Tj Dema 2 by Petra Rolinec web
Tjawangwa Dema

Tjawangwa Dema is the author of two books of poetry, most recently The Careless Seamstress, which won the Sillerman First Book Prize. She is an Honorary Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol and facilitates writing workshops around the globe. In addition to appearing in various journals and anthologies, selections of her work have been translated into languages including Spanish and German. She co-produces the Africa Writes literary festival in Bristol.

Nothing Begets Nothing

what is the heart of nothing but gesture?

we collapse meaning when we say sameness

everyone knows time is a hummingbird

scrumping seconds to hover over hunger

and who’s to say what’s worth keeping

except keeping itself

I mean that it is having that becomes king –

old sickness so slow it’s molasses in the blood

time moves differently for the oppressed

and the oppressor

scuttles and flurries

sits and shifts

and what fury it takes to keep things

is matched only by an equal fist

not violence or prayer

more a toppling

the midwife who asks the mother still bleeding –

small mouth stuck suckling firmly at her breast

her son alive but black –

what epitaph she has chosen to call him by

makes a warm leaving of this boy’s coming

she is echoing an old question

though she says she does not know it

the new mother searches for new language

the colony was there – fecund land

is now here – black body

she wants to say Methuselah but the midwife writes


muscular time changing nothing




the midwife is with not alone in her question

she conflates time

like a hangman’s riddle asks

who is both born alive

and is already dead?

it is nothing to say the dead cannot resist

cannot undo

that they revolt but cannot do –

what these living do –

weighed down and fixed as they are

by stone and sand

whatever else is consequence

snake that it is

time eats at itself

its petty petty pace




while the colony shifts shape

no lilt here

something hisses and hums

not even nothing begets nothing.