This is based on a piece that I wrote nearly three years ago. It is an African memory.
I am a brooding cargo transported from a past that had privilege based on the colour of my skin.
Is it possible to reject the context of a childhood and yet, somehow, still inexplicably have the sweetest of memories of a time that seemed to last forever?
I think it is.
When I look back – probably too often – I am pulled and punched by a land and a time that, for me, has a wonderment and a deep and lasting pain.
I grapple with the paradox.
The time that I cast my mind to is most probably rose-tinted: I want to say out loud that the land can never be – for it has been there for eons and its beauty is beyond the saying of these words; millions of eyes have surveyed it; they, too, have been transported of an evening by the sight of the sun falling into a land with a night sky that is now every inch my cargo.
I draw on the past – its shape and form becomes the terrain to understand experience. It is my scout as I enter into the unknown territory.
The landscape of memory is drawn in crayons of a child who runs down the road towards the past and says the unsaid. It sings in a dream.
The rocks balance in the wide-blue of the skyline of a countryside that cartwheels into my dreams in a playful grin of teenagers out veld-bashing. This is the Matoba Hills.
Records play on the turntable, singing my life. I ride on a song back to another country where an awkward youth scowls back at his old self. He is alienated from the group. Wide collars and big hair somehow still don’t make him cool enough.
I flinched. He told me, trying to belittle, I was gun-shy. Too fucking right. I can still feel the hard kick of the rifle. I shudder in memory. I am not made for this.
This piece also appears in placesthatsing.wordpress.com
It’s startling to know that everywhere you read, there is a consciousness of the importance of being present with yourself, to take out time for yourself and to create space, even amidst all that we have to do.
Omid Safi writing in On Being says with great clarity about being present when he sets out to demonstrate the importance of being present with ourselves:
Presence means to have the fullness of who we are with us.
What does it mean to pray with this Presence?
So much of our lives are spent in a fractured state of heart.
We are, too often, scattered.
We speak about being scatterbrained. The truth of the matter is that the scatteredness is much more systematic. We are scattered at every level: body, soul, mind, spirit.
We do this to ourselves.
We throw ourselves to the past, often clinging to a past pain and trauma.
Or, we hurl ourselves towards the future, attaching ourselves to a hope for the future, or fear of losing something.
We are in the past, or in the future, everywhere but here.
It’s not always easy to stay here for a while in the present. To be awake to the present and lean into it. There is so much that has happened and so much to think ahead about.
David Wagoner argues similarly about being present with the Here in his poem Lost. I love the bit where he says ‘Wherever you are called is Here/And you must treat it as a powerful stranger …’
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree of a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest know
Where you are. You must let it find you.
We sit with stuff for so long, feeding it with what I call a raw red bone of memory. It’s that open wound where you can see the bone and the torn flesh. The pain lies bare before you.
The healing comes with the letting go.
Easy to say ‘let go’, huh? Falls off the lips. Let go. Move from the lips to the act of letting go. It’s not a cover up. It’s not a shutting down and being forgetful of it. There is no escape from the stuff and the pain. Sit with it. Face it. Feel it.
But as you feel it – that raw red bone of memory – be gentle with yourself, be kind to yourself. Stop blaming. Start loving yourself. Easy to say, ‘start loving yourself’. Hardest thing to do, taking care of yourself.
When this happens you can let go.
Breathe and meditate, being awake to what you want to let go. Get in touch with your body. Move from your head and into your body.
Breathing helps ventilate, gets oxygen into the raw red bone. Get under it and into it. It will be uncomfortable and almost unbearable times – but be gentle and be open and the feeling with be expansiveness and always do it without judgement.
Drop the story around the raw red bone of memory. Drop it like a stone into a vast pond. Watch it sink through the blueness-clearness of the water. As it drops you are letting go without blame or judgement.
Be kind to yourself.
My mother said you were God’s own country. I now know why.
I write words of love in the sand of places where we roamed amongst the rocks and rivers. You can see them in our footprints and hear our songs. I see your sky and dust. I hear your laughter. You are on the line and you whisper dreams. You talk of our ghosts. We are often raw in memory.
So, I slide into a dream of a place where we planted a treasure of youth. I arrive at the place in the the early light of memory. The dream is not fixed but rather is infused and layered: you lie naked in the slip-stream. Rivers run through you and the salty air catches my skin in the night storm. I am your prisoner. It is not possible to be released. And the memory dances to the next tune: you breathe in the valley below. The willow trees outline the river and I can hear you call out a dream of Africa. It haunts me still.
I want to see you tonight dressed in the stars of the southern sky, playing the insect chorus and I want to feel your falling warmth in the end-day on my skin. You say the words out loud in an orchestra of strings. You are the sky played on the earth with wind that lights on the morning Venus star.
I found a memory discarded on a table where I sat for hours dreaming of being in another place. I want to return. And as the midnight hour descends, memories of tubing in hot-valleyed rivers surprise me with their intensity.
I remember how you took my breath away. I could see forever into the blue hills seated under the sky. I am standing in the clouds. Your thorn trees and brown skyline sit under my skin. You surprise me often with the way you collide with my present. You call often. Why?
The last time I said goodbye to you I knew I would never see you again. You didn’t even notice. You were so concerned with that phone call from her and, once again, said (without saying it) that she, who you’d known for five minutes was more important than me who had known you all my life.
It was that weekend you stopped walking. You thought you had till Christmas. You were going downhill so fast it was a matter of weeks.
It was that weekend when I had it all sorted and made my peace with you. That peace that I made unilaterally was made from sand and straw. It was delusional. Fake. Not authentic. As I walked out the gate and headed home to a distant city, I said out loud that you had made it so easy for me to say goodbye. (I cried writing this the first time because it has been exposed as simply not true).
I lied and I am not lying any more. You made it so fucking hard, Dad, and the pain that I tried to smother in bravado is still raw like it happened only yesterday not in 1996. And, what is more, the peace with you that I yearn for is still in a faraway country not contactable by phone.
Written in 2013, I no longer feel this pain that I felt so strongly, Dad. I am at peace as I hope you are.