Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Great Man is Gravely Ill, Pray For Him


BUILDING THE NATION

Today I did my share
In building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary
To an important urgent function
In fact to a lunch at the Vic.


The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on return journey.


I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!


Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me,
Mwanainchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.
Ah, he continued, yawning again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation!


So the PS had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Not sumptous lunches!


So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation -
- Different ways.

Henry Barlow.

10 comments:

Just Rich said...

Always one of my favourite reads. Who woulda thunk it but i would love to get my hands on a copy of "Growing up with poetry". Hint, hint.
Massive prayers for this massively influential poet.

minty said...

Ditto there. I loved this poem from the first time I read it in 1993. It tickled and tickled. My prayers go out for Barlow's health.

Darlkom said...

Poor guy, I loved that poem, which my friends found wierd since it was assigned in class and everyone knows you can't like the stuff you have to study in class but I did.

CountryBoyi said...

In my secondary school days,'Building the nation' was my favourite poem. I liked the frankness that made me see Barlow himself driving the (potbellied)P.S and returning on an empty stomach after that luncheon. And many years after it was penned, am 100% convinced that the poem has an irritating effect on dishonest government officials much as it is worshipped by literature enthusiasts round the globe. My prayers are with u, Mr. Barlow. Get well soon!

lissingmink said...

taking me back... *sigh*

he captured that so well... amazing

yeah, get well soon

Jay said...

There was that anthology of East African poems and one of my favorites from it was "Building the nation". I should rummage throw my old stuff from the days when I was still "literate" and go through some of those gems again.

Hope the old ex-policeman gets better

lissingmink said...

@jay...that's it! i had a copy somewhere, time to dig up those boxes.

minty said...

@ Jay, the policeman was David Barlow (RIP). Henry was head of Civil Service at one point, among other things

Degstar said...

my literary hero is ill.
it is as if the poison flowing through his veins has permeated every tissue of my entire being. methinks we all know its curtains for Mr. Barlow, but lets not say that out of politeness.

Iwaya said...

all our prayers have been answered! the old man somehow has managed to pull through. I think it's time to make our respectful pilgrimages while we still have the chance as Degs hinted.