The Dust Was Here First The ground was not made for burials, it was made to speak.

The dust was here first
Mothers came to tend to the dust
and absorbed its clay shades for their skin.
The dust was here when they knelt in it, praying for returns,
soaking it with tears of fertility, crying for their kin—
bowing down to the soil, harvesting mercy out of droughts.
The dust was here when they forgave it for colluding with the sun,
massaged it between their coarse aching fingers.
It stayed when they crouched to it, lay belly to belly with it, hiding from what was done
when no one could see,
but the dust.
The dust was here first.

Fathers came to clear the dust
and soon became one with it for their sin.
The dust was here when their feet declared it belonged to them,
boots drawing it to attention, leaving fast fading marks, where new prints would begin,
trading soil for gold, good times, and unkept promises.
The dust was here when they clung to it, with sieving hands,
fought for it to the point of destruction.
It stayed when they fell to it, to rot in it, marvelling how quickly men drowned in the sea of sands
a reminder to all who forgot,
the truth of dust.
The dust was here first.

Children came to dance with the dust
and covered all but eyes and teeth with it.
The dust was here when they kept it company too long to avoid a scolding,
making meals of it, with a choke and a laugh, a pie of sand and spit,
moulding many worlds in their palms.
The dust was here when they envied it, for the millions of places it had travelled,
even while it stayed.

It stayed when they bathed in its counsel before they aged and unlearned and unravelled
the steady of its presence,
the faithfulness of dust.
before they left it—
The dust was here first.

It perched behind ears—an unmoved eye
so that even in forgotten lands
nothing was invisible
nothing unrecorded
no deed buried without a witness.

The ground was not made for burials,
The ground was made to speak.

Vivian Tjijandjeua Ojo is a Namibian-Nigerian poet who has spent most of her life in Namibia; she has lived and worked in several other African countries. While she’s worked primarily in international development, she writes, performs, and publishes her poetry. She has performed original works and recited famous poetic pieces for events such as the Martin Luther King Day Celebration in the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC in 2014, the Oxford University Public Policy Winter Soiree in 2016, and, most recently the Africans for Biden event in 2021, to name a few. Vivian has some academic publications in journals like the Harvard Africa Policy Journal. She is passionate about capturing and sharing the stories of Africans to give voice to its history and power to its future through poetry. She has an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University where she was a Lannan Fellow for Poetics and Social Justice and holds a master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Oxford. Her latest work is a collection of poems about the connection between stories and the soil.

Cover Image: Nidhil Amen on Unsplash.