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Seeing the bloom amid the gloom in Kenya

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Jeniffer Muchiri | May 8th 2016

A purple bloom,/ Spreads like tiny lips,/ To the brushing of the sun’s glossy touch;
Twitching its curvaceous body,/ In the smooth breathe of the glistening April smile.
And my crystal dream,/ Like a diamond dew poised against the sun,
Sparkles with the royal tinge,/ Opening its fancy lips,/ To the limitless cast of the purple bloom.

These are the opening lines of the poem Purple Bloom which gives Charles Aketch’s recently published collection of poetry its title, Purple Bloom (2015).

The writer — a teacher at Nyamira Girls’ High School in Bondo, Siaya county — pens poems that, among other subjects, celebrate the beauty of nature and how this relays the beauty of life.

He chooses to see the bloom of life despite the gloom that often threatens to overwhelm this very life.

One of the most distressing subjects that Aketch addresses in the collection is the numerous terror attacks that Kenya has suffered in the recent past

A number of the poems address this concern by focusing on the 2013 Westgate Mall attack and questioning the senseless loss of lives, maiming of victims and destruction of property.

In The Black Saturday 21st, the persona makes an apostrophic address to the day of the Westgate Mall attack saying: The tight-lipped black Saturday/ How sad art thou – don’t say why – / Don’t we know,/ Of the rogue gun wielding beautician,/who possessed with cowardice/ Your face painted with blood and death?... That sang with joy,/ For the lives like twigs, snapped?

Blood on the Floor reminds us of the gross images of pain and death that we saw at Westgate, and we could add Garissa, Lamu, Mandera and other parts of this country, which refuse to leave our minds.

We have become a nation inundated with fear and we cannot freely enjoy the bloom of life because we have to mind our every step lest we should walk into death traps set by militants.

Unfortunately, since the report on the Westgate Mall attack has never been made public, Kenyans have been waiting, like the persona says, begging for answers,/ why precious blood lay soulless on the floor.

The poet pays tribute to the late Ruhila Adatia in several poems. Ruhila was just one of the many victims of the Westgate Mall attack but her name is symbolic of every person who died there.

Through the poems, the poet allows families, friends and the world to eulogise those we lost. The persona in For Ruhila Adatia captures the pain and loss of the nation: Bereft with sorrow,/ At your pictures, hollow we stare,/ The clarity of your infectious smile,/ Blurred by our vapourised tears’ mist;.../ Couldn’t fate have had a different script,/ A blank slate with no name to strike off?

Aketch is also concerned about the state of affairs in the country and what he perceives as the media’s complacency.

In I Will OLX My TV, he complains about the distressing news that we have to watch on TV daily. The information that the media conveys is continually depressing — poverty, child abuse, collapsed buildings, corruption, drug trafficking, compromised exams, starvation, flooded roads and homes, insecurity...

The persona is tired of the unending reports of misery and hopelessness: No more do I want to hop and jump,/ Over the poverty, insecurity,/ Tribalism, cheap politics, people negligence,/ Power abuse, extra-judicial exterminations and/ hopelessness/ Blood and death, inability and victims,/ That swim in my living room,/ When my TV, eyes shining, comes to life.

Having noted and mourned the relentless invasion of his living room by disheartening tales via the TV, the persona chastises the media for turning into mere reporters without sustained analyses and castigation of the ills in society.

Illicit brews

It is perfectly in order for journalists to report about young men dying after consuming illicit brews but where is the investigation about the real “investors” in these killer liquids?

It is satisfying to watch reports about elephant tusks and rhino horns being set ablaze in Nairobi but who are the poachers and their sponsors?

Is it any wonder that the persona plans to OLX his TV? After all, despite all the appalling goings-on in the country, my TV doesn’t offer a tearful reproachful blink.

The subject of environmental degradation does not escape this writer’s pen.

In Care to Listen Little Bird, he decries the rotten nature of the city and advises those who care to listen that the rural, unpoisoned countryside is a much safer place to live in.

He addresses young people who are stuck in cities, telling them that there is more to life than beating traffic jams,/ When I get stuck and consume,/ All the fumes from the rotting ‘cars’/ Designated for basking in the cold.

Corruption has ensured that unroadworthy contraptions continue to flood our roads, their thick fumes making us victims of unending respiratory problems.

The city’s environment is so adulterated that the only place one can have a leisurely swim, in natural habitat, is that murky sewer,/ with decomposing fetuses” and city residents have to be careful about what they eat: don’t break those green ear-sized greens/ didn’t you see them stick out in a flood/ of sloppy rotting water/ from the rich quarters over Kibera?

The persona advises people to consider enjoying the cool freshness of the Mau/ or Kakamega forest/ or tower over the boiling hyacinths/ of the Great Nam Lolwe.

The writer’s concern about the environment is a valid one considering that nobody seems to care that Kenya is slowly turning into a desert.

In addition, innocent citizens will continue to die as floods wreak havoc in a city where buildings owned by well-connected individuals stand defiantly on riparian areas.

The writer paints his perception of the lunacy that characterises Nairobi, and perhaps the entire country, in The Portrait of a Mad City.

The conglomeration of sufferers/captains of industries/ cheating lovers/ present-unavailable parents/ helpless widows and orphans/ lying reverends/ socialites/ sly politicians and other ‘groups’ of people only serves to show the mockery that is the description of Nairobi as the City in the Sun.

The poem indicates that the sun seems to have set a long time ago and what remains is an empty shadow of what the city and its inhabitants should be. Mercifully, the collection has a number of poems that celebrate love. April Butterfly presents love as a surrendering of the heart.

The persona likens the beauty of love to the beauty of nature, choosing his diction deliberately so that the words are as ‘soft’ as the feeling he describes.

The poems on love offer a ray of hope in the midst of gloom. The music of poetry and the palpitations of hearts in love might just be the bridge we need to cross over to The splendour of the magnificent purple bloom.

Dr Muchiri teaches Literature at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]

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