Give this Essay a Fighting Chance


where the smell of charred flesh

dances in the wind

and lingers before ascending

into forgotten dreams.



where fists of men

meet fists of men

and women and children

are marked as battlefields.



where ideologies are nothing

but reasons to die.


excuses to kill.



where gutters have seen

so much deoxygenated blood

that they call them veins



where a knock on the door means

the approaching of death,

news of death

or the ambulance.



where they told me,

he died a hero.


They didn’t know that




there are no heroes

only dead bodies.


I’ve never known how to think about war. I’ve never known how to write about war. Partly this is because I’ve never directly experienced a full scale war. Although, even writing this, I don’t know what “full scale war” is meant to mean. It’s more about not knowing how to package grief and, not just grief but the relentless onslaught of it.

Particularly poetry about war has baffled me. I’ve read a lot of war poetry. I’ve listened to a lot too. Rafeef Ziadah’s we teach life captures the anger. It captures how deep this thing that we call war cuts people. How lives that lie within the “collateral damage” zone are affected by this easily disposable status.

An unexpected guest

in the middle of the night

is rarely under an obligation to knock



The nature of the midnight guest often

involves some sort of emergency

and bypasses any obligation of


Usalama, security, is very important

more so than the ten seconds it takes to

turn a key and avoid breaking down a



The most important thing you could

give such a guest is tea.

The second most important thing is a


Kenya is at war. This is what I have been told severally whenever I talk about the ethnic targeting of Kenyan Somalis. It seems to be a justification for anything and everything. The idea that, because we are killing people elsewhere we can do whatever we will to people here as well. I’m wondering about war as a justification for war.

I’ve been a pacifist for a large chunk of my life. I’ve never really seen the value in a fight and, even though I’ve told stories of fights and laughed at stories of fights a part of me has always found them silly. Many people find this inconsistent with me playing rugby. That’s fine. Life is inconsistent.

And so is poetry.

Capturing the entire ethno-ubaguzistic operation usalama and bringing it down to 50 or so words seems to simplify it. Seems to bring it down to a bite sized nugget of injustice.


when the


of the mother

lets her grief



her tears.


They are a


that cannot be



There’s something about the re-telling of a story that makes it lose its essence. There’s something about the re-packaging of grief that makes it lose its essence. There is, what I’d like to call, a purity of grief in moments that, even when described by the best, cannot be duplicated. This is not to say that we can’t try. The imagination has been known to fill the gaps. This is to say that, no matter how deeply a poem/essay/prose piece makes you feel about a situation the actual experience was several times what you are imagining. There is more poetry in a single tear than there is in the entire world.



11 times 5


7 weeks 6 days


45 less than 100


5 bullets short of 2 AK 47 clips


Almost, but not yet, an hour


a  new born child,

an umbilical cord

and bloody fingernails.

Even though I’ve spoken about how we can never do this, I think it is important that we try. I’ve been trying to imagine what the situation is like for the people stuck in Kasarani now. Rounded up like cattle and led to – what might as well be- an abattoir.  Some part of my imagination is skeptical. “It can’t really be that bad, can it?” I’ve learned not to listen to this part. I’ve learned to believe what people say they experienced even when my mind is trying to doubt. Especially when my mind is trying to doubt

Do you have enough bone broken limbs

to cover the sun?

Hand me over your dead and

Give me the list of their names

In 1200 word limits.

–          Rafeef Ziadah, We teach life

To be disposable means we can never be casual about our ongoing vulnerability

–          Keguro Macharia


A few days ago I was walking to the shops late at night when a friend called me. On hearing I was out at night she got angry and demanded I go back into the house “don’t you know you are in the wrong body to be out at night? You’ll be shot.” She was right. Young black men in Kenya are “suspects” we are shot, every day. We are shot for “resisting” for being “suspicious” or just because they needed a body that can, believably, be a gangster. I’m thinking about the bonoko story of a man who was just shot, and how easily we laughed it off and even made a dance track.

I’m wondering about how we can stretch form to capture the realities of government that is waging war against its citizens.

He had heard


of a war

seven hundred

and fifty kilometres



He had followed

the news

his mind

willing victory

to his country.

Even he

wasn’t spared.

I spent some time with a Somali Kenyan who largely supported Kenyan troops in Kismaiyo on a bus a while back. He seemed interesting. I hope the soldiers in Eastleigh didn’t get to him but I can’t help but think of the irony if they did. I wish I could reach him to have another conversation.

The thing about writing poetry about war is that these small moments can’t be missed. They are not recalled with a chuckle or with sadness they are just recalled. And, maybe that’s what I was getting at in the first poem. There is no glory in war – only death. And death is something the imagination has problems capturing. Whatever your imagination tells you #KasaraniConcentrationCamp is like – it’s worse.

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