Reading Akello

Michael Onsando
9 June ,2015

Akello is a book of love poems.

That’s the short version. But I’m wondering what it means to say the words “love poems” anymore. To explore the ideas of feeling and being a space that is decidedly against these same ideas. Love slowly moves to being a radical act (still, I hear echoes of ‘the power of love, but that’s not it either – at least not all of it).

“Let me define

my walls

my cage

my boundaries

my limits

my horizons”

– 21, Akello

Audre Lorde reminds us that the personal is political. I’ve been reading this book thinking about what it means to ask to define boundaries as a young person navigating Nairobi – a space of dictation. I’m trying to see what it means to take that which is yours but somehow has never been.

What does it mean to really hear what the poet is asking for and let her define?

The thing about writing poetry is that it is from a place of truth. Sometimes that truth is as simple as a creak

The gate creaks open

in sol-fa, like a diva

remembering tune”

– 2

Seeing that this poem comes from a place of truth and knowing that craft is consistent (even if that consistence is change) we can begin to open up to some other truths that will present themselves. Some others that then become less apparent/comfortable to imagine. The interesting thing about these poems particular is that they are a truth we are uncomfortable with in a different way. In a way we are okay with.

We’ve somehow become okay with ignoring the significance of just how close that love cuts to our core. Having listened to love song after love song it’s become easy to reduce a lot of the message to “another love poem.” But poetry has been about love since its inception – one wonders at what point they expected the romantics to stop romanticizing.

Still it’s easier to do that than to admit “I crave you like/a hemp farm craves weed.”  Or, “But I don’t want to. If/there is one/better than you/with less flaws/ and more money/I don’t want him” First, because we have set ourselves inside relationships that are so controlled by power dynamics that admitting a need of that magnitude is unimaginable to many. But also because it is corny, and we like to see ourselves as serious people. As people who are above the pettiness of heartbreak. We have repeated it in the mirror like a mantra watching our lips form the words.

The poet herself writes it in 38 a poem on Nairobi:

“only the proud survive, only the true love.”

Truth isn’t about comfort. Truth is just truth.

“In my life


I’m not sure

which is easier to find


or truth”

– 10

I’m wondering what form of challenging exists in creating love poems in the age of protest (even as I hold back on ascribing intent. Truth is often not a position, but a state of being). Still, I’m wondering what this state of being brings out in us and what it says.

Some of the things it brings out are simple:



things I need to accept:

The living of life leaves no room for regret

and you need to grab all the happiness you can get”

– 65

Others, frolicsome:

“You’ve got me going



– 50


And some, hopeless:

“I can’t seem to stop myself

and I don’t have a plan

to get back to normalcy”

– 32

And further and further it journeys into places that make us squirm because they are places that we are either not used to being in or places we have identified as weakness. But what do we dismiss when we ignore weakness, and what does strength demand? Wambui Mwangi writes:

If Superman leaps over a tall building at a single bound, well, yawn, stretch and change the channel. If I were ever to leap over a tall building at a single bound, I would expect some serious attention, astonishment, adoration and for everyone to realise that having done all this leaping about, I would fairly obviously need a good long rest.

Conversely, I most certainly would not appreciate having immediately presented to me another building, over which I am also expected to leap without question or hesitation.

In this article, titled the Myth of the Strong Black Woman, the professor is talking about the unseeing that comes with imagining extra strength. If we imagine that black women have infinitely more capacity if becomes easier to dump and unsee as the paragraph above shows.


“It’s not that I don’t

have secrets. It’s just you’ve ne

ver asked me to tell”

– 4


The news shows us death and dying. The state continues to blame citizens for everything from wars to climate change.  These are things we need to know, they are happening and this they are important. And, in a world where all these things are happening, surely it comes as a bit of a comfort that someone is still writing love poems – because that means love still exists somewhere. Even if only in the off white pages of a 92 page book.


“And if I were different, this story would be

told again and again, upon eternity.

My words are unable

my words are unable.”

– 12

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