It hit us like a well aimed missile
From a fast and bandy sling-shot,
Then left us to die slow deaths
In relentless sun filled,
Cloudless days.

Not a breath of wind to bring
Vast cloud banks
We were praying for…
Just dry dust
Upon our scaled skins.

Our crops wrinkled…
In cracked bed rock
That once tilled fertile soils.

Men scraped beneath the surfaces
With split fingernailed hands,
Looking for a worm to eat…
Anything to help sustain him
From the eternal internal gnaw of hunger.

Carcasses of cattle lay with those
Of donkeys on the side of the road,
And thin, bent women
Pulled the ox-cart,
While the men folk just looked on.

Herds of elephant and game lay
Dying close to dust bowls
With claim…
To having been waterholes that never dried,
Even if it didn't rain.

Quiet black mothers
Slipped stealthily in to homesteads
Leaving squalling babes
On farmers doorsteps, in the hope
They could help their offspring survive.

Hastily kitchens were constructed
In the shade of leafless trees,
Where we dealt out tin plates
Filled with beans and slop
To ragged queues that never stopped!

Massive trucks went back and forth,
Carting rotten veg and fruit,
Bales of hay
And old gumboots
For game warders in every camp…

Distributing nourishment to all the game,
We could help endure…
The ravages of nature
And the cruel drought,
Locked in their embrace of war!

Rust coloured water,
Just dripping out of unused
Communal Trustland water spouts,
But no longer gushing in a spray
Over African women's washing days.

Most boreholes had ceased to flow,
And the tough grass 'round them
Yellowed and pricked maliciously,
Into our shoeless soles…
While goats stood by with feeble, parched bleats.

Empty snail and tortoise shells lay around
On hard, baked ground,
Not an insect to be found…
No bird life in the bush,
Singing songs of oncoming rains.

Pain and sorrow in everyone's eyes…
Crops of maize had all but gone,
Leaving man and beast
To live,
Or perhaps…even to die!

(After the worst ever recorded drought in Zimbabwe,'91 & '92)

© Susan Jahme