Spotlighting Pan-African Poetry

Biography

Letter to My Nephew

Enlarge poem

For Ken Saro-Wiwa

The sun is locked in evening, half shadow

half light, hills spread like hunchbacks over

plains, branches bowing to birth of night.

It’s an almost endless walk until the earth

opens up to a basin of water. You gasp

even the thin hairs on your forearm breathe,

flowers wild, two graves of man and wife

lying in perfect symmetry, overrun by wild

strawberries. Gently you part the reeds,

water claims the heat from the earth, you

soak your feet, then lie down hands planted

into the moist earth. You glow. Late at night

when you leave, you will fill your pockets

with wet clay. But many years from now,

you will try to find a perfect peace in many

different landscapes, drill water out of memory

to heal wounded limbs of the earth. You

will watch as machines turn your pond

inside out, spit the two graves inside out

in search of sleek wealth. Many years

later, after much blood has been lost and your

pond drained of all life you will wonder, shortly

before you become the earth’s martyr, what

is this thing that kills not just life but even death?

Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Featured Poem:

African Revolutions

Enlarge poem

Her womb pressed against the desert to bear the parasite

that eats her insides like termites drill into dry wood.

He is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord.

She dies sighing, child son at last. He couldn’t have known

instinct told him – always raise your arm in defense of your own

-Strike! Strike until they are all dead! Egg shells in your hands

milk bottle held between your toes, you have been anointed twice

you strong enough to kill at birth and survive. You will want

to name the world after yourself but you will have no name-

a collage of dead roots, tongues and other things. You will point

your sword to the center of the earth, duel the world to split

into perfect mirrors after your imperfect mutations but you will

be too weak having latched yourself onto too many streams

straddling too many continents, pulling patches of a self

as one does fruits from an from an orchard, building a home

of planks with many faces. How does one look into a mirror

with a face that washes clean every rainy season? He has an identity

for every occasion – here he is Lenin, there Jesus and yesterday

Marx – inflexible truths inherited without roots. To be nothing

to remain nothing, to kill at birth – such love can only drink from

our wrists. We, now storming from our past to Jo’Burg eating wisdom

of others building homes made of our grandparent’s bones, weaning

our children off another’s breast. We gathering momentum that eats

out of our earth, we standing, pens and bullets hurled at you, your

enemies. There is no alliance. Comrade, there are many ways to die.

A dog dies never having known why it lived but a free death belongs

to a life lived in roots, in the truth it owned, roots not afraid of growing

where they stand, roots tapped all over the earth. For a tree to grow

Comrade, it must own its earth, it must first grow on its own earth.

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Biography

Novelist, poet, and essayist Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Nairobi Heat (Penguin, SA 2009), an anthology of poetry titled Hurling Words at Consciousness (AWP, 2006) and is a political columnist for the BBC’s Focus on Africa Magazine. He was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009. He has also been short listed for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing for his novel manuscript, The First and Second Books of Transition.

A former co-editor of Pambazuka News, his columns have appeared in the Guardian, International Herald Tribune, Chimurenga, Los Angeles Times, South African Labour Bulletin, and Business Daily Africa, and he has been a guest on Democracy Now, Al Jazeera and the BBC World Service. His essays have appeared in the World Literature Review, the Black Commentator, Progressive Magazine and Radical History Review. His short stories have been published in Wasafiri, Kenyon Review and St. Petersburg Review and poems in the New York Quarterly, Brick Magazine, Kwani?, Chimurenga and Tin House Magazine amongst other places.

Mukoma was born in 1971 in Evanston, Illinois and grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate education. He is currently based in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the son of World-renowned African writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Biography

Novelist, poet, and essayist Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Nairobi Heat (Penguin, SA 2009), an anthology of poetry titled Hurling Words at Consciousness (AWP, 2006) and is a political columnist for the BBC’s Focus on Africa Magazine. He was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009. He has also been short listed for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing for his novel manuscript, The First and Second Books of Transition.

A former co-editor of Pambazuka News, his columns have appeared in the Guardian, International Herald Tribune, Chimurenga, Los Angeles Times, South African Labour Bulletin, and Business Daily Africa, and he has been a guest on Democracy Now, Al Jazeera and the BBC World Service. His essays have appeared in the World Literature Review, the Black Commentator, Progressive Magazine and Radical History Review. His short stories have been published in Wasafiri, Kenyon Review and St. Petersburg Review and poems in the New York Quarterly, Brick Magazine, Kwani?, Chimurenga and Tin House Magazine amongst other places.

Mukoma was born in 1971 in Evanston, Illinois and grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate education. He is currently based in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the son of World-renowned African writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Letter to My Nephew

Enlarge poem

For Ken Saro-Wiwa

The sun is locked in evening, half shadow

half light, hills spread like hunchbacks over

plains, branches bowing to birth of night.

It’s an almost endless walk until the earth

opens up to a basin of water. You gasp

even the thin hairs on your forearm breathe,

flowers wild, two graves of man and wife

lying in perfect symmetry, overrun by wild

strawberries. Gently you part the reeds,

water claims the heat from the earth, you

soak your feet, then lie down hands planted

into the moist earth. You glow. Late at night

when you leave, you will fill your pockets

with wet clay. But many years from now,

you will try to find a perfect peace in many

different landscapes, drill water out of memory

to heal wounded limbs of the earth. You

will watch as machines turn your pond

inside out, spit the two graves inside out

in search of sleek wealth. Many years

later, after much blood has been lost and your

pond drained of all life you will wonder, shortly

before you become the earth’s martyr, what

is this thing that kills not just life but even death?

Featured Poem:

African Revolutions

Enlarge poem

Her womb pressed against the desert to bear the parasite

that eats her insides like termites drill into dry wood.

He is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord.

She dies sighing, child son at last. He couldn’t have known

instinct told him – always raise your arm in defense of your own

-Strike! Strike until they are all dead! Egg shells in your hands

milk bottle held between your toes, you have been anointed twice

you strong enough to kill at birth and survive. You will want

to name the world after yourself but you will have no name-

a collage of dead roots, tongues and other things. You will point

your sword to the center of the earth, duel the world to split

into perfect mirrors after your imperfect mutations but you will

be too weak having latched yourself onto too many streams

straddling too many continents, pulling patches of a self

as one does fruits from an from an orchard, building a home

of planks with many faces. How does one look into a mirror

with a face that washes clean every rainy season? He has an identity

for every occasion – here he is Lenin, there Jesus and yesterday

Marx – inflexible truths inherited without roots. To be nothing

to remain nothing, to kill at birth – such love can only drink from

our wrists. We, now storming from our past to Jo’Burg eating wisdom

of others building homes made of our grandparent’s bones, weaning

our children off another’s breast. We gathering momentum that eats

out of our earth, we standing, pens and bullets hurled at you, your

enemies. There is no alliance. Comrade, there are many ways to die.

A dog dies never having known why it lived but a free death belongs

to a life lived in roots, in the truth it owned, roots not afraid of growing

where they stand, roots tapped all over the earth. For a tree to grow

Comrade, it must own its earth, it must first grow on its own earth.

How does this featured poem make you feel?

  • Amazement (0)
  • Pride (1)
  • Optimism (0)
  • Anger (0)
  • Delight (0)
  • Inspiration (0)
  • Reflection (0)
  • Captivation (0)
  • Peace (1)
  • Amusement (0)
  • Sorrow (0)
  • Vigour (0)
  • Hope (0)
  • Sadness (0)
  • Fear (1)
  • Jubilation (0)

Letter to My Nephew

Enlarge poem

For Ken Saro-Wiwa

The sun is locked in evening, half shadow

half light, hills spread like hunchbacks over

plains, branches bowing to birth of night.

It’s an almost endless walk until the earth

opens up to a basin of water. You gasp

even the thin hairs on your forearm breathe,

flowers wild, two graves of man and wife

lying in perfect symmetry, overrun by wild

strawberries. Gently you part the reeds,

water claims the heat from the earth, you

soak your feet, then lie down hands planted

into the moist earth. You glow. Late at night

when you leave, you will fill your pockets

with wet clay. But many years from now,

you will try to find a perfect peace in many

different landscapes, drill water out of memory

to heal wounded limbs of the earth. You

will watch as machines turn your pond

inside out, spit the two graves inside out

in search of sleek wealth. Many years

later, after much blood has been lost and your

pond drained of all life you will wonder, shortly

before you become the earth’s martyr, what

is this thing that kills not just life but even death?

Comments

Your email address will not be published.