My Mother Tongue | Neema Komba | Poetry

My grandmother speaks in tongues
She splatters all the stories that birthed her
on the floor
She drains her memories into a fountain I cannot drink from
She opens her heart as wide as the stretch of her arms
But a cold wall stands between us;
a language

I cannot understand her

I am learning to recite non-verbal sonnets
Make everything an unspoken communion
The peeling of ripe mangoes
Or the breaking of fire roasted potatoes
There is no meaning to the flap of my lips
A foreign tongue holds my words captive

She cannot understand me

Where is my mother tongue?
She had given it to my mother by osmosis
And when she nursed me,
I was meant to absorb the code
forged in the belly of the forest where the ancestors rest—
A map to myself,
A compass to freedom,
A cypher to treasures buried in song.

Where is my mother tongue?
I want to swallow it whole
Let it slit my throat
And transplant vernacular
Lost to my ears
Into my heart
Let it lead me
To everything we have lost


Neema Komba is a poet and writer from Tanzania. She is the author of Mektildis Kapinga: A Silent Hero and See Through the Complicated, a poetry collection. Her work entitled, “The Search for Magical Mbuji”, appeared in the creative non-fiction anthology, Safe House: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction. Her short stories have been featured in Payback and Other Stories: An Anthology for African and African Diaspora Short Stories, Adda Stories and Index on censorship. Her other works have also appeared in This is Africa and Vijana FM. She is the 2014 winner of the Etisalat Prize for Literature in the Flash Fiction category. Her story, “Let Them Eat Fruit Cake” (published in Index on Censorship), was shortlisted for the 2019 Stack Awards for best original fiction. She co-founded La Poetista, a platform for poets and other performing artists to showcase their art and create a positive impact in the community through the arts. She is also a steering committee member for the Ebrahim Hussein Poetry Prize and has served as a judge for Project Sawti Poetry Prize (Swahili) and Andika na Soma short story competition (Swahili). Currently, she is a doctoral student in Entrepreneurship at Hanken School of Economics.

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