Kobus Moolman


The old writer sat hunched in front of the dark window with his notebook open and the dark window open in front of his notebook and his notebook open and the wind open in front of the dark window in front of his open notebook. Darkness and wind. Wind in the dark. Snagged on the branches of a bare oak tree. The image of himself, some strange featureless fish, lopsided and grey in the dark glass.


Somehow I am managing to still keep my skin attached to my future, the old writer wrote. In his notebook. The one with one hundred and twenty-eight lined pages. And a hard black cover. I am managing to swallow and to swallow and to lift my arms in the air when I cannot breathe. But I do not know for how long. I do not know how long my head is going to be able to keep my body and soul together.


I know very few words, the man admitted. In his small room. At his old pine desk. In front of the bare window. And the few words I do know are getting fewer. Some fall out of my pockets. And are eaten by other words. Some cannot remember their homes and wander the streets with their hands open and their mouths dribbling. Some are picked up by the heavy trucks that rumble through the centre of town. But perhaps, he admitted, it has always been like this. Stretching his mouth wide silently. And banging the side of his head. Perhaps I am only recognising it now. The indecipherable scrawl across the page. The long terror in my gut like acrophobia. Yes. Yes. It has always been like this. There has never been any pleasure in it. Unless it was the sort of pleasure derived from driving needles into my rusted penis.


How far down into the night can my trembling hand reach, the writer asked aloud. When my hand scrabbles around in there. Arthritic and blind. What hope does it have of finding the bottom? Or of ever coming back up into the light?


Hide me away, the writer wrote. In an old-fashioned letter to his lover. The young woman who had come to him out of the freezing Atlantic. She who had left her sleek pelt on the sea shore. You must find a small cardboard box, he wrote. And you must bend me double inside it. Then you must fold the lid closed over me. Left flap first. Then top. Followed by the right. And finally the bottom which you must bend carefully at the corner and fold underneath the first flap. Hide me away please. Hide me far away from shadows and streetlights. From the perfumed skin of stranger's sheets. Far away from my own hungry eyes and my hands. Hungry as eyes and as hands.


Everything is covered in silence. Everything is impenetrable around me. I cannot push through the thin film that surrounds everything. That keeps me out. The world has receded far from my hands and from my tongue.


And the cold comes in through the gaps in the sky. The gaps between the light and the air. Between the edges of the wind and gravity. The cold comes in, he wrote. And does not stop coming in. Through my faded trousers. My thin skin.


I am just a body, he scribbled. To the young woman. The woman who had come to him wrapped in a white towel. She who could not remember where she had left her sleek skin. I am just a body, he wrote. And my body is a machine for going somewhere. And a machine for doing something. It is a machine for being an animal. And an animal for being the feeling that plants have. Inside themselves. Before they open their mouths.


My foot. My foot, the writer repeated. The straps around my ankles. The sandpaper inside my boots. And my skin so thin. Worn away by breathing. White fatty tissue showing and the red hot aureole of infection. Swelling crawling up my thin legs. The solitary inward gaze of flesh. Of bones. The solitariness of all bones. Hidden from the light.


In my head a wheelbarrow trundles over stones toward the river, he noted. Sitting in his empty bath. But the river is empty. And the wheelbarrow throws up its handles in despair. Only ghosts and dead children can drink now from that lonely scar in the ground.


Are trees always awake, he asked aloud. Standing in his thin skin. Staring at his thin reflection in the bathroom mirror. When do they sleep? Can they ever close their eyes? And dream of anything other than standing?


It is sensation I crave, he whispered. To the white walls of the small toilet cubicle. It is sensation. Not pleasure. It is the feeling that runs along the entire length of my skin like an electric fence. An electric fence that keeps the wildness in.


In other words, he wrote. To the woman whose skin he had stolen. So that he could feel young again. So that he could float upon the hard land instead of crawl. In other words, I am a worm. Because I have no real legs. I am a worm. And I am without legs. Because I am always rolling. And always going under. Instead of over.


One final time. One final time, he wrote to the young woman. She who wandered the cold shore calling and calling for her waterproof skin. One final time I want to hurl myself against your body. One final time I want to be carried away by your current. Before I am carried away by the current.


Everything pours in through my senses, he continued. Everything I see. The smallest gesture or grimace. Everything I hear. Or feel. Or smell. Piss-stained sheets. The salt moon. Sea sand. Rusted corrugated iron. It all keeps coming and coming at me. On and on and on. An electric current that cannot be switched off. An insatiable wave that comes in from beyond the light.


Is there still left in me one final push, he asked himself. To get me over the edge of the day. For my body is being reduced. It feels like some old machine. Creaking. Worn down by breathing. Tired from standing in the same sack of skin for fifty-five years. I am in need of some outrage. Some wet violence. To put my circulation right again.


Now. Now, he wrote. To the dark. To the wind. To the young woman's sleek skin he had pinned up behind the bathroom door. Now my blood smells. Now my bones stink. Of rust. Of rubber. Of ropes and blindfolds. Of whips that weep when all they want is to ejaculate.


J. Kobus Moolman was born with spina bifida. He is a South African poet and playwright who teaches creative writing at the University of the Western Cape. He has published seven volumes of poetry and two collections of plays.