Love letters & other deficits

28 October 2016


The silver bracelet broke 
and was lost in the sheets.

My heart followed.

nagvissie  October 2016

20 October 2016


Therapist: Have you ever stolen anything?
Man: A coin from a fountain.
Therapist: So... you stole someone's dream.
Man: It's my dream now.

nagvissie April 2016

01 May 2014


A pigeon came into the kitchen to eat the dogs food.
It followed the light to the window instead of the door. It settled on the tap and from there threw itself against the window pane over and over again as if effort would change the outcome.

The dogs jumped at the cupboards and the boys, trying to help, found a bucket; unsure what to do with it.

When I took hold of the bird its wings were open and it resisted slightly as I folded them against its body. The flight feathers were hard in my palms and I felt its bird-bones, warm and white; the way I see them lie half-eaten on the lawn sometimes.

As my fingers closed over its breast, its heart beating higher up than I expected, it moulted.

Each short soft grey feather on its underbelly peeled out of its sheath, through my fingers and fell, still in rows and shields, into the sink.

We stood there, the bird, the boys, the dogs, and I until its heart had calmed.

Then we walked outside and it sat in my hand for a few seconds before it flew off.

nagvissie May 2014

11 April 2014

You, fish

You, fish, are not drowning.

Only I drown,
reaching for you.

nagvissie 10 April 2014

03 February 2013

Near heaven

You and I have lived running our hands along the veil,

comforted that no love is lost forever beyond our words.

Confident that it is not heaven that assigns us the past tense.

nagvissie 24 July 2011

11 January 2013

Meeting Miss Fitzpaine

Miss Fitzpaine brought her 5 year old self to breakfast, newspaper under her arm in lieu of a dolly. 
I watched her little grin as she made her way past the gentlemen’s table. 
Oom Eric had positioned himself mid-aisle, knees bent and back precariously locked as he unpacked his pantry of jams, salt and sugar from the small basket attached to his walker. As Miss Fitzpaine passed him she stopped, drew back her newspaper and with a perfectly coached tennis forehand, landed a shot on his rump. 

'Spank you on the bottom,' she shrieked and tried to run away as fast as her 82 year old body would allow.
The old men took their turns at this game every morning. Each of them had their limit of patience, depending on their being a gentleman or proximity to dementia.

I was introduced to Miss Fitzpaine for the first time at Sunday lunch, which, for most residents, required a little dressing up. 

And from Chef required considerable extra effort in making the mutton into lamb - a gift the man had not acquired over the years. God forbid the food should look in any way cut up or chewed on behalf of the residents, or the Sister-in-Charge would be inundated with complaints. 
For R25, and the pleasure of being a polite listener, I was invited to join the Old Dears for lunch. Served by Chef: Old ewe, tinned peas, sugarless pumpkin (as most residents were diabetic), a decent sized 'dood-gooi' (if-thrown-will-kill) roast potato and, what seems to be Chef's only talent, green bean-potato-onion mush, which was lovely. Pudding was, most acceptably, tinned peaches and ice cream, except that it was the middle of winter. 

'No coffee,' said Sister Dot. 'Stimulates the libido, you know.'

Miss Fitzpaine arrived at lunch with her newspaper and all three her persona's. Her additional Sunday lunch prop was a glass of dry white wine standing elegantly next to the arrangement of garden cuttings, which perhaps should have been tossed on the compost heap instead of being put in a vase. Some geranium leaves, a stalk of bougainvillea, one closed and one headless daisy. 

She was the only resident allowed the privilege of alcohol, if only to ensure peace for the course of the meal. Her five litre box of dry white was kept locked in the dispensary along with her other prescriptions.

Before the meal I had been pulled, physically, aside by Sister Dot and given my instructions on to 'How to lunch with Miss Fitzpaine'. 

Eye contact is fine. But don't, under any circumstances whatsoever, TOUCH her. She bites. She scratches. Don't contradict her or point out a lie. It will cause much swearing which will result in Mrs Parks, the Baptist woman at the next table, having to be sedated for the afternoon. Did I understand?
'Yes, Sister Dot.' The sweet woman should blink occasionally, I thought.

A quick aside about the gentlemen's table, and it’s vastly out-numbered occupants.

During my visit I developed a small heartache for the six men at that table who tended to keep their eyes down and their mouths full whenever they were in the dining room and seemed always to travel in pairs in the passages. In the afternoons they were to be found sleeping in odd chairs, wherever the sun shone in and they stayed well clear of the Morning Prayer groups, even though cake was always brought by the visiting vicars. This perhaps had something to do with the unfortunate habit of some of the lady residents bemoaning their status of widowhood and ‘if only they would be rescued by a Christian gentleman and returned to wedded bliss’.

Miss Fitzpaine’s mood was excellent this afternoon. Bouncing and light-hearted, not a swear word to be heard. She took control with a monologue immediately and held forth for some time about Mommy and pudding, childhood outings and a bad attack of the lice caught from a nasty neighbour child. She wore a tight beige crocheted beanie over her cropped white hair. Her eyes were 5 years old.
Although diagnosed with arthritis Miss Fitzpaine’s body remembered only her happiness as her young self. Her fingers curled and folded easily as she spoke. Her face animated and her mouth tightened and kissed and bubbled through the conversation. She bounced in her chair and swung her feet under the table.

All the time though, and I had been warned before the meal to watch for the change, her 5 year old eyes were on the clock. She would have to give way to the next persona. And so, with a constant swinging of her head, Miss Fitzpaine watched which table was being served, how fast the waitresses were moving, counting down to letting Sylvia out to play.

The waitresses had learnt that Miss Fitzpaine was always to be served first at her table or there would be 'hell to pop', as my hostess would say.

The very moment the main course was placed in front of her, Miss Fitzpaine rested. She pushed herself into the back of her chair, stretched her legs out under the table, crossed her ankles, laid a long, psychologically beautiful arm across the table, pulled the glass of wine towards her and lifted it by the stem. Her face relaxed. Her eyes became calm and sensual and she battered her eyelashes and touched her lips with her finger, after sipping the wine, as if to check her make-up. The illusion, the transformation was miraculous.

She believed herself to be a beauty and so I saw her.

This 30 year old persona called herself by her first name only - Sylvia. The rest was all make-believe - except perhaps for having been a beauty. Who knows.

The newspaper under her arm had now become her highly secret PhD, topic never divulged; she, an academic superstar at Columbia University; an intellectual beauty with many lovers and admirers.
She moved gracefully. Her hands became her baton. It was as if her fingers lengthened. She moved her head as if her hair was long and held her shoulders back to show off breasts she no longer had.

The monologue was over. Her conversation, although still self-centred, was vivacious and sociable. She initiated small discussions about trains that used to run from East London to Cape Town and postage stamps becoming obsolete. Then she lost interest almost immediately and insulted her table mates, smiling, '
I'm so bored here with no one intelligent to speak to'.

The newspaper was guarded every moment and although I prompted twice about Columbia, she was adept at shutting me down politely in this persona.

As her plate was taken away the next physical change began; a shrinking. She rubbed her hands, her back bent slightly and she became silent.

The other ladies took the opportunity to start their own conversations. It took almost 20 minutes for the pudding to arrive and by that time Sylvia Fitzpaine, in the navy blue tracksuit, white Pep Stores takkies and crocheted beanie had become a stooped, muttering 82 year old woman. Her body, uncomfortable; her eyes darting across the room and back to her lap, could no longer cross her ankles. Her hands were curled in and cold, tucked into her sleeves. Every now and then she would stick a short  clipped fingernail through the beanie and scratch her scalp.

'I don't know why they insist on putting this wine out, it constipates me,' she hissed.

She cut her tinned peaches with a knife and fork before she could eat them.

Just before the end of my fortnight visit I was told that Miss Fitzpaine had been moved to Frail Care. She refused to swallow any food, instead chewing and spitting it out at table, making little piles around her plate. She had lost Sylvia altogether and now only shifted between her 5 year self and her frail 82 year old self.

I went to her room to say goodbye. She didn't recognise me. I noticed the mirror in her room had been taken down; unscrewed from the wall.

nagvissie July 2010

19 July 2011

Go away, moon

nagvissie November 2016

Go away, moon.
There are no lovers here.

nagvissie 19 July 2011

26 March 2011


nagvissie Port Alfred 2011

'How much of human life is lost in waiting.'

Ralph Waldo Emerson

21 March 2011

The Picket Fence

Housewife ended by picket fence

The surrender of all aspirations for the sake of a picket fence; the relief of the suburbs; the renovatable kitchen and sex once a week. This had become her orbit. 

All academic and career efforts resigned in favour of the comfort and security implied by domesticity and love. The house with three bedrooms that held the promise of being a hearty home overwhelmed her mind and she looked past the drooping gutters, the single bathroom, and the bogged corner of the lawn.

She imagined fabric swatches and paint samples, holding hands in tile depots and covering furniture in bright white sheets for the dust.

But soon she was alone in the silent house, scrubbing at the yellow grout with a nailbrush and holding the plug down in the kitchen sink with a heavy pot.

With careful pleading and dramatic improvement in her cooking skills she managed, within the next five years, to add some children to the home she was creating. Her dreams continued to fill a small box on the kitchen counter; pages pulled from decor magazines, pamphlets and flyers for handymen and renovators.

On the last day of her life she read the paper, the news drifting in so far from her reality that it was almost a waste of money paying for the information. She had her tea standing up, looking at the kitchen sink and decided that a smaller renovation would make her feel better. One that would fit into her car and food budget but still make the necessary impact.

And that was how she came to have four lengths of ready-made pine picket fencing balanced on the headrest of her SUV that morning when the taxi rear-ended her and the picket fencing slipped forward and separated her, heart from mind.

For my dear friend, TDay

nagvissie 21 March 2011   

18 March 2011

Broken Pane

The relief when the shattering is over.
Walking over the splinters and shards of the broken pane,
grinding, with small echoes, the initial shock underfoot.

All so easily referred to in the past tense from this position.

nagvissie 18 March 2011

13 March 2011


I am drowning
out there,
between hope
and reality.

nagvissie 13 March 2011

06 March 2011

The Point

I am freedom fighter writer inquirer
I am granddaughter lover mother
I am cynic skeptic comforter
I am menial labourer and mogul

I am my only advocate and defence

I am muse sometime friend confidant

I live uncomfortably on the learning curve
I hold forth that solitude is a position of strength
Perhaps someday I will claim to belong

The edges of self-made pedestals cut and crumble

Who are you, at the point of a knife?

nagvissie 6 March 2011

03 February 2011


my hearts out on the curdled sea
my souls up on the ledge
my cheeks against the sharpest edge

what are you, my love, to me?

nagvissie 3 Feb 2011

07 January 2011

The Man on the Bench

'Your subtlety is overwhelming,' he said.
She wasn't sure whether this was a compliment or not.
She sat next to him for some time, until her mind came round to his.
She decided she would see him again.

nagvissie January 2011

Easy Life

nagvissie Strand 2010
While I was taking these photographs two Mozambican men stopped to ask why I was 'photographing trash'. In their country one could always find something beautiful to photograph they said. 
Later, when I got to the tidal pool they were there collecting the red starfish. I asked what they were going to do with them. 
'We dry them and make decorations for rich white people to put in their homes.'

nagvissie December 2010

17 December 2010

The Tea Tin

nagvissie 2010

Final instructions:
Please, for heaven’s sake, check that the Tea Tin actually has my ashes in it before throwing it over the rail. It would be a pity if the lid should open and shower Lipton’s tea bags all over the Orange River. Also, perhaps see that someone has thought to take my ashes out of the little plastic bag they’re supplied in by the crematorium. Picturing, in slow motion, the Tea Tin lid opening mid-air and the sandwich bag sliding out, little white tie-tag and all, like a bag of chicken giblets, only to plop into the water and sink to the bottom, intact for all eternity. I may as well have opted for a coffin.

Perhaps it would be best just to wedge the lid down tight and choose someone with a strong arm to turf the Tea Tin over the edge to avoid any undesirable mishaps should there be a hit and miss of the rail, or the rocks, or the river itself. We wouldn’t want those who actually do turn up to see me off ending up with grit in their teeth and ash in their eye.

I’ve been thinking about having a stone - something red; perhaps Jasper. Where it stands is not important to me, I’m sure you will all eventually agree on a position. At first I thought that I would like a well carved into it, to catch rain drops. But then it occurred to me that human nature might prevail and incite someone to pee in it. So let’s stay with the rock as it is and not tempt fate.

Ever yours,

nagvissie December 2010

22 August 2010


There will be nothing
- not even silence -
to mark the turning
of this page.

nagvissie 22 August 2010

12 August 2010

Slow Fires

Burn the old self from my bones
and build me anew
of ash and tears,
of passion and wind
in the slow fire of your voice.

nagvissie 11 August 2010

Prompted by The Layers - Stanley Kunitz

05 August 2010

Just Talk

The words just fall out of you.
'I've been thinking about you'
The words just fall out of me.
'I can't stop thinking about you.'

nagvissie 3 August 2010

21 July 2010

Love is a Whirlwind

Being in love has nothing to do with being happy. There is no connection. Love, when it comes, inspires, makes you want/need to be more than you are - makes you believe in being better that you ever thought you could be. Love is a whirlwind. Happiness is the peace you find on the other side.

nagvissie July 2010

(In response to Psychologies Magazine article July 2010: Does falling in love make us truly happy? Or does it just temporarily intoxicate us?)

10 June 2010


I will come apart in little pieces for you.
I will lie strewn among your books and papers and precious things.
I will lie with my eyes closed and my heart panting until you sit back and open your chest - break open your bones and your flesh and let me wrap myself inside you and mend that thing in you that aches.

nagvissie 10 June 2010

29 April 2010

Dorian's foot

nagvissie 2010

The nakedness of my feet.
The nakedness of walking with you
confessing my life,
my secrets rise like beautiful, telling bruises.

And then,

forgiven with such a general sweep of goodwill.

nagvissie 28 April 2010