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In A Den of Robbers: Poems by Mdika Nick Tembo


These rolling cadences
To our God-given magicians
On a sacred hill-top
Affable, understanding, crying
With those who have wept,
Fat hawks that never killed
Even the smallest of the chicks
Or robbed the hen of its eggs;
Aren’t they
The same refrains of yesterday
That made our clowns heroes
And crucified our hero’s clowns?

Gestures of powers unlimited
We want to confer on these
Rotund shadows-for-life,
Aren’t they, after all,
The same Idi-otic nuances
That groomed us into a society
Struggling to keep
Our saviours’ arses unsoiled?

Aren’t we?



And the old hyena entered the den of robbers
and started snoring, his oil-like phlegm
coursing down his wrinkled chin. While the
butchers glistened with  sweat  over who should
have the lion’s share. And they began
taunting him for not sloughing the national bull.

And he said  to them, “It is written, ‘when
you are a dunderhead, you have to be a
watcher;’ but you remind me of my yesteryears.”

And the termites showed him their scarlet teeth
And he, in return, showed them his toothless gums.



Here lies a bunch of thieves
Who became pregnant, on our sweat
After selling their bodies and souls
to the Devil
They drowned nightly in fat lies –
poor thieves!



(For Jack and Frank)
Anger prowls in the charged atmosphere
Settles on the dreamy brow,
Hopes and cherished tomorrows
Crumble and dissolve into restless sighs.

The young no longer nurse democracy
And the old ones who have seen this before
Have retreated into their shells:
Foul air colonizes their nostrils.

There is no sweetness here
Nightmares take shape
In painful yodels
Of ruling for life;
Fears of yesteryears return
Recollect themselves in these hollow breasts.

No sweetness here
Corruption, hunger, and poverty
Have become the day’s menus;
While rich blasts
Continue to baptize helpless masses.

No sweetness with these hordes of earthworms
Exploiting, manipulating;
Emerge, outgrown mouth, for another skinning
Of the excised.



Uncertainty lurks in the tranquil village
Where feeble innocent undergrowth
Trampled in the bud, squirm,
Wriggle helplessly in the abandoned hut.

When will they live in the sunshine?

Breasts ripped by profiteering gods
Torn viciously between fat claws
And teeth of hounds
That prey the weak and the deceived.

When shall this pain finally go?

Gored breasts in the throes of pain
Thrown roughly from side to side
As the abandoned hut careens, stalls,
Hurtles down the downward slope.

When shall we stop crying?

Pot-bellied children, stand naked
Bewildered mothers cry, wanting;
In the village, grown up men bend their knees
Bow down in prayer.

When shall they hear our call?



I told you oppressor these people you are oppressing will rise and get you out of it, yes. I know you think you’re dreaming, telling yourself it’s a nightmare. They’ve come and made like a baby – Lucius Banda

Today when I hear you’ve been deboned:
No answer to nature’s call outside your house,
No diplomatic immunity, no air-conditioned benefits,

No foreign hands to caress your wilting limbs,
I wonder how such protected bones
Could be left to their own peril like that!

When you rose to shit on sweating tears
Nobody knew you’d one day take your position
Beside your cadaverous brothers and choke with anger,

I wonder how such eloquent honorary hands
Could fashion protection out of a trained raven,
How could you dream such?

Today you think you’re dreaming
Telling yourself it’s a nightmare,
They’ve come and made you like a baby.

Welcome though to this land of Midima*,
And be beseeched: “No heart palpitations here!”

It’s a simple survival strategy here!

*Midima-land of darkness


(after Jack Mapanje)

We admired the vitriolic display of your eminence
How you paraded your handpicked lieutenant
Instead of your recycled jinns
Who’d been salivating for the soft gap you’d leave
Yet we fear your prattle about economic technocrats,
Those pontifical, gratuitous sales of his might
Do they whet your appetite for soft things?

We know dreams have now got rotten
And we are not arguing. Who’d wish to be penned
On the sidelines after fighting what he thought
To be the good fight? How could we quibble
Over your having milked this thin cow
To fatten those hulking hippos
Of Liwonde National Park?

Why should we raise tantrums when we too have known
You hurled yourself into these things to slough
And grab all for yourself without regard
For the tattered classes, broken hearts, cheated siblings
And crumpled rickety faces who only see
Your coated genuflections during elections?
Haven’t you already maimed us these past ten years?

No, your Holiness, we are no mockers nor chiders,
We are only those low mortals surprised with your
Out-of-tune palavers about these balsam flowers.
We adore your grace (though you shoved dung-heaps
Into our parched mouths). But eminence is like a flower
Which blossoms in the morning and shrinks by the evening.
Why should you wait to be told that you withered sometime ago?



I stand poised on the threshold
of these dying embers;
I finger this badge of experience
starting to break at the seams.

I have sat at table
with murderers, rapists and robbers.

I am the nocturnal harlot
that sifts through the flashing colours:
red, orange, yellow, blue, green, white, black –
to satisfy my recycled patrons.

I clutch the doorknob once more,
for another illicit love affair;
but this time, I am kept in check by raging clouds;
Then, I’m flushed out like toilet waste.

I trudge the road once abandoned,
hoping to find sanctuary at last;
but comrades in crime and intrigue
peer at me with eyes that say:

Ha! ha! ha! We know who you are!


(c) Mdika Nick Tembo

Mdika Nick Tembo
Mdika Nick Tembo
Mdika Nick Tembo was born on 11th July 1975. He holds a BEd in Literature and History from the University of Malawi, Chancellor College. His poems and short stories have appeared in Malawi's popular Weekend papers, The Weekend Nation and Malawi News. He is currently a Staff Associate in the Department of Linguistics and Literature at the Catholic University of Malawi. He is also pursuing his MA (Literature) studies at Chancellor College.


  1. I know good poetry when i read one and this is even better! I had a good read my Malawian friend, very good read! With the good use of symbolisms to represent deeper meanings, harrowing rhetorical questions and blunt endings with a sharp finality that reinforce the mood and tone creating an atmosphere that captures the subject-matter and the reccuring themes of the ugly socio-political and economic picture in Africa today, the blood of your poetry flows with life and vitality. I must drink more of this blood, don’t you think? Senator Ihenyen is the author of Colourless Rainbow (forthcoming, Coast2Coast).

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