Christopher Okemwa, Kenya

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Christopher Okemwa, Kenya

Christopher Okemwa is a lecturer of Literature at KisiiUniversity, Kenya. He is the founder and director of Kistrech International Poetry Festival in Kenya. 

His poetry collections include The Gong (Nsemia Inc., 2010), Purgatorius Ignis (Nsemia Inc., 2016), Ominous Clouds (Translated to Norwegian, Finnish & Greek; Nsemia Inc., 2018); The Pieta (Translated to ArmenianՊԻԵՏԱ; Narcis, 2019), and A Withering Rose (Translatedto Polish and Bohemian Vadnoucí růže; 2019). He has also published a short story collection, Chubot, the Cursed One and Other Stories (Nsemia Inc., 2011). He has published three children’s books: The Visitor at the Gate,Let us Keep Tiger and The Village Queen (Paulines Africa, 2010, 2011, 2013). This is in addition to four oral literature texts, Riddles of the Abagusii People of Kenya: Gems of Wisdom from the African Continent (Nsemia Inc., 2011), The Proverbs of the Abagusii of Kenya: Meaning & Application (Nsemia Inc., 2012) Otenyo the Great Warrior of the Abagusii People of Kenya (Nsemia Inc., 2016) and The Oral Poetry of the Abagusii People of Kenya (NsemiaInc., 2020). He has also written five folktales of the Abagusii people of Kenya in Ekegusii language: Ogasusuna Oganchogu (The Hare and the Elephant), Ogasusu naOkanyambu (The Hare and the Chameleon), Ogasusu naOkanyang’au (The Hare and the Hyena), Okang’ombeOkanyang’au na Ogakondo (The Cow, the Hyena & the Monkey), and Kerangeti na Kerantina (Kerangeti & Kerantina). Okemwa’s novella, Sabina and the Mystery of the Ogre, won 2015 Canadian Burt Award for African Literature (Kenya). Its sequel, Sabina the Rain Girl (Nsemia Inc., 2019) was published in 2019.

Okemwa participated at a poetry workshop in Northern Ireland that was sponsored by Poets’ House; participated at the 20th International Poetry Festival in Medellin (Colombia) in 2010 sponsored by Prince Claus Fund; was a guest poet at the 27th Biennale Poetry Festival in Liege(Belgium) in 2012; was again a guest-poet in the 3rdSpring and Poetry Festival in Istanbul (Turkey) in 2018; was a visiting poet at the International Poetry Festival of Hanoi (Vietnam) in 2019; and was a creative writing resident at Faber Writers’ Residency in Catalonia (Spain)in 2019 — a residency that gave birth to the collection of poems, Love from Afro Catalonia.

Okemwa earned his PhD degree in Literature from MoiUniversity, Kenya, with a dissertation titled “A Study of the Kwani? Open Mic ‘Literary-Gangsta’ Performance Poetry of Kenya.” He also holds an MA and a Bachelor of Education degree in literature from the University ofNairobi, Kenya.

This morning

This morning I woke up

With a sense of loss

I found silence holding the four corners of my room

And a mystery  

A sort of Muse

Playing in the light and in the darkness

Between the walls and empty spaces

I slipped down from my narrow bed

Quickly ransacked my suitcase for your photos

I couldn’t find any

Scrawled down the screen of my phone

With nervous fingers

I didn’t see one — my cheeks flashed white

Looking at the mirror on the wall

A sad curve formed at the corner of my mouth

My forehead became pale just like a dull day

The evidence of hunger

For a loved one back home

Now seated at the table

I sketch your body on a piece of paper

An imagination of the woman that I love

An expression within me

Of whom I know you have been to me

I pencil your foaming lips, whiten your

Teeth, circles twin hillocks on your chest

Dot your deep sensuous navel

I repeatedly scratch on the pupils of your eyes

Making them dilated, adds more pencil

On the cheeks to make them dazzling and bewitching

Shades the hair to make it glossy

Cleaves your forehead with two wrinkles

(You can’t be young forever)

Gives a dark shade to your nose

A light colour to your chin

Then the neck of a swan to stabilize your head

I sit back to examine the finished work

My body twitches

I move my lips down

To kiss it

Suddenly I hear a loud sigh from a distant

A silent longing

A lusty act from a lover

With the utterance “l miss you, oh my dear love”

 

  By Christopher Okemwa (Selected from Love from Afro-Catalonia, 2020)

 

I Love You Not as

I love you not as one can love a bar of chocolate

Or a mango juice or a banana fruit or a mushroom

Or as one can love roasted groundnuts in a plate

I love you as one can love an exotic dream

In which the dreamer is in a wedding costume

And his bride is fair of face and is in full bloom

I love you not as one can love a moon-lit sky

Or a tall tree, or a blue sea or a star in the night

Or as one can love a grasshopper, a termite or a butterfly

I love you as one can love a red ray of sunlight

When the morning, like ripe tomato, bursts in the horizon

And the foot-steps of the last night are long gone

I love you not as one can love a song of a bird in the nest

Or the whizzing of a wind or the buzzing of a bee that flits

Or as one can love the whistling of a tree in the forest

I love you as one can love the sound of ghosts and spirits

Who live in the waters of the sea or dwells in the cemetery

And is heard rising and falling at night in a puzzle of mystery

I love you not as one can love the aroma of fresh coffee

Or the smell of raw soil or rotten leaves damped in a pit

Or as one can love the fragrance of a rose or a lilac tree

I love you as one can love the smell of a lover’s armpit

The erotic texture and the feel of its bushy hair

The moist and its rivulets of sweat when she is bare

I love you not as one can love a genius work of art

Or a sight of a magnificent city sprawled in the sun

Or as one can love a new pair of shoes, shorts or shirt

I love you as one can love an old tattered photo

In which one is a child playing in a puddle of mud

With an aura of innocence, honesty and Godliness

By Christopher Okemwa (Selected from Love from Afro-Catalonia, 2020)

Purgatorius Ignis

Hanging in this burning emptiness of retribution, between

Death and the final dwelling–in this condition of existence–

I move stealthily like a cat, perpetually on the balls of his

Feet; with the cat’s impression, indifferent aloofness,

My face drooped; in my eyes no light at all. I cry,

                                                   “I want affliction and fire!”

The soiled hamlet from whence I have come, voices rise

To cry for the pain and torture that my soul bore here

Aware that my spirit is not fully independent of the stains of  

Mundane effects of wrong-doing, its consequences; neither  

Sufficiently evil to be fated for abyss; but keeps on strengthening

                                                                    Itself in sanctity here

Having no purifications–neither sacrament of baptism, nor

of penance–my venial sins weigh heavy on my soul

I cry for pain, fire, to suffer for the rewards of the divine abode–

A Garden of delights. I ask to be relieved of my

Earthly baggage; for the pain of joy to be completed, to feel  

blissful mystery of Him

I find myself in that condition of mind and feelings

When reality gives place to reverie and merges with

The shadowy visions of the first stages of purgatories ignis

I’ve carried, on clammy hands, venial sins, to be purged

Of them, being only momentary pain, then soon be on my

                                                         Way to Olympus

Here it comes, like a clap of thunder, or like a magic spell

Light one moment and darkness the next—a big fire!

Burning brightly, spreading everywhere. I scream, “burnme!”

I hear those assembled in the hamlet from whence I have

Come, singing, raising their sacrifices up for my sake–

To be purified.

    -By Christopher Okemwa (Selected from Purgatorius Ignis, Nsemia Inc. Publishers, 2016)

Tufts of the Tall Grass

I have always wanted to know

Where the Maker

Of air and soil lives

Erecting those pillars high up

To hold the firmament in place; in pain

Sobbing Himself out so that we may have rain.

I look up to the sky where

A thick pile of clouds hangs

The blue only glare

Giving little clue.

I walk down to the riverbank.

Fagged out by many centuries

Of creation work, He would be there

Washing the cake of dust

Off His body; the plashes and purls play on

Monotonously, the brown waves

Swirl and churn up

But I don’t sight a torso, a toe

Of a man swimming to the shore.

In a splendid fury

I walk through the mystery of the night

So as to bump into Him, vexed

He will retort;

My figure, spectral in a wash

Of moonlight, sight a tall black shadow

Spring forward

Not of the Maker

Not of an angel

But of a desperate mortal in search of truth.

I stop abruptly to listen

To the wind’s soft song, picking

Out its notes carefully, one at a time

Feeling the inflection and the varying texture of its tempo

And suddenly—oyez! His voice

Awesome, yet soothing and caring

Emerge slowly, eerily

Out of the dark green tufts

Of the tall grass.

    -By Christopher Okemwa (Selected from Purgatorius Ignis, Nsemia Inc. Publishers, 2016)

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