I heard Nick Makoha read some of his work at last year’s poetry festival in Bridlington and I was blown away by his words. I am, therefore, grateful and honoured to welcome him to my blog and my occasional series where I ask poets to explain themselves – or at least explain the inspiration behind one of their poems. Find out more about Nick Makoha’s work here: https://nickmakoha.com/
Resurrection Man by Nick Makoha
Somewhere west of our sacred sites, the ghost
of your former self is rising from captivity.
Your student friend, the one who saw you last,
swears she left you alive in the taxi. Even after my
two-fisted punches. She denies being the one who
gave the signal for dark men to change their shapes
in the night, as you knelt, blindfolded. I want to believe
she had no part in the shaving of your hair and pubic mound
in front of onlookers. Rebels kneading your breast
like posho in their palms, begging in turn for your body,
bleached by their jeeps’ headlights. Once broken,
you were dragged by the arms across the grass
onto the unpaved taxiway of Arua airport. Then
one yelled, “Burn her! The witch.” Their echoes agreed.
One lit the match, another peeled the blindfold,
the rest poured gin on your face. I know you saw me
in the hollow of a tree. I wanted to run to you
but their bullets would have easily caught up with me.
I stood firm, learning to hide myself in the dark.
A man must have two faces; one he can live with
and one he will die with. The second face is mine.
I thought that I was midway through writing the book that would eventually be Kingdom of Gravity. I did not know this at the time but it was actually the beginning. The original working title was The Second Republic. This is what Uganda was referred to in its second constitution. But after writing this poem and placing it into the draft, it seemed to shuffle the deck. It raised the bar for what the collection could be. Good poems hum in their conception, in their reading and re-reading. They exist at their own frequency like Derek Walcott’s The Schooner Flight or Tracy. K. Smith’s My God, It’s Full of Stars. When I write a poem like this it feels like a fluke or like when a DJ finds a rare record. The lines are akin to musical notes.
One of my favourite songs is Human Nature by Michael Jackson, it transforms you whether you are in a car, sitting at your desk or at nightclub ordering drinks at the bar. The poem Resurrection Man has that quality. I first noticed this when it got commended for the Flamingofeather poetry competition. I have a lot of thanks for this poem. It opens up the Uganda of the 1970’s to the reader. It’s for that reason I named my second pamphlet after the poem and in many ways I think its resonance has something to do with why the pamphlet Resurrection Man (Jai Alai Books) won the Toi Derricotte + Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize. In many ways this poem gave me the confidence to be bold with my writing. It is the window through which I climbed to finish Kingdom of Gravity.
Nick Makoha’s debut collection Kingdom of Gravity is shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection and nominated by The Guardian as one of the best books of 2017. He won the 2015 Brunel International Poetry prize and the 2016 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for his pamphlet Resurrection Man. He is a Goldsmiths, Cave Canem & Complete Works Alumni. His poems have appeared in The New York Times, Poetry Review, Rialto, Triquarterly Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, and Wasafiri.
‘Nick Makoha’s first full-length collection, Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree £8.99), was the 2017 debut which most excited me. Focused on Uganda during the Idi Amin dictatorship, his poetry is charged with ethical sensibility. The lines protest as they sing “the song disturbed by helicopter blades…” but they don’t simplify things: they explore, and complicate. Personal witness and artistry are one.’ – Carol Rumens – The Guardian
Find him at www.nickmakoha.com Or on Twitter: @NickMakoha
Buy Resurrection Man & Kingdom of Gravity: https://nickmakoha.com/books/