#APoemADay: ‘Water’ – Koleka Putuma



The memory of going to the beach every New Yearโ€™s eve
Is one I share with cousins, and most people raised black
How the elders would forbid us from going in too deep
To giggle, to splash, in our black tights and Shoprite plastic bags wrapped around our new weaves, forbid us from riding the wave,
for fear that we would be a mass of blackness swept by the tide
And never to return
Like litter
The elders forbid us as if the ocean has food poisoning

I often wonder why I feel as if I am drowning every time I look out into the sea
This and feeling incredibly small
I often hear this joke
About Black people not being able to swim
Or being scared of water

We are mocked
And we have often mocked ourselves
For wiping our faces the way that we do when we come out of the water
Compare it to how they do it all Bay Watch like
And how we so ratchet like with our postures and kink

Every time our skin goes under
The reeds remember that they were once chains
And the water, restless, wishes it could spew all of the slaves and ships onto shore
Whole as they had boarded, sailed and sunk
Their tears are what have turned the ocean salty
This is why our irises burn every time we go under
Every December sixteenth, December 24th and December 31st
Our skin traumatises the sea

They mock us
For not being able to throw ourselves into something that was instrumental in trying to execute our extinction
For you, the ocean is for surf boards, boats and tans
And all the cool stuff you do under there in your suits and goggles

But we, we come to be baptised here
We have come to stir the other world here
We have come to cleanse ourselves here
We have come to connect our living to the dead here

Our respect for water is what you have termed fear
The audacity to trade and murder us over water
Then mock us for being scared of it
The audacity to arrive by water and invade us
If the land was really yours then resurrect the bones of the colonisers and use them as a compass
Then quit using black bodies as tour guides or the site for your authentic African experience

Are we not tired of dancing for you?
Gyrating and singing on cue
Are we not tired of gathering as a mass of blackness to atone for just being here
To beg God to save us from a war we never started
To March for a cause caused by the intolerance for our existence
Raise our hands so we donโ€™t get shot
Raise our hands in church to pray for protection
And we still get shot there too
With our hands raised

Invasion comes naturally for your people
So you have come to rob us of our places of worship too
Come to murder us in prisons too
That is not new either

Too many white people out here acting God
Too many white people out here doing the work of God,
Too many white people out here period

And this God of theirs has my tummy in knots
Him and I have always had a complicated relationship
This blue eyed and blond haired homophobic Jesus I followed in Sunday school
Has had my kind bowing to a white and patriarchal heaven
Bowing to a Christ, his son, and 12 disciples
For all we know The disciples could have been queer, the holy trinity some weird twisted love triangle
and the Holy Ghost transgendered

But you will only choose to understand the scriptures that suit your agenda
You have taken the liberty to colonize the concept of God
gave god a gender, a skin color and a name in a language
we had to twist our mouths around

Blasphemy is wrapping Slavery in the Gospel and calling it freedom
Blasphemy is having to watch my kind use the same gospel to enslave each other
Since the days of Elijah We have been engineered kneel to whiteness
And we are not even sure if the days of Elijah even existed
Because whoever wrote the bible did not include us

But I would rather exist in that god-less holy book than in the history books that did not tell truth
About us
For us
On behalf of us
If you really had to write our stories
Then you ought to have done it in our motherโ€™s tongues
The ones you cut off when you fed them a new language

We never consent
Yet we are asked to dine with the oppressors
And Serve them forgiveness
How, when I have no other ingredient but rage

Another one (who looks like me) died today
Another one (who looks like me) was murdered today
By your kind
May that be the conversation at the table
And we can all thereafter wash this bitter meal with amnesia
And go for a swim after that

Just for fun.

Just for fun.

About Koleka Putuma
Cape Town based poet, playwright, director, theatre practitioner Koleka Putuma is the first South African National Slam Champion in 2014. She is making headlines for her work in theatre for children under the age of 7. Her works have been showcased in Germany, Scotland and the USA. She is a resident poet and creative director of Lingua Franca and she has headlined TEDx Stellenbosch and Inzync Poetry Sessions.

Water is one of a family of poems. Meet her uncle, ‘Black Solidarity‘ and her cousin, ‘Mountain‘.

Visit our website every day in May for our #APoemADay series to celebrate Africa Month.


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