Aaliyah Kara’s climate change-focused poem, Until You Let Her Go, set in motion her path into Spoken Word

Aged 16, Aaliyah Kara used to perform the work of renowned poets like Rafeef Ziadah at community events. ‘When I was confident enough, the same communities gave me a platform to share my own attempts at Spoken Word,’ she says. ‘My artistic network expanded then and I regularly participated in Jerry K’s poetry shows. I have been writing and performing for years though. I remember writing the script for the first school play when I was in Grade six. I am immensely grateful for the people who have believed in my voice along the way.’

aaliyah kara spoken word elle magazine

In 2015, she was placed in the top eight of the Spoken Word for the World competition for her piece on climate change.

Until You Let Her Go

Only when she left
that spring in her step
her hair dropping
like a waterfall behind her

Without a warning
or last word

Without hesitating
never looking back,

did you realise that
she was the air
that filled your lungs
when you wrote her
a song and sang it
she was those beams of sunlight
when your arms were dotted
with goose pimples

She was the spark
that set your soul
on fire

She was the ocean
and you were the shore
and she moved back and forth
to kiss you

She was the lamp
and you held her hand
followed her into
the wilderness of dreams

But you kept running out of fuel

So she was the candle,
dancing, adventurous
and you kept
blowing out her flame

When she left-
you didn’t notice
she started walking
you were too busy
scrolling through your feed
thumbs programmed to double tap
without consciousness
and when you looked up
from your screen
she was gone.

She was the flower
you picked to adorn a vase
and you posted a picture of her
on Instagram
and they said she was beautiful
and that you were cute
but you forgot

to water her every day
so she wilted, quickly

you couldn’t simply
leave her
in her field of daisies
take in her scent
appreciate her in her space
paint her
like one of your French ladies

You were destructive, damaging, demanding
she couldn’t create new defence mechanisms
that matched the speed for her to evolve

She was enough
and she was
for her
for you

But you tried to synthesise her
into something she was not
like she was some sort
of scientific experiment
like she was an amusement park
an arcade

They discovered a new fossil
and you worshipped it
bowed down at the altar
of what you considered knowledge
started parsing yourself
thinking you had evolved
when you were devolving,
devaluing, devastating

You started playing with fire
and this time it burned

The ocean that used to kiss you
now floods the shoreline as it rises
and the air that used to fill your lungs
is too difficult to breathe

Your love was her degradation
and you both now wallow
in mutual destruction

Only until she had left
and now that she is gone

Do you stop looking down at your phone
awakened by the realities that exist
around you

She was the baobab,
grounded in her roots
and you watch not only her
but entire forests burn
around you

A swirling black hole of chaos
is what has become of this world

No hashtag will bring back
your girl

To read more about Aaliyah and other inspiring creatives from the world of Spoken Word, get a copy of the August issue of ELLE, on shelf now.

Photography: Themba Mbuyisa