Sentinel Poetry #35 – October 2005

Online Magazine Monthly…since December 2002. ISSN 1479-425X






Betty Warrington-Kearsley




Like an unseen fog, it hovers –

the cloying stink of junk-clogged drains,

and pungent stench of excrement

in the ramshackle outhouse

where we squat bare skin and bones

over a square hole, plug a nostril and watch

the short pink worms whip and the long wriggle

in the dark brown dung below grow long and fat

on what is fed them by the six of us,

and seven other households also

living in our rickety tin-roofed shack

of jig-saw-fitted wood-scrap walls

with ripped hessian strips for doors;

where our address is: “Over There.”


In bed we dread the cycle of shivers,

the sweats and shakes that rattle

the makeshift planks we lie awake on, listening

all night to the castrati hum

of malarial mosquitoes, more alive than we,

that land on filament legs, bow their heads,

purse their lips and prick to draw

from a foot or toe too distant to quickly stem

the flow of long, slow drops that fuel their lives

and stifle ours;

and there’s little we can do or hope for

because we’re poor;

too poor or sick and weak to work for more

among the meager pickings


Each day we rack our backs ransacking

rubbish dumps foot by bare, thick-soled foot,

with friend, stranger and other scavengers,

arriving, like ubiquitous flies in a swarm

around the packed plastic bags we rip open,

sort through for what we may earn

and abandon the rest –   the rotten refuse,

scraps from yesterday’s best – to the feral cat, dog, rat and crow;

each skimming a living from what you reject

or perhaps may have lost;

and my find of the day – 

a precious book to rocket me worlds away.



*(inspired by an Ottawa Citizen special report, “Africa’s Anguish”, July 6, 2005, Ottawa, Canada).




He flew in through the open door

rousing a draft of wind

making it flap in a panic

fanning the hair about my head

forcing me to get up

and show him the way out

was not different from the way in

but he blindly continued

on his frenzied path, beating the still air

wings spanned all out, pumping fast

speeding him in every direction

while I followed close, at eye level

to the slanting afternoon light

and sight of familiar treetops

from the uncurtained window

where he clung, clawed at the screen

the look in his yellow eye wild, hopeless

and he suddenly released everything inside him

over the white sill

while I stood still and watched

it dribble down the wall and splatter

all over the glossed wooden floor.

Carefully wrapping my cupped hands

around his pounding heart, his breathing heavy,

and talking to him in gentle ‘human’

that even a grackle may understand

I took him to the open door

where he shook his feathers and soared.





He lies, clenched in a foetal fold,

facing the wall, his tall, slim form

outgrowing the thinning shroud of skin

drawn over jutting bones;

his eyes hidden under lids thick with flies

preying on the living slits of light, and dying

alone in Dar-es-Salaam prison

a long, long way from Ngorogoro,

the vast, spiked grassland caldera

where vile-looking laughing hyena

and regal, black-maned lion feast

on wildebeest, gazelle and zebra.

He dreams of his dung-daubed boma

dark hide-strung quarter; of the homely aroma

of hollowed gourds brimming with cured milk

from the cows he daily tended

once the filmy breakfast mist had lifted

and slipped the crater rim.

The tribesman’s only crime was to enter Dar

in the recently-banned, hand-spun toga,

rest on a street bench and splay his legs

to gobsmacked glances of women

and shocked tourists who watched:

for as soon as police forced on trousers,

he promptly excised the crotch, mocked

by city faces staring from open office windows,

coiffeured women glaring through heavy make-up

and raucous men threatening fisticuffs.

As they hauled him off to jail, his wail

was heard all the way from Dar

to his home volcano. At the time few knew

the nomadic Masai in captivity die

within three months the way wild flowers expire

once they are picked.


*inspired by memories of an incident in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania,1969



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