Conversation with Culture. Subject: The Future.

prairie homestead refrigerating-eggs-basket

Why are all my eggs in one basket, you ask?
Well, I only have the one basket. And this dress,
being made for a woman, has no pockets.
Are you offering me a basket? Can you spare?
Is that why you slowed down at the side of the road
to stare?

Why did I smash my dozen dreams, you ask?
Why? I only had the one basket. And these dreams,
as dreams will, were fast spoiling. I hurried.
What do you think? I slipped, and here you are, witness.
Have you soap and water in your car if you’ve stopped
to stare?

Am I going to turn back and fetch new eggs, you ask?
No, I’m going to stay here at the side of the road
so you can stare at me. I have no extra dreams at home, no.
But I still have my basket. No pockets to hide these hands
sticky with hopes regretted, but— How much longer are you here
to stare?



Photo source:

To Turn Around

Seaglass stack against sky

We took the train to the shore.

‘How far should we go?’ said Matthias. I wanted to reach the headland, to stand across from my favourite island, to look senselessly for the pair of socks I lost there months ago. I wanted to do The Whole Walk. Even though it was beyond my strength. ‘Let’s turn around now,’ said Matthias. ‘How about we turn around now?’ said Matthias, still later.

I stopped, my mind snatching at the island, at the headland, at the socks I still missed. I stopped, but I wasn’t sweet about it. I turned. And there was the sky.

Have you seen a sky like I saw? The sea glass in my pocket rose into the clouds to wash up on a new shore. Colour translucent. This sky had been there behind me, behind us, so serene, smoothed, taking some air before the coming storm. But I didn’t know.

We made our way slowly back to the town, to the station, as rain began to fall. I realised I wanted to hold his hand. The inside of my mind, like the tide pools, coursed clear and quickly back, returning, turning (in)to the Sea.



Photo source as far as I could trace it:

Missing: Socks

Milsey Bay c Richard Webb

It is a beach on the North Sea ate my socks.
They’re missing, and I can only think they tumbled
out when I got out the picnic blanket.
And we all know how sand muffles a fall.

They are emerald green with heels
plastered in yellow lichen. Soft
like rain hissing on choppy water.
I took them to the sea because they’re a pair.

I have the sea now, but no socks
and I’m in a fit. Embarrassing!
Why do I need my socks the colour of the sea
at the seaside anyway! Well, I do!

The sea has my socks and doesn’t need them.
This is all I can think about.
The sea is already emerald. Already footed
with lichen. The sea doesn’t need my socks.

If you see my socks, please phone this number.
I will pay you the North Sea in notes on the spot.



Photo credit:

The apple tree I tried to grow in Africa


The apple tree I tried to grow in Africa

did not bear apples,
did not grow much taller
than the day it came home with me
from the tree nursery
in a black plastic bag.
‘It will not do well,’ my father said to me
gently. ‘I’m afraid it will die,’ he clarified.
‘I’m not even sure it is an apple tree as you know it,’
he said. ‘It’s not what you think.’
But an apple is beautiful.
The point was never to eat apples.
The point was never to climb apple tree limbs.
The point was that an apple is beautiful.
It is a shape you could not imagine, ever,
like the cashew nut and its fruit.
Everything beautiful I can find
is for Africa who let me sit in her lap
and who separated strands of my hair,
wrapping them with black plastic twine
so I could look as wiggly pretty as she did,
knowing perfectly from the start
the twine would slide
from my slippery copper head.
‘It will not do well,’ Africa’s grandmother said
gently. ‘I’m afraid it will die,’ she clarified.
‘I am not even sure it is a human as you know it,’
she said. ‘It’s not what you think.’
The point is I am a colour no one could imagine,
like the inside of the cashew fruit.
I remind Africa’s grandmother of the poison
fumes Africa burns off the cashew nut
to make it something safe to eat.
It is not possible to imagine me as beautiful.
But in her lap, with kindness only, Africa
has made me safe to eat.


Domestic Joys


I am the first fire
of the morning, my Love.

I’m telling you,
the thing’s just done—
It’s only been minutes!
The wood just took. Look
at it! The poem I made
is burning strong. I am
the first fire of the morning.

Warm your hands. Here.

Ah, look. Here they come. Every
small housemaid in the village
is coming to my hearth for coals

Have some! Have some!
Please. I’ll surely borrow
a poem of my own soon, soon.
It’s not every day the sticks
of this brain are dry.

a poem for a cold morning!
Tell your mistress I send
my respects. What a poem!
What a morning!

Here’s your porridge, my Love.
Extra tasty today.


Photo credit:

The Kite


When I found you afloat in the North Sea
the heart in me saw straight away what you are: a kite.
I did not know water bones could be so white,
so fisted, although the mind in me did.

Your carapace is a squat pebble with nothing of stone
inside—what an egg wishes it were before it cracks.
You have eight arms, but one is bent back on itself
and the heart in me squeezes why.

A thin tether of frail translucent seaweed trails
from one crooked crozier. You are ardent
for air and someone to wind out the reach
of your kite heart in me. Your sister heart in me.

Wondering to stillness, my heels sink. Undertow
of memory I wish I could comb back from selfishness.
Were you alive—near—when I stood on this beach
before? What colour are you really? Is a crab’s blood red?

Memories pinwheel down and the mind in me knows you
were there every moment, but you I don’t remember. My fingers
stream sand. In photographs, your smile is secret and lonely.
The heart in me dives for you but the water swirls brown.

You have no organs anymore. You dispensed with the heart
in you, the turbulent intestine torment mind. When
did you scoop them over the side? Did they weigh so much? When
did you know the sea dreams were for somebody else?

Little sister. Nobody fastened a string to what the heart
in me now knows are your wings. It was you who tied it.
You whose seven arms curled in with self preservation
but broke your own bones bending the eighth toward the sky.

Soon you will be light, dry, ready. Ardent you, ardent me.
Kite you are, anchor I can be. Turn on turn, kite, girl.
Ardour to our ardour, will the Wind curl into your pebble
with no stone inside?
Pry her legs into rest, let her fly.



How will we say no this time?
How will we forget how small he was
and how the whorl of his lately-licked fur
between new eyes
followed the rain troughs through the clay
to the long-empty stream?
How will we forget how steady
was God’s hand as she drew in kohl
beneath his eyes
and how ardently she smudged the oils
down the swollen slope of his nose?
How will we forget?
His hooves are seed pods still furred!

You have killed his mother
while she still had young.
as though a rebuke will change how small he is.
(And is this a rebuke here?)
You thought to yourselves
We will sell him, and aimed your guns.

As you try not to look
into the duiker antelope’s eyes
your hands hang by your side, big
as the machetes strapped to the hunters’ backs, big
like you only just realised your presence
in this country did the deed.
You assume too much!
The duiker blinks like equatorial suns
both slowly and before you are ready.

We remember the darling of mum’s heart.
We remember how she doted on her antelope baby
as she did not know to dote on her daughters
or her son when we were this small.
We remember how her darling sapling-stepping antelope
disappeared one day, grown so strong
on the bottles of powdered milk she fed her.
We saw her near the road, the neighbours said.
You are not telling me everything you know,
you replied, trying not to gesticulate.
You must not unman yourself
with a raised voice or a gesture too wide.
What is that I smell
on the ghosts of yesterday’s fire?
Darling darling antelope that Mum pitied!

How much will you pay?
Not one abashed. They are ready to play.
If you do not buy him he will die,
in tones they learned sucking
at Fate’s dry breasts.
He has no mother.
You close your eyes.
Who else will care for him?
You flare your nostrils
but not too unmanly wide.
You are a Stoic adaptation.
They consider this your play.
And why does he have no mother, eh?
They grin. They know our ways. Our antelope darlings.
But if I take pity, you will only slaughter more.
Don’t you know these hills were once full of deer?
Full of warthog, monkey, baboon?
And now! Now see this baby antelope
we will forget.

Many, many years later in a windowless kitchen,
eating rice and beans again
while the windows of bills
shake out like tin foil beaten too thin,
I won’t be able to bring myself to save
even twenty-five dollars of my tax return
against calamity. And I will realise
the true question.

It is not
How we would forget
(we did)
but how could you not shoot?

Spending every last dollar
of the furtive movement in the tall
savanna grass
I will know.
The temptation to sell the fawn
was never the justification
to kill the mother.

Will the brash embroidery
and bells on the backs of a Wasingari past
fill daughters and sons?
Only Nikki parade grounds.
If you beat the splendour
of wild horses into obedience
will you hold back the hunger
felling the forest from inside, bribe by bribe?
No, I realise.
If you didn’t eat her, the neighbours would.

You would not be a laughingstock that day.
That was our job, wasn’t it?
Foreigners are good for something.
Laughing is the only way to cry
in Wasingari country.

Will we decide this time
that the former glory of these hills
is yours to lose?
We have never lived off this land.
Our own country is merciless enough
to keep our guns trained on the underbrush
in the season of the young.

(Picture credit: Tracey Beer. This print is available for sale:



A forage for courage
is like gathering sɔmbu from the Wonder Tree:
in the teeth of bees.

Doucement, doucement I tend
the trance conditions and
the sɔmba stirs
severs from the twig
punctures its
squashy green sleeping bag as it
thuds down
and the bees come. Oh they come!
Can’t my instinct move
any faster? I mutter.
How come bees get to the nuts before me?

Stealing sɔmbu out from under them
is my gathering of strength:
a turn of phrase here, a cadence snatched there.

The pleasure-bent bee
desires like all the tongues
of the five thousand anteaters
left in the wild.
And here am I, outside
the Wonder Tree’s cool canopy
hesitating, spying my chance,
my corrugated tin skin pings in the heat.
How come I taste the hills outside my home
so relentlessly
yet I can’t tongue language?

Discipline (old friend!)
is a practiced pinch in where the pulp sags:
muscle memory spits the word out of its casing.

The slimiest, smoothest, glossiest
brownest brown brown
nut of the sub-saharan plateau
is just the eye of a bushbaby
in the front garden at night.
Nothing is less secret
than what is right before me if I still
and shine a light.
How do I make myself understand
that writing is the only way I will see?

This forage! this forage! this forage!
morning by morning by morning
is the worthy work.
Sɔmben gum will keep the skin of my soul.

I will be supple all harmattan long.
I will oil off the white flake on my arms
wash chalk off my blackboard legs
fill the dry season river beds
of the bark of this sɔm tree skin.
I will make it through harmattan.
(God is willing.)
When the trade winds blow these bees off-course
I will rub the butter of the sɔmbu into
a mind that will soon be brown with
bravery, resolve, habit.

I will not have to say to my neighbour, again,
Please borrow me some shea butter.
Not unless I want conversation.

I have this my own Wonder Tree.

(Photo credit:

Week Five: Poetry Resource Lists


I am reading poems, right enough

but not the ones.

I’m to read poems upon poems upon poems
to learn, learn, learn
in journals
and chapbooks
and manuals
and anthologies
and those horrifying spoken word ordeals
to pick up voices I have never heard before.

Right, I say. I can make this work for me.
Haven’t I been meaning to
learn, learn, learn about West African poets?
I will read
Nigerian poets
Ghanaian poets
African immigrant poets.
They’re not from French West Africa, but
close enough? Closer than
Anne Stevenson
Hugh Macdiarmid
Seamus Heaney.

But the libraries here
don’t have poems upon poems upon poems
by African writers,
even the anglo ones.

And how can I stop reading
poem after poem after poem
about starfish and swans and owls
and too many mentions of flowers
learning and learning and learning
to be as astonished as Mary Oliver?

And how can I stop reading
my guide, John Leax,
few of whose poems I even begin to understand
when soon it could be too late to write
a proper letter he would accept?
To tell him thank you I did read your book


Thank you for writing beyond
my ability to understand.

I am amazed.
I am lost.
I am finally hearing the voices I already


The Poet of Action

Airthrey Loch from bridge

Airthrey Loch, University of Stirling

As I sat by the loch to eat my sandwich, my head was full of water. I longed to swim in the sea, in the loch—anywhere wild I could swim. I began to card this wool of longing around a chip of wood, winding words. I will write a poem about this, I said. I will write a poem about how desperately I long to swim in this loch, swim in the sea. I begin, I am Tineke. All I ever want is to swim in the sea. When I dream of canoeing, it is that I want to be the canoe.

A sudden, neat plunge! A man is swimming in this late September loch! A man is swimming in this late September day! Swimming across the loch, arm over arm, his head in a bathing cap, his hands propeller blades.

The poem can no longer be about longing. The poet is ashamed.