by Siphokazi Jonas
Ufikile unogumbe, ugalelekile,
akankqonkqozi, udiliza umgubasi.
There is a flood inside our house.
The water climbs up the walls when we weep;
it does not let us breath.
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 strengthen 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 the 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 own arms to relieve the water in their lungs –
We are all 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 the pensioner in line for a social grant
whose life has no space to protest a beach,
still she returns home, clothes soaked.
Or the man who dies for a beer in his own backyard.
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
Who will we be?
We are a people who know how to rebuild out of the remnants of disaster,
and we will do it again, and again.
When we salvage what is usable,
may we find ourselves baptised into something new:
New ways of mourning,
a people who have learned to breathe under water,
reciting the names of those we have lost, and memories that never sink.
Copyright – all rights reserved 5 February 2021