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The Curse Songs of Stone: Poems by JKS Makokha



In Berbera on sunny beaches of black sand
Weekends of expatriates and the Berberawi
Frolic freely, swim in low ebb or just stand
But bodies of Somali women are not free.
They gaze behind dark glasses and niqabs
At the male muscle ripples in the blue sea
Or at the sailing sea gulls, crawling crabs
Unfreed to swim free by an Islamic decree?
My alien mind wonders, wanders whether or not
They too would like to swim without gowns
Especially on afternoons that are stoney hot
And enchantresses come from the heated towns.
Oh! What thoughts of mischief assail me now
Pray Memory do let me be or seek you a new row?



Sipping Lipton tea on a calm Aden morning
As the scents of daylight caressed their noses
They sat first in prayer then without talking.
It was the first morning after their new classes.
She had come to them in the middle of midnight
Like a ghost from the battle nights behind him
A moonless night hid her, rain made her steps light
Dream! Nightmare! he heard a voice in him scream
They then sat in a distance of silence in deep darkness
Chewing new khat as they conversed without a word.
A lonely drizzle sung them ballads of homesickness.
As their unspoken feelings became as soft as their cud
They stood up and opened the window of the army hut
Then stood near each other gazing at each others heart.



The chartered Cessna ditched like a thirsty bird
After six hours of flight across troubled Somalia.
Specks of bronze and ivory littered miles of land
Looking like a sprawled fresco of a fabled arcadia
Illustrating a page of a story from Alfu lela U Lela.
The mind played silly games as light and height fused
With each sweep of descent that brought us ever lower.
Cockpit requested landing right but was again refused.
It cursed in loud, crackling Russian without apology
Then headed towards the twin stoney hills out of town
Announcing to her freight of expatriates in an analogy
How the breasts of Harghessa near them further down
Were icons of the emotive people of Somaliland below
Who demanded all respect for their native soil to show.



A mighty rock art forged by Mother Nature
And her own husband, Time, has been named
Adam and Eve in local Somalilander orature.
It stares West to Harghessa as its crust flamed
Forever by a punishing sun, turns grey with age
It has stood by the way to Berbera since Creation
Or so the lore is now created by my bodyguard sage.
The toothless smile on Eve evokes nameless emotion
But not that of Adam staring at us in silent salute.
Two Ethiopian khat trucks whiz by, bugles blaring
As wild winds across the cacti plains around flute.
The expatriate urinates and drifts on in his staring
To the lonesome expanse of arid Saaxil escarpment
And the mirages of their ever distant encampment.



In August 11, 1940, Major-General Godwin-Austen
Commenced his defence of Berbera around Assa Hills
Italian battle tanks from Zeila were zooming in, in tens
As Mussolinists tightened their clamp on the ragged hills.
British Punjab Regiment, KAR and Black Watch battalion
Were soon in their bloodiest battle as bullets and rocks flee
Across heads without bodies on this azure dawn of damnation
The Major-General wailed as his troops were cut without pity
By the relentless De Simone and his ferocious Abyssinian band.
Casualties mounted and so did curses and bursting, burnt hearts
As the Northern Rhodesian Regiment lost their Mill Hill stand
And the Italians mowed these sweating units down parts by parts
Folklore says this is when that terrible Omar Kujoog did pounce
In with Berberawi back up enabling Britain backwards to bounce.



What if you walked back to a past
That still stands behind you in time
Backwards up the paths of pure lust
Back to a life that tastes not like lime?
For it is never ever too late in this life
To depart from a station of love pain
And abandon any Jezebel of a wife
So that a man can replan his fate again.
The love of sex and pompous promises
Have now costed you your dear thirties.
With each week now your woe increases
My son! New owner of a tongue of elegies
Be wise and sit down on stones of thought
And seek to be our newest black sheep not.


The Curse Songs of Stone

there is no place you can stand your feet
on the loamy soil of the vast home district
without a view of the majesty of Mt. Elgon.
whether you are behind Kapsokwony kiosks
urinating pints of refuse after an illicit binge
or you are chewing sugar cane at Cheptais
you may be weeding acres of Kopsiro corn
or watering the herd on the banks of Nzoia
a child chasing birds from a sunflower farm
in Kaptama or kins of Chebyuk clans at war
all behold the Mountain and its stony tower
it is rumored that old curses lie under rocks
of the highest peak waiting for provocation.

it is on the lush slopes of this Mount of God
that new songs of affliction sear the nights.
the bull frogs of the malarial swamps croak
not to their reluctant mates but to the sky.
the swamps are now smelling of dead men
so strong is the smell that it kills sex mood
among entire clans of frogs across the land.
the bull cows low low like the herds of oxen
with no sense of mischief or even bravado
in their calls to the strangely silent heifers.
the roosters now crow only in the daylight
as songs of sedition take over village nights.

it all started with the arrival at old Kapkoto
of the state men of war and their GK guns.
the hunts for rebel Matakwei and his rogues
has now sown seeds of blood across the land
and now the district sings new songs of agony
as mounds of farm grass give way to skeletons
some with smashed skulls others without theirs
and yet others with ribs missing here and there.
the wells bear an ill smell from deep rotting flesh.
wherever you lift your nostrils for air it is there:
the smell of death mixing with grass and dry soil.

the songs have no rhythm and reveal no rhymes
they rely more on mimicry in their communication.
steady staccato of AK47s chattering about death
resemble the melodies of these new village songs.
the crrrunch of bones crushing under army boots
bear an uncanny similarity to these new choruses.
this dance style too is a masterful piece of mimicry.
tens of thousands of male villagers hit dry ground
with their naked bodies and smash their genitalia
on coarse shrapnel of bullets from the operation
their tearless eyes remain riveted on Mount Elgon.
as they exclaim and scream the vernacular climax
oxygen mixed with sweat spreads across the land.

the womenfolk hide in the lantana bush nearby
not allowed in the midst of this new male dance
and attempt with ears only their love to identify.
mouths of children are stuffed with maize cobs
and their cowardly buttocks tied with sisal cords
that no noise whether oral or anal may escape
from them and give away the female hideaways.
this is the new native song and dance in fashion
given to the citizens of the afflicted Elgon lands
by sons of the soil and the fathers of the nation.
and as the poet sits now under a canopy of pain
finding the write diction for this new oral tradition
his eyes on distant Elgon murmur curses of stone.



When a city gives birth
to a big clan of urchins
who specialise in thefts
of wheelchairs, crutches
and canes of the blind
then cursed is its nation.


Grandmother and Me

the evenings are now behind me
those that used to bring tears to me
when the taste of tea meant misery
and like mint near my eyes gave me
always a blind perception of reality.

the evenings are now behind me
when my new grandmother and me
would share a teapot of bitter tea
and two invisible loaves of serenity
as the story of her life left her for me

the evenings are now behind me
when her voice will become free
and like that of a new Sherazadee
weave cobwebs of familiar fantasy
binding me making only my ears see

the evenings are now behind me
when my father’s mother and me
will listen to our old man go pee
behind his wattle hut, all used tea
as Death watched nearby, closely

the evenings are now behind me
when she will not let the past be
as she repeatedly emptied memory
bequeathing hallowed family history
to one who distrusts oral testimony.


(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.


  1. very interesting piece of a very easy to understand explanation of how to get on with the every day battles of life. Uses a well known movie( the matrix) to truly bring to light his point. A well written article with positive advice! very inspirational

  2. Excellent piece very creative and encouraging.From my view it seems you a person that likes to get in touch with your inner self.I loved the piece because Im also inspired by the movie the matrix.The piece has really opened my mind and i will take your advice.

  3. Its really an awe inspiring article. I wish you could write more about the Path concept. Hopefully many people will read your article and be moved by it. We all lack inspiration. We always want to find a scapegoat for our misdemeanours. Excellent Oscar

  4. You have done it again. A brilliant article for the enlightened. I totally agree with your concept of the path. Most of us know the path but do not walk it.

  5. I believe everything happens for a reason, hence why I randomly selected your name of African Writers. I have only just heard of you. I am pursuing my path which at times is challenging however inspring to know that there are like minded people all over the world. I truly relate to Serendipity and the path, excellent pieces which resonate with my soul

  6. Good piece! I must thank you for putting forth this write-up, one never can tell the soul that would get inspired along the way. As I study for my future vocation, I feel challenged by this write-up to discover my path in life. This is what the world wants from me as my way of contribution. I pray that soonest, my path would become clearer and more stable.

  7. congratulations Dr. good work there, its so inspiring.You so spunky and really encouraging me, proud to be your student…

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