To Burn Again…

Though alive with deeper fire,
youth’s inflaming haunts me still;
For the hearth where once it burned now lies
in a half-light faint and still.

Yet if, by chance, a gust should blow by there,
o’er the ashes cold and grey,
the embers all at once are roused.
From underneath the ghost of fires past
there surges ardent flame,
sweet as mayfly cloud does from the earth
when showers deign to fall;
strong as whisky draught,
and whispering as gently as the rain.

Though the embers simply slumber,
though their burning lingers still,
still I yearn that there may surface soon,
from underneath the grey,
that lively heat, that fervent light
that stirs the soul,
that, in the darkness of the night,
flares high and radiant,
and melts the lifeless

Youth, your inflaming
haunts me


Alone in the Dark

In the past few months, my little brother’s eyes have grown somewhat…older. In many ways, Terence is still the same. He’s still dwarfed by many of his classmates, and still hides behind the nearest wall when visitors come over until someone drags him out into the open, then, after a bashful ‘Hi,’ flies up the stairs and slams the door of his bedroom shut. But even though gaps still show in his mouth where little teeth used to be, and he still finds sweet things irresistible and study a recurring nightmare (sometimes, when he’s told to revise for his exams, he even cries), there’s something different about him nowadays.

Ever since my youngest sister, Eleanor, was born, he’s had to give up the lastborn privileges – she is now the two-year-old queen of the Nyiha household. Her subjects? A doting father, a caring mother, a wise, cheerful maid and five insane siblings. For my part, I can’t help it: her innocence just shines out from her, glorious and pure and unpretentious, digging deep into my heart and, by the contrast, so vividly showing me my own interior darkness and complication that I feel ashamed. Often, I turn away so the tears don’t well up; maybe you’ve felt the same way before. And nowadays, when Terence looks at her as they run shouting all over the house, there’s a hint of a protector inside his boyish eyes.

I still remember those nights when he and I used to sleep in the same room. He’d yank the door open and patter across the landing to my parents’ bedroom.

“I’m scared!” His wide eyes would glisten in the half-light coming in through the curtains.

My dad would murmur in a voice thick with sleep, “Mm…what are you scared of?”

“Monsters!” He’d think he’d heard them lurking in the dark …

Remember your old childhood fear.

Alone in the darkness, surrounded by her emptiness, your clothes and your own body heat the only sensations against your skin, she would haunt you. She’d echo every distant sound and long after the silence had settled, she’d whisper it in your ears. She’d compel your imagination to fill her emptiness with all sorts of strange noises and movements. She’d set your heart racing with fear. She’d slow down the passing of time itself. But worst of all was the blindness, and the thoughts that came along with it, that anything could be hiding in your wardrobe, under your bed, right next to you, and you’d never know until it was too late.

Alone in the dark, you yearned for light.

For anyone who’s seen a bit more of life, though, that fear has a slightly different tone. Ask anyone caught out of his home after 7:00 p.m., and you’ll realise that darkness is to be feared. Only, it isn’t monsters we’re afraid of now…

Darkness, coldness, emptiness… it’s all the same, isn’t it?

Well, I used to think so too, until I started noticing kids more. Working in a school makes you notice them, no matter how aloof or absent-minded you may be. I like to look at the boys falling all over and screaming their heads off (just the younger ones, mind you; the older ones have lost their innocence). Every morning, they shout like it’s the first day of school, they play football with bottle tops and paper bags, they climb onto the monkey-bar and race each other back and forth, their eyes shining with delight, fear, and the thrill of being 1.5 metres above the ground – I guess that’s a huge drop for the little guys. And I think, “All of these also came from darkness.”

For nine months, they were sheltered in their mothers’ wombs where they were never alone, not even for a single moment. The darkness was never empty. There was no chilling silence because, even while she slept, her breathing accompanied them in the blackness. Though they could never see her or feel her touch, they knew she was there. And she always loved them.

The world is a mother’s womb.

We are inside it, immersed in darkness, in emptiness, in cold, in bitterness, in lies. You don’t need to go as far back as the World Wars. You don’t even need to go to the morning paper. Just look inside yourself, and if you’re honest, you’ll see it’s true.

Yes, in the world we find laughter, excitement, adventure, beautiful sunsets, the ocean’s hiss on the shore, the rain’s whisper in the trees… There are also tears, hatred, corruption, anguish, cynicism and despair. But we are not alone.

God looks upon us with a mother’s love.

… Then, why do we suffer?

Well, when I hear this question, I remember two closely connected things:

The first is a smile on a black face. (When I say black, I mean black.)

Joy coaxes all that darkness into gentle curves and sets the eyes gleaming with a light all at once familiar and mysterious. It seems to have no source, but suffuses the whole face, the way the twilight sun lights up the sky even though the sun has disappeared beyond the horizon. All sternness, all scars of time disappear in that strange glow of youth, vigour, hope and life.

Suddenly, a light fills the darkness.

The second is the Pope’s address to the youth in the Kasarani Stadium during his visit to Kenya two years ago.

Manuel, one of the youths chosen to ask the Pope a question, asked, “How can we realize that God is our Father? How can we see God’s hand in the tragedies of life?”

Visibly moved, he replied:

“There is only one answer: no, there is no answer. There is only a way: to look to the Son of God.

God delivered his Son to save us all. God let himself get hurt. God let himself be destroyed on the cross. So when the moment comes when you don’t understand, when you’re in despair and the world is tumbling down all around you, look to the cross!

There we see the failure of God; there we see the destruction of God. But there we also see a challenge to our faith: the challenge of hope. Because that story didn’t end in failure. There was the resurrection, which made all things new.”

Goodness from evil.

Life from death.

Light from darkness.

On Inspiration

Those moments rare, when the veil is lifted,
The old light shines once more,
Not as faded gleam nor glimmer faint
Through the woven fabric’s pores,
But quickening the weary soul,
Illumining the mind;
A sudden burst, a brilliance fair,
Eternity’s bright, tender stare –
Oh, how I languish for those moments rare!


Recently, maybe mid-February, I was having dinner somewhere with some friends. I wish that I could say more about the place – the lighting, the decorations hung on the walls, the general atmosphere, the general atmosphere – but none of those things struck me that night. I didn’t notice any particular attention to detail in the folding of the napkins, in the choice of colours (not that it wasn’t there, though.) What did strike me was the dessert: a spongecake, golden brown, topped with coconut shavings dyed green, like a field of grass. Bright strawberries stood blushing at its corners, and in the warm light, you could see their juicy wetness.

As it went round, I tried to start some small talk with the man next to me, resisting looking at the thing, but in between words, my eyes kept darting left, as if drawn by a magnet. I’ve never lived a longer three minutes in my life!

Finally, it arrived. I served a (*ahem) reasonable portion onto my plate. Slowly, I dug in the spoon; the cake gave in under the pressure, I felt its airy softness. Then, the first taste. At once, a warm sweetness filled my mouth – the strawberry’s tartness was a burst of soul and vigour. But underneath it all, whisky’s bitterness rose, full and fiery, engulfing everything. It was so…poetic!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about that dish: bittersweet, and yet the bitterness was so full, so rich! It was like a little slice of life served on a plate…

It’s there in youths thrilled by the brilliant glamour of their dreams of success. For some, the bitterness comes when they take their first few steps and, dismayed at the realisation of the sacrifices they have to make, they falter and fail. Others endure, then encounter setbacks and fall,never quite mustering the strength and courage to get back on their feet. A few make it all the way to the end, but over the years, grow tired of it all, of working aimlessly all their lives, of having all the money they desired, and they begin to wonder what the point of life is if all you do is work for no reason for half your life, then retire, then die and leave all that effort behind… They seek something…fuller to satisfy that inner restlessness.

It’s there in newly-weds burning with ardent passion. At first, their bliss dwarfs all challenges and fears, and before its splendour, pain, sorrow, loneliness, and suffering seem to be just so much dust. But after a few weeks, reality slaps them hard in the face. Frictions that their passion had smoothed over become like sawblades digging deep. Pockets run empty. Stress kicks in. The in-laws enter the mix. They’re overwhelmed by a loss of that (so-called) freedom they used to have… The time has come to let go of the tinsel of good feelings and find that something deeper.

It’s there in Kenya, this country of ours, born of rivers of blood and countless tears, of soaring hope, borne in the memories of our elders and dying in the hearts of so many of her children. The skies in which their hope soared have clouded over, their horizons are veiled, the sun has sunk and in the darkness of corruption, hatred and cold, they fumble for light.

But what makes life’s bitterness full and rich, like whisky?

In the words of a wise priest, “Love is the best reason for doing anything.” Love makes everything worthwhile. Only in forgetting ourselves and thinking about others, about those next to us, in trying to serve them (all of them, even that person you just can’t stand, everyone) do we begin to find happiness.

Yes, life is bittersweet, and in her bitterness, we can find that deeper sweetness.

Blinded – Searching (Inner Restlessness)

Outside, the rain descending softly whispers;
Within, the tempest roars.
From the window, into haze like misty wedding veil I pore,
Lifting with my eyes the folds of marless clouds with hope unsure
Of touching with my gaze the peerless face, the radiance of her eyes.
Though now immured, I see her – still she lingers in my mind.
She is Life, she is Freedom,
She is Joy forevermore –
She ventures not within the confines of these walls.

A Smile in the Dark

It’s like looking at the stars in the night sky…

A flurry of activity, all around him: children are running about, playing soccer in dusty school uniform, clouds of dirt rising at their hurried footfalls; birds flit about from branch to branch like black streaks in the brightness of an August afternoon, withered blades of grass dangling from their beaks as they fret about their nests; tides of animated chatter surge and recede; here, shouts of raucous laughter resound; there, a cry bursts from the lips of a lively storyteller.

As he speaks, there is a depth in his eyes as the words trickle forth from him, a depth that beckons, invites his listener to come closer, almost as the clear stillness of the ocean calls one to plumb its depths. His gaze is gentle. Now, a laugh escapes from him, thick and heavy and soft. His brilliant smile wreathes the hard stone lines of his face into smooth, mirthful curves; a twinkle dances in his eyes. It’s like looking at the stars in the night sky, or the warm light of a distant flame in the dark. So black a face, yet so radiant a smile!


A Man’s Eyes

What shall I call them? To what shall I compare them?

Looking at it, the details lead you in, the little touches left in place by the deft hand of the artist. Candlelight, so soft and gentle, almost like a kiss laid upon the walls, to make them glow with a muted blushing – it bathes the painting with a rosy light.

Dive through the frame like a window and stare. Stare at his eyes, there, in the scene. Look at the light in them, bright, arresting. Hear the clamour of the people, feel the sweat slide down your skin and look, look into his eyes.

Let the sunlight burn into your skin, and the burnished armour blind you.
Feel the people brush against you, push you aside, and see him still, upon the ground, fatigued.
Let the weeping of the women pierce your heart.

See the blood flowing like a river, like the blood of roses spilt on desert sand. His blood.
Hear the whips that crack against his skin, and their shouting, and the cries, like blades come from the hand of a beloved friend.

Look at his face.

Look into his eyes.

Then, a movement, and the desert melts away. Startled, you look up, beyond the candlelight’s reach, into the shadows. There’s someone there!

His eyes catch your gaze, hold it, arrest it.

What shall I call them? To what shall I compare them?

Diamonds, hard and glittering, white-hot with flame the likes of which has never been beheld by men, or blazing embers, bearing a fearsome fire within them, the very heartfire of the earth?

Stars above, radiant and lofty, jewels adorning the firmament, or ice and snow, brilliant, colder than the breath of winter itself?

Lightning, swift and terrible, piercing through the heavens, or steel, firm and unbending, like the warrior’s resolve?

A man’s eyes.

Words to a Weary Soul

“Come forth, venturing the narrow way;
Let nothing hold you.
I shall wait.”

Turn not, tread in spite of mist and dark,
this thorn-strewn way;
Bleed, bare your heart.

Hold me, lest I crumble, turn to dust!
Your light, so distant…


“Fear not, let me see the wounds, the tears,
Your dolours, sorrows;
I will soothe.”

Forward, braving night, and wind and rain,
Burn, love again,


Like the Albatross

Away now he flies, off into the blue,

White-winged and shining, gleaming bright.


Away, two birds race, one aloft in the wind,

And the other ‘neath the sea, gliding, glistening white.

Calm, noble movements, every single one twinned.

They circle, untethered.


The sight smites the heart, having many years weathered,

In its darkness, and weakness, and greed.

And it longs for the hour it’ll be freed.

Nature – A Reflection

Mountain, steep and jagged, tough,

And crowned with searing cold, the winter snow;

Past the horizon staring,

O’er the clouds below.

Behold the sight, grandeur!

In you, we glimpse Immensity.

Seedling, little, delicate,

Cherished, born from sweat and blood and pain,

Such tender care receiving;

Oblivious you remain.

The sower’s sacrifice – an image of Maternity.