s
s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GO TO MLC HOMEPAGE

MLC

 

 

 

 

 

ONLINE BOOKSTORE FEATURED TITLES

 

Best of Irish Poetry 2009
Best of Irish Poetry 2010

Editor: Matthew Sweeney

 

 

Songs of Earth and Light

Songs of Earth and Light
Barbara Korun poems translated by Theo Dorgan

 

 

Done Dating DJs
Done Dating DJs
by Jennifer Minniti-Shippey
Winner, 2008 Fool for Poetry Competition

 

 

Richesses

Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
Edited and translated by Aidan Hayes

 

 

 

 

Munster Literature Centre

Create your badge

 

 

 

 

 

Arts Council

 

 

Cork City Council

 

 

Foras na Gaeilge

 

 

Cork County Council

   

 

 

RÍONA JUDGE McCORMACK

 

 

 

Ríona Judge McCormack

Ríona Judge McCormack has spent eight years working in various fields of international development – human rights, peace, HIV/AIDS and public policy – in Ireland, Cambodia and South Africa. She is currently shortlisted for a Hennessey Literary Award, and has been shortlisted for both the Fish International Short Story and Flash Fiction Prizes. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in New Irish Writing, Sassafras Literary Magazine, the Irish Times and F(r)iction. She currently lives in Johannesburg, where she is completing her first novel. Twitter: @rionajmc

 

 

 

From far away

for Simphiwe

 

 

We sit in the shade of a lone Jacaranda tree and wait. Dust rising on another South African dawn, raw sunlight licking the long grasses and the metal paling fences, flashing in the windows of the industrial lot opposite. The people already out and walking in their work clothes at this hour cast long shadows in the dirt. I can’t believe in the stealth and the beauty of these early mornings, not today.

Around us the churchyard begins to fill. A group of young women meet by the door, dressed in black with matching flowers in their hair. Their laughter sounds sharp and incongruous. I want to walk over and slap them. I can hear the sound my hand would make, a neat palm-crack clear in the churchyard air.

            But maybe it’s me who's out of step here. Maybe this is the kind of day on which laughter is needed.

            – I don’t want to go in, I tell her.  

            – So don’t.

            – Easy for you to say.

She grins across at me. – Ai wena, got to be some compensations.

I can’t deny her that. Inside, there is cheap white sateen spread on the alter and the tables set out on either side, pooling on the worn carpet; a sad bouquet of flowers sighing in the heat. Someone has fixed black crepe to the backs of the plastic bucket chairs.

Old mamas and gogos with their thick ankles, moving painfully in heels and flowered hats, massing about and chittering softly. Younger women squeezed into sausage-tight dresses. Heavy men mopping their foreheads, rocking on their heels. I watch them so I don’t have to look toward the front. There are few other white people, mostly girls who knew her from university or high school. It feels like people stare. But then I am staring, too.

*

We met in Critical Anthropology, at a dawn lecture. She had entered one cold morning trailing a duvet from her shoulders, slippers peeping from its pillowed skirts. I could see the class thinking: damn. Wishing they had thought to be so audacious.

She had a talent, from the beginning, for breaking the rules. The small, unwritten boundaries. White girl walking, she’d shout on our way between lectures, propelling me in front of her. Make way for the Madam!

At a talk given by a writer we both admired, I sent her up to get my copy of his book signed. From the top of the line she called back, over the heads of all in the room: He says get up here so he can embarrass you to hell. She would have kicked me under cover of the psalms, tickled me in the silences.

*

The speeches have given way to the singing. In front of me, an old woman, a grandmother, is singing from within a wondrously vast chest, low and sweet and embracing. I can hear her voice in my own body, where the ribs curve together but never quite touch.

            Some of the older women rise and climb the raised platform at the front of the church, swaying generous hips and raising their faces to the unseen. Around me, people get to their feet and rock in place, clapping. I rise too. It is not quite dancing, what we are doing together. It is giving ourselves over. For the length of that song, old and painful and joyous, we fall into one another and make something beautiful of this tired room, its raw brick walls and unmatched plastic chairs.

            Two hours into the service the pastor begins a thunderous sermon at a volume that draws a whine of feedback from the mic. Fire, damnation. No mention of her. My dress clings damply to the back of my thighs.

            It feels like everyone is watching as I slide out of my seat and make my way to the back of the church. Other escapees, already perched on car bonnets, sharing smokes, nod at me as I pass.

She’s waiting for me in the car, the seat tipped back, bare feet against the dashboard.

– Still burning the unbelievers?

I nod.

– Remember, she says. – This isn’t for you, or even me.

The sun is hot overhead by now, the shadows pinned flat beneath trees and cars and slowly-fanning people.

            – Stay with me, I say.

            – Of course, darling.

But I lose her at the graveside. The church congregation drive in procession, lights blinking slowly to mark the way. Flat, packed-dirt land, a smoke-tower skyline, the textile chemicals singeing nostrils. Acres of dead spreading ever outwards. We park on an expanse of dry lawn just past the Jewish section, and walk in our heels along the children’s cemetery (button-eyed toys and coloured streamers weathering in crisp curls) and through an expanse of freshly turned graves. The smell is hideous. Probably the refinery, but somehow impossible to shake the belief that it is coming from the spoiling graves.

In the newest section, sun-pavilions flap in the intermittent breeze, mourners pressed into their shade. I arrive too late and stand in the full sun, drops of sweat running down my bare calves. Someone shifts their umbrella to cast a shadow over me and I smile, grateful, wretched and unprepared. The crowd at the neighbouring gravesite is packed against us, music playing from their stacked speakers as the family cry into handkerchiefs. I cannot hear what is being said at our own graveside but through the umbrellas I see her brothers take some of the earth lying by and let it fall with care into the grave – finely, through their fingers – as though not to disturb her.

– Come back to the house, her mother says, holding my hands in hers.

– Not today, I say. Soon.

– Soon.

My heels drill neat holes in the graveyard grass. Past the tiny headstones of Thembisa, aged eight months, and Salvation, lost at birth.

*

From my desk I have a view of Lower Juta Street. I can see a crowd of people stomping and chanting, some with loudspeakers—from this elevation a roiling, tossed sea of heads, rising and falling.  

– Was it AIDS? My mother’s voice on the other end of the line is hushed, knowing.

– No, I say. No. Cancer.

– Cancer? she says wonderingly. As though too ordinary for such a place.

Twenty-six and dead of cancer. What an excellent joke, in a country that could kill you a thousand ways, to die the death of middle-class Americans and Europeans. As if it is all elephants walking the road, hungry children holding their bellies. As if there aren’t also kohl-eyed teenagers and late-night supermarkets and daytime soap-operas here.

– When are you coming home? she asks, and I know she has been trying not to. The line between here and there sings softly. I close my eyes and try to hear something of Colchester – boys kicking a ball in a concrete estate, a Sainsbury’s lorry shifting gears, rain on her windowpane.

Siyaphambili, the people in the street below chant. We are moving on. Onwards and on.

*

I find her, cross-legged, on the steps of the apartment we once shared. The Jacarandas are shedding their flowers as the summer advances, blossoms running violently violet in the gutters.

            – Possibly you should, she says.

            – What?

            – Go home.

            – Home, I repeat.

I brush the step below her clear of fallen flowers and dust and sit, folding my skirt in under my legs.

– I’m sorry, I say.

– For what? She does it full Tswana, the final t plosive. Fo’ Wat!

            – For not visiting, more. When there was still time. When you were still alive.

            – Oh, darling, she says, and she is still mocking, still playing up the accent, but softer now, almost cajoling. –  What do you want to hear? It’s done now. Don’t make this about you.

            *

In a shopping centre, once, she pulled me to the ground. It was polished tile, marbled in veins, cool against our skin. Two well-dressed young women on the floor, hair fanned out and limbs loose. Shoppers moved around us, faintly repulsed.

            – They’ll tell us to get up, I said.

            – Let them.

            She spread her arms and legs wide, sweeping them along the tiles, her clothing whispering. I looked up. In the ceiling far above, also tiled, the outlines of our reflected selves shone thinly.

            There was an exhibition at the Tate Modern I heard about; they set a span of mirrors across the ceiling, pumped condensation into the air and installed a cold sun. People entering would look up and see their reflections in the mirrors, distant, child-sized, as though looking down upon themselves from high, high above. Or far, far away.

 

©2015 Ríona Judge McCormack

 

 

Author Links

 

'Some Strange Moon': story by Ríona Judge McCormack in The Irish Times

'Theme in A Minor': story in Sassafras Literary Magazine

Ríona Judge McCormack homepage

 

 

CONTENTS BACK TO TOP NEXT STORY

 

 

   
 
©2009 Southword Editions
and
Munster Literature Centre
   

Southword 6 Southword No 7 Southword No 8 Southword No 9 Southword No 10 Southword 11 southword 12 Southword No 14 Southword No 15