When it begins, it is stupid most of the time. It could be over a bottle of Coke at Wambugus Grove. It could be in a matatu, in class or in Club RnB where broke college kids try to steal your drink, and your squeeze. Or it could be through a cheesy comment on Facebook or a blog. Somewhere between the turmoil of a Joe trying to win over Jasmine, they will meet again. And he will look into her eyes, those big anemic African poetry eyes that look like a condensed shard of August moonlight.
Jasmine will be in his arms. Tightly secured inside the grip of his unrelenting embrace. She will breathe into his skin, and the scent of his cologne will remind her of why she loved the smell of the earth on the first drop of rain. The way she longed to lick the earth, so will she long to lick his ebony skin. She will kiss Joe. On the eyes. On the cheek. And on the nape of his neck. But never his lips, because it is forbidden.
She is spoken for, she has a man. And Joe too has a girl. Their romance will be ill starred even upon conception. And so, when Jasmine turns to leave, Joe’s chest will burn. Because the truth is that she will always leave, no matter how much time they spend during the day. She will always have to leave to go back to Mr. Man.
I have no idea about how Joe and Jasmine’s story will go. But I know it will be propelled by this one emotion that has spun the world on its axis; love. To try and understand how the philosophy of love works is pretentious. It is the most confusing thing ever created or invented. The only other thing that confuses me as much is the need for the invention of jeggings. Those long coloured socks that make women look like they are suffering from varicose veins.
The province of love cannot be defined. But it can be celebrated. And the people who have done that, the only people who have come close to covering the depth of its brilliance are poets.
From the ancient memories of Shakespeare who compares his love to a summer’s day; more temperate and more lovely. To Edgar Allan Poe who loved Annabel Lee with a love that was more than love, one that the winged seraphs of Heaven coveted. To Maya Angelou who has loved in and out of time – ever since the first stone stared at the blazing sun, and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor. To Okot P Bitek with Lawino’s song. To Rudy Franscisco who dreams of marrying a girl with a walk that can make an atheist believe in God just long enough to say ‘Goddamn!’ To Wanjiku Mwaurah who will not be shy to say it when she just doesn’t like you. To Tony Mochama, Angie Komora, Rix Poet and Veon Ngugi.
And then finally to Abigail Arunga.
You might know Abigail from the Nation blog, or from the snappy sentences at The Shy Narcissist (@AkelLove for tweeps). She takes up a torch of romance poetry lit by sages long before the contemplation of her existence. If you finally get past her surname and trained your focus on her new book Akello, you will understand what it means to read something that opens the windows of your soul to let fresh air in.
Akello is a brilliant collection of poems about something and somewhere we have all been in; love. The poems do not have titles. I do not know why, but I do know this. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art cannot be embodied in one or two words. They are too grand to be defined. And so are the poems in Akello.
This book is punctuated with metaphors and vivid imagery that arouse a full spectrum of emotions. It is interspersed with tears, passion, rage and admiration.
Abigail’s diction will cut you to the quick, make you bleed, and then patch you up again in the end. She tells stories of love with unflagging vitality, and she is not shy of using cuss words when the occasion demands. She gets away with such audacity in Poem No. 56, the only way a heartbroken or pissed of girl can. When you think of it, is that not what love is all about?
Love is not always rose petals, sunshine and chocolates. Sometimes love makes you jealous. Sometimes it makes your hackles rise. Sometimes it makes you cry until your voice sounds like a scratched CD on rewind. Sometimes love makes the Joes and Jasmines of this world obey that silent command that beckons from the poetry of their hearts, only to find out later that Joe, just like Chris Brown, does not have control over his fists. So Jasmine will spend the better part of the rest of her life, hiding swollen eyes. Just like the lady in Poem No. 66, the one who had her face redesigned by the lack of control her lover had over his knuckles. Until that day when she said that suffering is optional, and gutted his throat.
However, if Joe and Jasmine someday end up cheating on their current loveless unions, he will stroke her braids, and she will finally kiss his lips, and the embers of raw, hungry passion in Poem No. 22 and 23 will be ignited. He will hear her breath rise and become shallow, and she will let him lick the tips of her nipples, and on his skin she will taste life again. They will not regret it. They will be too busy, rubbing their ecstasies to the tune of the moment. Hoping that if they do it right, they will at least cum together…or come together to make Cupid understand what the sweet taste of sin tastes like.
Notable is the poet featured in this book; Kylie Kiunguyu. I am impressed that Abigail shared her space with her, because she is equally talented, and shows great promise. Akello houses a few her pieces; some four rather safely written poems. However, one can tell that she too writes from somewhere in the center of her marrow.
I tried picking out my favorite Abigail poems in the book. I couldn’t, but a few stood out. Like Poem No. 26 about her mother’s skin, Poem No. 38 about Nairobi, and finally Poem No. 81 that peeps from the Storymoja Hay Festival titled The Pomegranate Sun.
To sit on sandy beaches
and watch the tide come in
to feel the juice of exotic fruit
and sea breeze on my skin
to have someone to dance with
when the day is done
and then to watch the rising of
the pomegranate sun.
I have a problem with one poem in this book though. It is a haiku. Poem No. 28. Here Abigail says;
I can be your poetry
But I’d rather be your rhyme
I asked her. The shy dreadlocked narcissist in this poem, meant to say tell Mr. John Doe that she wants to be his main lady. Not the excuse. The oxymoron does not go unnoticed by my eyes. If it were up to me, I would rather she be my poetry rather than my rhyme. Because poetry is deep, it is essence. Rhyme is superficial. Something shallow that sounds good. Something that is relevant for its aesthetics only. So I choose poetry over rhyme, hands down.
But what do I know? I am not a poet. Just a fan.
At the moment, there are Joes who feel like chasing after Jasmine is like chasing the wind. The only mistake they make is that they hope to catch the wind. Wind, just like love, cannot be caught. Only felt.
Abigail carries the torch of love with a resplendent gait. She takes a theme as threadbare as love and elevates it with her fresh, hip poetry. So that we can have a better view. In her book, she reminds us that no matter how twisted and confusing love is, one thing about it is certain. That it happens to everybody. Whether you are a Jasmine whose name is mentioned in the same breath as whales and pigs and Njoki Chege. Even if you are a 40 year old Joe with conked hair, supras, and a shirt that is unfriendly to your erection, and you still hang around Explorer at 6am, with a beer on one hand, and a campus sucia on the other. It is just a matter of when, not if.
It matters not if you are a pansy or a goon. Especially if you are a goon. Because when love comes around, it will create a whirlwind of churning emotions that will make all that male machismo bullshit tumble like a house of cards.
That is why I am overly impressed with Akello. In fact (I think) the brilliance of Akello, can only be signed off in blood.
However, here is what I will tell you;
If you say you are or have been in love, and then read this book Akello and yet it does not leave a stink in your face, or a fire in your chest, or if does not make your soul shut its eyes for a moment, then you need to stop lying. Dishonesty does not suit you. You have never been in love, buddy.
But then again, if you read Akello and then claim that you have experienced the true artistic marvel that is Abigail Arunga, then you also need to stop kidding yourself, mate. Because you have never heard her sing.