Print this page

Mentor Across The Ether

Volume 14, Issue 2  | 
Published 30/10/2017

(In memory and in imitation of *Kofi Awoonor)

By John Sibi-Okumu


*Kofi Awoonor, a celebrated poet from Ghana, was killed in the Sepember 2013 attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, where he had been invited to participate in the Storymoja Hay Festival.


You first revealed yourself to me as

a faceless poet

dwelling within continental anthologies.

You wrote lines like

taking a shit in a shrine in Kyoto

then, on another page,

and strip-joints, beneath spinning buttocks.

What words could best describe you?

Unabashed? Combative? Sworn enemy of grandstanders?

Or were you simply translating

from a tongue stripped of prudery?

I was to discover that you, like my father,

had also walked, before me, the streets of caustic cities like

New York, Moscow, London and Paree

had also conjured up, before me, a poised response

to the white man’s contumely.

Which gave me courage when my turn came.

I was to discover your sworn enemies.

The despoilers of the common good

the traducers of the people’s aspirations

the abusers of conferred responsibility.

I never did get to see you in the flesh

but your words remain.

You said what you wanted to say 

and let no one else say it for you.

Which gave me courage when my turn came.

May the oarsman take you to that invisible place

Whence you will still come to join us, as you wish.

And may dance, laughter and impropriety

Perhaps be found there, too,

to make you happy.



(In memory of Kofi Awoonor)

By John Sibi-Okumu


Word spread of an inordinate shooting at a shopping mall

Through frenzied phone calls, through text after text.

Nobody away from it knew how to respond at all,

A feeling of impotence that put many sorely to the test.

You and your son were out exploring at the time,

But no one knew quite where. Painful consolation was to be found

In knowing that the young man survived the violent crime.

You, salt eater of more years, had fallen, lifeless, to the ground.

When the news sank in, we first felt a certain numbness,

Followed by a conviction that the festival must continue, unchanged,

As the best way to offer rebuke to your zealous killers and, doubtless,

More in keeping with how you would have wished to be honoured.

But our pluck gave way to mordant grief

And we decided upon a halt, our sorrow beyond belief.


You had made it clear, no weeping at my funeral, do you hear?

But as you can understand, we have decided to ignore all that.

How can we not mourn our mischievous warrior, the pen his spear?

For that is our way. How can we so swiftly reject

Those observances which make us different?

Forgiveness after condemnation, also, is what wisdom decrees.

We are enjoined not to envy the violent

Or to choose any of their ways.

So, in days to come, speak to us through the wind, to allay our fears.

Speak to us through the thunder, to warn us against bad conduct.

Speak to us through the rain, the better to disguise our tears.

Speak to us through the lightning, to startle us into commitment.

Speak to us Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor.

Speak to us knowingly from that far off shore.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 October 2017 01:36