Happy 2011! I thought I’d start off the new year with these poems by Kenyan writer Stephen Partington, containing a tale of new birth and a message of hope for a more peaceful world. They’re reprinted by permission from his collection How to Euthanise a Cactus (Cinnamon Press, 2010).
This collection was one of four books chosen by the influential magazine The Africa Report for their Best Books 2010 feature. (One of his fellow honorees was Nelson Mandela.) The editor’s review states: “The political crisis in Kenya triggered by the botched 2007 elections seems to have caught talented young writers off guard. As prose writers search for their voices, it has been the poets who have confronted the crisis and tried to find meaning through it. Partington’s new collection is a towering manifestation of poetry’s strident return to the literary mainstream. Using media accounts of the violence, Partington points a disturbing finger at the living who remained silent and took sides—and took sides in order to silence.”
We praise the man who,
though he held the match between
his finger and his thumb,
beheld the terror of its tiny drop of phosphorus,
its brown and globoid smoothness
like a charred and tiny skull
and so returned it to its box.
So too, we hail the youth who,
though he took his panga on the march,
perceived it odd within his fist
when there was neither scrub
nor firewood to be felled,
so laid it down.
An acclamation for the man who,
though he saw the woman running, clothing torn,
and though he lusted,
saw his mother in her youth,
restrained his colleagues
We pay our homage to the man who,
though his heart was like a stone
and though he took a stone to cast,
could feel its hardness in the softness of his palm
and grasped the brittleness of bone,
so let it drop.
We laud the man who,
though he snatched to scrutinise
the passenger’s I.D.,
saw not the name – instead, the face –
and slid it back
as any friend might slide his hand to shake a friend’s.
And to the rest of us,
may you never have to be that man,
but if you have to,
Present at the Keelhauling
Kenya, late December 2007
For Sophie Mwelu Partington
What could so tiny a sailor have done
to deserve such punishment?
Did you fall asleep on deck, steal lemons,
I stand here like some bleeding heart lieutenant,
at a loss until
the doctor pulls you sternly round your mother’s keel,
and here you come, full-bloodied,
slick as kelp, so much the doctor cannot hold you,
ribbed and gulping with the joyful joy of lungs.
Ten toes, ten fingers, you’re
Mum’s little stowaway for nine long months,
and just for now,
this instant as I swaddle you with all my hugs,