New Poems by Tsitsi Jaji

Tsitsi Jaji pic for profileTsitsi Jaji was born at Nyadire Mission in 1976, and raised in Harare. After completing her A’ levels on scholarship at Arundel she moved to the U.S. to study piano and literature at Oberlin College. She earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of English at University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Many of her poems are inspired by music and the experience of living in the diaspora. In addition to poetry she writes literary criticism, and her scholarly book Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music and Pan-African Solidarity was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. She is also author of a chapbook, “Carnaval,” included in the boxed set Seven New Generation African Poets edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani (Slapering Hol, 2014).

Holy Departure (A Berceuse for Sekuru)

It is today, then.
The wrapping in blankets
and laying to rest
in your new cradle,
the earth.

How faithfully you tilled it,
soil shifted into mounds,
warming the beginnings of
sweet potatoes, spiky cucumbers,
pumpkins and groundnuts.

How often you patted the ground
with your small feet,
goading the cattle on,
up the hills, across granite,
in search of grass.

You laid out the traps
for mice and other delicacies
and caught those icarian birds
with a slung stone, drawing them
back to the ground.

Lay down and rest, dear one.
the others have been waiting for you.
Swaddled in soft colors,
sleep calmly,
knowing that we know

where you are resting,
where to find you.
We will sit by your side
and listen for your peaceful breath,
ever a New Born.



Strange, how you bulge,
an ogler staring me down.
You are made of stillness, her actual substance,
yet your flitting tail speeds you away from me,
into the vastness of your watery cage.

Fondness is like a jackhammer against the city’s walkway.
Fondness pounds glass into stagnant time, a cataclysmic and insistent finger.

Strangely you float, somewhere
Beneath the weight of a meniscus, like
a lost and sculling horse serrating the water
with your gaping mouth.

Naartje and mango-green swerving against the surface.
When do you get hungry? Do you get thirsty?
Why do you never hurry, never twitter or wag, never answer when
I call your name.



Strangely you loom, like the stench of October
before the earth unwraps herself to rain.
How slow, how sudden

your fleshy approach, as if only the last moment
announced your impulse.

Into these tropics you come, anxious for
adventure turquoise and electric yellow.
Then you fumble for a souvenir.

I will not give.
I will not give.
I will not give.

You have sand, and I have gray-green gravel.
You have sun, and I a stoic fluorescence.
You have coral, and I this sheer glass, littered with your oily imprint.

I will not give.



Look on, you greedy nightmoths,
And learn what comes of flying too close to the Flame.

Consider the mounded ash:   so many wings

once wore their wormsilk so haughtily.


Well now, we are blinded like fruitbats,
Fumbling muzzles of color.

We endure the stares
As if we were rare, and pinned against glass.

Who goes first? Who gropes? Who stumbles?
Beg us a pavement song, a kaddish for sight.

I know little,
Even less I know is good.

But better for two to hobble openhanded as twins
Than alone, fist knotted over a stick.

  2 comments for “New Poems by Tsitsi Jaji

  1. March 15, 2014 at 2:38 am

    Incredible work. Love “the others have been waiting for you.
    Swaddled in soft colors,”

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