Two new poems by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents previously unpublished poetry by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo.

Edith And Umau

I’ve returned from America
because Umau is mortal
in the way nation-states aren’t
and he is old. This work
is about how we live; living
is the reason for this work.
This is work.

Umau is beautiful and strong,
delights a granddaughter with mulberry,
zambarau, coloured coffee beans
drying on the verandah.

He looks out over the farm, short-sighted.
Once upon a time he saw long, long ago,
knew the words that blackened in our silence.
Now he watches what he planted,
neck stiff like Lot’s on that hill outside Sodom,
willing the past cured.

I’ve returned from the city,
from boarding school.
I’ve come for Edith, the salty one
Omusherekha, who cures.

The wound that won’t heal:
if I could learn which story’s destruction
she turned to witness.



Water Fight

Water spills out of our hands onto terrazzo floor,
joyless. The truth is I can’t save Daddy—
who sees water as life-giving—
when his feet, fat with edema, disagree.

Daddy has been a child, and I am his. His child
is taking a bottle of water away from him
who made her, taught her to read. I am raising

my voice as if I know what it means
to be in his body, needing water
like the man in Hades begging to drink
from Lazarus’ fingertip, the one ridden with sores.

I drive him to hospital,
wait while they dialyze him,
preserve him like a carrot
only half in the ground.

Where else in the world can I be when his breath
depends on machinery? How well we deny
water and those childhood treats he craves
(roasted maize and fried cassava),
which abracadabra into sugar to wither his insides.

I just want to be normal, he says. This is ours:
this disagreement, his body slipping
into unfeeling. In this world
we shall have no other plot point.

There is no poetry in taking the bottle from him.
All I want is to be child,
and have him be father.


Previously unpublished, © Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, 2019

  • Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s poems have appeared in Transition, Poetry is Dead, Obsidian, Kwani?, and One Throne Magazine among others. She has twice appeared on the Poetry Africa stage, and received an AIR residency through The Africa Centre. Ngwatilo has published two chapbooks, Blue Mothertongue and Dagoretti Corner, and is at work on her full-length manuscript in poetry, Witness & Dream.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Nick Stanley/Flickr

One thought on “Two new poems by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo”

  1. This is so beautiful Neema Ngwatilo Mawiyoo…why has it brought tears to my eyes thinking of your late Dad, Canon Sam Tei Mawiyoo. Thank you dearest, sweetest daughter. You will go places.

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