Poetry by Sarah Lubala, from A History of Disappearance

The JRB presents poetry from Sarah Lubala’s collection A History of Disappearance.

A History of Disappearance
Sarah Lubala
Botsotso Publishing, 2022

6 Errant Thoughts on Being a Refugee


on the worst of my days
this body is a gimcrack-vessel
no more than two lungs and
a tremor
nailed to salvaged wood


grief travelled with me
across the Ubangi River

i prayed love
and all her cognates
on the passage over:
libet (to please)
lips (to be needed)
lyp (to beg)

i arrived with
bruised knees
wet hair
a mouth-full of salted fish


i am so
for holiness
for communion
for a God you can sink
your teeth into


i was raised
on the Congolese-gospel
i can teach you how to forget
where you are from

to worship the wide road before you
hands open
like this:
make each palm
a letter
to the sky


Beni is a town
with one police station
many graves

I should go back
my people are weeping


is a narrow bed

On the Xenophobic Attacks in Johannesburg

They say God’s promises
are yes
and Amen.

Who prayed for rope
and fire?

A Burial Hymn


I am gathering from scratch.
Telling the stone house,
the thatch roof,
the leaden gun,
the months of rice and milk.


Oh Lord,
that I belonged to any land but this,
that I could not read the currents,
that the dirt knew nothing of me.

In these lines
I have tried to forget the words by which we are known.


I am told my poems hold too much water,
are too insistent in their weeping,
but I know nothing else.
Honeyed water for the mouth,
lemon water for the throat,
saltwater for the wounds.

History is the dog at my back,
hard by the heels;
the stain of red earth along the hem of every skirt.


The night my grandfather died
I stood in a long line at Home Affairs
awaiting a new name.

Forgive me.

New Braamfontein

In the vanishing dark
the call of the muezzin grieves the sky,
from the balcony, our neighbour cries into her phone:
‘This city will break your heart.’

Untouched by the emergency,
we grow lush among the house plants.
The flowering loaves number our days;
the laughing doves bring us the world.

In bed, a sovereign nation of two,
I turn to you:
‘If you hate Johannesburg,
you’ve never been in love.’

  • Sarah Lubala is a Congolese-born poet. Her family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo two decades ago amidst political unrest as militant factions tried to overthrow the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Her family relocated first to Cape Town, South Africa, then Abidjan—the capital of Côte d’Ivoire—before returning to South Africa and settling in Johannesburg. She has since spent her life in various parts of Africa, Asia and Europe and believes herself to be from here, there, everywhere and nowhere. She currently lives in Johannesburg with her husband and cat. Sarah has been twice shortlisted for the Gerald Kraak Award, and once for The Brittle Paper Poetry Award as well as longlisted for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award. She is also the winner of the Castello Di Duino XIV prize.

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