At times, the air is heavy, to carry us.

When I choose to hold on, when I choose to give life another shot, when I choose to take little of the air that seems too heavy for my chest to bear, I remember that mine is a journey that seemed impossible. For the past couple of months, I have been having a tough time putting my thoughts onto paper, praying for grace, and giving thanks. Life has been going on. While everything has been in motion, it felt as though I was not moving, yet everything inside me has been on a battle of its own, while my body remains a numb battlefield. It has been hard to see beauty in light- to imagine another day as being a sign of grace and love. I think I have been afraid of the light more than I have been about the dark, though I wanted neither. For so long, I have tried to numb everything with words. When I am in love, I write. When I am going through heartache, I write. When I am angry, I write. Words have been a place warmer than arms that have embraced me. They have been a place of refuge when a war is happening in my chest, and the ocean of love tries to calm down the fiery storm inside. But, I was afraid that all of that had been gone missing. I have looked for words to put this turmoil on a page. I have looked inside my mother’s eyes to find the peace to ink everything down. I have asked for my old lover to hold me so that I may write again. I have knelt down, seeking the face of God, and I could not utter any words. There is a time when the soul feels like an empty space. When the chest that carries your heart feels like an empty field, and there is a still noise you can only hear when you’re alone. There is a time when all feels so familiar, yet so foreign. There is a time you want to step outside yourself, discard that body, and pray for a new heart and mind. There is a time when all that used to make you stand out: your smarts, skills and smile, seem to be theatrical garments you put on so that you may no longer be foreign to anyone who used to love you. But, it is okay to want a new heart. You’re permitted to seek new light. You’re permitted to be afraid of that light. You’re obliged to be numb. You need no one’s permission to be still. You need no one’s permission to want to stop living. Even for a small second. You’re allowed to let go. You must let go. You must say no. Perhaps you may not make sense to many. Even if it means losing a crowd, let your words be the only audience you need. May every comma remind you of the peace you need. May every period remind you of your wholeness. Though sometimes fragmented, be broken for yourself.

You’re not allowed to be a victim. You’re forbidden from pitying yourself.

make him wonder.

 

and when you hold your new lover,

when your breaths become the same,

your heartbeats in sync like a lyric,

and the you feel. your old love oozing. out of your pores

claw into your new lover.

may the venom of your old lover

the poison of his attachment.

be confused in the bond of your new lover.

may he wonder, if the devil is playing games with him.

 

this greed. this misery. what if?

 

what if i am the one
 in need of healing?

what if i love you,

so much, that i still love him

what kind of hell will that be

this greed my heart has?

what sort of misery,

will this heart of mine, continue to endure,

what manner of lies

can I continue justifying?

what kind freak show,

will my life be?

how can i not love you,

the way you should be-

you’re the salvation

and i am just a man,


a little boy,

trapped inside, this body

i die, each time I think of loving you. less

i drown. each time I think of losing you

give me your heart.

give me your heart.

why is yours so pure unlike mine

just an empty vessel

never big enough to contain you

large enough to be hollow

how can I not love you in this pain

i am trying to heal

 

Some day, you will meet your home–

There’s a sound I will always remember. The sound of a body bag and a mortuary crane.

Oh, how the yellow zips clipped and crackled my chest,

Closing off things i never thought were open–

Like the memories of you that I always cherish,

Like the sound of your voice when laughter bursts of your lips,

Oh how they were zipped–

The sound of the crane cracking the floor–

Oh how I wanted to curse the ground.

To insult it for forming you and then taking you–

That sound, the cracking sound,

Sounded like the piercing sound of your cry.

Oh, how it pained me when you wept:

I remember you,

I carry you,

In me and

In places I will continue to enter.

 

Sometimes I cry,

Sometimes I wonder,

Sometimes I cry in wonder.

Of memories we would have made

Of things I could have done for you

Of lessons on love

On love for family and for God

On love for home before self

Of unwavering hope

Oh, how that sound haunts

Sometimes in my dreams when I see you

Sometimes on doors I close

Reminding me of your voice

Oh! how I miss you

Oh! how home is no longer home

Oh! how I died when you died

Sometimes, I wish you were my here–

Perhaps, someday, I will meet my home–

For in you home is better hope

For home is you.

Cry, my beloved country (a poem)

Cry, my beloved country

For your children have forsaken you.

They have placed themselves above freedom

Turned their children to serpents,

Cry, my beloved country,

For your children weep with you, too.

 

Cry, my beloved country–

For your children no longer have a home,

For men have placed duty of themselves before you,

For they have put price tags on their children,

For their homes are run by strangers,

For these strangers run their homes with familiarity and contempt,

For your children, wept

Cry, my beloved country

 

Woe is us children of the soil,

Woe is us children of no birth,

Woe is us children who seek a haven,

Woe is us children who run and seek a home,

Cry, my beloved country.

 

For your springs are dry,

And your soil is barren,

Your clouds are sad,

And your wind is warm and still,

Cry, my beloved country–

Wrap yourself into my arms.

Let me remind you that you’re a wonder,

Let me remind you that you’re a force many seek to reconcile with,

Let me tell you about the names I want to call you:

Names that will remind you of your broken yet brave wings,

Soaring high although your kings want to cut you short,

Let me remind you of your beauty:

Your mesmerizing beauty;

Your beastly beauty mystifying mine fearful heart.

 

Oh, cry, my beloved country,

For I know your heart is full with sorrow,

For I know the heaviness in your chest, inflaming your soul,

For your eyes are blinded with fury,

For I know you have wept, enough

Cry, Cry, my beloved country.

 

For we are not worthy of your skies,

For we are not worthy of your embrace,

For we are not worthy of your grace.

For we are the ones who broke you–

Into many pieces of evil

Beloved, if not tears let fury fall upon us.

Teach to love one another.

Let your fury engulf and renew us,

Let your fury be our hope,

Hope to change and honor you.

 

Maybe your tears will flood the soil,

And we will forgive.

Maybe your tears will spoil the soil–

And we will appreciate the wind,

Cry, my beloved country

Cry, child of the earth and the blue waters

Sibling of many nations.

Bleed Majesty,

Forgive us.

Oh, how we want your forgiveness:

How we want to honor you,

How we are not worthy of your honor,

Cry, my beloved country

Here— Cry,

Use my hands of clay and wipe thine face,

Stare into my fearful eyes and find restoration.

Take mine arms and find mine arms,

Cry. Weep.  Heal,

My beloved country

 

I love a boy, and he left me– a poem

“My hobbies include having conversations with myself– 

Like how I could approach a boy today, 

Without scaring him or sounding too dumb, 

Without outsmarting him, because that would be too proud, 

Like how I could introduce myself, without talking about the boy, I once loved

Or the boy I was once was. 

But I can’t do either without talking about the other,

Hello, my name is Belo Writes. 

I have tendency of writing poetry during serious matters– 

Like the time, I wrote a poem when a preacher said I am going to hell.

You see, that was my favorite poem: 

Because at that time, I was silent, 

I was alone, and I was afraid.

Let me just say, I love fear; 

It reminds me of all the things I could do in silence,

Like loving myself without negotiating my worth. 

But I am also a boy that once loved– 

Perhaps more than he should have; 

I call him at night, 

At least I do that in my dreams when he doesn’t pick up my calls.

Sometimes I write him poems: 

I write about his lisp, and the clutch of his lips,

I write about his loud silence, 

Like he is thinking of how best to hurt me next.

Sometimes I laugh at him and at myself,

But mostly at myself– 

About how I was such a fool,

Foolish enough to love, 

To love in such a lazy manner,  

To miss his scent and his touch.

I love a boy, and he left.”

The Purposes of Writing from a Lonely Place

 

When I was a little boy, when I still dreamt of being a lawyer like many of my peers at that age, my inquisitiveness bothered my mother. “Mama,” I asked her one day, “don’t you think six children are a lot?” She gasped some air, tossed her hand in the air and laughingly said, “I wanted to make sure none of you end up lonely.” Of course, that is the most logical response to provide an eight-year-old with ill-conceived view of the world; and still thought babies were dropped by airplanes and the woman with the quickest grip caught many. That logic made me think that my mother was always on the lookout for airplanes so that I may have more siblings– therefore loneliness was impossible. I am born in a family of six: one older brother, two older sisters and two younger sisters– making me susceptible to “the middle child syndrome.” A house full of children never got rid of my feelings of loneliness. But therein was a place I felt whole– in the lonely hours when my siblings huddled around one another, I wrote. Sometimes I would write letters to my father knowing that he would never be able to read them, or love letters to a girl I had a crush on (or at least that is what boys my age did then) or wander off into empty yet therapeutic words.

 

It is in the alienation of body and my thoughts from my family and the world that kept my pen moving. By the time I was thirteen I had compiled poems in Setswana and English. I wrote my first short story when I was fifteen. I was working on a play for some time and I gave up on it. I never thought my loneliness would be an integral part of existence and liberation. It is often said that “writing introduces one to a different world,” and that remains unquestionable for my journey as a writer and the way in which I create my craft. I do not write because everyone else is doing it, I write because I find undeniable beauty in the way words can remain still on paper but move the heart.

 

I am of the view that the world is a lonely place. The loneliness in which we are born into tends to make us fixated with grouping things, and ensuring that they “belong.” We may look at the way the stars are held by the sky and consider the way in which they form a pattern and call it a constellation. We assume that the existence of a pattern suggests “rightful belonging” and this is the same with my life. The fact that my parents worked out an algorithm with regards to the age gap between me and my siblings, the existence of that pattern, suggested that we would belong together. The assumption was that there would be no kind of isolation. Loneliness would be foreign. But who wonders if the moon is envious of the stars forming a pattern? Does anyone ever bother to invite the moon to disturb the hegemony of belonging? Amid that isolation and “otherness,” that is where my writing resides. Isolation enables you to escape from yourself and observe the world in which you live in. I fundamentally believe it is the role of the writer to become an eye for the world when everyone is comfortable with belonging. It is in isolation where one can question the premise of belonging and its impediments on existence. Whilst grouping is a survival tactic, a writer thrives because of their observing nature. When we stop observing, we stop questioning; and therefore, we cannot create.

 

Whilst isolation enables one to observe, the art of creation depends on vision. I was once told that writers live in a figurative world: the world full of metaphors, similes, hyperboles and puns, which they find refuge in when they express themselves. I find this to be true. Carl Phillips adds that “the ability to see in terms of metaphor is a special kind of vision.” Metaphors as the writer’s lens enable one to give words, in their empty form, life. When words have a shape, a smell, and can evoke an emotion, they become a place of refuge. We write because we are seeking a refuge– a place to be safe and alone with our thoughts. A place in which the mind refuses to connect with anything but the tangible words on paper.

 

The sacredness of the connection between the writer and the words, is the space where truth is uncompromised and revealed. It is the writer’s responsibility to tell the truth. We can best tell the truth when are able to confront it, deal with it and accept it. The misery about the truth is that it is often like a stepparent– too often, the immediate reaction is to ignore their existence, lash out in anger towards them because of the discomfort they will create, and eventually understand that there is a valid reason they are around. The truth exists to create immediate discomfort, although it often liberates. The truth, at least for me, is that writing is a place where truth resides. We best tell the truth when we are honest with ourselves. Honesty with one’s self through introspection; Stacey D’erasmo engages the idea of truth and introspection by exploring Rainer Maria Rilke’s counsel: “Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”

 

The misfortune about belonging is that a sense of individuality is limited, or ceases to exist. Stars hang on the sky but we cannot set them apart because of their “togetherness.” But I think the moon is a star that refused to be held back by identity and belonging. We can tell the different phases of the moon because of its loneliness in the sky. The way in which it occupies space and how it never competes with the sun. The moon is sure of itself. A lonely place that enables a writer to be isolated enables the writer to occupy space remain concerned with ensuring that their words continue to stand on paper and exude energy. The benefit of introspection is that it allows you to “go into yourself” and teach yourself ways on becoming an honest version of yourself with the truth and that hones a clearer vision.

 

As an autobiographical writer, the truth needs to rest on paper like the sun rests upon the sky without compromise. In The Art of Fiction, Nicholson Baker complicates the idea of autobiographical writing; he adds that he “[likes] a high ratio of true events to made-up events or rearranged events.” I find this to be an intriguing idea– it begs the question: can the truth be made up? I think of it in terms of writing fiction: maybe I will take a true event from my life and make it someone else’s reality. Characters are all made up but they have some truth in them– the way in which we can feel them, hear them and express emotion towards them. I think that is where the truth become complicated. For me, there is no absolute truth, the truth is subjective; but how do express the subjectivity of the truth as something objective? Like Baker, I find the truth to be an exhilarating place where a writer can extract their craft, and this can be truly achieved when a writer learns ways to embrace loneliness and exercising agency by singling themselves out.

A Soothing Song & a Cliche

Maybe I will seek your sunsets.

Maybe I will hide ‘neath your air–

Your dazzling, peaceful and assuring air.

The smoothness of your voice,

The assurance of your eyes,

The forgiving embrace of your arms,

The mystifying smile,

Which knocks me dead.

Your bewitching sight,

Softening mine heart of stone.

 

If your love be not enough,

What shall be?

If your eyes be not assuring,

Where will I find mine peace?

If joy be absent in your laughter,

What sound shall I dance to?

If mine heart can’t love anymore,

How best shall I live?

 

Aren’t you a prayer,

And a soft whisper?

Aren’t you joy

And assurance?

Aren’t you free of contradictions

And complete with concessions?

Aren’t you an evening star,

And forgiving light of dawn?

Aren’t you the sun,

And the strength of my youth?

Aren’t you just a beautiful breeze–

A wildfire in a winter veld,

A soothing song full of joy?

Aren’t you just a cliche?

On Anxiety (a poem)

If I were to talk about my anxiety,

I would tell you that it’s not mine–

But it calls me its owner.

At times it keeps me captive,

Some nights it makes me cry,

Some days it makes me frown,

But at night it becomes light,

It makes me write–

And never holds me tight.

At times it’s a bitter lover–

Blames me for everything,

Never makes sense of anything.

If I were to tell you about my anxiety–

I would tell you that it wraps me around its arms,

At night it feels warms,

At noon it makes me cry.

If I would tell you about my anxiety,

I would tell you that it made me want myself more,

To write letters to myself

To deliver myself from the depth of insanity.

If I were to tell you about my anxiety

I would tell you that it makes me numb

To pain–

Puts me in constant panic

Reminds me of past ills,

Makes me hard to love.

If I would tell you about my anxiety,

I would tell that it is not mine:

I would tell you that it is like a virus,

I would tell you that it is like a demon.

 

If I were to talk about my depression,

I would tell you to spare your sympathy,

For someone worth saving.

Because I am not a rescue project:

I am a wild fire.

I consummate and change.

I am a battlefield.

I am beaten.

I am a war-zone.

I am bloody and not worth saving–

If I were to tell you about my anxiety

I would tell you it keeps me going.

Tributes in Paradise

It is said that we speak and see the dead when we are close to our death. We can touch them without anyone seeing. We can hear and feel them without anyone noticing. The educated ones call this hallucination. The traditional ones call this a deep connection with the dead. But it is a paradise before the uncertainty of the afterlife. It is the clearness of the blue-blue waters, the white sand, and white cloaks. It the face of your young beautiful wife that reminds you of your youth– the vanilla skin, the heavy arms and her bewitching smile and of course, her beautiful-angered-happy laughter. Therein, you’re much more alive before you are dead.

You begin to laud your youngest daughter. She reminds you of your wife after all– how she wakes up before you, to put your rooibos tea by your bedside. The way in which she prepares morogo wa thepe and bogobe ba ting. Or the way her skin crawls when she sees any kind of filth. Her bickering makes you happy and at times it angers you. It reminds you of the taste of death you want to feel– to lay down next to your wife like you used before old age wiped away your youth and took her away.

You laud her with your anger. She is beautiful, isn’t she– her freckled face so pure and loving. Her hunched back so strong and stern– bearing all the pain of your insults on her back. She is the one you love the most and hate the most. The one you tell secrets; like Abraham to Isaac, only unfortunate because she never seemed like the rightful heir in the eyes of your other children. She is the one whom you were warned that she was not yours. You wondered how a child so courageous just like you could not be yours. Of course, her skin never matched yours: your darkness absorbed the sun and hers was a skin so light that even the slightest tap on the shoulder reddens her. But she was all yours in nature and character. Her determination and hard work. Her welcoming laughter and wide smile. Her willingness to put others before herself. The one whom your mother moved the heavens for when you could not even give her the soil of the earth. She carries neglect and void in her spirit.