The monkeys are brave these days, hungry. I come home to find two of them sitting outside my door, watching me as they peel the bananas I had just bought, the ones that were to become banana bread this afternoon. I throw a ball at one of the monkeys. He barely flinches. Takes another bite of my banana, saunters onto the roof. Whose to say I’m not the intruder here.

The girls have created a skateboard game that involves levels of difficulty, one girl spread out on the floor, the others trying to maneuver around her. They cheer for each other, cry when their fingers get rolled over, fall and shriek and laugh. I swallow my warnings, try not to watch.

A common bulbul has built a nest in the hibiscus bush by our porch. I am talking with a friend, sharing parenting sorrows and wiping away tears, when she sees the babies, two small heads with beaks wide open, a wriggling bug hanging from the mama’s mouth (I recognize her as another mother doing her best). She flies away and the small feathery shapes duck down, disappear, waiting.

 

To the followers of The Kirsten Collective

Thank you to those of you have followed my blog, and those of you have been checking in, wondering where I’ve disappeared to. I wanted to let you know that I’m revamping my site and will be launching the new updated version in the near future, hopefully around the time that my soon-to-be-released memoir appears for sale on Amazon. At the moment, the site is set to Private while I work on it. Thank you for your patience. I”ll be sure to let you know when I’m back!

Kirsten

@The Kirsten Collective

Roots

I leave my house in the damp
blurriness of morning, walk until
the city cannot reach me.
Stepping out of my shoes, I press
the warm soles of my feet
onto wet stone, damp leaves,
but still the distance between me
and the roots of things is too great.
So I kneel down, dig my fingers into
the blanket of dirt, peel open
crinkly seed pods,
the ideas of so many trees lined up
inside that brown dying skin.
I put a seed in my mouth, taste my
longing to enter the humus,
to close all the gaps between me
and the ground of all growing.
When it starts to rain, I lift my face
toward the downpour, willing
the moving sky and the wet earth
and the tall trees to swallow me
inside themselves, wash away
the boundaries of my skin,
plastic beads, synthetic clothes.
Kneeling with the devotion
of a thousand desperate
saints, I ask the earth to absorb
me with gulping love
into her ripe
rolling body.

When the Moon Fell in the Desert

Tonight I watched a star slice through the dark
Turkana sky, so bright I thought the
moon was falling, and I realized it
was the first thing I’d seen in this
wide country that made me gasp
for the beauty of it. But this place, too,
is beloved of the earth, this place, too,
holds the million miracles. I suspect it takes
a learning, a leaning into this life, to see
its small offerings, an intimacy with
the blazing heat, the endless sand,
the sharp clarity of no water, no food,
no crops, before your heart can open
wide enough to receive the gift of the golden sun
laying its heart across the lean acacia. Before you
smile to hear the black bird with the caw
like a creaking door and the dove
with its watery whooping. And then,
if you are lucky, you will find you love
the immense courage and artistry of a people
choosing thousands of beads, startling
against the endless browns of this place,
who wear as much beauty as their necks can hold
when beauty seems to have no meaning.
Who find time to attend to the stringing of necklaces,
hard silver bands bent around wrists, tiny braids
against smoothly shaven temples when water itself
is unassumed, when life this week again
is tenuous. When did I learn that beauty
was a luxury? What have I ever known
about survival?

A Confederacy of Flight

Maybe it’s middle age,

all the talk of joints

and life insurance, but

my envy has shifted

from the lovely

polished humans-

whatever it was that

once looked like success,

that tenuous beauty-

to the preposterous

hornbill, the beige

and ruffled mousebird,

all those flying things

with their sharp purpose,

those magnificent wings.

I dream of decomposing,

feeding my tired skin to

an earthworm, just

for the final hope of being

swallowed by a bird,

of joining the swooping

confederacy, the hope

of all that air

lifting me.

The girls practice magic tricks, pore over magic books, collect coins and cards and homemade wands. Phil buys them new decks of cards in shiny gold boxes, like cigarettes. They hold them with reverence, deal the cards out into piles over and over, amazed at the power of conjuring magic.

I sit in a corner booth with a friend, feel tears pool against my eyelashes as we tell the truth about mothering and marriage and conversations with pious, perfect friends. My coffee turns lukwarm between my hands as the relief of honesty fills my lungs.

We let the birdfeeder sit empty and every day, the bronze mannekins land on the terracotta edge and shake their heads in disbelief, small quivering movements. In this land of drought and helplessness in the face of people dying of starvation, I am ashamed to have even failed in this small thing. I pour small seeds from a plastic bag, am grateful that the mannekins keep returning.

I read about trees and can’t believe how much there is to learn, how wide their mysteries. I trace my fingers over dark knots in bark, whisper apologies for careless nails we’ve hammered into so much flesh, regret the rocky and lonely locations I’ve chosen for trees in my yard. I stop to tell a tall smooth tree about the anger I haven’t shared with anyone and before I go find that I have kissed the cool trunk. When did I become someone who kisses trees? Why did it take me so long?

M picks up my phone and exclaims over its capabilities. “This,” she lays it in the centre of the counter, “is proof that the world is going crazy.” I smile at her old soul, stir colourful vegetables in a cast iron pan.

When the Time Comes

To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go. ~Mary Oliver

These daughters pressed against my side,
their hair smelling like the warm earth,
the one on my lap, all squirming limbs and softness,
they will die soon- maybe in one year or seventy-
there’s no use denying it, trying to forget.
Like the agapanthus,
all life and exuberance, pressing colour and
movement from every cell until the day when
life begins to wear out, the leaves start
to curl in on themselves, the petals loosen
their small grip, or the fine white butterfly-
how does a butterfly die?
I watched one being eaten this
morning by a swooping green bird,
it fought its sudden demise with fierce flapping,
holding on to life till the last dive
into darkness. But others must fall
silently in the trees, or lay
their tissue wings across warm stones
letting the sunlight swallow them, the wind
lift their papery bodies after they’re gone.
I press my mouth against my daughters’ hair,
the skulls that grew beneath my ribs,
I lean into their aliveness.

The girls draw portraits of faces over and over, piles of paper faces growing on the dining room table. J has drawn me, though my eyes and hair are black and unfamiliar. I wonder at her image of me. P’s girl is crying and colourful, like a sad Raggedy Ann. M’s face has eyes at the top of her head, stylized and funky. They draw and colour and argue over pencil crayons.

I give up my conviction to not buy hard plastic and buy two shiny new plastic buckets for the drought. A basin for dishwater. Two buckets in the bathrooms. We collect bath water, sink water, dip into the brown soapy water with a plastic jug to flush the toilets, water the plants. We still have more water than almost anyone in the world. I am puzzled at the memory of flushing without thinking.

We play Sleeping Queens on the back porch. J always wins. We play Spot It and Shut the Box and King of Tokyo and Deer in the Headlights. These are the games of choice these weeks, though I can’t always muster the energy to play them. I already regret the chances I’ve missed.

The girls watch my play practices, know the lines better than the cast, skip behind plants and boss the middle schoolers around. We string stars between branches, tape long leafy vines to a gold moon, wrap delicate wires around fairy ears.

I wait for reports about my aunt dying on a far away continent. One day she has stopped eating,the next, she’s revived,is walking. We watch her totter on the tightrope between worlds.

M and J decide to make mango pudding for our tea time, want to do it on their own without a recipe. They stir sugar and flour, puree mango pieces, pick small mint leaves. They pinch chocolate shavings from the bottom of the chocolate chip bag and argue over whose turn it is to stir. We eat the cool sweet pudding out of small bowls on the back porch, the girls eyeing us with pride.

I watch a bee eater snap a bright blue butterfly in its beak, carry it back to a branch of the potato tree. The butterfly is big, too big for the small beak. The bird works with determination, trying to somehow shove those fluttering wings into its own body. I am struck most by the colours, the metallic green of the bird’s feathers, the shimmering blue of the butterfly wings, am amazed to watch the one colour disappear, become a part of the other. Now, incredibly, the bird holds the fragile blue of the butterfly in its own green body. I notice I’m not sad at the butterfly’s death, more amazed at the fusion of life.

Phil calls us to the backyard. It’s raining. We all stand on the brown grass, look up at the clouds, darker than we’ve seen in months. The rain falls in small individual drops, not enough to make us wet, stops before it really begins. We set a purple bucket in the yard, an overly optimistic gesture. The bucket remains dry. We keep waiting.

I sit on the Lamu couch and fold gold embossed origami paper into lopsided peace cranes, trying to conjure hope with each careful crease.

P has propped a small note up on the coffee table “I lov you, famale. You mak me smuyl.” Under the note is a brown envelope full of carefully folded drawings. She pulls them out one at a time, hands them to each of us, pictures of flowers and sunshines and trees in bright marker colours.

I carry a plastic bucket of bath water across the lawn in the early morning to water my favourite palm tree. I notice how wet the grass is and wonder where all that moisture comes from in this time of drought, heat. The ground is hard, the dirt in the flower beds cracked and dusty, but the grass is cool and wet beneath my bare feet. It’s the first time I remember being deeply grateful for dew.

J and her friends decide to institute International Baby Day. She wraps the doll M made for her in a sweater, the doll with the orange yarn hair, the purple bonnet, the stuffed sock body, and tucks her into her backpack, secretly when no one is watching. Later after her secret plan has unfolded without a hitch and she no longer has to worry about me interfering, she tells me about the day, the baby, the way the girls played with their dolls during recess. Her doll is still strapped to her back with a green cardigan like a Kenyan mama.

I read Peter Duck to the girls before bedtime. The words are difficult, the sailing lingo tedious. But the girls don’t complain as they colour pictures of Harry Potter wands, draw trees with curlicue branches. P has been drawing guinea pigs on all her pictures for months, small round creatures with curved legs and small smiles, her signature work.

I duck my head as I hang laundry on the line, hoping no one will see me, notice that I used my washing machine during this time of so little water. Each clean piece of clothing feels decadent, a luxury that I’ve stolen.

After supper the girls beg for a Family Game, something involving hiding and chasing around the yard. We decide on Big Black Bear, Phil gives into the pressure to hide because he is scariest, fastest, loudest. We run around the house, hold hands, shriek into the fading evening light. I remember playing this game as a child, running through the farmyard with my cousins, scared of older brothers, the thrill of danger.