Tanaka Mhishi



I do not want to be writing this poem again.
I am sick of it, sick like drinking the wide Atlantic.
None of us want the air to ring with these words,
but the silence too will kill.

It was a woman this time.
Her friends describe her as articulate and bright.
The news says she had a history of crime,
they are using her unpaid parking tickets
 to spitball her in her coffin.

We are putting another brown body into the earth.
I have spent years insisting on my own beauty
but I have not yet had to insist on my right to life.
I know how it feels to stumble into a conversation
where my body is a problem,
but I do not know what it is like when the solution
lives down the barrel of a gun.

I don't want to ask you to consider these names,
to let them echo and repeat Sandra, Sandra, Eric Garner,
we do not have the words to weigh the meat of them
let alone the magic to bring them back.

But I am still a poet,
and my every action tends to ink
and my ink speaks louder than a gunshot
and I will not let the only brown voices your hear be
get off my chest I can't breathe it hurts.
We have songs from Brooklyn to Bethnal Green,
from Australia to Zimbabwe
we have

N’Kosi Sikelel iAfrika
Wade in the Water.
Ndiri kuenda kumakore
before I'll be a slave I'll be buried in my grave.

I don't want to put this pain in front of you.
I don't want to speak of her in the past tense,
so I will leave you with a silence.
And this silence belongs to her,
it is the sound of her breath and busted heart,
it is the only thing she has left to her. 
Feel this.

and remember her when you speak again.

My poetry works with trauma a lot. For some time now one of the best working definitions of a traumatic experience has been 'one which cannot be put into words.' When the worst happens language seems to fail us and we become animals locked in our own skins. We are mute; inhuman.

Enter the poem. Unlike the soundbite, the slogan or the statistic, a poem can travel to that silent place. It can let us speak the unspeakable, and in doing so, we can begin to beat it. To read a poem is, at it’s core, an act of faith. It presumes that it is possible to communicate- in my case about some of the thorniest issues facing our society. As a queer person of colour I’m often devastated to the point of exhaustion by much of what I see in the world. As a survivor of rape I am often exhausted to the point of devastation by the realities of living with what has happened to me. But as a poet I can be certain that I will live to write another day.

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