In direct narrative terms the poems in this collection relate to the horrors of the civil war that ousted the brutal tyranny of Idi Amin in Uganda, a war of liberation that brought its own barbarous atrocities. In political terms the poems chart the impact of imperialism and neo-colonialism that lay behind those traumas in the life of the nation. In personal terms, the poems are framed between the contrary pulls of attachment and flight, exile and longing. At their heart is an unwavering curiosity about how people behave in extreme situations, and what this reveals about our common human capacities to indulge grandiose visions, betray them, dissemble, seek revenge and kill. There is no presumption of innocence. There may be flight, but there is no standing aside. The narrator can dream (but is it a dream?) of a “dead man/who has been stung by the invisible bee of my bullet”.
There is much darkness of reference in the collection, but also a hopeful search for truthfulness and trust as the only things that matter. The poems -- as poems of grace, control and beauty of image – demonstrate the power of the best poetry to speak of difficult things in a way that enlightens, not merely horrifies. The care in the making and shaping of the poems bears witness to the evident fact that for Nick Makoha poetry became “This rock […] a sanctuary from which I can repair the ruins”.
“The Kingdom of Gravity is also that of graveyards that follow military rules and all varieties of authoritarianism in post colonial Africa. Makoha reminds me of Brecht who once wrote that even in the dark times, there will be singing about the dark times. His poetry is full of telling lines and images that capture the uneasy synthesis of the clear and the contradictory, the menacing and the promising, the ugly and the beautiful, but images that burn long into memory of the reader. ”
—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
“Nick Makoha's poems animate in the space between story and song. His sentences unwind full of ‘axe heads, shanks, short rope, blades, some poison and all its animal understanding.’ His imagery and insights are strung along an electrified syntax. He writes, ‘You will try to make sense of the terrain, its limits on reality, its secondary sounds – the crickets speaking pure rhetoric.’ I find the terrains of his thinking and feeling breathtaking. Kingdom Of Gravity is truly an amazing debut.”
What history will the poets write? In Kingdom of Gravity, Nick Makoha writes the tale left untold after the soldiers, politicians, reporters and priests have spoken. His words ring into memory, into silence, into the body. This is a poet’s archive of the unsaid, but also much more than that. How exquisitely the tale is told, at last. Carrying finely wrought metaphors, every page stopped my breath. In these poems, the sky is “an iris of black glass” and truly “There are days/ when this unplanned landscape speaks its music.” This is a collection by a poet of extraordinary gifts.
author of The Dream in the Next Body and A hundred silences, and the forthcoming collection, Axis and Revolution.
THE KINGDOM OF GRAVITY
We are not Alexander, who conquered worlds
giving them new tongues. But we share the story
of a ship resting on an African river, unbuckling
at its shore, awakened by the nights cold hard rain,
staring at the face of the Nile as it reminds you.
You are a hawk silent in the voice of a midnight universe
What makes a man name a city after himself;
asking bricks to be bones, asking the wind
to breathe like the lungs of the night,
asking the night to come closer, to speak
to you as a tribe, asking the tribe to sleep,
asking sleep to loosen its language, asking
language to dream. Come close to me.
Can you not see that I am in search of fire?
The unshapen song of light. In my mouth
is a name hovering like smoke, spoken to me
by the oracle. Like others, I was in search
of a forest, a place to call home.
But what can I tell you about Kingdom,
about having the world at your feet?
When you have seen all the earth’s boundary,
you will crave for mirrors searching for them in streams,
and when the river looks back at you
how will you be sure that nothing is lost?