On Fire

Busamaya Phodiso Modirwa


Busamoya Phodiso Modirwa is Motswana poet with works published on Jalada Africa: Bodies, Praxis Online Magazine, Ake Review, Kalahari Review and elsewhere. She is a recipient of the Botswana President’s Award - Contemporary Poetry 2016.

A Second Too Long

My sad comes easy and matches my everything

My sad is a costume made to fit perfectly

My sad feels like my mother's hand-me-downs

Like her wrinkling skin still holding itself together

Under each crease I save whatever dust of joy I own

I stand to my feet and my joy hangs in the air for a minute

Before it settles down to the floor I am out on a date

Not willing to waste a good feeling sleeping inside loneliness

Willing to give myself a chance at happiness

Apparently love can do that- hold happiness

I’m wearing my mother's best dress short and 60s like

My date is a mixture of OK and danger-a man

I swirl my wine the other way to say I am bored

But his gaze meets the short of my dress

His eyes say ‘You owe me’

Say, ‘This glass of wine does not come free’

My sadness finds a place to hide

I tip my glass and our table wears a shade too red to not say blood

I climb out of my fear and walk away unwilling to be the body

From which blood will later spill off like this expensive wine

Later in the night

When I would have stayed a second too long

What The Fire Made Us


I was still alive when the first wave

cracked through our floors

He was throwing one of his tantrums

A heavy mass of fury and fear over us

But this one landed on our one room house

He was a magician that way

Always filling the house with smoke

And then our mother the morning after

New make-up (down) on her face

We named nights like these the devil's time

His anger flared like flames

Smoke bellowed thick and dark

Sipped into the intricate parts of us

But that night I died and woke up

a woman older than my body

I traded in my childhood naivety for defiance

For a reflex war-ready and ever on guard

Today we are daughters of heavy things learning to embrace peace

Carriers of burning bushes with no voice from God

Away, alone and unlearning anger


A day after the weekend is over

Always feels like the day after burial


Everything tastes somber and lonesome

Like the deceased's estate is being divided


Or fought over by less self-respecting strangers

I do not know who or what died


But I have inherited a sickness in my mind

A state of constant leaving but never arriving


Hold leaving against the light long enough

See how it too is dying?


The sickness is melancholy in a black dress


Hold death against the light

See how it too is a black song?


It is Monday every other day in my blood

I am undressing layers of sadness


Hoping the next one will be a shade brighter

An attempt a joy