Birds of Uganda

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ISSUE ONE

POETRY

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In East Africa—daily tsunamied
by newness, buses, colours, malaria, stories,
and also, seeing a new kind of bird every day, for months. 
The prehistoric marabou stork defying aerodynamics—
massive body aloft like a modern pterodactyl, 
scavenging the city garbage;
the guinea fowl howling in the flower beds, 
the warblers, swifts, weavers, grebes, flycatchers.
Monsoon rains washing away 
the dust and diesel fumes. Terraces of millet, mango,
tea, bananas, sorghum. By Lake Mburu,
the kingfishers throned in the reeds, 
the sparrowhawk, egret, heron, kite, sandpiper.
I ate tilapia and listened to the blast of air 
of the hippos surfacing. The buzz of insects.
A falcon skimming low over the water. The roadside vendor,
probably just seven or eight years old
insisted I wanted to buy one of his coffins. Look, mzungu,
very fine! He had all sizes. Dancing to drums made out of water jugs,
but I rarely had to carry water. A woman ironed my clothes for me
to kill the insects that would nest in the hems, and there was
hummingbird, cuckoo, hamerkop, dove, grouse, hornbill.
The fruit bats flippering through the sky at dusk.
The generator thundered on the nights of power-cuts, 
doing ab crunches to the Spice Girls it’s raining men!  in aerobics class,
with winged bugs fluttering through the open windows.  
All the nightclubs with their glow-in-the-dark carpets, 
everyone in the club singing along to Toto—
it’s going to take a lot to take me away from you…25 years
after the song came out. There was the chapatti man
by the bus stop, the rolex-maker, 
the charcoal-makers, piles of pawpaws and sugar cane,
Stoney Tangawizi with packets of waragi, 
break tea, dust, and beggars with urine pouches, 
the scent of mchomo, taste lingering on my tongue.
Thrushes, swallows, finches, sunbirds. 
Have you ever heard a whole trading center of women
roar and weep for their child plowed down on the highway
by a car that didn’t stop? They covered him with palm branches. 
Not even a hundred raucous ibis at dusk can compete
with how I want to howl. The sunset
on the equator so quick, like the boda-bodas weaving
through traffic, or buying live chickens in the market; chickens on the bus, 
pigs on the backs of motorcycles. A hummingbird in the hibiscus shrubs.
The village women made woven baskets from straw 
and plastic sacks—unwound and rewoven 
into swirls and patterns, each basket unique, like the infinite varieties 
of starling, raven, sparrow, waxbill, nightjar. 
The opposite of alive is comfortable. 
I ate boiled green bananas 
and the scent of matooke stayed on my skin for days. 
The crested crane watching, bright-eyed and keen.

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