Blood and Bones

Publication Date

April 2018


Lisa Cohen




English (United States)


An old woman sits on the porch of a farmhouse up a long dirt road off Route 513, in north-west South Africa. She has a small dog on her lap and several others scattered on the couches around her. The house backs up onto the jagged foothills of the Magaliesberg mountains, an hour's drive from the government capital of Pretoria. The old woman is my grandmother and the land around her is known, in the family, as the Farm. In truth, my grandmother doesn't sit on the veranda anymore, she doesn't sit anywhere. She died last year. But when my thoughts drift to the Farm there she will always be under a wool felt blanket and flanked by rescued dogs. Memory doesn't care about what's real. Reality doesn't change how a place lives in your mind, even if it will never be that way again. Over the years of my frequent visits to the farm through my childhood, my grandmother was slowly crippled by dementia. I can't remember when I first became aware of the fear that engulfed me each time I arrived at the Farm. But that fear grew until it was greater than my youthful determination to ignore it until I had to look it in the eye. And when I did, I realized that the history of the land my grandmother lived on, both ancient and recent, was linked to her life, her struggles, and my fear, as much as her illness was. This piece of writing is an exploration of place, memory, fear, and why we need to understand the places that scare us.

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