South Africa

Memories of Swimming

The memory of going to the beach every New Year’s eve
Is one I share with cousins and most people raised black
How the elders would forbid us from going in too deep
To giggle, to splash in our black tights and Shoprite plastic bags wrapped around our new weaves, forbid us from riding the wave,
For fear that we would be a mass of blackness swept by the tide
And never to return
Like litter.
The elders forbid us as if the ocean has food poisoning
I often wonder why I feel as if I am drowning every time I look out into the sea
This and feeling incredibly small
And I often hear this joke
About Black people not being able to swim,
Or being scared of water;
We are mocked
And we have often mocked ourselves
For wiping our faces the way that we do when we come out of the water-
Compare it to how they do it all bay-watch like
And how we so ratchet-like with our postures and kink.
Yet every time our skin goes under
It’s as if the reeds remember that they were once chains
And the water, restless, wishes it could spew all of the slaves and ships onto shore
Whole as they had boarded, sailed and sunk
Their tears are what have turned the ocean salty,
This is why our irises burn every time we go under.

Koleka Putuma
Water
2016

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