Four Poems by Waithira Mbuthia (Karanja)

BOMB 28 Summer 1989
028 Summer 1989

Determination

Missiles fly wild
Looking for anchor
(upon my person)
But I’m too busy
Sorting through this debris.

 

Dear Death:

When the time comes
For us to meet,
Kindly sound your chime
Lest you trip me up.

 

Tell ’Em I Ain’t Home

Don’ dare let ’em in
Til’ I put ma silks on
Don’ let ’em near ma cocoon
Tell ’em I ain’t home

Have ya ever seen
A noo bon chile?
All skin fold an’ wrinkled?

Don’ dare let ’em in
Til’ ma wite blue orange
Dress be complete
Tell ’em I ain’t home

 

An Ode to Queen Mumbi

She wears a crown
In most unconventional place,
Where daughters left
Their names enshrined
In nine* stretchmarks:

She’s Queen Mumbi,
The mother of my clan,
Whose once voluptuous
Breasts brought Gikuyu
Tumbling down Kirinyaga Mount.

The dimples in her bottom,
The exhausted loins,
The flabbiness in her thighs—
All insignia of a people’s origin:

I speak in her tongue,
Echoing proverbs and parables:
She’s my blood, my flesh—
The muse of my ways.

 

*Part of the mythical origin of my people, the Agikuyu, or the Kikuyus as the missionaries called us, is that—when one man, Gikuyu, from whom the tribe’s name is derived went to Ngai (God), who reigned at the top of Kirinyaga (Mt. Kenya), our sacred mountain, to request for a bride, he was presented with Mumbi (name means creator), with whom he bore nine daughters—Waithira, Wambui, Wangui, Wacera, etc.—whose names came to represent the clan names that we know each other by: Aithirandu from Waithira, Ambui from Wambui, etc. From these clan names we can easily identify each other and trace blood relationships, even if we’d never seen one another before. Later the nine daughters were presented, by Ngai, with nine gentlemen. The union of these produced the Agikuyu tribe.

Waithira Mbuthia is from Kenya. She has published poetry and folk tales in Crosscurrents, Confrontations, and The Literary Review. She is an adjunct lecturer at City College and LaGuardia Community College, and a high school English teacher.

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Originally published in

BOMB 28, Summer 1989

Featuring interviews with Patrick McGrath, Craig Lucas, Mary Ellen Mark, Isabel Toledo, Guy Gallo, Gary Indiana, David Kapp, Bobbie Ann Mason, Roland Legiardi-Laura, John Ford Noonan, Roni Horn, and Richard Edson.

Read the issue
028 Summer 1989