Categories
children's books fiction racism reading

Reluctant Witness: Kids Books, History, and Whiteness

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!

Categories
Art Colourful poesia cubana poetry

Poetry for the Peeps! AfroCuban Poetry in Translation

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

Eruption, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

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.

Shooting Star, Kaushalya Bannerji 2021
Ocean Sunset, Kaushalya Bannerji

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.

That Obscene Bird of Night/Insomnia (With Thanks to Jose Donoso), Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

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.

Autorretrato

Between, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Figura solitaria transitando
un camino inacabable
Sobre los hombros lleva
su mundo:
trinos,
sueños,
cocuyos
y tristezas.

Self Portrait

Solitary figure walking
an endless road.
On her shoulders, carries
her world:
trills,
dreams,
glow worms,
and sorrows.

Dome, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Categories
Happy New Year

With a Little Help from my Friends!

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!

Nochebuena, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
Art childhood cuba Josefina de Diego translation Tropical Christmas winter

A Child’s Christmas in Cuba: Grandfather’s Kingdom

Arroyo Naranjo, Grandfather’s Kingdom, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

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!

XV

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.

The House, Sleeping, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

XXXVII

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.

Nochebuena, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

XLIV

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.

Categories
Art music poetry winter

Solstice 2020

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,
 
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Victor Jara, La Partida
Messenger, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Northern Lights, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Winter Swans, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019
Night and Day, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
Art poetry

Citizen Heart

there have been
so many armies
so many hungers
food, land, water,
the naming and naming of ourselves,
chanting out in slogans
the red, brown, black of us
the “not-you” of us.

there have been
so many citizens
so many subjects
kidnappings, rapes
buyings and sellings at auction blocks.
since then

ships and trains hurtling, planes gleaming
so many travellers
trading home for outsidership
trading belonging for hope
there have been so many.

there have been
so many hands
sowing, tilling, building, digging
so many feet
walking, standing till they drop, marching, running
so many hearts
holding so many.

Citizen Heart, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
Art challenge Disability haiku

Why Now? Haiku

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?

Treibor Mawlong, A Routine, 2020

Covid’s mad scatter
burrows through hearts and people.
Shadow of sane selves.

Treibor Mawlong, Circles, 2020

Sane dreaming gets me
through. The mad call it lucid.
Art, words, tune, rhythm.

Bird of Peace and Power, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
AfroCuban history, law, nation-building, racism Art Health Santeria syncretism

For Hope and Healing: A Visual Homage

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!

For BabaluAye, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
For BabaluAye 2, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
For BabaluAye 3, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
For BabaluAye 4, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
Uncategorized

Antidote to Grey! A Picture Gallery

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.
Kaushalya Bannerji, Fish, 2020
Sunrise, Kaushalya. Bannerji, 2020
Firefeather, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Reflections, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
They Danced!, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
December Sunset, 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji

Categories
Art challenge haiku

Haiku: Words and Worlds!

It’s my third attempt with https://ronovanwrites.com/2020/12/07/ronovan-writes-weekly-haiku-poetry-prompt-challenge-335-curl-and-paw/. The challenge is real, hahaha. Word prompts remind me of slam poetry, and the adrenalin of having to “come up with something”. And the more I delve into the haiku form, the more I see its possibilities. It’s spare and contained syllables contain worlds! This week’s words are “curl” and “paw”.

Portrait, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

seems like a paw, soft
curling nails that tear through flesh
but the words echo.

young shoots of grass green
like cats’ eyes. striped tiger prowling
her spring paws uncurl.

Tongue, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Curled and lonely, we
are not cats that lie heaped. paws,
whiskers akimbo.

Nightfall, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
Art haiku poetry

The Wind Speaks Winter: Haiku

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

Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

Slip-sliding down life’s
branches, a squirrel’s grace is
visible through glass

Squirrel, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Love is a grace we
slip from like loosening of
hands. Wind speaks winter.

Behind the Wind, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
Art Autumn, fall poetry Refugees

Poetry for the Peeps! Of Spiders and Refugees

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.

Refugee Boat, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019
Categories
Art haiku poetry

Life, View, Haiku

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!

  1. 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.

Six Feet Apart, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

3. Viewed from on high this
world of ours, small and tender,
turns without reason.

The weight of this world, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
Art coronavirus india Manabendra Bandyopadhyay memory Satyajit Ray Soumitra Chatterjee

My Father and Soumitra: Mourning and Memory

Soumitra Chatterjee, the quint.com

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.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/15/india/soumitra-chatterjee-death-covid-intl-scli/index.html?fbclid=IwAR1lEAAeOAKomv00xvTOV_VKhqmqI4JmmtEvTRmhR8YD_9P09bhN_uacaHU

Soundtrack from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali

https://www.criterion.com/films/28021-pather-panchali

The Rest of the Trilogy
Great Kids’ Mystery Starring Soumitra Chatterjee, among others

Categories
Art Disability Fibromyalgia haiku Insomnia poetry reading

Late Night Haiku

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.

Reading, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

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?

Rooster, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2018
Insomnia, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

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.

Insomnia

  1. Late at night, breath’s sound

replaces the city’s corrosive hum

cat turning, finds core.

Cat, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

2. Insomnia is

a star, gleaming digital

more know her name than Capella’s.

3. Middlenight, riddle 

sleep. the sky holds her secrets

behind a veiled cloud.

 4. Insomnia’s leaves

are bookmarks, half-faded slumber

poems echo dream- like.

5. Insomnia, silent 

as that cat that crept in on

fog’s feet or vice versa.

6. Fog footed, insomnia’s 

friend to cat, bat, and the night

blooming jasmine.

The Reading Hour, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
Art poetry

The Great Unknowing

Twilight, Kaushalya Bannerji, November 2020

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.

Astronomy, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Kaushalya Bannerji, Roof, November 2020
Categories
anti-fascism capitalism coronavirus lockdown neo-liberalism poetry Social Justice social theory U.S. Elections

The Parable of the Axe: Reflections From a Small Sliver

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. 

Dylan Miner, Harm Reduction

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. 

May Day, Historical Demands

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?

Sudarshan Reuben Durayappiah, Facebook

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. 

Bloor Street Hoarding (Pun Intended), Kaushalya Bannerji, Summer 2020

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. 

Meme, Pinterest

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. 

https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/canada-s-rate-of-homelessness-may-be-higher-than-reported-nanos-survey-1.5060801

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.

Remedios Varo, Banqueros en Action/Bankers in Action, 1962
Kae Tempest, 2020

For an excellent follow-up piece with lots of information:

Naomi Klein, November 2020
Categories
anti-fascism Democracy U.S. Elections united states White Supremacy

The Battle is Over, but the War Goes On!

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!

Favianna Rodriguez, Voices Are Power, 2015
Alex Brandon, Associated Press, 2020
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
Dorothea Lange, The New Black Family, 1930s
Doreatha Lange, Unemployment Line, 1930s
Categories
Uncategorized

Fall Beauty

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.

Carpet, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Carpet 2, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Evening Canopy, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
November Sky, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

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.

Reading, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Reading , Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
Art Autumn, fall Colourful coronavirus

The Colours of Autumn

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.

Fall at the Park, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
The Feather, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Fall Kitten, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Autumn Glory, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Night Sky, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Dream, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
Art celebration love poetry

One Hundred Posts Against Solitude!

Gourd, Kaushalya Bannerji, October 2020

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.

Antonio Berni, The Demonstrators, Argentina

  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. 

Candido Portinari, Cotton Pickers, Brazil

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 
The Late, Great Reverendo Pedro Pietri!

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.

Between moon and sun, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

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

i’ve become.

Home, Kaushalya Bannerji October, 2020

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 right.

Small Unfurling, Kaushalya Bannerji, October 2020

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.          

https://www.okayafrica.com/literature-awards-jamaican-poet-gives-eritrean-amanuel-asrat-prize/?fbclid=IwAR0SqNezJDf0LuUIRIEI4ZbVqA_LpzOQ7OmJMvooyBE4jUSc2TxhXCDiNcc

Categories
Art books cuba poesia cubana poetry

Water Finds its Own Level

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.

Afrocubaweb, Georgina Herrera Cardenas

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.”

Wikipedia.
Las Aguas Van Cogiendo Su Nivel

Mis orishas y mis negras viejas
no necesitan
que en un rincon les pongan alimentos
ni agua para la sed.
Lo que les quema la garganta
son ganas de justicia
visto asi,
 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
don’t need
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.
Water Finds its Own Level, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
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
pero
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
toward happiness.
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
for what.
Icarus, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020

Categories
Art poetry racism survival White Supremacy

I read the news today, oh boy…

I was unfriended during the summer of “we’re all in this together” on my social media page for writing the following poem. You can have a look for yourselves. Not surprising that a white woman would find it offensive, if she feels her position somehow needs defending. This reminds me of the old story, that if you talk about racism, acknowledge its existence– you are a RACIST! This was the most common argument I heard from peers and teachers growing up non-white in the urban Canada of multiculturalism’s heyday. But, one asks– what about the police? If talking about racism makes you racist, then surely talking about crime makes you a criminal?

So it doesn’t surprise me that many of my former colleagues are so invested in a system that they think a simple land acknowledgement about Aboriginal displacement should suffice, but that people of colour speaking out about a world in which they are dehumanized moment by moment, from womb to tomb– is aggressive and anti-white, if not, “reverse racism”

Hallam Road, Necessary Neighbours, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

.Before I go on, I want to address this aspect of “cancel culture” that started not on Facebook or the internet, but in real academic institutions, the unofficial blacklists of BIPOC students perceived as too “coloured”, too “radical”, too much with a “chip on their shoulder”, too ready to “play the race card”. The blacklists of Marxist and Anarchist academics. The silencing of racial discrimination complaints by Unions filled with people who want to be the boss. As most academic unions– comprised as they are of graduate students– membership is seen as transitory. As grad students become professors, they join another more senior advocacy body, faculty associations. Teaching Assistantships and Course Directorships are replaced by contractually limited appointments (if you’re lucky) and the right to join Professors’ Unions.

Well, the race card has been played ever since race has been a central organizing force in savagely brutal Euopean centered modes of production from mercantile/slaveholding/trading /breeding capitalism. These modes of thinking about physical differences in peoples, were engineered to reduce the humanity of kidnapped, bought, and sold labour. If Black signifies “not human”, then the social whole benefits from, and is immured in, this characterization’s cosmological apartheid.

We play the hand we’re dealt, in the skin we’re in, with the consciousness we develop as our circumstances dictate. My poem is a dirge for THIS white world which nullifies our core–our humanity and personhood. Let me know if this poem touched you at all in light of the recent events of the last year!

Montreal Gazette, September 2020, Justice for Joyce Echaquan

Fuck this white world

and the sun that shines out of its ass.

Fuck this white world

which brought us here to torture and to maim

our beautiful souls.

Fuck this white world 

which pits my brown brokenness 

against your black tear.

Fuck this white world

which pits your red blood against my yellow fear

Justice for Breonna, MerlinFoof, Reddit 2020

Fuck this white world

which rips out our veins

with its sterility and the burning plastic of 

restraints applied in the u.s.,

made in china.

Internet Poster, 2020

Fuck this white world

that holds us in its restraint.

demolishes our individuality

forces us to pay

over and over again

for the privilege of being human

Categories
Art Bell's Palsy climate crisis COVID19 depression Disability music

Post-Equinoctial Saudade

No much up to writing lately, and they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

5 Septembers ago, the equinox gave me the gift of a new face. I was afflicted with a virus called Bell’s Palsy. It changed my life. We are all judged on first appearances. I used to be excruciatingly self-conscious after my face became paralysed. Even today, eating in front of people is an embarrassment. Self-esteem is a’ thing’, as they say, and for myself and many others with facial disfigurement/paralysis it is very easy to be judged and pigeonholed, leaving our self-worth hugely destroyed.

Selfie, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020

I mention this because medical science doesn’t even know how to treat/help viruses that are already here. Let alone one that was supposedly released/found in humans a year ago. In the midst of this pandemic, my pre-existing conditions are acting up too. And corona counts are surging where we are., though nowhere close to the U.S. India, Brazil or Mexican rates.

I’m too exhausted by, and weary of, words. Pandemic fatigue, citizenship reduced to disposability, rumours of electoral– and beyond– violence, in the southern neighbour; hundreds if not thousands living around us in parks in the advent of winter, climate catastrophes, and plague profits/prophets abound. 38 million people will die from hunger in India alone due to government private sector mishandling of public health measures and food security. In Canada unemployment is hitting 30 percent with little relief in site. Lockdowns without food are useless.

Below, I share some of my newer creations, tinged by both personal grief, and grief for the suffering wrought by governmental /corporate responses to human suffering on a scale unmatched in peace time. Seems more like piece time–those who can will grab what they want and the rest of us will get the pieces. Don’t need horror stories for Halloween this year.! We’re living it. I’ll let Jay Gould’s Daughter have the last word. After all, who better to bemoan dignity for the working peoples of the world than another old-times tycoon’s daughter!

On a Monday morning it begin to rain
‘Round the curve come a passenger train
On the blinds was Hobo John
He’s a good old hobo, but he’s dead and gone
Dead and gone,
He’s dead and gone,
He’s a good old hobo, but he’s dead and gone
Jay Gould’s daughter said before she died
Papa, fix the blinds so the bums can’t ride
If ride they must, they got to ride the rod
Let ’em put their trust in the hands of God
In the hands of God
In the hands of God
Let them put their trust in the hands of God
Jay Gould’s daughter said, before she died
There’s two more trains I’d like to ride
Jay Gould said, “Daughter, what can they be?”
The Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe
The Santa Fe,
Oooh the Santa Fe
The Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe
Jay Gould’s daughter said, before she died
There’s two more drinks I’d like to try
Jay Gould said, “Daughter what can they be?
They’s a glass o’ water and a cup o’ tea
A cup o’ tea,
Eeer, the cup of tea
They’s a glass o’ water and a cup o’ tea
Charlie Snyder was a good engineer
Told his fireman not to fear
Pour on your water, boys, and shovel on your coal
Stick your head out the window, see the drivers roll
See the drivers roll,
See the drivers roll
Stick your head out the window, see the drivers roll
See the drivers roll,
See the drivers roll,
Stick your head out the window, see the drivers roll
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: A. Lomax / J. Lomax
Give a Man a Fish, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Homeless in the Park, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Icarus, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Snail among Aspens, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Broken Dark, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Jump/Push? Lockdowns without Food , Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
It could not have been the blue bird of happiness, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
Art cuba music poetry

Poetry for the Peeps!

Just this past week, Cuba had its Saint day, as La Virgen de la Caridad de Cobre, her patron saint, was celebrated in Santiago de Cuba on September 8th. On the 12, Yoruba deity, Oshun, the syncretic counterpart of Cachita (Caridad), daughter and goddess of rivers, love, femaleness, guile, and beauty, is celebrated. One of her symbols is the sunflower, and among other things, she loves honey!

.

Sunflower, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Below I’ve translated 2 poems musicalized by 2 of Cuba’s most renowned trovadors. Pablo Milanes’ exquisite rendering of Nicolas Guillen’s poem is part of a series of poems by Guillen that he musicalized.The second piece, by Pedro Luis Ferrer, is part of the soundtrack to “Before Night Falls”, the cinematic tribute to Reinaldo Arenas’ book of the same name. Can’t say I am a big Arenas fan even though I am a fellow queer (and have experienced homophobic and racialized violence in Cuba). But the soundtrack picked by Julian Schnabel is pretty amazing. And this song resonates whenever times are hard, which they seem to be lately!

Key Words, Nicolas Guillen, Cuba (Translated Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020)

Make of your life
a bell that resonates
or a furrow— in which flowers
the luminous tree of the idea.
Raise your voice over the voice without name
of all others, and make visible
the man, along with the poet.

Fill your spirit with flame,
see the peaking of the summit,
and if the knotty support of your walking stick
discovers some obstacle to your will—
spread your daring wings
before the daring-filled obstacle!

Jacob Lawrence, Barbershop, USA

Palabras Fundamentales, Nicolas Guillen ,

Haz que tu vida sea
campana que repique
o surco en que florezca y fructifique
el árbol luminoso de la idea.
Alza tu voz sobre la voz sin nombre
de todos los demás, y haz que se vea
junto al poeta, el hombre.
 
Llena todo tu espíritu de lumbre;
busca el empinamiento de la cumbre,
y si el sostén nudoso de tu báculo
encuentra algún obstáculo a tu intento,
¡sacude el ala del atrevimiento
ante el atrevimiento del obstáculo!

Kaushalya Bannerji copyright 2018

Mariposa, Pedro Luis Ferrer

Mariposa, me retoza
la canción junto a la boca
y tu imagen me provoca
florar en ti, mariposa.
Un lamento me reposa
como un mar de juramento:
en tu figura yo encuentro
la existencia de las flores
porque perfecta en amores
te siento como un lamento.

Mariposa, cual llorosa
canción que en ti se hace calma,
vienes calmándome el alma
con tu volar, mariposa.
La libertad de una rosa
es vivir en la verdad.
Bien sé que hay felicidad
en cada flor que te posas:
me lo dijeron las rosas,
eres tú su libertad.

Tu paz me llena, no hay pena
que pueda acabar contigo:
el amor es un amigo
que trae paz y que te llena.
Por mi aliento, cada vena
que por el cuerpo presiento
es como un sol que no intento
apagarlo con tristeza
porque pierde la belleza
del amor y del aliento.

Soy tu amigo, soy testigo
de cómo sin daño vives:
eres la paz, tú persigues
al que te mata al amigo.
En tu dulzura me abrigo
y entrego mi mente pura:
así la vida me dura
eternamente la vida
y no hay una sola herida
que no te tenga dulzura.

Ay, mariposa,
contigo el mundo se posa
en la verdad del amor:
sé que en el mundo hay dolor,
pero no es dolor el mundo.

The Lovers, D’Angelo Williams, U.SA , 2019

Butterfly, Pedro Luis Ferrer (Translated, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020)

Butterfly, you frolic song
against my mouth.
Your image arouses

my flowering
in you, butterfly.
A lament rests me
like a sea of vows:
in your figure I encounter
the existence of flowers
because perfect in love
I feel you like a lament.

Butterfly, how a tearful song
is calmed by you;
you arrive, calming my soul
with your flight, butterfly.
The freedom of a rose
is to live in truth.
I well know that there is happiness
in each flower on which you alight;
the roses tell me you are their freedom

Your peace fills me, there is no sorrow
that can finish you off.
Love is a friend
that bring peace and fills you.
By my breath, each vein
which I feel in my body
is like a sun that I don’t try
to put out with sadness
because then I would lose
the beauty
of love and breath.

I am your friend, I am witness
of how you live without destruction;
You are peace, you pursue
he who has killed your friend.
I surrender my pure mind
and thus endure life eternally.
There is not one wound
that doesn’t bring you sweetness.

Oh, butterfly
with you the world alights in the truth of love.
I know in the world there is sorrow
but sorrow alone is not the world.

Butterfly Migration, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019
Categories
Art Chile human rights neo-liberalism poetry September 11 Social Justice

A Moment of Silence

Today I am sharing a poem by Emmanuel Ortiz. It was written back in 2002. I remember receiving it in my email so long ago. But it speaks to the importance of this date, September 11th, for millions of Americans–no, not from the United States, but from Chile. Like millions of people, the word “American” for me is not confined to the stars and stripes. As long as we take Amerigo Vespucci’s name for these vast continents, we need to remember that they include all who live in their lands. September 11th has been a day of mourning and reaffirming commitment to a better way of living since 1973. A day that puts people at the centre of human society, that rejects colonial conceptions of human worth as being linked solely to productivity and profit; that celebrates the voices of the silenced.

The September 11th U.S backed coup in Chile is memorable, because it turned Chileans into refugees and exiles. Its repercussions are being felt today throughout South America’s neo-liberal economies and the widening gap between rich and poor, white and non-white. I share below, along with Ortiz’s poem, a song of Victor Jara, mutilated and murdered for the power of his song and commitment, by the forces of General Pinochet. This song, referencing the Viet Nam War, shows us how the world is a vast cobweb of interconnections.

Chilean copper and other goods had been a part of imperial trade since the British informal empire in the 19th century. By the post-World War II period, Chile was increasingly under the sights of the United States. Although turning to import substitution had helped the Chilean economy expand a national elite, its benefits did not trickle down to the vast majority of country’s people. This led to support for Salvador Allende and his project of social services, public infrastructure and bread with dignity for the poorest of compatriots. Awareness of anti-empire struggles like the Viet Nam war, inspired and motivated Chileans to fight the loss of their country’s sovereignty.

Intolerable to the 1 percenters of the time, the U.S. backed General Augusto Pinochet to assassinate Allende, and impose Martial law on the country, a situation that lasted until the election of Patricio Aylwin. During the years of dictatorship, countless people were “disappeared”, children were kidnapped, and people were tortured for believing another world is possible.

Chileans have a vociferous and active struggle for human rights and social development, indigenous survival and anti-poverty movements. The feminist and LGBT movements are also more vocal in the twenty-first century. I have included the beautiful “Gracias a la Vida” by Chile’s Violeta Parra, arguably the most famous song of Chile. Although her sudden death before Allende’s election may lead us to believe that she was not a political artist, Parra’s work testifies to her many social and musicological concerns that were rooted in hope for a better life for her country’s people.

For many in solidarity with Chile’s vision for justice, September 11th has shown, in the words of Peter Gabriel, that “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire”. I end with the words of Salvador Allende, himself; comrade, leader and fighter. It’s a good time to remember that elected officials and their supporters with progressive views have been in danger from fanatical right wing elements in other places and other times in history. We would do well to take a moment to think about where we go from here!

Moment of Silence, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

A Moment of Silence by Emmanuel Ortiz

A moment of silence before I start this poem

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has
been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.

Hope is a Thing with Feathers, Kaushalya Bannerji 2020
Singer/Songwriter, Actor/Dramaturg, Activist: Victor Jara
One of Chile’s most recognized songs, Thanks to Life/Gracias a la Vida, Violeta Parra
One of Violeta’s most powerful songs

A great resource to understand Chile’s struggle in context, is Uruguyan journalist Eduardo Galeano’s classic text, The Open Veins of Latin America.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Veins_of_Latin_America

Categories
books childhood children children's books fiction quarantine reading

What’s Your Superpower? Children’s Books in a Pandemic World

Mine is reading. For many years, I have escaped or disappeared into texts. Writers have made the visible world invisible and the invisible world, visible. They have shown us downward plummets and paths toward happiness. They take us on journeys into the core of the earth or the heart of the sky. When the world is going to hell, whether it be through bullying and racism in school or work, at university, relaxing on a holiday, books have been a constant and life-saving companion.

I can’t stress enough the importance of building up some personal resources against the bleak winter and under these pandemic conditions. Debates are raging on about the wisdom of taking sanitary precautions like masking and hand sanitizing, versus, “business as usual”. Poverty— as well as covid19, is growing, in response to haphazard and unsupported lockdown measures that have made living a terror for millions of people in the developing world and in the wealthier countries, like Canada, U.S, and the U.K., where Black and other people of colour, make up increasing numbers of an underemployed and badly educated working-class, in holding pens, that pass for schools.

Yet, in the months since the media has let us in on the existence of this new coronavirus, we have not witnessed governments come up with life-affirming measures of public safety. But while millions lose jobs, day labourers go hungry, families are evicted, medical debt is a huge thing across the world, hospitals and seniors’ homes are understaffed and underfunded, mental health crises are rising, and economically non-productive people and working people are devalued and dehumanized, there are some who are doing their utmost to profit from this uncertainty and mixed messaging.

That’s why it is important to be able to read about different stories than those that characterize our time— one of vast indifference and apathy in which millions are languishing in misery, fear and hunger.

I want to share a couple of kids’ books which I believe are under-rated and under-represented in the world of post-world war 2 children’s literature. The first, is The Happy Islands Behind the Winds, by James Kruss.

This book, written during the end of that war, offers a possibility of a more humane world, through the stories of the Happy Islands, a fantastical land where animals, birds, fish, insects, and vegetation, are as much citizens— with corresponding rights and obligations— as humans. The beauty of the islands is in their straightforward belief that hope, kindness and beauty are cornerstones of “good” living, that power ought to be distributed equally among beings in society and that we are all capable of learning from our mistakes and worthy of trust and redemption. The author manages to do all this with a great deal of imagination and humour, conveying a sense of wonder at the variety of stories the world could offer. Animals, insects and people share stories and poems that open up a world of astonishingly progressive ideas about crime and punishment and belonging and rejection!

I believe this book to be one of the most lovely examples of books for kids. It is the first part of a trilogy comprised of Return to the Happy Islands, and The Lighthouse on the Lobster Cliffs, where we meet the characters of the Captain, the four seagulls, poltergeists, lighthouse keepers, and so many more. In these books, trees talk, insects reason, people respond to kindness and understanding, and change is good. They also encourage imagination and story-telling, important tools for feeling like we are a part of the world!

These books are now out of print, but were published by Atheneum Press in 1960s in English translations. The Happy Islands Behind the Winds can be found at https://openlibrary.org/books/OL24763459M/The_happy_islands_behind_the_winds if you are interested in browsing. It can also be ordered through inter-library loan through the public library.

The second book that made a big impression on me while growing up, was the British historian Rhoda Power’s novel about the 14th century life of Redcap, a blacksmith’s son in medieval England. This book, like the one above, shares the device of stories within stories, much like the idea of a 1001 Nights. It centers outcastes and the powerless of feudal society at the time— children, “witches”, minstrels, and the like, celebrating tricksters, jugglers, acrobats and all the entertainment of that long-ago age.

Redcap Runs Away (1953), is a captivating book about a runaway boy who falls in with a group of minstrels and travels England in the Middle Ages. While it draws on religious and other influences of the time, it’s still a fascinating and imaginative book, which allows us to expererience life in another time and place. Fantasy writing does not have to be confined to Utopic or otherwordly scenarios. Historians turned storytellers are often adept at blending fantasy and history together! Rhoda Power crafts an interesting story, that lends itself to researching some of the daily conditions of life in medieval Britain. It’s hard to imagine a time when entertainment was not a click or tap away, but had to be conjured up by real people with talents and skill, in real time! (Cuba is perhaps the only place I’ve stayed in, in recent years, where I was exposed to amazingly talented young people who shared their talents on the streets and parks and patios, instead of staring at their cellphones or TVs.) But getting back to this children’s book which allows us to imagine a different way of life; it shows us that Redcap’s view of the world and the questions that challenge him are as much a product of his time and circumstances as are ours. And that’s a good departure point for learning about history!

While many of us are more confined to the home during this time, libraries in much of North America have gone online. Although it’s not the most complete selection of books, nor the most diverse, libraries are a great online resource at this time, as are sources like Open Library, for harder to find books.

In times when we feel confined, books are a way of taking to the seas or the open road, allowing all of us, adults and children, a chance to remove ourselves from the humdrum concerns of every day life! Over the next while I’ll be sharing some lesser known books for kids, including Jamaican Andrew Salkey’s stories on natural disasters for children!

Categories
Art Autumn, fall poetry

Autumn’s Corner

We are entering into the beginning of fall, turning the corner of summer into autumn’s path. This bizarre pandemic year with its spring lockdown, cool early summer, and sweltering July and August is bringing a September of extremes to us! I am hoping for a warm sunny fall that stretches out for as long as possible! Thought I’d share the poems of two poetesses, giants in their own right!

Summer’s End, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020

Song for Autumn, Mary Oliver

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the fires that will come—six, a dozen—to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Autumn Wind, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020

Perhaps the World Ends Here, Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No Matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
…It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
 

Study in Green, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Categories
anti-fascism Art Colourful memory poetry translation

Deep Song: Poetry for Our Times!

Before the Scales, Tomorrow,  Otto Rene Castillo, Guatemala

And when the enthusiastic 

story of our time 

is told, 

who are yet to be born 

but announce themselves 

with more generous face, 

we will come out ahead 

–those who have suffered most from it. 

And that 

being ahead of your time 

means much suffering from it. 

But it’s beautiful to love the world 

with eyes 

that have not yet 

been born. 

And splendid 

to know yourself victorious 

when all around you 

it’s all still so cold, 

so dark. 

FRENTE AL BALANCE, MAÑANA

Y cuando se haga
el entusiasta recuento
de nuestro tiempo,
por los que todavía
no han nacido,
pero que se anuncian
con su rostro
más bondadoso,
saldremos gananciosos
los que más hemos
sufrido de él.
Y es que adelantarse
uno a su tiempo,
es sufrir mucho de él.
Pero es bello amar al mundo
con los ojos
de los que no han nacido
todavía.
Y espléndido,
saberse ya un victorioso,
cuando todo en torno a uno
es aún tan frío, tan oscuro.

Darkest Before Dawn, Kaushalya Bannerji,2020

The Critical Attitude, Bertolt Brecht, Germany

The critical attitude

Strikes many people as unfruitful

That is because they find the state

Impervious to their criticism

But what in this case is an unfruitful attitude

Is merely a feeble attitude. Give criticism arms

And states can be demolished by it.

Canalising a river

Grafting a fruit tree

Educating a person

Transforming a state

These are instances of fruitful criticism

And at the same time instances of art.

Old Tree, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

What They Did Yesterday Afternoon, Warsan Shire, Somalia/England

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Defund, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
Art coronavirus COVID19 love Manabendra Bandyopadhyay memory music poetry translation

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Many people have started to ask me why I have not put anything on this blog in more than a month. Since I started this project a year and half ago, I have tried to respond to issues that have moved me deeply, created a moral restlessness, and an artistic response. I believe that art– visual, poetry, story-telling, music– has a great and necessary role to play as we enter a global crossroads regarding poverty, climate crisis, and social inequality, in which we are consuming a heartless and profit-driven internet and mainstream culture, driven solely by profit.

But life and love got in the way, as my dear father became ill–necessitating hospitalization, and then contracted COVID19 in a hospital in India. Today’s post is a tribute I wrote for my father, as I was stuck due to coronavirus travel restrictions, a world and oceans away. I have had difficulty finding the focus to write on other things at this time, when we are already so isolated due to the pandemic. But the love so many students, artists, writers, colleagues, and friends have shown my father, and to me and my family, through their tributes to him, has been a heartwarming experience in the middle of so much grief.

Sometimes, it seems to me, that my grief has merged with so many others’, and my loss is both magnified by others’ and also shared. Many people are losing their loved ones due to COVID19 directly, or indirectly, as they are unable to seek help due to limited medical contact during this time of quarantines, lockdowns and widespread fear. For many of us, Facebook has become an obituary page, rather than a source of trivia or news. Honouring these strange times, I am sharing what I wrote about and for, my father.

My father and I, 1970s, Kaushalya Bannerji

The Swan Will Fly Away All Alone,

Spectacle of the World Will Be a Mere Fair

As the Leaf Falls from the Tree

Is Difficult to Find

Who Knows Where it Will Fall

Once it is Struck with a Gust Of Wind

When Life Span is Complete

Then Listening to Orders, Following Others, Will Be Over

The Messengers of Yama are Very Strong

It’s an Entanglement with the Yama

Servant Kabir Praises the Attributes of the Lord

He Finds the Lord Soon

Guru Will Go According to His Doings

The Disciple According to His.

My father, Manabendra Bandyopadhyay, was born in Sylhet in the mid 1930s, in what is now Bangladesh, but then, was British India. He came from a large family, and his mother, my grandmother, was the mother of many stepchildren as well as her own. 

A few years after the Partition of India, my father’s family left Bangladesh and settled in a small town on the edge of Assam called Karimganj. There on the edge of a river, in a small tropical town like so many, described by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he became a student and developed friendships that lasted forever. 

I accompanied him back one year, and he was amused at my amazement when i saw elephants plowing the fields like humble oxen. My father was welcomed and feted when he returned to Karimganj, Assam and read his poetry and his work on translation. I remember we were accompanied by a group of admirers who took the bus for hours back to Guwhati, the state capital, with us, in order to spend more time with my father! He supported his own fatherless family for many years through his translations of Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, and others, as my grandfather passed away when my father was young and had many brothers and sisters to look after. 

He studied Sanskrit formally and was already reading and translating from English by the time he started teaching in Yangon, Burma/ Myanmar, and then eventually at the Comparative Literature Department of Jadavpur University in 1956, which he helped to shape with a group of young scholars. 

It was where he taught for the remainder of his work life, pushing his retirement back to keep teaching a couple of years more. Jadavpur University was where he challenged thinking about story-telling, translation, and language.

He was always a fighter for mother tongues and for decolonization, and a big supporter of Indigenous and so-called “Minority” rights. As a foreign student in Canada in the early seventies, he sought out and learned from Indigenous history and culture, bringing me many books and posters and giving me a life-long awareness of the land to which my mother and I emigrated. He was the first to show me the work of Norval Morriseau who he met sometimes during his years in Vancouver. 

My father loved children’s literature and knew a lot about it! He started bringing me books from the time I was a few months old, preparing me for the incredible mutliverse of literature he shared with so many, through his belief in, and love of, translation. One of my favourite books, that he gave me when I was about 8 years old is the fantastic “Happy Islands Behind the Winds”, part of a trilogy by James Kruss, a masterpiece of fantasy geared to children of all ages! 

I also was introduced to historical fiction and mystery stories, as his love of Sherlock Holmes, shared with me when I was young, underpinned my later devouring of the genre. And he introduced me to the best of police procedurals, Maj Sjwoall and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series. 

My father was anti-islamophobic and committed to a just, equitable, secularist world where culture would flourish because common people would flourish. 

I remember his belief in regional and south asian literature being just as fervent as his love of international humanism and peace, his belief that culture, and especially poetry and story-telling, could make a difference in our lives, that goes far beyond the page. 

My father committed to translating into Bangla, the stories of well known Malayali writer, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, at a time in India’s history when the fascist gang led by the BJP was flexing its muscles by destroying the Babri Masjid and Islamophobic violence directed by Narendra Modi, among other criminals, was on the rise. I remember the nervousness of the publishers, who feared they might be targeted by Hindu nationalists for publishing his translations. But he remained steadfastly committed to an India of diversity, peace, and inclusion which did away with caste, religious, gender, and class oppression. He could often be found in the early 90s, blasting the beautiful voice of Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan or the Warsi Brothers, or the songs of Sant Kabir, on his cassette, and later cd, player. 

In his time in Canada, he enjoyed Caribbean music and culture, sharing a love of cricket with many people from the islands. He loved Bob Marley and Dave van Ronk, Osibisa, and many popular musicians he heard in Canada. 

He grew up amid the “hot winds” of independence, grief, and nation-building and never forgot to wonder at the world the city laid before him, full of ideas, talk, chess, endless cups of tea and coffee at the coffee house, or faculty club. The ability to engage with other intellectuals and artists! Bengalis do love to pass the time through adda, which is the nexus of anecdotes, philosophizing, and gossip!

He was not shy with his views and opinions and was know as a lively, engaging and perhaps, sardonic, teacher to many generations of students at Jadavpur University. Tributes from Comparative Literature Colleagues, students and other writers have poured in, from the Bangla speaking population. It’s very beautiful to feel that so many were positively touched by his work!

No mention of my father’s passing would be complete without the ugly reality of Covid19. It is devastating to have joined those hundreds of thousands of people who could not be with their loved ones in their time of need. I found a poem he had translated that speaks to my feelings about this.

A Song on the End of the World

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ

On the day the world ends

A bee circles a clover,

A fisherman mends a glimmering net.

Happy porpoises jump in the sea,

By the rainspout young sparrows are playing

And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet

Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,

Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:

There will be no other end of the world,

There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

And finally, although I have a lot of work to do, I try to believe my father’s departure from this life means that he is once more among us, in everything I see, and try to create, myself. Because the loss of his eyesight and autonomy gave him a great deal of pain, I am grateful that his physical and emotional pain are now over.

As a Bengali, my father was also an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore, and I want to end with a verse from him.

Tagore:

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.

Let it not be a death but completeness.

Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.

Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.

Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.

Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.

I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light your way

Additionally, I include some poems I shared in honour of my father at memorials for my father organized by the Comparative Literature Department and the African Studies Department at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.

The Word

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Brazil

I no longer want to consult 

dictionaries in vain.

I only want the word

that will never be there

and that can’t be invented.

One that would resume 

and replace the world.

More sun than the sun,

in which we all could 

live in communion,

mute,

savouring it. 

Agha Shahid Ali

Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—

There is no sugar in the promised land.

Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love, 

I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?

If home is found on both sides of the globe,

home is of course here—and always a missed land.

The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?) 

in Fate’s ‘Long years ago we made a tryst’ land.

Clearly, these men were here only to destroy, 

a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.

Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy, 

when springtime returns to our dismissed land?

The prisons fill with the cries of children.

Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?

“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”

I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.

A hurricane is born when the wings flutter … 

Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?

You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there 

though summer had finished in that tourist land.

Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes 

when we steal their gods for our atheist land?

Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels 

so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.

At the moment the heart turns terrorist,

are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land? 

Wislawa Szymborska, Poland

Possibilities

I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along the Warta.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.

I prefer the color green.

I prefer not to maintain

that reason is to blame for everything.

I prefer exceptions.

I prefer to leave early.

I prefer talking to doctors about something else.

I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems

to the absurdity of not writing poems.

I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries

that can be celebrated every day.

I prefer moralists

who promise me nothing.

I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.

I prefer the earth in civvies.

I prefer conquered to conquering countries.

I prefer having some reservations.

I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.

I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.

I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.

I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.

I prefer desk drawers.

I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here

to many things I’ve also left unsaid.

I prefer zeroes on the loose

to those lined up behind a cipher.

I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.

I prefer to knock on wood.

I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.

I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility

that existence has its own reason for being.

By Wislawa Szymborska

From “Nothing Twice”, 1997

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Home, by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)

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

i’ve become.

Dawn of Darkness ngugi wa thiongo, Kenya/UK

I know, I know,

It threatens the common gestures of human bonding

The handshake,

The hug

The shoulders we give each other to cry on

The Neighborliness we take for granted

So much that we often beat our breasts

Crowing about rugged individualism,

Disdaining nature, pissing poison on it even, while

Claiming that property has all the legal rights of personhood

Murmuring gratitude for our shares in the gods of capital.

Oh how now I wish I could write poetry in English,

Or any and every language you speak

So I can share with you, words that

Wanjikũ, my Gĩkũyũ mother, used to tell me:

Gũtirĩ ũtukũ ũtakĩa:

No night is so Dark that,

It will not end in Dawn,

Or simply put,

Every night ends with dawn.

Gũtirĩ ũtukũ ũtakĩa.

This darkness too will pass away

We shall meet again and again

And talk about Darkness and Dawn

Sing and laugh maybe even hug

Nature and nurture locked in a green embrace

Celebrating every pulsation of a common being

Rediscovered and cherished for real

In the light of the Darkness and the new Dawn.

Rainbow at My Back, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

https://frontline.thehindu.com/dispatches/eminent-writer-translator-manabendra-bandopadhyay-dies-of-covid-19/article32278845.ece?fbclid=IwAR2OS2iEDCQ3KYtFTaznmj__VIxdFG9GM8VqV6sS3b2FJUg1IAjREsaW_9Y

Categories
Art jazz music quarantine

Jazz Cats! Music to Explore and Enjoy!

Throughout the last year, since I started this blog, I’ve been delving into the weighty topics of racism, profits before people, the colonization of indigenous peoples, destruction of the environment, and the like. But sometimes I need to refresh and recharge. Music is a key part of getting through being isolated, as the coronavirus rages on, while politicians and businessmen and doctors are at opposite ends of the spectrum with regards to “re-opening” economies and social interactions…

Black music has shaped the Western world’s ear for melody and rhythm, and jazz as an ever-changing genre is born of Black experience in the Americas. It’s been attractive as well, to many Othered”, and outsider musicians. From the light to the contemplative, jazz notes resonate like the words of Langston Hughes, whose “Weary Blues” brought poetry and jazz and even the poetry of jazz, to the foreground.

Jazz has long been an expression of life that defined American music, in spite of white supremacy. It was both the blank page and the story, the pen and ink, of the musically inclined. Jazz, more than any other music, was responsible for breaking down what used to be known as the “colour bar” during a time when the United States was inventing a story of nationhood designed to keep black rage in check. That is why the truth can sometimes be found in sound more than in reading. Jazz can sometimes be the truth which provides a counterpoint to hegemonic fictions!

I’m sharing a playlist of some great jazz musicians and vocalists, as well as some visual tributes to the cool cats of jazz. Drawing on some Indigenous, Black, Latin, and contemporary jazz sounds, I hope this music will help keep you as cool these cats during these blistering summer days!

Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020
Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020

 

Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020

 

Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020
Categories
Art coronavirus environment summer

Learning to See

I am learning to see the intricate movement and colours of plants. I sometimes wish I had learned photography, but sometimes the impressionistic approach I take, must do instead. I think of their root communities and networks, their beauty and seductiveness, the scent and shape of petals and leaves. Pandemic life must be one that tries to find moments of joy or peace from the cruelty of a world that puts people below profit.

We are living in the age of human sacrifice to capital. The stock market, always oiled by blood, sucks the life out of humanity. Yet the earth continues its ceaseless spin and our days get longer, climate change brings droughts, heat waves, tornadoes, cyclones. But the plants have been enjoying the recent heat waves. Even the storms recharge them and gift them a shiny contented green. Raspberries and zucchinis show us the beauty of edible plants and mint has filled the corner , exhaling her cooling freshness. We are not yet in the dog days of summer, but sometimes it ‘s good to just look down and around to see, with our human imperfect eyes, not through the capture of the perfect machine.

Twilight. July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Evening Pears, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Even the thistle looks for love, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Clinging Clematis, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dance of the Tiger Lilies, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Blooming Days, June 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Categories
anti-fascism Art poetry

The Sun

All colours come from the sun. And it does not have
Any particular colour, for it contains them all.
And the whole Earth is like a poem
While the sun above represents the artist.

Whoever wants to paint the variegated world
Let him never look straight up at the sun
Or he will lose the memory of things he has seen.
Only burning tears will stay in his eyes.

Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at the light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost:
The stars and the roses, the dusks and the dawns.

Warsaw, 1943, Czeslaw Milosz

The Sun, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020
Night Rose, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
ForgetMeNots, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Stars and Angels, Kaushalya Bannerji, December 2019
May Twilight, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020

Categories
environment nature summer solstice

Solstice 2020!

Well, we made it to summer and the longest day of the year in this part of the world. The covid19 pandemic has slowed the travel of planes, and the city skies are becoming a delight. If you squint and stare into the sky, you can see way more stars than I ever have since my childhood. i am hoping to see the Perseid meteor shower and more shooting stars in the next while. The world with its cruel injustices and casual cruelties is sometimes too much And the spectre of illness and uncertainty that dogs us all…

Still, the act of typing a few words in spite of the malaise and depression that’s gripped me so unseasonably, is a little victory. And in drawing the beauties of this humble urban nature, which fights for triumphancy amid the cement, concrete and asphalt.

Flowers found in hot summer, blooming and scenting and shedding in a delirious cacophony. It seems the blooms are hardly here, and then they are gone. New plants take their place. This month, I’ve been enjoying showy crimson roses, delicate white ones, vibrant pink heirloom roses, and golden petaled beauties whose scent is thick and nearly fruity and whose heavy heads are bowed over, lushly petaled and too heavy for their pale green delicate stalks. Meanwhile the garden is slowly growing, sucking up the heat and humidity as much as the water we give it.

June is a month for many intertwined liberations-Black, Indigenous, Refugee/Stateless people. It’s important to think about decentering power, our relationship to land as non-Indigenous peoples and our relationship to Canada. Because I have never felt welcome in Canada, I lived an “in spite of” existence, I had not enjoyed its flora and landscapes. They seemed alien to me. Small towns struck me with terror. But the pandemic is teaching me to look for beauty in some simple things close to “home”. Peonies, roses, hummingbirds, colours, are summer seductions. June is also LGBT Pride Month, and although the corporate takeover of a fierce political movement is saddening, it seems the simplest definition of Pride in our contexts is desire among consenting adults, so a drawing about that too!

Spring! Kaushalya Bannerji June 2020
Rebirth /Summer, Kaushalya Bannerji June 2020
Peonies, Roses, Salvia, Red Maple, Kaushalya Bannerji June 2020
Desire, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Categories
Art Art environment sky

Untitled Evening

I have no fancy camera. I am a home bound storm admirer and fearer. Many years ago when I was living in Peru, I noticed the city of Lima rarely had thunderstorms. Instead, a stinging cold drizzle seemed to be the winter’s precipitation. It left a fine mist on everything and was not enjoyed by those of us wearing glasses. The limenos, call that fine rain, espanta-bobos, or “frightens fools” rain!

Stuck in quarantine I have found that the sky a source of wonder, and fear. I’ll be the first to admit that lightening and thunder send me scurrying for cover. But I love the imagery of storms. The majesty is something truly awesome! These pictures were taken on two different occasions. I like the contrast between the blue and orange tones, though both are before storms.

I’m taking a moment to “breathe”– a loaded word like a bullet or a beacon of hope for Black, Indigenous, people of colour at this time. I hope it’s the latter. I’ll leave you the water colours of the master painter. And the strange image in the last photo… Was I warped through the space time continuum and did I discover 2 other buildings existing simultaneously in our multiverse? What do you think?

.

Kaushalya Bannerji, Untitled Evening, June 2020
Kaushalya Bannerji, Untitled Evening, June 2020
School of fish, Untitled Evening, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
A Whale of an Evening, Kaushalya Bannerji , May 2020
Violence Blue, Untitled Evening, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Violence Blue/Untitled Evening, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Violence Blue/Untitled Evening, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Untitled Evening, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Untitled Evening/ What’s Happening?, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Untitled Evening, Kaushalya Bannerji, June 2020
Untitled Evening, June 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Categories
Art COVID19 George Floyd neo-liberalism poverty protests racism Social Justice Unites States White Supremacy

SEEING RED: A Canadian reflection on racism, life, and the anti-racist uprising in the United States

As a person of colour with a lifelong, nearly daily exposure to racism, either directed towards myself, or Black or Indigenous people, and in the last 20 years against Muslims, I have too long been aware of the extent of police brutality and the over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous people in jails, as well as the criminalization of Islam, in Canada. Racism was probably the first lesson I learned at school, along with English. 

As a young person my daily dose of racism came at school from kindergarten to the end of middle school, from peers and teachers. It was overt and naked, but as we grew into our teens, it transformed to more subtle and insidious forms. Part of the insidiousness is that we could not be angry about it, but always, understanding, educating,  and forgiving; reluctant Gandhians. When we were younger, the open name-calling allowed us to fight back, whether through physical means or compartmentalization. These differing and sometimes simultaneously adopted strategies were measures for survival, but we did not yet know it. 

One of the ways, white Canada downplayed its racism, was by telling us we had the carrot, while the stick was for American Blacks and people of colour. Canada’s smug official “imaginary” was one of liberal astonishment at racism. This allowed the gaslighting of generations on non-white and colonized peoples, who were held back from speaking about their lived experiences, and organizing on that basis, by the notion that things were not as bad as we made them out to be.

At the same time, in the mid-eighties, the state killing of unarmed Black men was a not infrequent occurrence in the mutliculturalist approach to racial and ethnic integration espoused by Canada. State assasinations of Indigenous people continued unabated since before the adoption of the Indian Act in 1876 and the over-incarceration of these two groups in Canada has been carried out in concert with the downsizing of governmental responsibilities and budgets in the most basic areas of housing, study, employment and health over the last 35 years, in particular. The 1992 Rodney King uprisings throughout the States spilled over here too. I was actually at the protests here back then. I share a poem I wrote at that time:

A New Remembrance

I read the news about L.A

In poverty our colour takes 

On its own life. Beyond us.

Our colour takes action

Amid broken glass, white hate,

Screaming sirens.

I read the news about L.A.

In misery our colour takes

On its own class. Beyond us.

Our colour demands vengeance

Amid multistory

Multinational millions

Concrete, artificial green.

I read the news about L.A.

In despair our colour takes

On its own voice. Beyond us. 

Our colour cries to be heard

Amid city streets,

Maze of housing projects

Police presence.

I read the news about L.A.

In oppression our colour takes

On its own history. Beyond us.

Africa, Asia, Latin America

The new south is born in all of us.

A new remembrance.

A myth of peace shattered.

How sharp its fragments

How deep it pierces.

I read the news about L.A.

In rage our colour takes

On its own weapons. Beyond us.

Our hands sharpened into swords

In our eyes, the gun’s sight

In our mouths words

Like molotvs explode

Breathe fire in this

oh-so-calm gas chamber

where they teach us to love the executioner

more than ourselves.

I read the news about Toronto. 

In each murder our colour takes

On its own spirits. Beyond us.

Our brothers haunt us

with their imperfections

their wrong turns

their mothers’ pain.

How we mass and break formation

Divide like continents

In that first broken splintering.

I read the news about Toronto.

Perhaps in justice our colour can take

On its own humanity. Beyond us.

When we recall all that 

They didn’t give us

They can never take away.

from Kaushalya Bannerji,  A New Remembrance, TSAR Press, Toronto, 1993

Malak Mattar, May 2020

So, in a sense it was no surprise to hear that the U.S to the South of us,  was the place where, in the last few months, Breona Taylor was killed as she slept in her bed, Ahmaud Arbery was lynched by a retired police officer and his son while jogging, a Canadian white woman tried to engineer the lynching of a Black New Yorker who was birding, and finally culminating in the on-camera execution of an unarmed Black man for passing an allegedly counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes.  In Toronto, this was followed up within days by the death in suspicious circumstances of an Afro-Nova Scotian and Indigenous woman, Regis Korchinksi-Paquet,  whose family called the police for help in taking her for mental health services. It’s part of the terrorizing of Black, Indigenous and others racialized as Non-white, that is so invisible, it is part of the very stitching of our social fabric. 

In Canada, there is a constant gnawing unease between Black/Indigenous/People of Colour (BIPOC) and police. Indigenous deaths in police custody and at the hands of settler vigilantes, the murder and disappearances of Indigenous girls and women, the disparagement and brutality towards trans racialized peoples, and the demonization of Muslims as part of range of exclusionary and discriminatory practices that start from experiences at daycares, grade school and highschool, post-secondary education, housing, going to the store, and employment, shift scheduling and payscales for people of colour, inequality in access to tranportation and “discretion” in applying the law and enforcing it through the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the provision of health care in Canada has been gutted in the last 35 years, while chemicals and toxins such as racism, predatory misogyny, poverty,  and unsafe working conditions have been underscored with the arrival of the COVID19 pandemic. The pandemic is inequality. The virus is capitalism that has infected everything, with a racialized construction of class and commodity, where white skin has a value not ascribed to ANY person of colour.

But back to me. Reading the stories of Black struggle, being comforted by my parents as a racialized child experiencing unintelligible hatred and contempt, learning about the Indigenous inhabitants of this genocidal country, being taught about the history of Nazi anti-semitism, were the ways I found self-understanding as a child of racialized immigrants. I did not have a teacher of colour until the second year of University. 

As soon as I had a choice, I chose what I saw to be my people– those remade as racialized– and entered the field of Latin American and Caribbean studies, where I was fortunate to be surrounded by excited, enthusiastic students and teachers, keen on un-educating ourselves from the invisibility of the victor’s history and exploring new ways of making meaning of social injustice and inequality. I have always looked to the global south for answers to questions of domination and imperialism and this has been so enlightening, when I see the responses to 500 years of conquest, enslavement and genocide south of the border. I have studied the construction of race and racism from 1985 to now. I have lived in highly racialized countries on a number of continents and in all, except for the country of my birth, I have held the status of a non-white person. I have sought relief from racism in Cuban Black history and seen the huge shortfalls of the Cuban Revolution in adressing racism and racialized poverty in Cuba, while admiring many of the gains of Cuban socialism and sovereignty. I include here a poem by revolutionary poet and intellectual Nicolas Guillen and performed by Cuban singer/musician Pablo Milanes. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T18ymPicE2Q

The Bourgeoisie

I feel no pity for the defeated
bourgeois. And when I think that I am about to feel pity for them,
I firmly clench my teeth and tightly shut my eyes.
I think about my long days barefoot and without roses.
I think about my long days without a hat and clouds.
I think about my long days shirtless and without any dreams.
I think about my long days with my prohibited skin.
I think about my long days.

“Don’t enter, please. This is a club.”

“The roster is full.”

“There are no more rooms in the hotel.”

“The gentleman in question has left.”

“We’re looking for a girl.”

“Fraud in the elections.”

“A grand ball for the blind.”

“Someone won the jackpot in Santa Clara.”

“A raffle for orphans.”

“The gentleman is in Paris.”

“The marquess isn’t receiving anyone at this time.”

In the end, I remember everything.

And since I remember everything,

what the hell are you asking me to do?

But ask them too.

I am sure

that they will remember too.

Nicolas Guillen ( Eng. trans. O.A. Ramos)

I have seen the experiences of First Nations people and Afro-descended peoples in numerous circumstances. And it seems to me, that the the leadership of the United States has been as active in fomenting racialized empire with its allies in the so-called developing world for huge profits and cheap costs both in and outside of its domestic territory. 

During the current coronavirus crisis U.S. billionaires have added $265 billion dollars to their pockets, while 40 million Americans and one-quarter of Canadians have lost their livelihoods. Workers speaking out about their unsafe and super-exploited conditions are being penalized and fired all over the place. Profitable long-term care homes for the elderly are showing themselves to be execution grounds. Personal Protective Equipment is unavailable to health care workers globally, while money is always found for toys for the boys in blue or khaki. 

That’s why these current protests have me seeing red! They are about George Floyd certainly. No one of conscience could not be destroyed by seeing the snuff movies that pass for mainstream news when you are Black, Indigenous, people of colour. The deaths and murders of poor and non-white people (often one and the same, but not always) are so ever present that they become part of the air we breathe. 

That’s why we can’t breathe.  But beyond visceral reactions to the psy-ops of these images of murder, we need to begin to rethink policing, the courts and prisons, and notions of emancipatory justice. Defunding the police is a huge part of that. That is a huge and hard battle. In particular with the criminalization of anti-fascism as a movement, now in the United States.

And we need to surround that with the work to make living with respect for Black, Indigenous  and racialized peoples a reality. That means an overhaul of the very nature of capitalism, which depends on these divide and rule tactics for its very existence. It’s time for a transformative movement that makes allliances out of solidarity, experience, and consciousness and that recognizes our rights to name our own truths. Because we can all agree with Bob Marley, that we need to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. This is hard work to do if you are white, but even harder if you are not. Because you are always derailed at the point of credibility. and in terms of access to power, including platforms to speak out. The age of social media has brought that home to us time and time again. 

Because if we don’t do this work,  as hundreds of thousands of people have signalled—  a life on our knees, with the boot of white supremacy on our necks— is not worth living.  They are the people who grow and process and serve our food, clean our institutions, work night shifts at hospitals, transportation and gas stations and factories. They are the people who nurse our sick and look after our dying. They help us birth new generations. They are the people who have kids, are kids, and teach your kids, in spite of dwindling resouces for public education. They are students and unemployed, homeless condemned to misery on our bitter streets. They are us. 

They/We have taken to the streets at the cost of their own lives and those of their loved ones, in the midst of this highly contagious COVID19 epidemic that has already taken black and racialized lives at 4 to 2 percent higher rates than whites in Anglo/Francophone North America. 

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

If you would like to see some resources that speak to the issues I have raised here, I include them below. Here is a Triptych, I’ve done called “We’re All in This Together”.

For George Floyd/Never Again, Kaushalya Bannerji May 2020
Never Safe/For Breonna Taylor, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020
Oh, Kkkanada/For Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020

Right Now:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/01/george-floyd-protests-cornel-west-american-democracy

https://www.mprnews.org/episode/2020/05/29/davis-floyd-protests-how-did-we-get-here

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1745921603637

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/02/politics/george-w-bush-statement-on-george-floyd/index.html

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/02/it-just-doesnt-seem-right-pentagon-officials-on-edge-over-military-leaders-dealings-with-trump-297820

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/10/toronto-black-residents-more-likely-shot-dead-ontario-human-rights-commission-report

Way back in time!

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/05/george-floyd-protests-minnesota-urban-warfare/612421/?fbclid=IwAR18z9KQldcakRM-FIiyGJlWdZZ6AWQENzgWpRzZb-PqsMgbxEaxxIOh1Zk

https://ca.yahoo.com/style/time-talk-kids-books-racism-123300596.html

https://boricuaresistance.wordpress.com/2020/06/03/latinx-community-organizations-condemn-anti-black-attacks/

Categories
Colourful poetry

Intermission!

Taking a break from the mental ethos of quarantine and isolation. Escaping into colour, which can feel like another dimension, away from the uncertainties of these days. Boredom, hunger, homelessness, and fear have gone viral, depending on one’s social location. And in the midst of so much callous disregard for the plight of the world’s vulnerable populations, spring is fighting to be born in the northern hemisphere. Climate conditions predict an active summer for storms and hurricanes, but the colours of spring flowers, a May twilight, birds and animals are still here to be enjoyed while we can. I was rereading old poetry to take some time out of the news and more “weighty” topics. I came across a poem, I seem to remember reading in primary school…Fitting, for an intermission from all things exploitative and cruel, like public policies that put profit before people!

Color
BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain’s brink.
What is red? a poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro’.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!

Asleep, May 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
At the Window/Spring, May 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Flight, Not Fright, May 2020 Kaushalya Bannerji
May Twilight, May 2020 Kaushalya Bannerji
Oranges, March 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Categories
capitalism coronavirus COVID19 intersectionality lockdown poverty

Death on the Tracks

This week the world saw a phenomenal rise in COVID19 infections and many countries are debating whether to end the lockdown or endure mass starvation/homeslessness. Couched within this dilemma, is really a variant of the age old question beloved by teachers of political science, “Reform or Revolution?”

We already have calls to sacrifice “the weak” and the elderly for the “sake of the economy” coming from the United States. In India, the lockdown policy has already starved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with no plans, food, shelter, testing or treatment in place for millions of Indians who travel from one province to another, searching for work and food. This phenomena is witnessed in many large third world countries, and highlights regional disparities in capital investment, agriculture, employment, and centralization of state and government services, a management tactic inherited from previous colonial administrations.

Anti-Lockdown Protesters, Tennessee, April 2020

Regardless, the seven weeks of lockdown in India and in the U.S. has engendered a schism in capitialist society’s stories about itself. It is impossible to look at COVID19 statistics and not see how racialization and caste-ization of poverty throughout the world accounts for communities who are suffering disproportionately under the brunt of this virus, though it was supposedly the rich, whose travels in the age of global neo-feudalism, that are responsible for outbreaks outside of China. In India, such politics are complicated by the rise of an Islamophobic government on the best of servile terms with the ruler of the United States.

Around the world, the cry of “Will we die by hunger or by COVID?” is matched by dairy farmers and egg famers throwing away production in an age of unaffordability, Nestle giant Coca Cola sucking water dry from the earth and poisoning the earth in other places.

https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/nowhere-for-it-to-go-dairy-farmers-dump-their-milk-down-the-drain-1.4884951

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coca-cola-mexico-wells-dry-bottled-water-sucking-san-felipe-ecatepec-chiapas-a7953026.htmlhttps://www.thoughtco.com/coca-cola-groundwater-depletion-in-india-1204204

And we all saw earlier this week how in India sixteen workers, travelling with no support, by foot back to their village walked dozens of miles to Aurangabad, Maharashtra station, where they hoped the Central Government would allow trains to run to transport people back to their villages. Assuming that the lockdown meant that no trains were running at the time, the men fell asleep at the tracks and were killed by a train.

Rotis on a Railway track where 16 workers were killed, The Wire, May 18, 2020

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52586898

https://www.livemint.com

I am ending this piece with a triptych called COVID19: Sacrificial Journey, drawn in response to current events.

Sacrificial Journey 1/The Long March, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020
Sacrificial Journey 2/The Long March, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Sacrificial Journey 3/ The Tracks, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
Migrants poesia, dibujo, soledad, coronavirus

Cuelga Tu, Primero

Entre el autoaislamiento, el distanciamiento social y la migración, la difícil situación del inmigrante o migrante es muy precaria. El contacto y la comunicación con los seres queridos son más valorados que antes del nuevo coronavirus, porque el impacto en muchas de las comunidades a las que pertenecemos (afrodescendientes, del sur y del este de Asia, indígenas) es mucho mayor que para aquellos que no son nosotres. Las personas más pobres con menos redes sociales, plata, y servicios de apoyo también se ven afectadas de manera desproporcionada por doquier.

Este poema que he escrito trata sobre una experiencia inmigrante, solitaria y llena de nostalgia y frustración en tiempos de distanciamiento físico y social.

Cuelga Tú, Primero

Suena la señal telefónica otra vez
Quiero colgar las palabras de las nubes
O darles a comer a los pájaros, pero esos
Inútiles usos de aliento, voz, tiempo, amor,
Ya no.

Creo que los recuerdos se multiplican en las
Constelaciones de silencios en que nos encontramos.

Rumbo duro de la soledad, rama seca del árbol
De la vida. Anhelo
Para la tierra roja de mi país, la humedad tropical de
Las tardes cuando esperamos las lluvias. El rayo sagrado,
Que corta la noche como un cuchillo. La voz de la madre
De mi madre, lastimera, y campesina.
Su ropa blanca de viuda brillando en el apagón, mientras las horas oscuras
Se pasan entre canciones y la vela parpadeando de la adolescencia.

En aquel entonces, el frío lejano de este país parecía una pesadilla, medio-recordado,
Mitad verdad, mitad mentira. Deseábamos las cosas más simples
En aquellos días. Luz, ventilador. Que el refrigerador fuera más que un adorno.
La lluvia. Eso también fue un amor que no reconocimos.

Ese silencio telefónico esta lleno de gente. En ese departamento solitario, no
Caben más mis muertos. Y cada muerte es como una hoja, cayendo
Y dejándonos abandonados como los árboles invernales.

Suena la señal telefónica otra vez
Quiero colgar mis sentimientos como ropa lavada,
Para que se chismeen los vecinos. Pero esas,
Inútiles palabras que destruyen lo bueno de los recuerdos
Ya no.

Cuelga Tu, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Categories
COVID19 Disability disability, art, poetry Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia Awareness during COVID19

I am sharing this piece in honour of May, Fibromyalgia month. May 12th is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. This is a victory for those of us who have been diagnosed with this illness, which has gone through many medical iterations before finally and most recently being considered an illness of the central nervous system. Which makes a great deal of sense to me as a patient for over two decades!

Fibromyalgia/No Pain Like This Body, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020

In the times of the new coronavirus, COVID19, it would do us well to pay attention to the struggle and suffering of people who also have illnesses of undetermined nature that catastrophically affect their quality of life, including their abilities to earn, learn, work, and parent, as the issues of the virus we face now are showing us widely.

Sufferers of Fibromyalgia, Myalgic Encephalitis, and chronic Lyme, are the least understood, properly treated, and most maligned patients of chronic illness, precisely because experts have not been able to agree on the criteria for clinical diagnosis and the existence of chronic Lyme is seen to be a hoax by many medical types, simply because they do not understand it. In this way,the experiences associated with certain types of illness are more akin to be disparaged, controversial, patient-blaming and uncertain.

Fibromyalgia, It’s All in Your Head, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020

I have experienced musculo-skeletal approaches, pyschological (it’s all in your head/hysteria—mainly from female therapists!), been advised to drop out of university and become unemployed, by other professional women and been refused services employing touch at a fibromyalgia clinic by a racist physiotherapist who massaged all the white women in the rehab group. That was the last time I have gone to any group rehab referral. I have included the words of another Fibromyalgia patient, Emily, from her website at the end of this piece. If you read it, you will see it’s a tremendous amount of stress to be left to navigate on one’s own.

COVID19 needs to be well understood and we will see numerous causative explanations, attempts at treatment, and medical interventions. We will need to understand mutation, immunity, re-infection and long term impacts on the central nervous system if cytokine storms are indeed the response to severe or fatal infection. That’s a lot of new research! That’s probably because approximately half of COVID19 patients are men. This makes it unlike ME and Fibromyalgia which are seen as overwhelmingly female cohorts. And like Lyme disease which is also experienced by the population as a whole, the master narrative of COVID19, is most likely going to be one which utterly disregards the lived experience of patients and leaves people’s lives, finances, and self-esteem in tatters.

Fibromyalgia/ What it is not, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020

None of the descriptors or symptoms are meant to stand in for professional medical advice. They are merely descriptions of symptoms experienced by fibro patients and have been collected together. I also include some my own poetry and art on living with chronic illness.

THE APPOINTMENT

is late. 40 minutes of shuffling and squirming
while fatigue and lassitude course through my inflamed
veins

then hailed, oh great goddess of the white robe,
i come to make my obeisance. I offer you
whole realms of symptoms, libations of bloodwork,
i clean your floor with my tears

Yawning, you glance away, anything
but that imagined malady, the hypochondriac
sitting in your office, marring your chandeliered
wellness center.

centering into the distance, at the cuboard away
from the patient’s head, you begin to plan the day,
your kids, your chores, your pills. You think there is no help.
You say so, with your body, your unmet eyes,
your screen like shield that distances from that voice
that pleads for understanding and help.

Nothing is real. Not the non-diagnosis, not the diagnosis that is a non-diagnosis.
not the deep scarlet of your secrets spurting into the purple, green, yellow, blue.
pollock’s abstractions contained and solid in the not-real.

I come armed with lover/witness, research, anecdotes, reports, book titles.

No one is interested.
I return broken into smaller pieces. Who will know the name of what i have become?Kaushalya Bannerji, 2018

PREFACE by Emily from http://www.InspiredlivingwithFibromyalgia.com

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome with many symptoms. Each individual with Fibromyalgia will have some of the symptoms. A few people will have all of the symptoms, but not everyone with Fibro has the same symptoms or even has symptoms all of the time. Also, symptoms may vary from day to day, year to year, or even minute to minute for each person coping with Fibromyalgia and other common coexisting conditions as well.
How confusing is that? Well, it gets even more confusing! Fibromyalgia patients have reported more than 200 symptoms that I have been collecting in a list for quite some time.
Additionally, these symptoms are not meant to diagnose! My purpose in compiling them is to help people be more aware of what people with Fibromyalgia may be dealing with at any given moment and to help people with Fibro track symptoms, so that you have as much information as possible for your doctor to help you.

The list below is from http://www.InspiredlivingwithFibromyalgia.com

Informational Purposes Only – the content offered in this list is for informational and educational purposes only. This list of symptoms is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact your doctor or professional healthcare provider for assistance with medical advice, treatment, and diagnosis.

GENERAL

  1. Activity level decreased to less than 50% of pre-illness activity level
  2. Cold hands and feet (extremities)
  3. Cough
  4. Craving carbohydrates
  5. Delayed reaction to physical activity or stressful events
  6. Dryness of eyes and/or mouth
  7. Family member(s) with Fibromyalgia
  8. Fatigue, made worse by physical exertion or stress
  9. Feeling cold often
  10. Feeling hot often
  11. Frequent sighing
  12. Heart palpitations
  13. Hoarseness
  14. Increased thirst
  15. Low blood pressure (below 110/70)
  16. Low body temperature (below 97.6)
  17. Low-grade fevers
  18. Night sweats
  19. Poor circulation in hands/feet
  20. Recurrent flu-like illness
  21. Shortness of breath with little or no exertion
  22. Severe nasal allergies (new or worsening allergies)
  23. 2Sore throat
  24. Sweats
    25.Symptoms worsened by air travel
    26.Symptoms worsened by stress27.Symptoms worsened by temperature changes
    28.Tender or swollen lymph nodes, especially in neck and underarms
    29.Tremor or trembling
    30.Unexplained weight gain or loss

PAIN

  1. Chest pain
  2. Diffuse swelling
  3. “Growing” pains that don’t go away once you are done growing
  4. Headache
  5. Inflamed Rib Cartilage
  6. Joint pain
  7. Lumpy, tender breasts
  8. Morning stiffness
  9. Muscle pain
  10. Muscle spasms 41. Muscle twitching
  11. Muscle weakness
  12. Pain that ranges from moderate to severe
  13. Pain that moves around the body
  14. Paralysis or severe weakness of an arm or leg
  15. Restless Leg Syndrome
  16. Rib Pain
  17. Scalp Pain (like hair being pulled out)
  18. Tender points or trigger points
  19. TMJ syndrome
  20. “Voodoo Doll” Poking Sensation in random places

NEUROLOGICAL

  1. Blackouts
  2. Brain fog
  3. Feeling spaced out
  4. Inability to think clearly
  5. Lightheadedness;
  6. Noise intolerance
  7. Numbness or tingling sensations
  8. Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  9. Seizures
  10. Seizure-like episodes
  11. Sensation that you might faint 63. Syncope (fainting)
  12. Tinnitus (ringing in one or both ears) 65. Vertigo or dizziness
    EQUILIBRIUM/PERCEPTION
  13. Bumping into things
  14. Clumsy Walking
  15. Difficulty balancing
  16. Difficulty judging distances (when driving, etc.)
  17. Directional disorientation 71. Dropping things frequently
  18. Feeling spatially disoriented
  19. Frequent tripping or stumbling
  20. Not seeing what you’re looking at
  21. Poor balance and coordination
  22. Staggering gait

SLEEP

  1. Alertness/energy best late at night
  2. Altered sleep/wake schedule
  3. Awakening frequently
  4. Difficulty falling asleep
  5. Difficulty staying asleep
  6. Excessive sleeping
  7. Extreme alertness or energy levels late at night
  8. Falling asleep at random and sometimes dangerous moments
  9. Fatigue
  10. Light or broken sleep pattern
  11. Muscle spasms/twitches at night
  12. Narcolepsy
  13. Sleep disturbances
  14. Sleep starts or falling sensations
  15. Teeth grinding
  16. Tossing and turning 93. Un-refreshing or non-restorative sleep
  17. Vivid or disturbing dreams/nightmares

EYES/VISION

  1. Blind spots in vision
  2. Eye pain 97. Difficulty switching focus from one thing to another
  3. Frequent changes in ability to see well
  4. Night driving difficulty
  5. Occasional Blurry vision
  6. Poor night vision
  7. Rapidly worsening vision
  8. Vision changes

COGNITIVE

  1. Becoming lost in familiar locations when driving
  2. Confusion 106. Difficulty expressing ideas in words
  3. Difficulty following conversation (especially if background noise present)
  4. Difficulty following directions while driving
  5. Difficulty following oral instructions
  6. Difficulty following written instructions
  7. Difficulty making decisions
  8. Difficulty moving your mouth to speak
  9. Difficulty paying attention
  10. Difficulty putting ideas together to form a complete picture
  11. Difficulty putting tasks or things in proper sequence
  12. Difficulty recognizing faces
  13. Difficulty speaking known words
  14. Difficulty remembering names of objects
  15. Difficulty remembering names of people
  16. Difficulty understanding what you read
  17. Difficulty with long-term memory
  18. Difficulty with simple calculations
  19. Difficulty with short-term memory
  20. Easily distracted during a task
  21. Feeling too disoriented to drive
  22. Forgetting how to do routine things
  23. Impaired ability to concentrate
  24. Inability to recognize familiar surroundings
  25. Losing track in the middle of a task (remembering what to do next)
  26. Losing your train of thought in the middle of a sentence
  27. Loss of ability to distinguish some colors
  28. Poor judgment
  29. Short term memory impairment
  30. Slowed speech
  31. Staring into space trying to think
  32. Stuttering; stammering
  33. Switching left and right
  34. Transposition (reversal) of numbers, words and/or letters when you speak
  35. Transposition (reversal) of numbers, words and/or letters when you write
  36. Trouble concentrating
  37. Using the wrong word
  38. Word-finding difficulty

EMOTIONAL

  1. Abrupt and/or unpredictable mood swings
  2. Anger outbursts
  3. Anxiety or fear when there is no obvious cause
  4. Attacks of uncontrollable rage
  5. Decreased appetite
  6. Depressed mood
  7. Feeling helpless and/or hopeless
  8. Feeling worthless
  9. Frequent crying
  10. Inability to enjoy previously enjoyed activities
  11. Irrational fears
  12. Irritability
  13. Overreaction
  14. Panic attacks
  15. Personality changes
  16. Phobias
  17. Suicide attempts
  18. Suicidal thoughts
  19. Tendency to cry easily

GASTROINTESTINAL

  1. Abdominal cramps
  2. Bloating
  3. Decreased appetite
  4. Food cravings
  5. Frequent constipation
  6. Frequent diarrhea
  7. Heartburn
  8. Increased appetite
  9. Intestinal gas
  10. Irritable bladder
  11. Irritable bowel syndrome
  12. Nausea
  13. Stomachache 175. Vomiting
  14. Weight gain 177. Weight loss

UROGENITAL

  1. Decreased libido (sex drive)
  2. Endometriosis 180. Frequent urination
  3. Impotence
  4. Menstrual problems 183. Painful urination or bladder pain
  5. Pelvic pain 185. Prostate pain
  6. Urinary frequency 187. Worsening of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

SENSITIVITIES

  1. Alcohol intolerance
  2. Allodynia (hypersensitive to touch)
  3. Alteration of taste, smell, and/or hearing 191. Odor sensitivity
  4. Sensitivity to chemicals in cleaning products, perfumes, etc. 193. Sensitivities to foods
  5. Sensitivity to light
  6. Sensitivity to mold
  7. Sensitivity to noise
  8. Sensitivity to odors
  9. Sensitivity to yeast (getting yeast infections frequently on skin, etc.)
  10. Sensory overload
  11. Sensitivity to pressure changes, temperature & humidity
  12. Vulvodynia

SKIN

  1. Able to “write” on skin with finger
  2. Bruising easily
  3. Bumps and lumps 205. Eczema or psoriasis
  4. Hot/dry skin
  5. Ingrown hairs
  6. Itchy/Irritable skin
  7. Mottled skin
  8. Rashes or sores
  9. Scarring easily
  10. Sensitivity to the sun
  11. Skin suddenly turns bright red

CARDIOVASCULAR (Heart)

  1. “Click-murmur” sounds through stethoscope
  2. Fluttery heartbeat
  3. Irregular heartbeat
  4. Pain that mimics heart attack
  5. Rapid heartbeat

HAIR/NAILS

  1. Dull, listless hair
  2. Heavy and splitting cuticles
  3. Irritated nail beds
  4. Nails that curve under
  5. Pronounced nail ridges
  6. Temporary hair loss

OTHER

  1. Canker sores
  2. Dental problems
  3. Disk Degeneration
  4. Hemorrhoids
  5. Nose bleeds
  6. Periodontal (gum) disease

https://www.cp24.com/news/canadian-paediatric-society-eyes-mysterious-syndrome-for-suspected-covid-links-1.4928019

Categories
anniversary Art spring

Flower Moon

We’ re already in the month of May! Hard to believe we have spent nearly 2 months in lockdown, the expectations of self-isolation and submission to newly visible norms of social hygiene and engineering. I have read a lot, like many of you, perhaps way too much– about the ramifications, implications, permutations, of COVID19. Under the new normalcy of this time, governments are best deciding how to dupe their citizens into living with the harsh light of this virus which hypervisibilized the extant inequities among human beings; all the things wrong with our societies that are based on power and profit and the status quo.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been paying more attention to the sights and sounds of spring. It’s the first anniversary of this blog, EartotheGround and my eightieth post, in spite of some huge difficulty concentrating. I want to share some new drawings inspired by the full moon to come, known as the Flower moon. Many thanks to those of you who have followed me for the last year. Please share and help to grow the audience of this blog. I remain committed to a vision of culture that puts people, nature, experience, and expression front and centre, in spite of the inanity that passes for much of mainstream culture on the internet. Culture for profit can only tell the stories of power and submission, and that’s what I find in the guise of mystery series, thrillers and violent action films that have taken over Netflix and replaced a great deal of more humane and human storytelling. In this way, reading is perhaps more nuanced! and looking at static images in a time of hyper mobility, is a little piece of resistance to the televisualization of our collective lives. Thank you for keeping your ears to the ground with me, listening and looking for connection and understanding in spite of novel challenges and the status quo!

Flower Moon 1, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Flower Moon 2, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Flower Moon 3, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Flower Moon 4, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Full Flower Moon, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Categories
coronavirus COVID19 loneliness quarantine self-isolation survival

Quartraits

More drawings of my time in self -isolation. After nearly 2 months, it’s been a time of many moods, thoughts, hopes and fears. Some pictures show the despair and anxiety of loneliness– as the essence of our default humanity is to run towards each other. Those who manage COVID 19 have demanded we give that up, the first step in dehumanizing us as their neo-feudal subjects. Yet, we long to be held and comforted. No, not back to exploitative and oppressive normalcy, but back to our own better, happier, more generous selves.

And yet to be human is to be restless, to want, to dream, to hope, and to communicate. I have attended some online seminars, heard some special music, re-read books from childhood, with their scenarios, characters and plots, wholly unlike our times. I learned that children are drawn to codes and secret languages because language still has secrets for them. This, perhaps, they share with poets.

Both the ability to escape, and the need to be present, have been part of my survival. I have meditated and prayed, cleaned and cooked. I have depended on people like never before, yet been utterly alone. It’s been surreal at times.

I have gone for walks and both longed for, and been scared by, human interaction. The message of physical distancing must not steer us toward psychological distancing. We have to fight ourselves, sometimes, to get out of the pit of despair that seems like this pandemic’s social engineering. But going for walks whose purposes are simply to move, to breathe, to act, to exist, to see, are different than walking with friends or partners, to grab a coffee, run an errand, or buy something. If there is something I’ve learned, it is that living with minimum consumption feels alien, when our previous conviviality in the neighbourhood meant going into the small stores and cafes, living an existence of consumption that was outside the big box.

These drawings are for all of you, who may have felt both so alone and so accompanied during the days of self isolation. They are drawings of the heart!

Quartrait 1/At the Window, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 2/ Sleep, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 3/Bad Night, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 4/The Pandemic is the Portal, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 5/The Question, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 6/Quompanion, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 7/Dream, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Categories
Art Colourful coronavirus COVID19 spring

Dream of a Common Language

While the Coronavirus, Covid 19, lays bare all our inequities and fears, spring is still springing in the Northern hemisphere. Bit by bit, crocuses and bulbs are beginning their annual preening, though this year, it seems they have less admiring audiences as the streets are more empty than I’ve ever seen them. Ever so gradually, the tiniest of brown and green fuzz sprouting on tree branches and bushes will uncurl to show the little green of newly born leaves.

Like the poet Adrienne Rich exhorted us so many years ago, we must “dream of a common language” in the face of this pandemic. A pandemic whose elite narratives exclude and disregard the vast plight of world humanity. Our common language must include compassion, humanity, mercy, and kindness for the most vulnerable during these terrible times. Unemployment, food insecurity, lack of housing, the loss of loved ones, lack of access to widespread testing, the uncertainty of various social messages about how to best protect ourselves; these are truly sad and sometimes, enraging, times.

And yet, in spite of all that naked greed has done to devastate our surroundings, the earth is still here, beneath my feet when I go for my solitary walk. Birds and urban mammals are rejoicing. Bird song is louder than it’s been in the city! This is a visual piece, a homage to our planet, whose beauty can give us something to strive for, when the social order seems senseless…

Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji

Categories
Art national poetry month poetry

Dirge for Amerikkka (Panic Attack Remix)