Poetics

a child takes away
our two dead butterflies

it’s in the way of the taking
the look he has in his eyes
saying he can lay claim
this is mine and this is mine —
saying he’s not afraid of any god

you and i
we watch him go into the ocean
where the tide is rising

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Poetics

we’re shopping for shark tails in some
anonymous market in Nairobi,
in the morning when nothing
is fresh yet new supply is coming in,
all of us, alcoholics and working on our first novels,
broke, after fist fights about last night’s dishes & substances –
those really nice mornings when there is no bloom or wind,
we gather like black crows
on the main avenue, we are barely living,
something in us still suggests life,
like when a colony is dying,
or another is replacing it –
then it becomes only a question of time
before we turn on each other, finally.

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Poetics

say

say we end up as driftwood, maybe as
something from the mainland, maybe the dead body
of a child on the banks, flotsam – and there’s
a child playing with shells nearby – this could be from memory
or premonition, or simply a photograph – and the child
is so old he keeps us in the cataracts and opaque
places oh his eye. he sees at first; he has intuition.
then from shame, a need to turn away, maybe a sense of duty
he has learnt after seeing his father pray all night,
things he has not been taught but knows,
things that make him put us into his blackspot,
in the same ways he has drawn blood from things and simply walked away.
all this the future and singular subject of his memoirs.
say we are with him, walking, finding our way to a place without prayer.
& say none of this refers to our nights together on your balcony.

say we are looking at a lake,
barefoot on a rooftop, Nairobi on our minds.
say am still stuck in ideas of truth, and you,
much older, more experienced,
not so incapable of teaching as much as you are of learning,
learning these new colors,
these new toys they are making for the sake of failing desire —
whether from tradition or as prediction —
a return to old religions even if we have never practiced any.
they you say: ‘that’s not a lake,
that is a dead blackbird. give me my glasses, fast.
it could be a dead child.’

say then i return to you, and we have marked our lives
with the laughter of you assurance of my return, a child
beating against the door, calling for either its mother or the
dead weight of its drifting body, that which it will not see,
say then i return to your body, not with my idealism,
and not with my failures, my tantrums, or my inability to learn as well,
but with your own scriptures, i return to you with your own marginalia,
and history, and the stories of childhood, and bad swahili;
what will you say then? say.

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Poetics

taking a mat

this I will not excuse as duality.
there aren’t any new words for my colours,
although now that I know of blindness
it is easy for me to disregard certain things
like what is red to you is some vague
memory of a childhood house i might have made up
as an excuse to sound interesting.
two questions are asked:
I chose to not answer the one I hear
and for the other one I blame
everything outside me –
sonar, hollow walls, blackouts, dar mambo mataam
playing off some unseen track.
for everything you do not ask I’m grateful,
the beginnings of this body,
the many zones, this whitewash
thing you’ve learnt to forgive,
this idea that there’s something in
what we think we know,
as I make my way through Nairobi
after months between sickness and apathy, make my way to whatever
ideal of you is now under construction, the ideal and perfect papercut stray.
you do not ask the obvious.
& although certain gestures are questions, I know this:
your breathing at night,
the movements nightmares make to the surface,
what brand of tea you prefer,
and if I make up a story
I’d rather it’s you I lie to.
while it is in the simple act of a nail file
I find your love. there are the long letters
of regret, but we have the lazy mornings,
books unread, all the poets we keep meaning
to invite over, the books we praise from friends,
siblings trying to get off one substance or another,
our own medicine, this slow slow dying
we’ve come to acknowledge
as it’s own answer to zoning,
waking up on some couch, coming to you,
understanding the delicate way you love anything
as long as it does not move or talk or ask for extra
salt in food, or that ice cubes are perfectly square,
loving books we will never read,
having all our friends now turned to psychoanalysts.
now that i think about it,
there was a childhood home;
no way cobwebs are red though, i feel.

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Poetics

liii

morning at the marina, linen soaked in red wine,
smoking half-smoked things from last night,
watching the tide, bookmarks now driftwood,
thinking of medium roast coffee, sucking at
what remains of the cans, an old boat, the MV erased,
shrimp, bad breath, bodies too close
to each other. a woman walks in from the sea,
she’s in something black –
cloth or skin, there’s no way of telling
from where we are –
when she takes it off,
night again, masquerade again,
seaweed, bass drum, a picnic
blanket, red wine, basket, bread, red and yellow tumblers,
the distant figure of a defunct lighthouse.
we’ve made our home underground
where it floods everyday,
so we cannot keep books here.
that’s okay – they belong on the surface, anyway.
Oh lighthouse – tail end of a sunken figurine.

 

you ask me to move over.
the woman from the sea, she smiles,
her left hand a dead squid.
she’s writing a thesis on how
maombolezi and majaliwa, in the end,
to those of us who are living dead, are,
as in some cultures, cousins who can marry
as long as the right thing is offered for slaughter,
in this case the the the wax figure of our daughter.
if a thing adept at movement sits still,
still in the sense that
only the right hand is performing
sign language, like a robot dance – is it dead?
this half language, is it dead?
as foreplay, my lover tells me of incest
in the great lakes, then, as reward
sucks the wax off my ears –
this time we will ask for a son.
we make a sacrifice to whatever god is awake.
my lover reads lips, she talks
to the waves and tides, to the young gangster
who collects beach tax,
who takes care of the old man who threatens us with a curse,
although, the journey we have so far made,
knowing that we know nothing of desire,
I’d rather a curse than any kind of map I cannot read.
we listen to The Smiths on something portable,
the tide and the waves, the woman from the sea,
here at the marina, you and i, waiting, your lips unreadable,
thinking of relocating somewhere off Eritrea
to some unknown island of the red sea.

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Poetics

lii

& next comes all the expletives, the names
we have for sin, what wrong-doing has become. & when the dead
hold vigils – who is it for?
what happens to a language when
the last man who speaks it dies?
here’s a preposition — your body
as a dead language. & what if
we were on painkillers and sleeping pills
in the wake of our sad revolution?
what then becomes of the animals dear to us.
this old horse, this colour-dream of blacks
& obsidian, this material fiction dream-land,
this obscene repentance? you standing
on my balcony in the middle of the night,
wishing me dead? your body in the country,
in all of it’s miracles, tastes like a failed suicide.

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Poetics

widowbird

it’s strange, this volume i have,
the birds of kenya and nothern tanzania,
and another volume I won’t be bothered to find,
two books, two lovers,
two musicians. two cormorants.
two coroners on a blind date.
doing some kind of twist. & now, i remember the difficult year.
i catalogue what i find under the bed:
(what do i do with the carcass of a jackson’s widowbird?)
suitcase from campus never unpacked five years later —
if we can call it anything, it is a time piece that’ll
end up uncollected, unclaimed, and some grandchild will
write something about the remains of those days —
dust, mites, cheap condoms, anthologies, a kifaru matchbox –
i spent my childhood on this, but it was never 45 sticks –
an earring, one-way bus ticket to kilifi, coins. notebook of haikus.
testimonials about my favourite mortician.

it was my mother who taught me how to hoard.
all i keep now i’ll need ransom to tell.
a useful skill — my house is a monument of itself.
i remember the difficult year.
i gave up certain books, knowing ambition is cruel.
kept those about prescriptions, fashion,
there’s one on kissing, another on chess,
another on variations of poker. we are taught what moves are lethal.
there’s sabra ali amran’s sikitiko.
i hope, when I die, it’ll be at the post office –
13404 00500, that I’ll be arriving at my own little box,
and they’ll carry me to a place non-existing on the map
and somehow shaped into a map. or they will return to sender.
this is the great answer to all my troubles —
i’m in a room somewhere, in a warehouse, counting matchsticks
as one counts the beads of a rosary.
meditation, prayer, forgiveness —
all this do not compare to working at the factory belt.

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Poetics

saa hii saa hii

we’ve talked about we’ve talked about certain
details distinctions divijhtss when I come to you
& you’ve said, what a nairobi word? the djinns.
when you said you did not want be found,
somehow in that place there was nothing —
as much as I tried to say, yes; here exists what is exempt.
the collective and the rich: can we say fuck them?
in turn, can we be fucked?
can we wake up in the dream and contempt?

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Poetics

memorandum on plans for a city

first we must arrange the burial of the dead,
what some say are arrangements for life.
we call it mourning. the ceremony. others call it an an inconvenient bus ride.
city hall and its charms. we are conditioned to harm people.
time and materials cost money.
after the dead are gone, and i mean when they are, when they are,
when the dead are gone.
after and when allude to time. beyond the origin of words
i have nothing to offer but once there was darkness.
we go to Grogon and enjoy a meal. distance and time mark a city.
concepts for the intelligent.
i want nothing but your laughter in braces.

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