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Liesl Jobson


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 Protection Unit

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 the Co-Op

So what you been up to young lady?

Niks, Oom.

Is that right?

Ja, Oom.

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?

Ja, Oom.

That’ll be eighty bucks.

Dankie, Oom.

Anything else?

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.

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