Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Limpopo

Tsitsi Jaji

What a croc. This river
is the crooked line between
rand/dollar. Neither is ours.
We cannot even afford our own money.

This river has caught
the national disease, hunger.
This river plays
the national pastime, hunger, like a champion.
This river wears our
national dress, hunger, like a string of hip-beads.
This river teems with
crocodiles. We cannot afford to house them in a park
these days. So they are just swimming in the Wild Wild.

To bury your Ambuya
send one thousand usas
to the morgue for the release
of the body. Eeh. This has broken our hearts.
It has cracked up our sincerity. It has made us
traitors. We had rather live far, far from
the extortionism of health ministry, the indefinite suspension of
power, the reliable humiliation of hunger, our national philosophy.

O, to cross that river, that beautiful, that beautiful river.

I imagined once there were njuzu swimming in the Limpopo,
Water spirits to charm but yes truly, to charm.
I imagined they were the magical traces of spirit worlds I could graft myself into—
they sounded more beautiful and more serious than the revelations of Rev.
Bitchington et al. I imagined that those njuzu might choose a favorite—naturally,
me—and that I might survive with my morals intact. I might wander, lustily.

O the river has crossed us.
It has done what it was always doing:
it has flowed.
It has flowed over us.
It has flooded itself with the saliva of crocodiles.
It has gone crimson with the blood of a missing limb.
It has eaten us.

Ah, border of our national philosophy, hunger. Look at you.
You are just eating money, sitting there, dazzling in sunlight, confounding the
travelers in muddy swirls. You are seated, eating us,
eating our son, the one we ground dovi for so he could sell peanut-butter sandwiches and raise bus fare,
eating our daughter who did not tell us she was pregnant, nor by whom,
eating our old science teacher who cannot afford to pay for transport to school.

O river, o mighty Limpopo, your hunger is greater. Your borders are more
absolute. Your demands are more ravenous.
O Limpopo Seventeen, what we have fished this week has taken our bellies and
filled them with mud . . . we are full of the silted earth of your last national steps.
Did you not know how to swim? Eeh. Did it not help?

Going kuSouth to scrape by in the land of ExDorado.
Crossing this river with nothing noble in mind, no moral edge, no ideological
vision, no song.
Crossing the border in the utter banality of hunger,
here, among the crocodiles, we are with our own.
We are ravenous mouths.
We are skins hardened into allegory.
We are ones who steal the pronouns of others.

I am not crossing the Limpopo. I am reading a headline: “15 Zimbabweans drown
in Limpopo River.” I am reading the total this week now comes to 17. I am
reading this as a Zimbabwean. I am not coming back across this river. If I come,
I will fly, I will land in a plane and feel embarrassed by the squat tower designed
by his excellency’s nephew, the lion. I will remember some story about monthly
blood transfusions in LookEast holding AIDS at bay for the VIPs. I will notice
that there is no water in the ladies toilets. I will be cheerful.

I will not know any of those 17 people who crossed the border at the Limpopo
and stopped halfway. I will spend a week, or two, or a few more, interrupting a
perfectly good game of national hunger with a few overly casual usas, surrogates
for true care. Surrogates for knowing who you hunger with. Surrogates for proper
niece feelings . . . I no longer know how to find my own children, my aunts left to
me.

Ah, we did not have to cross the Limpopo to have severed limb from limb.

You want to know what they call a colored in Shona? Muzukuru, the child of
your sister. They don’t ask where it came from, they just integrate it into the
family.
You want to know what they call a colored in Shona? But my friend, sometimes
it is the child of your brother. Your mukoma. And it must learn how to do those
things only Sekurus or Maininis can do. It cannot just be a muzukuru. It cannot
just be a secret keeping secrets, shut out of the meeting place of adults.

Limpopo, border river. We do not want to look away from you.
We do not want to forget that you are the rio grande. You are the river across
which people are sneaking at night, limping, struggling, losing limbs, drowning,
eating water, eating mud, too hungry, too much our national champions. I cannot
call this exile, but I do not know what to call home.