A Kenyan poet reflects on flooding in Somalia and its former coloniser, Italy.
I know the violence of water.
Twice I've stood, ankle-deep, in Nairobi homes
as it cascades down inside the walls, surges
under doors, spurts and sprays
from ceiling light fixtures. Wondering
stand and drown
or move and be electrocuted?
I know the force of landslides.
Betrayal that shatters the faith
all other faiths build upon. The soil
you stand on, eat from, turns on you.
The very words you use for solid
– earth, ground –
liquify to swallow you.
I know the trauma of unhoming.
Grab what you can, eyes ahead.
Don't look back. Don't think. Don't feel.
One foot in front of the other
as you chant inside your head
we are going to survive
I know the shock of abandonment.
When where you live is no longer
profitable for multinationals.
After they've chopped down the trees
built over riparian land
stratosphered the rents
the corporations pack up.
Foreign embassies pull out.
Leave you in the devastation.
I know the outrage of erasure.
Floods in Italy: front page news.
Floods in Somalia: Development section
sponsored by the same billionaire who brought you
vaccine apartheid and GMOs.
I know the iterations of Empire.
The deadly calculus of
face starvation here
or risk drowning in the Mediterranean?
Only to face another drowning
I know the lanes of genre.
The words climate imperialism
global financial infrastructure
IMF debt relief, emissions
carbon footprint, don’t belong
in poetry. Save it for
an op-ed. Catalogued rage
is clumsy and didactic.
I know the grief of the disposable.
As the one percent colonise other planets
we howl the destruction of ours.
As colonisers militarise borders
criminalise the colonised
strip us, then doom us to die, we
know the salvation of human hands
wielding shovels and oars,
ropes and pumps;
the grace of outstretched arms.
We know the power of hearts to reach
from Beledweyne to Faenza.
From New Orleans to Mogadishu.
We are not all in the same boat.
Not even in the same ocean.
But we can choose
we can choose
to stay porous.
Shailja Patel is currently a fellow at the Civitella Ranieri residency programme in Italy.