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  • Writer's pictureKamille D. Whittaker

[Excerpt] Pole:"It took me 10 years to learn how to write about my father, about his life and death"

My thoughts: I was once on the receiving end of this term when my Grandmother passed. After being taught its meaning, it created a space for tenderness within me where I would process my grief in my own way ... knowing "pole pole" -- as expressed sentiment -- was wrapped around and through it. I didn't know I needed more, or beyond, until the words written to me became enough.

By Keguro Macharia | @keguro_ for Popula

Pole, a simple, two-syllable word that says “my heart is with you.” Pole, a simple, two-syllable word that says, “I am holding you, and you are held.” Pole, a simple, two-syllable word that can be said, a word uttered as a sigh that conveys how difficult it is to form words in the face of the unbearable.

We first learn pole as children—it is the word that follows every clumsy fall as we are learning to walk. It is a comfort word, a word of care from our caregivers, from all who extend care. It is a word that changes strangers into caregivers. You will hear a chorus of pole when a child falls down in a public area. There is care. I am sorry for your pain. Your pain is shared.

As children, we learn how to extend care by using this word among ourselves. Sometimes, we use the English “sorry” when a friend falls and gets hurt. We say “sorry” when a strange child get a cut and shows up with a band-aid. Or Elastoplast, as we used to call them. We interchange “sorry” and “pole” to create systems of care. We may be strangers, but we can extend care.

Pole changed when I was seven and the grandfather for whom I’m named died. His house became a chorus of pole. Pole entered with every relative and friend, given unsparingly, unceasingly, to my grandfather’s wives and twelve children. It was a word short enough to be said fourteen times and more if extended to my grandfather’s siblings and grandchildren. Pole multiplied.

Per the Kamusi, pole means “kwa utaratibu; bila ya fujo au nguvu.” With care, without fuss or force. Perhaps we learn this word as children so that we can know how to use it when other words feel impossible to find, impossible to say. Perhaps we learn its brevity so that as grief sits on our chests and chokes our throats, we have just enough breath to exhale pole.

I struggle with the English “condolences.” It stays too long in the mouth, needs too much air, demands too much concentration, feels too formal. Unlike pole, condolences can rarely be used on its own. You must add “you have my” or “I wish you” or “sincerest” or “heartfelt.” Each additional syllable struggles to make it past the heavy chest, the locked throat. I have wondered why English makes it so difficult to extend care.

Read the rest: HERE


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