time we met, we did this so we could find a way forward
Audrey said she didn’t have a map or a compass
I asked her why the fuck not?
I wanted to stand still. I wanted to feel the wind on my face. I wanted to stop working at everything; I wanted a quick fix, relationship heroin.
We ate dinner in front of the TV.
We bought microwave meals and sat in silence.
I felt sad.
I wore my pyjamas for a week
I didn’t wash my hair.
I went on Prozac.
You worked late
You were always tired.
I couldn’t find you
I dug through the wreckage
I wanted to call the rescuers with the sniffer dogs – I wanted them to pull away the rubble – I wanted them to bring you back.
I lived in a cotton wool cloud
I stopped writing
I had nothing to say
You smiled but your eyes were dead
I threw my medication in the toilet and flushed it clean away.
I got angry when you came home late
I picked fights with you just so I could find something to say.
What happened to the girl I fell in love with? You said.
She’s long gone remember? She slit her wrists in the bath.
You stopped taking your medication, you said.
What’s it to you anyway?
You became vigilant, you followed me around the house, you were like some hungry, stray dog, you hid the sleeping pills, the razors were all blunt
You wouldn’t do anything stupid would you? You said.
I laughed at you – spiteful laughter
It’s too late for that. I’m involved with you aren’t I?
You just stared at me for a long time
I felt victorious and vicious
I felt like I could never hurt you as much as you had hurt me.
You started sleeping on the couch.
I started watching you sleep
I wanted to come over to you and kiss your forehead and tell you that all was not lost.
But I couldn’t
You left in April
Your life condensed into a few brown boxes
I watched you from the front door like I was the lead in some soppy romantic movie
I almost expected you to turn back and sweep me up in your arms and say, “I can’t do this. I want you and no other. Let’s get married and buy a farm, we’ll erect a white picket fence and have 2.5 kids.”
But you didn’t
You just kissed my cheek like some stranger, like some acquaintance.
Thanks I said. Thanks a lot.

The Story of Starfish Woman who could not go to sleep: Part Two

I thought of you this evening.
I always do.
Autumn is whispering through the trees and it has been a long time since we spoke.
Everything is brittle
I sleep fitfully and wake to laughter
Footprints appear on the veranda
Dust settles on books I once read, desired to read.
Essentially I am alone.
I leave the house out of necessity – a short walk to the corner café or the park
I buy a box of menthols and relish blowing smoke from my mouth
I imagine myself someone else with a cigarette in my hand
A serious writer
A French intellectual
I read books on Satre and Simon De Beauvoir
And convince myself that I have mastered the art of being that which I am
I have learnt to love silence.
Sometimes it’s best
Voices outside and barking dogs become intrusions and intrusions become ghosts and ghosts?
Unwelcome hauntings.
I saw a ghost once
A long time ago
No-one knew what she was but I did.
She was old and wore black dresses and sensible shoes.
She liked my art, she came to me often
Always when I was alone.
Always when I was far from the crowd.
I guess even ghosts get lonely.
I’ve painted our room…my room.
It’s red, dark red, blood red almost
When I look at the walls I feel vital – I feel like someone with a Spanish name – I come over all Gaudi,
Sometimes the walls seem to throb around me, pulsing, vibrant, life force, gauze stiffening wounds of our collective suffering
And then I think
What the fuck!
Who paints their bedroom red – no wonder I sleep so badly!
Nights are hard.
I close my eyes and pictures flicker past my lids like old cinema reels
I see you smiling and waving
Your voice carries through time and space
Your breath on my neck sends goosebumps down my spine
I don’t know which is worse actually,
The dreaming or the waking.
Then I get out of bed and stare in the mirror.
I try to find something of myself I recognize.
I listen to old Morrisey records,
Come back to Camden is my favourite.
I think of the Donmar warehouse and meeting you again,
My hands clammy
Hoping you’d still like me.
I was early. I am always early. I went to freshen up, the queue was long and then you walked past me and I felt like time stopped
We laughed about it later as we walked to some bar
Illicit passion so exciting.
You grasped my hand and kissed my mouth, your beard tickled against my cheek and I wanted you like no other.
And then I just get angry
Blinding fucking anger
And I feel so helpless and senseless and stupid and silly
And I hate you but not as much as I hate myself.
There was a domestic disturbance tonight,
The neighbors’ were fighting,
I called the police
I think he broke her nose.
The kids were screaming and crying
I felt sick to my stomach
At some point it all went very quiet and the only sound was the police car siren and that red light flashing through the curtains.
I expected him to be arrested
But she sent them away
I could hear the conversation in my head
Oh no Constable my husband didn’t hit me he just banged my head against the floor accidentally until my nose shattered – he didn’t mean to – he has a really stressful job and he hasn’t been sleeping – and I was nagging him (she laughs apologetically and winks) you know what we women can be like! Any way I really feel so sorry for him – they are threatening to retrench 50 from his branch and I don’t work – just keep house – look after little Tommy and Rita and Cindy and Roy – so anyway, he’s under a lot of pressure and sometimes he just needs to get rid of it – and you know men – sometimes they don’t know how to communicate their feelings – sometimes they don’t want to talk about it – sometimes they just turn into completely different people…people who fuck babies and beat women – people who fire off missiles and develop nuclear weapons – people who shoot other people out of revenge or spite – people who slam the door and walk away…people who forget you like you never existed, who shut their hearts like a tomb and bury their feelings in vaults and banks in Switzerland where you can never reach them…
I watch her pathetic face
I watch her spin her story like a spider web
Her husband emerges, his white shirt unbuttoned, there is a blood stain on his collar and he is sweating
He looks hard and smug
He looks like the cat that got the cream.
He puts his arm around her waist and I see it – I see it all the way from my vantage point, the slightest, smallest, revealing flinch.
The officer smiles – he shakes the wife beaters hand and gets back into his car
He waves goodbye like an old friend and drives off.
The baby starts crying
He lets go of her waist
She looks up and I swear she sees me looking at her and she holds my gaze and she doesn’t flinch, she doesn’t blink and it’s like some light went out in her eyes – it’s like someone pulled a switch
I swear to God the woman is dead.
He fucking killed her.
It’s funny really…how quickly it happens, that light just switched off.
Energy saving!
For a moment I think I could laugh till I cry
Not because it’s funny
I am so Goddam sad.
I catch my reflection in the window – I look eighty years old.
I look like a lived through something to tell the tale.
I look hard, there are lines around my eyes.
I feel like a cheap impersonator
A fake.
I say my name, it rolls off my tongue and splashes onto the linoleum
It doesn’t sound right.
I say it again, I keep saying it – maybe a hundred times over.
I’m a shit actress
Who the fuck does this?
Talking to myself like some freak…
The writing is no better
Spilling and spitting all this masochistic shit out onto the page like it actually means something
The only person I want to read it is gone
The only person I want is gone.
Adios amigo
It’s been swell…
I think about something calming
I put my ear to the phone and float off into the place where all the wires connect
I’m in the zone
Of telecommunication
Disconnected voices and talking heads
Oh these technological gifts that are devised to bring us closer yet tear us so very far apart.
Did I tell you I was afraid of mermaids?
I am.
Did I tell you that I got stuck on a rope ladder when I was five and the other kids threw sticks at me?
I guess not.
Why don’t you love me?
Do I give you indigestion?I don’t really want an answer – unless it’s what I want to hear. If you’re going to be unkind then don’t bother.
I am fine. Really. I am holding it together.
Sometimes I marvel at my own resilience.
Did you know that when you cut off a starfishes’ tentacle it grows back?
You can’t hurt them.
Resilient little fuckers.
That’s what I call evolution…
Anyway it doesn’t help me much – but you must know that.
I’m preserving my body for science,
When I die I am going to give myself over to science
They can cut and prod and inject me
Shave my hair off, remove my organs
Put me in a glass case
I don’t care.
Hey Fred have you checked out the tits on this one? Wait a minute have you seen this…my god you’ve got to take a look at this…Her heart – it’s all broken up – Jesus how the hell did she make it to thirty? – It’s like a freakin’ jigsaw in here – it’s all come undone…in all my years as a whatchamacallit I have never seen this before – sure I heard about it – but that was just a metaphor right? A heart can’t seriously break – I mean it’s not a bone – it’s an organ…Remarkable. This is the kind of break I’ve waited for all my life – wait till the board sees this…get me a camera wont you?
Oh well – At least I’m good for a laugh.
I am considering adopting a pet. I figure with my new single status it should be a cat. At times like these I think it appropriate to run with clichés – they serve an important function right? I mean think about it – how else is society going to put us in neat little boxes unless we follow protocol?
So I went to the SPCA –on a reckie – just to see. I could have brought them all home…People would have called me the cat lady – I’d be on a special edition of Oprah – along with the hoarders and obsessively compulsive freaks society likes to point fingers at. There’d be fur everywhere, the neighbors’ would complain of the smell, I’d hole myself up with them – just me and my 69 cats – I’d start to imagine myself one of them – maybe get plastic surgery like that woman in America, grow a tail, hiss and meow, drink milk and lick myself.
They’ll call the authorities, men with gloves on will raid the house, they’ll put the cats in cages, they’ll look at me in that sad and sorry way, they’ll go home and tell their families about the cat lady they’ll ask ‘how does a person end up like this?’. The same second rate reporter from the same second rate rag will come in with them, they’ll find me squatting over the kitty litter tray – I won’t care because I am no longer concerned with the cares of their world. The reporter will take a picture – a guy in gloves will cover his nose and back away “I’d be careful of her buddy – she’s got fleas” The story will be in the Saturday paper, it will probably make page five next to a story on a girl in Beijing who thinks she’s a dog. People will read about my sorry life over toast and tea and when they’re done they’ll use the page to line their budgies cage or dump it in the recycle bin. It will probably induce mild outrage, the animal lobbyists will call for blood, another dubious psychologist will explain that I am a very ill woman but that I can be rehabilitated. They’ll forget about Iraq and the Sudan, they’ll feel better about their sorry petty lives – someone will exclaim “at least I’m not like that’.
I am not going back there.
It was like a concentration camp for pets but with more food.
Abandoned faces peering out through cages – pleading, questioning, scarred little faces. Pitiful, alone, tired, rejected faces the weight of the world in their eyes.
A ginger tom licks my finger, his tongue warm and sandpapery, pink as polony. His meow is small and tinny. His green eyes search for some recognition in my own. I send him a telepathic message – I tell him that I know how he feels, that I’ll come back for him, that he is not alone.
Bullshit lady
Get the fuck out of here
I know your kind. Liars the whole freakin lot of ya. You’re not coming back. Chicken shit assholes – you think this is some kind of game? that I can’t see right through you? I’ve been in this cage for 2 months which in cat years is like twenty. You think I haven’t seen it all done it all, fucked it all? You think I don’t know what the fuck goes on back there? Jesus Christ you pathetic bitch – get a life will you. I wouldn’t go home with you if you were the last human being on this godforsaken planet – I’d rather go to Korea and end up on a plate then listen to you whine at me twenty four seven about your broken heart and your sorry sad pathetic life – blah blah blah – get a grip will you? What the hell is ever that bad? I’d like to see you in my place for just one day. One day lady.
They always have Brooklyn accents. The tough cats. The ones who knock over rubbish bins and prowl the neighborhood looking for a fight. They’ve got that swagger, that ‘I’m not afraid of anything’ stride. They catch mice and lizards just for fun and steal fillet steak off people’s plates. They never talk in Zulu these cats, yet they mouth off like Julius Malema. They have big paws and no balls. They come home late smelling like cheap perfume. Yet when it storms they stay close to you and meow pitifully. They drop the act faster than a two dollar hooker…whatever that is.
I have your mail. Twenty five credit card bills and a news letter from some wine club you thought would be a good idea to join. They call you by your full name, it sounds pompous and strange – it doesn’t quite fit. They’re offering a special deal on Pinotage from Peru, they say it has a nose of grass, tobacco and chocolate – I’ve never really cared for wine. A point of contention I’m sure. “”It doesn’t look good you said to be with a “woman who drinks spirits”.
I laughed when you said that
You spat the word out like I was drinking some witches brew, Jesus juice.
When we went to restaurants you’d always pour two glasses of the stuff even though I hate it. It’s civilized you’d say –“ just try it – you’ll get used to it – I got you a wine of the month subscription for your birthday.”
Thanks. It’s what I always wanted. Right up there with wrestling lessons and a cage dive with sharks.

The Story of Starfish Woman who could not go to sleep: Part One.

Last night I fractured my heart
Tore some ligament
Felt the blood leak into some dark hole so deep in myself they would need to drain a lifetimes worth to find it.
It twisted into a figure of eight
The infinity sign
It felt like a sharp knife plunging deep inside me
It felt like nothing I’d ever felt before
It felt like a promise taken away
It felt like walking on broken glass
It felt like I’d swallowed the universe in one big gulp and had sucked all the air out
An imploding balloon.
The emergency chemist was closed already
I swallowed a bottle of antacid
It was cold and white
And suddenly I felt like something cold
Something numb and small and insignificant.
I picked up the phone
I listened to the dial tone until I thought I could hear voices – crossed wires
I tried to remember the number for an ambulance service
But I hadn’t any clean underwear.
Besides what’s a bit of pain in the end?
The only number I could remember was yours
Life and its irony really fuck you over sometimes.
I dialed it
I don’t remember physically pushing the digits
Just the ringing and then your voice.
You sounded happy. You had been asleep – I had woken you.
I thanked god in that moment that you didn’t have caller ID.
I wanted to say something
I wanted to tell you that I was drowning in grief
A grief so deep and consuming
They’d have to send a deep sea diver to rescue me
But my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, like when you eat too much peanut butter
And you kept asking whose there? Who is this? Do you know what fucking time it is?
And I wanted to shout
It’s me you fucking asshole
The one you used to spoon, wake up with coffee, listen to, talk too,
It’s me! You know me … I am not some fucking stranger, I am not some memory, I am…
You used to
You used to
I cough – my lungs contract – I splutter and gasp – I choke – I vomit on the floor
I can’t listen to Leonard Cohen anymore
You ruined it all
I can’t eat spaghetti out the tin and watch Laurel and Hardy
I can’t walk down the avenue of trees or throw a coin in a fountain
I can’t dance to Spandau Ballet or read Emily Dickinson
I can’t be half of even half of who I was when I was with you.
And I’m a fucking feminist!
I clean up the sick with a pair of your underpants
The pain in my heart subsides a little until I realize they are all I have left…physical proof
That you were here.
I wash them in the basin – I pour out half a bottle of rose scented body wash until the basin is a mound of bubbles
I see my reflection
Obscure, deformed – It reminds me of Tate modern
I feel so expressionist today
I laugh a little at the joke… my own joke
I consider calling again
I think you’d laugh too
That maybe you’d consider coming back
Because I am so funny
Because I laugh at my own jokes
Because my face looks like something from a Wes Craven movie reflected in the bubbles floating on top of water laced with vomit and roses
Again the irony is not lost on me
Vomit and roses
I pull the plug and watch it all go down the drain
I rinse the residue away and dry my hands
I look in the mirror
And can’t see myself at all
Just some shell
And then I think “fucking hell what a terrible cliché’
If you could see me now
If you could…
Hey – I don’t blame you…if I had to look at this everyday I’d leave me too…
You betcha
Out that door
No turning back
I sit down on the bathroom floor for a bit.
My hands are clammy and the antacid is giving me heartburn.
The tiles are cool on my bare legs
I stretch out like a starfish and stare at the ceiling
There is a damp patch right above me
Grey and mouldy penetrating the clean white paint
I consider painting over it
I consider climbing up on the ladder and getting rid of it
I hadn’t noticed it before now
I’ve lived here five years
And I never noticed it
The way it just creeps in and multiplies
Tiny mouldy grey spores fucking each other senseless and reproducing on my ceiling
The floor is hard on the back of my skull
I press down harder
Imagine myself something fluid
What if I just stayed here?
A starfish woman on the bathroom floor
I guess they’ll eventually send the landlord to open up
They’ll tip off some news reporter from a second rate publication
Who’ll interview me along with a string of dubious psychologists
They’ll nod their heads and click their tongues and act sympathetic
“She has acute social phobia” they’ll say
“Her heart fractured in twelve places
We’ll need to get her a plaster of paris cast stat”…
Or something like that.
I imagine the accompanying picture – I am so thin!
The thought pleases me for an instant
And then I remember I have chocolate in the fridge and leftover Chinese, half a can of spaghetti
The milk is sour
I feel like I haven’t eaten in years
Like I just got back from a journey across the desert
So thirsty
I drink coca cola straight out of the bottle
I backwash intentionally and relish this misdemeanor
I marvel at the stupidity of this action
I marvel at my stupidity
And then I stuff my face
I am ravenous
I can’t get full
Nothing can satisfy this hunger
Nothing can fill up this deep dark hole
It makes me think of heaven and tunnels of darkness
I imagine God waiting for me at the other end of my stomach
With a toothbrush and a bottle of gaviscon
He hands me a worn out copy of the Atkins diet or something by Patrick Holford
I laugh joyously like I just won the lottery until I see the angels
They look like cutouts from a cosmopolitan magazine
They have long legs and shiny gold hair
Their teeth are perfect
One particularly beautiful specimen beckons me over
I look at Jesus who smiles approvingly and move towards her
She leans in,
She smells like lasagna, cinnamon buns, chocolate sauce
“You have some spinach stuck in your teeth” she says
Oh, I say
Jesus hands me a mirror
He isn’t really what I imagined come to think of it
I remember my mother
I remember Catechism
I remember the Virgin Mary
And the cheap R10 statue I bought of Jesus at the Chinese store complete with hand painted stigmata
This Jesus was nothing like him
I noticed he wore a Tag Heur on his wrist
And a big diamond ring
His hair was gelled back and he had a thick gold chain around his neck
His white robes were shiny and there was a label on the breast pocket – Christian Dior
I laughed
Christian Dior
I laughed so hard I couldn’t stop
I laughed until my head hurt
I laughed until I peed myself
And the world went black
When I woke up I was propped up against the fridge a fork in my hand and breadcrumbs on the floor.
I felt fuzzy like I was swimming through candy floss
I felt calm
I felt hopeful
And then I saw through the open curtains the street lamp and the empty drive way and I remembered it all like some horrible dream
And my stomach felt tight
And my gut ached
And my heart felt like it was being squeezed in some vice, some giant fist
I call.
It echoes through the house and silence shouts back.
Get a grip.
Get a fucking grip you stupid stupid girl.
Pick yourself up dammit,
You self absorbed little whore.
Get up.
Stupid bitch.
Pull yourself together.
What are you doing?
Do you want to be alone?
You are so pathetic.
This is all your fault.
So he likes it a little kinky! SO WHAT! CLOSE YOUR EYES DAMMIT! THINK OF ENGLAND!Stop being so selfish!
You disgust me
You disgust me
I find myself screaming like some deranged woman.
I feel like the lead in an exorcist movie.
I try turning my head 360 degrees.
I want to spit up pea soup.
Instead I get up.
My hair is glued to my cheek with drool.
My t-shirt is stained and I have a bruise on my right knee.
It’s just after 3am
Some dog howls at the moon and barks at ghosts and passing cars.
I send him a telepathic message
I tell him that it’s ok someone is listening
I imagine his tail wagging and his big brown eyes glossing over
He barks back like he understands me
“Any time buddy”
I whisper.
I imagine that I have extraordinary powers of mental telepathy.
I send out messages across the ocean,
A woman in Ecuador waves hello
A seamstress in Hungary nods in agreement
The Dalai Lama smiles
I muster all the strength I have
Messages sailing overseas and baron land, pushing through jungles and swamps,
Waves of light and love
Waves of good will and peace
Waves of hope beaming like a watchtower
A vast torch over every dark corner
The reverie distracts me.
I forget the room and my fuzzy head
I forget the insomnia that has plagued me for 3 weeks
I breathe easily
I feel like I just found the centre of myself
The core of some vast wealth
Enlightenment flows through me
I am God
I am Love
I am crazy
They are going to lock me away
I look for hairs on the palm of my hand
No I say indignantly
I am fine!
Jesus spoke to me
I can speak to dogs
They understand me!
This is the longest night of my life.
I am exhausted.
The sky is clear.
The moon is fading.
Some misplaced hadeda calls to his flock
Where the fuck are you?
Where the fuck are you in all this mess?
I want to curl up
I want to sleep for a thousand years
I want my mom to stroke my hair
And kiss my forehead
I want her to make me macaroni cheese
And toast fingers with butter and marmite.
I want to be read to
I want to be held close against the softness of her.
Something primal and old claws at the pit of the hole
Scrambling to the surface it screeches like some mythical creature
An old wound tears open like a sail
Salt water splashes on my face and stings my ice cold cheeks.
Think happy
Think happy
Think happy
Disney world
Humpty dumpty
Fucking pervert.
I sit at the computer
I find the keys my old friends
I am going to type till morning
I am going to type till there is nothing left to say.
I am going to exorcise the demon and watch it fly out into the night sky.
I am going to be Picasso of the page
Abstract and passionate
I am going to find the words for the sharpest pains
And create a salve to heal the cuts.
I am going to spin a thread that stretches the divide between
Man and beast
Woman and woman
Person and person
God and God
You and me
I am going to tell the story of all my hopes and fears so that when morning comes I will no longer be starfish woman passed out on the bathroom floor.
I will play Damian Rice on full volume and cry until there are no tears left.
I will sing Hallelujah and never again fear Leonard Cohen
I will declare my faults like excess baggage at customs
I will tear up my passport and
Photos of you
I will tell you one last time that I love you
I will brim with gratitude
I will say thank you to Jesus that ol pimp
For giving me the love I found in you
And I will be sad.
I will tell you about myself at seven and I will show you the scar on the back of my right knee.
I will send my mother my heart beating and red
I will smile at all that is so beautiful and ugly.
I will do yoga and become a vegetarian.
I will read books by Deepak Chopra practice meditation in my saffron painted lounge
I will hang crystals at my window
And read my star sign
I will stop hating myself
I will stop hating myself
I will stop hating myself…
And in doing that
I will try to stop hating you.
I will type all the thoughts in my head
I will fill pages and pages and purge my soul.
I’ll forgive those I cannot forgive and write thank you cards.
I will moisturize my face and feel better about being thirty.
I will feed children who are hungry
I will feed children who are happy
I will feed children who are sad
With vast reserves of joy and love.
I will never stick my finger down my throat again.
I will cut my hair and paint my lips red.
I will write a poem about being crazy
I will stick it on the fridge.
I will stand in front of the mirror naked
And say “not half bad”
Sooner or later
Sooner or later
I will think about my mortality
I will think about my hopes
I will dust away regret.
I will be grateful
I will not complain.
I will not complain.
Unless I really have to.
I will be the person I have wanted to be all my life,
I will fall in love with love and not the idea of it,
I will not buy aubergines because I like the colour and shape of them.
I will floss every day.
I will tell you everything I know about living which is very little and at times very much. I will tell you that I grew up in a house in the centre of town with a dog called Tiny.
That I loved a boy called Edward and that I wanted to be a Jew.
I will tell you that I struggle with boundaries and that I am sometimes very shy.
That I love Sylvia Plath
That for a long time I was afraid of the dark
I will tell you everything
And then I will tell you again because at the end of it all
You’ll never really understand.