Leaving home: Ekhaya

You are leaving

Your Makazis and Mamkhulus gather together in your name around the fire

They pack the suitcase you sit on and zip

The yellow-orange light assuages your fears

Your Makazi, the one who calls you sanctuary, dances around holding your crying mother to her bosom

She will cry at the airport,

her face hidden by a mask, her tears wiped by the eight year old

You will kiss the envelope you send her letter home in

For now, she moves her hips in the motion of a woman stirring pap

Your Makazi, the one whose beach sand hit the back of your legs when you were 10, smiles when you cry about leaving

She sees what you cannot in your eyes

Your Makazi, the one who calls you beautiful, hands you a bouquet of flowers and a note Wishing you all the best

With you, you take her scent, and the corners of her smile,

around her mouth and around her eyes

Your Mamkhulu, the one with the bad knees, worse xenophobia, and good dombolo, raises a bottle of beer to you.

She will be on the other side of the phone whenever you call home

Your Mamkhulu, the one who taught you how to make soft-serve ice cream and isiXhosa, asks if you’ve packed enough underwear.

The next time you speak, she will say „yivha uthetha kamandi njani,“ „ubuya nini, Nokuhuila?“ Your makhulu, the one who sold you kotas and Jesus Christ, blesses you in His name. She will learn to use WhatsApp to call you so she never misses a birthday.

She will bless the Lord for your baptism

She will make you a plate at Easter

Your Ma, the one who spelled „dysfunctional“ for you, sleeps with you in your bed that night. Wakes you up first thing in the morning for church, where you will serve a last time, shares your anxiety

Absorbs your tears and makes them her own.

She will miss you every day, sleep in your empty bed when she feels the worst, answer the phone whenever you call home,

long to see the child her womb chose,

give you the corners of her smile like she has given you the small of her back, the bottom of her heart, the top of her mind, the best of her body,

bless you in Jesus‘ name

„I pray for you, mntanam‘.“


Leaving home is poetry


*This poem was the runner-up of the poetry category of our 13th annual Writing in the Margins contest, judged by Juliane Okot Bitek. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) for this year’s contest. 

Tatenda Dlali is a Xhosa writer, poet, and archivist who is evolving gills for learning how to breathe differently. (Thank you Alexis Pauline Gumbs).

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