I’ve been inspired lately by the paintings of Oswaldo Guayasamin. Although he is well-respected in Latin America, I rarely see the type of eulogizing that over him that is so common with Frida Kahlo, whose identity as a mature and political artist has been submerged in a depoliticized portraitist school of thought that is infinitely less disturbing of the existing order. Like Kahlo, Guayasamin, born in 1919 into a feudal and neo-colonial state like Ecuador, took sides in a visceral and visible struggle against poverty, injustice and the invisibilization of suffering that was part of so much art contemporary to the time.
This is not an essay, but a few musings in response to the images I have been able to find online. Here, I share a few, in particular the early Quito series which I find as interesting as some of his more well known pieces from the Age of Anger and the Age of Tenderness. Above, some of Frida Kahlo’s less popular artworks, The Wounded Table , circa. 1940, Self-Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and United States, 1932 and 1954, Marxism Heals the Sick, a reflection of her understanding of disability and the devalued lives we live under capitalism when we are incapacitated or chronically ill.
Born into a humble Kichwa and Mestizo family, he was one of 10 children, losing his mother, and then his closest friend at an early age. These experiences, along with searing social criticism of the sweeping inequities of race and class discrimination, shaped his approach to art both as a vehicle of personal expression, and as a tool for, and of, social change.
In particular, Guayasamin’s travels through South America, Mexico and the United States brought him into contact with Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, both ardent communists and anti-imperialists. This influenced Guayasamin greatly both as an artist and social critic. Between the 1940s and 1960s he committed himself to the path of social justice and a Pan-American vision of suffering and liberation. He firmly joined the political left and was close to Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda and Victor Jara, poets and songwriters of the Chilean left, active until they were assassinated by the U.S. backed Pinochet regime in 1973.
Guaysamin’s final piece is the posthumous Chapel of Man built on his property overlooking Quito. He was a painter, muralist and architect whose deepening vision taught him to see the ignored and the silenced.
Culture and memory share a root, like branches of the same plant. That root is us, human beings, in our most creative and unself-conscious renditions. Once again, after the whirlwind of systemic violence and structural upheaval engineered through the COVID19 pandemic response, the time has come to honour the memory of those we love who have been lost to the novel coronavirus. My father, the late Professor Manabendra Bandyopadhyay (1938-2020), was one such deep loss.
Although he had been suffering from loss of sight and other health issues in his last few years, for over half a century, he contributed vastly to the field of Bengali literature and poetry, fiction/poetry in translation, and critical approaches to the early discipline of comparative literature— from the late 1950s until his retirement from teaching at the Department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. In his participation in the cultural and socio-political world of Bangla letters, my father often searched out unusual or unique writers— “against the grain”. While in his translations for adults, he often examined and explored different schools of writing from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, it was his love of books for kids that had a big impact on me as a young reader and thinker.
For my father, books for children were as eclectic and engaging as those for adults. He presented me with hundreds of books over the years, and it is especially those books of childhood I often turn to, for a break from the grinding neo-liberal world with its anxieties, bleakness, and inhumanity.
I fondly remember a range of books from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tales to Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, to Toronto poet’s Dennis Lee’s Wiggle to the Laundromat. Along with these, Andrew Salkey, George Lamming, James Kruss, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Erich Kastner, Rhoda Power, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne, and the inimitable Tove Jansson made paths into the rich and exciting world of books, a world that was both escape and confirmation, at different times. Through the reading of such international cast of characters, historical moments and types of books, my interest in historical periods, and how people live in different times and places, was piqued.
In particular, I am grateful to my father for sharing his love of Indigenous and Aboriginal cultures from both Turtle Island and Australia. This awareness of the space I inhabited as a brown child of an immigrant parent to Canada, set me apart from other primary and middle school children as did my experience of racism from a very early age at the hands of my peers in the pristine provincial primary schools of Ontario of the 1970s.
But when reading, the ability to imagine other worlds and ways of being, allowed me to understand and perhaps at a young age, confront the reality of racial inequality which I experienced. Books like Aguhana, Half-Breed, The Island of the Dolphins, A Nice Fire and Some Moon Pennies gave me a glimpse of a world that was made invisible and silent in the Canadian educational system, that of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. Stories by Lois Lenski based on interviews with children and families, gave me an idea of how working class and rural children, especially girls, lived as recently as the 1930s-50s in the various United States of America, and how important they were to household economies as recently as the ‘50s and ‘60s. Stories about Harriet Tubman and Julius Lester’s To Be a Slave, were a part of my personal canon, as much as Anne Frank and Laura Ingalls Wilder were the staple authors for little girls at the school library.
In remembrance of the important role that fiction and poetry has played in my own life, I offer up today’s blog post as a tribute to all those amazing writers who tackled the daunting task of writing gripping and memorable fiction for children, writing that satisfies at any age, books such as Alice in Wonderland, and those of Roald Dahl. And through acknowledging them, I acknowledge the fount of this fictional diversity, my father.
This week on the second anniversary of his passing, I have been thinking of him even more. When my partner planted a butterfly bush in his honour, butterflies immediately came to visit. White, orange-patterned, and yellow, they fluttered down to the purple, pink and red flowers. We will always think of our absent loved ones when the butterflies float and dance by us on their invisible currents.
I want to end by sharing a musical piece about the world of Macondo, from One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A Colombian Nobel-winning writer who was popularized in Bangla by my father, and whose work he explored for many years. Here the lyrics are by Mexican accordionist and composer Celso Pina and performed by Leiden (Cuba-Mexico) and Andrea Echeverri (Colombia) formerly of the group Los Aterciepelados (The Velvet Ones). I am sure he would have enjoyed hearing this rendition.
Macondo by Celso Pina (Mexico) (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)
The hundred years of Macondo, sound, sound, in the air
And the years of Gabriel trumpeting, trumpeting, his announcement!
On April 28th, one of Cuba’s outstanding women poets, among many, Fina Garcia Marruz, celebrated her 99th birthday. This writer was part of the cultural and literary circle of the Origenes magazine in the pre-revolutionary period and remained committed to the spirit and ideals of Jose Marti, making her home in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution. Along with producing many volumes of poetry, she was part of the editorial committee working on Marti’s Collected Works.
Life partner of poet and writer Cintio Vitier, she inhabited a rich and cosmopolitan cultural world. Fina Garcia Marruz has received numerous awards including the 1990 National Literature Prize, Cuba, Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Award in 2007 and the Reina Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry in 2011. Additionally she has received the Federico Garcia Lorca Prize in 2011 and numerous distinctions and honours in her native Cuba.
I attempted a translation of two of her most deceptively simple poems, only to find they were not so! I was first introduced to her name and work in Josefina de Diego’s beautiful book of nostalgia and Cuban childhood, Grandfather’s Kingdom (Tarjama Press, 2012)/El Reino del Abuelo, Collection Sur, 2020.
El Joven, Fina Garcia Marruz, Cuba
Ahora que soy un dios, dame la mano. Vamos juntos. No me importa morir. Perdamos una tarde, una mañana. Toda la vida. Dialoguemos sobre cosas fútiles y bellas. Oh, abrazarlo todo locamente¡ Vamos a ver el mar, sin detenernos para nada a contemplarlo. Vamos a ver el mar, con la nuca vuelta de espalda, ignorándolo como él, cuando nos mira. Mira como tengo los bolsillos vacíos! Ahora que soy un dios, dame la mano.
The Young Man, (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022)
Now that I am a god, give me your hand. Let’s go together. I don’t mind dying. Let’s lose an afternoon, a morning. A lifetime. Let’s talk about futile and beautiful things. Oh, hug everything madly! Let’s see the sea, without stopping at all to contemplate it. Let’s go see the sea, with the nape of the neck ignoring the sea like the sea does, when he looks at us. Look how my pockets are empty! Now that I am a god, give me your hand.
Al Despertar, Fina Garcia Marruz , Cuba
uno se vuelve
al que era
al que tiene
el nombre con que nos llaman,
uno se vuelve
al uno mismo
al uno solo
lo que olvidan
en su dulce despertar.
Upon Awakening, Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022
to what one was
to what one has
the name by which they call us.
of one's self
only one's self
what they've forgotten
in their sweet awakening.
María Isabel Granda Larco (3 September 1920 – 8 March 1983), known as Chabuca Granda, was a Peruvian singer and composer. She was a trailblazer as a woman lyricist and composer, drawing on Peruvian Criollo music, as well as Afro-Peruvian rhythms, which were much devalued in high society of Lima at the time. It was a world which was plagued (and continues to be) by racism and classism toward Indigenous and Afro-descended peoples while highly dependent on their labour, particularly domestic labour provided by women workers who are often racialized as non-white. In this song, Chabuca shows her continual break with convention by centering the experiences of a working class woman and her labour. Enjoy some poetry put to music and sung by one of Peru’s most noted singers of the late 20th century!
Maria Lando by Chabuca Granda, Peru
La madrugada estalla como una estátua Como estátua de alas que se dispersan por la ciudad Y el mediodía cánta campana de agua Campana de agua de oro que nos prohibe la sóledad Y la noche levanta su copa larga Su larga copa larga, luna temprana por sobre el mar
Pero para María no hay madrugada Pero para María no hay mediodía Pero para María ninguna luna Alza su copa roja sobre las aguas…
María no tiene tiempo (María Landó) De alzar los ojos María de alzar los ojos (María Landó) Rotos de sueño María rotos de sueño (María Landó) De andar sufriendo María de andar sufriendo (María Landó) Sólo trabaja María sólo trabaja, sólotrabaja, sólo trabaja María sólo trabaja Y su trabajo es ajeno
Maria Lando, Chabuca Granda, Peru, Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji
Dawn breaks, exploding like a statue, like a statue of wings scattered All through the city And noon sings like a bell made of water A bell made of golden water that forbids loneliness And the night lifts its large goblet, its large goblet, large, an early moon over the sea
But for Maria there is no dawn But for Maria there is no midday But for Maria there is no moon raising its red goblet over the waters
Maria has no time to raise her eyes Maria ,to raise her eyes, broken by lack of sleep Maria, broken by lack of sleep ,from so much suffering Maria, from so much suffering, all she does is work
Maria just works and works, Maria only works, and her work is all for another.
Speak out!, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, (1911-1984) Pakistan translated by Mustansir Dalvi
Speak out! Your words are free. Speak up! Your tongue is still your own. Your body remains yours ramrod, erect. Speak out! Your life is still your own.
Look! How in your smithy’s forge flames soar; iron glows red. How the locks have opened yaws and every chain, unlinked, now spreads.
The short time left to you is enough. Speak up, before the body and its tongue give out. Speak out, for truth still survives. Speak out! Say whatever you have to say!
Democracy Poem #1, June Jordan, (1936-2002) USA Tell them that I stood in line and I waited and I waited like everybody else
But I never got called And I keep that scrap of paper in my pocket
just in case
The Unknown Citizen W.H Auden – 1907-1973, Britain
(To JS/07 M 378This Marble Monument Is Erected by the State)
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be One against whom there was no official complaint, And all the reports on his conduct agree That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint, For in everything he did he served the Greater Community. Except for the War till the day he retired He worked in a factory and never got fired, But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc. Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views, For his Union reports that he paid his dues, (Our report on his Union shows it was sound) And our Social Psychology workers found That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink. The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way. Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured, And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured. Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan And had everything necessary to the Modern Man, A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire. Our researchers into Public Opinion are content That he held the proper opinions for the time of year; When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went. He was married and added five children to the population, Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation. And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education. Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
Everywhere, beaurocracies use their powers to strip peoples’ lives of all that makes and gives meaning— from human connection, to the right to live with dignified wages, to housing , health, education, mobility and sustainable employment ,and the right to peace.
Plunder and pillage of the earth coincides with armaments bursting and spewing toxins, just as politicians and kleptocrats spew toxic bloodshed with their real-life maneuvers and internet trenches. Never have so many been bamboozled by so few, it seems!
So it’s time, time to go back to those words of other times and other wars, to remind us that war is NEVER the answer. It is the time to remember as Aime Cesaire did, that the victors may win, but in winning they lose their souls.And to join with him in his praise for a cooperative and non-expansionist way of of being:
Eia for those who never invented anything
Eia for those who never explored anything
for those who never conquered anything
but yield, captivated, to the essence of things
ignorant of surfaces by captivated by the motion of all things
indifferent to conquering, but playing the game of the world…
Time to go back to seeds of hope, glimmers in the crack of geopolitricks, to measure time outside of (the aptly named) Tik-Tok and value humanity and our common future. It’s time to remember those who can be erased so easily, by a click or a swipe.
I’ve put together a few poets whose old words and not-so-old words, sing in these bleak times. I hope you too will be inspired to raise your voice against war, not just in Europe, but throughout the world!
Try to Praise the Mutilated World
Adam Zagajewski, Poland
TRANS. BY Clare Cavanagh
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
The War Will End
Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine
The war will end.
The leaders will shake hands.
The old woman will keep waiting for her martyred son.
The girl will wait for her beloved husband.
And those children will wait for their hero father.
I don’t know who sold our homeland
But I saw who paid the price.
What Were They Like?
Denise Levertov, USA
Did the people of Viet Nam
use lanterns of stone?
Did they hold ceremonies
to reverence the opening of buds?
Were they inclined to quiet laughter?
Did they use bone and ivory,
jade and silver, for ornament?
Had they an epic poem?
Did they distinguish between speech and singing?
Sir, their light hearts turned to stone.
It is not remembered whether in gardens
stone gardens illumined pleasant ways.
Perhaps they gathered once to delight in blossom,
but after their children were killed
there were no more buds.
Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.
A dream ago, perhaps. Ornament is for joy.
All the bones were charred.
it is not remembered. Remember,
most were peasants; their life
was in rice and bamboo.
When peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies
and the water buffalo stepped surely along terraces,
maybe fathers told their sons old tales.
When bombs smashed those mirrors
there was time only to scream.
There is an echo yet
of their speech which was like a song.
It was reported their singing resembled
the flight of moths in moonlight.
Who can say? It is silent now.
Epitaph on a Tyrant
W.H. Auden, England
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
And with Federico Garcia Lorca (Ode to Walt Whitman), we should exhort ourselves to vilify and not glorify war :
Agony, agony, dream, ferment and dream.
This is the world, my friend, agony, agony.
Bodies dissolve beneath city clocks,
war passes weeping with a million grey rats,
the rich give their darlings
little bright dying things,
and life is not noble, or sacred, or good.
In the Barracks
Yannis Ritsos, Greece
The moon entered the barracks It rummaged in the soldiers’ blankets Touched an undressed arm. Sleep Someone talks in his sleep . Someone snores A shadow gesture on the long wall. The last trolley bus went by. Quietness Can all these be dead tomorrow? Can they be dead from right now? A soldier wakes up. He looks around with glassy eyes A thread of blood hangs from the moon’s lips.
Warsan Shire, Somalia/Britain
Conversations About Home ( At a Deportation Centre)
Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.
They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land. I want to make love but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you’re young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on my face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck, I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.
I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.
I hear them say, go home, I hear them say, fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this arrogant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second and the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I’ll see you on the other side.
It’s been ages since I have posted on the blog. Pandemic fatigue and the onset of winter and lock-downs have exacerbated SADness and made writing a difficult chore. While I have been doing some drawing, I haven’t mustered up the focus to write. This blog, pays homage to the work of two poets, February birthday boy, Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956), whose relevance and sardonic humour, make his poetry, equal to his fantastic play-writing skills. Reading Brecht brought me to my second author in today’s blog, Nuyorican Boricua poet, Pedro Pietri (March 21, 1944 – March 3, 2004). Famed for his humour, commitment to anti-colonial liberation and his great poetry full of macabre and witty insights, like Brecht, Pietri found great moments of poetry in the little things, and on the side of the little people.
Additionally, in honour of February as Black history month in North America, Pedro’s approach to writing as an Afro Puerto Rican was underscored by his solidarity with a number of colonized and immigrant groups in New York City where he spent much of his adult life. As both an Afro-descended and Spanish/English speaking writer, as a member of a reluctant occupying force conscripted as a U.S. veteran for an imperial war; he was able to interweave these aspects of his life in his frequent use of “Spanglish” and tongue in cheek references to cultural practices and icons from his various experiences.
Wounded by chemical exposure during the Viet Nam war, he suffered a great deal from his time in service, and it served to open his eyes to the plight of the poor and the colonized, people of colour, internationally. This internationalism while understanding the contradictions and ironies of his particular moment, link Pietri and Brecht across ages and political epochs and seminal wars of empire. While the trumpets of war sound off in the distance, this is an important time to remember and imagine that we are part of a great movement of people through-out time that believe another world is possible. In the meantime, skill, humour and critical thinking in all the arts– poetry is no exception– are necessary to survive the Neo-liberal bio-security, racism, war mongering, and financial finagling!
As poets and play writes, Brecht and Pietri deserve to share a virtual stage ! I have shared the art of some ground breaking visual artists to accompany these pieces.
Every few years around this time, I read or see or hear a version of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Such a beautiful prose poem where the words sing like the wind and the sea herself. This year, I drew to a reading of the piece, as I found the very LP record that we used to have when I was a child, on Youtube. You can hear it below, if you like. I was inspired to pay a visual homage to Thomas’ prose, where the English language sings and lilts, through snow and village and time. Below, you’ll find this lovely vignette authored by Thomas. I’ve drawn some pictures that came to mind as I heard the narration. I hope you enjoy this piece, whether it’s your first time reading/hearing it or not! May the coming year bring us all hope and community!
One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
All the Christmases roll down towards the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.
It was on the afternoon of the day of Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, although there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slide and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes.
The wise cats never appeared. We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows—eternal, ever since Wednesday—that we never heard Mrs. Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor’s polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder. “Fire!” cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.
And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, towards the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.
Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, “A fine Christmas!” and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.
“Call the fire brigade,” cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong. “They won’t be here,” said Mr. Prothero, “it’s Christmas.”
There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.
“Do something,” he said.
And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke—I think we missed Mr. Prothero—and ran out of the house to the telephone box.
“Let’s call the police as well,” Jim said.
“And the ambulance.”
“And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires.”
But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim’s Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said: “Would you like anything to read?”
Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”
“Were there postmen then, too?”
“With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells.”
“You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?”
“I mean that the bells that the children could hear were inside them.”
“I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells.”
“There were church bells, too.”
“No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks. And they rang their tidings over the bandaged town, over the frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea. It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy under my window; and the weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence.”
“Get back to the postmen.”
“They were just ordinary postmen, fond of walking and dogs and Christmas and the snow. They knocked on the doors with blue knuckles….”
“Ours has got a black knocker….”
“And then they stood on the white Welcome mat in the little, drifted porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their breath, and jogged from foot to foot like small boys wanting to go out.”
“And then the presents?”
“And then the Presents, after the Christmas box. And the cold postman, with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the tea-tray-slithered run of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound boots like a man on fishmonger’s slabs.
“He wagged his bag like a frozen camel’s hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot, and, by God, he was gone.”
“Get back to the Presents.”
“There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o’-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o’-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles’s pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”
“Go on to the Useless Presents.”
“Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor’s cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by a mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any color I please, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknel, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons.”
“Were there Uncles like in our house?”
“There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. And on Christmas mornings, with dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I would scour the swathed town for the news of the little world, and find always a dead bird by the Post Office or the white deserted swings; perhaps a robin, all but one of his fires out. Men and women wading, scooping back from chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddled their stiff black jarring feathers against the irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers. Some few large men sat in the front parlors, without their collars, Uncles almost certainly, trying their new cigars, holding them out judiciously at arms’ length, returning them to their mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion; and some few small aunts, not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that matter, sat on the very edges of their chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups and saucers.”
Not many those mornings trod the piling streets: an old man always, fawn-bowlered, yellow-gloved and, at this time of year, with spats of snow, would take his constitutional to the white bowling green and back, as he would take it wet or fire on Christmas Day or Doomsday; sometimes two hale young men, with big pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs, would trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of them was left but the two curling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable briars. Then I would be slap-dashing home, the gravy smell of the dinners of others, the bird smell, the brandy, the pudding and mince, coiling up to my nostrils, when out of a snow-clogged side lane would come a boy the spit of myself, with a pink-tipped cigarette and the violet past of a black eye, cocky as a bullfinch, leering all to himself.
I hated him on sight and sound, and would be about to put my dog whistle to my lips and blow him off the face of Christmas when suddenly he, with a violet wink, put his whistle to his lips and blew so stridently, so high, so exquisitely loud, that gobbling faces, their cheek bulged with goose, would press against their tinsled windows, the whole length of the white echoing street. For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Aunt Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, then when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the Uncles breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit among festoons and Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a model man-o’-war, following the Instructions for Little Engineers, and produce what might be mistaken for a sea-going tramcar.
Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world, on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and Jack and to pad through the still streets, leaving huge deep footprints on the hidden pavements.
“I bet people will think there’ve been hippos.”
“What would you do if you saw a hippo coming down our street?”
“I’d go like this, bang! I’d throw him over the railings and roll him down the hill and then I’d tickle him under the ear and he’d wag his tail.”
“What would you do if you saw two hippos?”
Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and battered through the scudding snow towards us as we passed Mr. Daniel’s house.
“Let’s post Mr. Daniel a snowball through his letter box.”
“Let’s write things in the snow.”
“Let’s write, ‘Mr. Daniel looks like a spaniel’ all over his lawn.”
Or we walked on the white shore. “Can the fishes see it’s snowing?”
The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks round their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying “Excelsior.” We returned home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay. And then, at tea the recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her tea with rum, because it was only once a year.
Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs where the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn’t the shaving of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house.
“What shall we give them? Hark the Herald?”
“No,” Jack said, “Good King Wencelas. I’ll count three.”
One, two, three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door.
Good King Wencelas looked out On the Feast of Stephen… And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small, dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.
“Perhaps it was a ghost,” Jim said.
“Perhaps it was trolls,” Dan said, who was always reading.
“Let’s go in and see if there’s any jelly left,” Jack said. And we did that.
Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.” It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.
Dear all, it is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know Georgina Herrera has passed on yesterday. She was an inspiring and much beloved poet whose glittering sparseness was a counterpoint to the Spanish classical flowery formalism of older Cuban writers. Her personal story centers Afro-Cubanhood as the location, from where, and for whom, she wrote.
Her experience of the formative years of the Cuban revolution was instrumental in her joining writers’ groups and writing as a profession. Her poems, unlike Nicolas Guillen’s work, do not try to forge a mestizaje or biracial identity as the foundation for Cuban nationhood. Perhaps because she came from a line of more working -class people than the lawyer’s son, Guillen. Herrera herself laboured as a domestic worker through her teens. It is through working for the entitled white cuban middle-class, that she began to have access to a literary and cultural world that drew her into its ambit. Within that circle, she brought a voice of defiance and fierce independence that makes her work still so relevant today.
Viscerally, she describes the reality of being Black in Cuba, where, unlike George Lamming’s work, her writing exists, not “in spite of” as Lamming would put it , but “because of“. It is precisely that centering of her reality that makes Georgina’s work so relevant to other Black women and women of colour. As a scriptwriter, poet and mentor to many others, especially in the Afro-descended community, Georgina Herrera’s legacy will live on the hearts of her readers and friends and family. Her motif acknowledges that self-definition is rooted in material lived freedom, a bitter truth harvested from her ancestors’ enslavement in Cuba. Born, in 1936, to a Cuba where the formerly enslaved were still alive, Georgina Herrera, or Yoya, as she was known to her friends, was a remarkable presence whose poetry explored the experience of black women in a society highly uncomfortable with talking about raced gender and racism in open terms within their own history. She herself, rejected the pretences of mestizaje, for maroon-hood, (cimarronje) which she defiantly and repeatedly came back to in her writing and self-definition. In this way, her writing speaks to the universality of Black experience in the Caribbean, North, and South America as a result of brutal worlds built on trading in persons. But she celebrates the rehumanization -as Lamming himself does– of barren colonial landscapes of fear, deprivation, and demonization of Afro-peoples, by any means necessary– even poetry…I leave you with her own words, and join with Cubans and poetry lovers in wishing her a safe journey. Ashe.
Grand Eulogy for Myself- Georgina Herrera/trans. Kaushalya Bannerji
I am the fugitive
I am she who opened doors
Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”.
I haven’t been on the blog for quite a while. 2021 is proving to be a year of elusive concentration, spiralling exhaustion, sadness, and intense physical pain. I have re-acquainted myself with some drawing, although I have been reading about the state of the world and am often disturbed by what I see our little planet coming to. But visually, October, and the autumn in general, is a beautiful time– as in this part of the Americas, foliage puts on a show as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the northern lights. Thousands of stock photographs and painters can attest to the power of fall’s colours in the northern hemisphere.
Poets like the U.S’ Mary Oliver, whose primary inspirations were self and nature, give us an idea of the feelings evoked in this season of impermanence and darkness. Cultures all over the world celebrate the vanquishing of the long bleak night of winter and pay homage to those we love who are journeying beyond this life. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead on November 1st is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone– their favourite foods and music, flowers and marigolds to adorn their visit between the worlds. Offerings and altars, graveyards and candles, photos and colours, not for nothing are Mexicans famed for being detallistas! And the lived-in voice of Chavela Vargas reminds us that the passion and drama of artists live on in all of us who hear and read the works of those who have gone before.
the black oaks fling their bronze fruit into all the pockets of the earth pock pock
they knock against the thresholds the roof the sidewalk fill the eaves the bottom line
of the old gold song of the almost finished year what is spring all that tender green stuff
compared to this falling of tiny oak trees out of the oak trees then the clouds
gathering thick along the west then advancing then closing over breaking open
the silence then the rain dashing its silver seeds against the house
Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)
You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by.You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by. You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman, I even thought you were the Virgin.You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman,I even thought you were the Virgin.
Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman from a field of irises.Woe is me, Weeping Woman.Weeping Woman from a field of irises.
He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony.He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony.
I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery.I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery. When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying.When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying.
Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river.Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river. Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman, because I'm freezing to death.Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman,because I'm freezing to death. (Trans DaphneKarina PG)
I’m late this year in commemorating the anniversary of September 11, 1973. This infamous date came into being as the day that the military dictatorship of General Agusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens in Santiago, Chile. Much has been written and recorded from that time and in terms of historical and personal testimonials of thousands of Chileans who experienced political violence/murder, persecution, and exile. I thought I would share a song written by fellow Latin American singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez of Cuba, as he responded to the events of the 1973 coup d’état in Chile.
There I loved a terrible woman,
crying through the everlasting smoke
of that city, cornered by winter symbols.
There, I learned to remove cold skin
and throw my body into the drizzle
in the hands of hard white fog
in the streets of enigma.
That is not dead.
They didn't kill me.
Neither through distance,
Nor by the vile soldier.
There among the hills, I had friends
That among the smoke bombs, were as brothers .
There I had more than four things that I have always wanted.
There our song became small,
Among the desperate crowd,
A powerful song of the earth broke over us.
That is not dead .
They didn't kill me .
Neither through the distance,
Nor with the vile soldier
Neither through distance,
Nor by the vile soldier
Even there, it followed me like a shadow
The face of him, who I no longer see
And death whispers in my ear that it will still come.
There I felt a hatred, ashamed by
Children beggared by dawn
And this desire to exchange each string for a bag of bullets…
That is not dead.
They didn't kill me .
Neither through the distance,
Nor with the vile soldier.
Neither through the distance,
Nor with the vile soldier.
Santiago De Chile
Silvio Rodríguez Dominguez
allí amé a una mujer terrible
llorando por el humo siempre eterno
de aquella ciudad acorralada
por símbolos de invierno
allí aprendí a quitar con piel el frío
y a echar luego mi cuerpo a la llovizna
en manos de la niebla dura y blanca
en calles del enigma
eso no esta muerto
no me lo mataron
ni con la distancia, ni con vil soldado×2
allí entre los cerros tuve amigos
que entre bombas de humo eran hermanos
ahi yo tuve mas de cuatro cosas que siempre he deseado
ahi nuestra canción se hizo pequeña
entre la multitud desesperada
un poderoso canto que canto de la tierra era quien más cantaba
eso no esta muerto
ni con la distancia,
ni con el vil soldado
Hasta allí me siguió como una sombra
El rostro del que ya no se veía
Y en el oído me susurro la muerte del que ya aparecería
Allí yo tuve un odio una vergüenza
Niños mendigos de la madrugada
Y el deseo de cambiar cada cuerda por un saco de balas
More than fifty years ago, a young singer songwriter burst on to the exciting and boundary breaking music scene in Brazil, a country grappling with the legacy of cruelty, colonization, migration, and above all, enslavement. Burgeoning movements for racial and regional equality, along with student and feminist movements, workers, and small peasantry, found themselves clamouring for both more and just representation in Brazilian social, economic and political life. In response, the ruling oligarchs and their allies and offshoots in the media, banking, land-owning, and other sectors brought in a military junta whose tank-laden shadows lay heavily across the streets of Brazil for twenty long years. Those were years of active repression of progressive social movements and artists and intellectuals.
The period 1964-85 saw Brazil, Chile, and then Argentina, in the grips of repulsive comprador elites who could not hurry fast enough into the arms of the U.S. military-industrial complex. During this period, we may have heard of the many Chileans and Argentinian artists and musicians who were persecuted or even assassinated for their political views, such as Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Quilapayun, Inti-Illimani, Fito Paez, etc. To this list, we must add some of the greatest proponents of the Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) group, loosely comprised of Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimiento, Gal Costa, Maria Bethania, and so many others. The fusion of African, Indigenous, U.S. and European influences found in the Tropicalia music scene, was matched by a desire to write lyrics which resonated with the public and youth of the time.
Censorship, military crackdowns on the left and student organizing, inattention to the needs of the poor and the landless, over-policing and under- provision of social services were the norm under the Generals. Meanwhile, artists and intellectuals were also challenging ideas about race, racism, and class and respectability, ideas of gender and sexuality; all of these were part of a dynamic and vibrant wave of Brazilian culture in the 1970s. The chanson traditions of France and Europe migrated across the Atlantic ocean as troubadours and folk-singers brought styles of music that melded over time to local sounds and rhythms, producing a musical syncretism that sets Brazilian music with its nasal vocals and complex rhythms into a distinctly recognizable sound of its own. Samba and Bossa Nova are only parts of a vast spectrum of Brazilian music comprised of rock, funk, jazz, forro, rap, and other influences. But they are hugely important because they gave rise to a new understanding of nation-state in the minds of Brazilians themselves– a nation comprised of ethnic plurality in which African elements were inescapably tied up with Brazilian popular expression and identity. This admission of biracial demographic composition or mestizaje in national identity forced a constant confrontation with the past, as Brazil was the last country in the Americas to forbid slavery, as late as 1888. This preoccupation with racialized and national identities characterized many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, along with the great economic upheavals that reliance on mono-crop agriculture brought with the Great Depression, in the world economy. By the 1960s, racialized and classed stereotypes about afro-descended peoples and aboriginal nations, abounded, along with regionalist stereotypes. The young artists of the era hoped to dismantle and deconstruct the elitest image of Brazil as a land of playboys and trophy girls, drinking caipirinhas and swaying to the sunsets of Rio. Indeed, novelists like Jorge Amado had already begun articulating a new vision of working class and racialized Brazilians as the real heirs to the nation through their blood, sweat, and tears. Musicians were part of this rich contestation of the meaning of the “popular”, as they tried to portray a culture of the “people”, in opposition to the massification and commodification of shallow and superficial cultural values.
In 1971, poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter, Chico Buarque de Holanda (1944) wrote the song “Construction”, a homage to the every day construction workers and working class men of Brazil. This song’s own amazing construction is beautifully expressed in the original Portuguese and also in Spanish translation. Each line is repeated in the next verse but given a different last word. It’s a marvel of symmetry, compassion, and cadence in the original Portuguese, with a dramatic musicality that characterizes Chico Buarque’s songwriting. Even Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez pays homage to his fellow musician and poet, in his beautiful song, Quien Fuera? or Who’s the One? The two songwriters share a love for surrealism and social justice that does not lend itself well to translation! I’ve tried to convey some of the meaning of this iconic song, on it’s fiftieth anniversary; when Brazil is again confronted with a choice between popular democracy (Lula) and dictatorship (Bolsonaro). I’ve shared a recent version by Chico and a version in Spanish by Pedro Aznar, that showcases the guitar’s rhythmic capacity.
Wikipedia tells us that
“ (Chico) wrote and studied literature as a child and found music through the bossa nova compositions of Tom Jobim and João Gilberto. He performed as a singer and guitarist during the 1960s as well as writing a play that was deemed dangerous by the Brazilian military dictatorship of the time. Buarque, along with several Tropicalist and MPB musicians, was threatened by the Brazilian military government and eventually left Brazil for Italy in 1969. However, he came back to Brazil in 1970, and continued to record, perform, and write, though much of his material was suppressed by government censors. He released several more albums in the 1980s and published three novels in the 1990s and 2000s.
In 2019, Buarque was awarded the Camões Prize, the most important prize for literature in the Portuguese language.”
Construcao, Francisco Buarque de Holanda 1971
Amou daquela vez como se fosse a última
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a última
E cada filho seu como se fosse o único
E atravessou a rua com seu passo tímido
Subiu a construção como se fosse máquina
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes sólidas
Tijolo com tijolo num desenho mágico
Seus olhos embotados de cimento e lágrima
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse sábado
Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse um príncipe
Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse um náufrago
Dançou e gargalhou como se ouvisse música
E tropeçou no céu como se fosse um bêbado
E flutuou no ar como se fosse um pássaro
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote flácido
Agonizou no meio do passeio público
Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o tráfego
Amou daquela vez como se fosse o último
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a única
E cada filho seu como se fosse o pródigo
E atravessou a rua com seu passo bêbado
Subiu a construção como se fosse sólido
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes mágicas
Tijolo com tijolo num desenho lógico
Seus olhos embotados de cimento e tráfego
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um príncipe
Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse o máximo
Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse máquina
Dançou e gargalhou como se fosse o próximo
E tropeçou no céu como se ouvisse música
E flutuou no ar como se fosse sábado
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote tímido
Agonizou no meio do passeio náufrago
Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o público
Amou daquela vez como se fosse máquina
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse lógico
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes flácidas
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um pássaro
E flutuou no ar como se fosse um príncipe
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote bêbado
Morreu na contra-mão atrapalhando o sábado
Construction, Francisco Buarque de Holanda (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021)
He loved, that time, as though it were his last
He kissed his wife as though she were the ultimate
And each child of his, was like his only one.
He crossed the street with his timid gait
Climbed the construction site as if he were a machine
He built four solid walls on the landing
Brick by brick in a magical design
His eyes encrusted with cement and tears.
He sat down to rest like it was Saturday
He ate his beans and rice as if he were a prince
He drank and sobbed like one shipwrecked
He danced and laughed as if he heard music
He stumbled across the sky like a drunk
He floated in the air like a bird
He ended up on the ground like a limp package
He agonized in the middle of the public boulevard
He died against the grain, hindering traffic.
He loved that time as though it were the last time
He kissed his wife as if she were the only one
And each child of his, was a prodigal son.
He crossed the street with his drunken gait
He climbed the construction scaffolding as if it were solid
He built four magic walls on the landing
Brick by brick in a logical design
His eyes encrusted with cement and traffic.
He sat down like a prince to rest
He ate beans and rice as though it were the best
He drank and sobbed like a machine,
Danced and laughed like he was next
And stumbled across the sky as if he heard music
He floated in the air as if it were Saturday.
He ended up on the ground like a timid package
He agonized in the midst of a shipwrecked ride
He died against the grain, disturbing the public.
He loved, that time, like a machine
He kissed his wife as though it were logical
He built four flaccid walls on the landing
He sat down to rest like a bird,
And he floated in the air like a prince.
And he ended up on the ground like a drunken package
I see the chaos being fomented in Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia… All places where I have had the fortune to travel and the misfortune to read the news of those countries forever after… They are locked in my heart like the humble pleasures of nostalgia for friends in my country of origin. Yet health has always forced me back to Canada… So this verse by Danish poet Benny Andersen is so perfectly apt for how so many around me in the “West” see the “3rd World”. The rise of poverty and disaster tourism is a “thing”. But so is the benevolent tyranny of the friendly tourist, dangling luxury consumption like an emerald green light in front of those who work in and around tourism. This poem is truly one that speaks to this time.
The real people To travel away from the hot water bottle and pork sausage out to the real places where the real people eat real food live in real houses with real balconies speak real, walk real stop real really get in trouble have real children with real eyes far from pork sausage and the hot water bottle down south in the south there’s colors, atmosphere all the houses resemble famous old paintings all the people can sing and look like famous statues often substitute for them in the south you drink wine in the south you’re excitable all year round in the south you do everything out in the open love, fight, live, whistle, die really it’s inborn in the north you have runny noses cancer envy in the north you walk around the puddles around the statues around one another in the north you drink milk in the north you have to think about your health in the north you’re stiff with health in the north you’re right in the north you don’t budge an inch in the north in the north you go south where the real people have real cats real lice real teeth, sores, contrasts you meet at the real places and hold real parties where the real blood rushes everyone knows one another far from the hot water bottle and pork sausage.
The Nobodies/Homage to Galeano, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019
I’ve slowed down on my blog due to health and other very important circumstances. But I have not stopped… I have been, like so many of us in Canada, overwhelmed by the physical forensic evidence of a genocide so recent that it is actually on-going.
Kamloops Residential School, Cowessess First Nation Marieval Residential School, and other Residential schools have provided evidence of over 1300 deaths in the last two weeks. That is in addition to the approximately 4000 deaths recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission had recommended the forensic examination of all residential schools for indigenous peoples, but that was denied by the federal government of Canada on the basis that a $1.5 million price tag at the time was “too high”.
This callous indifference characterizes the Canadian State’s approach to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples when it is not engaged in the antics of the Indian Act or helping its corporate partners in resource extraction.
I fear there may be thousands more children found before this is over. And as an ally of colour or person in solidarity with indigenous nations in this settler country, I feel we need to use all our means of protest to say that this Canada we have built is rotten, from and to, the core. Supporting both treaty and unceded nations, we have to add our voices to the Landback movement. Taking our cues from the demands of Indigenous people, water, and earth protectors from various parts of the country shows us how interconnected abuse and genocide of people is to dispossession from their lands
I am sharing below the art and haiku I have created in homage to these living struggles on our current lands. Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must be done. And words like “reconciliation” are hysterically cynical in my humble opinion. Where are the words, “accountability”, “due process”, “law enforcement”, “justice”? Some of the perpetrators of abuse and worse, are still alive– protected by the Catholic Church and Canadian state.
Why are aboriginal peoples incarcerated and survivors of a social apartheid at inhuman rates, while those who squeeze their life blood out of them, get to run free? All of us who tread this soil, who weep at the dehumanization of children and entire peoples, who struggle for equality, respect and liberation in our own lives, must realize that all of that is meaningless without a fundamental shift in what it means to live on Indigenous land.
Home, weeps this land, fenced by greed disguised as civil- ization. Landback.
Home, they cry, you have taken the ground beneath. Give us back our souls.
Thousands of children home. Weeping parents shattered. Kkkanada fed blood.
Home, they wept, take us back. Hug these small bodies back to families, lands, names.
Happy Pride Month! It’s been strange to be as fragmented as the LGBT community has been even before covid19. But lack of face to face contact has in particular been hard for LGBT people, especially young people who may be living with homo/transphobic or disapproving family members.
So it’s a month to honour our many communities’ resilience, our survival in spite of centuries of exclusion, hatred and scapegoating, our many ways of being who we are in spite of difficult odds. This year the evidentiary burden of genocide against Indigenous survival and the massacre of so many vulnerable people through the market logic of the corona pandemic, along with personal grief on so many levels, has made it more of reflective time than one rooted in the raucous marchers and the desperate gawkers that characterize Pride weekend on Corporate Ave., oh sorry, i mean, Church St. I probably miss the music the most!
This last week with its revelations about the active recent complicity of Catholic Church, , and God knows how many other Christian institutions– shows us how white Christians intertwined with the ruling powers as to make separation of Church and State, a total joke when it comes to the civilizing mission of settler colonialism! Two hundred and fifteen children assassinated in the name of a merciless white God. And that is only what they have let us find. The violence of settler colonialism reveals itself as a violence against the very lives and existence of Indigenous peoples. An informal apartheid made formal through the Indian Act.
So for many reasons, it’s hard to feel celebratory There’s been tons of new cultural activism and expression from Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. But I’ve gone with a familiar voice from the long-ago days of joining an anti-racist lesbian community! Menominee poet Chrystos has definitely been a voice calling for truth to power, even if that makes things uncomfortable. So I’ll leave today’s post with this poem.
Into the Racism Workshop
For Alma Banda Goddardmy cynical feet ambled prepared for indigestion & blank faces of outrageous innocence knowing I’d have to walk over years of media declaring we’re vanished or savage or pitiful or noble My toes twitched when I saw so few brown faces but really when one eats racism every time one goes out one’s door the appeal of talking about it is minuscule I sat with my back to the wall facing the door after I changed the chairs to a circle This doesn’t really protect me but I con myself into believing it does One of the first speakers piped up I’m only here because my friend is Black & wanted me to do this with her I’ve already done 300 too many racism workshops Let it be entered into the Book of Stars that I did not kill her or shoot a scathing reply from the hip I let it pass because I could tell she was very interested in taking up all the space with herself & would do it if I said a word They all said something that I could turn into a poem but I got tired & went to sleep behind my interested eyes I’ve learned that the most important part of these tortures is for them to speak about racism at all Even showing up is heresy because as we all know racism is some vague thing that really doesn’t exist or is only the skinheads on a bad day or isn’t really a crucial problem not as important certainly as queers being able to marry or get insurance for each other When they turned to me as resident expert on the subject which quite honestly I can’t for the life of me understand or make any sense out of I spoke from my feet things I didn’t know I knew of our connections of the deadly poison that racism is for all of us Maybe some of them were touched but my bitch voice jumps in to say NOT MUCH! I heard back that someone thought I was brilliant Does that mean that I speak well Or that she was changed It’s only her change I need
It’s been 6 weeks since I have been on the blog. I have been watching the state of the world with eyes that want to look away, but can’t. It seems we are on a collision course with hopelessness and destruction, vaccine or no vaccine. Human rights are being violated and lives taken with impunity, due to governmental inaction (India, Brazil, Peru) and governmental action (Colombia, USA, Israel). From patients to protestors, the poor across the world are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s cost.
It is a year since the murder of George Floyd in the United States, and in Toronto, Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Last year, people overcame their fear of covid19 and took to the streets en masse after a fear-laden set of global lockdowns stopped all social presence in its tracks. Since that time, people have been amassing at numerous events in response to local and international news all over the world.
There have been hundreds of Black and Indigenous and Latino people murdered by police in the last few decades in the U.S. and Canada. To list and say their names would take some time.
In order to honour the memory of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Sandra Bland, and Brionna Taylor, among so many others— I’ve decided to go back to the 1960s, back to amazingly powerful Henry Dumas, taken from us at the age of 33, when he was shot in a case of “mistaken identity” by a New York City Transit Cop.
Henry Dumas 1935-1968
He was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas and spent his childhood in New York City. After serving in the military, he attended Rutgers University and ended up eventually teaching language workshops at Southern Illinois University.
As a Black Power militant and civil rights advocate, his poetry is rooted in the fullness of Black experience; to be a son, a lover, a father, a subject of history. At the time when he was writing the use of the “n” word was as contested as it is today. But for many, writing from the ironic corners of Black America, the use of this noun both underscored the derogatory and the resilient, if not the redemptive. In her recent piece on Henry Dumas, “Some Requiem”, Harmony Holiday says of his work,
“Come, it is time to be born,” Dumas announces in “Pane of Vision.” “Do you remember the sweet pain of turning around?” he asks in “Green Hill, Golden Mountain.” Dumas is always addressing us, as if we’re old friends who have crossed the threshold of bones into the West together and dream of returning to a land we cannot name except by feeling its terrain. He wants us all to turn around in unison. His poems call us toward the fantasy of feeling like our true selves and imagine where we might have to travel to accomplish that, what we will have to risk and forfeit, and then they take us there in simple disguises.
Below I share 3 poems of this great U.S. writer, fighter for Black liberation and historian of the feeling of being Black, in the eyes of White America. In this, he’s been classified as an Utopian poet because he shows us “our true selves …the tenderness and the terror… there is no repudiating him or looking away from his warnings.
These poems are for George, Michael, Tamir, Eric, Brionna, Regis, Sandra, Adam, and so many many others. They are for all of you, who’ve ever been terrified for yourself or your loved ones as they/we/you— live their simple, human lives, in the face of institutional white supremacy and social, political, and economic exclusion.
This spring, the second of the covid19 pandemic, is another lockdown. I remember my fear and isolation during the first one, the first stay at home order I had ever experienced. I am grateful that I am able to be out in sun, sitting on my balcony and enjoying the calls of the birds. The cat is also filled with alertness and enjoyment from her whiskers to the tip of her tail! Birds, she feels, call to her! Sometimes she chitters back.
Easing back into the blog, I’ve made up for the Haiku challenges I’ve missed on Ronovan Writes. Here, I’ve written around the words suggested for the past three weeks. I hope you enjoy these new shoots of poems!
Chirping, spring perches on branches bare of verdant bloom. swift, full throated.
When fleas sneeze rats might scurry. plague upon both their nations! leave us be!
Oh comfort erupts when sun’s days grow longer yet shadow lies above
I’ve been a bit slow on the translation front. I’ve been working on a selection of poems from Cuba’s Georgina Herrera. This writer really captivated my interest when I was studying in Cuba for my doctoral research. Her slim paperback volumes were on display at UNEAC in the Vedado and my favourite poetry bookstore in La Habana, Fayad Jamis, in old Havana. Here is a latest attempt from me!
El pájaro amarillo vuelve a la rama verde
el pájaro amarillo.
más que posado está sobre la rama verde.
Semeja un cajigal que trina y se alza desde
uno a otro sitio.
El pájaro amarillo es una flor insólita,
un sol que se estremece
y cabe entre mis manos.
Deja en mí
no sé por qué, este pájaro,
un gozo inacabable.
Suave, entonces, me llenan unas ganas grandes
de verlo así, posado siempre
sobre la tristeza de todos, como
en mi corazón y
allí en la rama verde.
Yellow Bird (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)
The yellow bird returns to the green branch
It has returned
the yellow bird.
Perched more than posed on the green branch
She seems a conquering Cajigal that trills and flits
from one place to another.
The yellow bird is an insolent flower,
a sun that quivers and fits between my hands.
It leaves in me,
I don’t know why, that bird,
Softly, then I’m filled with great desire
to see it again, posing always
on the sadness of everyone, just as it is now,
in my heart and
there on the green branch.
(The name Cajigal refers to a Spaniard who subdued Venezuela among other places in the early 19th century. Wikipedia says, “In 1819 he was appointed captain general of Cuba and oversaw the restoration of the Spanish Constitution of 1812 in 1820. That same year he resigned due to health problems and retired to Guanabacoa, where he died in 1823.” My friend tells me that in her family, her Spanish Cuban grandmother used the word to mean a chaotic place. Further, many speculate it may be a species of tree deriving its name from an Aboriginal, perhaps Taino, language. I have picked the Governor’s name as it seems in keeping with Herrera’s theme.
I’ve been away from the blog for nearly a month this time. I’ve been grappling with flares of chronic health issues and also been feeling somewhat disheartened by the announcement of a surge of covid-19 patients where I live, the increasing shuttering of small businesses, the business as usual approach of capitalist warlords, the rise of tent cities in the parks around me and an ad-hoc business model of health care and public health management. It’s been hard to feel hopeful!
Meanwhile, the restrictions that exist are ludicrous and haphazard. Young people’s mental health has been seriously affected in Canada. Statistics show an increase in the demand for services with regard to mental health support. Insomnia and other problems are on the rise. Lone individuals are experiencing unprecedented isolation. All of these issues are having a huge psycho-social impact. It’s a time for this poem by Polish poet Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021).
Try to Praise the Mutilated World
BY ADAM ZAGAJEWSKI TRANSLATED BY CLARE CAVANAGH
Try to praise the mutilated world. Remember June’s long days, and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine. The nettles that methodically overgrow the abandoned homesteads of exiles. You must praise the mutilated world. You watched the stylish yachts and ships; one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others. You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere, you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world. Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered. Return in thought to the concert where music flared. You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars. Praise the mutilated world and the gray feather a thrush lost, and the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns.
I’ve not been able to watch the fall of the British Monarchy and the Republican Revolution as televised by Oprah. Just not happening! Every time I think of the British royal family, I am reminded of Sue Townsend’s classic, The Queen and I, a masterpiece of Republican humour. As you’ve guessed, I haven’t succumbed yet to the Crown!
Instead, I returned to the influences of Black culture in my own life. The poetry, music, and yes, real struggles, of the hoi-polloi! Struggles that are in flux , ebbing and flowing at particular historical moments, like these blood-stained times we live in. Bob Marley told us, “if you know your history, you won’t have to ask me, who the hell do you think I am?”. So it’s in that spirit I share what’s on my mind . A reaction to the current mainstream furor over the shock about racism in the British monarchy. If you want to check out an insider’s view of the British aristocracy, you can check out Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels, an autobiography of opposing political views and dedication to fascism among the lords and ladies!
Without further ado, I want to share the poetry of Georgina Herrera , a contemporary poet living in Cuba. This writer assumes her Black identity both as humanity and as a weapon, forged in the resistance of rebellion to enslavement. Cuba experienced the end of slavery as late as 1886. I have complemented the words of Herrera with the contemporary music of Ibeyi, an AfroCuban/ French duet of sisters, daughters of the renowned Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz. And to these I have combined my paintings inspired by these songs, poems and struggles. I hope you enjoy thinking about the multifaceted nature of women’s contribution to history, in this Women’s month!
Oral Portrait of Victoria by Georgina Herrera, Cuba
(Translation by Kaushalya Bannerji)
What a great-grandmother of mine, that Victoria. Rebelling and head-down, she passed her life. They say I look like her. That fifth of November of 1843, Fermina, when all those downward gazes were not able to lower her spirits…
What love put that astuteness in her brain, that fury between her hands? What memory brought from that land where she was free like light and thunder gave strength to her arm?
Valid is the nostalgia that makes powerful a woman’s hand so that she can cut the head off her enemy.
Tell me, Fermina. Then what did you miss most? What happiness did you recover, when you flew more than ran, over the green abysses of cane where you were defiled?
A pity there doesn’t exist a photo of her eyes They would have shone so hard.
Retrato oral de la Victoria
Qué bisabuela mía esa Victoria. Cimarroneándose y en bocabajos pasó la vida. Dicen que me parezco a ella. El cinco de noviembre de 1843, Fermina, cuando todos los bocabajos fueron pocos para tumbar su ánimo… ¿qué amor puso la astucia en su cerebro, la furia entre sus manos? ¿Qué recuerdo traído desde su tierra en que era libre como la luz y el trueno dio la fuerza a su brazo? Válida es la nostalgia que hace poderosa la mano de una mujer hasta decapitar a su enemigo. Diga, Fermina. ¿Entonces qué echaba usted de menos? ¿Cuál fue la dicha recuperada, cuando volaba más que corría por los verdes abismos de las cañas, dónde tuvo lugar su desventura? Lástima que no exista una foto de sus ojos. Habrán brillado tanto.
Some of you may know I lost my father last summer to Covid. I was trapped by coronavirus policies and my own chronic health issues and unable to be with him. I miss him lots, especially when reading literature from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America that he introduced me to, so long ago. Although I didn’t know which poems would spring forth this time, I guess my sadness seeped through. Like one of my father’s favourite writers, Raymond Chandler, I sometimes dwell in “the long goodbye.”
It is International Mother Tongue Day, today, the 21st of February. It’s an important day to celebrate because imperial monopolies of language (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French) have erased so many forms of communication and Indigenous and languages. Only this month, the Mexican government recognized 68 Indigenous languages as national languages alongside Spanish. This took over 500 years, to return official status to languages that existed at the time of Spanish Conquest. In East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, language was one of the key issues in the bloody war between Pakistan (then West Pakistan) and the territory now known as Bangladesh in 1971, fifty years ago. In Canada, French and English have battled for official language status with franco-separatists resorting to desperate measures in Quebec, to protect their French language from what they see as English encroachment. Canada’s invocation of martial law, the War Measures Act, was applied against French language separatists, the FLQ, also in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the country committed torture against children through the Residential Schools designed to eradicate the speaking of native langugaes among Indigenous peoples and churn out domestic labour for settler colonialists. Sri Lanka saw a brutal conflict dispossessing thousands and terrorizing the island for many years, over Sinhala and Tamil identities and languages, among other issues.
It’s also important to celebrate that language is a living thing, one we all construct and participate in daily. So I think it’s essential to also celebrate languages that have been assigned inferior status or “Dialect” status because of colonial and politico-economic imperatives. So I include here a tribute to Jamaican patois, though I prefer the term “nation language” coined by Barbadian academic and writer, Edward Kamau Braithwaite. And finally, while New Zealand is far from being a land of full equality for the Maori people, the adoption of Maori language classes and the popularity of the Haka, demonstrate that mother tongue and artistic creation are important components in struggles for language, which often also imply struggles for equality and social and economic justice. There are thousands of language I’ve left out here, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. According to the UN, of the 7000 languages spoken today in the world, at least half will be lost by the end of this century. But I hope this post will help us all reflect on the importance of mother tongue in an increasingly globalized world.
Dutty Tough, Louise Bennet Coverly, Jamaica, aka Miss Lou
Sun a shine but tings no bright; Doah pot a bwile, bickle no nuff; River flood but water scarce, yawl Rain a fall but dutty tough. Tings so bad dat nowadays when Yuh ask smaddy how dem do Dem fraid yuh tek tell dem back, So dem no answer yuh.
No care omuch we da work fa Hard-time still een wi shut; We dah fight, Hard-time a beat we, Dem might raise wi wages, but
One poun gawn awn pon we pay, an We no feel no merriment For ten poun gawn pon wi food An ten pound pon we rent!
Saltfish gawn up, mackerel gawn up. Pork en beef gawn up, An when rice and butter ready Dem jus go pon holiday!
Claht, boot, pin an needle gawn up Ice, bread, taxes, water-rate Kersine ile, gasolene, gawn up; An de poun devaluate
De price of bread gone up so high Dat we haffi agree Fi cut we yeye pon bred an all Turn dumplin refugee
An all dem marga smaddy weh Dah gwan like fat is sin All dem-deh weh dah fas wid me Ah lef dem to dumpling!
Sun a shine an pot a bwile, but Things no bright, bickle no nuff Rain a fall, river dah flood, but, Water scarce an dutty tough. Louise Simone Bennett Coverly
I’ve joined the Haiku Challenge from RonovanWrites again this week! The words for this week’s challenge were “teeth” and “bite”. Wintery words for me! Went for a drive and saw pristine winter landscapes in the middle of a cold snap.Like so many, I was fascinated by the light. But the bone chilling cold bites hard!
This is a continuation of my previous blogs in which I present my translations of the AfroCuban poet Georgina Herrera. I find her an amazing poet whose economy of language and simple words belies the deep and complex essence of her feelings and poetry. She balances a righteous anger with a hope for wholeness, with regard to both self and community. Her early life was one of deprivation and sadness. But her talent for writing defined her adult years. All the translations are done by me, with the original copyright belonging to Georgina Herrera, who has kindly given me permission to translate them. Wikipedia says:
Aged 20, Herrera moved to Havana in 1956, and worked as a domestic; it was in the homes of her wealthy employers that she met writers, who encouraged her to publish. Early in the Cuban Revolution she became involved with the “Novación Literaria” movement, and began working as a scriptwriter at the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television. …Her first poetry collection, G.H. appeared in 1962, since when she has published several books, characteristically using themes that centre on gender, Afro-Cuban history, and the African legacy: Gentes y cosas (1974), Granos de sol y luna (1974), Grande es el tiempo (1989), Gustadas sensaciones (1996), Gritos (2004), África (2006), and Gatos y liebres or Libro de las conciliaciones (2010). Although best known as a poet, Herrera has also worked as a scriptwriter for radio, television and film. With Daisy Rubiera she has co-authored a memoir entitled Golpeando la memoria: Testimonio de una poeta cubana afrodescendiente (Ediciones Unión, 2005).
PRIMERA VEZ ANTE UN ESPEJO
(Viendo una cabeza terracota de mil años, excavada en Ifé)
¿Dice alguien que no es mi rostro este que veo? ¿Que no soy yo, ante el espejo más limpio reconociéndome? O…. ¿es que vuelvo a nacer? Esta que miro soy yo, mil años antes o más, reclamo ese derecho. Mi mano va desde ese rostro al mío que es uno solo y de las dos, asciende, palpa el mentón purísimo, la espaciosa boca. Sí, con mucho espacio, así que un solo beso de ella basta para pedir la bendición al viento, la tierra, el fuego y la llovizna. Ahora toca mi mano la nariz. De un lado a otro va sobre ese rostro de las dos. Esa nariz… mi dios; en la pradera para mí sola, esa que llaman Universo, en la que ando a mi albedrío, atrapa olores. Olor a fuego, a tempestad, a tierra y agua juntos, olor de amor, de vida inacabable entra por ella; es el total alimento de mi sangre. Mi mano, al fin, a lo más alto de ambos rostros llega: los pómulos, la frente, baja un poco nada más hasta los ojos que yo miro y me ven. Ojos tremendos en los que apaga y aviva sus fuegos la tristeza. Soy yo. Espejo o renacida.
de Gatos y liebres o libro de las conciliaciones, Ediciones Unión, La Habana (1978, 1989, 1996, 2006, 2007)
First Time Before a Mirror
(on seeing a terracotta head, excavated in Ife)
Can anyone say that this
is not my face I see?
That it is not I before the mirror
more clearly recognizing myself?
Or… is it that I have been born again?
She that I see
Is I, a thousand years before or later,
I reclaim this right.
My hand goes
from that face to mine
which is one, alone and then, to two
it travels up, touches
the purest forehead,
the spacious mouth. Yes,
with much space, so much that only one kiss
is enough to ask blessings of the wind,
the earth, the fire, and the drizzle.
Now I touch my hand to my nose.
From one side to another over this face
of the two of us. This nose…my god; on that prairie
of mine alone, that they call Universe,
where I wander at my whim,
Scent of fire, of storm
of soil and water together,
scent of love, of endless life
enters my nose; it
is the total nourishment of my blood.
My hand finally, touches the peaks of
cheeks, forehead, lowers a bit just to the eyes
that I see and that see me.
in which sadness, puts out and revives, fires.
I am. Mirror or reborn.
Sobre el poeta, el amor, la poesía
Los poetas Hacemos democracia con la intimidad. Quitamos falsos techos, abrimos las ventanas, descorremos cerrojos fabulosos… Surge así el poema, nuestro modo de hacer saber hasta qué punto hicimos grandes a momentos, a seres tan pequeños.
On the poet, love, poetry
The poets We make democracy with intimacy We remove false roofs, open windows unscrew fabled bolts… that’s how the poem surges into being, our way of knowing to what extent we made great, for a moment, such small beings.
Estas palabras, aparentemente suaves y tranquilas, palabras transparentes, sí, pero tenaces. Llegan, entran, se quedan para siempre. Son mi manera. Así es que grito, y sé que me hago oír
de Gatos y liebres o libro de las conciliaciones, Ediciones Unión, La Habana (1978, 1989, 1996, 2006, 2007)
These words, apparently soft and calm transparent words, yes, but tenacious They arrive, they enter, they stay for ever. It’s my way. That’s how I shout And I know I have made myself heard.
This week, I’ve been trying to get through the winter blues and the covid blahs by reading some humour. Over a hundred years ago, journalist and humorist Don Marquis created some of funniest free verse around. Wikipedia tells us:
Marquis’s best-known creation was Archy, a fictional cockroach (developed as a character during 1916) who had been a free-verse poet in a previous life, and who supposedly left poems on Marquis’s typewriter by jumping on the keys. Archy usually typed only lower-case letters, without punctuation, because he could not operate the shift key. His verses were a type of social satire, and were used by Marquis in his newspaper columns titled “archy and mehitabel”; mehitabel was an alley cat, occasional companion of archy and the subject of some of archy’s verses.
Archy and Mehitabel, Don Marquis 1916
this is the song of mehitabel of mehitabel the alley cat as i wrote you before boss mehitabel is a believer in the pythagorean theory of the transmigration of the soul and she claims that formerly her spirit was incarnated in the body of cleopatra that was a long time ago and one must not be surprised if mehitabel has forgotten some of her more regal manners
i have had my ups and downs but wotthehell wotthehell yesterday sceptres and crowns fried oysters and velvet gowns and today i herd with bums but wotthehell wotthehell i wake the world from sleep as i caper and sing and leap when i sing my wild free tune wotthehell wotthehell under the blear eyed moon i am pelted with cast off shoon but wotthehell wotthehell do you think that i would change my present freedom to range for a castle or moated grange
wotthehell wotthehell cage me and i d go frantic my life is so romantic capricious and corybantic and i m toujours gai toujours gai i know that i am bound for a journey down the sound in the midst of a refuse mound but wotthehell wotthehell oh i should worry and fret death and i will coquette there s a dance in the old dame yet toujours gai toujours gai i once was an innocent kit wotthehell wotthehell with a ribbon my neck to fit and bells tied onto it o wotthehell wotthehell but a maltese cat came by with a come hither look in his eye and a song that soared to the sky and wotthehell wotthehell
and i followed adown the street the pad of his rhythmical feet o permit me again to repeat wotthehell wotthehell my youth i shall never forget but there s nothing i really regret wotthehell wotthehell there s a dance in the old dame yet toujours gai toujours gai the things that i had not ought to i do because i ve gotto wotthehell wotthehell and i end with my favorite motto toujours gai toujours gai boss sometimes i think that our friend mehitabel is a trifle too gay
For many years I have thought of reflecting upon and examining certain conjunctures and countries where I have had the opportunity to spend some time. Unlike many of my middle-class peers in Canada, my experiences of studying, researching and living abroad were often shaped by both overt and covert racism and sometimes homophobia and sexism. Instead, I have been focussing on where I make my home, rather than other places in which I have been fortunate to spend time.
As a young student before the #MeToo era, I was vulnerable in a male-dominated academic field at the time. As a “mature” graduate student, I experienced sexual harrassment again. But my experiences gave me the input and analysis to make links between the varied ways in which people of colour can experience our lives in differing contexts and the sometimes contradictory ways in which we can be called up or dismissed as the occasion warrants.
Growing up in Canada, I experienced overt racism at both the primary and middle school level. While hurtful and exclusionary, overt racism pushed me into the world of books, a world which I inhabited as a largely disembodied being, in which the bothersome nature of my skin and increasingly sexualized body were left behind. I suspect that I was not alone in disassociating as both survival and resistance. I was a voracious and quick reader, blocking out the sounds, sights and smells of a bewildering childhood, where the “leave it to Beaver” ideology of Canadian primary schools in the 1970s seemed to have nothing to do with my own life and experiences.
While I made a sense of my own experiences and observations through stories, I also revelled in the popular children’s fiction of the time—again, an act of deconstruction and self-erasure. But it was the very alien nature of what I read that made it a fiction— whether about an animal or a person! Thus, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Black Beauty, The Wind in the Willows, Swallows and Amazons, The Saturdays, Ballet Shoes, or any one of the beloved books of childhood became a complicit act of whitening myself, an escape to a no-trouble zone. A development of a desireable schizophrenia encouraged by all levels of the education system throughout Canada, in particular at the post-secondary level!
Thanks, in large part to my father, I recieved books from all over the world, an opening and flowering of the richness of language and experience from non-hegemonic viewpoints from Andrew Salkey’s Jamaican children’s books, George Lamming’s incomparable In the Castle of My Skin, the stories of the Salish and west coast Dene, of Australia’s colonial outback and natural disasters, of Farley Mowat’s experiences in the Canadian bush or James Kruss’ Happy Islands Behind the Winds. Magnificently illustrated folk and fairy tales and Bengali ghost stories, biographies of artists and scientists and stories of the Underground Railroad and anti-fascist kids’ books such as The Diary of Anne Frank, developed a sense of solidarity in me. The realm of poetry also opened up an exciting and emotionally powerful world.
By the time I started to see the world on my own, I had already developed these multiple and simultaneous positions of non-white/white, male/female and later gay/straight. I read the world through a complex set of filters of self-erasure and began to develop a consciousness about the nature of longing and belonging. Much of the poetry I wrote and was drawn to, explored those themes, siting them as points or moments of resistance in a complex and cotidian struggle.
Over the last few years, I have started re-reading many of the books I loved as a child, viewing them with the lens of accumulated struggles, victories and defeats that are both personal to me and part of the world in which I inhabit, like all of us. Recently, watching the deplorables on the U.S’s Capitol Hill, I asked myself where does so much dispossesion and entitlement come from? Rather than reading essays and newsmedia op eds, I turned to kids’ books.
Not only the obviously ideological Little House on the Prairie Series of my public school, that extolled the libertarian contradictions of a settler class that relied on the government to displace and murder Indians for their westward expansion, while glorifying their individualist “pioneer” spirit, but also other books that were widely available in schools when I was little.
Lois Lenski’s books on the (mainly) white working-class children of America, written in a post-world war two moment of euphoria and nation-building, plagued by Jim Crow and segregation, provide some clues.
While in these books, benevolence and tolerance of Afro-descended or Indigenous people is conveyed, whiteness is the currency of last resort. The children in these books may be dirt poor, but their whiteness gives them a pinch of superiority over any child of colour. In the current context, rereading these incredibly descriptive and honest accounts of numerous childhoods of sharecroppers, travelling migrant workers, coal producers, and cotton-pickers depict how recently public education and public health took effect in the world’s most grandiose country.
When I took time to reread England’s Enid Blyton as a comparator, the upper-class world of Blyton’s child detectives is plagued with class, colour, and ethnic references constructed around racism and the innate superiority of white people. So, while describing entirely differing worlds of whiteness and childhood- an ocean apart- the books had one glaring commonality— the currency of whiteness in a society of commodification.
This little foray of mine into understanding some aspects of the white supremacy movement on display during the Trump presidency, must be complemented by understanding the ways in which becoming “American” since the inception of the country, is also becoming, white.
No where is this more telling than in some of the ethnic language newspapers which welcomed European immigrants into their new homes, often in urban centers. For many, who had never met or interacted with Afro-descended peoples or other people of colour, nor spoke English yet, these newspapers covered the growing use of lynchings and active racism in the 1900-1930s era as a mechanism for anti-Black violence and socio-political control. The ways in which these crimes were described and the ways in which their victims were discussed, gave recent immigrants a fast track to “Americanness”, by providing them clues on appropriate “white” behaviour with regards to a post-slavery multiracial society.
This converges with a time in which the great migration of Afro-Americans from South to North was occurring, and labour, dominated by urban white working class agendas, had to accomodate Black workers. Unfortunately, these accomodations have barely been succesful and continue to be contested in various ways even now.
So looking back at the varied roots of the current entanglement we in the U.S and Canada are witnessing, children’s literature can provide much insight into why our society’s hierarchies perpetuate and mutate into groups hell-bent on holding on to social power, by, dare I say it, the skin of their teeth!
The following three poems are by the contemporary Afro-Cuban poet and scriptwriter, Georgina Herrera, who has graciously given permission to share and translate her work . Author of numerous collections of poetry and radio and television scripts. I have done the English translations you see below. I’ve included a biography from Wikipedia, to give you some idea of the achievements of this great poet, who reminds me faintly of Langston Hughes.
“Georgina Herrera was born in Jovellanos, the capital of Matanzas Province, Cuba. She began writing when she was nine years old, and when she was 16 her first poems were published, in such Havana periodicals as El País and Diario de la Tarde. As Miriam DeCosta-Willis has noted, “Many of her later poems capture the pain and loneliness of her growing-up years”, during which she endured poverty, an absent father and the death of her mother when she was 14.
Aged 20, Herrera moved to Havana in 1956, and worked as a domestic; it was in the homes of her wealthy employers that she met writers, who encouraged her to publish. Early in the Cuban Revolution she became involved with the “Novación Literaria” movement, and began working as a scriptwriter at the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television.”
Wikipedia, Georgina Herrera
Esa Manera de Morir
Amor le llaman los que a su sombra grande se tendieron. Yo le diría: piedra marina, donde mi corazón de peces fue golpeado, tierra tremendamente dura que le negó humedad a mis raíces. Creo que despidió mi estrella y la hizo errante.
This Manner of Dying
Love they call it, those who shelter in its great shade. I would call it: sea stone, where my heart of fish was battered, earth tremendously hard that denied water to my roots. I think it bade farewell to my star and made her a wanderer.
Elogio Grande Para Mi Misma
Yo soy la fugitiva soy la que abrió las puertas de la casa-vivienda y “cogió el monte”. No hay trampas en las que caiga Tiro piedras, rompo cabezas. Oigo quejidos y maldiciones. Río furiosamente Y en las noches bebo el agua de los curujeyes, porque en ellos puso la luna, para mí sola, toda la gloria de su luz.
Grand Eulogy for Myself
I am the fugitive I am she who opened doors Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”. There are no traps into which I fall. I throw stones, break heads. I hear complaints and curses. I laugh furiously And in the nights I drink the water of the mangroves, because in them, The moon shines, for me alone, All the glory of her light.
Figura solitaria transitando un camino inacabable Sobre los hombros lleva su mundo: trinos, sueños, cocuyos y tristezas.
Solitary figure walking an endless road. On her shoulders, carries her world: trills, dreams, glow worms, and sorrows.
I am taking the time today to reflect briefly on my blog and the reasons for starting it… It’s been a year and a half. And what a journey these times have been. In my poem Pachacutec, I refer to the world being upside down and there’s no doubt the covid-19 pandemic has brought about complete upheaval. But things have unfortunately stuck in their place more than ever.
Those who are downtrodden and make up precarious or informal labour sectors are suffering at unprecedented rates. Homelessness, lack of food and basic necessities, lack of health care, confusing and conflicting information about sanitary precautions with regard to covid-19, authoritarianism and divide and rule tactics seem to abound.
At the same time, those who feel immune to the virus or see it as something that can be brushed off as easily as a common cold or flu, are experiencing rage at what they consider to be useless lockdowns and soul-destroying isolation.
And for those of us with “comorbidities” or auto-immune conditions or severe allergies, neither the rapidly developed and marketed vaccines with their waivers absolving anyone with power and money involved in their making, distribution and administration of any liability should catastrophic or long-term chronic injury occur. Meanwhile, people will be followed for two years, to see how their bodies cope with vaccine.
The makers and marketers of the vaccine cannot clearly tell us A) How long it will be effective B) What the long term consequences may be C) Whether it can confer more severe infection when a vaccinated person’s immunty wears off and D) How it will account for different strains emerging as rapidly as they do and being carried globally through travel? E) What reactions can the vaccine have with other medications and supplements the public is already taking? F) Will laws change to mandate vaccination in certain professions, activities (ie., travel) etc?
So these are reflections about where we are at the end of December 2020, a witnessing to the world we have made and inherited in which stark inequality is so intertwined with the modern “standard of living” that the virus shows us how connections between humans are dependent on the cash nexus, not on humanity. Precarious part time jobs in hospitals and long-term care homes, underserviced and privatized health care, workers attempting gig based jobs like delivery and ride-share, grocery stores— all these things show we interact oblivous to the web of relations and living conditions we are connected to. Public health experts and epidemiologists are becoming sociologists with their implied critiques of the classed nature of exploitation and othering of those who are not from the middle or the top.
These times without hopeful direction and certainties have certainly derailed my plans for this blog. I had hoped to share more non-fiction and social issue writing, but the concentration needed has eluded me for the past 9 months. I’ve focused on poetry, painting, music, much more than on current affairs. But behind the scenes, I have voraciously been reading in the fields of political economy and epidemiology since March. Since the American Medical Association has declared racism a public health epidemic in the U.S. and Canada has crept quietly beside those declarations, activists and advocates for Black, Indigenous, South Asian patients report similar findings. I hope to continue to reflect on current issues in the new year.
I want to thank all of you who have stood beside me through your perusal of this blog, some more recently, and those faithful family and friends who joined me at the beginning! With your help, and no other advertising, viewership has hit over 10, 000 and blog’s following has really blossomed! Today’s cover drawing is a homage to Emily Dickinson’s adage that “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul/And sings the tune without the words/ And never stops at all.”
May you have a warm and healthy new year, full of light, hope, justice and love!
Today, I’ve chosen a child’s memory of Christmases past, not in Wales, but in Cuba. Daughter of poet Eliseo Diego, Josefina de Diego’s prose poem, El Reino del Abuelo/Grandfather’s Kingdom, is a gentle and melancholic look back at Christmas time in a house full of inquisitive children, and adults immersed in the literary and musical worlds of Cuba in the 1950s, just before the Revolution.I’ve excerpted three sections from the book which has forty five pieces.
All the people in the book are real, and so fondly described by Josefina Diego, that they are instantly recognizable. And more than anything, it is the spirit of wonder and observation that make these reminiscences glitter shyly. Set in a tropical island, a time long before pandemics made it impossible to for so many to be together. So. in this Christmas of yearning, I wish you season’s greetings and the best of New Years to come!
A little cold, a drizzle. Sweaters and jackets of brilliant colours displaced the scant clothing of summer. The blankets with our names on them, so they would not get mixed up; mine was red, those of my brothers, green. The pajamas of yellow flannel with drawings of clowns and candy canes. Christmas Eve and Christmas were coming and everything had to be done with plenty of time so everything would turn out well: choosing the best tree, the ornaments, the garlands, the star. The ornaments would break on us—some without meaning to, others we dropped after a rapid interchange of glances—they would shatter into a dust so fine it would scatter on the snow of cotton. The Christmas tree had to be tall, with lots of branches, but only mama knew its exact dimensions and in what little corner of the house it would go.
The preparation for the Nativity was more solemn. The figures, from an Italian set, could not be broken. We held our breath each time we took one of the figures from its boxes and put it, with much care on the table. The Nativity was big, bigger than the one owned by cousins Sergio and Jose Maria.
Every year, always the same—perhaps his voice more hesitant each year—papa told us how it had been, how everything had happened: The visitation of Mary, the flight to Egypt, the Shepherd’s’ tidings, the long road of the Three Kings, the manger with the Child. Each piece had its history, each moment, its mystery. The shepherds, surrounded by sheep, next to a bonfire, near a lake: an angel appears in the middle of the night and they retreat, frightened. The Three Kings bending over the Child, and Mary, smiling at them, grateful. Papa’s voice, tired, breathless, across time.
Papa’s study was set apart from the house, on top of the garage beside the henhouse. One went up by a staircase made of cement, on the side. In front there were two balconies with wooden bars and behind the study was the ravine where the train ran.
The garage was wide, with room for two cars, but half of it was filled with broken furniture, bits of games, a carpentry table that belonged to uncle Rosendo, boxes filled with the figures, the Nativity, and the Christmas tree decorations. It had its own characteristic odor and was one of the places where we preferred to play and hide.
Papa worked in his study until very late. The sound of his little typewriter could be heard at all hours, mixed up with the song of the crickets and the owls; it was yet another night sound. But he didn’t always write. One of his favorite amusements was to draw, with a fine pencil, the uniforms of the little lead soldiers that he had in his unique collection. The English armies of World War One, soldiers of the Prussian armies and of the Russian tsars He created battlefields based on real maps and completed them with mountains, rivers, bridges and tunnels, made from cardboard, wires, broken glass, paper. He also reproduced all the various moments of the Nativity in a masterpiece of ingenuity. He created different levels, with the help of books covered in special paper in multiple colours. With a spotlight illuminating all the scenes, he had the precision of a professional metalworker.
Many years later I found this perfection and fineness in his poems. And I understood why his big boy’s hands constructed the Nativity and the battlefields with so much care, so much respect. “It’s necessary to do things right”, he would say to us.
Finally it arrived, Christmas eve. On this day, grandmother Bertha asked me very early in the morning to put on a record of villancicos. Sitting in the doorway, while we could hear mama tidying the house, we would hum all the carols: Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Maria, coming and going, cooked the supper. Roast pork, rice, black beans, lettuce, tomato and radish salad, chatinos, nougat, walnuts, hazelnuts, wine and cider. The dining table was opened up in the middle and sturdy planks of wood inserted. It became a huge table, oval in shape. In the afternoon the family began to arrive: grandmother Chiffon, our cousins, uncles and aunts, friends. We were especially dressed up for the occasion, very elegantly and, we were permitted, on this night, to stay up very late, like the “grown-ups”. Upon finishing the delicious supper, we went to the living room and sat around the piano, by the Nativity and the Christmas tree. Grandmother Chiffon began to play, villancicos, zarzuelas, Cuban songs and dances. Uncle Sergio, the doctor, accompanied her in his beautiful tenor. On Christmas Eve, grandmother Chiffon and our cousins, Cuchi and Chelita slept over. Grandmother slept with us so we wouldn’t make any noise and frighten away Santa Claus. And when we awakened, there was the tree, — dreamt of and desired all year long— surrounded by toys, the games of the adults, our happiness. There was no morning more beautiful than Christmas. And there still isn’t. Isn’t that right, grandmas?
The above extracts are from a dual language edition translated by me and authored by Josefina de Diego, Havana, Cuba. El Reino del Abuelo/Grandfather’s Kingdom, Tarjama Books, Kolkata , India, 2012.
Today marks the shortest daylight in our hemisphere, and the arrival of winter’s official season. But as of tomorrow, the days will lengthen again imperceptibly, and for those of us who need the light, like morning glories or sunflowers, hope will gradually be born anew. Indigenous and pagan peoples celebrated and celebrate the energies and magic of this day when the darkness must be propitiated for the sun to rise again. I share a poem by Wendell Barry and some drawings I’ve been doing. I’ve added a musical interlude, Victor Jara’s haunting instrumental La Partida / The Departure. A gentle honouring of this moment in our earth’s revolution!
TO KNOW THE DARK BY WENDELL BERRY
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
Another contribution from me to Ronovan Writes’ weekly haiku challenge. This week’s words were “mad” and “sane”. The haiku’s form provides structure. Our minds provide the creativity! The link is here: https://ronovanwrites.com/2020/12/14/ronovan-writes-weekly-haiku-poetry-prompt-challenge-336-mad-and-sane/. As a person with fibromyalgia and chronic conditions, I am always heartened to see the work of others like him who push through their circumstances to find humour and creativity. Girl, it’s not easy, as the women always say on the streets of Havana!
I have had mad thoughts before the loss of hopeful drove me sane. Why now?
Covid’s mad scatter burrows through hearts and people. Shadow of sane selves.
Sane dreaming gets me through. The mad call it lucid. Art, words, tune, rhythm.
On this 17th day of December, and in this year 2020, especially, I honour Babalu Aye, the great Yoruba Orisha of illness and healing. Whether it be ourselves, our loved ones, this beautiful earth, the vast oceans and blue lakes and rivers, the air we breathe; they who invoke Babaluaye on this day, invoke transformative and curative energies.
His colours are purple and yellow and brown. He is often dressed humbly in burlap. Sometimes his fearsome diseased face is covered by it. He holds a staff in one hand and herbs in the other. He brings and takes away the scourge of mass illness and death. He was responsible for diseases like smallpox and pestilences! You may have seen renditions and depictions of him in Cuba and Brazil. In Catholicism he is portrayed as a lame beggar surrounded by starving dogs
This Orisha has been syncretized with San Lazaro, in Catholicism, who was brought back from the dead. December 17th is a day celebrating Saint Lazarus in the Catholic church, in particular celebrated by the tortured pilgrimages of believers in Rincon, Cuba. In Candomble religion in Brazil, he is Obaluaiê.
Below I share my series of paintings for Babalu Aye. May you experience healing! May you experience hope!
The following drawings have been done over the last month. The greying days and short daylight hours contrive to make gloomier, an already difficult time under a second, though hardly stringent, lockdown. Every day has been a litany of anxiety and sadness, grief and powerlessness. Every day ordinary people triumph over extraordinary odds to grapple with how to keep themselves safe, fed, and sheltered during the time of covid-19. In the midst of this I have been drawing and trying to fight off the winter/coronavirus blues. It’s not easy and my heart goes out to all who are suffering at this time!
I want to thank all of you who’ve visited this blog since I first started it a year and a half ago, in another age. With your encouragement and visits, I’ve reached approximately 10 000 views in this time! Here are some pictures for a rainy, snowy, stormy Saturday!
All of Us or None by Bertolt Brecht
Slave, who is it that shall free you?
Those in deepest darkness lying.
Comrade, only these can see you
Only they can hear you crying.
Comrade, only slaves can free you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
You who hunger, who shall feed you?
If it’s bread you would be carving,
Come to us, we too are starving.
Come to us and let us lead you.
Only hungry men can feed you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
Beaten man, who shall avenge you?
You, on whom the blows are falling,
Hear your wounded brothers calling.
Weakness gives us strength to lend you.
Come to us, we shall avenge you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
Who, oh wretched one, shall dare it?
He who can no longer bear it.
Counts the blows that arm his spirit.
Taught the time by need and sorrow,
Strikes today and not tomorrow.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
Once again, I joined in https://ronovanwrites.com , Ronovanwrites’ Haiku challenge based on the two words, “grace” and “slip”. I enjoy the exercise for my rusty brain. And for me, so much more enjoyable than writing essays! The Haiku form has been around for centuries. It’s very sparseness makes it alluring. It’s like the very distilled form of story telling. 90 proof! Salud!
Wind Speaks Winter
From grace we slipped to precarity, alert, as foxes who scent fear
Slip-sliding down life’s branches, a squirrel’s grace is visible through glass
Love is a grace we slip from like loosening of hands. Wind speaks winter.
Autumn is a time when spiders look for warm places to spin their webs and lay their egg sacs. I’ve always been terrified of large and hairy spiders but outside among the plants they design the most beautiful webs which catch the dew or frost of colder times. While, I’m not a fan of spider infestations, one or two small ones don’t terrify me. In fact Charlotte’s Web was a fantastic book from my childhood which probably had an indirect benefit of saving some spiders’ lives, if not the lives of pigs!
Fall is a time for hunkering down and gathering resources for the spring, like plants and animals. After all, we are animals too. But what if you have nowhere to call your own, like so many “migrant” and refugee populations? Brushed off like spiders, refugees are existing in dreadful conditions in camps and detention centers in countless countries. This piece below by Fady Joudah puts it simply.
I recently found a blog on haiku which also offers up writing challenges, by assigning words to construct a piece around. I hadn’t engaged in that sort of thing since high school. But I decided to try my hand at it. I learned that a) it’s harder than it seems and b) that it is fun to do once in a while. I hope you enjoy them!
A view from here shows life, before this pandemic, was only illusion.
2. Life gives us views we never chose.The scene from six feet apart. Heart break.
3. Viewed from on high this world of ours, small and tender, turns without reason.
What a year this has been. After the loss of my father to covid 19, I watched a lot of early Bengali films that I had seen first with him. Although I started watching Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, I could not continue. I remembered being a small Bengali girl in a white provincial Canadian suburb, harassed by passengers and bus drivers, as we went, in our “traditional garb” to distant movie theatres, dodging furious glances, and sometimes, spit. In went the adults, looking forward to mother tongue, as a kitten does to it’s mother tongue. The corners and crevices of vowels, the cushions of soft consonants, were hiding places and barricades against this crazy colonial world of exclusion. We were here in Canada, especial thanks due to the Commonwealth, the British Empire’s basket of plundered goods and destroyed worlds. We too, crossed the “kala pani” as adults sought their fortunes, safety, education. But the film’s amazing cinematography and script, the tenderness of the camera, the unsentimental tragedy of Apu’s life, the unbelievable acting– all led to a tidal wave of empathy. As a child, watching Apu’s life, Durga’s death, the ethos of a black and white nostalgia and memory–it was all too much. I was led by my poor father, sobbing and hiccuping to a dirty cinema lobby where popcorn and fountain soda had been temporarily replaced by tea and the even- then ubiquitous samosa. There he soothed and comforted me, telling me that it was all a story. Apu was fine and grown up, Durga was alive, their mother too, and that they were acting. It was perhaps my first lesson in the power of story telling and the breaking down of the fourth wall. Without my Baba’s intervention, holding my hand and smoking his cigarette, the perfect circles of smoke coming out of his mouth, I would have been disconsolate and lost in the story. For me, Satyajit Ray, Subir Banerjee, and Soumitra Chatterjee, are always intertwined in a pre-analytic moment of pure feeling. Being only a few years away from India, nostalgia, sadness, half-memories, swirl with racism, and the always present sense of being unwanted and othered that haunted my child’s life in Canada’s public school system of the 1970s. Perhaps, since then, belonging has been tinged with both joy and sorrow. Rest in power, Soumitra.
Many people living with chronic illness, worry, and pain, experience insomnia. In fact, even children can experience it. It is a very insidious problem, and with the current state of affairs, I suspect that more people are staying awake than before. Paradoxically, even those with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, may be unable to sleep, although they feel exhausted. Sometimes, after exertion, whether cleaning or shopping or laundry or even walks for pleasure, pain and fatigue hit like a ton of bricks. But at night, sleep can be elusive. Since I was a reader long before the internet, I often enjoyed reading at night. I still do. There is something magical about immersions in other worlds, while the world outside of oneself is sleeping and relaxed.
In Mexico and Cuba, the nights would be punctuated by rogue roosters, all of who seemed to suffer from insomnia, and never waited for dawn to start their proclamations! In fact, I began to wonder if the rooster- crowing- at- dawn trope was actually a myth. Or was it that ages ago, cities and countrysides were not as lit up throughout the nights, encouraging roosters to sleep?
Reading however is a great escape, if one can concentrate enough to enjoy it! I continue reading at night especially when I can’t sleep. With the closure of bookstores and my aversion to online shopping, the high-price of new novels, I have found online resources at the public library to be a great resource. I first realized that online reading was helpful in travelling, as so much weight was taken up by my books. But with the pandemic, I have resorted to online mysteries, biographies and children’s literature. Sadly, the last category is the weakest and a lot of stuff online for kids is really repetitive and badly written. Illustrated books for younger kids show a total reliance on cartoon culture and a lack of visual imagination.
The other night, while waiting for sleep, I went back to the haiku, a favourite form of poetry. After reading a few contemporary ones, I decided to try my hand at some after a long time. Here, they are.
I seek answers in the sky. Astronomy. The stars hang like freshly washed clothes. Around me cities writhe. Pandemics and empty promises written in neon. When will they preen again?
Can you imagine our lives now? Astronomy. Replicating the stars Malcom lived by, Billie sang by. Harriet led by. Stars made of the dust of a thousand footsteps.
Astronomy. Replicating the stars that John Carlos held in his fist. That Sandinistas, or Zapatistas, or all who steer by the stars, used, to guide their guerilla flights.
I search the riddle above. Its colours promise answers. Night darkens, astronomy. Replicating the stars. Those first sailors across the bering strait, dolphins who dance to feel their skin free.
Now refugees who pile endlessly onto boats, repeating and repeating and repeating to anyone who will listen. “I had to leave, and now there is no land that will take me.” Still flowing as humans have, bones haunted and ashes in the mouth.
Long ago I was a girl and saw fireflies. Astronomy of the fields and trees. Stars we held, shared breath, and let go. Astronomy. Long ago.
My eyes paint the urban sky visions and histories. Astronomy. All of us, those who have left, those who are here,those to come. We are born of stars and to them we shall return.
Astronomy of the soil, the dust, the water, the fire, the flesh. The great unknowing.
So, I was recently challenged to rethink the ideas I put forward in my blog about the 2020 U.S. elections. In fact, the very idea that “the battle is over, but the war goes on”, is rooted in the validity of the present capitalist system, a system that has proven time and time again to be morally and materially bankrupt when it comes to the common people—i.e., you and I.
Under the circumstances of bourgeois democracy, it seems to me , a good moment to remember the adage ascribed to Malcom X, that our liberation, comes about “by any means necessary”. That is why my discomfort with the reigning social system and my belief in a better, more just and equitable future— is both a contradiction, and— a strategy, that doesn’t simply see the debate as being between reform and revolution.
Under this lens, I feel we should work on numerous fronts and through numerous ways to change society to be more inclusive, just and equitable. As we know, institutions will not accomodate progressive demands (the unsurvivable minimum wage is maintained, costs are going up, hydro has raised its rates in this winter country, evictions have resumed, tiny pandemic wage increases are long gone, public sanitation and hygiene appear haphazard and determined by market force)s. The poor and working sectors are crammed onto unaffordable petrie dishes with haphazard service, ie, public transportation. Where is the pressure on municipal, provincial and federal governments? Why were we locked down in March for 2 months, with 1/3rd of the current covid19 cases, but now are laissez-faire, willing to make Darwin’s theory a eugenicist accelerationist’s wet dream?
This is the state of affairs to which we will return under the business as usual model touted by Wall street and Biden/ Harris. How ironic that Trump’s initial run was characterized by a wall, but it is the wall of money that was behind Obama and is now deployed by his Democratic successor Biden, that may be the end of Trump.
Of course, fascism is another thing altogether. The freeing of socially temporarily unacceptable ideas regarding race, gender, sexuality, eugenics, and social engineering– guns, pandemics, starvation, trigger happy racist policing, the expansion of self-defence laws in states such as Florida, the immense wealth of private prisons and the exponential growth of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, What’sApp, Instagram, etc. is a cash and data grab of immense proportions. The looters of this virus are not the poor, nor the small business sector, but the mega-rich. These ultra-affluent bastards have set the tone and the stage for the rest of us.
The amount of sheer misery that haunts and weighs down our planet these days is a collective mourning for our little daily freedoms, and our big ones, like international travel. A grief for our departed too. Of course, lockdowns and restrictions unaccompanied with food and shelter support, are fundamentally class genocide, and exercises in social obedience. That’s because while things are being strangely locked down, dedicated COVID 19 facilities have not been made, shelter has not been put in place for the homeless during the winter season, affordable housing remains as elusive as ever for those struggling with poverty and food banks are begging those a little better off to help those less fortunate with cheap processed food—often laden with chemicals and toxins that we already know so much about.
During a winter where people are being forbidden to socialize indoors, municipalities are stopping snow removal services, leaving hundreds of thousands of “inner city” dwellers with minimal ways to get around during this upcoming pandemic winter. We can point our self-righteous fingers south of the border, or also , take a moment to look down the street and see our own worlds floundering.
It’s hard for me to end this piece on a positive note. I hope, in my lifetime we will see the world played, not as an endgame, but as the beginning of a glorious festival of labour, shared humanity, a culture of non-violence and social support and a celebration of spirit. “From each according to [their] abilities, to each according to [their] needs”. May we, trees, and slivers alike, see ourselves rooted in this grieving and resilient earth, and not wielded, by sinisterly banal elites.
For an excellent follow-up piece with lots of information:
The battle is over , but the war goes on… The biggest thanks goes to the ordinary people, who stood in lines for hours during a deadly pandemic, or negotiated on-line voting for the first time, those who kept the faith through the humble act of counting; and the Black, Muslim, Indigenous, Chicano, and Mexican peoples of the United States, whose citizenship has come through so many trials by fire…even the media showed some restraint.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press, 2020
It’s a good day to let out our collective breath. Many people must be celebrating this day, knowing that four more years of the festering cheeto are out of the picture. But not a time to rest on the laurels of this election. Now the soil has been aerated, as it were, planting the seeds of another world, is possible. Let’s hope the people of the United States are up to what could be a pivotal moment in their history. In the meantime, let’s enjoy this moment repudiating violent misogyny, open nepotism, and white power!
If you sang the song,
The way it was written And you march along,
To the beat of the drum
Someday soon, you gonna wake up singin'
Battle is over, but the war goes on
Everybody plays follow the leader
What if the leader has a gun
Remember when you jumped,
To the 8 o'clock whistle
Battle is over, but the war goes on
You close your eyes when you hear the thunder
Cry in the rain
And smile in the sun
Who do you fool, but me and you brother?
The battle is over, but the war goes on
If talk was money, you'd be a millionaire
If thoughts could kill, there'd be no one here
So many thinkin' evil and talkin' jive
But its in only true love, this old world can stay alive
The battle is over, but the war goes on
The battle is over, but the war goes on
The battle is over, but the war goes on
I love the myriad colours of fall. Along with early summer, there is so much variety in textures, hues, and scents. The scents of fall are unique to our Northern climate; just as tropical humidity carries the echo of over-ripe vegetation, the fall is a time of life buried beneath the insulating carpet of leaves, readying itself for the next rebirth. Similarly, moisture, the covid related decrease in pollution and the sun’s position in this season make for early but spectacular sunsets.
As we inch toward the December solstice, the days are growing darker. A good time for reading, for drawing, and appreciating the warmth we housed people take for granted. The dark days are not my favourite!
Here I share a poem, Plums by Gillian Clarke, about the stone fruit which is harvested at the conjuncture between warmth and chill.
When their time comes they fall without wind, without rain. They seep through the trees’ muslin in a slow fermentation.
Daily the low sun warms them in a late love that is sweeter than summer. In bed at night we hear heartbeat of fruitfall.
The secretive slugs crawl home to the burst honeys, are found in the morning mouth on mouth, inseparable.
We spread patchwork counterpanes for a clean catch. Baskets fill, never before such harvest, such a hunters’ moon burning
the hawthorns, drunk on syrups that are richer by night when spiders pitch tents in the wet grass.
This morning the red sun is opening like a rose on our white wall, prints there the fishbone shadow of a fern.
The early blackbirds fly guilty from a dawn haul of fallen fruit. We too breakfast on sweetnesses.
Soon plum trees will be bone, grown delicate with frost’s formalities. Their black angles will tear the snow.
This year the colours of autumn are as beautiful as ever. But the rhythm of the year seems so disrupted by the coronavirus and climate crisis in so many places. This year the colours of fall seem to invite one in. I return, like the seasons, to drawing parks, morning glories, evening skies, and of course, the little mews/muse! Like so many artists of colour in Canada and the USA, I join a commitment to witness both the beauty and hard times we are all going through. Resistance does not always have to be confrontation, though that too has its moments. In daily life, taking the time to feel and see the world–both inner and outer– has joined the weekly practice of the continuing semi-isolation of the coronavirus. I share some recent pieces below.
Today marks a very special day for me. It is the occasion of my hundredth blog post. I started this project as a labour of love and as a way to contribute to a culture of resistance, love, and hope for a more just and equitable world about a year and a half ago. I had no idea when I started, that Covid19 would make life so unrecognizable for so many. There is virtually no territory that has not been affected by this bizarre scourge and the even more crazy-making ways in which it has (not) been dealt with by the powers that be.
As a result my participation on the blog has been uneven, my attention veering between the initial shock of the pandemic, to racial /casteist/ islamophobic and economic violence all over the world to days of personal ill-health and grief, as I continue to mourn the passing of my father and my partner’s father during this difficult time and to worry about the bleak economic times we are in. Even bankers are speaking of recession.
I thank those of you who’ve joined me both from the humble beginnings for sticking with me, to those of you checking out this blog for the first time today! While the coronavirus swirls around us, equally harsh and invisible ideas are making themselves manifest. Many of those ideas are amplified through the Internet. Ideological manipulation through social media networks, internet surveillance and tailored advertising… All that is intrusive and prying, is marketed as convenience. This is truly a time of commodities, not people.
Some say the darkest hour is before the dawn. That is why your human accompaniment of this blog and the sharing of it, is such an important part of this creative and rich journey. So eartotheground is an antidote to those forces of death, disrespect and despair. These three forces make up the holy trinity of psychological fascism that accompanies corporate monopolization and centralization of power in militarist and vigilante backed dictatorships.
While the world awaits the results of the election in the United States, we all seem immersed in a depression that “experts” call ‘pandemic fatigue’. I characterize it as ‘cruelty fatigue’, for surely this coronavirus has exposed the the meanness and pettiness of class and caste inequality, the banal brutality of racial oppression experienced by so many Black, Indigenous, South and East Asians, the virulent misogyny of courts and citizens; the core of rottenness that is at the center of our social organization and structure. And the hunger for redistribution of material resources that is the very real hunger, of millions, for food.
To celebrate this hundredth post, I share some poems today that remind me, and hopefully you as well, that in spite of a time when any judge anywhere can be called “pro-life” while being “pro-gun”— we are being shown a world where language— and thus the lives we lead— have been turned upside down. These miserable ironies must not delimit our world.
Personal autonomy over birth control including abortion is a woman’s individual and private right. It cannot be alienated from her without re-premising the law on slavery, that is, ascribing the ownership of her body to another— the only legal system by which humans were de-autonomized and dehumanized for profit.
The following poems hail from different times and places. But the one thing these writers all share is a belief in justice, truth, witness, and hope— the cornerstones of a culture of love and solidarity. Humour, rage, love, and humanity are intertwined in the following verses below.
Suicide note from a Cockroach in a low income Housing Project, Pedro Pietri (Borinken/US)
I hate the world I am depress I am deprive I am deprave I am ready to propose to the grave Life is too complicated to proceed Fate is the only medicine I need to feel good Seriously speaking I’m seriously seeking The exit to leave this eerie existence My resistance is low and will not grow Rent Control My Ghost Will Haunt You
I hate the world I am dejected I am rejected I am neglected and disrespected Ever since these damn liberals got elected And corrected nothing really important I am starving I am no good at robbing I have no ambitions These damn housing projects Are responsible for my nervous condition
I hate you credit cards Because of you there is a pain in my brain Because of you all the minority groups Own a television set and will not let me sleep At night watching the late late show at full blast I hate the world I hate the world I hate the world I am disgusted I totally busted
The welfare department Will not handle my case I am homesick for the past When radios used to be a luxury For the minority groups And there were no such things As the late late show
Oh how I hate those damn Anti poverty programs I am hungry My folks are hungry My friends are hungry Every member of our generation Is a victim of starvation We are down and out without a future To look forward to WE ARE THROUGH
I attend over ten funerals everyday I don’t have time to send my black Melancholy suit to the cleaners anymore That is how bad the situation is And all because all of a sudden Everybody wants to be somebody This is ridiculous this is absurd Why should our race be erased to make America a beautiful place
for everyone but us We are the real American We was here before columbus We was here before general electric We was here before the ed sullivan show We are older than adam and eve Noah also took Cockroaches into his ark Why should we be denied co existence???
I use to come From a very large family And now I am down To my last second cousin-in law I have been married seven times I have never been divorced All my wives and husbands Are now resting in peace None of them died from natural cause They have all been fatal casualties Of the games the great society plays
This so called civilisation nation Has made a lonely cockroach out of me My insurance company Has informed me that they will not Insure another wife or husband I take They think I am trying to make A living out of this - THEY ARE DEAD WRONG I come from a good Non catholic Non protestant Non Jewish Home
I have never read the holy bible I will never read the holy bible Cockroaches in their right minds Will never go near the holy bible Bible reading is a dangerous mission Is like committing suicide to get to heaven
I once had this uncle Who was very religious He read the good book all the time One day he fell asleep reading The twenty third psalm and woke up In the hereafter the following morning
The owner of the bible close the book on him If those are the kind of people That go to heaven - You can send me to hell lord
My first wife Lived a very short life Tragedy came Separated our name The first year We started our atmosphere She was ambushed By this retarded boy Who destroyed her pride And swallow her body After she died
My second wife Lived a shorter life When tragedy came And separated our name She was still a virgin We married in the afternoon And somebody stept on her On our way to the honeymoon
My third wife Was taking a short cut home Thru the kitchen sink A homicidal maniac saw her While taking a drink And turned on the hot water
My first husband Lost his sacred life In a DDT strike Coming home from the A&P for insects only I was in tears for one whole year after he disappear from the atmosphere because the day before his destiny came near his insurance policy lapsed I mailed a payment a week before he died but somebody stepped on the mailman and the payment never arrived
My second husband was suffocated by this complicated mentally constipated fire engine impersonator who got his kicks kidnapping cockroaches molesting them sexually and throwing them into empty coca cola bottles and putting the cap back on and keeping them without air until their life was gone
My third husband Lived a miserable life He had lung cancer Ten wooden legs One glass eye Fifty fifty vision On his good eye A weak heart A broken back Respiratory ailment Undernourished Mentally discourage Unemployed eardrums Condem features And bad breath galore from a bottle of Weight reducing pills He shoplifted At the drugstore
I gave him a divorce Not because his health Was hazardous To my health I gave him a divorce Because he wanted Me to sell my body to science And give him the money For plastic surgery
One week before Celebrating his last Unhappy birthday At the funeral parlor He hit the numbers For one thousand dollars Went to the hospital And paid cash for A heart transplant An eyes transplant A face transplant A legs transplant A lung transplant A rear end transplant A breath transplant And he was all set to live and let live
For one hundred years But on his way home From the hospital Somebody stepped on him And that was the end Of his breathing career
So you see You cannot really blame me For wanting to seduce my destiny I have nothing else to live for In this corrupted world anymore The employment situation is bad The starvation situation is worst
It hurts to continue living like this Cockroaches are starving to death Ever since incinerators came Into the life of the minority groups In the old buildings the people Were very close to everything they had Food was never thrown away But today everything is going Into those incinerators The last family that lived here Took the incinerator To get to the first floor They do not live here anymore
Damn those low income housing projects Years ago suicide was never spoken But today suicide is a luxury For a heartbroken cockroach Trying to make a decent living In a low income housing project Goodbye cruel world I’m through being screwed By your crossward puzzles When the bomb comes down I will not be around
Forward my mail to your conscience when you get one The last request the cockroach made was to be cremated So I lit it up and smoked it
Frame, Adrienne Rich (U.S.)
Winter twilight. She comes out of the lab-
oratory, last class of the day
a pile of notebooks slung in her knapsack, coat
zipped high against the already swirling
evening sleet. The wind is wicked and the
busses slower than usual. On her mind
is organic chemistry and the issue
of next month’s rent and will it be possible to
bypass the professor with the coldest eyes
to get a reference for graduate school,
and whether any of them, even those who smile
can see, looking at her, a biochemist
or marine biologist, which of the faces
can she trust to see her at all, either today
or in any future. The busses are worm-slow in the
quickly gathering dark. I don’t know her. I am
standing though somewhere just outside the frame
of all of this, trying to see. At her back
the newly finished building suddenly looks
like shelter, it has glass doors, lighted halls
presumably heat. The wind is wicked. She throws a
glance down the street, sees no bus coming and runs
up the newly constructed steps into the newly
constructed hallway. I am standing all this time
just beyond the frame, trying to see. She runs
her hand through the crystals of sleet about to melt
on her hair. She shifts the weight of the books
on her back. It isn’t warm here exactly but it’s
out of that wind. Through the glass
door panels she can watch for the bus through the thickening
weather. Watching so, she is not
watching the white man who watches the building
who has been watching her. This is Boston 1979.
I am standing somewhere at the edge of the frame
watching the man, we are both white, who watches the building
telling her to move on, get out of the hallway.
I can hear nothing because I am not supposed to be
present but I can see her gesturing
out toward the street at the wind-raked curb
I see her drawing her small body up
against the implied charges. The man
goes away. Her body is different now.
It is holding together with more than a hint of fury
and more than a hint of fear. She is smaller, thinner
more fragile-looking than I am. But I am not supposed to be
there. I am just outside the frame
of this action when the anonymous white man
returns with a white police officer. Then she starts
to leave into the windraked night but already
the policeman is going to work, the handcuffs are on her
wrists he is throwing her down his knee has gone into
her breast he is dragging her down the stairs I am unable
to hear a sound of all of this all that I know is what
I can see from this position there is no soundtrack
to go with this and I understand at once
it is meant to be in silence that this happens
in silence that he pushes her into the car
banging her head in silence that she cries out
in silence that she tries to explain she was only
waiting for a bus
in silence that he twists the flesh of her thigh
with his nails in silence that her tears begin to flow
that she pleads with the other policeman as if
he could be trusted to see her at all
in silence that in the precinct she refuses to give her name
in silence that they throw her into the cell
in silence that she stares him
straight in the face in silence that he sprays her
in her eyes with Mace in silence that she sinks her teeth
into his hand in silence that she is charged
with trespass assault and battery in
silence that at the sleet-swept corner her bus
passes without stopping and goes on
in silence. What I am telling you
is told by a white woman who they will say
was never there. I say I am there.
Home, Warsan Shire (Somalia/England)
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.
i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
A Comrade is as Precious as a Rice Seedling, Mila Aguilar (Philippines)
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
One of many, it is true,
but nurtured by them
whose faces grow dark,
and taut, and lined
for the sake of their rice seedlings.
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
for whom the peasant’s hands
grow thick and calloused
for whom his fingers
scrape the hardened mud.
A comrade is he
for whom the peasant’s toes
get muscled and big
because, like a rice seedling,
he will grow, one of precious many,
to fill the hunger
of him who cared enough
to nurture little seedlings.
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
fed and nurtured
guarded from pestilence and floods
And yes, beloved of the peasant
because a rice seedling
grows, not only to fill his hunger,
but to give birth
to other seedlings
who will give birth
to many more
who will fill the hunger
of generations of peasants
for food, and land,
And because poetry is not only read but spoken and sung, I have included the following links to some marvelous crafters of poems and songs.
I’ve decided to focus on 2 poems today, They are short and remind me in some ways of the poems of Langston Hughes. Their author is woman who I had the pleasure of hearing once, a member of UNEAC(National Union of Artists and Writers, Cuba), and an inspiration herself, to a younger generation of Afro-Cuban women poets. Below, Wikipedia gives a succinct account of her career as a writer:
Georgina Herrera was born in Jovellanos, the capital of Matanzas Province, Cuba. She began writing when she was nine years old, and when she was 16 her first poems were published, in such Havana periodicals as El País and Diario de la Tarde. As Miriam DeCosta-Willis has noted, “Many of her later poems capture the pain and loneliness of her growing-up years”, during which she endured poverty, an absent father and the death of her mother when she was 14.
Aged 20, Herrera moved to Havana in 1956, and worked as a domestic; it was in the homes of her wealthy employers that she met writers, who encouraged her to publish. Early in the Cuban Revolution she became involved with the “Novación Literaria” movement, and began working as a scriptwriter at the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television.
Wikipedia, Georgina Herrera
I’ve only read a couple of short poetry books by Georgina Herrera both in Spanish, and thought I would share 2 verses that I especially like. Her fame beyond Cuba has been limited until this century, when interest in Cuban Black culture and history has burgeoned in terms of literature, arts, and social sciences. If you are interested in more of her work you might check out the following bilingual collection below. In these current pieces, the English translations are my own.
A bi-lingual Spanish/English collection of Herrera’s work, entitled Always Rebellious/Cimarroneando: Selected Poems (published by Cubanabooks, a US-based non-profit company specialising in Cuban women’s literature), won the 2016 International Latino Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book. Herrera has said of the collection, whose title references maroons, Africans who escaped from enslavement in the Americas: “The inspiration for the book was my life experiences, it is a definition of me.”
Las Aguas Van Cogiendo Su Nivel
Mis orishas y mis negras viejas
que en un rincon les pongan alimentos
ni agua para la sed.
Lo que les quema la garganta
son ganas de justicia
los he puesto a viajar
no en estos barcuchos, atenazados por traficantes.
El viaje ahora es al reves.
Puse alas a mis palabras
y en las palabras estan ellos.
Water Finds its Own Level (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)
My orishas and my old black women
a nook where they are given food
and water for thirst.
What burns their throats
are desires for justice.
Seeing them like this,
I set them travelling
No, not on those big boats, in the grips of traffickers.
The journey now, is the reverse.
I have put wings on my words
And in my words, they are.
GRANDE ES EL TIEMPO
Grande es el tiempo a transitar
como un camino
si de las penas partes, yendo
hacia la dicha.
Y llegas y te instalas, pero
no permaneces, vuelves, irremediable,
al primer sitio, cual si fuera
el de tu origen, donde
algo perdiste y buscas incansable
no sabes qué.
Georgina Herrera, de Grande es el tiempo, La Habana, UNEAC, 1989
Great is the Time (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)
Great is the time
We walk as though on a road
of sorrowing parts, going
And you arrive and you stay, but
you don’t belong, you return, incurable,
to the first site, as if it were
that place of your origin,
where you lost something and you look tirelessly
but don’t know
If Bob Marley were alive today, it is likely that he would be assassinated again, by the U.S. government and its agents. His 75th birthday would be tomorrow, February 6th, although he perished at the age of 36, a man in the prime of his music, lyrics, and creativity. It is fitting he was born in February, a free spirited Aquarius and in the month in which we honour African liberation.
Like the reggae music with which he is inextricably bound, Bob’s music spoke of life on the streets and in the hearts of Jamaica, a country he loved profoundly and put on the musical map for all these decades to come.
When I was a teenager, I associated this music with dissatisfied middle-class white boys whose rebellion was smoking weed and listening to reggae for the street cred. My downtown public schools were almost completely white, in contrast to what I see today in Toronto. And I could not relate to the music I felt was appropriated by my classmates.
However, as I left the confines of Toronto and brought CDs in dusty suitcases, back in the day (— when they were novel technology!) I started listening to the lyrics Marley penned. And I was moved by the depth and range of his insights, so rare in mainstream pop culture. Since then, Bob Marley’s music has accompanied me through countless days and nights. His social commentary, fiery commitment to racial and anti-imperialist justice, gentle love songs, and praise of Rastafari have earned him a place that is unparalleled in western popular music.
From his soaring lyricism in “No Woman, No Cry” to his plea for self-knowledge and history in “Buffalo Soldier” and “Redemption Song”, his critique of Jamaica’s hypocritical drug policy and neo-liberalization in “Trenchtown Rock”, his love for Rastafarian pride in the Caribbean in “Natty Dread”, Bob sang of the under dog and downpressed. He centred “nation language” during a time of post-Independence nation building in the Caribbean, in which black humanity, not white capital, was the driving moral force.
Little wonder that songs which underscored “that a hungry man is an angry man” substituted for years of politcal theory, and their author had to be silenced. His musicalization of Haile Selassie’s speech to the United Nations resulted in “War”, and “ Natural Mystic”’s lyrics could have been composed yesterday. Bob Marley is truly a songwriter and performer of our time— a time of great social upheaval and possibility. He understood that people were capable of consciousness and pleasure, and that they are not antithetical.
Although the massification of Marley’s music has resulted in horrid fusions and countless cover versions, even muzack like renditions, it’s important not to take his music for granted. His image is one of the most reproduced and commoditized in the world, along with that of Che Guevara. But his message, ironically, is that of anti-commodification and emancipation from a soulless and mindlessly hierarchical world. Happy Birthday, Mr. Bobby! I hope you enjoy the playlist below.