Focus: Kenya poems.
The Language of Tribe
I am well versed in the idiom of tribe,
Having acquired the script long ago, from my family, friends, schools,
From my whole existence as a Kenyan really.
And I speak it with fluent authority.
There maybe times when I look different,
Special even, as if the language of tribe were beyond my understanding.
After all, I can cite my marriage, my children, my friends,
But that is a false impression,
I am like everyone else.
This uncomfortable truth led me on a journey.
I wanted to know,
What is this thing called tribe, really?
That has us all by the neck?
What does it look like?
How does it feel?
How do people live with it?
Laughing one moment with their tribal protagonist,
And the next, looking at each other across a wide abyss,
A yawning space, unbridgeable by the smiles of former friends,
Now bereft of all good intentions?
If tribe were a taste,
A thing alive,
How would it be?
My experience of tribe is all sharp acid on the tongue,
Clanging metallic noises,
A rising tide of ill will,
A watchful expectation of ugly tribe rearing its head,
Reaching out to grab a cake, for itself,
To eat, quickly, greedily!
Tribe is grating loudly in my ears,
It must be heard!
It has me believing it is natural, inevitable like the heavens.
Tribe makes me act secretly,
I hide myself in full public view.
I read the newspapers,
Watch behind the news,
Scan the streets,
Count the members of the church council,
On and on.
I tally the number of times my tribe emerges.
When the appearance is favourable,
In my mind,
I add up all mounting disadvantage,
To store in my prized bag of tribal grievance,
I am so expert at computation,
I am no longer conscious of what I do.
You see, I am victim,
But for the tribal designs of others.
The truth is revealed in broiling ethnic conclave,
Here, secrets of the heart are safe,
I bring my hush-hush bliss to the fore,
To bemoan with relish my miserly pickings,
Condemn with glee the crumbs I feed on,
While others hog the national cake.
Would you wield a panga in Burnt Forest, and cut a stranger down?
You slashed that man as he pleaded with you for life,
Instead you led the crowd baying for his blood
A stranger you did not even know,
He cowered and cried out, bleating like a lamb
Innocent of any crime
Death unwilling to take him,
He died long and hard, way before his time
His blood has watered your farm like acid rain,
How will you live?
Would you catch a running girl?
Escaping a church fire in Eldoret?
Place her roughly on the burning pyre
A parody of father, tender, laying his baby girl to sleep, on downy bed,
No lullaby can drown her keening dread,
Her fear of eternal coming sleep
Your pitiless face did not soothe
Now you must be careful for your child,
Would you seek a loving wife and give her one-hour to leave her home?
Depart from all she knows and those she loves
And go where?
You do not care!
And you call that an act of charity
When she pleads with you to kill her then,
To wield a blunt blade,
Carve out her heart!
For all is lost,
At 59 where does she go to start again?
You stood resolute
You did not yield
Would you turn against your neighbor’s son?
The one who lent you salt in halcyon days,
That same who nursed your wounds and soothed your troubled heart
And flush that son out of his hiding place
And hand him over to certain death,
Ignore beseeching eyes of your neighbor friend
Who stands too stunned to make a sound?
Now your own son is done,
Would you serrate your friend with words of hate?
Spoken cruel to cause a mortal wound,
She’s the one you used to call a chum
Your careless hatred has sown seeds of harm
Now you stand alone in fulsome deed?