The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems by Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek: Days 43 to 1

Zócalo Poets

Wangechi Mutu_Days 3_2_1_The End_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary Wangechi Mutu_Days 3_2_1_The End_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

 . . .

Juliane Okot Bitek
100 Days: a poetic response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days
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Day 1
I have nothing
I stand before you with nothing
I am nothing

You stand before me with nothing

I don’t know what I know
but I know that you know nothing

Having come from nothing
To nothing & from nothing
Let my nothing meet your nothing

We may find something there.
.
Day 2
This will not be a litany of remembrances:

We know who the guilty are
The guilty know themselves

This is a charge against the witnesses
& those who cannot speak

This is a charge against those who speak incompletely
& incoherently

Against nature who saw everything & did nothing
against the bodies that dissolved
& the ones that refused to dissolve
those that insisted on writing the landscape with bones

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100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 1-10

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 1-10 as they come

Day 1

I have nothing

I stand before you with nothing

I am nothing

You stand before me with nothing

I don’t know what I know

but I know that you know nothing

Having come from nothing

To nothing & from nothing

Let my nothing meet your nothing

We may find something there.

 

Day 2

This will not be a litany of remembrances:

We know who the guilty are

The guilty know themselves

This is a charge against the witnesses

& those who cannot speak

This is a charge against those who speak incompletely

& incoherently

Against nature who saw everything & did nothing

against the bodies that dissolved

& the ones that refused to dissolve

those that insisted on writing the landscape with bones

This is a charge against pain

against heartbreak

against laughter

against the dead.

 

Day 3

We were pock-marked by these things:

a torrent of accusations falling like rain

bayonet sticks

lies

We were mocked

by faith in tiny shards

by the cross, with its pliant figure

representing grace

or representing the presence of God

What God in such a time?

What God afterwards?

What God ever?

Day 4

Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
We have run out of days

Day 5
What do I remember?
Nothing but the contagion of stories
What do I want to say?
What do I want to say?

Day 6
Images from those days return like silent movies
The available light of the rest of this life and I
can’t hear anything
Just the silent movies

Day 7

Then we stumbled into the place where words go to die

& where words come from

 

First we bathed in it in it like sunbathers

then we washed ourselves in it

we rinsed our mouths out

shampooed our hair

swam in the words

& at night

we covered ourselves in words

& went to sleep

 

at night

the nightmares returned

but the dreams also came

 

Day 8

Justice woke up and went to work

but no one showed up

 

Justine, not justice, went to work

but no one showed up

 

Justice and not Justine

woke up and went to work

but no one showed up

 

women woke up and went to work

no one knows where Justine and/or

Justice are doing these days

Day 9
These days
circle and circle
some days soar from above like kites
others circle around and around
like hyenas waiting for the story to die

some sit
some stand in long legs
vultures wait
some stay some change seats
others come and go
some dive in
some walk, crawl, cycle
dial on the radio to listen
to stories in embers
stories aflame
stories in stories
stories stoking stories
stories stalking stories
stories in circles & circles

those stories haven’t yet killed me

Day 10

What indeed

constitutes

the criminalizing function

of language in media?

 

Stuffed

Hacked

Punched

Pumped full of bullets

Slaughtered

& left to rot on the street

 

Pigs

Dogs

Cockroaches

 

People murdered

Calculated and rated on a per hour basis

& sometimes exacted to ethnic & tribal

differences

struggles

divisions

clashes

 

Never people you know

Until they are

 

Blog Hopping

I’ve been “tagged” by author and friend Daniela Elza to join in a game of blog hop. Daniela writes poetry, teaches and she’s an all round fabulous person. To see her post on: http://strangeplaces.livingcode.org/2014/06/15/blog-hop/

I’m thrilled to be involved in this blog hopping. The rules of the game: answer four questions about your writing and writing process, and tag three more people.

What am I working on?

I’m working on a poetry project, 100 Days in which I post a poem everyday for 100 days.  I was and remain inspired by Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu http://wangechimutu.com
Wangechi began posting a photograph a day on social media on April 6, the twentieth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide, Kwibuka 20. I knew I had to write poetry for that. Some of the poems have found a home here and here

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It might not differ from other poetry projects in that it is still poetry but perhaps it may be different in that 100 Days is inspired by a photo project commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide.

Why do I write what I do?

I want to think through what it might mean to come through such a devastating event and never ever get over it or want to. I’m also using these poems to consider that which cannot be celebrated, that which may not be popular reading. How do I get so serious sounding sometimes? Jeez!

How does my writing process work?

Does it work? Yes, but only when it does. I think about something then I write it down. Sometimes I obsess over it and tinker with it a lot. Other times I do a basic clean up. My writing process depends on what I’m writing, I guess. For this project, I’ve spend a lot of time with a voice that is exhausted, angry, bitter and yet still hopeful. For what? I don’t know.

Thank you, Daniela Elza. I’ll be posting the bios of the next three blog hoppers soon.