100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 41-50

Inspired by the quiet homage to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that Wangechi Mutu started posting on social media on April 6, I decided to respond. I offer these poetic pieces as a way to think about the way in which we navigate through knowing about and understanding the genocide and other wars that endure.

Here are Days 41-50 as they come

Day 41

If justice was in a race with time

Peace would have no medal to offer

 

If peace sat at the table with justice

Time wouldn’t be served

 

If time wanted justice, so bad, so bad

There would be nothing that peace could offer

Either by seduction or reason

 

Day 42

I kneel before you

 

I kneel before you but this is not an act of supplication

I kneel before you because I cannot stand

I kneel before you because I cannot speak right now

My gestures are wordless articulations

& the dark in my eyes is not an indication of anything you could imagine

& there is nothing, nothing that you could ever give me

 

Day 43

After all the madness

& it had to have been a madness

You hear the arguments and explanations

That it was inevitable

That it was coming

That it had to happen after all those years

 

Knowing what we know now

What else should we have expected?

 

I hear that my loss was inevitable

I hear that my loss was coming

I hear that my heart break was written in the stars

& in historical documents & even in the oral stories

We had to have been blind & deaf & dumb to not have known

We had to have been oblivious, thinking that we could live

to a full life of family and community like others

 

After all, who misses the inevitability of a mass event like a genocide?

 

Day 44

Days and days of shallow breathing interspersed with deep sighs

days zooming into nothing

days of years and years that morphed into decades

of life as a gift, of life as worth living

days on days-ing, we weren’t even counting

 

It wasn’t as if after all those days

a veil would lift and it would have taken just those days, nothing more

 

It wasn’t as if after all those days

there was a chance that normal would morph back

as if all the seeds that had sprouted in those one hundred days

would un-sprout themselves into nothingness

 

Day 45

We watched as faith crumbled off the walls in dull clumps

We watched as prayers dissipated into clouds which then returned as drizzle to mock us

Although sometimes it rained

& sometimes it rained hard, as if the earth was sobbing

but it was never so — the earth remained dispassionate to our circumstance

 

Eventually our superstitions burst like bubbles

or floated away like motes in the light

There was nothing left to hold on to, not even time which stretched and then crunched itself wilfully

Cats and dogs roamed about, feral and hungry

People crouched in the shadows, not all feral and all the time hungry

At a half past all time, even decay stopped for a moment

 

Ours remains Eden, not even a spate of killing can change that.

 

Day 46

If truth is to be known in order to be acknowledged, then this is the truth that we know:

we know the numbers

we know the number of days

we know the circumstances

where the machetes came from and who wielded them

where the dotted line was signed

 

we know who fled

who advanced while chanting our names out loud

the names they called us

and the papers and airwaves on which these names can still be found

 

we know who claim to be the winners & the victims

we know where the markers are for where we buried the children

we know the cyclical nature of these things

 

the impossibility of knowing everything that happened

we know that true witnesses cannot speak

and that those who have words cannot articulate the inarticulable

 

we know that there are those who died without telling what they knew

we know that there are those who live without telling what they know

 

we also know that some people choose to tell and some stories choose to remain untold

 

Day 47

My sister used to look up when she remembered

Sometimes she would have a small laugh before she started to recall a story

Often she’d be laughing so hard at the reveries that we all started to laugh

Soon enough we were all laughing so hard because she was laughing

And then she laughed because we laughed

And the memory of that story dissolved into the laughter and became infused with it.

 

My sister is not here anymore

I wonder if she remembers laughing

I wonder if she remembers anything

 

Day 48

So what is it to be alive today?

 

I no longer think about the hard beneath my feet

or the give of my body into sleep

or the way my skin used to dissolve deliciously from touch

 

Is this what it is to become a haunt?

 

Day 49

There we were, lining up like frauds

There we were, receiving medals and commendations

like frauds

There we were, listening to speeches and reading the adorations

about us as heroes – like frauds

There we were

holding in ourselves, like frauds

 

All we did was stay alive

While many, many others died.

 

Day 50

This is the nature of our haunting:

silent witnesses & silence itself

neither revealing nor capable

of explication

of what any of that meant

 

What do we need nature for?

All it does is replicate its own beauty

 

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100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 51-60

Inspired by the quiet homage to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that Wangechi Mutu started posting on social media on April 6, I decided to respond. I offer these poetic pieces as a way to think about the way in which we navigate through knowing about and understanding the genocide and other wars that endure.

Here are Days 51 – 60 as they come

Day 51

I waited for my heart to harden after the kids were gone

I waited for the years of love to dissolve as if they never happened

I waited for the day when the remembrances of silly family laughter

would disappear with the setting sun

& I would wake up innocent,

as if I had never known anything good

 

It was starting to happen in small ways

I couldn’t recall the last good day

 

And then all the flowers poured in

In wreaths and ribbons and bouquets

Thousands and thousands and thousands of flowers

Each dead at the stalk

All dead from the moment they were cut

Every single one dead in their glorious & beautiful selves

 

Just like the people we lost

In those one hundred days

 

Day 52

So what if we were all Christian

Would the media brand it

Christian-on-Christian violence?

How do the dead declare the part of their identity they were killed for?

 

Day 53

There were echoes if one listened for them

This wasn’t the first time

 

There were echoes in Acholi

There were echoes in Armenia

There were echoes in the Americas

In Bangladesh

In Bosnia

Cambodia

The Congo

China

There were echoes in Darfur

There were echoes in England

There were echoes in Finland

In Georgia

In Germany

In Hawai’i

In Herero

In India

In Ireland

Japan

Kenya

Latvia

Mongolia

Nakapiripirit

Nairobi

There were echoes in Orange County

There were echoes in Ovambo

In Poland

In Palestine

In Queensland

In Russia

South Africa

Southern Sudan

Tonga

Uganda

Vietnam

Wales

There were echoes in Xenophobic attacks everywhere

Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe.

 

Where on this planet has not been touched?

The earth palpitates with violence

as if it needs violence

as if violence is a heartbeat – if not here now it’s over there

if it’s not over there now, it’s on its way here

 

Ours wasn’t the first or the only one;

It was our most painful.

Day 54

It is absurd to think that a little girl will forget

how her mother’s hands felt when she used to plait her hair

some tugging, some lining the scalp with an oiled wooden comb

for clean patterns

 

some cool oil, some warmth when her hands gently repositioned her head like so

sometimes a last pat on the back of her head, sometimes her neck.

Okay, it’s done, you can go out and play now

 

Absurd that any little girl would forget that and has.

Day 55

Our lives became both

endless and immediate

 

There were no guards at the door

There was no door

& the only tax required was a last breath out

 

One moment you were alive

& the next gone

One minute you were alive

& moments after that you wouldn’t die

your chest gargled endlessly

we were afraid of being heard & then we weren’t

One minute we cared

& the next nothing mattered

 

Day 56

Before the maiden voyage

we heard that every water-faring vessel

needed sacrifice

 

The sacrifice had to be young

The sacrifice had to be blemish free

The sacrifice had to have no dimples, no piercing in the ear

The sacrifice could be male or female

 

Stay close to home, we were beseeched

Stay close to home lest the sacrifice gatherers came by

We stayed close to home, in those first days

We stayed close to home but the sacrifice gatherer didn’t seem to care for details

They came to harvest all kinds of bodies for a ship whose size has never been seen

Day 57
We were halfway to dead when we were reminded
that we were halfway to dead
Hovering, suspecting, tripping
or tiptoeing over the terrain
lest any semblance of confidence betrayed us again.

Ghosts flitted about
attentive to our progress
Chrissie knew

Chrissie could see that having never left ourselves
we were never going to arrive

 

Day 58

Karmic proportions may indicate

that we wanted, expected, earned what we got

that we wanted it

that we had to go through it

that we had to overcome the trials of life

 

And you who hasn’t gotten it yet

were/ and/or /are lucky

 

think again

think again

as long as we’re caught inside the neveragainness of things

we will remain blind to the hundreddaysness of others

 

Day 59

You want me to talk about what happened

because you say you want to understand

because when you engage with people like me, you say you can make a difference

because you say we all need to make a difference

because all of it, as you say, begins with me telling you what happened

 

Change the blue dice

Choose the cast

Lock up the hypnotic evil-thought bearing others

 

When you engage you say, you can relieve me of my nightmares

you say you can help me to heal, to look forward without anxiety

 

When you engage, you say, you will do so with understanding

because you think that at the level of articulation that I have

you say you will have understood

because you will have gotten it, you say

because you feel me, you say

because you’re incensed, you say, & will continue to be

 

Dear God (or whatever is left)

save us from all the saviours of the world

 

Day 60

I’m coming to understand what seems to be so apparent in nature:

time passes

things change

some live, some die

none escapes this life without an end

 

I’m coming to understand that there isn’t much more else to it:

time passes

things change

some live, some die

none of us escapes a final end.

100 Days, 50 Days In: A Poet’s Journey

From Zocalo Poets

Zócalo Poets

I am keenly aware of the paradox in thinking about the halfway point of writing and posting one hundred poems. For those who lived through or must still live through their own hundred days, there is no luxury of knowing a halfway point and yet I’m exhausted by the knowledge that this is only the halfway point.

I’ve come to appreciate the ability to count and depend on the passage of days as a reliable indicator that time passes. I’ve been watching how Wangechi Mutu’s photographs have morphed from very personal, embodied experiences of pain and death to images that radiate loss and loneliness through the passage of time and neglect. And I have looked at the poems I’ve written, thinking about what I can see – and what remains inaccesible to me.

When I wrote the first poem, Day 100, I gathered my visual cues about the landscape from

View original post 615 more words

100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 61-70

Inspired by the quiet homage to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that Wangechi Mutu started posting on social media on April 6, I decided to respond. I offer these poetic pieces as a way to think about the way in which we navigate through knowing about and understanding the genocide and other wars that endure.

Here are Days 61 – 70 as they come

 

Day 61

Incredulity is a soft-paced wonder

& in the thick of days

Memory is a slippery thing

 

What do we remember from those one hundred days?

What happened on the tenth day or night

Might have well happened today, or yesterday

Incredulous is word from an innocent space

It is tepid, blubbery sometimes

because everything can happen and everything did

 

Day 62

Unless you believe in the eye of the needle

This kind of poverty will never be about material

It won’t be about ragged clothing

or mud huts with broken walls

or river blindness

or murram roads

or bad humoured fields that hoard curses

and promise that there won’t be a harvest this year or next

 

This isn’t the poverty of sleep

or for that matter, dreams

 

This is my deep loss, my poverty:

He will never touch my hand again

He will never touch my hand

 

Day 63

Walter says life is hard

He says that there is nothing we can do about it

Walter says I have to be happy to be alive

 

Walter says to be alive is better than being dead

Be happy, Walter says

Be happy to be alive

 

If being dead is not all that it’s cracked up to be

Then what was that all that rush about?

For my happiness?

 

Day 64

There have been three so far

Three men who walk with your gait

Who turn, head first, the way you used to

Walk like you did, sauntering like a cat

 

Laugh with your laugh

Flick the wrist the way you used to

just before you pointed your finger to make a point

 

All three men wore your face for a moment

Lighted mine up

 

You mean to say?

 

And then you were gone again

and the men were just ordinary men

doing ordinary things

 

Three imposters

Three who acquiesced to your tricks of reminding me

that you used to be by me

Day 65

Often times I want to become words

I want to inhabit forgetting as a state of being

 

Other times I think that if we wore a cloak of silence

Then our invisibility would not be seen as repair

or a sign that everything was good

 

The problem of becoming silence is that silence doesn’t exist

 

It wasn’t ever completely silent

Nothing stopped to pay attention

Nature chattered on, busy with life cycling

And subsumed us into the process

Day 66
Sometimes I want to melt into the earth
I want to imagine that some time in the future
Children will run over the soil that I’ve become

Day 67

Some days
I want to stare at the sky
Perhaps I can learn something, anything
Some days I think about how important the sky has become
I think about it so much and in so doing, I make it exist
I make the sky an endless and expansive backdrop of blue

 

If there was a sky, how could it witness what it did
& maintain that calm hue?

Day 68

There’s no denying that these haunted days

Are not necessarily days of grey

There are flowers everywhere

Beauty is always undeniable

These hundred days are haunted days not grey ones

These hundred days are filled with ghosted moments

just like every day

 

Day 69

The world turns as it does

Spinning on its own axis and then around the sun.

Perhaps this galaxy is also spinning around something bigger

Perhaps all the worlds spin in order to avoid dealing with the numbers:

 

Fourteen

Three

All of them

Six from my in-laws

and all of my siblings, parents and their children

Twenty seven

Thirteen

Everyone

Everyone

All of them

Six

Nine

Twelve

My husband and all my children – seven in all

Two

Nineteen

I don’t know

I can’t count anymore

Nobody came back

I don’t know if they ran away to safety or

If they’re just all gone

 

Day 70

Too close for comfort when everyone around looks like you.

Too close when they speak your language

Too close when you’re from the same house

Same meal at the table

Same sofa

Same containment of the heart

 

We became other people

We were them, those ones

And in being slaughtered and reported as slaughtered

We lost any claim to intimacy or self

Even animals don’t commit slaughter

 

100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 71-80

Inspired by the quiet homage to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that Wangechi Mutu started posting on social media on April 6, I decided to respond. I offer these poetic pieces as a way to think about the way in which we navigate through knowing about and understanding the genocide and other wars that endure.

Here are Days 71 – 80 as they come

Day 71

Who says alas in the presence of betrayal?

Who dizzies away, swirling skirts & claims of nausea

Alas, alas, all the hand wringing!

 

It shouldn’t have been this way?

It shouldn’t?

 

It shouldn’t have been forms the dregs from the past

 

It shouldn’t have been this way

 

Would it have been better that all this was lobbed at your head?

Would it have been better if yours was the stuff of our nightmares?

Day 72

The difference between the top screw

and the bottom screw is this: direction

 

We are squeezed in by the past and the present

Everything is relative, they say

God and religion and offer escape from the screw

in the name of forgiveness, reconciliation & clean heartedness

 

Be like Jesus, forgive

Be like Jesus, remember to pray and to pay taxes

Be like Jesus, wear robes,

Have your first cousin shout in the streets about the second coming of yourself

Be like Jesus, hang out with prostitutes – love the sinner and all that

Above all be like Jesus and demand an answer in the moment of your cross

Why, God, have you forsaken us?

Day 73

There are witness stones along all roads

Between Jinja and Kampala

The road to Damascus

The roads leading to Kigali or Rome

Even the road less travelled

The old majesty of Kenyatta Avenue

Khao San, Via Dolorosa

And the Sea to Sky highway

where every few steps they say

is marked by the blood

of a foreign and indentured worker

 

Did you ever know stones in the road to scream?

They did in those days, you know

They still do sometimes

Day 74

In thirty- nine days there will be no more hindsight for sure

Today already there’s hardly any

No foresight

No insight

No encryption

 

In thirty-nine days, like today

There will be the same dullness about

The same powdery taste to everything

The same floaty feeling — the eerie pull to something beyond now

 

Ants keep busy

They have figured out that life is for living

And death is for dying

 

There is no space for those of us

Who are not dead and have yet to be resurrected

Day 75
There is evidence that this was a conspiracy of silence:
the insistence of green grass
the luminosity of a full moon
the leathered skin of the dead
the smile of skulls
flowers
the roar of the rushing river
endless, endless hills

If there was a shocked response
If this was an unnatural state of being
If this was a never, ever kind of situation
Why didn’t the world turn upside down?

Day 76

Another angle would have you believing that this is how it went down

This and specifically this.

And they will be right.

This is how it went down:

 

There were days upon days

Days upon days

Days upon days

Days upon days

Days that never seemed to end

Who’s to say when the first of a hundred days begun?

Day 77
We tried to sing but ended up croaking
We who used to be songbirds
In time, our throats had gotten dry

This is what happens when you start counting
Days in hundreds from a date that never was

Day 78

Insouciance must be blue

How else could we explain a sky that witnesses
And still insists on magical hues of its self?

Insouciance has to be blue
From royalty to madness
From the marked maleness of babies
To those that stayed death
From indigo at midnight
To the peasant hue of the mother of God
Another young woman to whom a hole in the pale sky announced
That she would bear a child
That she would bear
A boy dressed in madness

How else can we explain the resonances, echoes and exceptions?

The mother of God in us mothers of sons who had to be killed
& God in the mothers whose sons had to be killed

Day 79

A piece of cloth in a breeze

A clump of mud

A memory of desire

A broken yellow pencil with black stripes

Staedler Noris HB2 Made in Germany

A small stone

A clump of grass

A day

A pinched nerve

A delicate smell

A hill

A faded sign above the shop

Reads oca Cola It’s the Real

A child runs across the way

A list of jumbled images

 

None of which takes me away long enough to forget

 

Day 80

There is something inconsequential about all of this

One foot in front of another

One foot in front of another

To what end?

 

A nothing in front of a nothing

Round a round

Round a round

 

Never again and reconciliation

Like wayward birds about my head

Round a round a round a round a round

 

Blindfold me or not

Here’s another spot on the map

Where people are walking

One foot over another

One foot over another hundred days