Beverly Rycroft was born in the Eastern Cape. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand. She worked as a teacher for several years before turning full time to writing and journalism. Her articles have been published widely both locally and internationally. Her poems have been published in local literary magazines such as Carapace, New Coin and scrutiny2. She lives in Cape Town with her family. Missing (Modjaji Books, 2010) is her first collection of poems.
In 1997 Beverly Rycroft was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. The poems in her debut collection, Missing, chart the experience of facing mortality, illness and the hope of recovery.
“This astonishingly moving debut collection reads compellingly as one complete story. Missing covers the archetypal journey from sickness and near-death to transformation and hope. Rycroft wears her exquisite poetic technique lightly – through rich and deftly crafted images, the poems are profoundly inviting, readable and memorable. I could not put it down.”
– Finuala Dowling
The telephone, once a domestic creature
has turned into a raptor.
At nine last night it sprang, the first attack.
The Doctor’s voice spinning from it
and sticky as fresh entrails:
When I dropped the receiver back
the shriek became a burr again.
This morning it perches beside my unmade bed
wings folded, eyes shut
On the sixth floor we’re almost eye level
with three white clouds that have
strayed into the maze
of buildings around Wynberg Hospital.
They’ve no language for
where they’ve been left, lost
above the traffic
and hawkers selling fruit
and taxi drivers we can hear
even from behind the double-glazed windows
of the doctor’s room.
No one’s forced me here.
I’m free if I wish to catch
– for five rand only –
a ride to
or Cape Town Central Station.
If I wanted I could
take a train to the east coast
disembark at East London
hitch to Transkei.
I’m told long-horned Nguni cattle still bask
on the Wild Coast rocks and
get called back each evening
by barefoot boys in school uniform.
I’ve seen for myself the clouds
that sprawl and slur untranslated
across that sky
beneath which poverty
are quite unremarkable.
Dying women should not wear lipstick
dying women should not wear lipstick
or pink-checked mini skirts that shriek
sexy! and shoot right up
past their skinny knees
towards their truncated breasts.
they ought not to wear
pillbox hats that lodge on their stubbled heads
like stranded yachts or put on
stiletto heels or shiny earrings
or even oddly-matched shoes. they
must stay at home and
wear brown scarves. they must
turn their dying faces away from the rest of us
and not eat ice cream on Sea Point promenade
or enjoy spring
or breed hamsters.
they may not run in the annual school sports day mothers’ race
and definitely never win.
of course they are allowed to cry.
but only in the privacy of their own
and only when holding
a pillow over their
warm and dying mouths to stop
their children from knowing:
there is something a little more
than dying going on in there.
For Thomas in California
Do you lie awake at night
– cousin Nolan asks –
and worry about your kids?
– I knew someone else – he sighs
She looked fine, just like you.
Until she died.
And the woman who cut my hair
at the hairdresser’s in Cavendish Square:
She had an Aunt with the illness
who’d been one hundred percent OK.
Until six months ago.
Then there’s the nurse in Wynberg
who sews prosthetic pockets and enjoys
keeping me up to date with each
amongst her dwindling
I save them all up for you, Tom
for Sunday nights
when you phone and I can finally fume:
I’m going to live
to bury all those people who think
I won’t make it.
I wait for you to tell me:
Don’t say that
People don’t mean to
But you just say:
Hand me that shovel, girl.
I’m gonna help you dig.
i don’t remember what
made her cry that day
– her brother teasing? her sister ignoring her? –
running to where i sat
in the armchair of the sunny lounge
that was before they allowed
a prosthesis to lie
over the healing scar
and i only remember
– long after she’d stopped –
how hard her skull felt
on the bones of my chest.
What I plan
I plan to eat oat snaps (more than two)
while drinking Lady Grey tea
in a house at Plettenberg Bay overlooking
the mountains and a sea
rolled flat as pastry by the fussy wind.
I plan to not-plan or anticipate
the abrupt scream of metal
or the phone call at 3 am
or the silent busy-ness of my own
I plan to forgive myself if I do.
I plan to lose myself – often –
in the temporary
to sit out the turbulence when it mauls
at the equator of my muscle and bone
I plan to remember I’ve kept afloat till now.
And remembering better times I plan
to call them once again to account
to hang them from my warped mainsail
like worn and mended sails that shout:
Here you have held the wind.
from Missing (Modjaji Books, 2010)
You are cordially invited to the launch of Beverly Rycroft’s Missing:
Date: Saturday, 17 July 2010
Time: 18h00 to 19h30
Venue: Kalk Bay Books, Cape Town
Enter your details here to be added to the guest list.
Visit Reach for Recovery.
Tags: Beverly Rycroft poems, Beverly Rycroft poet, Beverly Rycroft's Diagnosis, Beverly Rycroft's Missing, breast cancer recovery, breast cancer survivors, Dying women should not wear lipstick, For Thomas in California, I'd like you to look at your X-rays, Modjaji Books, South African poetry, South African poets, surviving breast cancer