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By Tsitsi Jaji
Pause. (For All the Madibas)*
There is a breath before the pendulum rends its center,
A breath before what leapt comes back to its ground.
There, men and women in chains broke rock, forcing it to deliver
Hours on end, for year after year
of gravel’s grating humiliation,
Men and women, clay-footed,
sat with Shakespeare.
They were never shamed.
May their memories be ever
Dust to Dust*
There are women left who have no rage in their wrists
As they slice greens or skin tomatoes towards mealtime.
Their husbands are at the beer-gardens with
Family money – what would amount to a bag of beans
Or soap bars.
There are women who keep both lips quietly touching,
Even as they gesture a fly from their brow, and
Swallow the mucus of a chilled afternoon.
They remember vaguely when love began
And the commonplace was not where they were going.
A woman is born knowing how it happens,
Her heart turning to dust as fine as cinnamon.
It has to do with disease, redder lips,
City restaurants, the cost of deodorant.
Indeed, it so happens that their men are condemned
To spend the rest of their lives staggering home
To fuck a corpse who smells of kitchen duty
And an unwillingness to preen for a wanderer.
These women wear long, brown dresses.
They rarely hurry across busy intersections,
They move as if, inside them, they carry a heavy mound.
* “Pause” was first published in the chapbook Carnaval included in the boxed set Seven New Generation African Writers (Slapering Hol Press, 2014). “Dust to Dust” was first published in Bitter Oleander, Volume 9 Number 1 (2003).
Tsitsi Jaji was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She teaches literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her chapbook Carnaval appears in the boxed-set Seven New Generation African Poets (Slapering Hol/African Poetry Book Fund). Her first scholarly book, Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music and Pan-African Solidarity (Oxford UP, 2014), traces Ghanaian, Senegalese, and South African responses to African American music in print and film.
(Photo by Tanji Gilliam)