Told about this poem by Matthew Richards, a local poet who saw her perform it in person.
In Our Pupils
My heart has started to stamp like the herds.
I breathe this air,
But my eyes open like passports.
The cover says America,
but has Africa stamped on every page.
My mother escaped South African Apartheid
before I was even an idea,
so in elementary school when pictures of Africa didn’t look like me,
I couldn’t understand
why African American and black had to mean the same thing.
So last year I moved back to my mother’s continent
and now my DNA is woven
in strings of African beads.
But I can’t escape the first-look-only comparisons
from kids and the adults who act like them
that I don’t look African.
And I have to ask what they mean by African.
If they mean my skin won’t burn,
then I’m wearing sunscreen, not African.
If they want to see a Masai warrior,
a child soldier,
then I expect all Americans
should look like Rosie O’Donnell.
But if they mean black, they’re right.
Africa isn’t a skin color—it’s black.
Africa is our pupils,
the way they will always open to the world,
no matter how much dust the wind blows at them.
Being African is like sweat on a glass of water;
it doesn’t depend on the color of the cup
but on the temperature of what’s inside.
Too often newspapers spell the word Africa
and assume one culture, one language, one problem.
The biggest problem facing Africa
is people thinking it really is like our pupils,
just empty space.
I am Africa. You can see me.
And sometimes I will sound like drums,
and sometimes like Sebeqabele gpi thapha nguqo ngqothwane
but sometimes you can barely hear me over the rain,
and we both fear that I may be washed away.
I mold my hands
into the shape of my continent
not to keep you from my borders,
but to show you how much like clay we all are.
Don’t worry about the Africans,
love the humans.
When the first human was born,
it didn’t know enough to call itself African,
but it hasn’t stopped crying ever since.
And you can blame it on famine, or war, or the fallout of capitalism
but Africa isn’t suffering,
it’s reminding you what your birth sounded like.
– Antonia Lassar
Antonia Lassar hails from Boston, MA and South Africa, and has toured both the US and South Africa with her poetry. She is proud to be a recent graduate of the Boston University School of Theatre. This summer, Antonia traveled to North Carolina as a first time member of the Cantab Lounge National Poetry Slam Team. She is currently touring her one-woman show The God Box around the Northeast.