Poetry

House of Stone: Poems by Tendai Marima

house of stone

the kinky crown on my head
has roots so deep they defy history’s textual limits
starting with my mother,
my grandmother
and her mother
and her mother
and her mother
and her mother
and her mother
before her,
before her,
before her,
to a time when women made rain with their hands;
taking a pinch of sunshine, covering it with six days of prayer
to open palms of cloud and thunder on the seventh.

across these sabbatical heavens,
my name is written in praise of a new day,
for this is where my roots begin;
sculpted by lineages of black hands
who built this house of stone
(from where i rise),
long before bullets and bibles scarred us,
but never scared us.
long before when we were bantu
not bantus living in bantustans
that caused bantus to birth revolutions
that soon became illusions of grandeur
as greedy ganders once gandangas*
gorged their gluttonous souls
on house harvests
before markets
opened
with stone in stock
so this house of rock
now stands a
mis-elected,
neglected,
dissected,
mass infected,
house of hunger
vanquishing many in anger
into sunless asylums
where the moon never sleeps
and the sun never awakens
for only the labour of hands
is known in these strange lands.

i pray for a long after,
a long after of before.
i pray with my hands
as my mothers prayed before.
i pray in these roots
for a long after of before,
that’s seen tomorrow’s suns rising
in my womb
and my daughter’s womb
and her daughter’s
and her daughter’s
and her daughter’s
and her daughter’s
and her daughter’s
and her daughter’s
womb’s womb
long after,
for nothing can move this house of stone;
nothing can move my womb of stone.

*titled so because Zimbabwe means house of rocks in Shona
** gandangas – Shona word for guerilla fighters who fought in the liberation struggle
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smoke & fire

smoke curls, swirls and swells inside of me
as day takes flight into night to rise in new lands.
like my grandmother sniffing mudhombo*,
as the ancients sitting on matombo**,
i inhale holy smoke to snuff out babylon’s lairs
aware of the snares ‘pon these pondo shores.

here i’m chicken georgina singing heavens blues in foreign
longing to fly away home to zion,
but zion’s ruled by fists of iron
wielding sjamboks, clad in gumboots
mushing freedom’s youthful gaze to a pulp
in untold stories of the night.

in graveyard shifts i clock shit work,
in her majesty’s service
yet i too am a Queen in my brown skin
from cushitic kin singing david’s psalms
of palms crossed in bantu bloodlines
migrating south where mashona battle lines
mis-signed treaties
causing state lines to be drawn
in rhodes’s imperial train line,
soon derailed in transit by the black starline
racing to lancaster’s*** finish line in vote lines,
singing rebel rhythms.
schooled in freedom’s rainbow ribbons
i grew riddims in a dread never knowing
i’d throw ash and dust
on my mother;
a woman whose head bore
a bread basket now a casket
shrouded in sovereign gowns
of kings growing poverty in my natty kinks,
pushing me to penitentiaries abroad,
to serve illusory lords and infirm inmates.

i’m longing for release
from panning gold in these rivers of brown excrement.
i’m puffing magical fires to keep my roots alive
and my routes alight,
to guide my way home
when freedom’s prayers are born.
*mudhombo – a brand of snuff; a tobacco powder often sniffed by elderly people
**mudhombo – rocks or stones
***Lancaster House Agreement (1979) signed between Zimbabwe and Britain when surrendering colonial power to the Black nationalist government

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(c) Tendai Marima

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7 Comments

  • This poem celebrates Africa in all her beauty and splendor. It also celebrates and adore Africa as a woman with all the possibility that she encompasses. The poem celebrates a woman as representing hope in the midst of suffering, strenght in the midst of pain and struggling in the midst of perils that have been afflicted by foreigners who came to subsume her culture and tradition.

  • Afolabi, I agree with you. These are poems of a black woman, from black roots! ‘Smoke and Fire’ glides in the beauty of African Imagery in Literature. Lovely poems Tendai.

    Ford Manuel
    Abuja, Nigeria

  • Tendai,
    both the poems are lovely. It has moved me profoundly, especially ‘house of stones’. As an aspiring conservationist, i completely understand the significance of the past and how truly you have portrayed its link to the future. You are a tru human being. A treasure to mother nature.

    Anushreedha
    India

  • Not only that, there is a deft image/theme play that tragically contrasts the historical Great Zimbabwe edifice with the poignant ruins of present Zimbabwean politics… putrid and fetid…that the former revolution and its vanguards (ritual case of a revolution feeding on its own) have all become a desolate, predatory illusion.

  • Aloha Tendai, I found your poem to be profoundly insightful and inspirational. Your writing has a raw edge that makes it possible to scrape away pretension within the glaring light of truth. I will enjoy reading more of your work.