#APoemADay: ‘Kanga’ – Charlotte O’Neal


Photography courtesy of Liberator Magazine.


And this is for those mamas who wear kangas over the armour of their lives
to soften the blows of lives filled with woe
that is brightened by the kanga cloth
that fills the holes
of those who left them…
of those who never came
to help them carry the babies riding on their backs in wrinkled

kanga slings

And she remembers those that never came back to wipe away
hot tears of fear and shame
that fall in vain
from the eyes of those mamas
who wring life’s dirty water out of kanga cloth
again and again and again

I’m talking ’bout the old ones
those kanga cloths that serve as recycled nappy wear
Those once new
now unravelling kanga cloths
whose softness helps soothe cries of babies dear
who valiantly resist brushes and comb through tangled matted hair
that was quickly dried by sweet smelling kanga cloth
that had been freely blowing in the wind

Fascinating the gaze of the child left alone
while mama is forced to earn a few shillings here and there
slinging short kanga mini-skirts in hot foamy vomit smelling beer
that’s been sloshed on the bar floor by men who grin
and rip at the old kanga cloth that she wears

It’s that same kanga that she used to wipe the uji
from the face of her baby boy just the morning before
It’s that same kanga that she’ll use to fill up the cracks
at the bottom of her termite bitten door

It’s that same kanga she’ll use to rock
her now full bellied baby to sleep
that same kanga whose faded colours
drain hope from her sometimes sunken
dried out checks

is that the same…
that same kanga that I now see fluttering lightly
in the afternoon breeze?

Is that possibly that the same kanga that she now clings to
that helps lift her up
from bruised and scratched up knees?

Is that the same kanga cloth hanging from her shoulders
that her neighbours now wrap tightly round her,
as they assure her that
they got her back
as if she was their own son or their own grown up daughter?

Is that the same kanga cloth whose faded colours
look suddenly bright and new
with almost delirious hope
with full blown courage
with unity
and with community love now fully renewed?

Is that the same old worn out kanga cloth that previously was full of pitiful holes
somehow now tightly woven with tears dried and peeled off
like new mottled skin of a life feeling fulfilled and bold!

Is that the same old kanga cloth that she used to wear before
that now wipes up those gurgles of joy that drip from the laughing face of her full bellied boy!

Is that the same kanga cloth that mama now wraps round her head
as she lifts up her smiling face to the sun
now with pride
as she strides with new found courage ahead
into new opportunities

No more skinned knees
no more pitiful woe!


About Charlotte O’Neal
Charlotte Hill O’Neal, is a visual artist, musician and poet based in Tanzania. She was born in the USA. She is co-director of the United African Alliance Community Center UAACC located outside of Arusha, Tanzani. Greatly influenced by jazz, blues and gospel, her work explore her life as a diaspora born African living in Africa.One of her most famous poems is titled I Almost Lost Myself.

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

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