Third prize-winning poem, 2020 Makewana Competition

by Tawonga Msowoya

They were all searching when they came.

In large ships and vessels they came, and they came searching for something
amid the quagmire of lost and deprived black bodies. They came searching for themselves and hoped to find their souls wrapped and buried somewhere deep within the robust breasts and wide hips of ebony skin.
They came searching for themselves in the eyes of men whose own souls had vacated, leaving only empty orbs of dark brown swimming in murky pools of a bloodshot white,
Eyes that reflected nothing more than loss, hardship and the memory of generations of backs that had bent under the weight of sacks laden with harvest and soil.
Eyes that were held and embedded in a body that knew nothing more than the endless thrust and insatiable pleasures of polygamous sin.

They came searching for something in a place were bodies housed no people, and living souls could not be found.
They came searching where loss was as common as day and riddled with fleeting memories of happiness and the laughter of children whose noses remain crusted with mucus and their cheeks stained with tears from the ache and longing of hunger in the pit of their empty stomachs by day, and the incessant bite of disease bearing vectors that leave behind raised bumps of skin by the cloak of night.

They came searching for themselves where they were sure their own first world loss and inadequacy would never outweigh the curse of dependency and strife that plagued the darkest corners of the third world.
They came searching for themselves where they could contort their bodies as if possessed by the rhythmic beat of calloused hands thrust against the skin of a goat pulled skillfully and tight.
Where they could let their long billowing hair down, drink kuche kuche and adorn their ivory skin in the vibrant prints and patterns that made them cultured and worldly: That made them righteous and immortal.


They all came here searching,
and against every setting sun that lit the sky in orange hues that would colour their favourite memories and anecdotes back home,
Metamorphosing them from creatures of loss to breath-taking sights of self discovery and divine purpose, they would be gone.

Leaving behind only their rented homes that would remain haunted and empty, in anticipation for the next fleet of them that would come searching.
Leaving behind that quagmire of empty and deprived black bodies, themselves searching to fill the gap of their absence and immortalised only in the pictures that would journey across boarders to be displayed for sport.

Leaving behind only the memory of their searching,
shed and littered in shallow graves across the land.

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