Shinkolobwe, Belgian Congo

Lauren Delapenha

During World War II, the mining town of Shinkolobwe was dropped from maps of the Belgian Congo to protect the secrecy of its uranium ore. This rock would later supply most of the raw materials for the world’s first atomic bombs.

I.

How to erase a place?

The Congolese government tried burning.
The column of smoke was visible 
for miles for days. Did the miners 
dance around the burning town?
Did they smear their skin 
with the soot, the sweat, 
the evidence of toil –
the evidence of sin – 
their only inheritance
from forbears who bit the flesh 
which soiled the hearts of men 
so that, for a piece of cloth, 
a man sold his kin?
Was it the heat from the pit
of that fruit which set 
their limbs to kindling?


II.

The smouldering tree stumps 
were left sticking out of the ground 
like blunted arms –
the handless ones –
limbs could no longer beg 
         but could amuse
smoking in long draws
the way cut stumps which 
still suck the earth for water
point upwards to accuse 
the sky which supplied
the awful oxygen 
both for breathing
and for burning.

III.

      the men emerge 
                      from the mud
              as mud
                      but move
             as gods
                      stepping lightly
   only occasionally 
                      dropping their bodies
       to the ground
                      to hear the rocks
                  breathe

Lauren Delapenha recently completed a Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. She is the recipient of the 2019 Grindstone Literary International Poetry Prize, as well as the joint winner of the 2018 Helen Zell and Jamaica Poet Laureate Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry. She currently lives in Jamaica, where she works as an English tutor and writing coach.

 

 

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