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When the cruel hand of death strikes: Last poem from a beloved brother


Wanga Itindi wrote last week about those folks at funerals who wail and bellow more than the bereaved, before heading straight for the food and soda line. I have always been a little bit bemused at the graveside antics around burials in western Kenya.

But one must admit that the ‘eeee eeee eee’ Luhya dirge has a most catchy feel to it.

My kid brother, Benjy, passed away on August 11th, 2013. A fortnight later, we buried him in Langata Cemetery, a mere 15-minute drive up Langata Road from the Mater Hospital where he’d been born, back in the ‘80s.

I still remember that chilly August morning of his burial. Sitting under the canopy of a tent, in case it rained, feeling speechless with sorrow. When it was my turn to say my final goodbye to Benjy, I found I had nothing to say.

No words of my own to share (in spite of being a wordsmith, who even in this space alone over the course of that year, had probably typed out well over 25,000 words, yet could not write a simple speech saying ‘kwa heri’ for Benjy).

But I had a long last poem of his in my pocket – like myself, Benjy was a bit of a poet – written on the day he was diagnosed (with what killed him) – and that is what I read then.

And the excerpt of what I’ll share today, in his memory.

This is my darkest hour/ Drifting, drifting along

On metallic bar stool/ underneath this murky skylight

Waiting for another day to die!

Six o’clock and the sun gathers its crimson blanket

She is ready for slumber/ and my own number’s up

Six thirty, and the walls draw in tighter around my skull

Another drink, and I’m drowning in my cup

Another brandy, and I’m almost worn out

I think I’m dying, but tonight I’ll stay out late

I should be thinking, but I can no longer concentrate

At any rate I’m hemmed in, into this black empty fate

At the end of which a wooden pine box coffin awaits.

This is my darkest hour.

 All the memories of my life now seem like different lies

The present the only truth, the doctor indifferent

That makes me think last night was my last ever good night

What I do know is life’s too short for me to stay so afraid

And yesterdays can always be tomorrow interrupted

And tomorrow interrupted will always be filled with my yesteryears

And how to hold the little things a little closer

How to pull those moments a little nearer, dear

And see their exquisite beauty through the tears.

Death, too, can be art!

So say the words that I’ve been waiting to hear

I know that the words are empty

This blackness inside will whisper – Everything’s empty, Benjy

And I’m falling through this abyss, holding a glass of brandy

And there’s a single tear running off my eyeball, as I pen this poem

Tell them these words are mine, not yours

To say to me at the end of Time.’

Those words belonged to my kid brother, Benjy, who passed away five years ago on this date.

And I read them at his funeral.

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