Gabeba BaderoonSouth Africa/USAWriting2008

Old photographs


On my desk is a photograph of you
taken by the woman who loved you then.

In some photos her shadow falls
in the foreground. In this one,

her body is not that far from yours.


Did you hold your head that way
because she loved it?


She is not invisible, not
my enemy, nor even the past.
I think I love the things she loved.


Of all your old photographs, I wanted
this one for its becoming. I think

you were starting to turn your head a little,

your eyes looking slightly to the side.


Was this the beginning of leaving?


I became fascinated by spaces and my relation to them while here at Civitella. I sat with my journals in different parts of the castle and the gardens, and saw where the sun rose and travelled across the stone, the grass, the hours. In a new place my sense of space becomes acute - this ranges from a sensitivity to very concrete sensations about buildings and their sounds, to obscure memories snagging on something I've encountered here, to longing for the solidity of what I've left behind.


Haunting these new spaces, getting lost in them, finding the places where I would write, I found some parts of the grounds shadowy and comfortably anonymous, others where the atmosphere feels formal. Some parts are languorous and some eerie. I was struck again how close the tangible and intangible are. Just turning a corner meant a stark, welcome drop in temperature, or a new quality of sound in a room. All this amounted to lived-in, quiet areas where I returned again and again.


I wrote in many places. I wrote in the kitchen, with the windows closed, then open. I wrote in the little outside stone passage between the tearoom and the turret, hearing Alem and Linda crunch the gravel as they walked beneath me, talking. I tracked the time it took for shadows to creep through the ivy against the windows of the library and soften the recessed outlines of its books. I wrote in the landing of the stairs outside Norio's room, listening to faint snippets of the 52 etudes he wrote here. I wrote in bed at 2 AM after talking to Dorn. And as I wrote, the places intensified and disappeared simultaneously, leading me into my own interior.


They made me think of home, my mind skipping to Cape Town and its landscapes of obvious beauty, and beneath that the history in the soil and the trees. Wattle groves mark the peninsula, ravenous and alien trees, quick-growing firewood of the poor, binding the loose sand of the place, its murderous past. I wrote deeply here, some of my most honest writing, the poems of my fourth collection. Now I am writing this on the day I leave this place, and again the air and sounds are turning into memories.