Art by Deamer Dunn
Every year, for about six weeks over October and November, the jacarandas bloom in Nairobi. Clouds of breathtaking purple beauty, every flower a dancer in motion, against a backdrop of foliage, sunlight, rain, sky.
Jacaranda season is indelibly bound up with my memories of year-end exams. My high school driveway was lined by a glorious avenue of jacaranda trees. Before I entered the exam hall, I breathed in the trees with every sense sharpened by sleep deprivation, by acute concentration. When I emerged, giddy with exhilaration or despair, I let the extravagance of blossoms fill me, drench me, release me into the world again.
For over a decade, I've harboured a serious crush on the villanelle , ignited when I read Marilyn Hacker's marvellous memoir-in-poetry, Love, Death And The Changing of Seasons. I never got around to writing a villanelle myself. Partly because I told myself: "You don't do formal western verse forms." Partly because the nature of crushes is that you're scared to actually approach the object of your affections ;-).
But there's something about being home in Kenya right now. Jacaranda season, upcoming elections, 2008 bookings, creative turning points, the making of Part 2 of Migritude, wanting to clone myself to be on three continents at once, uncertainty about what comes next, all swirl around me. And I find myself reaching for the challenge of structured rhyme schemes. For the deeply satisfying discipline and music of five tercets that culminate in a quatrain.
It doesn't quite re-order the universe. Or provide a miraculous roadmap for the next two years. But yesterday and today, the lines of my first villanelle, thrumming in my body, made me intensely happy. I leapt across puddles, dodged splashes of muddy water from moving cars, paced them out along the highways and backroads of my city.