Three poems by Shailja Patel

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents three poems by Shailja Patel.

Syllabus Note

O leftist men who heart critiques of Hillary
and vanish when we say rape culture

O liberal feminists of the global North
who ghost us outside your borders

O rainbow imperialists in your pinkwashing headphones
that cancel noise from queers beneath your bombs

You will be examined
on the full text


Can’t Win

Mekatilili wa Menza
led a Giriama uprising
in 1913. Refused
forced labour, hut tax, land theft
by the British. Reclaimed
stolen palm wine
and ivory

The Daily Nation
in 2013
called her

the mad woman

was gambled away
by her husband. Dragged
trailing menstrual blood
into a court of men
as her five

The Mahabharata
calls her

the good woman


How This Works

First they said

If it really happened, report it to the police. Don’t you know how serious
such allegations are? You can’t just come to the community
without official charges.

Then they said

Why did you have to go to the police? Don’t you know how trivial
such allegations are? You should have come to the community
instead of filing charges.

You said
what community?

They said
shut up bitch shutup bitch shutupjustshutthefuckup


© Shailja Patel

‘Syllabus Note’ first appeared at The Dreaming Machine, November 2017. ‘Can’t Win’ and ‘How This Works’ are previously unpublished.

  • Shailja Patel is a Kenyan poet, currently based in Johannesburg. Her book, Migritude, was an Amazon and Seattle Times bestseller. Follow her on Twitter.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Image: Shalom Mwenesi/Unsplash

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