REVIEW: The First Law of Sadness

BY GARETH LANGDONThe First Law of Sadness

The title of Nick Mulgrew’s latest short story collection, The First Law of Sadness, gives only scant insight into the depth which the young author has been able to plumb with his sophomore collection. Ambitious, insightful and relatable, each story in the collection speaks volumes about how Mulgrew has grown since his debut collection, Stations.

The trouble with analysis as almost any first-year English class will teach you is that it is simply too easy, and too novice, to associate narrator and character with author. But reading Stations and The First Law of Sadness side by side (as I have done by pure coincidence) does everything to invite such a comparison.

I remember when I read Mulgrew’s work the first time. Stations felt throughout to be deeply personal, a collection that seemed naturally auto-biographical in some sense, outlining carefully some of the author’s more formative childhood and adolescent moments. The First Law of Sadness is a departure from this personal space: an apparently deliberate pivot. Mulgrew is clearly forcing himself to be challenged and grow as a writer – to not be predictable or pigeonholed. As this fresh batch of stories shows, Mulgrew is growing into a writer who is able to inhabit the minds of new characters, many of whom are nothing like him, and unpack human experience in new and interesting ways.

Mulgrew takes many risks in this work, especially with the characters he chooses to write as and about. Inhabiting other selves is a dangerous pursuit, especially when these other selves are so far outside of your normal. Attempts at this — especially by young authors — can quite often lead to superficial, ignorant and even offensive results.

Happily, this is not the case in The First Law of Sadness. From middle-aged suburban housewives, to men of colour struggling with their homosexuality, to divorcees and drug addicts, Mulgrew’s analyses and depictions of character are, while not perfect, still brave, mature and more often than not, movingly insightful explorations of everyday experience in both the ugly and the beautiful. Drawing us closer to these unique experiences of the characters through well written narrative, Mulgrew has been able to foster empathy in the reader in ways that are usually reserved for seasoned authors.

Explorations of otherness are not always simple though, and the most difficult instance of this appears in “Bootlegger” in which Mulgrew inhabits the mind of a black student who has, accidently, killed a duiker, which he then decides to turn into biltong. The student is not a first language English speaker, and Mulgrew attempts to recreate his inner monologue verbatim:

A grand problem started then. There was one of your private securities. He walked to me as I attended the butchery bureau, and commenced to shout at me. He asked if I have paid for my produce. I say no. He says I am not authorised to eat this produce. I must pay first. I attempted to explain, no, you do not understand: this is my biltong. He interrupts. He calls me a thief. I say, no, again, you do not understand. I carry this biltong with me. I made it myself. He says this is impossible, that I’m a pirate of biltong, that I must pay. I am grabbed by him, and all of the people in the supermarket, they look at me in the way that your people do when a man like me is at the centre of a problem.

This passage felt uncomfortable. Mulgrew has used a language here that is deliberately stodgy, with almost no contraction or use of the active voice: “grabbed by him”; “do not understand”. This reads like the voice of someone who has a weak grasp of English, and the otherness is reinforced by the final “man like me” drawing attention to the character’s blackness amidst a group of (assumedly) white people at the supermarket.

Writing this way raises questions: What does it mean for a privileged white author like Mulgrew to write in a voice like this? What does it mean for him to inhabit the mind of a black character and then assume the level of this character’s grasp of English? Where does the author’s license end? While he is drawing attention to the racist society this story is set in, in what way does he contribute to these assumptions about others through his choice of diction, his very way of writing? Most interestingly though, I found myself asking seriously why this made me uncomfortable, and was the discomfort as a result of my own ingrained prejudices and misunderstandings about an entire race and class of people, and indeed of the author himself. In any case, the fact that Mulgrew could, through a single story, cause me to begin to pick apart my personal assumptions about race, and how to write about it, is a sign of his growth and of his undeniably bright future as an author in South Africa today – a place that needs bold and brave narratives to help us understand each other.

Mulgrew is adept at dealing with the everyday too, and one of my favourite examples of this is “Jumper”, where the author takes the seemingly horrifying site of a man apparently about to kill himself during a victory parade (the particular South Africanness of the moment brought about by it being a parade for the Springboks) and turns it on its head. I can’t explain the joke without ruining the story, but my audible giggle while reading is testament to Mulgrew’s ability to play with different perspectives, circumstances and the sometimes banal sometimes confusing aspects of everyday experience in South Africa. In “Jumper”, assumptions are undercut in a way that mirrors what Mulgrew does throughout the book. You might think you know what life is like for others, but really, you have no idea.

Overall, The First Law of Sadness, is a wonderful, richly detailed work. With each of Mulgrew’s collections demonstrating an upward trajectory in authorial maturity and skill, I’m excited to see more from this promising South African talent.

The First Law of Sadness is published by David Philip Publishers.

10 QUESTIONS: Nick Mulgrew


Nick Mulgrew is a local literary super-hero — if there’s an independent wordy initiative going on in South Africa, odds are he’s involved. He’s associate editor of literary journal Prufrock, is a pivotal member of Short Story Day Africa (and co-edited Water, its new anthology) — all the while completing his MA in English Language & Literature as a Mandela Rhodes scholar.

A prolific short story writer and poet, his poetry collection, the myth of this is that we’re all in this together, came out last year, while his debut short story collection, Trains, will launch next month. Mulgrew has also founded uHlanga: a poetry press that showcases first-time poets.

uHlanga started out life as a poetry journal. Perhaps you could kick off with telling us a bit more about what made you decide to launch that.

While working at Prufrock magazine, I realised that there weren’t nearly enough publications that were publishing new poets – and especially poets from KwaZulu-Natal, where I’m originally from. I envisioned uHlanga as a yearly journal that would publish poetry from, of and about KZN.

uHlanga issue 1 was launched at Poetry Africa in 2014, where our reading was upstaged by a freestyle slam by some teenagers playing beats on their cellphones. Almost immediately I realised I needed a different angle, even though the magazine was beautiful and affordable and ended up selling well.

What made you decide to transform it into a fully-fledged poetry press?

Even though we have few poetry publications, we have even fewer poetry publishers. Which is a shame, because the only way – well, not the only way, but the most effective way – to build a career as a written poet is through publishing single-author collections. You need visibility and prestige and a publication, and a book is the best way to confer these onto a poet, especially a younger one, or someone who is in the early-building stages of their career.

So far you’ve published three collections. How did you go about choosing who to publish?

Thabo Jijana and Genna Gardini were two poets who I had worked with at Prufrock, whose writing I admired, and who I thought were two of the best young poets in SA who had not yet been published for their poetry. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make.

Who will be the next poet?

I can’t say just yet because I’m waiting on funding, but there will be a book from someone whose career is gaining momentum, and one from someone no one knows very much, in Xhosa and English.

Tell us a bit about what the role of publisher or editor entails — is putting together a collection a very collaborative process?

For me it is. As well as being the publisher of uHlanga, I work as the commissioner, designer and usually also the editor. I work with the author to make sure the book is as polished and beautiful as possible, and that the poems are tight, their rhythm right, and that no word is wasted. I love to collaborate with authors, because I get to learn a lot about their writing processes and what makes them tick. It makes me a better editor and writer, and I hope it’s a pleasurable experience for the authors too.Matric Rage

What are the biggest challenges you face in publishing poetry?

I’m going to be blunt here: it’s a lack of support from major booksellers. Go into any major bookstore and look at the poetry section. If there is one, it’s usually pitifully small. The refrain goes that poetry doesn’t sell. I say it doesn’t sell because booksellers don’t try to sell it. Vicious cycle, et cetera.

We’ve had mainstream exposure for the books (from Superbalist and City Press and GQ and so on) and exposure at literary festivals – but chain booksellers won’t bite. We’re about to start distributing these books in the UK, but still you can’t easily find a copy in my hometown. From next week it will be easier for my gran in Scotland to buy one of our books than my mum in Durban North!

Independent bookstores, however, and a number of Western Cape-based chain stores have been very supportive. I love those guys. Maybe I just have to work harder to convince everyone else.

You’re also involved in Short Story Day Africa and Prufrock. What are some of the lessons you’ve gained along the way?

In publishing, you can only rely on yourself. You have to assume no one is on your side until, over time, through actions, they prove they are. And once you have people on your side – like my colleagues at SSDA and Prufrock – you hold onto them jealously.

The other thing is that people in the publishing and literary industry now have to have a diverse skill set. You can’t just be a writer or a publisher. You need to also know how to design, or edit, or typeset, or market, or distribute, or events organise. The days of the single-skilled publishing professional are very much gone.
Failing Maths

What are the things you dig most about being involved in literary initiatives?

Making people happy. Not just writers – whose work me and my colleagues try our best to champion – but also readers, and helping introduce people to new, current work that reflects their lives or their contemporaries’ lives, and books that make people feel that they are part of a particular, definable point in history and politics and nationhood. We live in a discombobulated age, and I think good books can be a great comfort. Our world isn’t very joyous. Literature could do well to trade in more joy.

You write both your own prose and poetry. Who and want have influenced your own work? 

Flannery O’Connor, Catholic dogma, Njabulo Ndebele, four years of unsuccessfully trying to be a popular folk guitarist, MasterChef, Bruce Chatwin, the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, Manchester United, Zadie Smith, Rustum Kozain, Sufjan Stevens, Ivan Vladislavic, public transport systems in foreign cities, Richard Rive, Sam Riviere, and the Recurring Tragedies of the Natal Sharks. My church is a broad one, evidently.

The Myth of ThisThere has been much debate around the polarised literary landscape in South Africa. What are ways in which it could be “decolonised”?

It doesn’t just need to be decolonised. It needs to be deglobalised, decapitalised and deapartheid-ised. (What a horrible trio of neologisms I’ve made there, but you get the point.)

There are more sinister forces at work than just the long and heavy shadow of colonial structure and ethos that falls over the publishing industry and the literary landscape. Yes, our publishing industry was imported wholesale from the colonial project and has re-inforced prejudicial and linguistic barriers over centuries. But unless we also address the way we cede our power and agency to positions of global prestige and power; and unless we address the cost-benefit analysis-driven modes of publishing that have become de rigeur (which in turn squash creativity and risk-taking) and the centralisation and suburbification of bookselling; and unless we do sustained work in introducing more black-led and intersectional works and initiatives into our industry, anything new and ostensibly decolonial will still uphold the greater part of our current status quo.

How do we go about that? Well, I think that’s another interview entirely.

Stations launches on 3 March at the Book Lounge in Cape Town.




He was shouting at me for the first time since I’d met him.

“You fucked me over, Nandi. For fuck’s sake.”

“I know,” I said. “I know.”

“No, you don’t,” he said. “You haven’t got a fucking clue what you’ve done.”

“I know what I’ve done,” I said – and I think it was fair to say that because it was something that I had, in fact, done. And I had regretted it. It’s why I had come back to Durban. It’s why I was here, in a bar by the docks, at three in the morning.

“OK,” he said, leaning into me. “Seeing as you know me so well, tell me, how the fuck do you expect me to come back from that?”

To be honest, I was hoping he would have figured that out for himself during all the hours he had spent crying into his phone, with me silent on the other end of the line. I had no plan here. I thought if I came here things would fit back into place like he said they would.

I heard they played jazz here, but there was no jazz, just white boys playing chillwave off a laptop. When I walked in I saw him dancing with another woman, an Indian girl in shorts, and at once I just wanted to go back to your flat to eat rotis and binge-watch cartoons. But I stuck around, drinking vodka and ice, biding time. Now there were Thai sailors coming in, in starched-white uniforms, taking positions at the bar, ordering shots of cane, flipping through the pages of a karaoke menu. There were men with hotpants and imiqhele playing old Mandoza songs in the booth in the corner. A woman in blonde topknots danced alone, with her wide-eyed spaniel sitting leashed to a pole in front of her.

And yet with all this, even with all this around me, the thing that surprised me most was him, and this coming out of everything that had built up inside of him, unseen, seemingly unprocessed over the months. Here was this different person. All this begging, all his simpering suddenly evaporated. He had his finger in my chest. “You daft fucking bitch. You fucking think you can come here for one night – one fucking night, Nandi – and try to talk me back into bed with you? You think you can undo things just like that?”

“Don’t call me a bitch,” I said, wiping his spittle from my cheek. “When did you even begin to talk like that? That’s not like you.”

He shook his head, staring red-eyed and unmoving. “Not like me? Bitch, you don’t know me.” In retrospect, he was right about that.

“Please don’t call me a bitch.”

“I’ll stop calling you a bitch once you stop being a bitch, Nan. What do you even want from me?” I felt I had no answer for him, because suddenly felt I didn’t know what the answer should be, or what it even could be. I felt all the spaces in my head depressurise, as if I was in a plane descending; and I stood there for a moment, not hollow, not empty, but reshaped and solid and ringing, like a bell, resonant. I felt it would be a good time to go. I felt that I should speak. And so I opened my mouth.

But what came out weren’t words, but sounds, and there was a shift, and there was broken glass, and there was a man shouting, grasping his elbow, rushing for the door behind me. And I found a hand at my back, and my breath taken from me, and my face suddenly against a chest, my mouth open, sucking in sweat from a well-known shirt. And I felt a pushing, and his hand on my breast for the first time in months, but in the form of a fist instead of a caress.

I heard the slamming of a door as my body jarred against the parquet. Men cheered; my dress had ridden up. When I found my feet again, I saw him walk back across the dance floor, toward music coming from another room.

One of the Thai men walked up to me, and tried to caress my hip. “Hey baby,” he said. “Hey baby, you know I’ll treat you right.” His nose was thick with pimples.

I looked for the Black Label I had left by my feet. I found it knocked over, foaming out.


I found you outside in the mist, speaking to a car guard in French, with your scarf tied around your head like a Bedouin’s. A man stood hunched over between the two of you. You had one of your hands on his shoulder. You lit a joint rolled in coconut paper with the other.

“God damn it,” I said, rubbing my hip. “Some guy just pushed me in there.”

You met my eyes and shrugged. “Oh, swak,” you said, pushing tendrils of smoke out your mouth.

Swak?” I could have spat on you. You nodded your head downward towards the hunched man. There was blood on the tarmac, dripping from between his fingers and off the back of his arm.

“Oh shit,” I said, recoiling. “Shame, did he fall?”

“Nah,” you said, smirking. “A hooker bit him.”

“A hooker?”



You shrugged. The car guard motioned you to pass him the joint. The man pulled his hand away from the elbow, to check if the bleeding would abate. All of the skin covering his right elbow had been ripped away. A knob of bone stuck out of the flesh.

“Must’ve been an angry hooker,” I said.

“He’ll probably need a shot,” the car guard laughed, taking a pull. “He doesn’t want tetanus.” He said tetanus like tet-ah-nos, like a French man would, I suppose. You laughed and coughed a throatful of phlegm into your mouth.

I bent down to the man. He smelt of milk and wore zirconia earrings and cargo pants. His gut poked from underneath his shirt.

“Hey man,” I said, “what happened?”

He looked up at me and I recognised him: it was the man who had pushed me inside. “Hey!” I said, grabbing him by the shoulder. “You’re the poes who pushed me. You got me punched in there.”

“It’s not my fault that someone else punched you, sisi.”

“Wait, Nathi,” you interjected, your voice rough with mucus. “Who the fuck punched you?”

“T punched me.”


“Because this poes pushed me into him!”

“I didn’t mean to, sisi!” the man said. “I had to run. I got bit.”

“Ja, ja, by a prostitute – I know.” Behind us the car guard laughed like a hyena. “Why did she bite you, though?”

“I don’t know,” the man whimpered. He shielded his face under his popped collar.

“I don’t believe that.”

“I just tried… ugh.” He hacked phlegm from his throat. I prepared for the worst. “I tried… I tried to eat her chips.” He let out a deep sigh and started to sob.


“I was hungry, sisi.”

I wanted to say something, but I wasn’t sure what. Somewhere behind me I could hear you laugh, then hock, then spit onto the pavement.


“Nathi,” you said. “I feel like I’m failing you. You’re my sister. I need to protect you from these men.”

You’d stolen a six-pack of tallboys from the bar. You said I shouldn’t worry about it. We resolved to split them, three each, on our walk back to your flat on Victoria Embankment.

“You don’t have to protect me.”

“Yes I do,” you said, cracking a can open as punctuation. “You make bad decisions.” You slurped at your beer.

“You know what,” I said, pulling a ring tab, “I don’t even care. I’ve made some bad decisions in my life, but, you know, it’s just life, you know. That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re 22. Move cities, thrift shop, party too much, hang out in dangerous parts of town.”

You said nothing. I looked at you. “Right?”

You slugged back from your can. Your scarf was re-tied around your neck, where it should have always been on a night as cold as this. You grunted.

“Come on,” you said. “Sometimes I wish you would just screw your head on right and stop caring about shit like this. Oh dear, I dated an asshole for a long time but it doesn’t matter” ­– you strained your voice and waved your arms in the air, as if that was how I spoke – “but God damn it. T punched you. You spent a lot of money coming down here, to chase after this guy, when you could have saved up and done something more productive with it.”

I stared at you, keeping strides, sipping from my can. The beer was warm, somehow, and tasted of grass. The road was wet with old rain. The park glowed orange and empty from the other side of the light railway.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I offered, “when you’ve never been in a relationship. Me, I thrive on them. Can’t live without someone in my arms.” I dodged a puddle in the sidewalk. “And I just feel so adrift now. I feel like the past two years have been a lie, loving someone I didn’t really know.”

You studied me, slurping. “I– I just don’t know what to do with myself.” I felt water welling up inside me.

“You need to watch less Girls,” you snapped. “I swear. All you want is meaning from your life. Direction. You think that making mistakes will make you stronger in the end. Your life and your feelings aren’t any more significant or different to anyone else’s, you know.”

“But I don’t think I’m different,” I said.

“Oh, but you fucking do. You think every relationship is some epic. You kiss a boy and you go all fucking Wuthering Heights on him.”

“I’ve never even read–”

“You know what I’m trying to say, sis.” I turned away from you, looking at the boats lulling at their moors. A breeze carried the sound of alarms from somewhere near the wharf. “Look, sis,” you said, “to be fair to you, everyone thinks they’re special in some way – and, you know what, they probably are. Someone probably has one, very specific, very specialised thing that they’re probably the best at the world at.”

“Like what?” I threw the can into the gutter and pulled my second from my handbag.

“Like, I don’t know. Like whistling a certain song, or judging the traffic of a certain part of road at a certain kind of day, so you can get home the quickest way. Or, like, cooking an egg just right for someone with very particular tastes.”

“But that’s depressing.”

“But it fucking isn’t.” You were raising your voice. “That isn’t a reason to get depressed. Not figuring out the reason that you’re on earth isn’t a reason to be depressed. Not being able to fucking align yourself by your relationships isn’t reason to be depressed. Because even if you found that damn reason, even if you managed to, like, align yourself by other people, it’s probably not the fucking reason or the fucking way all the dumb TV shows you watch with your girl friends made you expect it to be.”

“What has gotten into you, Seb?”

“I’m trying to be your brother. To guide you.”

“OK, great guide, then what the fuck is depressing to you? Or is it all war and politics for you?”

“Nah,” you said, crumpling your can in your hands. “More like chemical imbalances.”

I wanted to disagree with you, somehow, to tell you how wrong you were about everything – but I couldn’t think of any reasons then, although they are obvious to me now.

“You know,” I said, “I also came to see you. Not just him.” I was breathing heavily, too drunk to be expending this much energy. I sat down in the forecourt of the Engen on the corner of Hermitage. We were almost at your flat. I expected you to shout at me, to pull me up, to stop being lazy; but you only left me there, wordlessly, and fetched chips and Fanta from the shop. The old attendants eyed us from behind the glass of their office. We sat on the curb mute, trading gestures for words, silence for argument.

When we got to your flat, three floors up, overlooking the docklands – I lay on the blow-up mattress in your living room and tried to ignore your rustling in the kitchen. I had told you to make me a sandwich, but after five minutes you came through and handed me a cup of cold Ricoffy instead. You motioned for me to gulp it down.

“Get up,” you said. “We’re going swimming.”


I’m not sure why you decided to drive to Virginia, when there were half a dozen beaches more within the reach of a drunk driver in an old Saab. You were driving up back roads, avoiding roadblocks, with your last tallboy between your thighs and your shirt discarded on the back seat.

The streets were tungsten and tangerine along the Embankment, past the restaurants and hotels, past their tablecloths and beds, their old deals and consummations. The canopies of Berea and Morningside towered over us. You mounted a curb on Essenwood, swearing, checking your blind spot for police. Relieved, you laughed and ran an amber, racing to the M4. I chewed on a mint I found swimming among the change in my pocket.

I remember how empty the roads were. You were playing Debussy on the tape deck, the treble distorting from a subwoofer in your boot. I rediscovered how you lifted your little finger when you changed a gear.

“Why are we doing this?” I asked, my eyes drooping, fixed outside the windows, following the curves of the stadium’s arch as we passed. This seemed like a bad decision.

“I feel like swimming.” You took a swig of beer. “You need to chill out, sis. Be more spontaneous. Night swimming is just the thing.”

We passed the country club, and the vleis and the uMngeni, the lagoon dancing yellow, cityscapes inverted on the stillest of waters; the checkerboard windows of the apartment blocks and the asphalt lakes of the hypermarkets. We overtook trucks of roadworkers, in yellow outfits, setting up crosses of blinking lights and bee-stripe warnings on wooden poles. We waved. They didn’t wave back.

I remember how I searched for even a shred of moonlight above us, through the open sunroof, through the clouds. I remember there were no stars.


This was to wash off what had happened that night, what had happened this life.

I hadn’t seen you naked since we were children – and even then I found it unbearable. Then at least you were shameless and sinuous and beautiful. Now, here, you were all untextured flesh, all baby fat at 31.

The wind blew from the south. I wrapped your scarf around my face and sat on the sand in the half-light. I watched you charge into the silver waves, yelping like a dog, squeegeeing the water off your face with every breaker you broke.

You yelled for me to come in.

I looked up and down the shore. I saw the Bluff’s curving crescent, the skyscrapers; an audience of ships waiting silent. I peeled off my jacket and my dress, and flicked my shoes away. My feet sunk into the sand. My ears were full of air, my heart full of blood. I followed you, to join you in this, whatever it was. And we were there, in water, impenetrably black and light-spangled, like in movies and on TV, in places where people can wash away their problems, in rebaptism, in the ocean, with lovers, with friends; where people feel the wash of youth and the great expanse of the universe opening up in symmetry before them, with all possibility, all past before them, the light and hope and beauty becoming apparent to them again; all these things that they lost track of, but things so easily re-graspable, so easily knocked back into perspective by the rush of water and air; all goals and timelines re-aligned and possible yet again.

But all I felt was the cold, and all I heard was your yelling.

The breakers were pulling and the salt was stinging. I stumbled from the waves, shivering and sopping, scraping the water from me as fast as I could. I felt I could faint. I lay on the sand, laying my clothes on top of me like tiny blankets. I tried to grip the ground, clumping the sand through my fists, with the lights spinning, the firmament seemingly knocked to the earth, orbiting elliptical and ceaseless.

You shouted and I raised my neck. You were running out the water toward me, with this look in your eyes, this crazed look I knew too well from you. I closed my eyes, preparing to shriek, to tell you to get off me, to wrestle you, to feel your awful body on me as you laughed and grabbed at my limbs.

But you fell to your knees instead, your body lolling and protracted and shimmering. You began to throw up onto the sand. You retched and retched and spasmed and made unholy noises. I shouldn’t have opened my eyes but I did, and saw all of you, of all this supposed strength and wisdom and age, half-prostrate on the dunes, the city glowing around you.

When you were done you looked at me, and I allowed myself to look back at you, at your damp lips, at your watering eyes. I grabbed your boxers and motioned you to put them on. You apologized. I said nothing.

The black of the sky began to split from the sea, slivering silver and sudden over the crests of the waves. My thoughts were endless and empty. The ships reclaimed their shapes from the horizon. A plane took off from the airport behind us, heading north into a leaden sky. Further down the shore, fishermen arrived, setting up their bait boxes, lodging their rods in the sand, casting into the restless grey. To them, today was a new day.

I could hear you snoring over the static of the wind and the water. “Hey,” I said, shaking your shoulder. “Wake up. I have a plane to catch.” You grunted and shifted and raised your head close to mine. Sand had crusted around your mouth and nostrils. I turned my head to escape the bile on your breath. Chuckling, you stood and gathered your clothes, and trudged back to the car. I followed, tracking sand and esters and fragments of things to say.

I drove you back home as the rain began to fall.

POEM: New fear


mother believes
in sino-nasal cancer:
fraternal septum void,
resonant hall of bone.
line those polyps again:
give me a zipper spine of scar;
wash those recurring
terrors of sawteeth and resin.

mother believes
in demons still. catholic
hearts slow in unction,
forked women fear: in gardens
verdant in KwaZulu; in gardens
overgrown with delicious monsters and
earth: red, sanguine and ferrous with
petrichor; where the earth reeks of blood.

mother says this
is knowledge of the devil.
she says it in Glenwood in the church,
in its eternal facebrick and chapel
honeycomb; the stainglass, muggy with
air and alabaster; in which god – you
said – god was not the light:
god was the thing, you said

that was salvation, not deliverance;
no, you said, that wasn’t it
at all.

all of this is real, you said.

this air resounds with the chorus of hell.