THE WAY THROUGH THE WOODS
by Abigail George

Drowning while standing at the water’s edge
(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

    Leave the light on. Let it overflow this
room. I want joy to fill my mouth.
Somebody leave the light on. Draw the curtains as
the charming night falls all around us, mother.

    You’re ancient and thin and smoked
too many cigarettes in another life.
This valley is private and irrational. Its

    language does not have a safety-net.
Language must be translated. This valley is distant
and shifting. Its company is as toxic as
orange clouds if you didn’t surmise that.

    No one cares about you the way that
I care about you. No one is going to
love you the way that I love you. I was

    talking about this valley before you
interrupted me. This valley that is part-
decay, part-life, and faintness, and part-
electric depth, and cutting burning flight,

    and spine-envy and of the toothless
shepherd’s season. Books come from
ghosts. Ghosts, ghost, ghosts, ghost.

    How I love all of them. How I want to
dance with all of them. How I want to
kiss their cold lips. Dance away from
the winter in their arms. How I want to

    visit stations. Feast upon and treasure and
trace the winter in their veins. These
invited-uninvited guests. They’re headless
in the lamplight’s moth flame. They’re
my tribe. These friendly boys who once

    could have been anything. Now they’re
all washed away but not their sins. I tell
myself with feeling that ghosts come
from scrolls. Books on geography and nature.

    Ghosts come from books. Ghosts come
from this heroic writing. Winter studies of
the sleeping tongues of beautiful women.
This is the road taken if you forget all-of-me.


Hong Kong and prehistoric scrolls of knowledge found there
(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

    If, if, I cease to exist, or co-exist in your
world, suffering is progress. Flesh museum.
    Bone museum. Open to interpretation.

    The caves are over there, breathing. It is important
    that you know this. This information.

    I think of you in moonlight. I think of you
    when vodka spills from our glasses
    onto the shoreline of the carpeted floor.

    Onto my lovely dress. Onto the fabric of
    my skin. My body cannot keep all of this down
    under the ancient pink. Hurt has stunned

    me. Un-healed me. Wounded me. I know
    your anger. Your kind of superiority. Your self-hatred.
    It is only a reflection from youth. A twisted

    crack in the system that is called illusion.
    It is only ritual that will mark you until the
    end of time. There’s a lot to disguise.

    A violin does not only make beautiful
    music. Photographs make me long for something
    we once had. I was no bride. Had no

    groom like my mother once did. I wish
I could be beautiful like the tribe of her.
    Instead the ocean calls to me. Embraces

    all of me. My lithe limbs are green, then
    purple. Yes, the ocean calls to me like a
    lover. This morning image secret. I’m

    homeward. Tracking driftwood into
the house.
On the outside, you will find me there. And,

as the waves come in explosions, so
    does the healing. So, does Jean Rhys’
    Dominica. So, does Brazil. So, does China. 

The way through the woods
(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

    Once, once you were like Persia to
    me. For the last time, show me the ways
    to love. Cue me its despair. It’s hardship.
    This deprivation that must follow its
    demise. This starvation that must follow
    its poverty. This progress. This madness
    that eats away at my soul. It twinkles
    like noisy stars, those glam beauty queens
    with their own illustrious alibis, their lunar
    emptiness and subtle-subtle subterfuge.
    No more walking in circles for me, friend.
    No more wishing the past is gone while
sitting in at my kitchen table. I’m over that bridge.
    These stars have their own silent-silent

    moon-sick horses. Moon-sick bones.
    Butterflies in their governing confusion
    leaving scratch-marks on the seawalls
    of my stomach. The red brick walls of
    my lungs. I think your parade beautiful.
    I think you’re lovely. I think you’re
    Jupiter. Does it matter. Does it matter.  
    I think of those Caucasian stars pasted
on the ceiling of the night sky. I am ready to confess.
    Does it matter that I am only ready to
    confess now. I am trying to erase the beast-monster.
    Monster-beast that has made me suffer so.

    The forest was painted. It even had a few
    wrinkles. Age lines made out of soul.
    Spidery leaves marking the end of time, that
    hourglass country, a hive found there
    in the segmental ruins of the God-supernatural
found in the honey and milk and blood-
    work of the desert. Let’s take a road trip
    out there to where the wind blows. That
    infant deed. Can you tell. I’m dreaming
    of those Parisian-syllables. The ethereal.
    The apparition of that high mountain-top.
    That drum. That prophet. God’s lions.

The naming of parts of the river
(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

    Elijah. David. Jeremiah. Job. Jonah.
God’s chosen. There were others. There were others.
    I’ve written about this before. Falling

in love and falling to the centre of being
    out of love but I’ve never written about
    our love before. You made the veins in

    my heart splendidly narrow so that only
    the pure river could flow through it.
    The smell of roses. Old wounds forgotten.

    Only the reigning legend of the sparse-
    sparse river could get through the shepherd
before anything else. Before the blood itself. I wanted you to

    know that I’m pressed for time. That
    you’ve been a legend in my life before
    you became a legend in real life. I’m
    writing this to thank you for not taking me
    all the way to madness like the others
    did. You were the virtuous one. You were
    the one who saved me. I just thought
    that you should know that. I’ve been carrying
    that around with me for the longest time.

    You were the original authentic. Genuine.
They were fake but
I ate their cake anyway because I was

    young. I called myself victim under a
    million stars. I just wanted you to
    know that life is different for me now.

    I’m no longer running up streets and
    down streets in Johannesburg-citylife. 
    I’m authoritative when it comes to
    my feelings now. I don’t try to slip a yes in
when I mean no. I’ve learned how to say no.
    Oh, I also know what thirst is. But I
    don’t project my hate unto other people
    and I listen to others (which I never ever
    did before). This grid, I have put it away.

Sardines
(for the Dutch poet Joop Bersee)

I’m contemplating women on their way.
Women who have become wives and
have children are women built of stone
garments (and flowers). Killer attitudes.
Men who become husbands and have
children need prayer in their bones. Their
children have twigs for arms, infinitely strong
legs for winter branches. The grace of
indigenous knowledge. I know this pigment.
It is part of our story in the same way
that starvation is. Days lit by a basket of
brown eggs. Our thirst for fields of shade and
light. Street children with their whale bellies,
they know nothing of slow and easy-loving
tenderness. My name is the name of all
women. Mothers, daughters, sister. Teacher.
Primitive wanderer. Obedient warrior. I make
silence my altar. Salvation is cold here. It is
winter. It is dark out and my childhood knowledge
of singing is no more. So, Death came. It
came with the rain. With the sun light in this
room. With the morning suns. It came with
the inheritance of loss, bloom, flesh and the
ancestors. Death didn’t belong here or there,
or anywhere really. It didn’t ask to fit in, to
give birth to (children, to) bloom red coral, to
have traditions and heritage. To invent the
wheel and (solidarity). I’m here. You’re not.

About the Author:

Abigail George

Pushcart Prize nominated for her fiction “Wash Away My Sins” Abigail George is a South African blogger at Goodreads, essayist, playwright, poet, grant, novella and short story writer. She is the recipient of writing grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg, the Centre for the Book in Cape Town and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council) in East London. She briefly studied film at the Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg. She is the writer of eight books including essays, life writing, memoir pieces, novellas, plays, poetry and a self-published short story collection

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