the first flight of stairs goes into the room

with the operating table and trolley

– we’ve learnt to fuck on the unicycle, and the danger

of saying things for shock value –

the second disappears into a black nothing,

although i know there’s a window there –

the air always cold, and the hum

of a thing caught in an adam’s grape.

the island in the kitchen is always dirty

from all the meals offered to strangers

who either arrive late, or come empty handed.

old records used to be on the front wall,

now we have taarab and sounds no one will listen to.

the loop of these choruses, the madness

of stillness, incomplete fucks, books we will not read,

a broken appliance that might be turned

into a machine of love and time and friendship.

and in the private wing, an absence of light,

not the same as darkness – think of a child’s body

the first time it experiences water, how instinct

cannot save it from drowning, instead,

enabling death. think of a great sinkhole.

backyard – more appliances, old shoes that

don’t fit anymore, a dog licking milk from a condom,

flowers whose names we’ve forgotten, or

never cared to learn – like the way your body

moves in that awkward loop, until i turn you around, or

you turn me around, and we’re finally nameless.

in the bin, a lecture on memory and the place

of the African writer in contemporary et cetera

– a thing we don’t care about – your lucky beads,

the bangles from Z, bloody spit, bloody cotton,

and i think about the dog –

do you think about the dog? he comes everyday

for the milk and to lie down in the flowerbed,

to listen to the clock in the private wing.

the poet in port Harcourt (part i)

my grandmother’s head, wet with blood and incoherence, sits under my bead,

all this time, myself and some friends, waiting for maulidi, walking in black sand, saying, this is how

to love your people. me walking on any kind of bridge to get rid of her head,

the weight of it on my back, language time and fatality, a premonition, like a bag of wild mangoes, or

the taste of snails in lime water, me saying this is the bridge we must walk over,

your head heavy, your kikuyu unreadable, your love for my mother unknowable,

the ocean too far for me to fling this thing, this head, the river black and unmoving.

and all my friends will see the thing I carry – your head in a backpack –

the quiet homage to a friend who says, ‘I love you’. what does medusa dream of?

how is it that after your body there’s a field of nightmares?

pissing all over your mother’s rhododendrons. what’s jujuu, and what’s

rhumba, what’s benga? what’s highlife? and the poet of the clinical blues telling

us all these things by the poolside, not reading to us. promenade.

what is a threat of drowning?

all for you, baby, all for you.

a short exchange of words – arrivals and departures,

you saying nothing, meaning everything. back to the smells of your house,

meatballs and pasta. me going on and on about zephyrion, god of the west wind, british

architecture, hydrangeas, nigerian efficiency, all these men

who’ve never known kindness, and, here’s B, talking about the brotherhood of man.

a woman at a nigerian airport – Lagos – is a disposable thing,

and will you give me all your money, for nothing?

I’ve had enemies who killed my cats, stepped on my water lilies,

I wish them nigerian citizenship.


in the morning it will be the colour weight of night

skin against marble and towel, the hangover

of waste and exhaustion, the colour of your

body under water. this is what

we will always remain, a dangerous state

of the continuous nothing – me writing this

in the lobby minutes after check out,

you coming out of the lifts with every

opening of the lip event, going up and

going down – never home.


first you say his body is made different. I look this up

in all possible houses, to find only detergent and hints

that his body exists. you know how people leave certain

things behind when they move – that’s his body.

I try to write about you, about reading Ishion

to you in your sleep, your skin covered in vodka,

your hands grazed from the tight knot of the rope,

your tummy flat like some sad number, your mouth

slightly open, an invitation, your sex closed, and

on your forehead the words: his body is made

different, and I cannot resist it.

In your sleep, halfway into a poem, I say:

I want to be sad with you.

You tie me up nicely

and fuck me and feed me your fluids and wear that black

thing without any underwear on.


the heavy animal on ice, half thinking it needs water,

half thinking it needs a table mountain, to die,

something about the weight of a species.

you on the couch, all day, all week, watching

the animal hunt another, watching as the prey escapes,

sad this is how things must be. your apology the smell

of cigarette smoke from last week. then a yawn. and

the end of a species. and what’s pomegranate in Swahili?

blue for the curtain, the door opens to the commuter,

a man who brings you peanuts and beer and a body

of aging sandalwood and sweat (glass is made

in a pleasure dome with you and and the commuter and water and sand)

the man confused when you mention the chemicals

that have been killing us for years.

and when you open the door, there you are, like

I have never seen you: brown beret, Asia Minor eyebags, your face

full of water and the marks of a quiet war.


i cannot claim we invent any games, any more than they might say we’ve been invented by the people who sit in the garden looking back at us. passion. orange. guava. mango. zambarau. coming to the orchard only after we are spent from hurting each other, tired from performing and inventing ways of dying, we count fruits by a certain order: those that promise to fall, those ripe only for worms, those cursed to bitterness. not knowing what to do with the unreachable, we throw stones at them.
the canopy is so thick the place stays dark. we never see her. it is understood she is there and we are never to be seen in the trees. she is there in her blue garments, moving behind the trees, standing guard, turning into plant, knitting time into the fur of cats. if a fruit falls it belongs to the earth. sometimes she inspects a fallen fruit, always leaving it where it fell. so from an early age we learn to observe decay from a distance, not sensing it in each other.
one day the lady comes out for a stroll. we hide behind a door, watching her from the spaces between the loose wood. seventeen cats trail her, none daring to walk past her, their heads beautiful in the sun—her children. they look at us and fling their shawls around their necks, strutting like newcomers at a festival. two cats lick her pale feet, their tongues hard and wet and pink, another wrestles with the tail of her blue garment. we follow her round the block, thinking if the hour is suitable for licking each other. we throw stones and exchange blood and mascara and artificial sweetener. latecomers. she stops for a while at the jacaranda tree and kisses it. four years we have pissed on that tree. I think the lesson here is forgiveness. or forgetfulness.
at night we watch her shadow in the orchard. you give me your eyes—evening light. we follow her movements, our legs wrapped in bandages. at the centre she sits stooped, her hands full of dirt, strangling cats, as one might wring a favourite cotton dress the night before church. she buries them under the flowers of the mango tree. you want to know why i always refuse to come on your belly. 
we talk less and less, pay no attention to the whistling and tsk tsk tsk of the people in the garden. we learn how decay starts, how to sustain it, how to fear each other by loving animals, how to knead mud to get rid of all the air. mostly the beginnings of foreign alphabets.


we trust strangers to give us directions. a man, happy to be of assistance, says: follow the man in the red shirt, don’t take corners if/when he does, you’ll see the great river, take the bridge, don’t take corners where the road does, don’t look into the river. you walk slightly ahead – the difference between directions and instructions. or tone and pace when the body is an altar. another way to say my restraint is to blame for everything.

at St. Luke’s Parish Gatina young men slit the throat of a much older man for sport. they smile at us and we have to smile back.

a man carries a flag, leading other men with flags, their women in white and red and green, dancing, their hair in scarves. so many churches. we share the stereo voices: you take the women, I take the men.

a woman serves us the deep-fried heads and necks and gizzards and feet of chicken. that they were once birds that much is obvious. we take in anything for the possibility of new images and sounds. the organs of birds are sexless, so we feed each other without using hands. and, anyway, we must not spend too much time on nomenclature. what you call naming. you are leaving soon and must replenish your archives for words beginning with j. for instance, the thinness of your neck, the pulse, and how your eyes stay sad when you laugh.

we walk down to the river, where men clean motorcycles in the dirty water. a child slings the head of a woman into the river. her wig comes off – one last act of resistance – before vanishing. to think the vanishing is the resistance.

currency men watch us from the small windows of bedrooms – you tell me they are collectors. or collectibles. after a long pause, what we have come to call I don’t know what to tell you, or indecision and blame, regret, you flip a coin: a fat and headless queen. the other side worn out into the smoothness of the tip of a penis.

and further up, or down, another river. unseen birds behind the thick of bamboo leaves. you’ve been wondering how long before I evoke leaves.


to watch you search for an apartment in the east side, room by empty room,
inspecting the walls for fungi
& the kitchens for space –
i learn the many ways you define
‘four movements': you are


the things they say
in interviews.
a younger man downstairs choosing to
Jump off the second floor and not the fourth.

his body saying it’s not yet time not yet time. his panting so loud it continues into dream.

you are.

thinking of pessoa in the moments before darkness
the scars
of men at the bar.

you’d like nothing more
than to see me curse freely.

but then the heavy movements, & your
juices in my bed.

you are.


a long experiment.

We have learned, through no faults of those things we cannot name, that poetry can take certain things from here.
You insist on less light in a room where the curtains are heavy and always drawn.

London Grammar.

20s men watch us through the night and make notes.

No fantasy of ours.

You said you only like a lover if he smells like whiskey. A few hours into the night they are bored and exchanging cigarettes and herpes. They burn the ends on your bags, where your shoulder makes a sudden drop. A poster to a festival on the wall – it might have already happened, or not; we don’t remember. There’s a festival right here of wrought iron and bite marks at the place your shoulder makes a sudden drop.

I learn how to love your sick body.

We learn to come to each other pole pole. Your tongue in mine and mine belonging to another.

Outside there’s a sunbird and a swing with no child on it.

Do you remember the nights in Mnarani? The old man who sold animals from the sea?

You talk about the possibility of attending a future festival together. It bothers you so much that there’s no one at the swing. We sleep with the music on repeat. If anyone is watching there’s not much they will miss.

Our bodies, sleeping, seek each other out, reject each other. One body smells of whiskey and the other one of Styrofoam and failure. The failure we share on equal measure. We sleep in your fluids. In a way we sleep in your orgasm. This is a blessing.

Your mother calls and you lie you read the bible every night. Your lips belong to me.

There’s a bus in the morning to South Coast, if you like we can be on it. I still don’t understand why I talk about Watamu. Kilifi. Old Town. Arusha. Dar. All the small towns in between.

Same way another couple will arrive here and imagine there’s life.