In our Apostrophes section, (614) Magazine attempts to highlight some of the incredible literary talent that lives, works, and writes in Columbus. If you are an interested writer, please direct your submissions (1,000 words max for prose, 300 words max for poetry,) along with a brief bio, to email@example.com.
An excerpt from Out of Sync
By Belinda Nicoll
WHEN I turned six, we moved to a farm outside the village of Magaliesburg, an area surrounded by mountains, valleys, rivers, trees and small wildlife. My father’s long-awaited dream. My fantasy. My mother’s nightmare. That part of my childhood was so removed from reality I might as well have grown up in the Other World. I remember living by the motto run free, play hard, and imagine the impossible. It’s that world I still escape to in my mind whenever life turns unkind—my favorite playground, where the Magalies River soaked the lower rim of our farm; where the wind and clouds gathered round the poplars to chitchat with the sparrows; where the sun and rain teased the rabbits and porcupines from their burrows; where I built fortresses of sticks and stones with my best friends, Charlot and Evelyn; where I could be, just be, whatever I wanted to be.
I’ll never forget the good times I had with Charlot and Evelyn. We grew up practically like sisters. Their parents were our farm workers, and the family lived in a stone and mud house at the foot of the koppie behind our homestead. They were different from my other friends—they didn’t question the existence of the Serpent Goddess (an imaginary snake charmer), and they were black. My father said they were black because Africa was black and that black people had been around much longer than we had.
We fitted well together. Charlot was one year older than I and I was one year older than Evelyn. The world was our playground. We always danced with the Serpent Goddess at sunrise, play-acting our worship of nature. During the day, we hid in caves and dongas. At night, we stalked rabbits and counted the stars in the heavens. We played other games too. One incident stands out in my mind, because it’s so telling of South Africa’s cultural intricacies of that time. The three of us were sitting under the willow next to the dam, paging through my mother’s Huisgenoot magazine.
Charlot tapped on a page, saying, “Look at the princess…ooh…so beautiful.”
“Don’t be silly, man,” I said. “That’s a bride; my sister dressed like that when she got married.”
“I wanna be a bride,” she said, cooing like a turtle dove.
“Me too,” Evelyn said. “Let’s make a wedding.”
“We’ll need music and food,” I said.
“We’ll need a dress,” Charlot cooed again, still tapping the picture.
A plan started germinating in my head. “Tomorrow…let’s play at your kaia. You get the food; I’ll get the dress. We can make music with sticks and tins.”
I could hardly wait to get home from school the next day, hoping Charlot and Evelyn had kept to the bargain. The biggest trick was to dodge their mother, Liesbet, my surrogate mother who was in charge of our household since my mother worked full-time managing a grocery store in support of my father’s wish to live on a farm. I pretended to need rest before starting my homework; instead, I closed my bedroom door and sneaked out the window with my stash.
“Ooh, it’s beautiful,” said Charlot. “It’s your sister’s wedding dress, né?”
“Don’t be silly, man. It’s my mother’s lace curtains.”
Evelyn draped one of Liesbet’s hand-dyed African batiks over a flat rock behind the kaia, balanced a jug of Kool-Aid on it, opened a packet of Willards Chips, and emptied it straight onto the ancient batik. Charlot yanked the lace curtains from me.
“I go first,” she said.
“Aikôna! It’s my mother’s curtains. I go first.”
They wrapped the yards and yards of lace around me, starting at my neck, then over my head, underneath my arms, back around my shoulders, and around and around my waist. They tied a knot at the back for the last yard or so to form a train. Standing back to survey their handiwork, their faces crunched up in dismay.
“Sies man, you look like a spook.”
“You’re too white: skin, hair, dress…sepoko…madimabe,” they muttered in Sotho.
They promptly unwrapped me, adamant not to invite bad luck by having a wedding with a ghostly bride. Next we wrapped Charlot; there was no doubt that the fine lace on her ebony skin cut a splendid bridal image. We spent an ecstatic afternoon mimicking a picture-book wedding, drumming an empty Frisco coffee tin, singing, dancing, sipping Kool-Aid, and munching Willards Chips. I returned the lace curtains, torn and dusty, to the linen cupboard before my mother got home.
“You weren’t in your room all the time, né?” Liesbet said, but I knew her warning would go nowhere, as she always kept my unorthodox comings and goings a secret.
That evening at the supper table, I decided to share my thought of the day with the family. “When I get married one day, I wanna be a black bride.”
My mother choked on a roast potato, my father launched the saltshaker when he slammed his fist on the table, and my brothers burst out laughing.
“I don’t know where we got this child.” My mother wagged a finger at me. “I want you to stop fooling around at the kaia.”
“Black’s black, and white’s white, and that’s that,” said my father.
At that stage of my life, I was blissfully unaware of my country’s politics. I belonged in black Africa, white roots and all—that was my home, a magical playground, where Charlot, Evelyn, and I continued to celebrate life alongside the Serpent Goddess. My heart aches for not knowing what became of my childhood friends. Did they get married and have children? How did they celebrate the release of Mandela? Are they liberated from the poverty that still plagues South Africa? That’s not the type of former connection you can look up on Facebook; when people moved on in those days, they didn’t stay in touch with their servants.
Belinda Nicoll is originally from South Africa. She expatriated to the U.S. in 2001 and has been a citizen since 2010. She holds a BA degree in the Social Sciences and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She is the author of a memoir about expatriation that explores the impact of change on relationships. Her published works have appeared in various literary magazines and an anthology. She works as a freelance writer and teacher of creative writing. Her work-in-progress are a novel and a creative writing guidebook.
Arriving as an expat in the U.S. on the tragic day of September 11th, Belinda has experienced how quickly adventure and excitement can devolve into chaos and despair. Her memoir, set in post-apartheid South Africa and post-9/11 America, captures the ten years following the national disaster.
Belinda’s book is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She’s available for speaking engagements and creative writing workshops. She blogs at www.myriteofpassage/wordpress.com.
The day they told me you would never be
is the day I finally knew your name.
I would have named you Grace.
Like Kelly. Like Slick.
Unlike me, awkward, clumsy.
I would have named you
unscathed by fire, unbowed by pressure.
The eloquence unknown by my own knotted tongue.
I would have named you Peter.
Meaning “Rock.” Like Saint.
Like Paul, and Mary, or Frampton.
I would have named you the strong, hard
roll through the ages.
Named you the solid and steady,
that is so unlike my own shifting earth.
I would have named you Simone,
taught you to live loud while knowing
how to appreciate silence.
I would have named you Dempsey,
told you to stand proud, but know
the limits of your pride.
I would have named you light,
held you against my shadow.
I would have named you laughter
named you fearlessness and Joy.
I would have named you everything
that I am not.
I would have named you possibility
but I have already been baptized barren.
I would have named you life if
I had not already been named fallow ground.
I would have plucked your name from the breadth of heaven—
I would have gathered your name from the depths of the ocean—
But my womb is a dead star named failure,
And my body a stagnant sea known only by what might have been.
I would have named you the world—
Worked hard to put it into the palm of your hand.
I would have named you Peter.
I would have named toy Grace.
And I would have been named… Mom.
Alexis-Rueal is a Columbus poet (Columbus by way of Marion, Ohio, and Kentucky). She is the author of a chapbook, “Letter to 20,” and was a member of the Writers’ Block 2013 National Poetry Slam team. When not writing, she shadowcasts movies with The Midnight Shift and crafts.
What Holds It Together
By Steve Abbott
South Side hands are weathered hands,
a truckload of shovels with worn handles.
They rise in pairs from churning slag
stomping molten two-steps on a patch of bluegrass.
These are hillbilly hands, Hungarian hands,
German hands, Delta hands, stories and
torn fingernails framed in black and blood.
These hands move freight cars like checkers,
shuffle swing shifts like worn decks of cards.
The hands of the South Side open the doors
of St. Ladislas with the same reverence
they pop Budweisers, drinking it all in.
They mumble their way out of empty pockets
and crumple cigarette papers in battered fingers.
South Side hands pierce heaven in storefront churches
and catch gray rain in fleshy cups, raise children
around the clock with clang of drawl on steel.
They plant daffodils and pull engines with shared faith,
harvest hope from secondhand stores
and serve it up with sausage gravy.
South Side hands open like wings over country roads
splashed with eternal autumn and banjo twang.
They hoist picket signs when it comes to that,
sandblast stubble from young faces and
darkened facades from aging Victorians.
The hands of the South Side braid dreadlocks with towing chain,
bend salvaged pickups into street signs, build houses
and board them up without changing expression.
These hands hammer “Sixteen Tons” to subwoofers
wrapped in pedal steel, breathe the rhythm of drill press.
They can’t ignore how it is and what it took to get here.
They remember who lent a hand, who lost one,
and know more than any newscast.
The hands of the South Side feel more than they touch.
Steve Abbott is a founding member and a coordinator of The Poetry Forum, the city’s longest-running poetry series and one of the Midwest’s best known venues since 1984. An associate editor of Evening Street Review, he was awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship in 1993 and an OAC residency in 1994. His chapbook A Short History of the Word was published in 1996, and Greatest Hits 1984-2003 appeared in 2006. He has a new book forthcoming from Kattywompus Press in 2014.