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

while it is easy to stare at each other,

not belonging here, and not anymore,

from when belonging aimed explaining time.

that’s it — time.

if I say i, if I say when, if I say anything,

there’ll be a mark.

even ‘that’s it’ suggests something.

you’re in Ibadan.

where I will love you.

there will be no I.

we will share black walls,

try to figure out lingala and arabic.

chang’e 4

after the vacation, the kneeling for friends who’d otherwise not like us if we were standing,

after the first communion of the year,

after we’ve said all the bad things about the artists and writers we can only love in secret, how collaborations are not possible but can we please fuck on January 5th?

after we’ve absolved ourselves, forgiven ourselves,

come back to burna boy and all the other crass artists of our time, smoking the long pipes that were only made as ornaments, the designer zonings that we didn’t know existed before our parents,

after deciding our anger is self-righteous,

after del Toro in escape, especially after the shape of water,

after these men interrupt your escape with the smell of a new year’s eve sex thing on River Road, and the sweat and party and the boring escapade stories you’ve had so many times from the coming of age stories of twenty-year-olds,

some things still wait for you,

they are small and cannot withstand the nice sun of your walks,

they do not know that you praise the same prince as they do,

he’ll be back, maybe as a bookmark to something we are yet to read

or write.

but some day our prince will come,

after chang’e 4 makes it to orbit,

we make it home, we are in paris,

and the lights come on.

it’s no longer about listening to konshens, or pop, or de la vega, or these kapsabet boys who know so much of the world,

after the lights go out on chang’e,

i’ll be alone with you,

this saying so much, saying so little,

after warnings about life and fiction.

shall we now read old newspapers from the collectors in our lives?

or our parents, who were so keen on the present they left no evidence of the past.


there were times when, drinking coffee on the ferry,
we thought these were the dreams of children, times
when making it to the mainland was not an achievement: (there are unknown roads named after how well our bodies connect)
we knew other ways existed. making our way up the stairs,
the baker and the cat watching, all these things we tell, the juvenile, the karatina mats, the inside jokes we don’t laugh at,
cotton candy on loita, the bats, motorbikes to nyali,
paper cups – the long dream, the international association for the study of dreams, your school with the new curriculum, the children left behind, the children we don’t have, the stupid genius we’ve come to associate with the children of the rich, and the poor home-schooled children,
all the queer withdrawal of sink holes in our imagination,
the way we have come to forgive each other, there are ways we forgive each other, you and I,
not making love really buy finding an excuse to play capleton. naming kittens.

& the dream of the night comes to us

so slow we question it’s intention,

the dumb heaviness of red wine, your heavy hands on mine. the ferry arrives & I’ve stolen just enough sugar for you.

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.


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.

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.


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.


& 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.