Zodwa Nyoni

zodwa nyoni




Zodwa Nyoni is a Zimbabwean-born playwright, poet and live artist. She was the Apprentice Poet-in-Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival, October  2013. She has previously been Leeds Kirkgate Market (2012), Writer-in-Residence for the ‘I Love West Leeds’ Festival (2010) and Poet-in-Residence at BBC Radio Leeds (2006).

Her plays have showcased at West Yorkshire Playhouse, University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University, Theatre in the Mill, Square Chapel and Bush Theatre. She has performed poetry at profiled events at The Jayne Cortez Memorial event at Bolivar Hall (Venezuelan Embassy), London, ‘Word for Africa’ at the British Museum, Ilkley Literature Festival, Bridlington Literature Festival, Word for Africa at the Poetry Parnassus Festival for London 2012 the Southbank Centre and Nuyorican Poets Café (New York City).

Most recently she was selected to receive one of five writer-in-residence posts with  Channel 4 (terrestrial tv) which began on 1 January 2014 and will be based at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Zodwa is currently studying an MA in Writing for Performance and Publication at the University of Leeds.

Blessing at Dawn

the morning we were bound for that ocean crossing
umcolo happened.

uGogo prayerfully announced the spirits to enter

She summoned us, offered our little bodies to the ground

Tilted her head back, Poured in consecrated water
Baptised the prayer that lay in wait on her tongue

Then, one by one she came closer to our faces,

The morning’s light played softly on her spent face
We inhaled the history from her skin

She pressed her lips together,
Showered her blessing,
opened her arms and invited them in,
they ricocheted within her, rattled her body.

Her being nearly empty of life sacrificed itself
Chanted for the sprits to go where she could not

She  did not call us her grandchildren,

Children of my children, she’d say

Our mother’s womb had been an extension of hers

The iron bird carried us away from her
Carried us away from home.

Honeycomb and Backstreets

We ate honeycomb from a Morrisons plastic bag
In the back street of Lascelles Terrace sat on
Erin mum’s old floral settee that the Council
had forgotten to collect.

We crouched behind walls, lit discarded cigarettes
And pretended we had street cred.
Three Zimbabwean sisters, two Pakistani brothers
And one English girl
This was 1995
We called Mum, Makhupe
Dad, the Old Man.

We packed our childhood into those terraced houses
We were 90’s cartoon classics
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Danger Mouse,
Duck Tales Goof Troop, Pinky and the Brain,
Anamaniacs, Cow and Chicken
We stuck black and white Take That posters on our walls
Sung Back For Good lyrics into afro picks with clenched black fists
Learnt Backstreet Boys dance moves from VHS tapes
I still remember the Old Man’s listening to jazz in the study,
Kenny G’s Gbop.

We built forts in the attic bedrooms from turned up mattresses
And tested Home Alone traps on our cousin.
We got the belt for giving Barbie chickenpox with a red marker pen.
For flinging the TV remote down the stairs in a fight
And I never forgave you for telling after
We’d all eaten the Crunchie that I’d stolen from Morrisons.
We never thought we’d exist past this time.

If we ever left the street we walked to
Shakespeare Primary, cutting through Harehills Cemetery
You’d both run off hand in hand calling for the dead to catch me
Remember when the kids would ask what Africa was like?
Lions in our backyards and shoes on our feet.
We didn’t have pigtails, just short cropped afros that confused them.

After school on Friday’s,
Mum would buy 10p beef burgers from B Knaggs Butchers
It all seems so long ago now
When we started catching two buses to school
Getting off the 50 by Greggs on Eastgate
And yes, you never let me forget crying every morning
For a sausage roll until the ladies at the counter knew me by name.
Adel never had the same feel.
We missed that backstreet and those friends.
Remember how quiet it all seemed after that.


When his trembling finger strokes the trigger
As if it be a wild animal he is trying to tame,
The child solider will not understand that he is the animal
The clinking sound of metal, the barrel,
 A sinking ship on flesh is the dying of his innocence.

When a Buddhist monk kneels on the steps of his monastery
Sacrificing his body in the flames
In the hope of freeing Tibet
When black men with infantile education
 Are trapped in the inner city where
Institutionalisation has told them to linger
When you can’t convince her skin
Is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen
And her reflection is a stain of colonial memories

When slaves sung spirituals against assimilation
When they were toyi-toying barefoot in apartheid
Chanting, Amandla! Ngawethu!
When the levees broke and made Atlantis out of New Orleans
When the bodies of the Ogoni 9 hung as proclamation of
Foreign intrigue and domestic forces partnering
And bullets guarded the oil fields.

When water is privatised and land divided
When the clock stuck midnight
 Announcing death in the slums of Bhopal
When toy factories burn, mummifying Thai children in plastic
When Rachel Corrie stood shielding a Palestinian home
From a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip
When mosques call out to Allah to end the invasions
When a mini super nova turned Hiroshima to ash
And returned its people to dust.

When the doors were locked in the gas chambers of Auschwitz
When Hutus exterminated 800, 000 Tutsis in 100 days
When one minute of war in Iraq could have feed 2million
When the Congo turns into mass graves.
When the geopolitics of media coverage
And the apathy allows it all to continue

When life can be turned into profits
When those made in the same image of God
Burying their collateral damage in loopholes
Commoditise off of our purpose
Reshape our thinking, perceiving, consuming and
Belief in a God’s plan that existed before
These entities acted as deities
When we consider our humanity as a condition of being human
When we break our silence
take our words act as abolitionist armed with hope and justice
Our voices become lanterns that bring light
To the inhumanity that exists in the dark.

Home Again

I recall home
the dance of the clicking tongues,
The scattering across the savannahs of southern Africa
Thatched huts, mud brick sculpted homes
Soapstone bird carvings on walls and
Monoliths of the ancient city
I recall song birds, tenor and alto insects
Thick baobab trees,  time measured by dawn,
The season’s first cold winds
Wrinkles, grey hair and feeble footsteps,

I recall tales of the descendants of the drum

Bodies giving in, in the night around fires
Transformation wrapping itself around traditions,
Usiko lwethu alukho khatsana enqodweni yami
(The idea of ancestry is not distant)

I recall bodies of Zulu warriors lining the bed of Blood River
Boers, bullets, tribalism, Assengai iron spears
and buffalo horn formations
I recall victories, Isandlwana, Intombe
great losses, Kambula, Gingindlovu
We lament for the dead

We call them to come home
When new life is knitted in wombs, a sanctity of life
When we sing our songs of joy, a declaration of euphoria
When we sing our songs of sadness, letting pearls fill our eyes
When we sing our songs of blessing, offering our bodies as sacrifices
When we sing our songs of rain, ululating to the heavens.
I recall cut flesh, communion made between the
Innocent and the ancestors

I recall sacred cattle kraals and Ndebele kingdoms,
Being paved over with asphalt, colonial memories
I recall a Scottish man, a kafir woman, 1931
His pink lips on her black skin
His hands, her thighs
Sweet taboo tasting of honey and sin
I recall my grandmother neatly packing
Skeletons on shelves in heavily guarded closets.
I recall my grandfather marrying this broken woman
Raising an abandoned mulatto baby
She gave birth to child two, three, and four, my mother
Siblings divided by apartheid
I recall a son, raised in a fatherless tribe
A rolling stone left no memories
To hold on to, no face or voice to remember
Yet from him we are known
Name totem pole of the Binga people
I recall my father not knowing if he resembles his own father

I recall lies, missing pages, distorted histories
Stuffed ballots, toying-toying with fists in the air
Leaders truly dishonest, xenophobia
Kinsmen begging at ends of machetes
I recall blood diamonds my friend
Sanctions, dictators
Fleeing, goodbyes,
Sanctions, dictators
Fleeing, goodbyes,

I recall a foreign land that struggled to fit in
the homeland that welcomed me into the world
It beckoned in red brick back to back house in Harehills
Summer days in Blackpool watching the Irish sea kiss the shore line
English tea, fish n’ chips wrapped in last week’s paper
I recall distancing a certain past
Forgetting Zambezi cascading into Victoria Falls
Forgetting Bathing in copper baths under the sun
Forgetting to love in more than just English
African names were broken and smoothed out
Strange, tongue tide child got lost in translation
Tongue tied child got lost in migration
Tongue tied child got lost in separation
Tongue tied child got lost in assimilation

I recall a homeland that I am afraid
has forgotten me.
I recall a homeland that I am afraid
I have forgotten

I recall the journeying back home.
Black child returns as black woman
Arriving to my memories laying in ruins
Fragments of people, fragments of places, fragments of time
I cannot piece it all together
I am the question they cannot answer
They are questions I cannot answer
I recall clash and confusion
I feel backwards being back home.
Family calls me stranger, foreigner
New children were taught about me
From old photographs on mantle pieces

Black woman is stranger to black child
Black child is stranger to black woman

I recall the elegies I sung
For the times that have changed
I recall the space between then and now
I recall learning to call this place home, again

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