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Lyric for the flooded, colonised and coloniser

This image is the title card of a video that was made for a poem called The flooded, colonised and coloniser by Shailja Patel, a queer Kenyan feminist activist writer, author of Migritude. In the background we see a flooded area. People are holding on to what seems to be a hand rail while waters rush through them.

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 

I'm alive 

we're alive

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.

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