POEM: Fathers who are water – Busisiwe Mahlangu

The candle burns, brushes away darkness, everything is connected to light.

A family sits around the table and their presence seals the holes of a shack into a moonbeam.

Light settles on their plates and they enjoy a meal.

I know a girl who will never understand what that means

She is what the flames left behind.

Fire comes to die in her cold tongue

In her heart, everything is swallowed by darkness.

Her father’s absence is smoke and her mother is rubbing ash on her chest-

fixing a broken heart.

Her father was water but the wind drank him up.

His absence is ice

She points to her body for men to feel the cold,

She wants their heat to stay inside her

But all the men she has touched are corpses, always leaving a trail of snow

On her pillow.

The search for warmth doesn’t stop when your father is made of water,

His life becomes a pause in your lungs


We are daughters who never stop searching

Who always have their eyes up in the skyline,

drawing possible faces of a father we’ve never met.

We are grounded chimneys and flying smoke,

We are what the flames left behind.

Fire comes to die on our cold tongues,

The smoke comes out frozen saying,

I had a father who was water but the wind drank him

My father is the air but I cannot through him

His absence is steam


In a culture where men do not stay with their families to honour it,

Men wonder off and evaporate

We become children who are chasing the flood

Writing love letters to the ocean for we don’t know where our father’s live

Only that when they left the candle stopped burning


Sometimes, I want ask mom what dad looked like,

But I can imagine her curving him in stillness

His eyes outlined by the dark,

He has no face, his whole body is water

And next time I see him

He will be on my mother’s face

Walking out on her again.

I never cry along, tears remind me of men who are gone.

Whose absence is ice and has names built out of steam.


Whenever it rains my father returns,

Still without a face but a body of liquid.

He waters our garden and soaks into the ground,

He is never coming back.

I don’t know if he is out there, I don’t if he is alive.

But I am.




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