Yesterday you moved into Anthony Mansions,
our old block of flats in central Johannesburg
where we Nigerians disappear. I showed you
the building that shifts and sighs in the wind,
should have been demolished long ago. Sewage
fills the basement, the corridors have cracks
that let in the light, the kitchen floors slippery
from leaking pipes. The lights flicker and go out,
and the lift stuck between the ninth and tenth floor
forever. Below it, empty mine shafts collapse,
rearranging the earth. The building judders
during earth tremors, promises to swallow us up,
to secrete us one kilometre below in the Earth’s
hot belly. Anxiety Mansions, you said, would be
a better name. We cannot leave because the street
outside is occupied by Onward Christians
in green berets firing salvos up the stairwell.
We walk along the bookshelves until your mother
gathers us up and points out the miniature poses
of aggression. Toy soldiers. Plastic moulds.
Their flames are flowers; their cartridges, empty
blanks. But Auntie, those flowers – Strelitzia,
South African flowers – they eat children.
I have seen the bones.
At the Home of a Colleague from the Child
I would like to hang my face, Inspector
upon your wall, beside the carved masks,
reproductions of Africa’s ancients – hunter, warrior,
sage and seer – and deposit beside dried flowers
in your vast ceramic pot, my withered heart,
my brittle bones; so that I might reveal
how scarred I am by the work we do,
a tiger without teeth; scared to confess
that like the aesthetically pleasing
synthetic vegetables in your wicker basket
decorating your railway sleeper patio furniture
my mock skin is too thin.
Your chairs are solid,
like you are, Inspector
when gathering clues of another abducted child,
when noting in cool black ball pen
another infant’s ruptured rectum.
I can no longer keep my face affixed
with idle chatter: Nice day, Sargeant.
How’s the puppy, Captain?
And your diet, did you skip your carbs today?
I need another colour rinse.
My fear, like my roots,
like my sixteen-week bump
is starting to show.
Vocal Warm-up at
So what you been up to young lady?
Is that right?
How’s your ma doing?
She’s home from the hospital but she never sleeps,
so she wakes me in the middle of the night saying,
Fern, you must audition for the lead role in the opera,
they want a lyrical soprano for the role of Lucia,
you’d be perfect, and Pa comes to put her back to bed,
he tells her, no Nellie, there’s no opera anymore,
the State Theatre is finished doing opera,
they only do ‘Phantom’ now and she clucks her tongue,
shakes her head, yet the next night it’s the same
and in the morning when we wake up she’s boiling
three pots of bones doing vocal warm ups and Pa
rolls his eyes and goes to fix a hole in the garage roof,
or so he says, but there’s not really a hole, not one
you can see, while Ma’s grilling the corn black
while she sings “Bel-la Si-gno-o-o-o-o-o-o-rah!”
with perfect pitch, gouging holes out the back
of cucumbers with the potato peeler, to let
the air in, she says, like when she’s frothing
up egg white with the beater till it’s stiff
and she’s drenched in perspiration, air creates
overtones from the nasal cavity, but the new pills
Doctor Bezuidenhout gave her don’t really work,
so Pa has hidden the razors, all the belts and the sharp
knives which makes it tricky to cook, not that one
cooks with belts, but you know what I mean, Oom?
What would your ma like today?
Four bottles of Tylenol.
Is that right?
That’ll be eighty bucks.
Nee, Oom, dankie, Oom.
Liesl Jobson teaches at
Sacred Heart College, Johannesburg. Her writing has appeared in
South African literary journals Timbila, New Coin, New
Contrast and Botsotso and is forthcoming in Oasis,
Cacophony, Wild Strawberries, Gator Springs Gazette, Smokelong
Quarterly (USA), lichen literary journal (Canada) and
The Journal (UK). Online publications include
Exquisite Corpse, Pindeldyboz, FRiGG and Opium. She
is currently a student of the MA in Creative Writing programme
of the University of the Witwatersrand.