Afro Poetry Times

What does not sink (poem)...

- By Siphokazi Jonas

Ufikile unogumbe, ugalelekil­e Akankqonkq­ozi, udiliza umgubasi.

There is a flood inside our house.

The water climbs up the wall when we weep; it does not let us breathe. Everything is wet with grief.

Before this pandemic, we would cast a funeral song into the dark like a flare, and the neighbours would come to hold our arms as we drove the water out the door.

Before grief reached out ankles.

Before it swept us to our knees.

Before it flowed into our pots and our beds.

To mourn meant a community gathered, like a bank between you and the river of death. Now death has dampened this ritual — We mourn alone.

The neighbours lift their arms to relieve the water in their lungs —

We are drowning.

This flood has reached into the inner rooms and quenched lives young and old. It has taken what we are not ready to lose. It spits the stories of the living into the street as injured furniture.

Like pensioner in line for a social grant whose life has no space to protest a beach, but she still returns home, clothes soaked. Or the man who dies for a beer in his backyard.

And the nurse tying a tattered mask together with prayer and is still unprotecte­d. Or the artist who contemplat­es eating her own words to ease her hunger — and art starves.

This flood ruins us all.

But what of the after, when the depth of this moment is absorbed by history?

Who will we be?

We are a people who know how to build out of the remnants of disaster, and we will do it again, and again.

When we salvage what is useful, may we find ourselves baptised into something new: New ways of mourning,

A people who have learned to breathe underwater, reciting the names of those we have lost, and memories that never sink.

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