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in the beginning
the chickens have no cause to fear us
we are all of us far too young to worry

my sister works well
at the daily chore of keeping everyone alive

while I run circles around the ankles of girls
who’ve bled like her
who sit and peel potatoes

turning wood into fire
time making bellows of their lungs

in the way of the elders
they dunk whole chickens in vats of boiling water
pluck their feathers by hand

I could never bring myself to watch
to hold the bird by its neck
to use its weight against its will to live

Naomi could swing and sing
the same tune
she used to

send us off to sleep
the iron shelter of time yet on my side



he must’ve thought      what a sight
the first to see us
fishing net in hand his sailor’s eyes       crow’s feet       pulling
at his furrowed brow
I suppose the sun was before
behind us       and he was on his way home
heading out to sea

who knows what wakes him now             each day before morning
having seen what he saw

I’m sure of it
or would be if I were still here

a boat full of bodies
           must change the shape of a horizon so



I’ve not been honest with what I know
Not told the barber I know how to do my own hair
I’ve shied the ball an inch shy to keep a friend

I’ve not been honest with many of my days
Not peeled the apple or taken care with its core
Why should I make an enemy of nights spent all alone

Staring at another door
I lost my daughter at the shopping mall
Dropped the birthday cake I know I should’ve baked

I come before the basket of morning
Full with the promise of a bleached floor
I run the mile knowing where I lost before

More and more I say things I do not mean
I stay up late tacking together stories of where I’ve been
With telling and wine and the ghost at my door


Melting Pot

after Hannah Lowe’s “Three Treasures”

Botswana in the mouth’s constant trill
the breadmaker’s black fist
dough in her pot of boiling oil

England in the teacher’s swish
a hard slap on the back of a boy
who speaks his own tongue too often

Botswana in the sand
the scent of over-ripe morula
small hands black with mulberry juice

England with her tea at four
sun beating a staccato between
skull and nose

Botswana in the news
natives pointing at the sandy lioness
and its familiar mane

England in the statute
she doesn’t even use anymore
the judge’s woolen wig falling over his eyes

Botswana in the three-legged pot
the headscarfed woman emptying her lungs
into an open fire

England on the TV
the muffin-eating man who says telly
the u in colour

Botswana dining with the kitchen sink
roasted cow hoof and lungs in the stew
cut-up intestine in day-old tripe

England at the job interview asking
can you speak



TJ Dema is a poet and arts administrator from Botswana. She published a chapbook Mandible in 2014 with Slapering Hol under the auspices of the African Poetry Book Fund. Her writing has appeared in publications including Cordite, The Ofi Press, Elsewhere Lit, Read Women Anthology and Sampsonia Way. At present, she is a Creative Writing MA scholarship recipient with Lancaster University, UK.