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A year ago

A year ago…

I was in love. I wore a chain around my neck to prove it.

I was so tired I couldn’t see. It wasn’t still on the surface like it is now. I was moving, dodging, running. There were stairs in my house and they taught me why one says “I took the stairs.” It’s aggressive, expressive. That damned house. It was dark when I arrived, heavy with other people and not happy ones at that. There was a steak knife in my room, cheap and flimsy, a pot, and a half-drunk cooldrink. Dank and rank, the place felt like the set of a horror. I pulled joy out of that place, link by link. Hanging laundry in the backyard, I could never find the pegs I had bought for the house, except for the broken bits in the grass that was somehow always wet. I took pictures, partly for records for the landlord, partly in shock, as if to prove to myself it was as frightening as it felt. It loomed, that house – such a contrast to the year before, when my boyfriend and I were first to arrive at the digs. It wasn’t welcoming in any real sense of the word. It was dirty, and unkempt. He spent a morning disinfecting the oven while I wrote an exam, and there was a blissful moment when I knew what it was to make a home and have someone in it who loves you. We sat on a mattress, careful to keep our toes on the too-small sheet. There were broken things then too, but we were whole, for one of the last times and so, slick as it sounds, their brokenness mattered less.

Still I tried, to forge something new in the looming place. I bought a bathmat from PEP, and spent a Friday evening decorating the cupboards that ate up all the space. I was forever finding people’s leftovers in those cupboards, some disturbing. I kept only the stationery, filling black bag after black bag with stuff in the true sense of the word – dusty, cloistered, sticky, discards that clog and close. I think it was September when I found the last of it. I hung lace in the window like in Enid Blyton tree-houses, and draped the house in cloths from Lome, Kinshasa and Accra.

I had done the same in Accra once. Arrived to a place of cupboards unopened, surfaces uncleaned, corners untouched. Volunteers arrived and left, leaving little but for their discards. That’s how it felt. A place made up of long-gone transitory occupants’ discards. I took a weekend and scrubbed, opened, tried to let some light in. I created a little library of volunteers’ books, and found objects even the owners had forgotten. It felt more like mine after that.

This place didn’t. This place held on to its air of discardedness until long after I arrived. It was a matter of small victories and small spaces I carved out as mine. My bathroom, which after some months finally had a door handle, was mine, with its shells, pink towels and messy pile of laundry. Hozier’s Angel of Small Death and Arsonist’s Lullaby still evoke a luke-warm afternoon bath in a room of pale pink tiles.

Sitting with my breakfast on the back porch in drowning pyjamas, the ribbons of my green birthday balloons fluttering where the roof would reach if there was one; rolled into the blanket I crocheted, drinking crass rosé wine and reading history as looming as my house at the imposing dining room table with Size; watching people visiting the restaurant of stodgy pizzas across the road out my window; watching Charmed on my magnificently wide bed which took up more room than there was and kept my thighs in bruised shape; communal moments in the grimy kitchen and cluttered and cold dining room.

It was a hideous place when I arrived; a haunting place when I left, 10 months later. But in that time, there was a moment when I’d come home and someone was cooking dinner; or I opened the peephole and he was there, too tall for it by half; or Simoné was baking; or a digsmate knocked on my door unexpectedly. There was a moment, when I could offer food or tea to someone; when we always had coffee and gherkins; when Peter made spaghetti bolognaise like clockwork; when my bathroom was clean, that my performance of being at home didn’t feel false.

I never remembered if I had locked the door. I always had. I hated that house, even the day I made two chicken pies and a rice salad. I was ashamed of it when my dad came for dinner, and I made jollof rice with brown rice that wouldn’t go soft. But there was an evening my parents and my boyfriend’s parents came to that house after graduation. There’d been many ceremonies that day. I stripped off my heels and cleaned that room in 10 minutes. When they arrived that looming room was made welcoming by my cloths and candlelight, and the wine being drunk from my mugs and the girls doing the drinking had been shuffled off. There was a moment then, with my mom and dad in the same room, and his parents, and my brother, and speech made soft by pride and relief bubbling below the civility, I didn’t feel false then.

That was before. Before I took off the chain, and started wearing the ring; before I demonstrated the flimsiness of that life by packing it up in a single day; before another graduation came and went with pain that peculiar mix of excruciating and numb, like when a bandage is yanked clear; before the hospital. That was before I realised the house was a sign of things to come. That was before I realised what was looming. That was before, but I suppose, it also was.


Written for the Rhodes University Gender Imbizo in October 2013

In 2010, I published a column in The Times entitled ‘’R’ word being used too lightly’ after walking out of a Maths exam and hearing a fellow matric say, “That paper raped me in the ass.” Two years later, Dr Badat, in his welcoming speech, at the beginning of my first year at university said “You are what you learn to become.” What have I learned to become?

Forced to perform a routine of gyrating hips and fluttering eyelashes aimed at men, by a residence’s leadership team of women wearing Silent Protest T-shirts, I learned that policy alone does not make you safe. I was saturated by this lesson in my first two days. The hypocrisy or ignorance thereof gave me my first panic attack. I learned that sometimes activism chooses you. Having come to Rhodes to be anonymous, I was in meetings with Dr Badat and Dr de Klerk on my first day of lectures. Not because I made the brave, or strong, or moral choice – because I chose to do the only thing that made me feel better, write. And thanks to luck, error, and good advice, my writing made its way to where it could make the most impact. I got my wish – I was the anonymous author of writing that sparked debate and change about serenades policy.

In Corinne Knowles’ two-week course on feminism – I learned what a feminist is, and that I am one because I care about everyone’s rights. Funny, I’d been a human rights volunteer in Ghana and worked for an advocacy group on gender reconciliation, and I didn’t know that my passion for the equality and humanity of all made me a feminist.

And I learned to be politely irate. We did a course on social change. The example was abortion legislation in America, in 1974 – clearly because we’re short on examples of social change in South Africa over the past 39 years. And my lecturer was adamant that we would only be discussing the effects of abortion on women.

I learned that I cannot assume someone else will speak up. My tutor was majoring in Sociology and failed to point out the problem in a student saying “That exam raped me.” I learned to start a discussion with someone when they say that, instead of vomiting internally or on them.

Having grown up in the absence of male role models, I met some good men. And I learned that strength comes in different forms. I met a man who needs to walk on the side of the road when he is with me, and held my hand through the Silent Protest, and then played with foam animals in the bath with me while we debriefed. I met a man who is struggling to give up pornography and recently wept as he wrote a rape scene for the first time. I met a man who loves to perform Moulin Rouge in the streets with me, and cannot look below my neck without feeling he is being disrespectful.

I am learning that sometimes the same people are despairingly weak and the same people are drastically strong. I am learning that people are people. And that’s what being young, being South African, being a woman, being a feminist, being an academic and being a person is all about.


“Brown, white or rye?”

Well as it happens, while

bread means hope,

only some can afford to buy

while the oven branded SA

half-bakes all makes,

it is almost always a brown

who cannot afford bread

even with state subsidies. 


What with electricity rsing

while less people eat

they won’t bake because

fires are dangerous to make.


White tastes nice, but doesn’t

sate or sit.

Ignore the alarms and each loaf is the same:

black, hard and carcinogenic.

“Brown, white or rye?”

Ciabatta, kitka, brioche, baguette, seed, banana, wholewheat or stone-flour.


I love bread.

I can afford hope.




Go slow-ly next time

you are inside of me.

I am fragile, a deer

of woven glass. Touch me

as you would plait

a child’s hair.


Your fingers are large.

My strings are thin.

And when I am wet,

like paper, I tear.


I am nothing. The gentle filter-cloth of the mosquito net that traps me,                                             

sparing the world my bloodsucking sting has been crisped away.

Each link shone golden until it fell as ash into an ocean. I am 

                                                                   as yet unsure as to whether                                                                                                                       that sea is cleansing with God’s salt or pollute with the world’s chlorine.

Hold me goddamnit. Do I ever ask you to think? Watch me bleed.

If I coated, painted, rolled onto the teeth of the world my                                                                           

coagulating conflabulating sticky red blood,   

would it stop them biting down?

Do you see red when you look at me?                                                                                                       

Cracked red leather calling to be beaten, pummelled, pounded.                                                                                  

Why weren’t you holding me already? That’s what womanhood is like.                                                  

The pink fluffy bits fall out of you in clots of a red dark enough to be black and still gleam.                                  

You don’t taste nice. A man bites, he slides his teeth into the white hanging                                                        

flesh of your upper arm and drags one further down.                                                                                        

If I open my mouth and eat the world, would I feel just the same? Would I                                                               

tear tuna biltong, sing caffeine and vomit through my eyes.                                                                                           

Have I forgotten what this is – this pain everyone remembers to deny.

A little girl hates her body because it demands she wear pants so that she doesn’t bleed on the floor while

‘her’ society throws rocks of old grey clay.

Why does she not hate them instead?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Ukuphuthelwa (Insomnia)

As I lay on a boy’s floor

and inhaled his dust

which became the earth of a father’s grave,


he gave me water to wet my tongue

which became the rain

that made mud of the earth,

spattering shit-chills on my chicken-skin calves.


I tasted the air of his bedroom

which became the brunt

of the reader’s red wine.


The scrape of the rug on my blush-blessed cheek

became the blackening burn

of my cigarette’s throat.


I tipped the ash

as I hear the coffin shrug – into the gat

of the earth.

The indigo of his iris

My first love had a drummer’s thick strong hands,

milk-chocolate eyes and olive-oil skin.

He lapped my tear-hot cheek, combed out coiled strands.

He sipped from my tongue, the taste of each sin.

Opening lips, I saw a shooting star.

Oh, did I beam, having someone to tell.

He left me liefde-briewe, set the bar.

I left him lonely, tremors would not quell.


Now; a boy with ink-stained epidermis,

lashes fly me fast to a blue-green land.

He’s an accent saying “fokkit” and “piss”.

Indigo-passion, my pupils expand.


I’m committed to a three-year degree.

This time, I feel I’ll let his ink stain me.

Desdemona’s Toothbrush


Nobody is impressed by implicits.

Star-crossed lovers make for dull dinner guests,

and Rapunzel’s sun-golden string still splits.

And each newlywed separately rests

in-between sex, and shits out foreign dessert.

On proposal, daddy issues don’t ditch.

Austen died young, Shakespeare cheated – an expert?

On expiring life, the romantic’s itch.


NB Query: would you change history?

Makers of Darcy & Desdemona

making grammar and vocabulary…

Or leaver of toothpaste, lease co-owner?

Had it happened, there’s no sonnet to mock.

We’d be at the mercy of Doctor Spock. 

autobiography – inspired by by Nâzım Hikmet Ran’s poem by the same name


In 93, in-heat, I was borne, of two days’ labour

for a mother eating chocolate-dunked ice-cream

also bearing arrows dipped in blue.

Else-Where, a long-haired father played his Castle in a half-kamer, waiting news – his annual actions had borne fruit.

Mother and Lump crossed – I gave him my first smile.

He never paid me back.


98, I 100-pieced puzzles, checksing Disney at a friend.

She died. ‘They’ gave me her Barbies instead.

It wasn’t enough.

I tattooed a reminder on – (Loved Ones Leave).


99, television: I dreamed a TwisterPro could

kru-krux-crash World-Wide-Wrongs like peanuts.

Millenium Came, orgasmed in the sky… I inked my lessons in:


people cheer louder when terrified.


2000’s: Bro: born. Mother: exhausted. Father: left.

I said my first Fuck, began to eat white bread.

Granny remixed my faith, with As Time Goes By and YOU.


She died in 05.

I killed myself

on stage,

for the first but not last time.


December 06: let cane lash my spine, crackling roast my belly, wine soil itself on my tongue.


07, A lovely boy linked himself to me, saying I love you

in spite of the dirt.

 I said it back, hid mine in the shade of his neck.


WRITTEN: first novel manuscript Marriage2Death (70 000 words). I wore my bought-for-First-Date-and-backed-out-of-wearing-Red-Dress to celebrate “The End.”

I divorced that life, happy om his hand te hé.

I scratched at my tattoo. It murmured back.

I said Goodbye to his safe-shade: on the phone, nogal.

One Cowardly Act that determined the necessity of

future bravery.  


So I left. St(reet)-rode out, beyond the known horizon.


09, I stepped on stage, unclamped my tonsils, sang.

I found a church in which to weep, and I was safe as no-one spoke my taal;


God sat beside me.

And we held each others’ hands.


10, I perched on the Matric Fountain rim, a gift of a previous time, and hack-coughed up chunks of my hurted heart.

Died on stage again, burning house & audience down.

An earring for an A. Total 6 shot into my lobes in One Day.



A Father of Four said: You deserve to be someone’s Mother, Someone’s Wife. 8 words to save a life.


11, Oom believed me when I told my dad-story.

I took a friend to Temple on the day of Rebirth:

ate: Lindt

slept: late

read: The Secret Magdalene

shared: faith


I put on a fat suit and sang:



In the a.m., I learned Human Rights practice as a volunteer.

In the p.m., I taught it to students at Accra High.


Whilst there, I swallowed, sweated out my Fear.


12, I chose an institution.

The VC said it chose me too –

we both submit stretch marks, evidence.






ex-traordinary and exasperating: the question of Why?  



18:00 PM


To be stretched is sublime.






it became a poem – 10 pm, october 20th, 2012

It became a poem


I snip inner pink –

lesser lip

‘tween Khoi teeth

‘neath k-nitted kohl-lines

polish matches mine.


a burning brand above

a crown:

 pa don’t love ‘er

grotesquely bright

curtain Paris’ Bad-St.

Gypsy, a word filled with spit.



Aye: Chose accra To sweat the devil, didn’t choose.


to-day No man played tennis as I bled.


to-day I did not melt.


to-day Man tumble-riled blackbrownwhite

brought caramel,

not to fat me for Ginger-Witch’s gummy self-esteem


To pleasure me for Greater-Worth



Donker Donker land.