i have asked myself a dozen times if i have the right to write what i’m about to share, if i can share with an audience a story that is not my own.
it is a question that we need to ask ourselves redundantly because words have power & stories change things.
in this case, i’ve come to the conclusion that i can. & i only can because of this : i am not seeking to replace the voices who are currently experiencing the dark depths of this issue & its ramifications, i am simply seeking to add to their brave number, to raise my voice as a banner of hope alongside theirs.
a few of the latest statistics, according to Aljazeera & the Alberton Record :
“in August alone, 30 women were murdered by their partners”
“a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa”
“the Crime Against Women in South Africa Report by Statistics SA shows that femicide (the murder of women on the basis of their gender) is 5 times higher than the global average”
“41% of people raped are children”
for the daughters in south africa whose lives have been hauled to death.
for their voices : silenced.
for their dreams : destroyed.
for their journeys : demolished.
we are outraged.
for the fear
that has been planted because of the past & of the present,
may it be starved.
for the fury
that follows this monstrous injustice,
may it be felt
in our core.
for the future
that is being built by today
— a tower of these moments --
may it be strengthened.
the following poem was written by natalia molebatsi, a writer & poet, born & raised in tembisa, south africa. it was written for her daughter & it is a rallying cry for the present & a rallying cry for the future, for the daughters of south africa & for the daughters in every pocket of the world.
“listen up, child” // by natalia molebatsi
“i’m raising you to wake up
and take a ride to any universe
be the beauty of soul sound and energy
create my child like you the created
earn the language of moulding
seeds into fruitful beings
i’m raising you so you too can raise me
infant of my skin
reveal chapters the two of us are yet to learn
and believe me child some of the rules
i have run into can save your soul,
so listen up child,
be yourself or don’t wake at all
life is not for the feeble
are you ready for the fires of time
that only life alone can extend
her long arms to light up?
If so clothe yourself with ancient selves
who knew before we did that you, the future
will be born into this crazy but jazzy
scene called living
rise and let the world know
you are here to claim no sense
nor sin but only the waking and dream-dripping
sun of each dawn
never wait for time’s breath to blow
into your lungs rather bloom
from the dust we rose from like mystics
to grow your own wings
and be sure to ask for strength
between these wings
so they don’t split into pieces and halves cause child,
i’m raising you to be whole
paint your life’s everyday in ways not forced on you
but reflections felt by you cause none but ourselves
can blow up a true self that is everything there is to be
raise your story’s voice to go beyond any beyond
and beat any ghost that could suck
out your way up to clouds of choice
have sacred communion with the past
that knotted to you your present
cause child, any presence that
lacks a past is part of the lost so listen up child
listen close child cause you’re a sister, and i’m a sister
remove your walk from exhausting
arms of men-talities who can’t take a strong sister
and white supremacies who still believe
we’re strong enough only for taking instructions
and child, i’m still tasting the bitter truth i’m learning
that not every woman is a sister
so, listen up gal
listen up, bloom of my belly
infant of my skin never step into boxes
these aren’t enough to hold our stories alive
rise to the knowledge that our people
and theirs are tapestries
sown long and wide enough to hold you up
till you can uphold yourself
never forbid your truth in spaces that strangle our realities
rise child your vision is our voice
i have laboured to challenge convention
beat conviction on my soul, scrubbed the floors of my heart
tended the soil of my womb so the fruits of my garden
would be like you child of mine beautiful beyond magic herself
i stood guard at the entrance to your ride
to usher you into these arms bosom and back
that i’m raising you to fly beyond
so listen up child
i’m raising you within the rain you were made of
walk to the knowledge that you are everything that is musical…”
it is important to learn & to reflect & to mourn. it is important to be thoughtful & intentional & critical. it is important to sit in the discomfort of it all & it is important to keep on journeying through it all.
it is important to know their names. here are a few :
Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels
it is important to know their stories & it is important to know their stories are more than their deaths & it is important to know their stories are unique & yet, they are tied together by common threads & this is one of them : every victim was a daughter & every daughter was a child & every child is born into this world with intrinsic value & worth that belongs here & is needed here.
the injustices that have happened & are happening in south africa are all too well-known in every corner of the world. the narrative is incredibly familiar. may it never become normalized. it is complex & it is staggering. may it never become simplified.
there is more to be said & there is more to be done, but i believe natalia molebatsi was onto something of power & of change for us all when she wrote this poem for her daughter.
may we all,
if we have a child or know a child, hug her. hug him. celebrate her. celebrate him. listen to her. listen to him.
may we tell her & may we tell him — if not by our words, then by the way we wholeheartedly respect, cherish & love them — as natalia wrote :
rise, child. your vision is our voice.
on september first, ben & i started to build our first home. that day, we walked in it & around it — excited & aimless — tossing ideas back & forth about where to hang our jackets, how to arrange the couches, where to declare the coffee station. the second day, we hauled box after box inside our new home, bumping our armfuls against the doorframes & exhausting the phrase : “we’ll put that there, for now.” (“that” is still “there,” by the way)
& it wasn’t until the first morning we woke up in our new bedroom it hit me : we’re building a home. we’re really doing it. this is it. we’re actually creating a life that revolves around this central word : home. so here we are : making berry smoothies & pumpkin muffins, figuring out household chores & the most cost-effective way to buy just about anything & trying really hard to understand each other — like why i prefer our deep conversations to happen at the start of any NFL game.
we’re creating habits & rhythms, priorities & preferences, that embody what we hope our home will continue to be & we’re celebrating this. every day, we’re celebrating this.
& yet, i’m incredibly unsettled about the fact we’re building a home in september 2019. because in the same moment that i’m putting sunflowers in a vase & arranging them on my windowsill, thousands of people are grieving all they lost from hurricane dorian.
i am sitting on my front porch, which is next to my neighbors’ front porch, which is next to my other neighbors’ front porch & “nearly three out of every four homes on Grand Bahama are under water” & i am wondering why the water pressure in my shower seems lower than usual & in another part of the same world there are “approximately 70 percent of the homes underwater” & i am about to walk down to my local coffee shop & “entire neighborhoods have been wiped out, with houses turned to rubble” in a place — a home — that is not mine, but is someone's. (the washington post)
i don’t have answers, only more questions. what can i do? read more articles? buy a flight? put the dishes away & thank God for my home? raise awareness? send an email? pray for the people who are living this moment in devastation? then go reheat & finish my coffee?
of course, there is a larger question looming under the surface of these words :
how can i celebrate _____ when another human is grieving _____?
i don’t know.
& although i don’t know the answer, or whether there is one, i do have a poem :
“the slippery green frog
that went to his death
in the heron’s pink throat
was my small brother,
and the heron
with the white plumes
like a crown on his head
who is washing now his great sword-beak
in the shining pond
is my tall thin brother.
my heart dresses in black
// after reading lucretius, i go to the pond // by mary Oliver //
i revisit this poem often. incredibly — almost embarrassingly — often. because it seems the longer i live, the more i am convinced that being human is less about tirelessly racing up the mountain so we can reach the peak & stay there & more about holding two handfuls — two hands. full. — of celebration & of devastation.
& this is how we go about it : we give in to celebration & we give in to devastation & we do not hold one handful above another. we embrace them. we unify them. we live them. we share them.
then, we press on.
we build & rebuild.
this september & every september.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.