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Harambee: Poems by JKS Makokha


A hoe on a blank banner not the nationalist flag
full of memorial symbolism without meaning
may bring to doom the spirits of national angst
in our motherland.

A hoe on a blank banner in villages and towns
lets us think about a new nationalism
that may bring to us the lost republic
of our motherland.

A hoe on a blank banner is an omen of peace
let our iron foster not seasons of anomy
but bring the farms back from the bushes
in our motherland.

A hoe on a blank banner is a sign of Harambee
let labour and not war be the union-force
that brings deliverance from the dissimilitudes
of our motherland.

A hoe on a blank banner is a symbol of love
let the various sacrifices in our daily lives
bring us together in a ritual for redemptions
in our motherland.

A hoe on a blank banner is an icon of unity
let the union of textile, wood and metal
bring us to the quested pluri-ethnic Utopia
of our motherland.

A hoe on a blank banner in hamlets and hearts
lets us plant a new nationalism-in-diversity
bringing us harvests out of all identity fields
in our motherland.


HAITI: 1.2010


humanity tense
send condolences as
tears in words console Haiti

Part I:

burp! Burrp!
cosmic constipation!

Sirens, screams,
quakes commence!

in Pòtoprens
both nature and life
now struggle to survive!

in Pòtoprens –
crushing ceilings
on citizens wailing!

in Pòtoprens –
crushing ghetto floors
below fast falling feet!

dying radio studios!

chihuahua puppies
in châteaux coffins!

howling omens
under a chapel bell,
an owl in a Haitian night!

UNO listening
Haiti on the line!

Part II:  

Pupils of Hope
on eyes of global media,
a universal idea of Haiti

iron noise
man-made whirlwinds,
rescue from the world

duvet of fine dust,
digging steel claws

blood sweat
taut black skins
greasy green gangrene

an odour of death,
diseases, descending

a tanning face
behind a surgeon’s mask
a mask of humanity

sunshine rays
patients on canvas
pain fenced in patience

baby doc
a cheque of euros
the past in atonement?

Haiti peers up
her future she sees now
not her own history.

planet in midlife
crises on her creasing face –
explanation of earthquakes?


the planet marathons
on the path of Earths


Tongues of Flame

from our tongues of flame
the heat of tribal tempers
rises as do from embers
tiny sparks of orange lights.

from our tongues of flame
tempers become liquid words
words that turn gaseous later
and fuse with oxygen all around.

from our tongues of flame
this portent oxygen stirs
a red, green, white and black
explosion of furious ethnicities

that diffuses swiftly like toxic
gaseous lava from Mt. Nyiragongo,
whose motherland poisoned by tribalism
feeds on its own with tongues of flame.


From the Land Without Cemeteries

perhaps it is the vultures with wet scalps
or ravens with talons deep in indigo blood.
perhaps it is carnivorous church pigeons
or bold owls that disobey Night’s curfews,
which will convene the last dinner in history
when we all lie slaughtered on hills of flesh
across our land and the world whispers on
about self-genocide as it quarantines Kenya
declaring the dead state, a regional cemetery.


The Patriot Within

at times i stare at black pages of night’s sky
at times i stare at blank screens of my mind.
i do so wish then, within my heart of hearts,
that one day i will write three new stanzas
that will paint in ink of poetry or philosophy
the paradise-like land of our national anthem:
a poem that will consult spirits of those poets
whose work wished for justice, peace, liberty
in a kenya of their times and fellow kenyans,
a poem that will let these spirits and our own
arise and defend the land against endeavours
of a few but formidable kenyans whose politics
plays chess with our future and ethnic heritage
a poem that will be a spirit itself like Harambee
binding us all as has Annan’s National Accord
into one national force, which like the words
of the three stanzas of the national anthem,
gives the heart of the land a feeling of hope.


Tradition or Sedition?
(for George Onyango & Ishmael Chacha shot by a cop in Kisumu on 16/1/2008 during PEV).

walk with me to the statue of Kimathi
be distracted not by sounds of sirens
or the hurrying hues of city humanity.
walk with me to the statue of Kimathi
then lift your eyes like begging hands
to the rifle he clenches like his destiny
then perhaps you will learn not to ask
why i ask to die with fists full of stone
after i take to the jungle of concrete
to resist those who muzzle my mouth
then you pump gas above the street
before pumping bullets into my youth.


Apart Together

inside the culvert by a chapel ruin
this pair gurgle about ethnic love,
and the ogres of bigotry in Eldoret.

they die with the slit noses kissing
as drops of burgundy blood mingle,
staining earth and heavens higher.

they cannot talk for their tongues
remain with raw remains of the day-
the screams of their infant martyr.


A Bride Price of Tears
(to Morgan Tvangirai)

The political coalition in my motherland
reminds me of bride price paid by tears,
the one that Nyanza maestro mentions
in a sweet song on passions of divorce.
i want to imagine that the tears of 1333
citizens who died during the 2007/8 riots
have united drop after drop into nimbus
of the darkest kind and as the marriage
of convenience between the P and PM
continues to stir like a lake under storm,
tsunamis of acrimony assail the homeland.


Ode on a beat generation
(To kenyans born post-1969)

we belong to a beat generation
not the american one between
the earthy 50s & heady 60s,
but our identity inspiration
in their own is seen,
we kenyans born
after the 60s,
after a-levels
after apollo
arty 8-4-4s,
but before

we came of age via a rite of passage
familiar from town to town to village
when you will be caught out at night
in intoxication singing sedition
by cops of an earlier age
cops with a Kanu accent
beasting their beat
on lawless lanes
past midnight
pass without:
“minus pass?”

howling to the moon never helped
as one crouched in growing groups
at times naked under a starless sky
waiting for the black santa maria
to come and haul you to cells
filled with bed and jail bugs
because you were not fit
to join the parrot patrols
in their parody beats
each saturday night
across evil streets
full of an age-set
breaking the law
or remaking it
or beating it.


(c) JKS Makokha

JKS Makokha
JKS Makokha
JKS Makokha is a Kenyan writer living in Berlin, Germany. He is the author of Reading M.G. Vassanji: A Contextual Approach to Asian African Fiction (2009) and co-editor of a new volume on African literary criticism, Negotiating Afropolitanism: Essays on Borders and Spaces in Contemporary African Literature and Folklore (2010) with Jennifer Wawrzinek. Makokha teaches courses in African and South Asian literatures at the Institut fur Englische Philologie at the Freie Universitat Berlin.

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