Three Poems

(this) black girl as shadow-boxer


Born soft, bulging, with

sympathy & all manner of fruitful

& barren laws, you cannot help

but burst into prayer.

Always, till you wander into that invisible

second of ecstasy, sweet communion with self.


In silent moments,

your little black girl smiles

from inside you. She smiles a Sunday morning,

slept in on – a small sacrifice for the better of others.

She’s your reflection –

a mirror from which you’re always backing away.

She stares at you long –


watches you wear pretend-earnest.

Pray that you pray for her joy,

her days of abundance, of expansion.

Teach her to pray with precision

for there are likely to be days

when your breasts will search for ripeness


but black rot will come easier.

touch yourself –

again & yet again till you wander

into that hour of ecstasy,

sweet communion with self, begging you

to fulfil a wish, to no longer erase yourself.




Small Inheritances


Your amai once was a girl too,


a curious young being,

with skin like salted caramel,

& a mouth

full of salt, lemon, all things unsweet,

your amai was once a girl

too. Who, like you, knew

how to squander a full night’s sleep

on fantasy,

to swap it for full days of broad, deep slumber

through heartbreak,

through the last sliver

of dim light, falling through the blinds

soon after sunset. She would tell you

how hairless your head was,

stuck between her thighs

for hours. How the midwife told her


breathe,                  before asking

if her father’s sisters hadn’t taught her

that real, strong women birthed

in silence, tongues tucked behind gritted teeth.

On days she used belts,

switches & extension cords

for broken cups, curfew slips,

& other small things

You cried for her, mostly for yourself.

You could never tell

if it was

that you looked like your father

or because

birthing you almost killed her.



On Legalising MaryJane


You remember your grandfather’s imprecise smile.

Teeth a yellowing white like the sun’s glare at high noon;

lips almost black like night on a full moon. Mornings were

spent tending to his fields before meeting afternoon,

under the shade of the msasa,

armed with a worn leather-bound bible; old newspapers &,

a worn leather pouch. Your assigned role: grab a piece of lit

firewood from the kitchen hut for him to light

what you thought to be newspaper-rolled cigarettes. You remember

your grandfather’s eyes; they had clouds in them. Deep and grey,

the sky of a storm brewing for hours. They never flickered

at the first puff but that yellowing smile would spread,

as the smell lingered like wet firewood. He’d hum to himself

like a man quietly praying, vibrating for rain. The night he died



you had not seen him for ten years. You sat in your mother’s garden

about to smoke your first spliff. Your brother next to you,

in the broken plastic chair. You watched him hold the thinness

of the Rizla between both forefinger and thumb, his hands

like your grandfather’s. The first puff made you cough

till your eyes streamed, Your brother laughed before telling you,

relax, breathe through your mouth. By third inhale: you’d found

a new friend in an old smell that hung over the English night.

You know what, yeah? They should legalise this shit.

I read online, it treats glaucoma y’kno. You knew but kept silent,

looked at your brother’s inherited hands & recognized your grandfather

as a healer who’d puffed his way through newspapers, inking his lungs’

lifespan to make the clouds in his eyes rain out the bind of no longer seeing

the world in the precise light of night and day.


is a Zimbabwean-born writer and educator who lives and works in London. Her work mostly focuses on memories of living in rural and urban Zimbabwe. She has performed across the UK in numerous venues, festivals and events including at Africa Writes, Bestival and TATE, with her work published in the anthologies Liminal Animals and Casagrande: Rain Of Poems. In 2013, Zhawi featured on Channel 4’s Random Acts and also co-founded the monthly poetry night, BORN::FREE. Zhawi was Associate Poet at the ICA from Autumn 2016 –Spring 2017.



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