Monday, 10 October 2016

dear ones (poem)

Monday, 25 July 2016

#JusticeForWillie (Poems)

On 23rd June 2016, Willie Kimani (advocate), Josephat Mwenda (a boda boda rider) and Joseph Muiruri ( a taxi cab driver) disappeared and a week later, on 1st July 2016, their bodies were found at Odonyo Sabuk River.

The members of the legal profession in Kenya condemned the killings and staged a one week protest.

These poems were written during that week from July 2nd to 8th July. On 9th July, advocate Willie Kimani was laid to rest.

I wrote the following on 1st July 2016 upon learning of the cruel death of my colleague in the profession, his client and a taxi driver:

Ninalaani mauaji ya wakili Willie Kimani, dereva wa teksi Joseph Muiruri na Josphat Mwenda. Ni sikitiko kubwa kupata taarifa kuwa miili yao imepatikana katika mto wa Oldonyo-Sabuk. Kifo chake wakili Willie Kimani na wenzake kinatuhumiwa kuhusiana na kesi aliyokuwa akiendesha kortini. Tukio hili linazua maswali mengi kuhusiana na huduma za mawakili kortini haswa maisha yao yakiwa hatarini na maadui wa haki. Taifa ambalo linaongozwa na mtutu wa bunduki, vitisho na majangili ni taifa litakalosalia nyuma. Alimradi taifa lenyewe lisipowapa raia wake usalama, ibara za katiba ni kelele mnadani. 

Wakili Kimani hayupo tena.

Ndugu Joseph Muiruri hayupo tena.

Ndugu Josphat Mwenda hayupo tena.

Inaniuma, tena sana.

Makiwa familia, marafiki na mawakili wenzangu.

On 6th July, I participated in my professional body's LSK Protest March to dramatise the shame and righteous indignation of the heinous and callous torture, strangulation and dumping and/or drowning in a river of my fallen colleague Willie Kimani, his client Mwenda and taxi driver Muiruri. The photo below captures the sombre mood.

On that day, I wrote the following:

A day like today, in 1944, Georges Mandel, French patriot, was executed. And a day like this in 1935, Dalai Lama was born. On this day in 1775, the U.S Congress issues a “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms”.

And today more than 10,000 advocates of the High Court of Kenya will hold a protest march to dramatise the shame and righteous indignation of the heinous and callous torture, strangulation and dumping and/or drowning in a river of Advocate Willie Kimani, a client Mwenda and taxi driver Muiruri.

Today, we demonstrate that what we have are “nice sharp quillets of law” à la Warwick to Lords in Shakespeare’s Play Henry VI. We will march to the temple of justice and solemnly ask the State why Willie's body is lying lifeless in eternal repose in the morgue when he should be donned in a wig and a bib and seeking justice for the others. At the temple of justice, we will ask, what imagery and metaphor should be construed for the blood strewn on the wall at the very temple of justice.


#Poem 1- A blotch on our statute book

#Poem 2- here is an empty gown and band

 #Poem 3- I sit here wondering

#Poem 4- The phoenix song

#Poem 5- Thoughts expressed in Kiswahili

the beauty of dancing flames

when leaps of flames lick a school
the cackling sounds of fervour

raising arms in rebellion. when billows of
smoke trumpet fragrance

of education gone awry. isn't it a beautiful
sight to see the ashes of the pretentious edifice

blown by the mocking wind? isn't there magic,
something of hallowed curiosity

in the soot, the ashes of burnt books,
the half-burnt book-shelves

testily saying, 'here, grab this wood'.
that is what happens when education

loses meaning. i used to think incendiary thoughts,
the sparkling flames

of revolutionary ideas or just the pursuit of
knowledge, telling the professor

"i need not useless qualifications but a mind
that can pursue a thought

as a hunter would a deer." but I was wrong.
for when I see these flames

i smile wryly at the astonished look around
and a nation dousing the flames

of a burning academic pretence. but unwittingly
fanning the flames

of testosterone-filled, rogue, 'utado'
generation of students, the mirror images

of a nation that once burnt itself but
whose God's grace doused the flames

at exactly 3 a.m, the Godly hour
when the Divine Will triumphed over

a state that was to-be-no-more. when a coward
runs to you, saying, "look, I will burn

myself!" do you quizzically look at her and say,
" please do it during the day, so that we see

the magic of a walking inferno" or do you
tearfully hug her and say,

"here is a piece of me, if you want to burn yourself
get the petrol and let us both burn

in a pyre." but when twenty cowards
congregate at your doorstep

saying, " we assemble here to burn ourselves
as a protest to the

uselessness of this life." do you get a bakora
and chase them down through the

village square, past the butcher, past
the bookshop, past

the crematorium, where incidentally
they should torch themselves

to let the wind of death blow
their ashes, perhaps in solidarity

to their earthly protest? but what happens
when curious minds, once a tabernacle

of ideas, walk around dazed, seeing beauty
in book-ashes, book-shelf-ashes,

lecture-hall-ashes. anyway, burnt schools
never scare me. What scares me

is that for a long time, our education
has burnt our child-like curiosity

and what we carry in our heads
are ashes: cindered dreams, powdered

cogitations, embers of passivity, charcoals
of dulled yes-yes, relics of shame

that accept untruths, bigotry. isn't it
curious that

the thoughts of flames and ashes
evoke within us

passionate intensity
like a town crier's announcement

in the noon-day of our heightened ignorance.
See those flames? they are

a harbinger of hope. see those ashes? they are
the urn's contents, a reminder of the
hollowness of our education.

Friday, 24 June 2016

for Keneuoe Moshoeshoe

to the lady that loves lesheleshele
and bohobe ba metsi,
the bread that home-grown hands bake

to the mosali a motle,
the beautiful lady
motho a ratang naha e hlaha,
the one who loves nature

to Moshoeshoe,
mosali a mosehla,
the light-skinned one
with likoti marameng,
the dimples that lie at the cusp of time and beauty

the one with lintshi,
the eyelashes that stand outstretched
in poised duty to majesty

this is your mmino,
the music that you listen to;
your ears dancing to words
tapping on African drum

thothokiso ena ke ngolla
ngoana naha ya lesotho,
I write this to the daughter of the land of the Sotho

this poem,
this mmino,
is like a traditional muratina that you sip
at the foot of the hill

this song is the moving fingers of a flutist,
the rush of melody spreading arms of
freedom on the spaces of memory.

Monday, 30 May 2016

a strange thing happened to me today

a strange thing happened to me today.
a crowd of words ran towards me—
a rare thing to occur
and unsure, i ran away from them
yet they chased me down the alley
down the treacherous road of forsaken ideas
past the rocks, hands poised in the sky,
perhaps expressing resignation of a reluctant pen
and in the debris of the confusion
prose beckoned me, a decibel lower than
the shrill of raucous, forced words
with a thin veneer of superficiality.

a  strange thing happened to me today.

torrents of elegant words rounded me up
it was at 3 a.m., a strange hour
when  brave dawn cold gained entry through the louvres
elbowing a reluctant thought and sat it
right in the middle of my page.

a strange thing happened to me today.

words conspiratorially whispered to me:
clear, crisp thoughts that could sparkle if ruffled;
words dancing, gyrating to the beat of my imagination;
words dressed with hyphenated asides, yet brief as a major-general's command;
unrestricted, unrestrained outstretched arms of words;
unafraid of the editor’s noose
words shouting—
“Go tell madam Few-Words-Matter that
the Norman Mailer Pressure Group resents her high-handedness;
we have a right to associate in any way we please
& picket across thousands of pages if we want!”

a  strange thing happened to me today.

my Muse came and said,
"Boy, grab your pen. 
we got some work to do!" 

c) Lorot Salem/ echoes of the hills 2016

Monday, 29 February 2016

for little Cheptoo

it is a frightening world, dear young sister,
& you might not have realized it yet
& it scares me

the dreams you have today
soaring up, unlimited like imagination,
the shining light in your eyes
the curious questions you ask today
there will be a time they may be dimmed
by the strictures of the society
telling you, “You are a woman!”
as if the dreams in your heart
were marked with the ink named woman

you see, Sister, there was once a time
when baby Lizzy  and her twin brother, Billy,
were with me
& i was bathing them
& she asked me why Billy had dudu
while she had not
& that was the briefest question that I had no answer for

i remember also a question that little Billy once asked
a friend differently-abled in crutches visited me
& Bill asked what happened to his legs and why he wasn’t walking properly
& again, I had no answer but I mumbled something

the world you are living in, Sister,
will not be fair to you and if you will not be careful
it might pull you down, suck life out of you & drag you on dirt
for the blooms, there are wilted petals
yellowing and wilting in stunted dreams
& gardeners, early in the morning, pick them up
weep for them and not even their tears
drenching the rotting life resuscitate them to life

i will never tell you to behave like a grown-up, dear Cheptoo,
because being grown-up has stunted me
this society wants me to act like an adult
to dress like an adult, eat like an adult, think like an adult
and being an adult is no fun anymore
i no longer ask those curious questions like Billy and Lizzy
i don’t play chodoko anymore, or sheki, or koraa, or use fantili
i stopped going to mtelezo or swimming at pango
because adults are expected to behave like adults
being an adult is no fun anymore

see, Cheptoo, you say anything the way you say it
and you don’t care and no one has any problem
because you are a child
when you are not happy, you just say it
and when you are happy, you show it
but we adults are complicated
a person may be happy but you won’t know
a person may be unhappy and you won’t know
sometimes they are happy-unhappy and still you don’t know
how do you do it, Cheptoo?
they way you cry, your chest heaving
the way you laugh, your chuckle so full of life
sometimes I laugh but my insides are tearing apart
you see, you don’t want your enemies to know that you are unhappy
so you pretend to be happy even when your body is screaming in pain

dear Cheptoo, if you forget everything else
don’t forget this:
develop a fierce love for books
for though the society may want to pull you down
books will be your best leverage
read all manner of books & never let your education
interfere with your love for reading
for when you will be done with formal education
you will realize that the best education
was one that you did at your leisure
when no big stick was wielded

~echoes of the hills 29.2.2016

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

the dog with the languid eyes (sestina)

Photo credit:

the languid eyes of the pet dog tell a story
he has been here before, and the day before
of times he would wag his tail and run around
the sight of his man-friend a moment of pure joy
like a bone he crushes letting the bone-barrow escape in bliss
but these eyes are eyes of resignation and quiet aloofness

he was once the darling, hardly morose in this aloofness
his heart once an open book to be read a love story
believing always that pain wouldn’t outlive bliss
but can pain reincarnate into a pain felt before?
Or is it that into the vacuum of pain is filled joy?
Or is it that love, like an eagle, circles around?

the pet dog sits by idly, immobilized by nonchalance around
this neighbourhood harbours eyes sunken in aloofness
their footsteps calculated with the staccato of pretentious joy
their breasts unmoved by a story detached by their own story
this dog once knew love and trusted  before
this dog once felt the rhythmic throb of a heart in bliss

the pet dog’s friend moves about in feigned bliss
he remembers vaguely of the love they shared around
by God, he also remembers how fulfilled he felt before
and now, like a ship with broken sail he rides in aloofness
isn’t his story entwined in his dog’s story?
Or is it possible to feel happy without the dog’s joy?

but the light footsteps of the dog’s friend lacks joy
and his smile through his teeth is anything but bliss
for during the day, he slugs along life as a painful story
amid the concrete walls, the barricaded gates around
the tangible evidence of a world unashamedly parading aloofness
he knows this too well, for he knows the race of his heart before

the dog keeps on lying on his paws like never before
waiting and waiting for his friend’s Joy
uncertain about the time inclusiveness will replace aloofness
hoping and hoping in a dog’s world for the past bliss
nibbling at the morsel of love scattered in the crevices around
reliving past joys, rehashing what once was a glorious story

after what appeared to be a long philosophical rumination on bliss
the dog skirted the idea and flipped it around
he thought, “ah, my wag will better illustrate this story”.

c) Lorot Salem/ echoes of the hills 2015

Prompt: Poets United Midweek Motif: Mercy

Poet's Notes:

The prompt has invited poets to write a poem on the subject of Mercy. I decided to try a sestina. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

through the slit of a cat's pair of eyes

through the slit of a cat's pair of eyes
many a dream was born
the window: a vantage point for oft-unpondered sights
through the slit of a cat's pair of eyes
a cat looks at the host, a stranger yet a friend
flurry of thoughts, away from the couches
through the slit of a cat's pair of eyes
a cat may step outside of himself, sighs.

C) Lorot Salem/echoesofthehills 2015

Note by Poet: My experiment with Triolets.
Photo Credit: Magpie Tales

Monday, 16 November 2015

a painting of a new earth

I took a paper yesterday and drew earth.

sitting, back turned against the bravado of the city,
i thought that this city can be deceptive
so I turned my back against it
and faced the horizons,
the rushing clouds above
like fingers, caressing the promises
of unrequited love

the textured drawing,
the focussed pencil tip
the unassuming aura
all lent themselves
to a drawing of a new earth

it was one huge drawing
with no countries
because in my painter's eye
a borderless earth seemed appealing

it was a flagless earth I drew
because in my painter's eye
i envisioned a world without
shackles flags bring

crying, my pencil
lingered on the beak of a pigeon
flying across,
while below
a man, with a kalashnikov,
took aim

in despondency, this time shedding tears,
i let my pencil complete the drawing
the kalashnikov-wielding man
standing on stumps that were once his legs
one of his arms amputated

i then bent and placed my ear on his heart
and i heard torrents of tears, like a broken sewage,
his chest heaved, his stumps gave way
and i cried for a long time
my tears staining my paint

after what seemed so long,
i stepped back and wiped my tears
and whispered to my paint:
"I never knew you were in this kind of pain..."

C) Salem Lorot/echoesofthehills 2015

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Her Last Text: (In Memory of Garissa Victims)

On 2nd April 2015, terrorists killed 147 students at Garissa University College. Kenya mourns them. This poem is my attempt to understand this sad episode.

This was her last text:

"Please babe, they are getting to us. Everyone in Nancy’s cube has been shot dead. Please pray for us. They are coming here; we are next. How’s the situation outside? Kenya Defence Forces are not here yet. Please tell them we are being killed; let them come to our rescue. Babe, in case I never see you again, just know I love you and will always love you. Bye babe and pray for us. I’m with Milly too…May God help us.”
 (Translated by Nekesa Wanjala)

Desperation, plea for help, outpouring of love
And faith—faith in God
That He will help her
From her killers.
Akinyi left that text to us
And is now dead
She is one of the 147—
147 whose heads were shattered by terrorists’ bullets
At Garissa.

Akinyi was a student at Garissa University College
With her hopes and dreams
Her parents must have invested in her
To give her a better life
But Thursday, 2nd April 2015
Was a Dark Thursday
Akinyi was shot at—and died.
A painful death.

The announcement came:
Dry statistics—147 DEAD
In other words, it has happened
They are dead, we can’t undead them.

How do you tell a parent that her daughter—
Safely tucked in school—died violently
By a gun, in school?
How do you explain to her
That her jewel is no more
And that her body is lying lifeless
At Chiromo Mortuary?

And how do you, as a parent, read her last text
When she still breathed, hearing gun-shots
In the next cube, her colleagues screaming
And the next minute the boom boom of a gun
And the chilling silence of death.

What can prepare you for this moment
The moment when your daughter was crying out for help
But you weren’t there
The searing guilt, the scorched conscience
Of a moment you abdicated your parental duty
As your daughter called out for help
But you were far away
The moment when the terrorist stood in front of
Your daughter, pointed the muzzle of the gun at her,
As she pleaded for help, crying out that her life be spared
The trigger pulled, the bullet jetting
Yet you weren’t there to stand in front of her
And be shot at, and not her
The moment when you should have faced her killers
And ask them what sin your daughter had committed
To die by the gun
The moment you would have been in that room with your daughter
And faced death together
Rather than this unbearable pain and helplessness
The moment you would whisper, though both of you be in the throes of death,
That you love her and die hugging her

But this text, you can’t even respond
To reassure her that she will be safe and that you are praying for her
You can’t respond and tell her that you love her
You can’t even ask for clarification
You can’t do something, something to save her,
Something to keep her alive
It is a text with a finality, a resignation to fate or God,
A helpless text, a text which will haunt you
A text that will always remind you of the moment your daughter
For the first time, cried out for help, and you weren’t there

Questions will linger:
What if you hadn’t taken her to Garissa University College?
What if you had received the text earlier and prayed for her, would God have saved her?
What if you were there with the killers, would you have wrestled their guns and bit their hands so as to spare your daughter’s life?
What if she escaped, would she be alive?
What if RECCE Squad killed the terrorists earlier, would she have survived?
What if she hid in a wardrobe?
What if she smeared herself in blood to mock death?
Did Milly die too?

A thousand what-ifs, yet your adorable Akinyi
Is dead. Lifeless.
Akinyi who the other day was laughing
Perhaps planning to visit for the Easter
Akinyi who encouraged you to sacrifice a little longer
For her education
With a promise of a good job
So that you may be relieved
That Akinyi, your loving daughter Akinyi,
Is no more
And in her place is this text
And lingering questions
What prepared you for this?

How do you dig your daughter’s grave?
What strength do you summon
To look at her shattered brain?
What amount of hate, you will wonder,
Will drive any man to kill your jewel
In so ruthless a manner?
What deep-seated religious extremism will
Be lodged in a man’s heart as to shoot your daughter?
Why your gentle, graceful, genial daughter?

You will remember your village squabbles
A chicken thief summoned under a tree and fined
A fight over land boundary
A quarrel over an unpaid debt
A public beating of an adulterer
A cross-examination of a witch
A baraza for a boy who has impregnated a girl
In all these, there was a reason for disgruntlement
And if people fought, it was for a reason
But this!
Someone just shoots your daughter at school
She didn’t steal a book
She wasn’t in a love triangle
She didn’t steal someone’s money
She fought no one, she quarrelled no one
She was your peaceful daughter
Studying in school
Yet she has been shot…. in the head!
And you ask yourself questions
Whether what evil eye in the village is not happy with your daughter
Or perhaps who cursed you
Or who you wronged and is sending you this affliction
But you don’t remember any such
For you are a peaceful person.

So, why was your daughter shot?
And you are told that the Alshabaab
Killed her because of  ‘religious extremism’
(an amorphous phrase you can’t surmise)
or because ‘Kenya invaded Somalia’
You still ask but why your daughter
And you are told that these terrorists
Kill any Kenyan to send a message to Kenya
And you struggle to understand all this
How any person would kill your daughter
To send a message to Kenya
As if your daughter was Uhuru to send troops to Somalia
But you will be shocked at how one, under religion,
Would kill your daughter
If one prayed to a rock, who bothered him?
If one worshipped the sun, who bothered him?
Who troubled those who hid in a dungeon, bespectacled with goggles,
Waiting for the end of the world?
Don’t we have witches who still dance naked, bumping on our doors?
Don’t our people commune with the ancestors
And speaking to a mountain, can tell who killed our loved ones?
But who has bothered them?
Who has killed them?
Haven’t we, in our tolerance, allowed them to worship whoever they worship?
So, what changed, you will ask,
That your daughter was killed?
Looking at your daughter’s shattered head
Her eyes never recognizable
Her face, a horror to watch,
A face which the other day lit with love
And smiles and warmth and brilliance
A face which, despite the hard rural life, kept you
A face which gave you courage to face tomorrow
But now, a mangled flesh, paler than death
Horrid than horrid can ever be
And you will still ask yourself,
Akinyi, what wrong did you do to these religious extremists?
When you prayed, did you lift your Bible a little higher?
Did you mock them? Did you mock their God?
Did you challenge them? Did you anger them?
How Akinyi?
But Akinyi wouldn’t respond
But your head would spin at all this
This senseless killing, this violent death
Of your daughter.
No rational explanation will make sense to you
And it would be better that it remains as such
Because your life hadn’t prepared you for
A time when heartless people will descend upon your
Unarmed daughter
And just kill her, just like that
Never thinking of how much she meant to you
The memories you hold of her
And hopes you had on her.

Amid your sorrow, you will stumble upon the Bible Verse
Psalm 127:1
Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.

C) Salem Lorot 2015

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