Home 9 Literary Journal 9 Volume 21 9 Volume 21 Poetry 9 Abdul Kayum Ahmed – “Gorée” and “Tutu”

Abdul Kayum Ahmed
“Gorée” and “Tutu”


when all that remains are echoes and dust

i will feel your heart beat in my throat
and fill my lungs with your tears

i will sew your love into my flesh
and set my dark skin on fire

when pain is all we are capable of

i will fill the prison with sulphur
and offer my body as sacrament

i will hold my breath until it burns
and silently

slip out of the shackles



Dark circular knots form a pattern on the roughly sanded surface decorating the coffin. The tiny pine box looks like it contains a once joyful child taken before their time. Twisted rope handles for raising their body above our shoulders into the heavens. In the mournful procession ahead of me a grandmother needs some assistance to climb the stairs to the altar, where the joyful child is offered for our absolution. She explains: “My shoes are too big”. The church attendant helping the older woman clarifies for the eavesdroppers waiting in line to pay our respects: “My mother has the same problem. They shrink as they get older.”


A. Kayum Ahmed is a South African activist-scholar who teaches health and human rights advocacy at Columbia University’s School of Public Health and serves as Special Advisor on the Right to Health at Human Rights Watch. In addition, he is a Visiting Scientist at Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health & Human Rights.