The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (100-105)

2014-08-02 20.25.13

101.

Your fingers & mine are already locked

& in a moment we shall overcome

the trials of an unlocked poem

 

 

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102.

Descent

as a title

as me hovering over you

as the September moon

close but not quite there

 

Descent

your eyes are already languid

& we haven’t even started to write

 

This poem will not respect our commitment

to dignity

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103.

Twenty four hours

& I’m already forgetting

even as I hang on to you

 

Two days, ten years, a minute ago

I can’t remember what your kisses used to mean

 

What’s your excuse?

 

 

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104.

Time appears this morning like an errant sun

& yet we know

we know it’s not going anywhere

 

It’s us spinning ourselves around it

telling stories that hold us together

by need

& us going on & on & on in the same sweet spot

 

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105.

The moon blows back  compensatory myths

out of colour

night skies full of incompassionate stars

– these are everlasting points of equality

 

Under this we’re spun the same way

& we dream.

 

 

 

 

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (96-100)

 

2014-08-02 20.54.12

96.

today we woke up

both of us barrel chested

we looked at each other

& laughed & laughed & laughed

 

it was funny to see that both of us

had lost all evidence of youth

we laughed until we ached all over

 

& then it became clear:

our belly muscles

the ones that used to hurt from laughter

had now relaxed, opened up

 

& now we have more space for grief

& now we know each other

as containments for much more

 

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97.

one mother:

this is who you are

this is where you’re going

& this is how, when & why

 

another mother:

this is who you are

this is where you’re going

& this is what will happen

how, when and why

 

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98.

yesterday my skin became the sky

& you remarked:

the sky is so blue

 

last night you said:

the stars are so bright

 

you couldn’t see that i was imploding

that the stars are a sign

that there will be no sky tomorrow

 

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99.

Having already

lost a beautiful string of lettering

that had formed into a poem

I should take the day off

 

These days

lost poems remain lost

a requiem to one is the best I can do

 

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100.

It’s the movement, isn’t it?

 

From a collection of recipe bits

to grinding, chopping, frying

steaming

releasing the aroma

from the combined bits & pieces of you & me

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (91-95)

2014-08-03 11.18.32

91.

with hands on my shoulders

the man led me backwards

down a long hallway

past the rooms where women come undone

past christmas

& used wedding gowns for sale

past rooms with old laughter

sweating up the walls

he led me backwards

all the way down to Eve

who sat nude

& declared

that mercy was for losers

& condemned me

to liberation wars of convenience

 

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92.

the man led me

backwards

into a wooden chair

he removed the blindfold

 

what games are these, i asked

chance, liberation, war & mercy

 

you’re now mine, he said

you’re now mine

along with spike milligan & the goons

tattered manuals

& old love poetry

you’re now mine

i found you a spot on the shelf, see?

 

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93.

another man

a masked man

demanded all

one hundred & sixty five kisses

if i had any expectation of release

 

so i told him what i know to be true:

a lipsticked mouth must never be kissed

a lipsticked mouth is not for kissing

a lipsticked mouth is art

is protection

is political statement

is the distance between now & never

 

2014-08-02 20.25.13

 

94.

I’ll love you in a minute, you said

blue on brown, blue on brown

I’ll love you in a minute

you said

 

& in that chasm

nature unleashed itself

— lightning struck countless times

earthquakes, firestorms

children died & were born

died & were born again

 

in the minute I was waiting

terror smiled

blue on brown, blue on brown

waiting for the world to settle

 

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95.

& then there were three men left in the country.

Actually, strictly speaking

there were two & a boy

but we called all of them men

 

the boy to remind us how to have sons

which was to say

that having sons was not like having daughters

 

the other was

pure & unadulterated pleasure

which was to remind us how to have a man

which was to say that having a woman

was not the same as having a man

 

the third was a man of the old kind

who was there to remind us

that we needed a man to tell us what to do

to remind us, we reminded him

it felt necessary

because he had no other use

because we did what we needed to do

whether or not he was there

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (86-90)

 

2014-08-02 20.54.12

86.

I don’t believe in the reclamation of innocence through the cooling of sheets

Come

Let’s set these sheets on fire

Let’s burn them all night long

 

I don’t believe in the saving grace of dryers

So let’s set these sheets on fire

After we can descend into hell

& take heaven with us

 

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87.

Almost  quarter to heartbreak

& I’m picking up pieces of you off the living room floor

I’m replacing your bits neatly into the cupboards

 

Remember Achtung, Baby?

You shook your head & I laughed

& laughed and laughed

You carried me home, drunk

Remember?

 

Now twenty three minutes to merriment & it’s achtung

Stop

You & I are marionettes

You & I are marionettes

Stop

 

It’s now ever after

This, too, is ever after

& only ever so

 

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88.

The signpost just north of August reads:

All skinned passengers keep right

 

My skinned peeled off on Thursday

In a fit of rage, demanding the right

the need for

Touch who left Wednesday morning

 

Mine left slamming the door behind her

& the sign reads:

unskinned licensed drivers may keep right

 

& since I don’t drive

I keep left

Keep being left

Stay left

 

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89.

Jasmine,

What shall I tell my feet?

With what words can I convince my neck to stay
How can I say that we will be okay?

The three of us?

The four of us, since the varicose veins refuse to leave?

 

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90.

Let’s not sit with young lovers

What with their hands locked, intertwining fingers

She asleep

Lipsticked mouth hanging open

Her head on his chest

He with his heavy eyelids sleep or love,I don’t know

His other hand on her thigh

His hair fallen over the side of his face

& all of us on the bus ready to protect young love

whatever it takes

 

Let’s not sit with sleeping lovers

We’re sentry, we’re sentry, we’re sentry

 

We cannot sit with these lovers

Vulnerable , weak, stupid

Falling asleep on the bus

What with interlinked fingers and pinked lips

Her mouth agape, his hair falling across his face

So beautiful, so lovely, so shimmery

I can’t stand it

 

So let’s not sit with the young lovers

It won’t do

 

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (81-85)

2014-08-02 20.54.12

81.

Last night she comes round to our table

cupping her hands and says:

    • I’ve been collecting words.
    • Only beautiful words

She opens her palms

& words cascade onto the table

creating something sublime

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82.

She smiles & leaves

she returns with a phone in her hand

she says:

  • these you will need to listen to
  • these words will lace your brain with poison

She hands the headphones over to me

She whispers:

  • poison

I’m sure she says poison

not:

  • glory, glory, glory

2014-08-03 11.18.32

83.

It’s finally warm in Vancouver

Granville Island is resplendent in beauty

I’m being pulled out of a hole in my head

There’s a pressure there, like birthing

Enjoy, says my Kenyan friend

Drink some water, says my Polish friend

I wonder if I should sit down, my Acholi self suggests

Vancouver is beautiful

Where am I going, leaving this body?

Vancouver is beautiful

Why am I still here?

Vancouver is beautiful

What is my responsibility in all this?

Vancouver remains beautiful

Enjoy your existential moment

Drink waer

Sit

2014-08-04 15.47.32

84.

We don’t fight, we don’t quarrel

we don’t finish each other’s sentences

or ask questions beyond the banal

or plan

or dream

or hold hands

or go anywhere

or think anything at all

We smile, share meals

clean up

watch TV

sleep together

& wait for the other to die

2014-08-02 20.25.13

85.

I returned unrecognizable to those I’d left behind

I returned contaminated

covered in nastiness

spewing nightmares

(You see? You see?)

I only said I wanted to finish the song

(You see? You see?)

Now they won’t let me anywhere near the source

It’s not me, they say

The me they knew had nothing

wanted nothing to do with music

(having been away for so long)

The me they knew will never come back

or get to anywhere near the source

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (76-80)

2014-08-02 20.25.13

Views from the bus from Gulu to Kampala

76.

Tree stumps in a clearing

Still

Like children right before the lunch bell

Waiting

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77.

A wooden coffin, a backdrop of unending forest

Soon, the coffin whispers

Soon

the trees nod in response

2014-08-03 11.18.32

78.

Three children by the wayside waving at the bus

The bus roars past

I’ll be back, the bus wants to say

Kids only hear: back!

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79.

A man’s gaze is fixed on the lower branches of a mighty tree

Not now, the tree states quite clear

And not tomorrow either

He can’t hear

2014-08-04 15.47.32

80.

Words filter through

Letting in only nightmarish narratives

& other terrible things

Spider webs ever growing crowd my throat

Great Conversations at the Uganda International Writers Conference

http://www.africanwriterstrust.org/great-conversations-at-the-uganda-international-writers-conference

Written by Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek

 

When Professor Zakes Mda gave his keynote speech at the conference, he beautifully lined out and linked the theme of his speech: “Autobiography, Memoir and Memoires” to the conference theme of “Truth and Memoir”. Writing from memory, he told us, requires emotional truth whereas autobiography calls for provable facts. Writing a reflection from memory a couple of weeks after the conference (having lost my notes on the last day) means that this reflection is a product of an emotional truth and there was plenty of that during the African Writer’s Trust Uganda International Writers Conference, which was held at Fairway Hotel in Kampala, from 1st-6th March 2015.

The conference brought together 30 writers from many parts of the world, including the USA, the UK, Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, most of whom had only hitherto been preceded by their work or social media presence. Goretti Kyomuhendo, the director of the African Writers Trust and her very able team brought together a week of text, body, mind, heart and a spirit that drove the theme through the week. There were panels and presentations in the morning and in the afternoon, powerful binding and rebinding of relationships over drinks until late. To begin, Dr. Susan Kiguli (Uganda) presenting on a panel entitled: African Literary Renaissance: Return to Glory or Superficial Gloss? gave a brilliant and brief history of the 1962 Makerere conference to this moment; it was a powerful reminder that the same questions of power, authenticity, writing, and the role of the artist still dog us today.

Susan Kiguli, Juliane Okot Bitek, Susan Nkwentie, Jennifer Makumbi, Louise Umutoni, and Noo Saro-Wiwa.

L-R: Susan Kiguli, Juliane Okot Bitek, Susan Nkwentie, Jennifer Makumbi, Louise Umutoni, and Noo Saro-Wiwa

 

All mind-eyes listen to Oduor Jagero

All mind-eyes listen to Oduor Jagero

 

In that single week, writers that live in Uganda and writers that live outside Uganda and writers that live outside Africa became one; defined by vocation and not location. Shadreck Chikoti (Malawi) illustrated how some publishers discourage African writers from contextualizing their work outside of the continent while Melissa Kyeyune (Uganda) provided examples of the ways in which digital publishing can ameliorate the need to define one’s self by location – her e-novels are set in cities around the world and they sell very well. Jagero Oduor (Kenya) bravely dove into and introduced the green shade with which African writers abroad can be considered while Chinelo Okparanta (Nigeria/USA) reminded us that exclusion and derision against Diasporan African writers was self-defeating for us, African people. Glaydah Namukasa (Uganda) presented her experience of winning a writing award as a very positive experience.

Left: Glydah Namukasa, Mildred Barya, Emma D'Costa, Juliane Okot Bitek, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Jackee Batanda, and Chinelo Okparanta.

L-R: Glydah Namukasa, Mildred Barya, Emma D’Costa, Juliane Okot Bitek, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Jackee Batanda, and Chinelo Okparanta

 

Distinctions emerged from the different genres in which we work. There wasn’t much on playwriting, as Charles Mulekwa (Uganda) noted, but when he introduced Zakes Mda, with a call and response that electrified the room with the power of performance, our echoes welcoming Professor Mda would remain, even when we were gone – a powerful reminder that art is nothing without the people who live it, consume it, remember it, think about it, talk about it and bring it to life.

Women’s writing communities from Malawi, Uganda and Rwanda were introduced to us by Timwa Lipenga (Makenawa’s Daughters) Hilda Twongyeirwe (FEMRITE) and Louise Umutoni (Andika Ma); while Susan Nde spoke about the complications of writing, reading and getting published in a minority English- speaking Cameroon. Peter Kagayi (Uganda) introduced us to Lantern Meet of Poets, a community of poets who have reimagined poetry as a social and communal space. So having poets and prose writers reading together on the last evening at Kati Kati Restaurant was the practice of a new community.

Group picture

From left front row: Chinelo Okparanta, Godfrey Byaruhanga, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Zakes Mda, Mildred Barya, Jackee Batanda, Charles Mulekwa, Susan Kiguli, Timwa Lipenga, Hilda Twongyeirwe, Emma D’Costa, Glydah Namukasa, Juliane Okot Bitekt, Peter Kagayi, Beverley Nambozo, Diana Santiago, Dilman Dila, and Danson Kahyana

 

We went to the FEMRITE offices in Kamwokya, where we interacted with beginning and established Kampala writers. In the comings and goings, we were immersed into writing culture and thinking about writing and writing about thinking; Jennifer Makumbi (Uganda/UK) gave a hilarious account of her first attempt at self-promotion on social media.

Michela Wrong, Shadreck Chikoti, and Noo Saro-Wiwa

L-R: Michela Wrong, Shadreck Chikoti, and Noo Saro-Wiwa

 

Two nonfiction writers, both journalists talked about the work of writing about political figures and events. Michela Wrong (UK) and Daniel Kalinaki (Uganda/Kenya) spoke about the process of working with material that for the large part was already known and may have been published in the media before. Michela presented her insight as the fact that her third book: It’s Our Turn to Eat (2009) found the narrative which connected the news stories and pointed towards corruption in Kenya. Like Michela, Daniel’s book on Uganda’s opposition politician Kizza Besigye also used previously known material but he also spent much time and travel seeking to interview Besigye and his wife and others, who he says were very generous in filling in the blanks and humanizing the man beyond the politician known as Besigye.

Left: Beverely Nambozo, Goretti kyomuhendo, and Juliane Okot Bitek

L-R: Beverely Nambozo, Goretti Kyomuhendo, and Juliane Okot Bitek

 

I laughed far too much, I learned a lot. I discovered connections that I might never have imagined. The next time I’m in Gulu, I’ll go visit my father who lies at St Phillips Church and tell him about the conference. I will also look for the grave of Michela Wrong’s aunt who I understand probably lies close by.

Juliane Okot Bitek was born to exiled parents, both who hail from Gulu, northern Uganda.  As such, the notion of home as a place that one belongs to by virtue of birth, has always been elusive.  She currently lives and works in Canada. Juliane holds a Master’s Degree in English and a BFA in Creative Writing, and is currently a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Students Graduate Program at the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues. Her doctoral research focuses on post-conflict narratives of formerly abducted women in northern Uganda. Her work has been anthologized and published widely on-line, in print and in literary magazines such as Arc, Whetstone, Fugue, and Room of One’s Own. Notably in 2004, her short story Going Home, won the Commonwealth Short Story Contest, and was featured on the BBC and CBC.

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (71-75)

2014-08-02 20.54.12

71.

World without end

world without end

so this is what it means to know that you have a crazy mother

world without end it was always like this

world without end and then someone broke in

& told us & told us & told us that our mother was crazy

world without end she was normal

she ironed her memories into her kanga

she used that same kanga to wrap her head

to carry us

to dry the plates

to wipe the snot from the baby’s nose

world without end that’s the way it always was

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72.

now that we know that our mother is crazy

we wrap ours about our waists

to protect us from evil

til the hour of our death

amen

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73.

we’re the startling green grass after the fires of the dry season

insistent

& clear

& knowing

& remembering

& expecting that this was not the last of the fires of the dry season

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74.

the earth remains as still as it ever was

dust rises and rises

creating silhouettes of the men in the road before us

red powder

red powder everywhere

and then the re-settling into stillness

the earth is stony, rocky, stubborn

it will only yield at 3 in the afternoon

& it will take in volunteers

in the smallest of yawns

to maintain the red of the the dust

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75.

over here, money is liquid

it melts nothing

costs nothing

buys nothing

moves nothing

but copious amounts of pleasure & satiation

over there money is cold

it moves everything

costs more

induces cold sweat

& can never provoke a smile

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (66-70)

2014-08-04 16.58.39

66.

At 3.15 am the door slams

the last of the whole words are gone

an army of ants had taken their place

& are hauling out crumbs

& verbal punctuations

bits and pieces

ahs & ums

shas & sheez

jeez & jesus!

all crystalline

all salty bits of sound

 

the ants make quick work

by mid-morning they’re all gone

 

2014-08-04 15.47.32

67.

by midday

all that’s left are images

too awkward to fit through the door & windows

 

like the two bald girls lipsticked and high heeled

like their mother wiping off some of the lipstick

like the one girl pouting afterwards

like the other smacking her lips, still smiling

 

like the mad man scouring the pews with his eyes

like the moment that he seeks you out

like the stern point he makes towards you

making all your pew-mates glance at you

 

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68.

a story emerges after church

how he has a wife & daughters

how he has a twin brother

how his name is Forgod

& how his equally mad brother is Forget

 

& how all this

is performance & story without words

 

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69.

Incandescence, I tell you

isn’t the sum of everything

it’s not even the multiplication of light

it’s nothing without the tapestry inside a black sky

 

Didn’t I tell you that stars would wear thin?

Stars don’t change

Stars don’t move

Stars don’t do a damn thing but stare

 

Incandescence is a red moon

a white moon

a low moon

a half moon

a sliver

a joke

 

2014-08-03 11.18.32

70.

A gecko darts silently out of the shadows

& scurries across the whitish wall

& then stands still

 

A mosquito buzzes angrily

she has no access

 

Inside the safety of a net

I snicker

& then

wait

what’s with the sudden itch

of a spider bite above my knee?

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (61-65)

2014-08-02 20.54.12

61.

You & I on the couch this morning

You in your work clothes & I in my bathrobe

Both of us cloaked in silence

 

when is a good day to die?

 

Not Monday because she’s fair

Thursday maybe

because Thursday’s child they say has far to go

 

A list of words to go through:

Laundry

Banking

Baking

Insouciance

Slithery

Computational

Universality

Dispersal

Do words feel the tongue of the speaker?

 

In the middle of a sentence, a dream

After fucking like dogs pounding ourselves into each other

Intent on each of us becoming one other

 

When is a good day to die?

 

At the junction where Broadway meets Main

A heart falls out on to the road

& the bus brakes just in time

 

Look after your heart, mister!

What are you doing?

Didn’t your mother teach you

to take care of your heart?

 

May or August, perhaps

Any month but your birthday month

That would be altogether too cruel

 

2014-08-04 15.47.3262.

This week we swore we’d dismember language

We pinky-promised to make a list

 

We’d take first English apart word by inept word

We’d begin with articles

 

From Monday on, we’d dismiss the specific

the general, the commander & the war

& just like that:

there was no more war & no language for it

 

On Tuesday you suggested

that we bleed out the possessives

Nothing could belong to anyone or anything

Share one, share alike

& I was no longer your darling

 

So we buried Conrad in the backyard

Along with all five European languages he used to speak

We buried Marlowe beside him, greedy fucker that he was

along with all the declarations he made

 

By Friday we could still articulate love so we hanged on

to action words as political cowardice

 

Saturday, there was no more point

we opened blue caches of verbs

No subject

No verb

No object

No simple sentences to point towards complex existences

 

No subjects

No other

No thing

So we hummed ourselves to sleep

 

2014-08-03 11.18.32

63.

Beloved, yesterday I sent my gal to the market

& she hasn’t come back

 

Beloved, I sent my daughter to the market

the loud one

the big one

the noisy one

the boisterous one

I sent my best self to the market

&  now she won’t come back

 

She was to pick up fresh vegetable, fruit

some other grocery — soap & the like

 

How long was she there?

Not very long, I expected her back any minute

 

Yesterday’s market isn’t there any more

That big, loud, boisterous space

where storied & money & goods changed hands is gone

 

All the souls fled except for the ones that hang around

Dancing in the breeze

& whistling through plastic bags that flap about

 

All the scattered things & bodies & embers

All the bits that used to represent life

All the stories that were interrupted mid sentence

when my daughter, strapped by some strangers

blew up into nothing

 

Yesterday I sent my life to the market

It’s as if I never existed before

 

Beloved, where did we take the wrong turn?

 

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64.

Today you bury your son

breath in & breath out

How is it even possible?

 

Yesterday I sent my daughter to the market

& today you bury your son

 

Breath in & breath out

never stopping, never stopping

even in the middle of wracked grief

where did we take the wrong turn, beloved?

 

Where?

 

2014-08-04 16.58.39

65.

Adjectives, nouns & adverbs

in a bowl

like fruit

from last week

starting to go bad

starting to have the sick sweet smell

of fruit going bad

starting to die

starting to know that fruit knows

that they’re dead

the moment that they’re picked from the tree

 

A collection of wilting words

waiting to be thrown out

into the compost