The series of texts below are by Jefferson Koubis (MA Creative Writing, University of Brighton) commissioned as a response to the exhibition A Quiet Fire by Billie Zangewa.
A Quiet Fire
We have never been one person; since there was “I” there has been “we”. From birth you were prescribed an assortment of selves: “you”, daughter, sister, patient. As you grow you only collect more: mother, wife, student, coworker, stranger. You are Mother when you tip-toe across the floor, dodging legos with deft manoeuvres, picking up toys that have been left as obstacles from an afternoon of play. Your stilettos speak of a different self, the you you were ten minutes ago, the you you’ll be in five. When playtime is over and your boy is tucked into bed you become another as you slip that black dress on – not the Girl that ran and climbed trees – you are a Woman now, one that wears this for yourself and another that wears it for someone else. When Sunday comes you’re Sister and Mother in tandem, watching your boy play with your brother. It’s so seamless, to wear two faces – not masks, never masks – to be both at once; you don’t even know, don’t even realise it’s happening. Cells divide, rebirth is constant, old and new patchwork and sewn in are the people that make us. Don’t be afraid. Rejoice! For you are multitudinous and full of possibility.
You look at me. Perfectly poised, Apex predator. My shadow in the water gets wrapped up in tendrils, pulled apart, unspooled, until it becomes nothing at all.
When does this start, then?
You’re hunter, I’m game. Another for your collection, a notch in the wood. We can begin this domestic dance, old as time, any time. Chlorine fills my nostrils. Blood fills yours. We sit opposite each other in this tight-balance tightrope.
Are you so sure of your role in this? Could it be our positions reversed?
Yes, that’s right.
I’m looking at you. Perfectly poised. Man is no hunter but an arrogant rung on the ladder and no, I am sorry to tell you, it is not at the top.
A moment of reprieve
It’s a Sunday afternoon. We go for a drive. The world glimmers along its edges as if made of delicate glass. We drive for hours, winding down the side-streets that fit at most a single car, and one much smaller than yours. We go past pockets of country hidden away in the bustling city. Branches watch overhead as we pass through, sprinkling light onto the hood. With one hand on the steering wheel, you point out the everyday landmarks on our journey and colour them, as you always do, with fantasy and falsehoods: magical lies my still-developing brain has no option but to accept. It’s a glimpse into another reality, the Sunday Drive, trademarked and patented and all from your own imagination.
I blink, bleary, in the back seat; the Sun, the returning stranger, coaxes my eyes shut with nothing but a single touch. My cheek against the window, I feel the soft vibrations of the engine across my skin. Colours dance behind my eyes, filtered branches darting in and out of view. Green. Red. Yellow. Red again. All bloom and fade into black. As we move, I fall into stillness. For a single blink spanning hours, I become nothing at all. Removed from the world, I fail to notice the car coming to a stop, or hear the click of the door as it opens. I feel nothing when you scoop me into your arms – an act of tenderness I’ll never see – and carry me to bed. But when I wake, I wake with a sense that I know what true love is.
Tendrils reach up to heaven
I raise my arms with them
The world shrinks above the ground
I could leap – jump – fly
Away from its insignificant colour
Adios, goodbye, I am done
See you later
But the ants’ silent choir
The chatter of lichens and moss
The cacophony of birdsong
Delivered by pigeons and parakeets
Talk between trees
Right down to the roots
And each mycelial tip
Is a reminder
All around me is a conversation
And I, still, in the centre
Cradled by bark
Am its beating heart