He Makes Verse

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on July 14, 2015.

My mail inbox just tried to kill me.

I opened Gmail this morn­ing after a heavy 12-hour marathon of work, rush­ing to redeem a long-deferred promise of mine. As my cursor made its way to the ‘Compose’ button, some­thing caught my eye– and my heart stopped.

The email was from the BN Poetry Foundation, a move­ment started by a Ugandan poet. This year, I dared myself to enter a poetry com­pe­ti­tion. I chose the BN Poetry Award because entry is free, and there was no theme. I dug around in my head and sub­mit­ted two poems. It wasn’t easy. When I exceed my five-line stan­dard, red lights go off in my brain; the two poems were each more than fif­teen lines. But I girded up my loins and pre­vailed, and proved that I can occa­sion­ally escape my bubble. I patted myself on the back and forgot about it.

Except, I clearly did not. I under­es­ti­mated my desire to win. I knew the money would be very nice– I dreamed of a laptop with respectable sound and graph­ics cards– but I see that it went deeper than that. Anyway. The email announced the pub­li­ca­tion of the longlist for the award, and I’m not on it. I thought I was; one of the selected poems had the same title as one of mine, and my heart flipped again. Hearts really should­n’t do that sort of thing.

I thought I’d share the poems here– the two I entered, plus another one I did a month ago – , because I worked harder on them that I have in years, where poetry is con­cerned. Often I write dis­pos­able poetry and tweet-size verse. These three, I took my time. I hope they reflect that.

My People Had No Need of Shoes

My people had no need of shoes;
My people knew no con­crete.
My people never learned the use
Of melt­ing pots and cul­tural soups,
Because my people really talked. 

The paths my people walked
Bore the dim­ples of their heels,
And marked the tales of their dances and their flirts;
The grass tat­tooed my people’s skirts –
In the days before the grass was eaten
By the ashen lava of the city. 

My people had no use for hours,
In those days before the sea of towers
Swallowed up the sky.
If time did fly, they flew with it;
Then they wel­comed night, and took with it
The bless­ing of inno­cent sleep –
For my people lived large; my people lived deep. 

My people are rest­ing in their beloved earth;
Shadows and scare­crows remain to judge us,
Now made strangers in the land of our birth.
The fires are dead; the whis­pers are faint… 

But I can still walk my people’s lanes:
Perhaps our worlds can touch, our spir­its kiss –
Perhaps like this, when I rem­i­nisce,
It’s their whis­pers that I hear.
Perhaps some­day, the earth that hides their dim­ples Will be proud to hold my own. 

Perhaps I won’t be alone.

The Pearl

The pearl is a cancer in the shell of the oyster;
In the hands of the diver, it becomes a cure.
He hails his loved ones wait­ing on the shore
With the gospel of the lot­tery man. 

In his hand they see the gleam­ing future.
Now, they think, we escape the slav­ery of poverty;
We can afford that of the monop­o­lies.
Pane glass and tame grass; wire lights; pipe water. 

Soon, we will have iron bars between us
And the mad­ness in the streets – we will have streets -
And mini bars also, to fill us with heat,
And purring machines to make us cold, 

And books, and troops, and their atten­dant parades.
And then, per­haps, given time enough,
We’ll raise prophets to lament our wor­ship of stuff – With books, and troops, and their atten­dant parades.

All this they pray to the glo­ri­ous pearl;
All this they pray to the cal­ci­fied shrine;
And as the pray to the shine, the alabaster divine –
In the stall, in the field, in the office, in the mine –
As they quib­ble between the pre­cious and the dross,
The dirt grows pre­cious, the pearl cancerous.


The dark­ness is leav­ing; the morn­ing is break­ing.
The city is sleep­ing; the heroes awaken.
Shadows kiss the floor; hero hits the door -

Another day, another battle in the life­long war.
Things knock things; rock things; now we’ve got things shak­ing.
Sweat pores erupt; you’ve got one shot; will you take it?
Or will you give up? Don’t try to fake it.
You better stay true. Better make what you’re making for you. 

That’s what heroes do. 

Heroes fly.
Heroes defy the law of the aver­age.
It does­n’t work first try, heroes flip the page.
Yes, heroes cry; but then you suck it up.
Yes, some­times heroes want to pack it up.
So you quit? Your fire’s not hot enough.
When the going gets tough, heroes get up.
Again and again they get up.
If the fight won’t let up, then nei­ther do you. 

That’s how heroes do. 

Heroes tran­scend.
Heroes under­stand that true ambi­tion in human­ity
Is the immo­la­tion of ego on the altar of pos­si­bil­ity. Heroes are more than win­ners; heroes are pil­lars.
Heroes bear loads – make roads – write code that shapes the future.
With picks and saws and com­put­ers,
Heroes are craft­ing visions into real­ity.
Look around – every inno­va­tion used to be insan­ity. That’s why heroes chal­lenge medi­oc­rity,
Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts – that’s how birth is sup­posed to work.
Any des­tiny that’s worth having, be pre­pared to have to earn.
After all, for every bridge you will have to burn, you will be build­ing two. 

That’s what heroes do.

(I wrote this one because I saw a very heavy ad by Dewar’s– adapt­ing the words from Charles Bukowski’s ‘So You Want To Be A Writer?’, as I only just found out– and it stung me that poetry should be used to market hang­overs. I hoped to make a short film with this poem, like the ad. I would still like to, if any film-maker would like to collaborate.)