Friday, April 29, 2011

SEPIA MEMORIES: George, Joy and a Lion Called Elsa (True story)

To wake up at first light, a flea in the prairie of rock and sand each morning, is to realize that one’s own importance is something one highly overrates.’ Gerald Hanley

Verily, I say unto you…Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if dies; it bears much fruit.’ – The Bible

February 1956. An ominous dawn spreading across the Northern Province of British-ruled Kenya. Nothing around but MMBA (‘Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa’). Three heavily armed men pick their way through an outcrop of rocks. Their leader is George Adamson, Senior Game Warden of this harsh province that covers no less than 20,000 square miles. With him are Ken - another warden – and an unnamed Game Scout. A Boran tribesman has been killed by a man-eating lion and it’s Adamson’s job to track down the brute and terminate him before he causes any more trouble.

Out of the blue, a snarling lioness challenges the wildlife officials. Ken shoots it in self-defence. It disappears behind the rocks. Ken shoots it again and nearly signs his own death warrant: hell hath no fury like a wounded lion. Ken oscillates from ‘hunter’ to ‘hunted’ and only his companions’ quick action save him. Multiple gunshots later and a scuffle later, the big cat is lying dead on the dewy ground. It is only when Adamson sees the dead lioness’s swollen tits that he realizes why she was so ired by their trespass – she was a mother protecting her cubs. Adamson orders an immediate search for the litter. Three very young cubs, still blind and spotted, are discovered. Postponing his hunt for the man-eater, Adamson takes the cubs home as naked sun begins to scorch the semi-arid thorn bush country.

Enter Joy Adamson. George’s Danish-born wife; painter, book illustrator, write and socialite – a formidable woman. Joy agrees to take care of the spotted fur balls and so begins the most popular story ever told about a lion.

It was a troubled time. World War Two lost and won, Africans began to agitate for independence. A rag-tag army of freedom fighters calling themselves the ‘Mau Mau’ engaged the British Empire in a bitter guerilla war. The British killed over 11,000 of them, breaking their fighting spirit.

Meanwhile, Joy was adjusting to life as the surrogate mother of the cubs, which all turned out to be females. Playing the role “nanny” was the Adamson’s pet, a rock hyrax (looks like a guinea pig) called Pati. By and by, the cubs opened their eyes but couldn’t judge distances and walked like drunken sailors. Joy, 46, put them on unsweetened milk mixed with cod liver oil, glucose, bonemeal and salt. Later, she would wean them on minced meat before they graduated to actual meat.

Distinct features began to show. The biggest cub was named “The Big One”, the second largest was named “Lustica” (“The Jolly One”) and the smallest was named Elsa because she reminded Joy of a friend of hers by that name. In the jungle, where “survival for the fittest” is a way of life not a catchphrase, Elsa would probably have died soon after birth. She, however, compensated for her small size by being the bravest and most spirited.

Elsewhere, political changes were afoot. Black activists lobbied for “uhuru” (“freedom”) and although most settlers agreed that “Primarily, Kenya is an African territory” and “the interests of the African native must be paramount, and that if and when those interests and the interests of the immigrant races should conflict, the former should prevail” (Devenshire Declaration, 1923) the colonial administration begged to differ.

Meanwhile, back at the Adamson’s (and I almost said, “back at the ranch”), the cubs were growing at a premium and had gained celebrity status. Joy said that when she toured with the cubs, “everyone came to see them.’ They were also at ease with people, especially children. They were particularly fond of Joy’s garden boy, Nuru. He was therefore appointed “guardian and lion-keeper in chief”! The previously unheard-of title did wonders for his status but it was no honorary accolade: when the cubs slept out in the open bush, as was their wont, he had to watch over them lest they were molested by snakes or passing baboons. He was, in effect, doing the duty of the cub’s late mother.

Lions being nocturnal, putting the sisters to sleep was a labour fit for Hercules – or a super mom. Joy:
‘Imagine three very naughty little girls, who like all
children hated bedtime, but who could run twice as
fast as those in charge of them and had the added
advantage of being able to see in the dark.’

And although they were playful, they were also exceedingly lazy – not even the tastiest marrow was enough incentive to make them move from a comfortable position.

At three months, their predatory instincts began to take over. With razor-sharp claws, they massacred books and performed autopsies on cushions. Simple games like king-of-the-castle and tug-of-war gave way to the more serious art of the hunt. They would stalk Pati or the Adamsons or each other from behind and once they were within striking distance, they’d unleash a burst of speed and pounce onto the backs of their victim. Lions are heavy and using this method, a single adult lioness can bring down a zebra in minutes (It would take six strong men to do the same.) The Adamson’s didn’t mind being used for target practice but they did mind having their livingroom turned a war zone. Inevitably, the sisters had to start sleeping outside. A wire gate was thrown across the entrance to the verandah to prevent them from sneaking back in.

At five months, and now three times the size of poor Pati, the future of the lions had to be decided. They had also discovered their strength and tested it on everything they could lay their paws on. ‘A ground sheet, however large, HAD to be dragged about,’ Joy reminisced. They also loved to put the fear of God into the Adamsons’ domestic donkeys. Joy decided to send the larger lions to a zoo and remain with Elsa. The house servants also agreed that “If there must be a lion in the household, then let it be as small as possible!”

The day of separation was harrowing. Picture it. Golden sunshine pouring over a dry landscape like honey. A pickup truck loaded with a steel cage sits outside a country home. In the cage are two bewildered baby lions while, on the ground, a third cub stands on the ground calling to its trapped sisters. Joy Adamson comes out of the house carrying a first-aid kit – fully expecting to be scratched on the way to Nairobi - and climbs into the cage. The vehicle peels out of the compound and Elsa chases it down the road until it revs up and disappears, leaving behind a dust trail as long as a comet’s tail. The world’s loneliest lion, Elsa is heartbroken.

Elsa’s sisters were airlifted to the Rotterdam-Blydorp zoo in Holland, which Joy chose for its humane treatment of animals. When she visited them three years later, they “accepted her as a friendly visitor” and allowed to pat them but didn’t seem to recognize her.

A child of two worlds, Elsa now became the world’s most famous lion and the perfect antidote to “the man-eaters of Tsavo” – two unforgiving brutes that had made their awful mark earlier in the century. It was Joy’s opinion that Elsa was ‘born free’ and should remain so. Joy therefore lived and traveled with Elsa rather than send her to a zoo. When Elsa reached sexual maturity, the Adamsons taught her to hunt and kill so that she could return to the jungle. Joy wrote about Elsa’s training in her best-selling book, ‘Born Free’ which was turned into a movie. You can imagine Joy’s surprise when Elsa brought her cubs back to the only family she had ever known – the Adamsons. Joy talked about her experiences with Elsa and her cubs in the in two more books, ‘Living Free’ and ‘Forever Free.’ The books became bestsellers and by now Elsa was a megastar. From the bestsellers, Joy received not a dime – each penny went to wildlife conservation.

December, 1963. The British Empire officially hands over the country to its original owners. Former freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta, a man of many parts, becomes Kenya’s first president.

Ernest Hemingway said that ‘all stories, if carried far enough, end in death and he is no true storyteller who would hide this fact from you.’ You will therefore permit me to carry this story to its bitter end lest I fall short among my fellow storytellers.

Elsa got sick and died at a relatively young age. The area around the Adamsons’ house is now called Elsamere and is a tourist attraction.

George Adamson died violently but he was not mauled by lions. He was killed by a much more dangerous and advanced predator: man. One day, elephant poachers turned up at the Kora Camp where he was then stationed and gunned him to death. After Adamson’s death, a poem penned by an admirer appeared in a local daily. It read (in part):

‘Adamson lived and died bravely
His joy diminishing each day
Yet for the love of wild game
Which brought Kenya great fame
Adamson remained chained to the Kora Camp,
Working like a diligent tramp…
Elephants trumpet in sadness and sorrow
Kora Camp will miss Adamson forever.
We, too, will miss Adamson forever,
The wildlife will face a hard life
Adamson is no more.’

Indeed Adamson, who rarely wore a shirt, was missed by man and beast alike; his official duties included enforcing Game Laws, preventing poaching and dealing with dangerous animals molesting local tribes. What an extraordinary man! A mysterious nature lover who literally walked wit lions and yet was humble to fault. It is no exaggeration to describe him as an honorary Africa deserving of every major conservation price. Remove ‘honorary.’

Joy Adamson, who everyone predicted would one day be killed by the many animals she interacted with, was also shot dead but there’s more to that story. The young man who shot her (a former servant) argued, in court, that she was hunting him down with a gun, ready to shoot him for some misdemeanour. In self-defence, he shot her using one of pistols Joy had given the servant to guard themselves against wildlife. He further argued that she was in the habit of shooting at her servant during fits of anger. (Her friends confirmed that she had a rotten temper but didn’t believe that she’d shoot a person.) Joy’s private life appears to have been volatile. Her marriage to George was her third one and it still ended in divorce. She is best remembered for pioneering ‘ecotourism’. There is now an ‘Elsa Trust’ that continues her conservation work. She was also a talented painter and illustrator of books on African plants and shrubs. Her paintings of African tribespeople still hang on the walls of the National Museum, as accurate as photographs. She died in 1980, aged 70.Her murderer is still behind bars.

It has been observed that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if dies, it bears much fruit. The death of Elsa’s brave mother may have been tragic but it was no waste. Through it, the cubs came into the spotlight, changing people’s perceptions of lions and raising funds for ‘ecotourism’. Thanks to Joy and Elsa, zoos around the world started treating big cats more humanely – giving them more plaything, more room and so forth.

George, “the lion man of Africa”, was another grain of wheat. Far from easing poaching, his death only served to intensify anti-poaching efforts. In 1988, then President Daniel arap Moi set fire to ivory tasks worth $3 million, leaving no doubt where the country stood on the issue of killing elephants. His murderers were never caught.

Finally, I realize that there is a lot of death in this short history. But you have to understand that in this savage paradise called Africa, death is a part of life and one’s own importance is something one highly overrates.

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Zen and the Art of Laughing (Poem)

(c) Alex N Nderitu

‘If you want to be happy, be.’ – Leo Tolstoy

(Bikkhus = Senior disciples)

Have you seen those “good luck” statues of a laughing Buddha?
If not, then allow me to paint a picture:
A bald angular head crowns a most unusual figure
Where a laughing mouth conflicts with the nose above
And beady eyes peer out of a face that only a mother could love.
The ear lobes droop all the way to the stout shoulders
(Just thinking about them makes me shudder!)
And a bare chest reveals nipples that would be any woman’s envy.
Below that is a gut that puts the ‘pot’ in ‘pot belly’
And it is this pot that people rub for luck.
The tiny legs are tucked under the body in the lotus position
Which leads one to assume that he must have wobbled like a duck
(The legs and body are completely out of proportion.)

I’ve had people say of this Zen artifact:
‘I wouldn’t be laughing if I was that fat!’
And ‘Who’s this supposed to be? The Asian Fat Albert?’
But the pessimistic critics are forgetting the fact
That the Buddha was ‘The Enlightened One’
Who gave us the Noble Truths and the Middle Path.
He passed through the doors of knowledge,
And walked down the corridors of wisdom.
Despite his rotund frame and shoddy condition,
The Buddha is laughing for a very good reason:
He sees the glass as half full not half empty.
Instead of concentrating on the negative things in life,
He has chosen to a path that leads to HAPPINESS and light.

Now this, O Bikkhus, is the Noble Truth concerning ‘positiveness’:
Verily, it is the exorcism of the demons of negativity;
The turning away from, the disassociation with, the alienating of,
The torpedoing of, the harbouring no longer of negative thoughts.
Instead of being negative, seek out the silver lining around each cloud:
Spouse divorcing you? – Hurrah! You’re re-gaining your freedom!
(If I were you I’d ask the judge to hurry the case)
Going bald? – I’d say you’re “gaining face”!
Lover “moving on”? – That translates to more breathing space!
(Hey, with mass pollution, fresh air is hard to find these days!)
Got fired from your job? – That should get you out a rut!
Hospitalised? – Relax while others sweat it out in the rat race!
Wife put on extra pounds? – Well, now there’s more of her to love!
Lost a leg in the war? – I know a guy who lost both!
(And a few that lost their lives, God bless their souls)
Feeling old and tired? – Wine gets better with age and so do you!

Now this, O Bikkhus, is the Noble Truth concerning laughter:
Verily, laughter is the outward show of inner joy
That often finds expression in repetitive gleeful noises and bodily paroxysms.
Laughter burns calories and releases good hormones,
Therefore learn to laugh at your problems like the Buddha.
You can laugh ‘HE-HE-HE’ like a horny hyena
Or ‘HA HA HA!’ like an overjoyed winner
Or ‘HO! HO! HO!’ like dear old Santa
But make sure you laugh right from the belly,
Letting your shoulders shake like a volcanic tremor.
In the aftermath, a feeling of peace will wash over you like hot lava.
In a chaotic world, laughter can prevent you from developing an ulcer
So start laughing your way to a healthier life right now –
At any rate, you won’t be laughing when you’re six feet under.

‘Decay is inherent in all component things. Work out your your own salvation with diligence.’ - Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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Where Have All the Heroes Gone? (poem)

911-type phone call:

‘Hello? Heroville?…Uh…We’re dying out here, man

Could you send out a hero like, I don’t know, Superman?

Hello? Hello? Are you still there? S**t, man!

Where have all the heroes gone?

Where have all the angels flown?

Where have all the cowboys blown?

Does anyone have the number to Hercules’ phone?

Without John Wayne, who’s gonna run the bad guys outta town?

Where are all the miracle workers?

Where are all the rain-makers?

Where are the chariots of fire?

Where is Vishnu the Preserver?

Where are the great gods of Mt. Olympus?

Have they all abandoned us?

Radio call:

Calling Captain Kirk…Come in Captain Kirk…Do you read me?

Mayday! Mayday! We need someone to save the day

Anyone, really – Superman, Spider-man, He-man, Ice Man,

Zorro, Super Mario, Batman, The Green Lantern,

Spider-woman, She-Ra, Wonder Woman…

Hell, we’ll even take Supergran!

We are in a crisis situation:

Magnitude 9 earthquakes

200-miles-per-hour hurricanes

Strange flues in the, uh, Far East region

Tigers, cheetahs, whales on the brink of extinction

A nuclear stand-off in the Middle East

Terrorists blowing everything to bits

Famines in Africa, starving women and kids,

Gangsterism, hoologanism, child prostitution

I understand in Congo there’s a serious refugee situation

We have child soldiers and urban kids packing guns…

I saw this piece on TV the other day:

A ten year old schoolboy opened fire on his classmates,

Concerned parents were tuning in for news updates…

Ten years old and he had a gun in his hand!

All I’m asking is where have all the heroes gone?

I mean, we need help…The world has lost its marbles,
You know what I’m saying? We need heroes.

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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The World Is Upside Down (Poem)

Strange things are happening, I tell you true .
For all things weird, the days are due.

I went into a local pub yesterday, to have myself some brew,
And sitting there at the bar, was this beauty I once knew.
Adopting a suave demeanor, I slid onto the stool next to hers
And ordered a round of ale for the two of us.

Several glasses later, I was showering her with praise,
Bringing back the old times and promising the moon,
When she suddenly turned cold as ice,
Said she was tired of men like me, and walked out of the room.

I turned to the barman, confusion written on my face
Because I had played the perfect gentleman.
The barman shook his head and said,
“I put no stock in your plan”.

He poured me another glass of the holy amber
And as I drunk, he talked:
“You see, the world is upside down,” quoth he.
“If you were less kind, she wouldn’t have walked.

“A peek at any daily will echo my sentiments:
Goodness is out and evil is in,
Black is white and right is wrong,
Up is down and holiness a sin.”

Hard words they were and they hurt like punches.
I shakily paid my tab and said goodbye.
Drunk and disorderly, I staggered out of the establishment -
And fell into the sky!

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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The Smaller They Come, The Lower They Hit (Poem)

'They got little cars
That go beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin' peep, peep, peep
They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time'
- RANDY NEWMAN, "Short People"

As you know by now, discerning readers,
I am happily free from prejudice of any sort.
To me, all men are my brothers and all women, my sisters.
And if animals could talk, they’d say that I’m a “jolly good sport.”
I recently tried to hand-feed a crocodile, my dears,
Which is why I’m writing this poem from hospital
And I once had to endure some embarrassing anti-rabies shots
After I returned a lost puppy to its vicious mother.
The doctor injected me as if he were playing darts
‘Easy, doc,’ I begged. ‘You’re not tranquilising an elephant!’

To cut a long story short,
The only category of people I can’t handle
Is the league of extraordinarily short people.
I don’t know why but dwarfs tend to think little of me.
Although I stopped saying things like, ‘How’s the air down there?’
And ‘The smaller the come, they lower they hit,’
They still treat me like some sort of enemy.
The long and short of it is that the “vertically challenged”
Often suffer from a condition called the “Napoleon Complex.”
To wit, they make up for their physical inferiority
By being more aggressive than you and me
And the balloon goes up when they overdo it
And end up rubbing others the wrong way.

So now I’m tired of extending the olive branch.
If any “little people” want to brawl, then I’m game;
I’ll even kneel down so that we’ll look the same.
It’s not my fault that you’re so close to the ground –
Shout at God if you want someone to blame.
In any case, you’re the ones selling yourselves short:
Lesser height does not rank under “physical disabilities”
And even the tall have their own insecurities;
Inferiority and superiority complexes are all in the brain.

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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The Return of Gunga Din! (poem)

(c) Alex N Nderitu

Tribute to Rudyard Kipling's classic poem, 'Gunga Din!
To read Kipling's 'Gunga Din', visit

When your countree’s not at war and politicians are shaking hands,
You need to thank Brahma for the peace in your land,
For when them guns start chattering and explosions mushroom
Then it’s ‘Goodbye, suburban mansion; ‘Ello, refugee camp!’
Now in Injia, where I was born and bred,
We have ‘ad our fair share of war and death
And nobody knows that better than me –
In many a conflict, I served as the regimental bhisti .
You may think that tanks, rifles and ammunition
Are the main battlefield requirements but ‘tis actually your water ration:
Believe me when I tell that many a soldier
Has lain on the corpse-scattered battleground whispering, ‘Water…water.’
Of all them sa’ibs I served in their most desperate hour,
I best recall an Englishman called “Rudyard Kiplin’. “
‘E thinks I’m dead but I’m still breathin’ –
I did get shot while taking him some life-saving water,
As ‘e lay in the dust with a bullet in his spleen,
But when everyone thought I was dead, I was shammin’!
Rudyard was a right good feller – I‘ll tell you that for nothin’;
Always ‘ad stories to tell – ‘e made us cry, ‘e made us larf.
‘E was born right ‘ere in Bombay and ‘e often called me ‘brother’;
‘E told me ‘is dream was to become a respected writer.
‘E was a strange one, that one – always scribbling in ‘is notebook.
When we asked, ‘e said ‘e was writing some kinda ‘Jungle Book .’
‘E’d pause from ‘is writing to scratch ‘is shoe-brush moustache;
‘E said ‘e wasn’t ‘appy unless ‘is work ‘ad ‘that magical touch’.
The last time I spied sa’ib Rudyard Kiplin’,
‘E was lying on the battleground yelling, ‘Gunga Din!’
The war was like them epic battles of the Bhagavad-Gita;
We were behind the fight and I prayed to Lord Shiva
As I sped towards sa’ib, bullets singing in my ears.
‘E once told me ‘e didn’t come all the way from Cool Britannia
To be nobody’s prisoner, caged like some exotic tiger;
If ‘e was wounded and the enemy came over to claim the prize,
‘E’d turn ‘is rifle to hisself and go to ‘is God like a soldier!
After drinking the water I gave ‘im, ‘e seemed much better
But we were still in the gravest of danger -
The minute I stood up, a rose of blood blossomed from my chest.
The pain that spread was akin to a blacksmith’s fire
But I decided to play possum rather than risk another bullet:
The sa’ibs were going down like flies and I didn’t want to be next!
I later learnt that sa’ib Kiplin’ survived and became a great writer.
‘E was given so many awards, ‘e even started turning ’em down .
’E was even kind enough to write about ‘is wartime brother, Gunga Din,
But ‘e couldn’t understand ‘y I risked my life for his.
Sa’ib, I’m an illiterate bhisti but you have so much to offer.
Though we made fun of your moustache and English accent,
By the living God that made the world we live in,
You’re a better man than me, Rudyard Kiplin’!

bhisti – water-carrier
sa’ib – sahib; master
shammin’ – pretending
Bombay – Now Mumbai. In Kipling’s time, it was called Bombay. The house in which he was born, in December 1865, is still there.
Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ string of stories later became a big hit with kids and was turned into movies by producer Alexander Korda and the Walt Disney Company
Kiplin’, sorry, Kipling accepted the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature but turned down both a knighthood and the post of British poet laureate. Go figure.

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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The Quantum Mechanics of Love (Poem)

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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It’s a damn shame what is happening to Jack Cole;
His marriage situation is darker than a Black Hole.
(Although Stephen Hawking said that Black Holes aren’t that black.)
I always figured Henrietta was perfect for Jack.
Theirs was the last relationship I expected to come under attack.

I’ve known the Coles for longer than I care to remember.
I’m actually the one who introduced him to her.
They fell in love at the speed of light –
I organized their first date and it went so well, they talked all night!
They both dreamed of becoming great scientists.
Henrietta loved mathematics and Jack wanted to be a physicist
And there was definitely chemistry between them.
Henrietta had a beautiful mind and body – what a gem! –
And Jack had an IQ of one hundred and fifty-seven.
I bet they could have started their own race of alpha children!

The lovebirds passed all their examinations with ease
And decided to get married on receiving their PhD’s.
Jack told me their relationship had reached critical mass
And they wanted to be wedded from that time onwards.
(Actually, he said, ‘from that point in the expansion of the universe’.)
At first, their home was filled with joy and laughter.
Their jokes were so complex, I got them the morning after:
Henrietta: ‘Do you think circles eat pi for dinner?’
Jack (pointing at the wall where his diplomas hang):
‘I hope I get that Nobel Prize – I want to go out with a big bang!’

Now those two geniuses won’t even greet each other.
Jack says that Henrietta nags him as if there’s money in it -
His tolerance has now reached its Chandrasekhar Limit.
Henrietta says that Jack no longer seems to care –
He’s not interested in the thoughts and emotions she wants to share.

Irrespective of having three hundred IQ points between them,
Those two soul mates can’t solve their simple marital problem!
Oh, well. I guess these things are bound to happen:
The theory of Quantum Mechanics clearly tells us
That there is ‘no single definite outcome for an observation,’
The result depends on the variables in the equation.
What annoys me about the Jack- Henrietta situation
Is that I know, as sure as Hydrogen is the lightest gas –
Henrietta loves Jack more than she loves the entire universe
And Jack should simply eat humble pi and apologize –
He wants Henrietta more than he wants the Nobel Prize.

Technical Terms:
Black Hole – collapsed star with gravity so strong not even light can escape!
pi – (pronounced ‘pie’) Mathematical constant used in calculations involving circles. Has a value of 3.14
big bang - pun on ‘Big Bang’, the scientific theory that suggests that our universe began when a primordial particle flared up dramatically.

Chandrasekhar Limit – the maximum possible mass of a stable cold star (Beyond that, the star collapses into a Black Hole)
Quantum Mechanics – The theory developed from Planck’s quantum principle and Heinsberg’s uncertainty principle

The Pope is Getting Married (poem)

“They say all poets must have an unrequited love
As all lovers must have thought-provoking fears”
- Terence Trent D’arby, ‘Holding on To You’

The Pope is getting married.
He must be, or you wouldn’t have come here, girlfriend,
Asking – nay, begging – that we give our love another chance.
You had better believe we have reached a dead end:
The only way I’m taking you back is if the impossible happens,
Like the Pope marries or nuns striptease over the weekend.

How could you do what you did to me?
We were as close as two people could possibly be.
We lay so close that we shared the same air,
Our limbs entangled in an octopus-like snare.
We talked about everything from terrorism to nail care.
And then I find out that you’re having an affair.

When I first saw you walking hand-in-hand with “him”,
I thought it must be your twin sister – I was that dim!
And then I remembered the many “business trips”,
Phone conversations in hushed tones, cold unresponding lips…
And that was when the scales finally fell from my eyes:
Our relationship was a tiny ship floating on a sea of lies.

Why couldn’t you just come clean and tell the truth –
Say that you no longer harboured feelings for me?
What did you think I’d do? Refuse to set you free?
Shoot at you like that sniper from the movie ‘Phone Booth’?
I’m sure Honesty is buried deep in some forgotten graveyard:
Nobody’s truthful anymore – Honesty didn’t even die hard.

By all means, put your mind at ease, girlfriend,
I’ll take you back; the drama has come to an end.
We’ll go back to the way things used to be:
I’ll call you ‘cupcake’ and you’ll call me ‘pooh bear’,
I’ll open doors for you and give you back my house key,
We’ll pillow-talk for hours, the same oxygen we’ll share.

But before re-union, the following events must transpire:
The Pope must get married (The church bells will rock the spire!),
Wolves and sheep must reach a consensus,
Temperatures in Hell must fall below 4 Degrees Celsius,
Politicians everywhere must stop lying to us
And windy pastors become more time-conscious!

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Nile (poem)

The Moon is Made of Green Cheese (poem)

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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The moon is made of green cheese,
The star of 'Titanic' was John Cleese,
Canada is slightly smaller than Greece,
Corn is closely related to black-eyed peas,
Honey comes from birds, not bees,
Elephants sometimes climb trees,
Prophet Muhammed roamed the high seas,
Top lawyers don't charge high fees,
World War Two didn't disturb the peace -
And Susan loves me.

The Golden Man (Poem)

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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'Problem with no man
Before Black, I'm first human'
- musician Wyclef Jean, 'How Many Mics'

I had a dream.
I was walking down a street in downtown Harlem,
The stirring strains of jazz in my ear,
When I bumped into Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was drizzling and darkness had fallen
And I said: ‘Perhaps you could help me, sir.
You see, I’m looking for the Golden Man.’
King said, ‘What do you want them Orientals for, brother?
Say it loud – I’m Black and proud!’
I explained that the Golden Man is without colour;
He knows that racism is ignorance and doesn’t bother
With petty prejudices, seeing humanity as one.

King said: ‘How long have you been searching, son?’
I said: ‘Quite some time now, more than a year.’
‘Have you ever heard about the “Conference of Birds”?’
‘Yes – some birds made an epic flight to see their God
But when they reached Heaven, a big mirror was all they got!’
‘Exactly,’ said the leader of the Million Man March in D.C.
‘Maybe if you looked in a mirror, you’d find the man you want to see.’
‘Me, the Renaissance Man? That’s a good one!
I’m just another face in the crowd – Nobody knows my name!’
King said: ‘The biggest living thing is the General Sherman tree
But, strangely enough, its SEED is the size of a flea!
Tell me, what does your name mean?’
‘Well, in Spanish, it means “defends mankind”.’
‘Now isn’t that strange! Don’t just talk about change –
BE the change that you want to see!’

James Baldwin appeared just as I was parting with Martin Luther.
He smiled broadly and placed a hand on my shoulder:
‘When I was starting out, nobody knew my name, either.
Later they labeled me “the greatest Negro writer.”
The dream becomes a goal when you start working
Towards it. Visualise your goal and start walking!’
I thanked him for his advice and entered a nearby bar.
It was warm, stuffy and as crowded as a slave ship.
In the corner, a small TV was showing the news.
Poet Gil Scott-Heron was nursing a beer when I joined him at the counter.
He turned and said, ‘You the boy from Africa?’
‘Guilty as charged,’ I said as I ordered a Budweiser,
‘I live right next door to the Maasai Mara.’
At that moment, a hush fell across the bar
As the TV showed two White cops flaying a Black youngster.

Gil Scott-Heron switched off the TV and started shouting:
‘Fear not for the revolution is coming, my brothers,
And the revolution will NOT be televised!
The revolutionaries will not talk to Larry King
Or crack jokes on Late Night with Jay Leno.
The revolution will not be available on cable,
The revolution will not be back after a toothpaste commercial,
The revolution will not be yet another Reality TV show,
The revolution will NOT be televised!’

After Gil Scott-Heron’s tirade, order returned to the house.
Billie Holiday took the stage amid a salvo of applause.
When everyone quietened down, the lady began to sing the blues.
‘The Very Thought of You’ was her first song.
Gil Scott-Heron looked at me and said, ‘What’s wrong?’
I said that the song reminded me of my wife, Sue.
‘More than the love of my life, she’s the LIFE of my life:
The very thought of HER makes me smile.’
Gil patted my back, saying, ‘Black love is so beautiful!’
I said, ‘I didn’t know love had colours, my good man,
And, by the way, there’s no such thing as an “African American” -
All people com from Africa, or so the anthropologists say.’
The uproar that ensued drowned out Billie Holiday,
I had to escape before they lynched me.

Standing outside, still ruffled by the earlier hostility,
A young hooker in a micro mini and stilettos approached me.
‘Looking for some action? Anything goes,’ said she.
Barely had I finished saying, ‘No, my sister,’
Than she cocked her head and snapped her fingers.
She said, ‘Sister? You betta change your glasses, Mister!’
And with that, she spun round and sashayed away.

At that moment, Marvin Gaye materialized seemingly from ether.
He lamented: ‘It’s things like that that make me wonna holler!
Our sisters selling their bodies like re-usable drugs,
Our brothers turning into gangsters and fags.
Even in these United States, we are kept on the periphery.
I’m talking about the inner city blues. The powers that be
Have money for space shuttles and foreign wars
But they can’t shelter the homeless or feed the poor.
If this is the American Dream, I’d hate to see the Nightmare!
Taxation without representation. Yeah, makes me wonna holler!
Let’s raise our fists and shout, “Liberation!” ‘

Malcolm X was even more impassioned than Marvin Gaye:
‘You say nobody knows your name, brother?’ -
His glasses were reflecting the neon lights as he addressed me -
‘Forget the slave name and put an X after your real name.
And if you want to see any form of change – any –
Then you have to take the bull by the horns, as they say,
And impose your vision by any means necessary.
I understand that, like me, you’re a writer:
Remember that the pen is mightier than the sword.
You see that tall man standing in the corner?
That’s a G-man pretending to be an idler
And I’m sure that, somewhere, there’s a sniper
But I’m not afraid of becoming a casualty of war.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there is some corner of America that is forever Africa!’

As I left Malcom X, I pondered his last words
And, somewhere, soft as the hiss of distant sprinklers,
Was the sound of a search helicopter.
Could I, like Malcolm, use my pen to stab at social injustice?
They kill outspoken writers, don’t they?
Look at what happened to Stockley Carmichael, Ken Saro-Wiwa…
I had just started to run down the drizzled street when the helicopter
Leaped over a skyscraper and focused its blinding searchlight on me.
I stopped and stared blinkingly at the light, mumbling an urgent prayer.
The searchlight morphed into the sun and familiar sounds flooded my ears.
I looked around and realized that I had woken from my nightmare.
Grateful I was, but the memories of that weird dream would not let me go.
And I knew in the last that even in my waking life,
I would have to continue my search for the Golden Man.

The End.

More info about key characters:
At the age of 39, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of his motel room. Black Nationalist Malcolm X was shot and killed in Harlem by the Nation of Islam. James Baldwin co-wrote the screenplay of Malcolm X's biographical movie. The movie was directed by 'Spike' Lee and starred Denzel Washington as the controversial Black leader. Stockley Carmichael, who was once married to songbird Miriam Makeba, was shot dead by a sniper. Singer Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father during an argument. Billie Holiday died of a drug overdose at the height of her musical career. Gil Scott-Heron's grand revolution never came but attitudes did begin to change and Black people now have a chance to live the American Dream. But even though scientists have proved that a person's melanin count is not barometer for his worth, racism continues to be felt in may parts of the world. The search for the Golden Man continues...

The Gecko (Poem)

Poised halfway up the wall, the gecko watches me.
He can hold a pose for hours but if I approach, he’ll flee.
He has a translucent skin and is as shy as a maiden,
With large black eyes like those of sci-fi alien.
Tiny hooks on his feet allow him to defy gravity
And the stunts he pulls would make Spider-man weep with envy:
I’ve seen him climb on glass and run upside down!
(Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the world’s climbing champion.)

As a nature lover, I only kill creatures that are edible (or deadly)
So the pale lizard has nothing to fear from me.
Unlike those noisy pets, he’s as silent as the Statue of Liberty
And while I scribble my poems in the dead of night he protects me
By preying on mosquitoes which I consider an enemy.
I’d like to say, ‘Thank you,’ but every time I reach out,
The clove-footed little reptile immediately takes flight!
I don’t know why I give him such a fright
But I can’t really say I blame him – if I were gecko
And a giant hand reached out for me,
I’d also scuttle up the walls for safety!

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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The Dead Poets' Society (Poem)

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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A subversive wind was howling across the cemetery
The night I was whisked to the dead poets’ society.

I had been trying to compose a pristine poem
But the creative juices simply wouldn’t flow.
I waited for my muse but she didn’t show
So I decided a long walk was the way to go
And that’s when I made contact with “them”.

A blue mist was hanging over a nearby cemetery
And as I passed, a hand grabbed me without commentary
And pulled me into the strange blue cloud.
Nothing came out though I tried to scream aloud –
I was helpless as a slave who’s gagged and bound.

I landed with a bump in a most unusual environ
And before me stood the Bard from in Stratford-upon-Avon.
‘Shakespeare,’ I exclaimed. ‘What an honour!’
‘Pray,’ spake the Bard. ‘Just call me “Bill”.
And I faith thou hasn’t broken skin or bone
For, here, thou art unlikely to find a blood donor!’

The laughter that ensued brought my attention
To the rest of the distinguished congregation.
All the great, late, poets were present –
From Homer to Yeats – what a variety!
Bill smiled and said, ‘Welcome to the dead poets' society’.

He noticed my thinly veiled consternation
And comfortingly placed a hand on my shoulder.
‘No, my son,’ he assured me. ‘Thou art no apparition.
But though thou art yet to shuffle off the mortal coil,
I have spied you burning the midnight oil
Trying to write but lacking inspiration.’

And on that note, ‘the grand tour’ began.
First, I met S.T. Coleridge who gave us “Kubla Khan”.
‘Well, hello, Ancient Mariner!’ I crooned.
He began to tell me about a ship that was marooned
But Bill cut him off and introduced Dylan.

Being blind, Milton explored my face with his fingers.
I helped: ‘I’m young, slim, average height, Black –’
‘Ah! It matters not if you’re Black or White
As long as you can think with all the colours that be
And let your imagination soar like kite:
I was blind but I still saw in the dark!’

More pearls of wisdom came from William Blake
Who still had the suit he wore (for decency’s sake)
To the Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
‘A single grain of sand can contain Heaven,’ he spake,
‘And eternity can be compressed into an hour.
‘Use words as pictures – SHOW, don’t TELL.’

Meeting Rudyard Kipling was like seeing Elvis
And E.A. Poe isn’t as weird as you might think he is.
Emily Dickinson swelled with pride when I told her:
‘Your poems are some of the most popular the world over.’
‘Really? Good news doesn’t get better than this!’
‘Disperse all doubts for I tell you true –
I’ll bring proof the next time I enter that cloud of blue.’

When my time to leave the secret society finally came,
I had met Cummings, Keats, Barnes, Shelly, Tennyson,
Houseman, T.S.Eliot, Virgil the Poet (of ‘Aeneid’ fame),
James Elroy Flecker and others too numerous to mention.
Some were easily recognizable (like Lord Byron)
While others needed a detailed introduction.

I awoke in my room early the following morn.
There was nothing unusual on or about me.
The peculiar fog had vanished from the cemetery
And I wondered if it had all been a vivid dream
But tis curious to note that since that bizarre journey
My creative juices flow like a rapid mountain stream!


‘And since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.’
- James Elroy Flecker,

To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence


Chinese dragon, Bengal tiger,
Asian elephant, African lion,
Sea of fire, lake of salt –
The clouds can take on any form!

Now white pillows on a blue sheet,
Now speeding space ships, wherever from,
And now a grey ceiling blocking the sun’s heat –
I love to watch the clouds transform!

Back when I was a young lad,
Rather than play football or skip ropes,
I used to lie on the grass, facing skywards,
Just to see the clouds perform!

I’ve seen Washington crossing the Delaware
And Jesus Christ giving a sermon.
’Saw Napoleon at Waterloo but before I could yell, “Beware!”,
The clouds changed again, as is their norm!

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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The Cheetah – Poetry in Motion (poem)

Atop an anthill stands one of nature’s marvels,
Its steady yellow eyes scanning distant gazelles on their travels.
Tourists cloistered in a nearby van click away at the spotted cat,
Ooo-ing and aah-ing at this epitome of feline grace.
The lanky super-predator sashays down to the wide open space,
Its narrow shoulders rising and falling like sea waves
As it treads silently through the tall grass.
Sensing danger, the gazelles stop grazing and raise their heads.
The hunter freezes, but maintains her steady gaze.
When the gazelles decide they were mistaken and dip their heads to graze,
The fastest sprinter on God’s green earth explodes from her hiding place,
Scuttling the prey the way the wind scuttles chaff.
The cheetah’s target is a panicked fawn and she keeps it in focus;
Twenty seconds later, the hunt is over and circling vultures
Indicate the presence of a carcass.

There can be little doubt that the cheetah was designed for speed.
Flaring nostrils and elongated lungs serve the same function
As the “turbo” feature in cars of the Sports Edition
While a large heart quickly replaces oxygen depleted during action.
The elongated trunk and legs allow for strides that are simply incredible
And the spine is flexible enough to arc into hyper- or parabolas.
The general frame is so light that the long tail is able
To counter-balance the body during high-speed swerves.
The claws are non-retractable and act like the spikes on athlete’s shoes.
With all these features, it’s no wonder that when the cheetah runs,
It’s poetry in motion.

But Mother Nature has many children and rarely favours one over another:
The cheetah was granted speed but denied power
Which was okay before the advent of the panthers –
Lions and leopards have immense power and deafening roars.
Another blow was struck at the end of the last Ice Age,
When the Great Flood nearly put paid to the cheetahs’ numbers.
To top it all, humans have drastically reduced their natural habitat
And then they rub salt into the wound by driving their vehicles into the hunts,
Hoping to see the cheetah blaze across the savannah.
A new meaning has been added to the cheetah’s black “tear-drop stains”
As the last of these magnificent cats roam Africa’s great plains
And although conservationists moan the demise of the cheetahs,
I am personally grateful to the God of my ancestors
That He has allowed me to gaze upon such wonderful creatures!

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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1. Only one female cheetah survived the last Ice Age and it is from this lucky specimen that ALL living cheetahs are descended.
2. All modern cheetahs are so closely related that you can take a skin graft from any cheetah and plant it on ANY OTHER cheetah with 100% succes. And if you can tell any two adult cheetahs apart, then you're a better man than me, Gunga Din!
3. Unfortunately, the sabre-tooth cats (lions?) never survived the Flood (end of the last Ice Age). Their curved canines were 7 inches long!
4. If there were cheetahs in the Olympics, the 100 metres record would stand at under 4 seconds!