Mukoma Ngugi

mukoma ngugi photoKenyan writer, Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Hurling Words at Consciousness (poems, AWP 2006), Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change (KPH, 2003) and editor of a forthcoming anthology—New Kenyan Fiction (Ishmael Reed Publications, 2008). He is co-editor of Pambazuka News ( ) and a political columnist for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.

His political essays and columns have appeared in the LA Times, Radical History Review, Mail and Guardian,, Chimurenga Journal, and Kenya's Business Daily Africa, Sunday Nation, and The Standard, amongst other places.

His poems have appeared in Tin House Magazine, Brick Magazine, and Chimurenga, and in the anthologies, Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa ( Flipped Eye Press, 2006) Réflexions sur le Génocide Rwandais/Ten years later: Reflections on the Rwandan Genocide ( L'Harmattan Press, 2005), Step into a World: A Global Anthology of New Black Writing (John Wiley & Sons, 2001) amongst other places. He has forthcoming work in the New York Quarterly and Wasafiri Journal.

He can be reached at

"Change, like death is inevitable" – Karimi Nduthu


Kenya—A Love Letter

Commissioned by the BBC World Service

Inside looking out, snow is falling and I am thinking
how happy we once were, when promises and dreams
came easy and how when we, lovers covered only

by a warm Eldoret night, you waved a prophecy
at a shooting star and said, "when the time comes
we shall name our first child, Kenya" and how I

laughed and said "yes our child then shall be country
and human" and we held hands, rough and toughened
by shelling castor seeds. My dear, when did our

clasped hands become heavy chains and anchors holding
us to the mines and diamond and oil fields? Our hands
calloused by love and play, these same hands—when

did they learn to grip a machete or a gun to spit hate?
And this earth that drinks our blood like a hungry child
this earth that we have scorched to cinders—when we

are done eating it, how much of it will be left for Kenya?
My dear, our child is born, is dying. Tomorrow the child
will be dead.

January 4, 2007

*     *     *

A Poem for Arthur Notje

Your forehead jutting outwards swelling with the wretchedness

of inheritance, watching your trail of black dust, ashes

of a cremated past swirl and twirl, a dance with voiceless ghosts

that see through the film of your eyes. Your eyes frozen deep

in the monotony of the past holding a black and white

photograph of a stillborn baby's wail.

Your nails thrust deep into the palm of your right hand until

it explodes like a grenade reading blood will flood the River

Nile, your reflection lies face down in Thames River, I see

a corpse in an Ocean sized fitting room. Consult neither

the Yoruba gods nor oracles, what you need is an internal shift

of perception, find beauty sufficient enough to thaw feeling.

Once you found beauty and said a true word, one true word spills

its truth at seams, swells beehives until the honey trickles

down to oasis. You said, lift up the cup gently to your scorched

lips and drink lest you spill. The warm sun light seductively

filters through the BaoBab branches onto my hungry skin, oval slits

of light swaying with the wind that moves the palm shaped leaves.

Is there a true word so terrible to face? That creates such

anguish? Only in its absence, the vagueness of an articulated

absence that churns ghosts, births easy theories of dualism and

memory of a childhood that dreamt what it cannot now fulfill leaving a

solitary poet staring into the abyss with nothing in front or behind,

the sole saxophonist in the middle of Oxford Square playing long

after the mourners have left. It once was beautiful. Wearing your martyr's

cap, you sat too long defenseless, the lone aeolian harp battling a screaming

wind that has upon itself the role of redeeming the world. Thames River

cannot not mummify as winter is not here. City lights flicker industrialization

onto the river's glass, your face distorted by the city's disco lights, two dark

eyes peering into the display of orgy that dances before them.

Every day the world ends with our eyes glued on the next shipment

of happiness. Nightmares of land mines, sequestered Palestinians

and Zulus who no longer believe in either the pointed tip of Shaka's

assegai nor in the poet's pen. Let it hurtle along at the pace of my mind,

Bao-Bab fiend sprout a branch, trip a thought, middle of inferno,

take a plunge into the fire next time of a mind through which the world

whistles tunes of its madness. Shoot a straight arrow into the sky, create

wavy parallels, dance opposites in its wake, I see your face actualizing

the possibility of life, the fact of death. The Police records show your

fingerprints on a beer bottle, a witness who watching the orgy of depression

asked you to dance,"I have to leave, I am almost late, but thanks", he said.

"Another time then?" she asked. "Maybe, but not here." She watched your

black coat that hid your back till it was swallowed by the dancing bodies,

one slice of darkness and the you spilled onto Wordsworth Street.

*     *     *

Letter to My Nephew

for Ken Saro-Wiwa

The sun is locked in evening, half shadow

half light, hills spread like hunchbacks over

plains, branches bowing to birth of night.

It's an almost endless walk until the earth

opens up to a basin of water. You gasp

even the thin hairs on your forearm breathe,

flowers wild, two graves of man and wife

lying in perfect symmetry, overrun by wild

strawberries. Gently you part the reeds,

water claims the heat from the earth, you

soak your feet, then lie down hands planted

into the moist earth. You glow. Late at night

when you leave, you will fill your pockets

with wet clay. But many years from now,

you will try to find a perfect peace in many

different landscapes, drill water out of memory

to heal wounded limbs of the earth. You

will watch as machines turn your pond

inside out, spit the two graves inside out

in search of sleek wealth. Many years

later, after much blood has been lost and your

pond drained of all life you will wonder, shortly

before you become the earth's martyr, what

is this thing that kills not just life but even death?