Three poems by Sarah Lubala

Portrait of a Girl at the Border Wall

all the women in my life are hungry

i have written this one hundred times
i do not know how else to tell it
how to write
the girl by the roadside
the bruised peach,
the narrow collar,
the night full of birds

her body is a long river
that cuts through every room
see her in the kitchen,
see her standing behind the gate,
see how she cups her hands
for soap
for bread
for sweet milk

tell me
where do i put her?
this girl pressed against the border
this girl swallowing her papers whole
this girl bird-wailing through a fence

see her hands
holding the broken saucer
stitching the skirt’s hem
cradling the last orange
begging the names of God

where do i put her?
tell me what is owed

the fist of hair
the cut lip
the legs
split like fruit

who will take her?
this sorrow-of-home-girl
this river-of-bees-girl
this blood-honey-girl
this night-singing-girl
this throat full of ghosts

6 Errant Thoughts On Being a Refugee

on the worst of my days
this body
is a gimcrack-vessel
no more than two lungs and
a tremor
nailed to salvaged wood

grief travelled with me
across the Ubangi river

i prayed love and all her cognates
on the passage over:
libet (to please)
lips (to be needed)
lyp (to beg)

i arrived with
bruised knees
wet hair
a mouth-full of salted fish

i am so
for holiness
for communion
for a God you can sink
your teeth into

i was raised on the Congolese-gospel
i can teach you how to forget
where you are from
to worship the wide road before you
hands open
like this:
make each palm
a letter
to the sky

Beni is a town
with one police station
And many graves

i should go back
my people are weeping

is a narrow bed to sleep in

Boy with the Flying Cheekbones

théophile [tey-aw-fee]

Dear Théophile
i imagine your bed
stills smells like burnt sugar
and keen aching
i cannot cross the threshold
that room is steeped in a fever so ravenous
it devours the air

i’ve been thinking about all the hungers
in men’s chests
something about absence and
the heart growing fonder

Dear Théophile,
you and i belong
to the same bruised piece of earth
the rivers
and anthems
and old names
are in you

still i smell
the hot bread
the overripe mangos
the filthy currency

still i feel
the sweltering april sky
the villages aflame
the pot-holes like wounds
in my side

Dear Théophile,
where are you now?
where will this find you?
how do i tell you your hands were scripture
in full bloom
each finger a slender verse
i knew nothing of such kindness
mercy me

though i have not seen them in years
i pray they can still make
okra soup
ginger beer
wenge figurines
a fist
a plea

of all the prayers
commit but one to memory:
me before you

you bury me

Sarah Lubala works as a Development Worker for an Education NGO in Johannesburg. When she’s not at the office, she can be found in gardens, drinking copious amounts of tea and reading Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnets.


  1. Hi Sarah, very powerful poems – in all respects complete – have you published a collection yet? if not, or have another ready, please contact Botsotso. All best, Allan

    • Sarah Lubala

      Hi Allan,

      Thanks so much!

      No, I haven’t published a collection though I would certainly like to. I’ll be sure to shoot you an email.

      Thanks again!

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