Written by Kwani · January 29, 2008


When peace erupted, none of us was ready.
You remember how the sticks above our heads
were gently lowered, how our riot gear
was sloughed-off like a skin? We rubbed our chins.
And yet, the dead, they didn’t rise.

Do you recall the day the grandmas of the Rift
embraced the grandsons of Nyeri,
when the youth were given grants to raise
manyattas they had razed? We rubbed our eyes.
But still, the dead maintained their peace.

Think back: the way the Lake and Ocean rose to kiss Mount Kenya’s
The glossy adverts in the Nation and the Standard:
We congratulate our leaders for restoring
Peace and Unity, and all is well in Neverland?
The dead began to wake.

Do you remember how they asked us to forget?
In 4-by-4s, Big Men from each and every province
drove a web across the land, their shining
megaphones proclaiming: Back to work!
The dead were spinning.

And the bishops and the diplomats, the councillors
and businessmen, they gathered for a conference
outside the new Grand Regency and told us
It was all a dream, an error, so now nothing needs be done,
some things just die, are best forgotten. No? Come on!!
You must remember how the landless and the jobless dead
erupted from their coffins with a shriek?
You don’t remember?! Let me help you.
Hold this gun. I have a cutting. Take a peek.

Stephen Partington, is the Kwani? poetry editor and a member of the Concerned Kenyan Writers Initiative. The poetic thoughts expressed here are his own.


4 Responses to “LETHE”

  1. JKS Makokha on February 23rd, 2008 10:55 pm


    .By JKS Makokha

    They say today,
    it was on these rolling hills
    across this land of our national anthem
    where it was said
    in a dream
    that one day
    you and I,
    and those like us,
    will destroy ourselves
    through fuels of ethnic desires
    drenched in the Devil’s blood
    then set ablaze
    into a thunderous tit- for- tat explosion


    By JKS Makokha

    Smokes in spirals,
    rise across the rolling hills of Rift Valley…

    Smokes in silent spirals
    lift like arms raised heavenwards in grace…

    In the smoke
    the mushroom puffs
    of choking dusts
    from the heaps
    of our crushed bones
    and charred homes…

    Thick smoke in strong spirals,
    swirl into a wailing whirlwind
    rages across the villages and towns
    across the fields with grains of wheat
    across the rushing rivers of red blood
    beyond this vast valley of skulls
    to tell the tale of two Kenyas…

    Mw, Makokha writes, teaches and critically appraises practices and expressions of socio-cultural (in)tolerance through various genres of East African Literature. He is currently abroad pursuing further studies.

  2. Wilson Wahome on February 24th, 2008 10:53 pm

    Dust, Heat and Smoke

    Now I miss the dust; not the clouds trailing the heels of fleeing crowds -
    I miss the friendly brown sheets of earth - dancing with the wind during merrier times.
    Though the dirt reddened my eyes, all that cried was my eyes.
    Now my heart is crying out, for my old, peaceful dusty street.

    Now I miss the heat; not the smoldering sanctuary that cremated them -
    I miss twelve o’clock on the equator - on us the lazying lenses beaming down.
    Though the rays darkened my skin, all that darkened was my skin.
    Now my heart glooms, longing for those hot, slow afternoons.

    Now I miss the smoke; not the billowing marker of mayhem -
    I miss the ghostly smog of the city - man and machine getting along.
    Though the fumes oft choked my lungs, all that choked was my lungs.
    Now I am choking up, at the memory of the normal chaos.

  3. Ben Omondi Otieno on February 28th, 2008 6:43 pm


    Oh my beloved country Kenya
    You that was once a tower of peace
    That shone its light brightly to its neighbours
    Now stands an anthill of hatred and mistrust
    Pointing your leprosy infested finger
    Towards the clouds of ethnic abhorrence
    Casting a shadow on the sun of prosperity
    That shone this land bringing glee and glamour
    Silhouetted upon a sky of brotherhood

    Now the dark clouds pour rains of chaos
    Rains of election misdemeanour
    Rains of post – election violence
    Rains of tribal alienation
    Rains of political theft and civil disobedience
    Rains of riots, burnings and lootings
    Rains of mass actions, flees and despair
    Rains of police brutality and murders
    Rains of genocide and ethnic cleansing
    That flood this land that we belong
    Drowning its sprouting dreams and aspirations

    Where is the table of patriotism?
    On which we shared the national cake
    As we spoke in only three languages,
    The languages of love, Peace and Unity
    We all belonged to these three tribes
    As we built on our hallowed tower of peace
    Where then did we start to see the other as being of a different tribe?
    And hence an enemy not worth being alive
    Are we seeing another tower of Babel?

  4. Indran Amirthanayagam on February 28th, 2008 8:55 pm

    The poem Lethe is strong, arresting, dramatic…the way the dead start to spin. I write from Vancouver. My brother is there and told me about your site. I am a poet and write about poetry in the blog http://indranamirthanayagam.blogspot.com I would love to see more of your poems. Also, send me your link so I can hook my blog to yours. Best, Indran

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