Mawiyoo, Ngwatilo. “Three poems.”
Transnational Literature, vol. 13, July 2021
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Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

Found: Portrait Of Umau’s Early Days

With Tom Mboya’s Freedom And After

My father knew in his own mind that we were Africans, eyesores to the Europeans. My mother later decided I was born to go to school. With complete power over us, the missionaries insisted we must be Christians to learn to read and write. What my father wanted for his children: payment for the way they punished us. So I was sent to a local mission school to be converted, fully accepted as one of them. I still remember how dry it was in the reserve where farmers could own land: it was scrub and thorn trees, soldiers. Evenings we merely ate and slept. There was no education. The missionaries lived very simply and very tribally. I came to know their language and tribal customs, to behave very much like them. By the age of twenty-eight I was known to be good, enlightened. When I became a teacher at a mission school, with a wife and family, I determined to have a better standard of life, not a mud-and-wattle hut with no sanitary facilities and no piped water. Only traveling helped me remember how we were bought, made into investments against Europe’s old age. The passionate hopes of my father haunted me in those early years, those sacraments between parents and children.

Found: Eulogy For My Father

With J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship Of The Ring

It may seem magical, the world:
full, hard and perilous,
fond of estrangement,
the mountains rich and peculiar.

He brought back from his travels
something exceptional:
rumour of the coming event –
(perfect truth isn’t natural.)

The talk did not die down
in the hills or run off the mountains,
and ancient people love peace.

He had never seen his dreams,
the dark past in the heart
of fireside-tales, children
walking in ways difficult to tell
until one is far away.

Money was running out.
It was well known,
a matter of fact.

At the end of June
he went off at dawn
forgot his troubles.

The morning refreshed a string
of banished questions:
Am I content to go out,
to fly below the trees?

Night Swim

This black Pacific, a universe.
In its playfield, I am the silver
Pinball sphere; child
god driving a glimmer train
of bioluminescence.

See plankton glow in praise
when I draw near,
see me splash that water up
like fireworks. Perhaps this
creation in rapture will meet
my Father, after, tell him I am
almost naked, neither cold
nor ashamed.

Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s recent poems appear, or are forthcoming, in The Malahat Review, Room, Wasafiri and Pidgeonholes. The author of two chapbooks – Dagoretti Corner and Blue Mothertongue – received her MFA from the University of British Columbia. Ngwatilo makes her writing/directing debut in 2021 with her short film, Joy’s Garden. “Found: Portrait Of Umau’s Early Days” first appeared in Poetry Is Dead. “Night Swim” first appeared in Dagoretti Corner.