Several great people are not recognised until they either die or win a Nobel prize. Clifton Gachagua has neither died nor won a Nobel but he crosses my attention path. He has however won a prize and some money and I guess a publishing deal. This information came to me in an email from The Sillerman First Book for African Poets informing me that I had not won the poetry prize for which I had submitted my poems, that I had lost it to Clifton Gachagua and they went ahead to heap lots of praise to his collection saying those things that poetry critics say about poetry collections that are as cryptic as the poems themselves and that do very little to explain the poems to a poetry layman and that create a delighting confusion in heads like mine. Congratulations Clifton, should you ever read this.
I had encountered his name and poetry in the Kwani? 6 and as it happens to several who haven’t died or won the Nobel I overlooked his poems. My excuse; reading the Kwani?s, as much fun as it may be, can be tasking and the catchy poems for me are the very short urgent and sometimes simple. So I overlooked him for the unforgettable simplicity in say, Waiganjo Ndirangu’s Dos and don’ts or the on point Tee break and Curriculum Vitae by Mogaka Nyagwencha. Unathi Siyondazi is extremely moralistic but she pulls it off. Anyway, I went digging in the crates for my Kwani? 6 to remind myself what the victorious Gachagua was about.
He has 3 poems in the Kwani? to his name and wow! The descriptions on The generals street is unlikely and meticulous and ‘country bus, revelations’ is yet again descriptive but more cryptic. But it is this poem that got me, A nectar Childhood it is called. If this is what his collection that won the prize is about then I just can’t wait. There it goes, enjoy.
A Nectar Childhood
By Gachagua Clifton Mwangi
The oldest building in phase 2
Had a hedge clinging to its walls
Hibiscus and bougainvillea
Coupling like lesbians
I was so young I trusted happiness
There were budding red hibiscus flowers
With petals hugging into a flute
I sipped microlitres of the nectar
Seasoned with ants trapped in the sticky juice
Nectar was first in the list to do on Saturday morning
Number two was Njeri’s cotton underpants.
In the afternoon, behind the bar
Atieno would put me on her lap like a ventriloquist
And tickled my glans till I laughed
She made sounds like a broken harp.
That was the first time I touched a woman
Her breast were rolls of rubber bands
Her face, an empty house to be coloured by crayons
I loved to colour then,
Before my step-uncle died of pneumonia
My step-dad inherited his two sons, royalties and the old cello,
He made songs for my mother in a tenor
She hides the cassettes in the septic bucket
She spat into when she was pregnant with his child.
I keep remembering Njeri and the watchman.
He let us use his mattress, if I let him use her.