Kerry Hammerton currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa. Reading is her first passion although writing poetry is a close second. She has published poetry in various South African and international literary journals and anthologies – most recently Hallelujah for 50ft Women (Bloodaxe Books 2015) and Cutting Carrots the Wrong Way (Uhlanga Press 2017). Kerry’s poetry is intimate and honest, and explores themes around identity, romantic relationships, depression, suicide, women’s bodies and their experiences of sex. She writes to examine reality and also to create a space for belonging. She has an MA in Creative Writing (with distinction) from Rhodes University. She is currently a Creative Writing PhD candidate at the University of the Western Cape where she is exploring the lives of middle-aged and older women. Her most recent collection is Secret Keeper (Modjaji 2018).
Getting Ready for school
My father’s right hand fumbles in harmony with my own. His left hand has had to unlearn its deftness. He’s teaching me a Windsor knot for my grey and black striped school tie. Last night we polished shoes. Sky blue brushes. Polish on. And then sweep and sweep and buff until the shoes gleam. Once a week we do this, my father, my brother and I. Polish and brushes live under the kitchen sink with bleach and dishwashing liquid – secrets of clean and polished standing together in domestic tidiness. We bring order to ourselves: perfect knotted ties, shiny shoes, don’t lie, always say please and thank you, be grateful, don’t tell everyone our business, look after yourself because no-one else will, don’t cry, do as I say, never say I love you.
This short prose-poetry piece came out of workshop where Graham Mort asked us to think about when and how we learnt to tie shoe-laces as a symbol of liberty. As a child growing up in South Africa I spent most of my free time barefoot and putting on any pair of shoes was always seen as a constraint. That prompt, however, made me think about polishing shoes for school and my school uniform. My father always wore a tie to work, it was a symbol of economic freedom and strength – things that a child doesn’t have. I changed schools when I was nine years old and was then required to wear a tie in the winter. At that age wearing a tie made me feel adult and grown-up. Later in rebellious teenage years that tie became a symbol of conformity and constriction, and outside the school gates friends and I would do everything we could to subvert the school uniform. My father also taught my brother and I to polish our shoes properly, my father was in the Royal Air Force so his standards were high. This idea of order and cleanliness is something that is taught to children, but it made me think about other things that are taught in families that are more subtle. When we become adults and have more freedom these ideas may sometimes impede our emotional freedom particularly if we don’t work to free ourselves from their constraints.
PUBLICATIONS (POETRY BOOKS)
Secret Keeper (Modjaji 2018)
The Weather Report (2013)
These are the Lies I told You (Modjaji 2010)