Image by Xandra_Iryna from Pixabay


When she first learnt the ropes of language
To string words along and play them like koi
It was her father’s people who laid it gently on her tongue
Let it melt inside her unknowing mouth
She was the first to translate satiation for a need for rest
Would say nda nyala to mean I have had my fill
One day when they took her to the city
They fed her enough for the long bus ride
And when she said she is tired
Meaning to say she had had her fill
The language became loose at the ends
Unraveling so another language could weave itself in

Some words got lost in conversation
Like coins falling through clumsy hands
A currency of forgotten things
A language shifting to make room for another on her tongue
No one taught her mouth it had enough room for more than one
And so she swallowed her father’s to learn her mother’s
And today when they say to her wa muka?
Instead of I am well she says ke a tsoga to mean I am still alive
It is the language that died in me


Koi – skipping rope
Nda nyala – I am tired
Wa muka? – Are you well?

Busamoya Phodiso Modirwa is a Motswana writer and poet writing from Gaborone Botswana. She is a recipient of the Botswana President’s Award for Contemporary Poetry 2016. She has poems published on the Ake Review, Jalada Africa 2019, Boys Are Not Stones II and elsewhere. Her short story, ‘The Healing Balm’ was shortlisted for the Botswana Tourism Fiction Award 2019 and her poems, ‘Family Time’, ‘Surviving Suicide’ and ‘Coat Of Many Colours’ are published on the Writers Space Africa magazine. Phodiso’s work also appears on The Kalahari Review.

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