Empty Chair

The bullet sliced the air above bodies

swept to the ground with fear.

Then it landed

on her.

Why her?

Why not her?

She’s only 2. Julian Nalwanga.

She’s lucky to have left

the madness of this place

for a better one below.


Her mother disagrees.

She paces the verandah

of the court building,

remembering 2011,

when walking to work

was a crime.


Her eyes shift from the empty dock

to the empty chair

bearing the magistrate’s jacket.


Still, she waits.


We knew the battle was lost

when doors and windows puked

black smoke.


Thatch became wings

of fire that refused to furl

for the drizzle.


Huts knelt

before men

waving logs with crimson tongues.


The sun rose too late

to test its rays against

embers glowing in




West Nile





© Harriet Anena

Coming up in a collection about the two-decade Lord’s Resistance Army war in northern Uganda. 

Third Floor

Is it our secret

cracking your bedroom

wall like leprosy?


Did the wall see me

sneak in

that night like

an experienced thief,

face half covered by

hat rim and designer shades?


Did it hear the light tap

of my shoes on tiled stairs,

the hurried welcome,

snap of buttons and

thudding of hearts?


Does it remember

my muffled moans

cautious pleas,

the flow of tears inwards and

you grunting, ‘cum quickly before she finds us’?


How could I make the peak,

when instead of mine

you called her name,

smacked my ass

when I didn’t say ‘yes baby’

until I did?


How could I sprinkle, when

you groped my head for

hair full and silky like hers

breasts soldierly and disarming like hers

skin soft on touch like hers

found none and demanded

‘what happened to you?’


How can I delete the chapter of

that night on third floor when

the face of your gate man asking

‘sister, what is this you’re doing to yourself’

never leaves my mind?

The Other Chapter

I told my sister,

Okot plunged his tongue in my mouth when I was 13.  He called it a kiss

He inserted his hands in my blouse and tried to make dough out of my breasts.

He called it romance

My sister said,

Why are you telling me this now, 17 years later?

I told my sister,

My stomach wasn’t strong enough to empty the secret and

my mind did a good job helping me forget

My sister said,

I’m going out to throw up

I told myself,

How lucky!

My own vomit has been stuck in my throat since 1999 when

the man my cousin calls a husband introduced me to The Other Chapter.

Another meal on this #HighTable

I am chocking on laughter that’s too demoralised to leave my mouth

Yesterday l was bloated whole day on laughter that was too high on hope to stagger out of my mouth

Months earlier, l’d hoarded my laughter, certain you’d finally leave the High Table so l can take a bite and laugh a proper laugh


Hope can be hopeless

Now l know

So please understand if my mouth remains locked

It’s just that l am ashamed

My laughter may come out constipated

My laughter may come out exhausted

My laughter may come out kwashiorkored

My laughter may come out aged and wrinkled

I’m sure you understand

That 3 decades is not a short time to keep laughter jailed in the prison of ones’ mouth



Do accept my stomach-felt congratulations

As you take take another bite of delicacy from the High Table


My lover has screwed me so hard, for so long I feel his semen rise in my throat

And now I walk with a stagger, drunk on fermented manhood

Waiting for my middle finger to dig out the vomit lingering in my throat

Last time I zipped up my womanhood he said,

 Come on beloved, stop the defiance

This is my last term in your State House

Kampala, beloved


Kampala is a lover with bad breath

Edible lips,

Firm hands that know how to cup a face before a kiss


He’ll breathe that thing Besigye hates into your eyes


You’ll love the pearl of seven hills that dot his compound

The Lake Victoria Jacuzzi in his backyard

The flashy cars that defy potholed roads


His deep pockets make many hold hands in awe of his wallet


But don’t forget

He’s a late riser. 9:00am on the road for a 7:30am strategic meeting

Respect his right of way. Even on that jam-packed one-way street



Kampala is my sweet hopeless lover

Can I bring him home?

The Kyankwanzi Commandment

I overheard the neighbours say you’ve finally ditched the missionary style of doing things

Mbu you have been going around the countryside, dropping sacks of manna to cast out poverty

They were even praising Judas, your beloved Iscariot, that he’ll clean the mess in appointments


But what will you tell them,

when news trickle in that the Messiah returned last night without warning

and endorsed your former partner-in-chaos instead?


What will you tell the people

when they hear that the devil sneaked into your ballot boxes

and voted for the enemy instead?


I know you may be tempted to give way to those going forward

But Mzee,

I hope you still remember the first commandment

  1. The Lion of Kyankwanzi must never change its yellow spots