A series of poems exploring the experience of indentured labourers in Natal - “the shacks they lived in were called ‘lines’; they were given salted, dried fish to eat along with dhal and rice. Men and women left their children back in India intending to go back. Unfortunately, five year contracts working the cane fields or railway building was a long time. - Francine Simon


           They say that       when I was being born my 
   mother’s blood soaked every cloth in the house  
                         like kala pani who brought us here  
blood begat blood 
       when I crawled out screaming and plump 
                     my mother was dead 

while someone washed me  
someone else went outside to bury the cloths  
in a deep hole  
                there was no point in washing them 
                                   they say


Child, why do you stand on the docks with your father  
waiting in that line for examination? 
Do you know you have left  
your birthright behind to the white devils? 

I have followed you here my hand in your left hand
listening when he says this land is not ours our 
green rolling hills our temples our rain… 

Can you see me?  
I uncover my head and embrace you 
I ask why your father is taking my ashes 
across such dark water to another land… why? 

When the doctor asks your father why we are leaving 
My husband only points to his stomach then his mouth 
as I cry out, Please! Please! Leave me here!

The hut 

How easy would it be to cut your throat  
with the cane knife they gave me 
Beat your head with rack or shovel  
until you crack like a soft shell against coral reef 
I would litter those pieces among the shards on every beach 
and throw them into kala pani to be loose of you  


You spit out my seed like a mamba spitting venom  
wipe the edge of your mouth your head turned to stare at the axe in its 
corner before you get up to go outside and find the stream nearby so 
you can gag and spew my venom in fresh damp earth I wait back in the 
hut with the promised amount of salt fish while your husband visits our 
white master to ask for a house without us 


Two men live in the hut with us but my husband 
he cannot get us two a house no white yes 
the men offer food and cloth but I must hold them 
let them touch their four hands at a time 
these two strangers these men  
                           begin to live inside my mouth 

and my husband he can only look from afar 
then lay down with me with the same nipples between his 
lips waiting to put that axe in the back of my head


she stood at the edge of the 
ship salt sprayed her cheeks 
the moon was gone 
the ocean begged & pleaded
she had to do it 
she must 
this was easier 
than the knife  
in the captain’s cabin 
when he said  
he wanted to see if  
her vulva looked like the sun 

the wind lifted her hair straight 
up she could hear  
moans below deck of 
climbing up 
she jumped 
knowing that  
offering herself  
to kala pani was much easier


I am seated  
in front of  
a hunk of pink  
& white salt 
I am pink &  

white my mother is there 
everyone saying 
            and? How you? 
not remembering  
& forgetting  
her death  
only I remember  

she sits next to me  
points to the salt  
this is your husband  
I turn away look  
down my stomach 
is a moonless crater 

I am holding an infant 
trying to suckle  
when my mother says  
           it’s a boy 
            and smiles


howl in the L I N E S 
light after 
                                    fish without head 
                         salt and more salt 
a tightening... a hook! 

                                       where is my son?

About the Author:

Francine Simon was born in 1990 in Durban to Indian Catholic parents. She completed her doctorate in English Studies at Stellenbosch University in 2018. Her poems have been published in both South African and international literary journals and magazines. Her debut collection of poetry, Thungachi, lauched in 2017. Her poem, ‘Nanni-ma’, won the DALRO Poetry Prize. SHARK (her chapbook) was released in 2019. She lives in Bolzano, Italy.

Feature image by Barbara A Lane from Pixabay