New poetry by Koleka Putuma: ‘EVERY / THREE HOURS’

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents a new poem by Koleka Putuma.



this country buries us before we are born.
calls us by our obituaries before it calls us by our names.

makes us.
womxn with nervous conditions.
nervous conditions with their guard up.
law enforcement with a broken system.
a broken system with too much power.
power in authority with guns that gun down their spouses.

telephones with missing person details.
missing person details with no follow up.
garages with toddlers who should be in school.
vehicles with evidence.
evidence with no power to prosecute.
post offices with weapons.
shopping malls with kidnappers.
bathrooms with carnage.

a carnage with no expiry date.
clubs with druggers.
alleyways with not enough light.
and. even. with.
all the light. you would still not be safe.
ubers with panic.
taxify with paranoia.
walks with tasers. in groups. in public.
in places you wouldn’t think it could happen.

graves with girls.
taken too soon.
too brutal.
too horrifying to name.
to document. to find.
to mark as danger zones.
danger zones disguised as safe spaces.
safe spaces with murderers.
murderers who are husband material.
schools with paedophiles.
paedophiles with degrees in working with children.
lecture halls with molesters.
terminals with predators.
construction sites with men old enough to understand ‘NO!’
churches with men who use your prayers for safety to get you on your knees
with your arms raised.

[every 3 hours, one of us does not make it]

this country hangs our dignity at half-mast.
waves our bodies as lessons to be learnt.
as moments that should teach us something.
as modules. tests. experiments.

my existence is not for your teaching
to dislocate my mother’s throat six feet under
and compensate her grief with scholarships and amended policies.
policies that have gathered dust before they have even been drafted.

this country buries us before we are born.
calls us by our obituaries before it calls us
by our names.


© Koleka Putuma, 2019


  • Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems, Collective Amnesia (2017), has taken the South African literary scene by storm and is in its ninth print run. It has also quickly been prescribed at South African universities, as well as at Gothenburg University in Sweden. It was recently awarded the 2018 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. It has been translated into Spanish and released in Madrid by Flores Rara. A German translation is forthcoming from Wunderhorn Publishing House later this year, and a Danish translation will be published by Rebel With a Cause in Denmark in 2020. Follow her on Twitter.
Header image: Koleka Putuma by Iskeem Semincibi

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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