Maybe that is why I have always wanted to write a leap year story. I haven’t. Yet. (You can read someone else’s here). But I love the idea of dates that don’t exist: 31 April (now there’s an April fool!), 31 September, 29 February 1971. One day I’m going to put that down as my birth date.
I often wish I had the gumption of Vera, the girl in Saki’s short story “The Open Window”, who could spin a tale “at short notice”. How I would liven up boring conversations with a fabricated life! Alas, I’m not swift with the tongue. My tongue is not the pen of a ready writer, as the psalmist proclaims. I am the ready writer. So, what if…
(with apology to Breyten Breytenbach aka Jan Afrika – see his poem “selfportret” from Papierblom)
Here I am in the back row
third from the left
(also the third daughter of a third daughter
my grandmother’s loneliness, my mother’s abundance)
with my hands on the shoulders
My eyes are not blue.
I was too late for the Anglo-Boer War,
the children’s graves are not mine,
and I hold my native tongue
where it trespasses on holy or bloody ground.
There is nothing extraordinary
about my webbed feet.
Visions follow me like dreams
into the houses where I sleepwalk at night.
Sometimes I talk to the trees about God
and the state of the highway, because I scribble
self-portraits on rock walls in forgotten languages
and lie in the lee of the land.
The woman who swam the Irish Sea
is not me;
indeed, I have never seen the Pole Star
though I wish on every fallen dream.
There are rings on my ankles and rings on my toes.
Someone else translated the songs
of Hildegard von Bingen from Latin.
Jane Goodall does not count me
among her friends.
I do not drink wine but sometimes
my lips are red with the sound of singing.
I was born in an ocean
like a floundering whale.
Years ago I danced the tango
and believed in a flat earth
and listened to the subsonic rumblings
of elephants in dark equatorial jungles.
Look, I know a woman with one arm
who breeds unicorns: I comb and plait
their manes at show time.
The smell of dogs doesn’t scare me.
Sometimes I break the law.
At times I have danced on the sea,
soft and cold in the moonlight.
God speaks when I am not listening.
So this is I, this is my life.
All fantasy, of course…