Mothertongue Blues

To the unremembering tongue the search for a history is often measured by two clocks ticking in different cities and two hearts beating to different rhythms. When here is there, and there is nothing more than a speck of soil, crushed under the feet of an excited conductor; then everything might seem to follow a path that would one day be as significant as a fleeting sentence.

In the beginning was the word.

Before that were letters,

Before that the coherence to create an alphabet

Before that an idea

Before that a question

Before that a point,

Kusema kweli, kama ningekuwa msanii ningeweza kueleza mambo yote kutoka mwanza mpaka mwisho. Lakini kwa sasa nimejipata katika harakati za kutafuta mazoezi na mashairi. Mazoezi na mashairi, ni kama kusema ni kutenda au kusema yanayotendwa na wale vijana wawili kutoka huko mbali.

You remember them don’t you? They came hand in hand, one with an evil smile and one whose face knew not the image of itself but the memory of a past violence. The other had a voice that could convince the world to stand still, if only for a second. Still, you let them in, maybe because your world needed to stand still, maybe because your tongue needed to remember – and their tongues needed to forget. No one really knows why, but you did.

(Question: If you were given two clocks, one facing north and one facing south then asked to determine which one was right would you break the first or the second? Would you break the one that was right or the one that was wrong? Does this paradox have meaning? Perhaps not, but let’s say that one of these clocks was set in a language that we have since remembered but, at the time, was not on your mind. The other was set in a language that was on your mind at the time but you have now forgotten. Would that influence your choice? I’m asking because I want to know what the forwards backwards passage of time could possibly mean if not maybe that there is now, and then there isn’t)

I’ve seen time stop still.

I was there that night, when the jazz sounds of a mother’s blue tongue were brought to life, punctuated by the sighs of the moon to stay. I was there when the words made the present seem like nothing more than a connection between the past and the future. When the caravan settled down to have a glass of water  and imagine passage through spacetime like a ride at a carnival with no end in sight.

Did they teach you how to do that? Are they the ones who whisper in your ear “this is the time now, this is the time, tick, tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock ticktockticktocktcitccktikatokatikatokatikatoka….” Or are they subtle? Like the passing of a gentle cloud that needs to be watched for or it might be mistaken for another chunk of water wandering across the universe? Is the universe made from a premix bought off the shelf of some intergalactic supermarket? Universe in a box! The sign says, get your today!

Do you like shopping?

Or would you rather stay indoors, watching the skies just in case the cloud floats silently by?

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

Questions on Love

  1. How is love measured? Can I send for a gunia of love from marikiti? Or do the middle merchants swindle those who grow it?
  2. Is love transferrable?
  3. If, say, a person had several ounces of love, the purest kind, would they be a target?
  4. What if everyone had a secret stash of love hidden away? Who would be the target?
  5. Who would do the targeting?
  6. Is love transferrable?
  7. For the sake of argument let us assume that there was once a rope and a pencil. Let’s say the rope was tied to the pencil and then taken by an angry toddler and flung far out into the distance. Who is to blame for how far the throw went? The rope, the pencil or the child?
  8. (note: the weight of the pencil added to the efficiency of the throw)
  9. (note: the rope made sure that there was enough between the child and the pencil for a throw)
  10. (note: The child was very angry)
  11. Was that question about love?
  12. Is love a rope, a pencil or a child?
  13. I once saw two men kissing, their bodies oblivious to the world around them. Does love take notice?
  14. Does the meteorological report predict that there will be love next season? Or has wave pollution distorted the frequencies of love?
  15. Do the hunters of emotions still look for love to capture and release? Or was it declared a protected species by the people who preferred fear?
  16. Is love transferrable?
  17. If a pencil and a rope co-opened a shop with a for sale sign outside the window, would you buy love? Would you tweet about it?
  18. Or would it be an exchange? Where people trade different types of love and find a love that suits them.
  19. Does any love suit anyone? The rope has been at the shop for 38 years, they are yet to see a happy customer.

To the Time Traveler

They say music, as a malady, is incurable. I wonder if you ever watch yourself, seeing the moment happen as boom goes the drum, clack clack goes the hat, the bass comes in between. I wonder if you dream. Of penniless thoughts that have wandered the streets for so long that they have peaked interest. I wonder if you see them seeing you.

Does it hurt?

When you sit down to excavate yourself, reaching into places that many people don’t know exist to find traces of long forgotten questions, does it hurt? I’m asking because I need to know before I lose myself too far in this space of questioning. Or maybe I already have. Maybe, once started, it is impossible to stop. Like a journey that started on a huge highway that has slowly morphed into a footpath. Do you now find yourself hacking at vines trying to clear a way to trudge forward?

Is that what makes you stronger?

Or is this a tale that we have told ourselves, hoping that somehow stories will create a space for their tellers? So now that you’re searching, have your palms found the answer? Do they drum in memory of past that has been pounded through time on the hides of last night’s dinner? Do you see images of yourself, 7000 years ago, pounding on a drum talking about the town under the sun?

They say that by 3005 there will be nothing left on the planet but time and nature. Do you think Mother Nature will miss the sound of our drums, beating stories across the earth? Or will they be memories of a species that overstayed their welcome and only left when there was nothing left for them?

Maria Salaam, je utakumbukwa?

Love and memory continue to walk down a similar path, have you found the key to memories of love? Is that where the energy that you give them comes from? When they come to hear you be, are you there? Or do you leave and let the gods of love and memory take over, controlling the palms that somehow communicate a past that is so far that it is indistguishable but so close that it is crystal.

I was once told that the difference between knowing and not knowing is a question.

Years later I was asked “what does knowing look like?”

Have you found the question? Or do you keep asking, hoping one day to stumble upon the right one? Still, the palms of the drummer have been known to hide secrets that were held imprisoned in particles of organic matter that have been used and reused by the universe for decades. As if little capsules of time were wrapped and placed there just in case all havoc breaks lose. Which, if you think about it, is a good plan given that it did.

Does the process of releasing time tire you? Do you ever want to give up? I’ve been told that music holds you when nothing else will – does it? Is that why it is incurable?

Still, there is only art, and there is only trust. Somewhere in the background as I write this a bee is buzzing, a friend is humming, a parrot is whistling, a building is being constructed, a car a reversing, another is revving and my fingers are typing. Do you capture time as you travel, trapping it for later just in case?

Or does time naturally attach itself to your body, like oxygen that comes across excited molecules of carbon, looking to get laid?

Signed

A Dependent Observer

To the wandering artist

How many paths did you have to cross before you finally sat down to take a breath? Do you remember all your journeys? Or is that why you stay connected, putting everything around you into your poems, hoping to not leave a trace of anything behind?

I must admit, when I wrote the first of these letters I always thought I’d get to you at the end. But you insisted on being the fourth letter I write. The presence you had demanded that you find yourself in this space. Which is fine, but now I find myself with nothing more than simple questions.

Does your lens tell you stories? Does it twitch every time you walk past something that would offer a glimpse into your past? Or is it your senses that have been heightened, like a super hero you scan the skies searching for home. Is home anything more than a few messages in an email inbox, or a misplaced passport? Or is it a memory, seven boats in the past and locked away right outside the door to freedom?

Freedom.

My mum tells me often that humanity is born free but everywhere we go we are in chains. So it makes sense that you walk around with a hammer and a chisel, the muscles in your arms rippling every time you strike at another chain. Maybe, if we set everyone free, we will set ourselves free. What is freedom but another form of bondage? What is it to be free but to be bound to the work of freeing?

You’re tired, it continues not to end.

So you walk the streets, camera in hand, ready to find signs of freedom. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a ball sailing over a fence.  Other times it is a homeless person, searching. But even these signs, even these signs, even these signs continue to rob something. Continue to romanticise an other’s existence. Even these signs are misinterpreted and now there’s a roomful of people who came to see the movie and have only found life.

These people continue to ask you what time the movie begins. After all, you do carry a camera.

But real life is not shot in CGI with special after effects to be viewed on iMax 3D. Real life is a hug and a cup of tea. Real life is the silence of stillness as the world continues to hurtle around the sun. Real life is a detention centre and a plea “kill me before you send me back.” Real life is a pair of strained biceps pounding again and again at chains that refuse to break.

You don’t tell them this.

You know if you begin to tell them this they will just reach for the popcorn  and assume that the movie has started. Instead you tell them “soon, the movie will begin soon.” And continue to look for signs of freedom. Now you have searched and your feet are weary, you cannot even remember how many paths you have crossed to get to where you are. But you are there, and you want to sit down and breathe, but the work of freedom waits for no royalty. And you are but a wanderer, the purple of your robe has long since been overrun by the dust of the journey.

But there is nothing in being unable to breath except a lack of breath. And broken bodies can no more carry broken bodies than whispers can hide secrets. There will be further healing to be done, and the struggle will continue. But, for now, sit, have a cup of tea and read poetry. Breath, rest, recover, repeat.

The world will be here when you get back.

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

Behind the Man with the Butternut Squash head

Is it true that when you found your father they sat back and watched, waiting to hear what words would first make their way out of your vault? Tales only find their way across the world when they are true(or at least, part truth), is  what I’d like to believe. That somehow truth catches itself on the wings of a butterfly and causes tornados of magic that are further reported as mysterious.

But what’s mystery but that which has not yet been fully observed? And what’s to observe but to become for a moment? To look for that moment of comprehension, or perhaps that moment of curiosity. No one tells us about what happened to the cat post mortem. Was it cremated? Or did they hold a ceremony? More importantly, did they keep asking the question that was important enough for the cat to lose its life? Or was the question buried deep inside the recedes of the cat’s family, struggling to find an answer and instead learning a lyric that promised to, at least, provide a way to navigate the mess that is a world of stories, facts and art?

Art.

I’ve used the word. As if it would carry a weight behind it that can only be whispered in dark rooms. As if weights can only be carried by those who listen by the light of the moon. Does the moon wake you up at night with its pull? Do your thoughts rise and fall like the waves of the ocean? Do you stand at the edge of your boat, looking out to the seas and think “peace, be still?” Does it work?

I’m reminded of a street in the middle of the city. On one side of this street there is a line of men. The cracks underfoot have recently filled by the philosophies of forgotten poets. On the other side there is the world, lovers lost longing for a moment. There are little girls playing brikicho to the sound of bi Kidude. There is a lake by which stories are told. The line of men on one side of the street are basking under 1 million watts of lighting. The world continues to recharge by the waves of the moon.

Does the moon wake you up at night?

Kipling says the strength of the wolf is in the pack, and the pack in the wolf, but the moon still stands – no matter how many times the wolf tries to scare it away. Do you think the moon is afraid, or is it secure in knowing that no matter how hard it pulls the waves will not wet its highest peaks?

I ask about the moon as a metaphor to ask about the moon.

Do your metaphors give birth? Create cycles that come back in many forms, asking the same question again and again until it finds itself somehow warped into an answer? Does the beauty of truth still surprise you, or do you go to bed waiting for the moon to call that you may bless the earth with the waves once again?

Anagnorisis

It’s often not the jarring that is most interesting to observe but the subtle. The way small changes over a period of time manifest into larger schemes that, eventually, change everything. Not much but perhaps to say that one day there was a cat and a rope. The next there was a cat and a cradle and further forward and further forward until one day there is a magic wand and a book of spells.

It’s the further forwards that become of interest to see.

It is the rope being woven by hands over generations of time into a cradle. The cradle becoming a puzzle. The puzzle being turned over by minds for decades until it is a question. The question being asked again and again until the cycle of asking gathers enough stardust to launch it into creation of further questions. Neurons firing against each other in a wandering mind. Messages sent to furious fingers over a keyboard. A journey to lands beyond the beginning of the edge of curiosity to find the perfect branch, to curve into the perfect wand.

Maybe to say there was once a cat and thus there was a wand is to take away from the magic of the wand itself. Without its history the wand remains another branch to be crushed by the golf ball that strayed too far from the green and has now forever lost its home.

With no control of its own fate the ball now rolls around the edges of the Nairobi club waiting for a glimpse of the past that it once had.  And, in waiting, it begins to watch. And, in watching it realizes, it’s not often the jarring that is most interesting to observe but the subtle. Like a broken branch that glows with the warmth of the moon.

Anagnorisis (noun): the critical moment of recognition or discovery 

on Love and Memory

Like most things, love and memory have been known to walk down a similar path. What we have loved we have consumed and (re)discovered.  The more we discovered the more we hung on to. Like the breadcrumbs that would lead us back to our sanity. But, like the foolish children in the story, the breadcrumbs we so diligently left behind have been eaten by the birds that watched the journey.

Searching for a way to remember only leads us further forwards, further backwards.

This forwards backwards dance of time is placed upon the husago.

And time continues to move.

And we continue to look for traces into our minds. For the key that will allow us to understand, to know.

What does knowing look like?

Questions echo from across the world. The problem with asking questions is questions birth questions. Then suddenly you are further along the path of love than you are of memory. Behind you, the path has evaporated. Behind you there is nothing but achings of last night’s dinner.

(Candlelit memories with a side of half spoken sighs)

What does knowing look like?

Like most things, love and memory have been known to walk down a similar path. The path has no breadcrumbs.

 To the Jagged Edged Woman

To the person who arrives with the sun in her eyes that we are the universe is no surprise. There is loneliness in eloquence. But even that over simplifies the things that they have kept lost inside the vortex between here and the edge of last night’s liquor.

You know this don’t you?

Someone told you about this on a bus going down Mombasa road but you didn’t take them seriously. Or maybe you took them so seriously that you couldn’t face it. But what truth exist in drunken whispers on a dark road?

No one’s sure.

Still, the search to be as close to the truth is one that began and ended with a question. A simple enough thing to do. The problem with questions though, is that some of them have answers. And some answers destroy. Some answers become the fire that consumes us and the stuff of our nightmares. The stuff that we see behind us. The metaphor becomes more vivid than I’d like it to.

The thing is, when an answer builds it lights a fire that can only be matched by the sun on a late afternoon waiting for the next performer at an open mic event – laughter. So it confuses them when you burn bright in the middle of the night as drunk men whisper odes into your ears.

Understandably, it burns their eyes. For how would you feel if you were just going around your business one night when there was a sunrise in your bedroom? Many people imagine that the sun is only a metaphor for light. If only the gh was as in laughter and the last t had another stroke. Life is only for the living, but what does it mean to be living where signs of life are quickly erased?

Questions, a currency that buys itself.

So what choice do we have left but to look for other people who burn with the life of the sun in their eyes? Hoping that somehow the collective force of sun searchers will lead to more. We are nothing but the products of our minds.

But all life needs the sun.

Even if only in small doses. Even though they don’t know how to bask in the garden on a warm afternoon. Even though they bask in gardens every day. And so you, like a plant, store the sun in your eyes, and give life.

Life.

But they have taken this life, piled it together and set a match. Using the energy from your embers to fuel their selves. You were okay with this at first but fire consumes. And the more they consumed the more they consumed. Soon they began to try and create their own sunlight. Which would have been ideal if they didn’t imagine sunlight as a finite resource. As opposed to searching for sunlight from the infinite they started looking for ways to get sunlight out of you even when you didn’t have much to give.

And now they say you have jagged edges.

Which is what that whisper on the bus had said all those years ago, but even he was not sure. And I see why. Being sure means knowing something, and what’s knowledge but a balance of several opinions? How do we know? We know, because we know. But what can that carry if now a burden to know more?

Know more?

Still, it’s easier to find the source of time than to quantify more. How do you hit a constantly moving target? With arrows that know what they are doing. The question then is, how do we create arrows that know what they are doing? By finding the sun.

To those that carry the sun in their eyes, that we are the universe is no surprise.

So, on some days, I take my favourite book and a chair, go sit on as close to the sun as possible, and bask, hoping to gather enough sunlight that I may share as much as you have.

But you continue to shine.

And I continue to bask.

We grow.

Thank you.

Signed

A dependent observer

For the madman at Kilifi  

And when they ask you why you sit in the middle of all the madness bleeding into your laptop you will smile. You will smile that smile that echoes histories of lost poets, searching for answers in questions that have been asked since the beginning. Many words, but not something that they know will happen, the apparent becomes a pattern that we try to decipher.

We know though, because things are known, that what is seen is only a fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. But perhaps a fraction is all that we need. Perhaps the things that you know, and have put out are echoing back?

Maybe we are just talking as poets should. Putting words together in search of meaning even though we both now (as we do) that meaning is nothing more than a beer, a laugh and a pat on the back.

But the working man’s coat can only be worn by men who work. And the faces that our faces remind ourselves of have been seen. Do you understand me? Probably not, but this would lead to the idea that I understand myself. That understanding is something worth looking for as opposed to finding.

When you are done reading this will you carry meaning? Or will you let the meaning slowly find its way to you. Poetry, I have been reminded, exists for those who scream in a vacuum. Still my lungs continue to insist that I force air through my throat and my ears report failure.

Why do we do this?

Is it because it is cathartic? Should they give us keyboards and lock us in a room. That’s how to replicate Shakespeare isn’t it? Did Shakespeare lock himself in rooms writing letters? Was Hamlet secretly a letter to his past lover? Or perhaps, a drop of insight into the lives of a history that we have been forced to consider as if it was our own.

People can no more speak in spaces of silence than magic can be produced by the end of a twig that fell off the mwarubaini.

But you seem to have found a way – and that’s why they call you a madman isn’t it?

You have screamed for so long that they have begun to hear you. That can be a little bit daunting because there was a safety in being unheard – a freedom. So it leads to a situation where we strive to be heard and end up finding new ways to be unheard.

But what’s the point of speaking if not to be heard? (or, why do trees fall in the forest?)

In the end, I’m asking questions that lead to more questions. A currency, I have been told, that only buys more currency. I point this out to take away some of the gravity of the questions, but I ask them anyway.

You know what’s funny?

There is no vacuum. Sound travels just fine, but ears don’t seem to have learned the art of listening. Do we listen with our ears or do we have to align our entire being to the subject matter at hand? A simple quandary solved by dividing the square root of the subject matter of the universe by the vibrations of our souls.

42.

The magic number.

You, of course, have been listening for a long time. You have listened to sound, and closer still to echoes. You have searched for pieces of listening beyond the recurring stupidity of heroes.

And that’s why you’re mad. That madness becomes a breath of sanity in a world that we would rather imagine.

I have heard you

and will continue to hear you.

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

Something Numinous

It turns out the problem is quite simple. You’ve spent time asking people questions that you need to ask yourself and asking yourself questions that you need to be asking other people. It seems, to you at least, to be a simple binary. Reversible in and of itself just like a car moving forward can be stopped and put in reverse gear.

But the simplest things are often the most difficult to fix.

The second you tried to hit the brakes you jackknifed and your past came reeling into your future creating a present where you were moving both forwards and backwards at the same time. This, of course, became frustrating. Stuck in a situation where every step forward involved walking into chunks of space time that you thought you had managed to warp into the null void. Never to be seen again.

So your surprise when you came face to face with the wide eyed curious 12 year old who had nothing but questions left is, in and of itself, not surprising. In fact, it was to be expected. Having considered your body as a body one with answers it becomes confusing when the same questions plunge you into a space of searching.

Still, you now find yourself in a space of searching. So you might as well search.

But do you know what you’re searching for? Or are you just canvasing your past hoping to stumble upon a clue that will unlock everything?

Everything.

 

Such a vast thing to be unlocking.

 

Such a vague thing to be unlocking.

 

Does everything need to be unlocked? Or should it stay, like chaos, forever locked in pandora’s box?

Fingers reach further.

Searching.

Hoping.

Thinking.

Your car continues to rapidly spiral uphill.

Numinous: (adj) describing an experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted- the powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed and inspired.