Track — Dua la Nafsi

(when i go, i leave behind these chains that hold me down?)
Unapanga breath,
Ndio usiwahi—lose tracks, hapo mwanzo kulikuwa na neno,
wengi wakai—take for granted
Unshushwa pendo, hadhi yako stendi stranded
Pasipo maua ya kufarijisha nafsi
Huku ulimwengu sio duara, la mawe kambi
wakati,
mafikra mafichoni
unaitazama life, darubini imemwagwa machozi
Unapangwa chenji
mkono unaokurudishia gharika ndio hapo mwanzo ileleta faraja
Udongo ndio kirusi
wanaotaja nyeusi pamba,
Almasi chini ya pressure
Ukuwe nini ka taabu hazikukuongeza majukumu ya kuwa mwanafalsafa?
(when i go, i leave behind these chains that hold me down?)
Kaseti ikivuta kamba
We ulikuwa mfa—maji,
kuishi ka driver wa meli inazama
Moyo ukaskuma damu
sio vingine
vya kupambwa bustani la kovu
mwili ukalazwa bovu, chuma chakavu
Juu sio,
kila mchele white, zingine black powder
Kiwanjani nuks,
kila moja si ana vita vya ku—
stahimili
siku ikifika, kwa foleni you
bow down for death be a reaper whose greater than you.

(when i go, i leave behind these chains that hold me down?)

Unafumanwa na maua yamekauka juu ya kutanda cha wafu
Hapo ndio maishako inageuzwa sinema, wakfu
Hadithi yako inasambaa
Hapo mwanzo ukaona haya
Uwanja vita vilichorwa kwako,
ukaguza waya, nafsi ikangoja kupona
Sometimes
nafsi yako ikichoka inakufilisi
Njia panda na uzito flani rohoni
Uliishi vya vita,
maisha ikakugeuza dondi
Macho ukifunga, body inabadilishwa zombie
Ulipangiwa wembe
karibu umpe mpasuaji kidole cha pete
Siku most, uko ndani ya War Room both knees bended
Ukaitazama ncha za penseli
ka labda mwisho utakuwa tofauti na hapo zamani
dunia ya rangi
dunia ya nani?
dunia, nyota, mbalamwezi
Unashuka chafu, ulipanda freshi
Unachomwa na barafu, unaposwa bolingo na theluji.

(when i go, i leave behind these chains that hold me down?)

“Form no gani?”
Kisichojulikana ndio huwaga inakupain ndani
Kisichokupa maana
ndio unashindwa kuihadhiria, foro—
dhani
Body ilikuwa wreck
Mind, visu sharper shinda razorblades
Ndio maana, soul ili—take stroll journey
(dua)
(dua)
(dua)
Vipigo ndio kisomo
Ukifumba macho ndio labda utalaza machungu unaokulemaza nafsi
Unachopuuza, mwingine anakililia,
ashindwe aituwe vipi dunia yote begani
Vinavyochungwa na risasi, wengine roho ilikufa ganzi
Meme philosopher, kuna wanaodhani kupumua no rahisi, funny (ha)
Ripoti mbaya,
Picha za kutafsiri mbaya zaidi
(when i go, i leave behind these chains that hold me down?)
Unapofunguka roho ndio labda watasema, kwa kila soko kuna chizi
Dunia, lami nyeusi
Inaskuma fahari, na pia inakupokea siku unafyonzwa na nzi
Ukiishi vya dhamana
Unachunwa ka bidhaa, kinachokupa mkono wa buriani
Ndio labda kinakupa mafunzo
Maua kwa pendo ni ya kurembesha
Na tena maua, vanity, no ya kutupwa juu ya jeneza.

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Cancer – A Reflection of the Narratives

1. “Fighting” cancer for 7 years, 3 months and 4 days has been what I call “lethal clarity” in one of my sold painting artworks.

I realise(d) how it grabs a hold of the fabric of one’s existence that soon after diagnosis your life is almost inspeparable from the one of many chronic illnesses that have continued to puzzle medical advancement for close to 3000 years now. An emperor of all maladies. It’s like a death sentence.

Honestly, with the kinds of losses I have taken, the deaths I have had to bear over the years (especially since last year in May), I don’t have the courage to pep-talk it as otherwise. Maybe it is, for many people (families and their diagnosed loved ones; a majority who cannot “afford the disease”, it is a death sentence).

And it was for me as well, a death sentence, has been. It was also a life sentence for me.

A sentence engraved in the stones and stars, to be or not to be, cancer became the iron-clad crab wound eating me marvelously, the worm that sometimes slowly threaded its rot into my being, the lethality of coming to face with one of the oldest fears known to man:

fear of the unknown, the fear of waiting…

I once wrote,

“Kungoja ndio the worst…

          Kungoja dhiki, nafsi ku—pass.”

There’s a gnawing, a grinding to a tragic halt of the mortal coil every human that gets a cancer diagnosis goes through. It, it lumps you into a mound of mud, a fabric of wood, suckled into by the long—beaked black birds and weevils (tumours).

Nyanyodhi sodho fuondeni, to hulo piny e chuodho. Chuodho mak yieng’. Buru ma iye kipong’. Thuth chami loki buru. Ihadhi ka lee e lwet jodwar ma kech ohewo laro lemo.

There’s a way you go the flower shop for your own funeral(s) – everyday after that. There’s a way that radiologist’s report from the room with skull plaque: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.

Yet, I wonder, if a cancer patient (or one yet to be diagnosed) is just, a personnel. A sticker note on the room with magic. The room where they study the universe inside the body on charcoal grey papers and bloody tubes.

That’s a why I named my reports Cures In Eulogy? and created a series of artworks and an album out of it, the first one that started to talk about my cancer journey.

It seemed like the eulogy I wrote and left it printing at some village cyber cafe in Kiplombe Eldoret on 2016.

It had a name. Birth. Ellipsis. Three dots. The end.

And three words to my daughter;

“I hope you find home, Awuor. When you do, I will look inside myself and see you, find you.”

Because that report, it spells death with the precision of fate. And it’s an overkill, it is the thing that kills many before cancer starts it’s nuke war on them.

There’s a pain that follows.

A redacted classification of fate as an overcast of death. And this isn’t probably the time to blurt out we are all dying. This kind of dying, of cancer, the first split of time after receiving that report — that pain you can’t name!

2. And for years I too didn’t know how to talk about it ever. Maybe I did. Because there’s, at the core of it, no insulation in breaking the news if a cancer diagnosis. I mean.

I could have said, “I have cancer.”

I didn’t. It took 2 years for mom to know. Some friends and family only got to know it much later, especially when I first talked about it publicly around 2015 in a post that attempted to explain my formerly imagery-laden poems tributing my journey.

And si I hear them saying stuff:

“If they find out I am having cancer, I am putting my affairs in order (like Bob did). I’ll probably be more pro-euthanasia…”

Look, no one has that kind of luxury with cancer. And even progressively liberal folks and societies, euthanasia isn’t a snap on the fingers. You may think it easy. But it is not. Will probably be a tough challenge.

There’s a certain existential crisis with which cancer diagnosis spirals on you (and it is worse towards late stage, end of life stages). It is a complex web of grief and its processes. It is possible to grace through it, gaining clarity and forming your meanings and purpose and finding your existential compass, but in my opinion from my experience, one does not escape the grip of this dilemma of life:

                         “Why?”

And when I did, talk about it (my cancer), I had already grieved myself to death. I had even almost considered myself dead and buried in 2015. I had already manifested my own funeral, the flowering of people into our home whenever there was a cry, and it was likely to be me. And twice home throbbed with wailers while I was there laying on mkeka, the Walkman slowly pulling the tape the surges of Ramogi, Omore and Collela bumping in headphones in my head. And it had already eaten into me. I was a splinter of bones and skin, a bat-man! I was already the eulogy in homes and especially market centre, whenever i passed with the cows they would whisper:

“Orach. Cancer ok tugo. Tuoni rach, mae ok kwo!”

And it didn’t even move me. Cause I too, was waiting.

And I refused to die. Those angels came many times on the roof. Near death experience without any medical intervention. I had left Nairobi for home, the sole purpose: to go and die and cut the costs of transporting my lifeless body inside a shinny bronze casket. I had gone home with a silent DNR. And death too refused to take me — I was ugly. It was ugly!

And it is unfortunately sad, the programming of our awareness to grief and the deep throat pain on our midst just because of the highlighted cases.

3. I have talked about cancer as if I were an expert at it, and maybe privy to me experiencing and surviving it, I am. Sometimes you get branded a “motivational speaker” and “life coach” and gikmakamago. But I have come to own to my creations of these words and the energy and intent behind them. I have received incredibly healing love right back at me not just from people directly affected by cancer but those going through life’s needle differently from sickness.

Sometimes that voices your story but also reflects a collection of a people’s journeys. The silent ones that nobody talks about. The ones that go without any glimmer of notice. The nobodies. The inconsequential ones. Sometimes it creates, for me, a little way to contribute to the speaking and advocacy of issues surrounding cancer and health care but mostly humanizing the whole process and attempting to give language that many are now finding useful in daily transactions with life – even outside cancer.

I have volunteered to work in pediatric cancer ward. And in 3 months I had one of my worst empathy burnouts last year. There was an afternoon I watched them pick 11 bodies, ripe in cancer, like the dandelion tree had wasted them away – kids, kids that didn’t even have a “fighting chance”. And those too are deaths I have survived. Those too are things that have made me question the worth of my survivorship with so much guilt and pain.

4. So when I talk(ed) about it, it is the narrative of my whole life. There’s no nakedness in me that cancer has not stained.

“Awuor mbese, omin chilo.”

It’s like, the doctor’s mouth pronouncing you the news. You have cancer. And all you could do is hear, fireflies crackling at the back of your head. Your whole life projecting on that wall of consciousness, like an old TV box, like those cinemas in the 90s, like a stolen script onto a scene — a movie within itself. And it’s blur yet so clear. And it’s true yet so hallucinating. And it’s lethal yet so tragically beautiful!

Ah, life!

And soon after, I became an instant oncology researcher. I’ve known a lot about my cancer that I am asked if I am a medic. And yes, cancer, if you are lucky to have a “fighting chance” turns an ordinary human into a resource — it should make you something beautiful too, in my own persuasions.

Then you become;

a survivor

a statistic

an anticipated grief

a lost cause

a wait and see

a miracle

a warrior

a thing

a death-to-be

a life to be lived

a breath to detonate

an if…

The language. The language of cancer is militant, morbid, tek-nical, mostly withdrawn and alien from the understanding of almost the entire population that survive it, ironical, hypothetical. Cancer’s only known language that many seem to understand its grasp is just, death.

And I get it.

One fam, who had taken me in. After a year of persuading dani to let her take care of her sister’s child.

She once said,Prognosis Mar liver cancer is usually very poor. Wek uru ketho pesa nono.”

This only hit me when we received my friend from India straight into the ICU in KNH and the politics became centred on the vanity of trying to (still) treat him. They asked his mama why she is keeping her son in that condition when there is clearly no chance of him ever getting up, or better.

It seems that from the very onset of things, the die already was cast. Eh, me niliambiwa tu point-blank, “Haina haja nani. Utatembea tu soon.”

Here’s is where you should listen to my album Journey and Soul more. Classic flawed album about my cancer story.

And for years I have struggled to write it. I have struggled to call my pain. I have struggled to humanize myself and my cancer and my journey. And so I am not even sensational because of “high profiled cases”. I had seen most of them in hospital corridors under heavy guard and disguise. Some I had shared the plane to India and the hospital’s with. Some I had witnessed fight, even shared stories with.

And it is unfortunately sad, the programming of our awareness to grief and the deep throat pain in our midst just because of the highlighted cases.

5. Often I wonder, how it is for many people who don’t even have this kind of platform to plug into whenever they feel low.

I have been the one person to show up for myself. For years, I struggled with cancer alone. And the net effect is in the way it has dismantled my vulnerability of being able to ask for help when I need it. It has rendered me powerless and useless moat of the times. It has really made feel unworthy and less of a human many times. I have been the, “If I can’t help this out, no one would,” I have been a nobody, till what was left for me is to pack my rugs having lost everything in the city and go home and wait for it.

ad I think that no matter how independent and self absorbed one is, at some point it may be you to make things happen yet most times – also – one always need another person’s help.

I have also been a miracle.

If anything, by all means I should have been long dead. And many people have given me breath in ways I cannot name and reciprocate or be grateful enough for. And I have breathed life into people too – because that’s what you do when you have so much life and yet living on a time crunch.

I’m resilient as shit. The things I have survived besides cancer, things in this life, acha tu. I find myself thinking how ugly it must be for many people cause I remember my many years of deep isolation and life mocking shame, indescribable pain, dark mental disorientation and the trail of financial crisis that crowns or all.

6. I have been keen to watch, listen and hear the ignorance with which people peddle cancer narratives. And maybe as an economist and a researcher, that’s a valuable resource to exploit in terms of developing sensitization policies and programs or understanding how to shift the national psyche towards an enlightened, informed, health conscious and aware thinking. Maybe that could be helpful in tailoring specific interventions for different demographical units.

But as a cancer survivor most of them have shocked and disgusted me.

Why is it so hard for someone to say, “I don’t know what to say. Or I have no idea what this is”?

Why must cyberspace offer so much reckless breakdown of simple things as honesty whenever we do not know?

My truth is, the reasons why cancer hasn’t been cured yet are varied but tend to circle four key points;

(a) if one is alive and has cells actively replicating, dying and passing genetic information, one technically stands a chance of developing cancer. Red more on Telomere

(b) the best possible way to get rid of bad, rogue, cancerous cells without endangering the good ones (which is what chemo does, chemotherapy hasn’t yet been developed to discriminate the good cells while killing the bad ones. That’s why chemo and lost cancer drugs are at kaerge also poisonous to the body)

(c) almost all kinds of food, agents and contacts have potential risk value. Carcinogens are in things that some we consider normal parts of our food.

(d) the imagination that there is a cure, because its probably out there and the fact that the universe (read nature) has its own remedies or tends to know how to cure itself

There was a time when people would look over the fence and whisper, “Gino chamo jokang’ane tharali.”

And the talking wouldn’t stop until it hits them home too. Until “gino” knocks a hodi home and you too realise you’re expendable.

There was a time when it was a rich man’s disease. Those with sugary lifestyles. Now, the worst, it is on the poor. And it’s rearing its ugly stomach into them like the bottomless pit of hunger and greed. And there’s no known defense. It eats money like nonsense and eats the flesh of those without monies and insurance policies till nothing is left to be eaten.

There was a time cancer became the new HIV/AIDS. And it had a name. The C-word.

Tuo Marach. Ayaki Mayaka.

And it became easier for many to wear its disguise instead of being defiled by stigma associated with HIV/AIDS because a lot of people still think only promiscuous sexual activities causes HIV. Now there’s HPV and cervical cancer and the deep entanglement of causations.

There was a time when money was thought to be its cure. You could globe trot in fancy shuttle and be a medical tourist and maybe be under gentle hands of expert oncologists in state of the art facilities and ultra modern treatment plans. Now with all that, one may still come back home, a silent mound of things that couldn’t become (possible) – a mute clay of cancer’s defilement.

There was a time when it was one of the incurable diseases that many religious foks believe were prophesized in scriptural end times, ones that plagues the earth in scorching mystery. There was a time it would be called God’s equalizer, of the sparkling poor and the filthy rich. But even God must be having such a sick sense of humor to use a debilitating disease as cancer to mark the scorecard. What a tragic playwright!

There was a time when the old were prone to catching it. Now a day old is incubated. Already fighting it. Born into the motif of flaws. Terribly poor with the odds from their own beginnings.

There was a time when it was in the things we eat and our indulgences. Sugar. Milk. Wheat. Meat. Chemicals. Cigarettes. Alcohol… But the paradox will choke you to a beautiful death. Now everything is unsafe. Being human, born alive, is the first qualification of unsafe.

There was a time you could hear conspiracies. The big pharma. The cures in alternative treatment. The future is herbal. Go marijuatherapy. Stop chemo. Go natural. Cut these foods. Now whichever you swing, you still may end up with a burnt bet. Very bad for the business of being alive. Some say the figures are inflated. That the easiest way to get cancer is to go for screening. You go tu just like this, and you get it. So folks, especially young peeps, cats are scared mad!

There was a time when it was called all manner of things. Now it is cancer. In whole of Africa, cancer probably has no name. And we might say it is a “recent arrival”, yet perhaps its the data that got here late. We still struggle fitting our data properly even for the sole purpose of documenting cancer as cause of death.

In Kenya, it’s huko namba 3. Inachezea juu ya pool na cardiovascular and infectious diseases. They say 35k a year. I think it is more.

There’s a time you’d scream declare cancer a national disaster. Then wuot?

Ati because of profiled deaths.

There was a time when you’d want a state of the art cancer speciality hospital. Maybe one in each county. Then wuot?

You see, cancer diagnostics should be the key here. And that means a proper, functional, equipped, capable, staffed and resourced primary health care. Without which we escape the route and build skyscraper models like the ones littering Nairobi skylines. Yet the basic questions such as food security, basic universal education and health care… still roam at large unattended to.

That makes such an envisioned speciality facility a referral hub for special cases and ultimate treatment centre. That strengthens the ladder of hospital levels building their capacities to handles cases that they can and refer the others that demand more than they can offer to these specialised hospitals. That means doctors and nurses and hospital staff are properly remunerated, trained, regularly retrained to adapt with new changes and technology, held accountable and put to task.

That means that we realise that cancer is not just a diseases but who we are.

We, humans, people, are the worst kind of cancer!

The tumour is our own biggest undoing. Our installation of power to a body of vultures fleshing us apart. Our complacency. Our easy to tune models of thinking through adverts, school system, gratification, media enticements, ego… The way we subbotage, clobber and wave war with so much vengeance on each other. The manner in which wrve forgotten love, kindness, gratitude, respect and in turn put so much power in material wealth, fear, violence, lies, pride… The way we treat nature with so much contempt and cruelty. The way we get stringed in the noises of our own hypocrisy and ironies.

Look at us.

Look at how cancerous we are.

Before we name cancer. Before we mourn when it’s highlighted and profiled. Before we go back to not asking, individually, ourselves:

“What’s my cancer? What cancer am I? How am I killing myself and others?”

Before we give power to names, oh the things in names! How cancer carries more death than flu. How death is dreadful than birth and yet what separates those two scenes in the grand screenplay of things is the large, boundless, dark void of the unknown – one which we devise incessantly to conquer and understand.

Before cancer, this is us.

I’ll end this here.

In this note, are personal opinions, some may lean on the expert side. I take responsibility of any hurting it may give an impression of and declare that that is honestly not my intention.

If you are a cancer survivor, like me, I see you and i send you love.

If you are a cancer survivor, like caregivers and their support systems, I acknowledge your efforts, humanity and strength.

If you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, may healing, grace and love be your portion.

If you are waiting, for a diagnosis, for a review, for an appointment. I don’t know what best to say, other than hope that you see that we all are trying to just breathe and be alive.

If you’re going through it, fighting it, like me. Ah, may we learn to write our sentences unapologetically authentic and beautiful and inspiring.

If you’re going about life with your own share of heartbreaks, pains, darkness, questions… that may seem unique to only you, there’s help that can be done, and I hope you find it in you and others. And if there isn’t anything else to be done, may love see you through.

And to all who’ve left us, I cherish you through remembrance, honor, memory, pain, regrets, lessons and life after yours.

With love, O.

Remembering Francis

Francis had a remarkable love for flowers.

 

I don’t remember calling him grandpa, I remember calling Francis. Because that’s how his girl used to call him. But mom, I don’t think anyone dared call her Mary. It felt abominable when her friends and neighbours would just go, “Marie,” “Nya-Abiero,””Min Otieno,” and I would cringe for their sake. How dare they?

 

She’d stand; hands on her waist, love in her eyes, home around. With a brittle yet shy smile she’d sternly assert, “Francis.”

 

There’s a way a woman who loves you like you love her breaks you. Her magic cracks you from your stubborn parts. She catches you blind to your revolt, and there vulnerable as the thud of a heart beating itself soft in service of the body’s life.

 

Francis would know it’s over for him. Finished.

 

“Very well, let’s work on it together.”

 

If they ask where my few words were bred, that’d be Francis. I think in a way he was more expressive in his personal space, in isolation, in composure while engaging his musings.

 

I never saw or heard these two lovebirds war. For two people who were completely opposite of the other, so different that they were the same, that amazed me, still does. Because its easy for your person to become a rustle of leaves beneath your feet as you walk forth, way from their consideration. It’s easy for contempt to rear itself on live, because then the things that separate people become their blindspots, often the expectations they hang on to disregarding the need for completeness than competition.

 

Mama was very strict. Today age has given her a beat, her demeanour has lost grip, I tell my young cousins coming up when how lucky they are my old girl won’t put up an ass shopping show for their cheekiness. Mama was militant! One time I crossed the fence and walked home in protest of Catholic masses every morning in primary school, my desolate boarding says and a school assembly was called on my name. You’d get beat proper; you know. And a warning would hang in the air for the rest of the week, or term perhaps. That kind of beating would land her in a jail today I swear, now that I am thinking I ever contemplated reporting her to the children’s department, who does that? 😂

 

“Kiwinjo kipong’ iromo, idwa dhao gi jopuonje, to mak yoo idhi lang’o idhi kwa dhok! Nyathi sikul nyaka bed disciplined, sikul ok en mier mitime dwaroni iwuon. And I will personally take this to the next PTA meeting, rieyo u ok ditama…”

 

And that was just a PTA chairperson.

 

Sometimes I wonder how she was when she taught at Rae or Nyakach or Garissa. The other truth is I have never met a docile teacher of mama’s peer. All were militant af. Strict, disciplinarian.

 

Mom loved to farm. It was beautiful how she bonded with great grandma, Rosbela. I can still see their backs drenched with sweat, and I am in the shade colouring with an ultimatum to finish my small jug of uji. Must have been my love for uji was a co-dependent love affair, I had to love uji. But Rosbella was one of my favourite persons whose only memory remaining with me are her small lit eyes, her crocheted sweater top, holiday story-telling, her seasoned kienyeji vegetables and people flocking home when she passed.

 

And Francis. Francis loved flowers. I had never been to a home that had as much flowers as ours. When home was home, and life flowered on it. Ochuka ne ler. A perfectionist with a measure of a neat-freak — I think that’s why they called him Ja-Plan (the planner). If possible, I think he had names for all the nails in the tool box. He was a master artist: a composer, pianist, guitarist, poet, historian, teacher, florist, photographer, librarian, sociologist, carpenter… even his farming was artistic.

 

Every time I go home, I try my fingers on his guitar. It had a sticker, “Learn to Play Guitar for Christ”. Sometimes I find myself immersed in his collection of recordings in cassettes: lectures, history of the Luo people, selected biographies, recordings of school and church music festivals, family meetings, and selected eulogies. And I remember sitting beneath the piano in the evenings as the keys toothed each other in fierce beauty.

 

Sometimes I read his handwritten works and wonder how perfectly our handwritings match, they lean the same, they chord with such an impeccable resemblance.

 

Sometimes I go to the hardware and hold the tools, and I’d feel his hands again.

 

Every tree, flower, structure had a well labelled tag. Francis would have named grass on the lawn. The soft, small-winged grass. Back then its carpeted home so beautifully, today only remains lurk in distant waste.

 

Today, Ja-Plan’s house blueprint is in many homes, needless to say it has been hard to replicate that design.

 

When I walk home and the old gate plaque reads,

 

“Francis Ochuka Obong’o

Residence, Est 1982

East Nyakach Location

Kandaria Sub-location.”

 

I know my journeys have treaded further distant and near, but they’ve docked me back home, home sweet home. The plate has weathered years of peeling, erosion and faint so my uncle had to repaint it. And it misses his own magic, yet it is the have that welcome me back home, before K’ochuka, now Ka-min-Otieno.

 

They say nostalgia is bud of familiar memory shooting off the tree of life. And one evening I. 2005, I walked into what remained of our home library and wiped the dust on the mirror framed on the book shelf and thought to myself, “Hmmm, Francis is that you?”

 

Growing up, I didn’t look much like him. When puberty set in, I was slowly alchemizing into a young Francis. And folks would tell me all the time, I just thought, “Ah, it’s probably them being sentimental, they miss him.”

 

That afternoon, on my near-death epiphany, I didn’t see myself I saw Francis in his prime. My grade school results were just out, and I missed his would-be joy, having scored so well awaiting to join high school.

 

It was one of those dark room moments when memories develop into a perfect scene, reenacted. The sandhra orange half peeled, the typewriter clacking, the needle prodding the vinyl some oldies rendering the room, his hair greying than before. That orange was the last we picked from orundu, he trembled a bit when I gave him a layer, some juice trickled to his shirt, I wiped it. He cleared his throat and thanked me.

 

I was just beginning to learn my father. A small boy beneath his wings. In his life, I doubt any other person knew Francis like I and mama.

 

When his sun neared the west, in orangery marvel, I was with him. Our last Rusinga tour looking for flowers, I had no idea it was training for days that would follow, without him. We went to Muhoroni to collect sample of sugarcane stalks. We visited Muma, Asenath Odanga, Prof Ogot, Dr. Yaya. We spent most days gardening. We sang and we wrote. We painted his waking stick, red and white. We typed files, of what would have become his book, now either in someone’s accolade or part of the ashes that rummaged our home library. We kept home files secure, an inventory of wealth and titles and information. We visited his sisters and friends. We went to government meetings. We toured and had safaris.

 

So, I wrote one of my beat songs Duog Itera Bayo (Come Back Take Me for A Safari) as a tribute. I eulogise him. In that song is the first time I truly set him free, and remembered his soul as an eternal part of me. We sampled his guitar sessions on the strings and The Supreme Jubilee on the chords. And the album on which the song is featured was inspired by my family graveyard signpost that read: Hembko Mag Yiko, the Graveyard Stretch.

 

I was only beginning to become. 10 years of life, he said I was a future happening in the mind. And pops loved me dearly, I loved him back. Francis was my mother’s father but to me he will always be mine too.

 

And so, May rains remind me of his brown piece of casket, gleaming with magnificence. He didn’t change much. He was just frozen; I could count his hair because they had grown back. I remember I didn’t talk for days. My tongue was inside my stomach. His passing sickened me. I remember watering his flowers, in vain, they died and withered data after we laid him. I still recall Atieno’s last cry, his casket lowered. Japuonj, he always called her. I think Atieno may have been his favourite child, they were each other’s person. I remember not wanting to ever hear the song they sang those last seconds. I remember the charcoal cloud, hanging over the hills, and yet it didn’t pour. I remember the okstima (pressure lamp) hissing as we reminisced in his memory the night after his burial. And we all cried, again.

 

So, each May’s end, I am down that road. And I wonder if he walks through a garden of flowers in the blue skies or if he roots beneath the good earth and wonders what have become of us who he left behind. And it’s beautiful because in it, we become. We have turned from dreams to life. We have memorised ways to breathe. We have not forgotten how to love, especially for there is no profound lesson I have from Francis than love. We keep inching closer to the family that would be his joy would he still here today.

 

And I still smile exactly like him behind these glasses when my old girl calls me Francis. And I think like me, she has remembered his love all these years. And every day I keep looking more like him, a splitting replication of his person, soul, humanity and resemblance.

 

https://bit.ly/2VX3V1B

Track — i (who have nothing)

Cage ballads,
worms crawling on this body
Days of ladders,
When my soul unzips,
I can hear the skies falling
The rains calling
Blu said
Sometimes heaven is below the sky
I’ve put myself under these dirty acres
Sometimes,
I wanna rip my fabrics with a lethal temper
Paper punch on my flesh
Is like the sequence of bad flaws coding my pain
Rebel DNA
versus narratives of faith
And when my old girl prays,
I feel a little broken
Playground swings are rusty
And the grass towers her when she runs around feeling happy
She plants the flowers of my father in my veins
She walks me through the valley
with amazing grace
When I met the Eclipse
I was a spacecraft,
The night star bulging through the universe breaking atoms wide open
Then all my dreams deferred
Tears falling on the exam scripts
The graveyard stretch
Dust granules, game theory,
professor who died before he dreamt
The one who had nothing,
just a body to decay
The glory of the highway
Life’s a wonder,
I who swallowed his soul to repair my pain
The binary stars
They say every word are between zero and one
I dedicate this to melancholia
I stub dreams where stains covers my canvas
I touch these brailles with the scars of fatal lovers
The ones who thought we wouldn’t survive
Before we get tossed on the graveyard
Feral bladder
Think tank but my memory dwell in tumours

I’m with the felt
The disgraced,
the dispelled,
the ones who warm their souls with their inner flames
I’m with the rejects
Walked out on, the despised and the nobody’s
I’m with the ones entangled in defects
Walked on, rewind this record if you feeling me
I’m with the hopeless
Pills and noose, razor blades on the wrists
I’m with the forgotten
The ones who also swallow their pain and drown in misery when push comes to shovel
I’m with you momma
I know how hard it gets,
I love you momma
I’m with the everyone
Who lost a loved one
Their pictures hanging on the walls at home
Tears full of ashes
Verses from wheelchairs,
to lame limbs walking by the crutches
And when I die don’t put my body into churches
The eye of the pen is ratchet
That’s why they didn’t feel me when I wrote my Eulogy
and left it at the cyber café
The world is a facade
That’s why we be looking for love but grow more sad
I who mourned in Cures, and bled down the drain
I can still touch her beautiful face
I could’ve named her shadows after my mother’s pain
I could’ve
Carved another sad poem where the soils put you under, you laid
But you were only a few weeks old
I wonder why life’s dance floor is death
The vinyl put an evil needle in my brain
I remember when
they burst open my body to find a cure that could last for days
I remember when
they mourned me everytime someone slept at home, you dig?
Lightworker, light warrior
Fireflies spark symphonies in the dead of the night
I who left my own future on the sonogram
I was only 19,
and I had turned a soul too grey
Tragic comedy
Sick humours when these songs play
And I think I would rather be a poet
I’d rather be a stream,
than be an empty bottle of lost messages
floating on the ocean
I’d rather be a fire on the forest
My soul yearns for deeper love and depth
Titanic
She gives me joy when she colours crayons beside me
She’s the motif in all my stories
In coma twice, I saw her cross the rivers to watch over me
And even though
The last ship is swimming without a cure inside of me
I still open my wounds and paint more than my blood group
My name is O
I survive in a degenerating body
I write menus for your soul food
I am whack but when the wires strangle with my voice trust me it’s blue

And I think they would think this my letter for my suicide
Reshuffle pills on the shelf before you die
Hycinth
Bad weeds growing in my rich soils
They say the last secret to the cure is almost ready to fit the puzzle
The cell is our casket
Shiny under glass windows, contrast a hundred percent
We cross bridges when we get there
I who watch the black holes as the moon serenades
I who slopes the gradient
Of death’s paranoia
Congenital holes, everyone is born with a blemish on their head
From the gates of our mother’s pains
To the red clay, brown grass and yellow tape
From fluffy sponge at birth
To dry mud when the reaper comes to farm
I who fights through irreparable degrade
I who has nothing,
just a sick tongue that mourns everybody who been late
I who cries laughing
I who believes doubting
I who’s juicy with the love, sappy
Sentimental, crown my roses when I am still here breathing
Before they paint pictures on the tee-shirt
Before I become memory lost in the fly trap
The Web of candescent flowers
Black keys and white keys
Begire they put a record on my poetry
A catalogue of beautiful ugly
Every ugly road I put under the chasis
I don’t need devices to dig a hole through your soul
But they would rather
Watch this bubble fade to blackness
And say I am probably addicted to my sadness
I who have nothing
I who brings the angels on my roof when I sing
I who’s broken, yet they’d rather bury deep
My joy is sad but that don’t mean I don’t weep
So when my body unfolds finally
And I grind to a stop don’t cry
just close your eyes and dream
of a place where maybe
there’s no grief

Endless Nothing

Inspired by Mike Wudz’s Endless Nothing

Faithful,
are the wounds of my emptiness
I press call,
“Ma’ I think my body is dying again.”
“Bless you
Baby boy you been dying ever since you came to this place.”
I pen from my soul
But nothing streams
is like the ink is drying on the jars of clay
Haikus only
Every —
day
I stare at the abyss, and nothing looks back
Unashamedly ugly,
with these beautiful scars
There’s a cut — throat
Everyday feels like another black spot
My spirits are weak,
feel like I can’t climb up the rope
As my life flows
Through beams of therapy,
They say you can’t avoid the muddy road
Yellow tape video
Everything is pain,
we tread through the mills
be grinding slow
Everything unfolds
back to the clean slate
Bubbles through the ventilators
Maybe the air we breathe is our denominator
decimator
Life fetcher
My grandma says healing is entangled in a mess
These violins cut me deep
I think of bad codes that worm my body down and weep
I think of the last hand to touch me better be gentle with me
I think of my daughter growing far away from me

I dream in grey, my body be a black site
But I promised myself all the joy it brings
To know I still breathe
even when am down with defeat
I think of the small gears of victory
that still grind inside of me
I still beat my bloody wings till the cage is free
I still wonder if solitude cures my nights when I bleed
I think of my bones laid down at home
And I become another grain of memory
Everything dies
Everything gets rusty
Everything gets old
Flowers blossom,
dead by dawn
women cry their souls
The kind of love that puts a father before
the mirror when a child is born
Coordinates on the book of the last chess
Black box
bird-box, and we still survive wars with our blindfolds on
Long after the crowd is gone
You asking what you did wrong?
Long after the clouds hang over your head
and you beg at the lonely gate

Prisoned by fear,
Poisoned by rivers
Before we turn our decaying bodies into memes
Before you crowdsource for funds that could help you heal
Before you watch the ugly stain destroy your dreams
Before you sing from your bones and write from your wrist
Before ER, OR IV drips and the pills
Before the tumors inside you are endless pits
You dust the face of the universe with a clothe of grief

Sometimes we ache
Sometimes it’s lick shots,
the barrel empties ashes on the grave
Sometimes we watch all the glory we trade
All the sour grapes,
they say our fruits fell out strange
They say we grew up with no fathers
How were we fathered?
We hang on love to remedy our lonely days
Sidewalks
Sometimes we feel like our gifts are misplaced
When call buttons look like a way to be ashamed
You wanna call for help but you be afraid
When every breath is an apology for your mistakes
The world is like all or nothing
For you the struggles mean everything
Through violent storms,
you survived but couldn’t be free
For the past is a difficult thing to outrun
When shadows engulf your soul, can it be undone?
Black chimera
How can God be one?
I still sprout through the concrete, and the change is none
I saw Pac thru the bullets on his body
I still bleed sad songs, free my soul, empty my universe
I saw bad weeds growing inside of me
Some I converted into poetry
I’m still a piece of nothing in the puzzle
The deck is empty but fate still reshuffles
Blinders, faith is window to the soul?
Cause one day we won’t cry no more

Indigo Blues

Inspired by Mike Wudz’s Indigo Blues

Plug your scars with the fire within
Across time even clocks don’t rewind the mystery beneath
Whether you a letter in a bottle (genie)
From wombs to indigo flowers on the tomb (feel me)
To rebel mantra crossing life with no major itinerary (gypsy)
From using blues as tools of trade
Now thus body is a flute, no rehearsals on the stage
Evicting pain through the night
And carrying weight of a dead crown by day
It’s rhapsody
Attention span melancholic
Now we use elements combined to escape our tragedies
Break ground rules, watching cyberspace command our lost pain
Morning star, blind by the aftermath
Half of me eroded, the other half is like a record stuck
Few seconds of sample and am already put emotions on the blades of grass
Mower with the touch of brass
Mourner with the smudge of tar
Through wars you risk being your own dark
Your own greyhound
Your own wounds have your own bite marks
And grief froze you to the shoreline with the foreign sands
You see pain as a stranger invading your turf
But you the enemy
In fact you put the chemistry together in your own lab
Sublime is how the black powder in the battery dies
The breakdown
The wreck-down,
The trench town with a hole in the heart
And prayers are conversations that God don’t like
And emptiness can change your lemon into illusionary lime
Lights emit from neon twilight
Who will come to change the needle where the player rewinds
It’s no rhyme
In fact what you call times
Are lethal wounds that haven’t closed for years
Cookies on the browser history
A grain of sand in the eye can make your sight deplete
Like the curse in the ground
We circle energy prints
The cartridge goes
On and on and on
Its the high noon before the sun falls
The higher you stroll through the mind the deeper you get lost

Planet Pain

Inspired by Mike Wudz

Put God on the pedestal
And peel the universe inside out
Where you think is home
is
another route, another plug on the labyrinth
We see faces that we draw
All rise the judge’s hammer on the mic
Instead of memories
We circle poisoned flowers like suicidal war drones
War clones
These bodies ain’t home
Time to put space in the bag, now that’s minimal
You’re born pain
Into a pitch full symbols
inscribed on the porcelains
Rubber on the gravel
They say raw is how you catch the burden
They say we are just
bad codes, parse error, the system is dented
They say it’s lifestyle
Some say the devil’s workshop is the sequence
Error DNA
Role reversal
Instead of surviving camps
We code red, leave our wishes derailed
Instead of good old flowers
They put our seeds out, leave the woman in cramps
The plantation full of dying breeds
Where everything you breathe is everything you bleed
Some cut deep
Some swipe through the grids with a microchip
Some are facing nights of mystery
Looking at the moon’s holes
The planet is brutal!

Still Alive

What don’t give a life
Walk a mile in my shoes
Watch your problems grow
I wasn’t making a joke
How could you watch me live in pain
Thinking your love would heal me?
Touch me every day
How can you not feel me?
After everything I gave
I can’t believe you’re all digging my grave:

While I’m still alive

Every day I live I’m alive
Every breathe I give I’m alive
Take it from me
I’m still writing pages of a testimony
I’m alive

No matter what they say I’m alive
This is all I’ll say
I’m alive
I’m not ready to go
I want everybody to know
I’m still alive
I’m alive

— Tanya Stephens, Still Alive

Track — Enough

Some days you breathe, some days you don’t
Some pains you need for the joy of your soul
Cause memories are wars
Playground grass projects a strange dance on the walls
Her gibberish voices a rhyme over the ropes
Dreams taste like flaws
When it rains, the heart bathes in monochrome
Mixing chords with the tropes
Her lips move to speak unknown miracles
The things we are
We could marvel love,
tears of burning candles praying under the dark
We could be wishes whispered to the distant stars
Or we could be wreckage breaking free thru the universe
We could be songs of heaven & earth
The clocks stop to put time into the past
Soul food
every word enough to turn a body to a church
Old wounds
every key opens to flood the place where the blade is stuck

We could be sad
We could be fireflies singing songs to scare away the dark
We could be, things dying
We could be, things deserving
Growing up in war, how could we stop fighting?
You could be dirty bombs,
the world owes you nothing
You could be a bloody rose,
Frankenstein rewriting the story
Boots on the ground
Rebel DNA,
Atoms versus atoms, there’s God in the pain
Tower above desolate retrograde
In search of walls that don’t crumble
Guards charmed with war medals
We could be extinct things
Though we put black & white to call grey
We could be queer, misfits
Everything we touch: beautiful ugly
We could be souls fatally entangled
We could be stencils atomically disabled
Crushing through the cables
Nothing is enough until you’re enough in your flaws
Marvel motif back to the original form(?)
We could be wild winds blowing towards home
We could be grief, in the depths of a broken soul
We could be nothing splitting atoms into halves
We could be love
We could be us.

|Sample: Eméli Sande|
I can’t give anymore,
your love is impossible
Cause it’s still not me dancing with you i the dark
See, I can’t give enough

Track — Albadiri

Ulikuwa rare(?)
Wasifu zina—stream live,
HD mapambo singekewa
Unatua safari
unawachana na kituo, mwili ndio gereza
Nyakati zitasahau harakati no, ulizoendeleza(?) 
Gizani unafumbwa, unanusishwa maua
Usoni unafichwa, unavumishwa tu pindi umelazwa
Foleni wana vibango, pichako na gazeti
Habari zinakariri
uharibifu ambao vita vya maisha vilikutunza
Wahadhiri mitaa, unarembeshwa ka bidhaa
Enzi ulijuta walisimulia kando bila kukaribia
Unapewa sifa(?)
Ambayo wewe hustahili
Leo hii tumepoteza sio msomi tu,
huyu ametuwacha kando na maktaba
Alikuwa mselangu kitaa, wa kufaa na kupona
Hata ilifaa ninunue zake CD pindi napata taarifa
Unapewa fungu lako tisa
Unatajwa kwenye sherehe
Makumbusho na vita dhidi ya saratani
ulivyoona
mateso kila saa,
ulivyolemazwa bila siku za kufarijisha
Wakakukanyagia, wakakuzimia mataa kisha wakakupotezea
Madhabahu ya sanaa
uligeuzwa sanamu tu, haukufanikika kabisa
Ukaishi vya kuhifadhi mafikra, mateso ukaponea
Handakini rekodi wasanii wakabovya tu,
Wakasulubiwa, kilio chao darubini,
Filamu zika—
badilisha silaha, mwili ukageuzwa soko huru mitaa
Eneo la tukio Afrika,
Elimu duni, siasa mbaya, mauaji na vita
Wamebadili mifumo za ku—
tafsiria misingi sawia
(Nyakati za mashaka hizi)
Ukaishi vya machozi (tu)
Familia haijui unachopitia, masela wamekuwacha pori
Siku za majonzi, alafu ukageuzwa hadithi, true story
Uliwaza kujiua ili uondokewe na maumivu moyoni
Ukajitenga na watu kisa kujiona lawama
Wengine wakakuelegeza,
njiani ukapatana na wengine, wakakuwa your homies
Mwisho ukateleza ndani ya shimo, hamna nuru gizani
Sinema krusedi za macho zinasimuliwa
Ulikuwa nabii, ulikuwa fighter(?)
Ulikuwa mtunza fasihi, na mwanafalsafa(?)
Jeruhi mwenye vidonda vya kufichwa
Uswako kuna tabasam, usiku ni vita vya kunusurika
(Mtu//Real) Dunia dance floor, masaa yanakatika
Ulikusudia ya ngoma ukaishiwa maarifa
umeme ukaingizwa mwilini mara sita kwa wiki
Mara unangoja picha zirudi na habari njema
Dirisha back—seat, mbio mbio dharura tena ghafla
Unadondhoshwa madawa, mwanzo mabavu yanabana
Ukakondeshwa na uvimbe, ukaishi vya dhamana
Hapo mwanzo kukuja machozi
Leo unarudishwa mkopo machozi hakuna tofauti