The Making of a Canon

by Michael Onsando

What you are about to see is the creation of a canon. As with all creations, it begins with destruction. Your front row seats are free, they have been paid for, in full, by history. Time, again, is the title sponsor of this event. If you look under your seat you will find rose coloured glasses. They are there for those would not rather see what the act of creation entails. Every seat accommodates one and one only. In the theatre of dreamers every mind speaks for itself as every heart beats for itself. Please keep your cellphone on at all times during the performance. Be sure to take as many pictures as possible – the best of them may survive the journey. If you hear someone next to you talking, kindly join in the conversation – you never know how long you’ll have them near you. 

The names and faces of the people in this show have not been altered in any way. The organizers of the show wanted to make sure that there is no mistaking who it is and what they are seeing. If anyone in the show appears strange or out of context for any reason kindly reach under your chair. There you will find a sign with the word “FAKE” on it. Hold the sign up for the whole audience to see as you state the name of the offending party. The makers of the show will take note and proceed to do nothing about it. However, it will now be public knowledge and hopefully this helps. This, of course, is an optional measure. Feel free to listen politely or just change seats.

The show is called the making of a canon. Canons, as you all know, are fickle things. People that should  be admitted are often left out and others admitted that should be left out. For the purposes of this show let us assume that the imperfection of the canon is predestined and thus the outcome is not to be one of perfection but one of existence.

No programmes are provided for this show. This was not an oversight. Large chunks of the show are unscripted. However, there will be periodic bathroom breaks.

Now, given there are no further announcements, let the show begin.

 

Act 1 Scene 1: From How to Now

“Kenya has three official languages: English, Swahili and Silence”

–                                     Yvonne Owuor, Dust.

 

Her silence was fluent.

 

Nobody told her

to inhale.

 

She just did.

 

As her lungs absorbed

the smoke

she began to write.

 

 

It is in this furious state that they found her.  Despair, anger, fear, sorrow and hope – her 5 selves peered over her shoulder. Then, worried for her, they huddled in a corner and began to discuss.

 

“This cannot be who we have become. We are only parts of the whole but, tethered to the whole, I cannot allow myself to be weighed down by this shell of who we used to be. Potential is only good for those who can exploit it. If we sit here and do nothing to change this situation we will only be that person who had ‘potential.”

–                Despair

 

“Yes, I agree. There is more to the world than the distance between the bed and the kitchen. And even that isn’t as daunting as it has been made to seem.”

–                 fear

 

The selves murmured in agreement.

 

And so it went on with all selves agreeing.

They generally disapproved of this behavior.

 

All but one.

 

And after the others were done, hope,

(who was also the eldest)

began to speak.

 

“aren’t we all not to blame?”

She tried again

 

“What’s the volcano to tell the lava

not to destroy?

 

What’s the lava to tell the earth

not to create pressure

to create heat?

 

What’s the earth to tell tectonic plates

not to shift?

 

What’s tectonic plates to tell volcanoes

not to  erupt?

 

What’s the volcano to tell the lava

not to destroy?”

 

Still, the other selves did not

want to understand.

 

It was easier

to not.

 

So hope got up

and  fetched another candle.

 

For the night was long…

( …and she was still writing.)

 

She put flame to wick

and stared as spark

turned sparks

turned flames.

 

A drop of wax fell on the paper.

The four selves continued to gossip.

hope watched.

 

She wrote:

You are broken. Even though you pretend not to be – you are. You have left pieces of yourself glistening in the footsteps of a past that they won’t let you forget. Poetry has become an adhesive. You use it to hold yourself together. To keep what remains from shattering before you. It doesn’t work, it never works. Another piece falls off.

You watch yourself become less.

You watch yourself become less.

You watch yourself become less.

Frail fingers reach out, desperate to hold on to an existence that came as mysteriously as yourself. Everything is falling apart and you don’t know how to stop it. No one told you how to stop it. That you, are darkness and they are light. And that darkness does nothing but describe absence. You are not a presence, but a lack of it. And even as you become less, you are becoming more – of yourself.

You are nothing.

 

*

The silence was only broken

by the dripping tap

 

and the four selves,

 

 

huddled in the corner,

muttering in disapproval.

 

*

(ii)

 

The present has snuck up on you. A culmination of pasts that you remember vaguely.

You can’t see yourself.

Only what you have become.

iii

Who is this?

*

 

 

Something was different. The hope turned from her to glance at the other selves.

 

Despair was missing.

 

Only three remained.

 

The three selves gossiped.

She wrote:

 

 

*

(iv)

 

You see,

but fail to recognize,

the smiling form

inside wooden frames.

The eyes of the stranger

you have identified as yourself

refuses to show you traces of

a life you once had

Instead you realise that

no technology has figured out

how to completely eradicate red eye.

 

(v)

Soon even the memories begin to fade.

Names have become faces

faces become places

places become people

and people

have ceased to exist.

You looked so hard for yourself

that you lost everyone else.

(vi)

but still you insisted on moving forward,

didn’t you?

The further you got the further you needed to go.

Caught in a spiral of a journey that has been going on for so long that it only continues because it continues.

Any justifications for this journey were left on the side of the road right past your esteem

and before yourself.

 

(vii)

You are broken.

Even if you pretend not to be – you are. They have cut you into two equal parts, placed them on a circular path and let them oscillate around the sun that is their existence. This has left you perpetually looking for yourself, trying to merge the two parts and constantly failing.

You have attributed this failure to yourself. You think you should have more self control.

They did not anticipate this.

You watch yourself becoming less

You do not know that, in becoming less, you are becoming more – of you.

(nothing)

*

The writing is interrupted by a shriek

And, like that, fear is gone.

Anger and sorrow remain.

Their shouts echo around the room

their presence covers every nook.

 

Except a desk where

a candle fights the wind,

hope stands,

hand on her shoulder

and she sits.

 

Her back now aches from being bent

over her desk for too long.

 

The tap still drips slower,

anger stands alone in a corner

shouting loudly at the walls.

 

*

(viii)

And thus your two halves revolving around this egocentric sun

are like the snake that eats its own tail. Constantly satisfied, yet constantly in need of satisfaction.

 

You do not understand these lines.

 

Somehow you still insist on reading them. As if somehow meaning will accord itself to the arbitrary words in front of you. You search for this meaning almost as feverishly as you search for yourself. But, like yourself, you will not find it. Because, like yourself, it doesn’t exist

(ix)

 

Yet still she asks you how it is that nothing can be broken.

“we are all stardust and fairy tales”

She is breaking.

You remind her that she is nothing and, in being nothing, cannot break.

She sighs.

Magere the rock keeps the shine from the stars at bay.

She does not like the light.

You begin to wonder if darkness is her presence.

 

*

It is quiet now.

She looks up.

 

Only hope remains.

 

Kenya has three languages.

She is at her best

when she is speaking silence.

 

*

 

(x)

You are nothing. As you began so you will end.

Like anything that has been created you will be, then you won’t. This is not to say that your actions are insignificant. Instead it is to remind you that you are a cycle. A cycle that begins and ends at the same place which, effectively, makes you nothing.

 

*

Her writing has slowed down now.

The candle has long since gone out,

she writes to the dull glow of the moon.

 

The tap keeps dripping,

She puts fire

to nicotine once more.

 

This time she pulls slowly,

watching as the air parts

for the stream of smoke

leaving her lips.

 

She looks up

but there is nothing to see.

 

As she puts out the last cigarette of the night,

she reaches for her pen.

 

 

Act 1 Scene 2: The Gaze

Inside old pictures you search for yourself. You have seen silhouettes of yourself against several backgrounds. You search for a picture of your belonging. But every silhouette has a mind of its own.

And every angle unbecoming.

In your mind you have shrunk to the size of the space between her assumptions and a broken typewriter. The clickety clacking from the next room confirms to you that she is typing.

 

You do not want to go there.

 

You are broken.

 

You pretend that you’re not but you are. Fragments of yourself have been reported doing the rounds on Koinange street at 1 am on a Saturday morning, stereophonics blaring through the speakers of your old Toyota

“I’m just looking….”

Your voice raises itself.

 

You’ve been drinking too much.

You’ve been smoking too much.

 

“I’m not buying…”

 

You did not know that they were watching but they were. They took note of every drunken slur. Every “I’m so high,” every step. They took this information. They watched as you masturbated. Took notes of technique and duration. When you were done they watched you wipe away at the sheets trying to delete what you left there.

They watched as you woke up. Followed the trail of fucks that you left on the way to the bathroom, collecting and sealing them in tamper proof bags.

Evidence of fucking.

It is with this intent that they watched every fragment of you.

Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.

You stand there watching as they weighed you against yourself.

 

(You are nothing)

 

You watch as you become less. As you meander towards nothingness.

 

What you have failed to realise is that the less you become the more you become yourself.

 

Still, you have failed to realise this and, in not realising it, you can only see the shrinking. The (un)becoming. They know this. And still they continue to watch as you try and whistle to bid the time. Your lips refuse to part in the right way – that’s okay, you were never a good whistler anyway.

 

A part of you falls off the scale.

You watch as they step on it. As it shrinks until it is indistinguishable from the ground. You then watch the ground, looking for any traces. You have forgotten that most of you is being weighed. Instead you focus on the ground. On the place where the part of you that no longer is was. You focus on the nothing because you know:

you are nothing.

Above you muffled voices continue to debate in a language that you have neither heard nor heard of. You try to make sense of the sound but the language has neither vowels nor consonants.

 

Another part of you drops.

 

This time you see it. You reach out to catch it but you fail. Every attempt to retrieve it only leads in it going further away.

 

You are now panicking.

Afraid of complete erasure you begin to place things on the scale. One old bicycle – slightly used, two broken dreams, three barks of a bulldog, a grazed knee, 8 beer bottles, 2 ways to stand, a wall, an accidental fall, a cleaner, a glass cut, another glass cut, blood, tears – you failed to predict how these things would interact with each other. You weren’t thinking of this.

You were only trying to stop your erasure.

They have watched you move from unbothered to slightly concerned to completely panicky and they have reached for their notepads. You realise that you are an ungathered, unmonitored, unpredictable fragment of yourself.

Thus your current predicament.

Having done this dance to re-fill the scale for centuries you have forgotten why you began to fill the scale. Having forgotten filling the scale has purpose, you are seated, feeling lost, without purpose and tired of filling the fucking scale.

You begin to wonder about who you are, what you are.

(you are nothing)

Inside old pictures you search for yourself.

(you are nothing)

 

You begin to see grains of yourself in the ground. At first you think you have mistaken a grain of sand for an ex and run away. It begins to happen more frequently. You find yourself running more than you are standing still.

 

Your sudden abstract movement while, at first, fascinating, has now bored them. They have gone back to the scales. Their voices can once more be heard rippling, counting, measuring.

 

Having run out of breath you start to stagger around wheezing. Sweat drops from your hair and into your eyes – it stings. And this is how you are reduced to making your movements – staggering around in the light unable to see. And it is this same blind panic leads you into a vast deposit of yourself. You fall headfirst into this familiar, unfamiliar quicksand. Your first instinct is to stay.

That scares you.

You have never wanted to stay anywhere all your life. How can you want to stay here? You begin to fight it. The more you fight it the more it covers you. You can feel it seeping into you, becoming you.

 

(you are nothing)

Knowing this, you fight against this accumulation.

 

You watch yourself becoming more.

 

You watch yourself becoming more

 

Completely engrossed in their measuring they have forgotten to monitor the fragments of you.

You watch yourself becoming more.

Fragments of yourself fall off the scale; become you.

A shriek from the other room snaps them out of their counting. You hear their voices as they notice you. You hear them move from unbothered to slightly concerned to completely panicky.

Their language begins to discern itself.

Letters form themselves to words you remember. Words you once knew but forgot. Even before they begin to make sense a piece of them falls off and touches you. As the pieces merge you feel soiled. As if you have taken a piece of not you.

(you are nothing)

Another piece falls. And another. The more pieces fall the deeper the feeling gets. You thought, after all that it was one piece, but now they seem to be falling apart. You can see them trying to fill their own scales, running around. You see them gathering little pieces. And you see the pieces in you. And you want to run.

But you remember what happened with the quicksand.

So you stand still and calm your mind.

 

You are everything.

 

Inside old pictures you see yourself

scowling,

smiling,

laughing,

angry,

loving,

jumping,

running,

speaking,

being,

living,

living,

living,

living

living.

 

 

About the Author:

Michael Onsando is a Jazz writer and Co Founder of Brainstorm Kenya . You can find more of his poetry on his site Unlike Myself .

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