Nick Makoha

Poet Nick Makoha is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow and Complete Works Alumni , Won the 2015 Brunel African Poetry prize,  He is the 2016 winner of the Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for his manuscript Resurrection Man. His poems appeared in The Poetry Review, Rialto, The Triquarterly Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, and Wasafiri.

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How a City Vanishes


All it takes is two men on a bike,
a convoy in their rear view mirror,
some land, a shortage of visas,
the closing of embassies, a night
lowering its curtain of curfew
and some C-4 to turn a dirt highway
into a makeshift airstrip.

Out come the men in uniform
following the flare of a flashlight
towards life lurking in the long grass.
White soldiers with foreign words
that taste too much like caution,
huddled around a wireless waiting
for orders, keeping their voices down.

A war reporter, tourist and volunteer
with the same faces just cleared
a checkpoint. Said they were on safari,
hence the cameras. Tonight they will make
the weekend edition of People. Tomorrow
our city, or some version of it, will be as
familiar as the dark side of the moon.




When a rebel leader promises you the world seen in commercials,
he will hold a shotgun to the radio announcer’s mouth,
and use a quilt of bristling static to muffle the tears.

When the bodies disappear, discarded like the husk of mangos,
he will weep with you in those hours of reckoning and judgement,
into the hollow night when the crowds disperse.

When by paraffin light his whiskey breath tells you
your mother’s wailings in your father’s bed are a song
for our nation, as he sits with you on the veranda to witness a sunrise,

say nothing. Slaughter your herd. Feed the soldiers
who looted your mills and factories. Let them dance
in your garden while an old man watches.

Then when they sleep and your blood turns to kerosene,
find your mother gathering water at the well to stave off
the burning. Shave her head with a razor from the kiosk.

When the fury has gathered, take her hand and run
past the fields’ odour of blood and bones. Past the checkpoint,
past the swamp towards the smoky disc flaring on the horizon.

Run till your knuckles become as white as handkerchiefs,
Run into the night’s fluorescent silence. Run till your lungs
become a furnace of flames. Run past the border.

Run till you no longer see yourself in other men’s eyes.
Run past sleep, past darkness visible.
Stop when you find a country where they do not know your name.


The Informer 


So much depends on how the day starts. A closed sign
in the window, a train passing, the exchange of notes,
clouds not fully formed turning red, a young man
describing a ghost. The fear of the invisible shapes itself:
contours of his father’s face in front of the city with no roads,
people living in tents, coarse dust under their feet,
a permanent apparition as children act out a war
by the corrugated kiosk. His fingers are a pistol grip.
He wishes for sleep but the body walks (his father listening)
towards an empty car lot in the day’s fever. What better way
to camouflage himself than in the embrace of a civilian,
their voices a badly dubbed Chinese film punctuated
by kisses in the back of a pick-up truck. Later tonight
a live satellite feed will tell us a nation has changed hands.




Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Flight SV 446 from Jeddah delayed by
18 minutes. We are stuck in a holding pattern.
The hostess is collecting headphones and the pilot
has engaged the landing gear. The man next
to me has spent the whole flight pacing the aisle,
rolling Dhikr beads with his right hand. I pick up
his copy of Vanity Fair, August issue with naked
Demi Moore pregnant with her daughter, Scout.
Her whole body is covered in permanent black marker.
Demi says I should read the book Song of Lawino.
The man is holding his beard and calling God’s name.


The Self (1979)


Don’t quote me, but I swear the radio hissed:
Run for your lives. Anyway! Fast forward and
I’m being taken by the hand to Entebbe Airport.

Commercial flights are cancelled. There’s a queue
of people with the right faces but wrong surnames
and no luggage waiting for a cargo plane to London –

people I barely know, but they swear they know me
well. Smiles disguise thoughts that if spoken,
would get us, you know, arrested, or worse. Then,

somebody shouts, There’s space in the front.
Under floodlights we’re shuffled in, Noah’s Ark-style,
travelling all night, leaving the sun behind.

Only clouds show their form, when the colour
of the sky has gone, as the engines purr in a
constant exhalation. The future is speeding towards me.

A loud darkness leaks through the cabin window.
I’m listening to it, not the noise, but the rhythm.
This high above the world, in between time,

I can’t help but wonder: now that we have left
our country, who will turn out the lights?
In the terminal my ears are popping

when the immigration officer steps from his desk,
with my mother’s passport in hand and asks me,
just like you did, Tell me that story again.