Poem introduction

Of all the prison poems I've written I think this is my favourite little one. We were asked to scrub the walls of the prison to clean the place up and we saw on one wall graffiti and several prisoners refused to touch it, to scrub it out, because it was good. It was a rude statement about the country's politics, hence this poem.

Scrubbing the Furious Walls of Mikuyu

Scrubbing The Furious Walk Of Mikuyu

Is this where they dump those rebels,
These haggard cells stinking of bucket
Shit and vomit and the acrid urine of
Yesteryears? Who would have thought I
Would be gazing at these dusty, cobweb
Ceilings of Mikuyu Prison, scrubbing
Briny walls and riddling out impetuous
Scratches of another dung-beetle locked
Up before me here? Violent human palms
Wounded these blood-bloated mosquitoes
And bugs (to survive), leaving these vicious
Red marks. Monstrous flying cockroaches
Crashed here. Up there the cobwebs trapped
Dead bumblebees. Where did black wasps
Get clay to build nests in this corner?

But here, scratches, insolent scratches!
I have marvelled at the rock paintings
Of Mphunzl Hills once but these grooves
And notches on the walls of Mikuyu Prison,
How furious, what barbarous squiggles!
How long did this anger languish without
Charge, without trial, without visit here, and
What justice committed? This is the moment
We dreaded: when we'd all descend into
The pit, alone, without a wife or a child -
Without mother; without paper or pencil
- Without a story (just three Bibles for
Ninety men), without charge without trial;
This is the moment I never needed to see.

Shall I scrub these brave squiggles out
Of human memory then or should I perhaps
Superimpose my own, less caustic; dare I
Overwrite this precious scrawl? Who'd
Have known I'd find another prey without
Charge, without trial (without bitterness)
In these otherwise blank walls of Mikuyu
Prison? No, I will throw my water and mop
Elsewhere. We have liquidated too many
Brave names out of the nation's memory.
I will not rub out another nor inscribe
My own, more ignoble, to consummate this
Moment of truth I have always feared!

from The Last of the Sweet Bananas: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books in association with The Wordsworth Trust 2004) copyright © Jack Mapanje 2004, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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1The New Platform Dances

2Song of Chickens (from 'Cycles')

3When This Carnival Finally Closes

4Making Our Clowns Martyrs

5In Memory of Matthew, 1976

6The House that Florrie Intended

7Sketches of London

8The First Train to Liverpool (Enfield: Liverpool 1, Stoke 0, 1972)

9Travelling in London Tubes

10On Being Asked to Write a Poem for 1979

11Visiting Zomba Plateau

12Out of Bounds (Or Our Maternity Asylum)

13Vigil for a Fellow Credulous Captive

14On Banning 'Of Chameleons and Gods' (June 1985)

15The Seasoned Jacarandas of Zomba

16The Famished Stubborn Ravens of Mikuyu

17Scrubbing the Furious Walls of Mikuyu

18Your Tears Still Burning At My Handcuffs, 1991

19Skipping Without Ropes

20The Child that Now Hurts

21It's The Speed That Matters, My Dear Padre

22The Seashells of Bridlington North Beach

23Now That Sept. 11 Should Define Mr Western Civilization...