Wednesday Poem

Visit to my Mother

The pink and red Impatiens in her garden
look artificial. And the lawn too green. But all
of Rosebank and its malls look artificial to me.
I feel stranded among her fish forks and knives.
The family photos have congealed inside their frames.

“Do you believe in evolution?” she asks. “That’s a fact,”
I say, “it’s not a matter of belief.” She doesn’t like the fact
that humans started off in Africa. “What about
the different races? And the different cultures? How
can they work these things out from a pile of old skulls?”

The Sunday Times has a black editor, hasn’t it?”
“Yes,” I say. “That’s why it’s full of sex,” she says.
“It’s always been,” I say, “and anyway
those stories come from British newspapers.”
“It’s even more these days,” she says,

“that’s all they’re interested in – sex and thieving.”
Her racism is savage as ever.
I’ve come to see her because she’s been ill.
In intensive care. She could have died.
“They all pinch,” she says.

“Last month they pinched a car
from the parking garage.” Pinch – that’s the word
she uses. She seems quite healthy now
except she has a pinched nerve in her spine,
she has to use a wheelchair or a walking frame.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” she asks.
She’s 86. “I believe in everything,” I say.
“Well I don’t,” she says. “I’ve been so weary recently,
so old, so tired. I do believe in God, though.
I don’t know why, because I’m cynical. Do you?”

“Believe in God? Sure, but I prefer the Dao.
Less anthropomorphic.” “Less what?” The TV is on
much too loud. “I have no talent,” she says “I’ve never had a talent.”
“You’ve always been bright. And you’re still alert,” I say,
“surely you have some redeeming qualities?”

“A sense of humour,” she says, “it’s helped me stay around
this long. And I like having happy people round me.”
Maki, her live-in nurse, seems happy (and she doesn’t pinch).
My mother’s hair is getting thin. “God,” I think, “I’m almost 60,
my hair is white too, and most of it is gone.” I think to myself:

“59 years ago I was in this woman’s womb.”
Her soup spoon clatters in her plate.
“Well I’ll be gone soon, to the next world,
and none of you will miss me.” My youngest
brother Grant arrives, he’s visiting her as well.

“Why did you go into psychotherapy?” he asks me.
We’d started talking about this yesterday
when he fetched me from the airport. My mother answers
“Therapy is when you pay a lot of money to someone
to tell you that you had bad parents.”

“Things were a mess for me,” I tell him. “My life just
wasn’t working.” “But couldn’t you work out your problems
and then leave them behind?” “Yes,” my mother says, “we all
had to get on with it.” “Maybe for you,” I say to him, “but for me
the story had to be untangled first. It took a lot of time.”

Next day she says, “You’re right, I was
a bad mother. I was too anxious. I apologise.”
“That’s OK,” I say. “I accept your apology.”
“I go down on my bended knees,” she says.
“Don’t ruin it with sarcasm,” I reply.

A meeting with her accountants. Her finances are healthy.
Her car needs a service. She can’t drive anymore but
it’s there for her three sons when we visit her in Joburg.
“You can’t stop worrying about your chirrun,” she says.
That’s the way she says it. Chirrun. I kiss her on the head goodbye.

by Robert Berold
from All the Days
Publisher: Deep South, Grahamstown, 2008
ISBN: 9780958491556