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& in historical documents & even in the oral stories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