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Three Poems by Sarah Lubala

A Leaving Song

— in memory of my great grandmother

say the cows are dying in the fields
say there is no meat this summer
say she is sold to an old chief
say her thighs sing blood and water

say she buries two babies
say two bundles wrapped in
white muslin
say the shroud is caught
in the thorn bush
say none but God can mend the tear

say she remembers her own mother
say she recalls her bird-bone hands
say they dug in wild hunger
say the earth never did yield

say there are rows of wild mangos
say she moves hands and knees
between them
say the night becomes a poem
say nothing scares her anymore

A Burial Hymn


Bring the bitter leaf
the wild spinach
the kola nuts

I am gathering from scratch
telling the stone house
the thatch roof
the gun too large
for hands so small
the months of rice and


Oh Lord
that I belonged
to any land but this
that I could not read
the currents
that the dirt roads knew nothing
of me

In these lines
I have tried to forget the words
by which we are known


I am told my poems
hold too much water
are charged with too much
I know nothing else
honeyed water for the mouth
lemon water for the throat
saltwater for the wounds

history is the dog at my back
hard by the heels
the profane stain of red earth
along the hem of every skirt


The night my grandfather died
I stood in a long line at Home Affairs
awaiting a new name

forgive me

The Women

— for Karabo Mokoena and the other Lost Women

There is never enough water
only the memory of it
only the burning wood
only the soft scuttle of mice
trapped in the roof

we are tired
of the men
in cars
in markets
in line at the post office