For the Poet in Running Shoes

When it is all over for the day and you sit, waiting for the onslaught of dawn, which poets keep you awake? Do you whisper in couplets to Gibran and hear echoes of Lorde as the night washes away the ills of the day?

There’s a spot on the roof. If you stand there at the right moment it is as if you can hear the collective dreaming of a drowning city. In many ways one begins to understand why all the superheroes have their moments of soliloquy above a sleeping city.

Where do you go to be alone with your thoughts?

Is there a special seat where you go to gather the fragments of yourself from the atmosphere?

Do they come flying back from around the world? Or do you just connect with all the versions of yourself that you have left nursing those who needed them the most?

*

Somewhere in the city there is an arboretum. In the arboretum stands a tree with golden flowers. Surrounded by a sea of dull this tree continues to flower, unashamed of putting the trees around it to shame.

*

I still find these letters increasingly difficult to write. I see the poets coming to read them like I once read poetry myself. Looking for traces of a self I wanted to possess but never seemed to summon in person. Did you ever read poetry like that? In whose lines have you found yourself? Which poets left fragments of themselves behind to fill the holes left by the pieces you no longer had?

*

Where do you go to be alone with your thoughts?

*

The art of healing is only useful for the broken. How many times have you watched as they continued to tell stories? How many times have you heard revised histories erase the very truths that define the present?

If I plucked a flower from the tree at the arboretum and ran halfway across town with it, would it die? What about if I made sure to store it safely in my clenched fist, holding it tight to ensure it doesn’t get lost? What about if, as I ran, I became more paranoid about losing the flower, so I held it tighter?

Have you ever performed CPR on a gold flower? It’s a very delicate procedure that involves gently holding the calyx between your forefingers and using your thumbs to separate the style from the stigma.

But stigma, once attached, is almost impossible to get rid of, isn’t it?

*

A poet sits under a tree reading a book, trying to find themselves in redacted histories.

A flower falls on their head.

Do they run? Or do they open their eyes, as another fragment holds space for pieces that are out holding space for someone else?

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

A Tale of Sleeping Dogs

We spent so much time trying to protect ourselves from the monsters that we became them. And now we watch, perplexed, as people try to protect themselves from us.

  • A dependent observer

 

Perhaps, in the beginning there was a sound.

A whisper on a tear stained pillow into a lover’s ears.

“wake up, the dawn is breaking, we must be going.”

And just like that.

It was.

 

Then again, it might have been that

it all began with a breath

that refused to be held in.

 

Common knowledge, however, dictates that it all

started

once

up on a time.

 

Upon this time they had lain the finest versions of their history. Forged by taking the souls of their best and brightest and putting them through the fires that were fueled by their dreams.

What burns brightest in a nation of dreamers?

Hope or Despair?

Once everything was ready to go they sent out invitations.

Come! They said, come! And see the product of dreams and broken desire! Come! See how they dance! See how they sing! Come! For only ten shillings and a little sympathy. Come! We are open for business!

We, they said.

We are ready.

We.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.”

  • Allen Ginsberg, Howl

We, who now hold time and want to ask, how many more sacrifices will it take before the war is won?

Instead, we keep dreaming.

And Back Again

No one moves gladly forward through time. Instead the future approaches us with unrelenting speed and we haven’t learned how to run away fast enough.

But we still keep running.

A silent man is seen hidden behind a tree. He is not part of the conversation but he does know a few things about running. In a past life he won a few medals and continued to surpass his peers in competition time and time again. In silence he watches as time continues its relentless assault on the runners who fight its inevitability like a child runs away from an inoculation. Except time protects us from nothing except the passage of time.

Which is to say there is nothing to fear but the fear of the inevitable. As things are they will be. As things are they will be. And will continue to be. Those who have learned to analyse the assault of time and position themselves in the more passable positions quickly begin to anticipate the next wave. Here it comes, where shall I be? Sometimes, they take a pause and stand by a tree watching as time continues on the unsuspecting.

On those who quantify and analyse and try to control what is constant.

What do you know about time? Except maybe that it is cyclical. Everything that begins, ends to begin to end once more. Like the never ending cycle of day and night so everything else continues to cycle. This is how we know that it will need to be done again. Because the work of understanding time only begins to end to begin to end.

And when it is all over

we shall once more inherit

a generation of cracked souls

for whom we must erect new

monuments and compose new

anthems od praise and the eternal Hope of Life

beyond the recurring stupidity of war heroes.

 – Kofi Anyidoho, Desert Storm.

A Question on Memory

And tell me do you remember?

Do you?

You, who sits there casually watching the past weave its way into the present. As the fabric of space time folds to create a circle. You, who has been cycling for so long that you are right back where you began. Tell me.

Speak.

Open your heart and find the words.

Any words.

Do you remember anything at all?

Or are you waiting for history to finally push its way over you and into the space that you have carefully crafted for you and your loved ones? How much louder do you think the noise is going to get before it becomes nothing more than a silent dull in the background? Before if becomes nothing more than a sound that you once knew how to hear but have since unheard? How much more must history scream into your ear, demanding for attention?

Why are you silent?

You refuse to acknowledge even the slightest presence of a past, of an existsence that came before you. Instead you insist that everything is novel. That everything is new. Even your exhaustion seems to take you by surprise. As if the journey was meant to go on for so much longer but you find yourself down and panting 2 seconds into the first half. Yes, you made a big tackle. But one big tackle does not the game win.

And they are now going to start attacking – with vengeance. They know that you are making tackles, so they are going to run hard. But everything is new to you. With no context you wonder why they are running hard. But tell, me. Tell me now – do you remember?

Because you were there. You were active. They say you, everyone saw you. If anything everyone was very much paying attention to you and now you sit there acting like you don’t know? Like nothing happened in the time between the beginning and you lying on the ground, grasping for air. Tell me again how you forgot. What parts went missing. Tell me again so I can clarify, step by step.

Cluelessness is not something that you have been known to embody well.

Yet still, that’s how you act. Is that what you know? Tell me.

Is this, all that you see around you, is this what you worked for? This shell of an existence that is neither admirable nor to be disdained. Do you really think that you could take the pieces and put together something that might begin to resemble a wholeness? Do you really think that you can take the pieces and know what piece goes where? Is this, all this, is it the epitome of your existence that you give yourself the luxury of forgetting?

Where are the words? Give them to me, I’ll say them. I’ll mean them. Find me the words that you have buried so deep inside that they carry the key to memory. Look for them. What are the words?

Why won’t you tell me?

Or did you, to protect yourself, find a way to forget the words as well? Lock the past away and give the key to a stranger who you will never see again. Was this your plan? To hide behind a clueless face and the wisdom of unknowing? Did you really think it would work?

Where are you? Look up, look around, re orient. Tell me. Where are you? Have you found yourself? Or are you still looking in old sufurias for traces of a meal you once had? Have you even tried to remember?

Have you even tried to remember?

Or do you still hope that forgetting will save you?

Freedom Interrogations

But what do you know of the freedom that you seek? Do you think you will find it somewhere in the middle of the street between njugu za ten bob and knock off sunglasses? Do you think it can be mass produced? What do you know of this freedom beyond chanting slogans and sharing dreams?

 

I know that at night, while the world is sleeping, I go to the roof and listen to the stars. I know that I hear them echo the dreams of a sleeping city. That, we who transcribe our dreams have journeyed into each other’s dreams and met by the shores of the river of knowledge. There we have looked into the emptiness and filled it with further emptiness, like the Arabs we found it important to quantify absence. And, in quantifying absence we have stumbled upon a very apparent flaw.

I know that when a gun is held to your head, there are no secrets.

I know that a few weeks ago tires flared along Kibera station road protesting building on grabbed land. And that the building steadily continues to rise.

I know that in 1992 Kenya moved from being a single party to a multi party state. In 2002 from a dictatorship to a somewhat democracy. In 2012 from a somewhat democracy to something else. I know that 2022 is not that far in the future.

I know that freedom continues to be a place we imagine, like poetry or a mobile phone 100 years ago.

I know that, even though it seems to be standing still, we continue and must continue towards liberation.

I know that, when we are finally free, we will have to start again.

 

Explain to the committee what makes you the perfect candidate for this.

 

I’m not.

But isn’t that the whole point of the exercise? We are no freer than those we consider chained. And to imagine ourselves as freer is to imagine away the very reason we continue with the work and the labour that has been given to us. Chained to our illusion of freedom we continue to try to explain why we are the free ones, hoping that this insistence will further others towards a space of freedom.

As with most things, we could not be more wrong.

But isolation is a cage that masquerades like open space. It is easy to mistake loneliness for freedom.

It is easy to mistake fear for love.

It is easy to mistake lies for revelations.

People make mistakes.

So what does it mean then, to consider the weights that we tie to ourselves to make sure our freedom doesn’t alienate us from the other freedoms? It means, often, to remember that I’m not the perfect candidate. No one is.

(I still want the gig though)

How many different ways can you divide a path in 6 before it completely disintegrates? Back up your answer with relevant data/references.

 

Occam had a razor. This always baffles me because other people got theories, laws and hypotheses but Occam was stubborn. When approached by the board about his fantastic theory he politely corrected them, it wasn’t a theory – it was a razor. This is exactly what happened (no, it’s not). Does this discredit the validity of the fact that the simplest solution is often the correct one?

When I was a child (forgive me for not remembering what age it was, my childhood was way too much of a whirlpool for how old any memory is to matter) I threw some loquat seeds in the garden. A few weeks ago my mum reminded me of this as she talked about thinking of cutting down my tree. It had been so long I forgot that I planted the tree. Is the tree still mine? Or has it grown a life of its own? Does it suffer from a neglected teenage hood? No, silly, trees don’t have feelings. Except maybe when you touch a touch me not and it recoils in fear. Or when a sunflower follows the sun across the sky, hoping to be noticed. Or when, alerted to the sorrow in the world, the jacaranda falls making each path the path of royalty.

Last night, just before I fell asleep, I thought of a lover.  I often do. I haven’t learned how to put it off yet. Love is always a present, never a past. But there are many things that distract me. Like listening to India Arie and writing. Or, reading My Ngoc talk about pain in more ways that I had previously considered possible. Or going the roof and listening to the silence of a city that dreams of freedom.

Don’t you see? There is no path. Only life, and long forgotten dreams.

Look Up

(For Geoffrey Githaiga 1987 -2015)

 In rugby, as in life, play what’s in front of you.

Few things are more embarrassing than being the forward marking the base when a scrum half throws a dummy pass.

The idea of writing tributes is confusing. Words are not enough to capture essence, or to pick you off the ground after the scrum half makes the break on your inside shoulder.

What’s in a name? No one’s really sure – Shakespeare argues that roses show significance. Still, I’m yet to see a rose that can wear a number 9 jersey.

If roses could play rugby would we still lay them on your grave? Or would we mourn in sequence.

Crouch.

Memory is the real cloud. How many times has your essence been stored in the cloud? Did you swing by, collecting a video montage of passes off the ground? Did Katsumi the boatman read out your statistics as he rowed you across the sea that leads beyond what the living know?

Bind.

If a tree falls in the forest all the other trees gather and mourn in silence. The sound scares birds from branches, worms come out of the ground in wonder. Slowly the tree feeds the forest and rebecomes part of it. If a tree falls in the forest, the forest grows. The forest is trees falling in perpetuity and the trees continue to mourn. In many ways, the forest is a place of mourning dead trees.

Is the tree dead? Friends and family are yet to confirm – a forest holds its breath.

Set

We listen to the forest for the sound of fallen trees. A song floats to our ears “is he higher than the highest mountain?”

There is no response. So we collectively hold our breath hoping that this too, is a dummy pass. That hope feeds and slowly rebecomes us.

But the dust refuses to settle, and the wind tells no lies – a forest mourns.

Pit Stop Diaries

This world, he said while he slowly ashed his cigarette against the charred log, it’s not ready to be kind to people like you.

People like me. Still, he was trying to be kind, and the night was more conversational than confrontational. I stayed silent.

Everyone knows that things are messed up. It’s apparent. There’s no hiding what lies beneath the surface of every city, every development, every space. Space – it’s such a non word. It doesn’t really mean anything, yet it means something very specific. And we’re all watching, trying. Cleaning is long and tedious work. People don’t go quietly into the future. They are dragged along by the cruel hands of time kicking and screaming against it.

Amidst all this people make decisions to make the present liveable, and some of those decisions are not things that you will agree with. Some of those decisions go completely against the grain of creating a better present for other people.

The whiskey was beginning to take his toll. His eyes glazed over. He was not talking to an audience now. He was not speaking to me. It was as if I was eavesdropping on his thoughts.

Resources. That’s the thing right there. Making liveable presents is about resources and resources have always been unevenly distributed. So how do you start?

Huh?

You are the one who says things must be changed, answer me.

(so he was talking to me)

Tell me. What’s the first step? How do we move from here, he was drawing in the sand now, to there?

x                                                                                              x

The first time I met her she was with someone else.

I should have taken that as a sign, but I’ve always been more interested in finding things out than in reading signs. And she had more mystery around her than any puzzle I had ever met.

The second time I met her she was with someone else.

Still, it takes more than one person to make two different pieces of a puzzle. And I still hadn’t learned how to read the signs.

                                                                                *

The universe, it is said, has more stars than there are grains of sand on the beach. To imagine then that we are the only life in the universe is a failure of the imagination. Still, we are guided by the principle that human beings are the most intelligent species. And, of that intelligence there is one other human that will complete you.

This is according to us.

The story remains largely unchallenged.

                                                                             *

I was on  Haile Selassie avenue on 7th august 1998. The day between my birthday and my grandmother’s birthday my father’s office went up in smoke – He wasn’t around.

Tragedy is never personal.

Tragedy is always personal.

With my head pressed down to my seat by my aunt I have no visual memory of the time except my sister’s shoes and the odd shaped pattern of the mats in the car.

That and the sound of screaming, tears and a second detonation.

More screams.

A few days later I wrote a composition about it. Mrs Dhanji told my mum that it was one of the best compositions she had read in a while. This was probably said more for my benefit than for anything else, but I was a child and the ways of flattery were yet to make themselves apparent to me. And saying that we’d been there only earned me a sharp look.

I haven’t written as excellent a composition since – at least none that earned as open praise. I keep trying though.

*

By the time I managed to ask her out my anxiety was through the roof. “Don’t say the wrong thing,” which always ended up in saying the wrong thing became my mantra. Somehow though I survived. I still don’t know how the transition was made, but somehow it was.

                                                                                                   *

I only have 4 different types of dreams. The story is always changing but there have been only four different models of dream that I can recall. I say recall because every morning is an effort to grasp traces from the dream world before they are lost forever.

Three of these four variations are completely irrelevant to anything that I’m writing about.

The fourth variation is always set in high school. I’m in fourth form and KCSE is right around the corner. I haven’t studied. Even though I know this, it isn’t important, the hustle and bustle of last minute study only provides a backdrop to whatever else is happening. Often I’m trying to break into an activity of sorts but a deficiency presents itself. Too something or the other to fit into any crowd I begin to walk towards Death Valley.

Death Valley is a back path between James house and Kenyatta house. It is called Death Valley because it cuts across the school farm and is very precarious when muddy. There are stories of people who died in the area but I fail to see how the drop could cause a death – and I know enough to disbelieve urban legend.

Somewhere halfway through death valley the dream changes. I find myself coming out on the other side of the school in a fresh set of uniform. Sunday best. A classmate (none in particular, this role seems to be played by the person who I met latest, or failure to that, my form one bunkmate) runs over to tell me the bus is leaving. I know I’m meant to be on that bus. We dash across the quadrangle and make it onto the bus – it’s full. Clearly we are going somewhere exciting.

Music exam practicals are always a thing of anxiety. You picked the best of the first formers to dance for you, you learned the prerequisite song in your mother tongue. I sit on the bus, sure I’ll fail. Everyone else is just excited to leave school. We go into quabbz (kabz? Qabz? It always had an obscure spelling) and I get ready for it. Despite my anxiety everything seems to be going well, I even begin to relax.

Then I know it’s beginning to fall apart. It’s like driving down a road and suddenly up ahead you see the rest of the road disappear. There are two seconds between where you are and the end. They last forever. By the second you have decided to ride gallantly into the darkness.

I wake up.

                                                                                *

I can’t say I wasn’t warned – but so was she.

                                                                                *

There are times in my life that I have felt like the road ahead has disappeared. Like my dream, panic and anxiety take hold of me. In silence I steel myself and try to only speak what is necessary. I bite my tongue as I wait for the next part of the world to reveal itself. Often, instead, I find myself in a space where there is nothing except the echo of an engine that is running out of petrol.

                                                                                 *

There is a gap between here and there.

The echoes are yet to point me in the direction of the nearest petrol station.

to Appease the Humans

Bring your gods,

Bring them so that we may

feast on the blood of immortality.

Bring them so we may devour them

and bury them in a sea

of error and chaos

that was created by their dreams.

Bring your gods

leave none behind.

Lay them at our feet that we may,

one by one,

examine them.

Hold them up to the light.

Poke and prod.

Bring them so we see whether they crumble

under pressure.

You called them gods didn’t you?

Are they not the ones that you have

decided are beyond reproach.

The mighty shoulders upon which you built

your vast empire?

The kings and explorers who raped and pillaged

for you to live in abundance. Those who

smiled on you with a simple condescension.

You don’t know the world

You don’t know the world.

Those who you refused to challenge because

what they gave to you made it easier

to turn a blind eye.

You didn’t want to know the world.

You didn’t want to know the world.

Where are they? Where are they hiding?

Where have you hidden them?

Where are the statues you have erected in their honour?

The wings in hospitals that you have written their names

above?

As if somehow you could cleanse them of the blood

that their hands travelled around the world

on cargo ships.

Where are your heroes?

Those who came to save us from civilization

bound in books with words that we

could barely understand

from a culture

that we never knew existed?

Reach out to them,

find them,

tell them we have received this

civilisation.

And we would like to thank them.

Briefing on Going Back

 Going back is always hardest when you forgot to leave breadcrumbs to begin with.

  1. Going back, like going forward, involves groping in the dark. Many times it also involves failing to arrive at a point that is any better illuminated than the initial confusion.

  1. When you go back it takes three times as much energy and two times as much will. This is substantiated by Magere’s theorem, which states that the act of pulling a sword from a shadow depends on consent from both the sword and the shadow.

  1. Getting consent from shadows is as easy as untangling oneself from the web of history and equally as dangerous.

  1. When going back feels like failure one must examine what it is to fail and why it may have happened.

  1. The path to the reset button involves going back on the path away from it. The people along the path have not forgotten how you passed through the first time.

  1. Even if they have forgotten moving backwards through time is generally frowned upon by both fate and circumstance. Only luck and her ilk are known to interfere with matters of time and energy.

  1. It doesn’t matter except as far and as often as it will. No one will care until they do and nothing counts for anything, till it counts for everything. There are only so many ways to state the obvious.

  1. Why does it have to be stated if it is obvious?

  1. Those with the foresight to carry breadcrumbs rarely have the mind to make sandwiches.

  1. Going back is only useful if going forward demands it.

  1. Anyidoho: and the union of time sound and silence gave birth to rhythm

  1. Does meter move forward? Or does it go back to look for skipped beats?

Conclusion: Pack bread crumbs. It’s going to be a long trip.

for a Mad Kenyan Woman

But bodies

are just bodies

and words

are just words

and love

is just love

and time

only moves backward

when words of love

remember bodies.

What’s it like to learn how to read bodies? Kureishi reminds me that bodies are often misread, misunderstood, misused, misplaced, misaligned. Bodies do funny things, so again I ask, how do you crack the code? Let’s assume that there was one mourning lamentation a few metres away from the site of a terrorist attack, would the bodies that gathered to participate in the grief carry the right language? Or maybe, for the purposes of this discussion, there is no right language. But there must be a right, something. A right way, a rightness of sorts, what language do bodies speak when they are speaking right?

Simple ideas of right and wrong are archaic – binaries are unwinnable.

But unwinnable might continue to be a function of the battle’s framing than an actual fact.

How was your battle framed?

Did they trace sketches of the structure in the sand with a pointed stick, showing you where to go? Or was it perhaps that you found your way here by no other means than touch, time and memory? How many surfaces burnt the tip of your fingers? How many thorns did you pick? Did you time the periods between one prick and the other – or was it simply a matter of chance? An existence that you have had to steel yourself to, destroying yourself whenever necessary? I ask because I don’t know how not to ask, just like those who don’t ask, might not know how to.

Jacarandas remind us

that weary feet

sometimes need tread

a carpet of silk.

Make sure your feet

are clean.

 

Let’s assume there were three trees in the garden. These three trees were arranged in a triangle. Each tree would represent a part of time i.e the past, the present, the future. Which tree’s fruit would taste sweetest? Now, let’s assume that you were in charge of this garden and, thus, were under responsibility to keep all the trees growing and healthy – which tree would be healthiest? Would you find a way to scatter the fertilizer equally?

If you needed to travel, who would you let tend the garden? Whose hands would be trusted to keep the roots of time firmly grounded?

What about if a battle ensued, and your orders came through, a sketch on the ground outside your door. An arrow points away – who would watch the garden then?

 

And when the mother

of the mother

let’s her grief escape,

catch her tears.

They are a story

that cannot be told.

There is a garden on the edge of the battlefield. The trees in the garden grow larger and stronger everyday. A top one tree a gardener watches the dust rise from the battlefield. Soon the soldiers will make their way to cut down the trees for their fires. Until then the gardener tends to the garden muttering “they will not take my trees, they will not take my trees.”

But love

continues to be a function

of time, memory and struggle.

 

But they have not learned the language of love yet. Instead, they chose to continue to forget, to continue to forget. The time spent remembering struggle instead, is seen as malady. But generals, like gardeners, are all known to be slightly mad. Especially when an army begins to form outside the garden. They will not take our trees.

They will not take our trees.

Signed,

A dependent observer