Table of contents
Poem / Phenomenon

The Visit

SAPIENS’ 2024 poet-in-residence imagines a wordless conversation with a troubled figure from the past and considers legacies of marginalization during the figure’s life and in archives.
An open window separates a pitch-dark room on one side from an illuminated teal exterior and light blue curtains blowing in the breeze on the other.
The Visit - Listen

the bedroom is a chamber of whispers. the midnight wind blows the curtains, pushing air into silk lungs. she sits in the corner, outlined faintly by the soft glare of the moon. she does not wear clothes, no nightrobe, no plush slippers. there is no spine to turn, no torso to twist, only the sobbing. the shadows of the room move, dance under the light, her features still blurred, but i imagine tears streaming down her face like the edges of a melting candle.

i, lying in bed, green-blue bonnet on my head, pull the sheets closer, hush to her heaving breath, her clasped hands, her eyes on mine as if we have known each other. as if i have not seen her only in empty documents, in archives drenched in blood. and i am someone else’s daughter, but in that moment she decides to tell me the best way to make porridge. jiggle the flour until there are no lumps, no clouds of dust you might chew on, no stones. stir in some fat, lard, butter, coconut, whatever you can find for some sweetness. some richness. she is saying everything besides the pain, centuries of it stacked like old coins, and i am selfish in thanking her for it.

i, who called her, summoned a face to put name to, to fill the shadowed room—have nothing to offer, no apology, no solution. no other option except haloes of air, overseers and military men, open palms and clenched fists, moving bodies and stealth paces. i only know what has been written in blood, and she only knows the moaning into cloth, screaming into water, knife on bone and fingers curled around throat, the cry of the wind, and the gushing out to earth, a drifting cloud, and hushed stars that blink down just as she blinks down at me—with no testament, no revelation, no prophecy, no words of wisdom, only the gyre in the drain, the hypnotic cycle-circle of remembering and forgetting, her heaving chest. the twilight’s breath.

Alma Simba is a writer, historian, and experimental sound artist interested in both the potentials and failures of words in capturing the human experience. Her subject matter is ancestral heritage and how Indigenous Black Africans can communicate and explore this history through oral traditions, memory, and imagination. Simba was awarded a B.A. in international history from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and she completed her M.A. in history at the University of Dar es Salaam with a focus on Tanzanian heritage housed in Germany. She was a “Sensitive Provenances” Research Fellow at the University of Göttingen in 2022 and is part of the Ajabu Ajabu audio-visual collection in Dar es Salaam. Follow her on Instagram @aa_noun.


You may republish this article, either online and/or in print, under the Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 license. We ask that you follow these simple guidelines to comply with the requirements of the license.

In short, you may not make edits beyond minor stylistic changes, and you must credit the author and note that the article was originally published on SAPIENS.

Accompanying photos are not included in any republishing agreement; requests to republish photos must be made directly to the copyright holder.


We’re glad you enjoyed the article! Want to republish it?

This article is currently copyrighted to SAPIENS and the author. But, we love to spread anthropology around the internet and beyond. Please send your republication request via email to editor•

Accompanying photos are not included in any republishing agreement; requests to republish photos must be made directly to the copyright holder.