The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems by Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek: Days 43 to 1


Wangechi Mutu_Days 3_2_1_The End_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Days 3_2_1_The End_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

 . . .

Juliane Okot Bitek
100 Days: a poetic response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days
Day 1
I have nothing
I stand before you with nothing
I am nothing

You stand before me with nothing

I don’t know what I know
but I know that you know nothing

Having come from nothing
To nothing & from nothing
Let my nothing meet your nothing

We may find something there.
Day 2
This will not be a litany of remembrances:

We know who the guilty are
The guilty know themselves

This is a charge against the witnesses
& those who cannot speak

This is a charge against those who speak incompletely
& incoherently

Against nature who saw everything & did nothing
against the bodies that dissolved
& the ones that refused to dissolve
those that insisted on writing the landscape with bones

This is a charge against pain
against heartbreak
against laughter
against the dead.
Day 3
We were pock-marked by these things:
a torrent of accusations
bayonet sticks

We were mocked
by faith in tiny shards
by the cross, with its pliant figure
representing grace
or representing the presence of God

What God in such a time?
What God afterwards?
What God ever?

Wangechi Mutu_Days 7_6_5_4_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Days 7_6_5_4_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 4
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Acel ariyo adek angwen
We have run out of days
Day 5
What do I remember?
Nothing but the contagion of stories
What do I want to say?
What do I want to say?
Day 6
Images from those days return like silent movies
The available light of the rest of this life and I
can’t hear anything
Just the silent movies
Day 7
Then we stumbled into the place where words go to die
& where words come from

First we bathed in it like sunbathers
then we washed ourselves in it
we rinsed our mouths out
shampooed our hair
swam in the words
& at night
we covered ourselves in words
& went to sleep

at night
the nightmares returned
but the dreams also came
Day 8
Justice woke up and went to work
but no one showed up

Justine, not justice, went to work
but no one showed up

Justice and not Justine
woke up and went to work
but no one showed up

women woke up and went to work
no one knows what Justine and/or
Justice are doing these days
Day 9
These days
circle and circle
some days soar from above like kites
others circle around and around
like hyenas waiting for the story to die
some sit
some stand on long legs
vultures wait
some stay some change seats
others come and go
some dive in
some walk, crawl, cycle
dial on the radio to listen
to stories in embers
stories aflame
stories in stories
stories stoking stories
stories stalking stories
stories in circles & circles
those stories haven’t yet killed me
Day 10
What indeed
the criminalizing function
of language in media?

Pumped full of bullets
& left to rot on the street


People murdered
Calculated and rated on a per hour basis
& sometimes exacted to ethnic & tribal

Never people you know,
Until they are.

Day 11
Savage savage savage
sa vedge sa vedge
sav edge sav edge
save edge save edge
saved saved
Day 12
What now?
That we must create our own world
That we use the right words for the world we want to live in
Like God: Let there be light
And there was light
Let us forgive our enemies
Let us be good examples for the next generation
Let us belong to one another
Let us be friends
Day 13
There was a rainbow in that sky,
the day a chain-linked fence separated us.
You probably saw the rainbow in the sky;
The chain-linked fence, you probably saw it as well.
Day 14
Now their eyes flit flit flit,
dragonflies in the afternoon,
their hands are calm as they write
but clammy in the handshake
– what can we do for you?
– what can we do for you?
Their eyes like dragonflies,
what can they do for me?

Day 15
And so I am now a slow burning woman
Creeping through time like a gecko through a tree
I’m shedding skin then eating it up
Shedding skin then eating it as I crawl along

Height like time has a hazing effect
but wonder remains
exclusive to the uninitiated


Day 16
We were the carriers of the events
Days and nights worked in tandem
to make us forget
We carried proof of place & proof of time
We recited these details over & over
We marked our steps
We marked the cadences into a rhythm & held them close to heart.
Day 17
This is the horror that did not turn you into stone.
This the poem, the mirror with which you can behold
that you did not turn into stone.
This is true: you’re still not stone.

Wangechi Mutu_Day 18_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 18_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 18
Yesterday tripped and fell into evening
As it plunged deep into the night, voices rose up
from the abyss:
Come! Come!
They called
We never slept, trying to makes sense
whose voice was whose
Yesterday tripped and fell into a long night
of calling, of voices beckoning, recalling
things done, things undone by time
Today, I’m trying to sort out the differences
whose voice was whose
which place, what time
They all sound the same now
— the dead and the unborn;
they all sound the same.
Day 19
So this is what the Greek storyteller foretold:
First, the pity-inducing event,
Those poor, poor people,
Pity in the numbers, pity in the grotesque photos that followed,
the writing and the reading that followed.
There was nothing, nothing we could have done different;
Everything was beyond us.
Then came the fear it would spread like contagion,
Uncontrolled like a forest fire.
Now it is time for catharsis.
Day 20
It has been called a harvest of death.
It was more like a net that was cast,
A fisher net
A fisher net cast by a man
A fisher of men
– Christ, was that you?

Day 21
A ring around a rosie
A ring around a posy
A ring around a peony
A ring around a buttercup
A ring around a baby’s breath
A ring around a bouquet

A pocket full of posers
A pocket full of diamonds
A pocket full of memory
A pocket full of justice
A pocket full of ideas
A pocket full of shit

Ring around a rosy
A pocket full of posies
Achoo! Achoo!
We all fall down!
Day 22
Twenty years later we’re young again
as we should be
Welcome to this country

Come and see how we live
Come and see how we get over everything
Come and see how we exhibit skulls
Come and see how we caress skeletons and tell stories about who these bones were
Come and see how easy we are with things;
Come and visit.

Our country is now open for tourism.
Day 23
Some of us fell between words
& some of us onto the sharp edges
at the end of sentences

And if we’re not impaled
we’re still falling through stories that don’t make sense

Wangechi Mutu_Day 23_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 23_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 24_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 24_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 24
& then there was just the two of us
everything in flames

There was the two of us
your arm around my shoulder
mine around your waist
we hobbled on
just the two of us

we hobbled on
just the two of us for a while
& then there was just me
Day 25
Bones lie
Bones lie
Bones lie
About their numbers and bits and parts

Bones lie in open air, in fields, under brushes, along with with others in state vaults,
in museums as if they belong there
in piles, as if they would ever do that in life.

Bones lie about being dead
pulverized, as if we who are not all bone
don’t live with nightmares

Bone have nothing to say
Nothing about who it was that loved them the most
Day 26
That day dared to set
As did the one after it and the one after that
Days became long nights
That became mornings which appeared innocent
of the activities of the day before

That day shouldn’t have set

The next day
if that other day had collapsed from exhaustion, should have held the night sky at bay
That day should have remained fixed in perpetuity
so that we would always know it to be true
Day 27
Glory be to the Father to whom all this is His will
Glory be to the Son who claims to have died for the sins of all men
Glory be to the Holy Spirit that guides the tongues of flames of the believers
As it was in the beginning
As it was in the beginning
As it has always been

As long as we need to hark back to a beginning
that only exists in the memory of the elusive Trinity who can only be accessed through Faith
Nothing will ever change
Nothing will ever change except by Faith
So nothing will change
Day 28
When I (survey) look out at the world around me
(The wondrous cross)
On which (the Prince of Glory) every one that I loved died,
(My richest gain) My richest gain? My richest gain?
I count (but) as loss
It was all loss – all of it
And so I pour contempt on all (my) the pride
That seems to think that there is anything to celebrate.

Don’t ever forbid it, Lord,
That I should (boast) dare to speak out
(Save in) on the deaths
(of) Christ, my God, everything, everything that mattered,
All the vain things that charm (me) You most – the sky scrapers, the clean streets
& the moneyed vendors
(I) You sacrifice (them) Your own morality (to His blood)

There is nothing to party about, nothing.

See from (His head, His hands, His feet) this vantage point
Just how much sorrow and love and bone and blood flow mingling down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet? Did ever?
Where did ever such a twisted sense of wreath-making come from?
Or why would thorns compose so rich a crown?
Can you not read the land?

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

So it took my soul, my life, my all.
Day 29
Time is a curve
so long that it seems to be a straight line

I can see myself walk away
I see
& then remember my heel striking the ground first
the weight of my shoulders
the back of my head & the low hang of my neck

Circle forward
What does my face matter if my heel is still cracked?

Wangechi Mutu_Day 29_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 29_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 30_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 30_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 30
A grid
a fence
a field
some grass
some stumbling

a ditch
a broken slipper

a tear
a sheet
some fumbling
a groan

a metal plate with a faded rose in it
a rusty kettle that will never boil.
Day 31
Here: it is daytime now
We’re here
It is now twenty years after a hundred days that we did not plan on living through
We wanted to, prayed, yearned to make it

Not that those who didn’t didn’t
Day 32
In Eden
We heard birdsong and didn’t hear it
We saw the soft flutter & sail of a falling leaf, but we didn’t know how to read it
We worked the earth, lived off it, trampled it back and forth, back and forth

In Eden
We never thought about the difference between house and home
we never even thought to call it; we were it, it was us and ours
gang wa

Now as we fall unendingly
we know different
we understand belonging as transitory at best
& as elusive as the future we once imagined.
Day 33
So we mothed along towards the fire
With the full knowledge that there couldn’t be anything else beyond this
We mothed along
with bare arms, wingless

a light step here
a light step there
sometimes no step at all
& other times dreamless stops

We mothed along knowing that it was possibly death
& not fire that beckoned
Day 34
So we saw, tasted, smelled, touched, felt and heard what we knew to be true

We had to see, taste, smell, touch, feel and hear in order to know this word
How much made it valid?
Would one less death have disqualified those hundred days from being called a genocide?

And more?
Day 35
There’s no denying the flap of an angel’s wings
for someone who felt it fan her face in those days

The salve of a gentle touch
The stretch of an arm to catch you as you reached for the top of the wall
the strength of a wail
the depth of a moan
the light of unending days
the consistency of seasons
as real as angel wings

There is, however, a slope that leads
from these days of fiction
into nightmares that are real.
Day 36
Oh, I curse you.
I curse you long and hard and deep and wide
I curse you with fire from my mouth
I join everyone with fire in the mouth
Wherever we live & wherever we lay
We curse you, we curse you, we curse you.
Day 37
When Christ lost a beloved friend, he cried out:
Lazarus, come out of the tomb
Lazarus, come out of the tomb

Imagine Christ crying for the beloved on this land:
Lazarus! Lazarus! Lazarus! Lazarus!
Lazarus, come out of the tomb!

Imagine Christ with a croaking voice:
Lazarus, Lazarus, Lazarus

Christ in a whisper
Christ mumbling:
Lazarus, Lazarus

Christ spent
Christ crumbled
Oh, Lazarus

Christ either had no idea of these one hundred days
Or he must have lost his voice in the first few moments

Christ may just have not been capable
He might have noted the endless and boundless losses of the beloved on this land
He might have hung his head down, powerless in the face of this might

Christ, look to your mother
ask her to pray for your intercession.
Day 38
If there’s a breeze tonight
We might think for a moment that it is sweet

There is a breeze tonight
& it is sweet

I can’t remember if the breeze was sweet in those days
There was a breeze
There might have been

Why not?
It might have been the same sweet breeze that kept us from burning
Day 39
If we were to go back to the time before these hundred days
We couldn’t return without knowing what was to come

How could we?

If we were to swear off, that we couldn’t return to these days
I don’t know that we could; we know

We’re marked by this knowing
We know that we’re marked

& this knowledge taints us
& so we can never absorb your innocence

Your innocence will not shield you from these days
Because your innocence does not cleanse
& so your innocence cannot save you from what you must know.
Day 40
She is my country

Every time she goes
I am a leaf in the wind
Every time she goes
She takes with her
All the home that I can ever claim

What use do I have for the carrier of bones?
What anthem can I sing for the graves of children?

She holds my home in the country that she is
& every time she returns, she is my flag
& I am home again.
Day 41
If justice was in a race with time
Peace would have no medal to offer

If peace sat at the table with justice
Time wouldn’t be served

If time wanted justice, so bad, so bad,
There would be nothing that peace could offer
Either by seduction or reason
Day 42
I kneel before you

I kneel before you but this is not an act of supplication
I kneel before you because I cannot stand
I kneel before you because I cannot speak right now
My gestures are wordless articulations
& the dark in my eyes is not an indication of anything you could imagine
& there is nothing, nothing that you could ever give me

Wangechi Mutu_Day 43_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 43_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 43
After all the madness,
& it had to have been a madness,
You hear the arguments and explanations
That it was inevitable
That it was coming
That it had to happen after all those years

Knowing what we know now
What else should we have expected?

I hear that my loss was inevitable
I hear that my loss was coming
I hear that my heartbreak was written in the stars
& in historical documents & even in the oral stories
We had to have been blind & deaf & dumb to not have known
We had to have been oblivious, thinking that we could live
to a full life of family and community like others

After all, who misses the inevitability of a mass event like a genocide?
. . .

To see / read Days 100 to 44, click on the ZP link below:

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