parallax background

“Day of the Nairobi Marathon”
and Other Poems

 

Janet Remmington

Art by Christina McPhee

 

Day of the Nairobi Marathon

jambo   asante

you say
from Joel’s taxi
third day running
this time
to leave town
on a Sunday
early
church not yet out
in force
nor the sun
but thousands light
on their feet
thousands stung
by dreams
take to take
the streets
matatus
with heavy-lip bumpers
ravenous for passengers
growl at the crowd
bite the tar strip —

you’ll get there
says Joel
even with the city in hyper
for the marathon
with so many roads
shut down
with police
scratching out
trouble
hussle
hardball terror
a little something
in the capital
but you know this jive
this deal called modern life
it actually
never stops
no such thing as an easy ride
it’s hard sweat
on God’s globe
work-work
no work
taxman on your back
everywhere too many
how many shacks
hot tin
cracks
brew in old drums
just look at that
crooked Johnnie Walker
kicking up
dust
and we’re still stuck —

so runners
is it your day
the world spot?
hawkers
is it your luck?

how’s business
with those
MARLBORO BANANAS
SIMS PAPERS RAZORS
BEER BIA LOVE-ONS
PAMPERS PADLOCKS?

so passengers
don’t look past Joel
to let you know
to weigh up
this world
and the small race
of your own
this own Joel
will get you to J K International
not the usual way ok
you’ll push
through Little Mogadishu
where it’s another day
carts markets watoto
the streets
are strong with breath
it’s only the ghosts
that run

 

Day of the Nairobi Marathon

jambo   asante

                            you say
                                          from Joel’s taxi
                                                                      third day running
            this time
                            to leave town
                                                    on a Sunday
                                                                            early
                  church not yet out
                                                    in force
                                                                    nor the sun
but thousands light
                                    on their feet
                                                            thousands stung
                                                                                          by dreams
                                  take to     take
                                                            the streets
matatus
                with heavy-lip bumpers
                                                            ravenous for passengers
                        growl at the crowd
                                                                bite the tar strip —

you’ll get there
                            says Joel
                                              even with the city in hyper
            for the marathon
                                          with so many roads
                                                                              shut down
                                                            with police
                            scratching out
                                                        trouble
                                                                        hussle
                                      hardball terror
      a little something
                                                              in the capital
but you know this jive
                                      this deal called modern life
                                                                                        it actually
                                                              never stops
          no such thing as an easy ride
                                                                                    it’s hard sweat
                                      on God’s globe
                                                                    work-work
                                                                                        no work
taxman on your back
                                      everywhere too many
                                                                            how many shacks
                            hot tin
              cracks
                                      brew in old drums
                                                                              just look at that
crooked Johnnie Walker
                                            kicking up
                                                                dust
                                                                          and we’re still stuck —

so runners
                      is it your day
                                                the world spot?
hawkers
                  is it your luck?

how’s business
                            with those
                                              MARLBORO BANANAS
                                                                                      SIMS PAPERS RAZORS
                  BEER BIA LOVE-ONS
                                                        PAMPERS PADLOCKS?

so passengers
                            don’t look past Joel
                                                                  to let you know
          to weigh up
                                      this world
                                                            and the small race
                                    of your own
        this own Joel
                                                            will get you to J K International
not the usual way ok
                                      you’ll push
                                                            through Little Mogadishu
                  where it’s another day
                                                            carts   markets   watoto
the streets
                      are strong with breath
                                                                it’s only the ghosts
                                                                                                  that run

 
 

Indigo Birds

Glossy, spared, the indigo birds
turn out to be violet turacos

slipped out from behind bars

blown off course

or lured by the bright pickings
of this urban forest
piped to distant waterfalls

once an upland of brittle grasses
encamped by migrants
digging out the earth and air

dusting the world with seed

*

The pair float on a telephone wire
against a strong bare sky

identified this side of the hedge

not purple-crested loeries, nor go-away birds

but visitors from Africa’s rain-breast
testing the thin thirsty air
assuming a vantage point

not seeking out shadowy canopies
these makwerekwere
but bang in the open, look!

over-exposed in the glare

 
 

Students under New Moons
A sequence in Malawi

Opening

North to Chipoka:
heavy bench on the deck.
Grey waves pull at sinews, speed
spread the ferry’s chest.

Loud, mismatched
Would our travel clothes
remain stitched, intact
if the bow opened
to the incandescent churn?

If it sieved the flow
of tackle, people
through its silver bones?

A middle-aged man, sprayed
points to birds, the border, distances
white axe-heads
chopping up the water.

We reach for words in the wind –
rills of Chechewa –
ferret in pockets

for ourselves

pass round names
in a burst of sun.

 
 

Massif

As I cradle
the root cassava
at Zomba plateau’s base

the vegetable seller
in purple, red
jugs her hands
offers more.

The president’s face
leafed by stars
twitches
on her printed dress.

With the bus sinking
beyond sight

dust overtakes
eight hard boots
of friends.

Whip-track
to the summit
for dark

sun-weighted
day
on our back.

I gesture
hey
to cool carapaces

of the crickets here
and their ubiquitous
songs.

 

Shore

Not far
from the tent

creaks retreat
to the baobab’s branches:

old cranial tree
that carries the moon
more easily than leaves

that lifts
beetled consonants
from its twigs

drops night vowels
from the buffalo-weaver
roosts.

*

Downslope
we share

starless sweat
sour mosquito shriek

stack the time
with talk
crowd out thoughts –

next semester
thirst
malaria –

our elbowing, wingless
nest of noise.

 

Bay

wake
to a shock
of white

spin
of a room

no blue –
no tent
to touch

nets overhead
knotted
by other guests

hot tin roof,
our voices,
cracking

we let you
sleep in –

a bed
for your birthday

your
long, lit back
finds the camber

inclines to air –

the rush of rays –

draws out
my stare

 
 

Current

oars
stretch the water
as we make
our way over

the dug-out
shudders
over the threshold
of rock and branch –

we straighten, squint
quiver
on the island
of noonday green

the fire-fish lunch
singes
our throats –

no boat –
we back into the lake
to float beneath the sky

when speed becomes our air
far shallows
the tow

when arms, cries
chase the lightning below –

flints of tail, whipping tips:
glassy flashes of mbuna shoals

we spark in their passing
come brightly

asunder

 
 

Going

Roads
are for heels.
The striking of red.

Air
is for sun, dust
hanging up fish.
Chombe is best left out
for the day.

Time
is for ingredients.
An hour for oil, flour
three-quarters for beer.
A quarrel of hands
yields
beetle-hard bread.

Heat
is for stripping
hiding in water.
Boys on the bank
hold up the sky.

Clouds
are for whispers. Wind
takes the questions. Rain
triggers volume. Thunder
shouts louder. Echoes
go deeper.

Earth
is for opening.
Singing for the world’s dead.
For blowing petals
along paths of the living.