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Moira Richards reviews Invisible Earthquake: A woman's journal through stillbirth by by Malika Ndlovu

Many of the poems in this book by Malika Ndlovu, seasoned writer and performance poet, read as if they were written to be read aloud - sometimes, as if to be wept out loud;



I feel my way into each day

I run

I hide

I collapse

I howl inside                                          (16th March, 08h45)



Invisible Earthquake bears the subtitle, ‘journal...' - and the poems have no titles as such; they are each, simply, headed with a date and time of the day - but it reads too, as journey. The collection narrates a mother's three-year journey back from the searing, numbing experience of giving birth to a baby that she knows has died inside that safest and most intimate and nurturing of spaces, her womb.  


I know you are no longer living

In my body

Everything repeats the same sad truth    

That simple indigestible fact                    (pg 16)



The narrator of the poetry is no artificial construct and Invisible Earthquake is no carefully crafted series of persona poems. These words are first, the words of the lived experience, the ‘coming to terms' journey made by Malika Ndlovu for her only daughter, Iman Bongiwe Ndlovu (born and buried, 3rd January 2003). And in the first pages the words of her journal seem borne of a desperation so profound that I can only guess at its depth;


I write to keep you alive



I write to cleanse myself,

To release the river of sorrow



I write for women who know this



I write to relive the moments

That were only yours and mine,

To touch again

Your fragile skin,

Your delicate head,

To carefully lift your fingers one by one

Gently wrap them around my thumb.                   (27th May, 00h44)



As the poems thread through time, so a slight change in mood and perhaps, some slight hope for other women just embarking on the same journey of pain;


I give praise for the muthi my writing has been through every phase of this intense year. Somehow I am here, one year later, one year older.     

                                                                                    (3rd January, 04h48) 



But and yet. Time can be a double-edged stiletto between the ribs, the lifting of numbness is not to be confused with an escape from pain, and Malika uses understatement to great effect here, as elsewhere in her book, to convey that fact;   


I resurrect the details of our separation, the sight of you ... the quiet of those few subsequent hours alone with you, a part of me lying still beneath the cloth I wrapped around you. Your smell, your touch eludes me.                                                              




Almost two years along the journey of this journal, and the poems show again, changes in mood - changes that seem to present hope, impossible-to-get-your-head-around hope, but glimmerings, nonetheless, of hope. 


The gusts of Nature's breath pull and tug at me, insisting that I let go, that I move on, telling me that my little girl did not come to weigh me down but to free me.  

(5th November, 14h18)



Malika's poetry drew me through the pages of her journey, gave me small glimpse inside a tragedy I will not have to endure in this life, and it will surely offer some measure of comfort to the women who do. But, besides what Invisible Earthquake: A woman's journal through stillbirth may offer through personal testimony, the simple and direct poetry in which that testimony has been couched and crafted, makes the work for me, a joy to read in spite of the heartbreak of its conception.


The last poem, dated exactly three years after the birth and burial of Iman Bongiwe, tells of Malika's visit with four other women of her family, to the baby's grave and ends;


Your presence

Through memory or story

Reveals our interconnectedness

Your purpose

Is obvious




A sacred sharing

You at the centre

Allows me to walk away

Lighter                                                              (2nd January, 16h20)




Invisible Earthquake: A woman's journal through stillbirth

by Malika Ndlovu

Published by Modjaji Books

ISBN: 978-0-9802729-3-2

Reviewed by Moira Richards

 Review first published in New Coin: South African Poetry Vol 46(1) June 2010