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African Writers’ Corner

Unfamiliar potatoes

Elizabeth Joss

2009-01-08, Issue 414

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We used to scrub and shine
those soiled potatoes
until they looked alien
to the earth
you once called me a potato
one before the scrubbing
a slob
rounded and out of
I locked myself up for days
uncomfortably looked down
at my reflection
in the glass door to the house
which distorted my
figure even more so
and now years later I laugh
and think of you as the potato
mouldy green and brown
with wrinkles, misery,
sharp stench and frown
all alien to me
and now I smile
I am long past the stage
of rotten potato


Frail and bony
Touch the side of the dark
green suede chair
a magician caressing a
velvet cape
the dense smell of old oak
musty cupboards
which I open
in the cold passageway
furniture piled up high
someone left in a hurry
those bony fingers
tigers eye stone ring
my glaring hazel eyes
as I watch the brass
you clean
smell of furniture polish
and potpourri
books stale from the sun
their pages yellowing
the tobacco walls
cleaning –
your attempt
to replace any loss
the dusk cannot settle
as the sun slowly dims
I think of the houses that
I have lived in


To father for leaving
me at the bosom
for raging wars inside
my shriveled heart
for not knowing me
like I know me
To father for staying
Put. Amongst the plastics
Of your factory
family life
Hitler reincarnated
For being right
for being right
no in-between
black and white


He sat on the balcony dazed in the actuality of the reciprocating gesture her face held. Every few minutes he would break, gently placing his fingers between the crystal stem of the wine glass. Its imbalance on the wicker laundry basket made her feel uneasy. She observed him carefully. The Aryan eyes, the sensitive skin which showed promise of a beard. She delighted in those little sprouting hairs around his mouth and when he kissed her she felt them rub against her bottom lip gently. He was not harshly or terribly manly in any regard. His nature delicate, elegant, as he dipped his back slowly to place his hand in hers. Her hand uncurled to let his in. At times she struggled to read the constituents of his thoughts, piece by piece, but could rather almost quite make sense of them all as a whole, as a body, as a pulse. Knowing the outcome as though being with him was something of a permanent déjà vu. But it was in essence his words, his accent that lured her into his being, into his wonderful web of rapture. Time was precious, they both knew that. And as he looked up at where the tree had been, he looked into a view of wine farms on the hill, which were fading into shadows now. Her eyes were focused on his, darting at his long eyelashes as he looked over from the dark green hillside and then to the left where tin shacks with tiny lights shimmered on the landscape. On nights like these, they would sit and love. Sit and dream. He would tell her stories of his travels and they would mesmerize her, divulge to her all that she has missed in him. And then her thoughts would suddenly accumulate clay bricks that would press her shoulders down, bricks of unaccomplished desires, unsatisfied longings. How she yearned to travel with him, how she struggled to wait until the time was right. Her mind ventured off with his into realms, which she had never dared to venture. Realms which they would dream of and explore together that night. He noticed that her breathing became slower now as they both moved to the bedroom inside and switched off the lamp. He lowered her carefully down and made sure a glass of water stood nearby on the wooden table. As they both lay there, she sighed, he sighed, and together they fell deeper and deeper into a whirlwind of dreams. In those dreams she would play out the longings, the unfulfilled desires. Fragments of which would build up inside her subconscious. And she would run. From one town to the next, one village to the next, one road to the next. In her dreams she was geographer, English teacher, choreographer, publisher, sufferer. And he would breathe together with her, inevitably, always. She appeared content now, her head tilted towards his, her toes clutching his as she moved between fragments of dream, chapters unresolved and absurd. Such a young couple fast asleep in this room with no curtains. And the stars were brightly now and lit up the room. As the night became more and more still, she grabbed his hand in her sleep and cried, “To kill someone”. And he was silent.

* Elizabeth Joss was born in Cape Town, where she studied for a BA in Socio-Informatics and English Studies at the University of Stellenbosch (2004). She completed her Honours degree in English Studies and Teaching in 2007 and is currently reading for her Master’s degree with a focus on gender and transnational translocation.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

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