Richard Oduor Oduku

Richard Oduor Oduku is a post-cynical humanist, a researcher, and a poet and writer. He studied Biomedical Science and Technology and works as a research consultant in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been published in Jalada Africa, Saraba Magazine, Kwani? Storymoja, This is Africa among others. His story ‘eNGAGEMENT’ published in the JaladaAfrofutures anthology was longlisted for the BSFA Awards 2015. He is also a Nonfiction Editor at Panorama – The Journal for Intelligent Travel. He is a founding member of Jalada Africa and is also a Co-Curator and Festival Coordinator for the Jalada Mobile Literary and Art Festival running in five countries in East Africa.


The Old White Man and the Bungalow on 5th Avenue

He walks the pavements
in boxer shorts
too brief for a stuffed groin
and spindly legs
that drop flakes of dry skin
with each laboured step

he never leaves his fez behind
his browline glasses
nor his book, the Tibetan Book of the Dead
but you can tell he is most happy
on Saturdays when he stops
to speak to streets boys
and give them sweets and bread

we are seated on the terrace, nursing whisky
and Shangri-Las’ Out in the Streets –
a mix of teen-beat puppy love and nostalgia
sitar drones and psychedelics:
a world of Beatles and porous borders

then he leans forward and tells me a story

“we started from the Atlantic shores
on a forlorn stretch of brick-red outposts
and centuries-old souks
singing on the backs of camels
battling winds and scorpions
and the silence of the Sahara

in the kingdom of sand
the only god is an oasis
and when the pink skies poured over us
we cuddled in desert camps
and emptied our tote bags of want
into each other – under pickled stars

everything was fine, everything!
until that summer of 1984 in Morocco
when I was stirred from the milkshake
of sleep by the hiss of a horned viper
slithering away from a cold body:

the guile of the desert took her away
I left her bones to desiccate in the sands
and escaped the haunt of shared memories
to Kenya – a country I barely knew
to start a new life of abridged joy
in this bungalow on 5th Avenue.”



I live in a city of water – on shipping containers
where men sit on duka-fronts sipping ganja tea
& amphibious trucks sail downstream
tailgates streaking black paint on undulating ripples
& stoic farmers tail them, in papyrus rafts and hyacinth baskets
hawking coconut oil, dried fish, and spices along the khlong

on the quayside are bubble floats, bobbling
equidistant yellow threads – like Barnett Newman’s Onement, I
we paddle our dugout canoes to the embankments
& pay wharfage fees to the lady in a blue coat

on street corners artists sketch on shackled thieves
mixing paint on cremation urns
and install 3D street graffiti art floating in mid-air
to geoengineer public perception

at night, the city is a Kandinsky’s watercolour: Composition VII 
neon light on oil-slicked waterways
duka-fronts fill with hedonists from port houses for free sex
& preachers resurrecting Jesus in the hearts of the literati

there’s only one theatre in the city –
abandoned, and in disuse. A man stands at the door
selling tickets to ghosts of theatregoers whose skeletons cuddle in damp lounges half-submerged in the water, waiting to be swept away by high tides when the season changes

to live here is to perfect the flexibility of a tadpole, to master old arts: witchcraft and night running, to teleport into transparence. We drift into the city’s boroughs, constantly bumping into ourselves, crouching under tiny little dank places to puff slim joints

at dawn, Stimela runs across the city, on elevated rails –
a reluctant sojourner, as Hugh Masekela screeches in falsetto
but there is nothing left on the bodies sprawled in port houses:
miners of flesh no longer alight there
they walk the streets, mindbended, talking about Salvador Dali

at the Clones Supermarket, the refrain is:
How many do you want! How many do you want! 
A copy of yourself is affordable
How many copies of yourself do you want, Sir?


Late Nights on Tom Mboya Street

Tom Mboya Street dots skeletoned souls
singing loves tasted in wild places
and shadows of a leaking society
trickling from River Road to Globe
to Beba Beba, where students peruse
manuals for rebooting dead emotions
and old men stagger
like mosquitoes in excito-repellent bedrooms.

At Odeon Cinema
teenagers huddle for warmth
tortured by bruises on their inner thighs
after a tussle with bachelors.
Unhealthy mixes of Guinness and Richot
Masai, Muratina and nameless alcohols
can be raw materials for baking regrets.

Tom Mboya Street gives lectures
on what it means to violate a man’s pockets at 3AM
and the uselessness of a Certificate in Conflict Resolution
when accosted by street urchins with shit in a Kimbo tin.

Think of the nature of silence between strangers in a stalled lift
when cutting through a pack of 58’ touts at Tuskys
and if you have anything left on you
change lanes and walk closer to National Archives
scan the news headlines at Ambassadeur
and see who is fucking who in the political scene
‘I am a Bedroom Bully’ blasting at Batis
will remind you of the uneasy delights of seducing a college girl
for 9 minutes between Ngara and Survey
and why men are not going home to their wives.

Tom Mboya Street teaches that reading faces
is like meaning-making on Clifton Gachagua’s poems
or mining PEV biographies from How to Euthanise a Cactus.

Some poems can rocket you to strange cosmoses
and some poems can be legitimate pleas of lust
(like Kookooing to Elani on replay)
or minefields of splendour and strife
(like quadrantid meteor showers in Chelyabinsk).
In a city of Orwellian nonpersons
(un-memoried by suppressed histories)
there is satisfaction in being somebody.

Tom Mboya Street teaches that tears are disposable memories
(like selfies and emoticons).

sometimes life is the texture of a nipple on newborn’s palate
sometimes it is scratches on elephant bones in Serengeti
and sometimes the whole story doesn’t show.