Zibusiso Mpofu is a Zimbabwean writer and entrepreneur. Born in Bulawayo a city in the South of the country, he fell in love with the written word at a young age and often found himself lost in the universes created in the books he read. A graduate of Film and Television from Zhejiang University of Media in Hangzhou, China, Zibusiso spends his days writing and crafting identities and stories for future-facing brands that want to transform their business models and impact the communities they serve in an effort to build a better future for the world we live. His writing is an act of weaving the dark effects of trauma and memory into light and healing. He dreams of making Afro-futuristic films exploring the continent’s hidden histories. He was shortlisted for the Intwasa Short Story Competition (2021) for his story Culo and the Witch. He was longlisted for the BabishaiNiwe Poetry Prize (2018) and his short story The Healer is forthcoming from A Long House Journal (2022). His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Her Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
My father’s sister sits on a kopje overlooking a valley in Mawabeni.
The evening is cool and she listens to the serenading
chirp of a grasshopper looking for home.
The time is near but she stalls, her belly churning.
Her aunt’s husband will come for her again tonight.
A wave of dread drenches her lithe body,
radiating ripples of sickness
from somewhere in her mouth.
She imagines the soft parts of his mass
and twists them between her nails
until she draws blood.
She catches the grasshopper by its wings and crushes it between her thumb and index finger.
My father’s other sister stands in the mirror
watching her body.
She knots two belts over her school uniform
and pulls a jersey over her expanding belly,
sweating in the scorching summer heat.
Her brother-in-law enters the room and stands behind her.
He touches her shoulders and squeezes them gently,
the intimate touch of a lover.
She looks at the floor and thrusts her tongue on the roof of her mouth
breath clogging her throat.
His body twitches slightly and
swallows all the air in the room.
The new woman my father is fucking
is built, according to my sister,
like a hippo.
I look at the photos my mother shows us
of the two of them together
and it is like I am looking at the same face.
I wonder if they recognize
the sameness of the arch of their brows
and the similar way in how their mouths disappear
into the mass of their jawlines.
Later, while sifting through my grandfather’s memories
each strand a silk ribbon gliding through his fingers,
my father discovers that his lover
is a mysterious uncle’s daughter.
My brother and I play fight in the spare room of our flat.
We are young and it is summer, the heat flows through everything.
He overpowers me and pins me to the bed.
I wail, he laughs and sinks his tongue into my mouth.
Darling, he says and rubs his hands all over me.
I touch him back, mechanically.
I have been trained by adults who touched me
and never got caught.
I am an expert at this.
My first serious boyfriend asks me about my deepest sexual fantasies.
We are in Mumbai and he has just come out to his family.
I hear his mother wailing downstairs.
Unfurling the only heirloom I have
from the skin on my palm
I tell him, without hesitation,
that I want him to pretend he is my uncle and I am his young
His eyes grow wide with shock.
I flush with embarrassment and look away.
He touches my chest softly, I can tell he is afraid of losing me.
He slips his hand down to my stomach
‘take your clothes off, nephew.’
A memory of Taso singing
“pandaikupfimba iwewe waindiramba”-
when I was courting you
you didn’t want me.
I have a strange memory of this song.
I think I was raped while it played in the background.
I do not remember the exact details
but I imagine I was in my grandfather’s home.
The weight on my chest tells me it must have been an adult (my uncle) on top of me.
I can feel his short breaths on my chin,
he is trying to remain quiet.
His body presses down on me in waves, undulating.
His mouth opens and consumes my face whole.
Or perhaps I was at home
laying my back on our torn bed,
foam spilling over the edges, reeking of last night’s piss-
I must have wet the bed again.
I can feel the rats scurrying about between the springs.
I focus on them, directing the sickness twisting in my chest
to the pointed ends of each metal
as my brother hews me into his whore for the 5 minutes this all lasts.
Taso sings, “pandaikunetsa iwe waindiramba” – when I was bothering you,
you didn’t want me-
and I think of violent sex.
An old statue appears on the screen as the video plays, breasts perked and pointing,
an eerie smile drawn across her lips.
Saliva collects in my mouth.
I am convinced that the song is about ravishment.
Taso dances across the screen and I drown.
Taso sings “saka usandibate”– don’t touch me–
my blood turns cold.
I feel sick and I’m not sure why.
I ask my mother what the song is about, she tells me doesn’t know.
I suppose she cannot see the memory swirling in my body,
the four hands touching me everywhere,
their callous palms burying me beneath the sand.
A Holy Communion
To eat the flesh of the holy man-god
to drink his blood
is to become like him,
sinless, my pastor says.
So year after year I eat the holy flesh
and inch by inch replace my body
so that I too can become holy
and gut away the filthy flesh
that makes me gay.
It is not that it is hard to change, he says
it is just that they (those like me) have chosen this sin.
Every night, I search for the place
where the gay flesh is located in my body
and load each breath with a whispered prayer for grace
I go to alter call on Sunday and feel my pastor’s hands laying on me.
I take three more wafers of Christ’s body
and drink more of his blood.
I swirl the liquid in my mouth
and let it settle in hollows of my cheeks,
chocking the air out my body.
When no one is looking
I pinch my nipples and swallow the liquid slowly
imagining myself back arched, eyes shut, on my knees
eating the flesh of man
and drinking their blood.
The Lost Years
The summer my father returns home,
I sit next to him in the taxi from the airport.
A silence sits heavy between us.
I watch the meat on his face shift
and redact in discomfort.
Water pools in his eyes
as he stares at the dying city outside the window.
He has not been
this close to my flesh
His memories sit
at the surface of his body.
It is like a crumbling city
of lost years.
The glorious dark of his skin
is the shadow that hides
the terrible things,
the endless hearings at British immigration,
the years spent as a stateless citizen,
the loneliness that drove him into
another woman’s arms,
the jobs he had to leave behind because he could not prove he was legal.
My father sits in his room in Manchester and writes my mother a letter
filled with aching.
His eyes have been gouged out, he says.
He fills their empty cavities with images of us joining him.
He instructs my mother to renew our passports
and asks her to write letters with fabricated details to
support his political asylum bid.
He promises to call when he can, he is on the run.
He writes about sex
and calls my mother the love of his life.
His loneliness clings to the paper
soaking his every word,
a ritual in my mother’s hands.
As the years pass
my father sits in limbo
and remains a stateless refugee.
He transforms into a beast.
Insults linger at the tip of his mouth.
He grows paranoid.
His anger perforates
everything with small stifling
We ask for money and foreign things,
he fumes and thinks we are using him.
He tries to find other children to love
and they fragment his heart.
In the summer of 2020,
before I went to the water,
I wanted to kill my father.
I spent days visiting open-air markets
and Chinese shops
longingly caressing the knives on sale
scanning each blade carefully
density and sharpness
assessing their capacity to end my father in one blow-
blade sinking beneath the skin on his chest,
slicing through the cage of bone
halving his heart into two parts of equal length.
I willed him to visit home from London.
I wanted him to come knocking on my door again
hurling insults, half startling me from light sleep at 6 am
telling me how lazy I am and how he is tired of my depression (and unemployment)
and how negative it all is
I would have kept the knife beneath my pillow
the brown handle growing warm from the heat of my body.
I would have taken it out when he came knocking,
running my finger on the blade one final time before it drank his blood.
I would have opened the door and sunk it into his heart.
But then the virus came and his trip home got cancelled.
I met a healer who read my heart and told me the secrets in my hands
palm caressing knife.
She took me to an ancient river riddled with healing ancestor snakes,
submerged me in it and told me to leave my burdens to spirit.
She adorned my body with incense from plant medicines
And willed me to become new.
Now I do not speak to my father.
The anger sits in the pit of my lungs
a sharp blade glistening a glorious red.
Wanting for bloody organs.
A chunk of heart,
the sweet melody of choking breath
Exposition of Toyin Ojih-Odutola’s ‘Lai Lai Tun Bere’
Testimony of a black body traveling:
In this painting
I am the woman standing on the balcony,
watching the turquoise sea.
I tell a story
to my white friends
which I mean to be searing.
at a nightclub in Shanghai
a friend and I were refused entry
because of the night that is our skin.
Their discomfited laughter
permeates the room like smog,
They are sure I must have misunderstood
and suggest we go back to the same club
so they can prove
it all transpired in my head.
At the airport in Manila
the immigration officer laughs when she
reads the name of the country on my passport.
skin rippling in waves of silken brown
each pore manifesting
the sedate face,
looms over her and together they spend twenty minutes
pouring over its every detail.
Other passengers stare at me in open contempt
I am holding up the line.
I pin my arms to the sides of my body
and slightly bend my shoulders.
I simply mean to show that I bring no harm.
She stamps my passport curtly
and throws it across the counter.
On the metro in Hong Kong
an Indian family enters at a stop in Kowloon
and stand near me.
One of the adult sons motions towards me with his head
and they nestle their faces together
lips carving a silent colloquy.
They glare at me, the veins in their eyes
corpulent with disgust.
I move down the tube
and they follow me, one after the other.
The words percolating from their glares
collect as small pools of fire on my skin.
I move down the aisle again and they follow me.
as though it were a game.
I alight before my destination,
muttering prayers for mercy
and quickly dissipate into the river of bodies
flowing upward into the city above.
I do not dare look back.
Later, I lay on my bed
and imagine that
perhaps, the only place I am safest
is in an artist’s dream.
A mythical body
ideated in ball-point pen, charcoal and pastel
standing on the balcony,
watching the turquoise sea.
WangZi Liu whispers
你是我的 (you are mine)
into my ear late at night
as heat drapes our bodies.
I am sure that I love him
but how do I tell him of the five other men
that know my bed as intimately as he does?
or that I lost my virginity at 8
in my grandfather’s damp bathroom
to a man who still calls himself my uncle?
I smile and slip a laughing mask on my face,
the wood sinking beneath my skin.
I taste his words and let them flow down my tongue
and dissolve in my gut.
Xin Jin Rei whispers
打开你的菊花 (open that [ ] up)
in the late afternoon of a cold winter day.
I spread my legs apart
and close my eyes as I
disappear into his consuming embrace.
I do not tell him that I have cousins who have whispered similar things to me
or that my father was the first man to betray me.
I do not show him my true face.
Instead, I burn a veneer of desire onto my skin
mask becoming flesh
touch his sweaty neck
and imagine that, in this moment,
I am the only thing he wants.
Chen Quan whispers
要不要戴套?（raw or safe?）
I shrug my shoulders and
let him do what he wants.
He chooses to enter me unsheathed and asks if I like it.
I want to say, will you stay with me?
I want to say, will you hold me?
I want to say I’ll love you, if you say yes.
But I mold my face into a sensual frown
and slip on a mask of submission.
I moan, just a bit
Hu Jia Lun
This is how I choose to remember you:
A soft summer whisper
the virginal boy.
Supple body rough with working-class maps
but your world was your own
and you wanted me there with you.
You told me once, that you wanted me to stay with you
even though your parents expected you to marry (a woman).
You found me broken and did not have the language to mend me
and my tongue became heavy with translating.
The home you made of me was too soft a place,
too packed with you to ever fit me in.
Do you remember that hot night in Hangzhou
when I showed you my waist beads and you blinked at me, puzzled?
I wanted to tell you the Ndebele word for healing because
疗愈 (liao yu) could not quite reveal the water in my hands.
30% of millennials are lonely
22% say they have no friends
Every day, I take a kitchen chair
and sit in the backyard
listening to the world go by
outside the walls.
The sing-song of talking voices
fills the empty cave of my chest with smoke.
I am lonely.
My body is shrouded in silence
its tongue locked
in a birdcage of teeth,
I am not speaking to my father.
My mother only texts
I have chosen to forget my brother’s face.
My childhood memories
are the creatures that
dance at the hollows
of my mouth
so my sisters have learnt to avoid me.
I am alone.
I think of the time in high school
when I tried to sit with a group of boys.
They all stood, one after other
and left me sitting on my own.
We don’t hang with fags, I heard one of them say.
At a party in Urumqi
I stand against a wall
with an empty glass in my hand.
A group of other foreign students
gathers in the small space in front of me
as though they cannot see me.
I am weightless air.
The pressure of their bodies
forces me against the wall.
The breath in my lungs turns to fire.
I feel like I am drowning.
I try to scream,
but my throat seizes,
binding my voice to the walls of my neck.
I push past them reaching for
the air on the other side.
None of them move.
They cannot see me
I am invisible.
A nameless figure sat
in the space between.
Exposition of Lynnette Yiadom-Boakye’s ‘The Hours Behind You’
Rama asks- do you feel at home in your body?
I am beginning to.
In this painting, I am the women dancing
Skin long and brown,
I live with monsters.
They conceal themselves
in the folds of my stomach,
at the edges of my bronchioles,
soft shadows suspended between my organs.
They are quiet mostly
only emerging at the sharp end of a trigger point-
labored breath, a needle sunk between the soft matter in my throat
or at the sound of my father’s voice.
The body is a thing that wounds easily,
a glasshouse made of shards
that crumple with every brick thrown at them
my uncle’s thighs in my grandfather’s bathroom,
the boys from school holding my body up,
a rag doll, ready for ridicule.
The serpentine stranger in Hong Kong
who left me with the residue of an incurable blood disease.
It rots easily, this body, stitched together with an endless line of pills
all together forming an intricate line, white and pink
to be drunk, once a day, forever.
It requires a high price, a sacrifice for daring to inhabit it
for daring to live.
But perhaps that is the beauty.
All the shards, all the wounds, all the pills.
Maybe they make a tapestry, a mural of you.
Beautiful and wounded, the perfect muse for this poetry.
Skin long and brown,