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,
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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
Dawn of Darkness ngugi wa thiongo, Kenya/UK
I know, I know,
It threatens the common gestures of human bonding
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,
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!
I’ve been having a hard time with this solo-self-isolation. All members of my family are thousands of miles away, experiencing their own lockdowns. Music, books, cleaning, and cooking are losing their charms after the 2 weeks I’ve been doing this! And I fear there will be weeks more.
As a person with disabilities that make life unpredictable at the best of times, getting sicker and sicker has already meant losing my social life, long before this coronavirus even hit.
People do not call you if you’ve cancelled at the last minute, or don’t even have the words to articulate what you’re feeling after a while. Causation is tiring to constantly explain or reason out, when you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, active arthritis, and bell’s palsy. As such, navigating this time with the few good friends I have is crucial.
Trying to figure out the every “why” of my body’s reaction had me going to doctors for years with questions to which they did not have answers. Things have changed a great deal in ideas about fibromyalgia and ME or chronic fatigue syndrome since I was first diagnosed in 1998.
But the symptoms have not. In fact, they’ve gotten much worse. And sadly, I suspect as a woman of colour, I have probably not gotten the help I might have. I know very clearly that privilege and hierarchy play a huge role in accessing adequate healthcare. The best health care I ever recieved was when I was a law student, and the words engendered respect in doctors! However, that feels like another lifetime ago.
Being in this situation has meant that all systems are go! Both the physical activity of carrying on solo life and disinfection under self-isolation, and the emotional stress can be a trigger to increased pain, fatigue and brain fog.
The protocols of this COVID 19 time are alienating and isolating. Staying strong means breathing, eating twice a day whether one’s hungry or not, going out on the balcony for air a few times a day, and walks, weather permitting. Staying hydrated. Getting vitamins. And listeneing to some other beautiful soloists!
Staying strong means listening to some beautiful jazz in an impromptu concert by piano maestro Chucho Valdes!
Staying strong means listening to the wondrous voice of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Staying strong means listening to the intricate and soothing ragas of Indian classical music and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.
Staying strong means listening to the beautiful cello solos of the imimitable and compassionate Yo Yo Ma!
Staying strong means listening to the latest piece from Chilean Popular artist, Ana Tijoux
Staying strong means listening to the wonderful contemporary Cuban-Mexican singer-songwriter, Leiden!
Staying strong means clanging pots and pans with my neighbours to honour our health care workers, and all those working and risking their health and lives— so people like me, and the elderly, who are most vulnerable — can stay home.
Staying strong means signing petitions against homelessness, hunger, lack of basic human rights, and drinking water on First Nations lands, not only in the time of the Corona virus, but for all time.
Staying strong means demanding those who rule us are accountable in making domestic policy that is fair, equitable and just for the most vulnerable in our society!
Staying strong means supporting alternatives to our current way of cruelty, I mean, life, under profit and the cash nexus.
I wish all of you a safe and well time during these uncertain and dystopian days. May you be surrounded by the love you need!
The other day, a friend asked me if I had been writing. The truth of the matter is, being solitary sometimes makes me unable to concentrate. I think it’s ironic, that I have not watched Netflix once, since the start of official self isolation for elders and those with pre-existing conditions. Part of this has also to do with a psychological reaction— it seems wrong to be “entertained” and actually, I couldn’t care less for more than ninety percent of their offerings.
More importantly, I have returned to reading, where I feel my imagination and thinking comes more into play. There’s definitely a distinction between those people who relate to the screen more than the page!
This is a time of reflection and fear. Of hope and possible futures, possible only if we confront our reality— and it is a reality— head on, and at the very least, plan our societies.
Social planning has been an anathema to neo-liberal politicians and their allies for at least 35 years. Yet social planning and the emergence of public health and post WWII social welfare schemes, are what helped industrial and colonizing nations manage their own domestic class discontent. And the ideas and implementation of state-funded socialized medicine are to be hugely applauded, especially if the logic of planning is people, and not profit, centred.
Much of the crisis in the world during the current pandemic is due to profit being the guiding light through this disaster. Some politicians may pay lip service to helping their fellow citizens. But it is not what they say, but what they do, that counts. Canada is floating in a sea of perfect murkiness when it comes to support for quarantine and self-isolation measures. Online groups speak to heart breaking terror in real time and life. Families are suffering in all concievable ways. Refugees and prisoners are being abandoned to their fates. We did this.
A week ago I told someone that the coronavirus had killed postmodernism. There are no competing versions in the marketplace of truth as we can see so clearly today. Something invisible has made everything visible.
And like all important “things”, truth comes at a high price. Currently, much of this crisis could be avoided- psychological, physical, financial, travel-wise, if we as a world chose early and total testing and planning for both the decrease of contagion and the support of those who are infected and affected by COVID19.
This takes into account our real material interconnectedness, shows us that most people migrate only out of absolute necessity, whether from rural areas to urban within domestic/national borders (India, China, U.S, Mexico) or internationally. Those countries that are doing better to control the crisis include, Germany and Viet Nam. Because they are testing early and often and coming up with a plan for those test results! Testing without planning is meaningless. Late testing is responsible for critical illness and fatality spikes. Rationing tests when community transmission has already taken hold is the first step to genocide.
Epidemiologists have criticized Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and other laissez-faire neoliberals for their scoffing approach to the virus and their erections when propping up the stock market and promoting various forms of fascism. Strangely, the WHO is all about praising India, deluded into thinking that the India of the BJP’s Modi is the same as the India of the era of Polio eradication campaigns. All those Phds— and really?
Back in the day when I was a political science undergrad, corporatism was a type of fascism that we studied, with the fascist body led by its God-given head. This fascism, bred in Europe has roots in the feudal conflation of church and state and civil society.
We saw it in Italy and Spain, in Greece under the Generals, in Portugal and Salazar, and in Latin America, whose post Independence legacies of ruling and constitutionalism have been so clearly derived from their European colonizers. And to some extent in India, where labour, students and activists have traditionally organized on institutional— that is, party camps. But today, corporatism has fallen by the way side, replaced by religious bigotry, ethnic cleansing, white supremacy, and upper-middle class libertarianism and consumption.
Today’s leaders are demonstrating they don’t care— about people who cannot be exploited (the elderly and the non-employed disabled).
They don’t care about people who do not have the money to pay for everything that needs to be paid for (from necessities like utilities, water, rent, food, transportation, and even internet and its related technology, to luxury goods).
They don’t care for people not lured into constant complusive consumption. Looks at the vitriol and violence unleashed by countless adult men on Greta Thunberg!
Commodity fetishism in the Xanaxocene is what we’re dealing with. Trillions are being diverted away from human survival and potential, into industries run by fossil fools, commodities traders and bankers. These are the people who determine what is health, who is disposable, and what is worth saving. These are the people that dictate our moral compass.
But they can’t take over our personal consciences. In the absence of human-centred health care, I’ll be staying home— out of both self-interest as a member of a hgh-risk group, and out of love, for all those I do not know, whose imperfect bodies make us all, human.
I am ending today’s piece with two pieces of art: a poem that speaks to our global terror, recited by the author, Dylan Thomas. It’s direct counterpoint to the idea that “grandparents should sacrifice themsleves for the DOW” .
Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
If Bob Marley were alive today, it is likely that he would be assassinated again, by the U.S. government and its agents. His 75th birthday would be tomorrow, February 6th, although he perished at the age of 36, a man in the prime of his music, lyrics, and creativity. It is fitting he was born in February, a free spirited Aquarius and in the month in which we honour African liberation.
Like the reggae music with which he is inextricably bound, Bob’s music spoke of life on the streets and in the hearts of Jamaica, a country he loved profoundly and put on the musical map for all these decades to come.
When I was a teenager, I associated this music with dissatisfied middle-class white boys whose rebellion was smoking weed and listening to reggae for the street cred. My downtown public schools were almost completely white, in contrast to what I see today in Toronto. And I could not relate to the music I felt was appropriated by my classmates.
However, as I left the confines of Toronto and brought CDs in dusty suitcases, back in the day (— when they were novel technology!) I started listening to the lyrics Marley penned. And I was moved by the depth and range of his insights, so rare in mainstream pop culture. Since then, Bob Marley’s music has accompanied me through countless days and nights. His social commentary, fiery commitment to racial and anti-imperialist justice, gentle love songs, and praise of Rastafari have earned him a place that is unparalleled in western popular music.
From his soaring lyricism in “No Woman, No Cry” to his plea for self-knowledge and history in “Buffalo Soldier” and “Redemption Song”, his critique of Jamaica’s hypocritical drug policy and neo-liberalization in “Trenchtown Rock”, his love for Rastafarian pride in the Caribbean in “Natty Dread”, Bob sang of the under dog and downpressed. He centred “nation language” during a time of post-Independence nation building in the Caribbean, in which black humanity, not white capital, was the driving moral force.
Little wonder that songs which underscored “that a hungry man is an angry man” substituted for years of politcal theory, and their author had to be silenced. His musicalization of Haile Selassie’s speech to the United Nations resulted in “War”, and “ Natural Mystic”’s lyrics could have been composed yesterday. Bob Marley is truly a songwriter and performer of our time— a time of great social upheaval and possibility. He understood that people were capable of consciousness and pleasure, and that they are not antithetical.
Although the massification of Marley’s music has resulted in horrid fusions and countless cover versions, even muzack like renditions, it’s important not to take his music for granted. His image is one of the most reproduced and commoditized in the world, along with that of Che Guevara. But his message, ironically, is that of anti-commodification and emancipation from a soulless and mindlessly hierarchical world. Happy Birthday, Mr. Bobby! I hope you enjoy the playlist below.
I was first introduced to the world of Chileans in exile, in the late 1970s, as adults and children fleeing political repression, torture, kidnapping, political rape and murder, arrived in Canada. In fact, Chile had not been know for mass migration until the political banishment of left and progressive sectors under the Generals.
Chile’s self-image, shaped by the Spanish conquistadores and their later allies and competitors, the British government, presented a whitewashing of the country’s Catholic brutality and latifundista stucture, in which many toiled but hardly any profited.
The great influence of disaffected Europeans (Germans, Irish, British, Spaniards and Italians— who came to Chile to seek their fortune, was combined with successive waves of Eastern European and Middle Eastern migration; Turks, Syrians, and after 1948, Palestinians. Also, Chile has been home to over a million indigenous citizens (Mapuche and Quechua) whose numbers have steadily been reduced through the imposition of genocidal colonial rule and policy. This last demographic has increasingly gained allies among the non-indigenous left, fighting for a just future for indigenous communities while supporting the creation of fair and safe employment for the working class and a move to deprivatize and respect natural resources.
The recent events in Chile are a signal of the failure of a policy put in place over 46 years ago, a policy derived from the interests of Washington (more specifically, the Chicago School of Economics and its kleptocratic allies throughout Latin America. With the assassination of a democratically elected President, Salvador Allende and the imposition of a military dictatorship (September 11, 1973) whose accomplishment was to keep the people in line for maximum profit and sell off every bit of Chile’s natural world possible, it has definitely been a successful foray into super-exploitation— to a point.
The tactics of mass disappearances, military massacres of civilians and leftist and progressive sectors, and the redefining of everything left of centre as a “threat” to capitalist order and good government characterized new neo-fascist regimes in Latin America, starting with the U.S. intervention in removing Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in the 1950s and reaching to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador and Colombia in glaring relief. Refugee production from these countries spiralled and the international settlement of exiles aided in publicizing the plight of some of the regions’ peoples. But simultaneously, active multi-pronged campaigns were in place by the army of the business class– the CIA. Campaigns spread misinformation such as rumours of Allende’s suicide and abandonment of his people, used to destabilize the resistance to General Pinochet, cultural figures such as Victor Jara and Noel Laureate Pablo Neruda are assassinated– these now commonplace strategies to deter opposition to neo-liberal military regimes have strong roots here.
As in many places in the capitalist world, the acquisitive power of the majority of people is very low. This means the cost of goods and services are not keeping up with the starvation wages received by the majority of the population. Education, health, wages, housing, pensions — all indices point to unaffordability. It has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world with privatized water— and that should tell us everything!
When I went to the pampa I brought my contented heart like a hummingbird. But there, it died on me. First, it last its feather and then, its voice And up high the sun burns down.
When I saw the miners Inside their homes I said to myself, the snail lives better in its shell, or in the shadaw of the law– the refined thief. And up high the sun burns down.
The lines of shacks Side by side, yes sir, the lines of women waiting for the only tap With their buckets and faces of affliction. And up high the sun burns down…
The rule of General Pinochet begun on that cursed day, September 11, 1973, ushered in an era of constitutional dictatorship that suspended democratic and labour rights, social, political, and cultural rights, denied women’s right to choice, and shaped the consciousness of both the left and right in Chile. When I visited Chile, 22 years after the Dictatorship had begun, the cost of Valium was cheaper than the cost of bread. I was made aware of the very human and psycho-social costs of fascism– heightened anxiety and insecurity, increased control of women and a general air of entitlement by the blonde, blue-eyed rulers of the country, while the majority of people languished in fear, frustration, and disillusionment.
During the progressive years of Allende’s government(1970-’73), Victor Jara became known as one of the most popular progressive and committed artists of the Unidad Popular movement. His fame and integrity were such that the murderous Generals had him killed in the National Stadium in Chile. I’ve included a few versions of The Right to Live in Peace, the “anthem” of the people’s movement. I’ve provided an English translation below.
The Right To Live In Peace
The right to live
poet Ho Chi Minh,
who struck a blow from Vietnam
for all of humanity.
No cannon will wipe out
the furrow of your rice paddy.
The right to live in peace.
Indochina is the place
beyond the wide sea,
where they ruin the flower
with genocide and napalm.
The moon is an explosion
that blows out all the clamor.
The right to live in peace.
Uncle Ho, our song
is fire of pure love,
it’s a dovecote dove,
olive from an olive grove.
It is the universal song
linking us, that will triumph,
the right to live in peace.
And finally, no article on the progressive movements in Chile would be complete without a reference to the popular slogan, ” The People United Will Never Defeated!” which comes from a song of the same name by new song /Cancion Nueva group, Quilapayun and performed by Inti-Illimani.
The cacerolazo (clashing of pots) was a protest tactic popularized by women of the right wing against Allende. It involved the clashing of pots and pans as a way for “house-wives” to protest. The tactic has been used numerous times since then, by sectors of the left as well. Most recently, Chileans in the streets against the corporatocracy that reigns in their country, have employed the cacerolazo as a sound of protest!
I’ve included a link to a 1982 Movie by Greek Director, Costa Gavras, Missing, starring Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek based on the original coup of 1973.
And I am ending with the names of those people who have fallen victim to the neo-liberal government of Sebastian Pinera.
I am a strong supporter of the movement throughout the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean to stop celebrating Columbus Day.
Critics of the pro-Colombus status quo signal to the cruelty and harshness of Spanish empire-building and by extension, European and British colonization efforts in the Americas. Genocide of indigenous persons, the wholesale buying and selling of afro-descended peoples through chattel slavery, the wilful destruction of languages, cultures and cosmologies that were percieved by Europeans as “unknowable” and only worth knowing insofar as their knowledge could further domination— the degradation of natural resources in the “ New World”— all these are the legacy of Cristopher Columbus and others of his ilk.
We do not need to rewrite the past in order to wrest away symbolic imagery and ideological emphasis from those whose mission is to pillage and profit while subjugating as many human beings as they can along the way.
We do not need to honour power in the ways that bourgeois racist patriarchy has imposed on us. That is why many international social movements across the United states and Latin American and Caribbean nations, are pushing to replace Colombus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. And while culture is not the only arena of change that is essential for our common future, it would be good to finally acknowledge the historical and contemporary wrongs of settler and extractive colonialism.
From Turtle Island to the land of the Quetzal and the lands of the Condor, indigenous nations are grappling with what it means to be peoples without states or control over national infrastructure to facilitate their well-being and continued survival.
Nearly a hundred years ago, revolutionary activist , Jose Carlos Mariategui, writing about his beloved Peru, spoke of how the country’s Europeanized left needed to come to terms with the very real presence and exploitation of Kichwa and other native peoples in Peru. Mariategui’s plea to locate revolutionary social movements on the murky terrain of real-life demographics and the social relations of feudalism, capitalism, and indigenous modes of producing complicated the ahistorical and imperialist idealism of the early twentieth century’s anarchist and communist movements. We are witnessing some of the alliances that he spoke of, not in his country of Peru, but in Ecuador, right now.
The indigenous communities and citizens of Ecuador are leading an uprising against the draconian austerity measures that are destroying the country. They hope to bring down the government of the ironically named Lenin Moreno– and as importantly, the neo-liberal profiteers and war mongers with whom he is allied. Armed with sticks against the Ecuadorian military, protestors have managed to make Moreno flee with his entourage and parliament from Quito, the country’s highland capital, to Guayaquil, a coastal city.
While I will delve into Mariategui’s thoughts in depth in a future post, the important point here, is that an acknowledgement of the imposition of Spanish conquistador and settler rule both transformed and attempted to obliterate all that lay beneath it. Mariategui’s approach to political theory was rooted in the potential of Andean revolutionary movements in the mountains where the peoples of the condor still make up a vast majority.
All over Latin America, the United States and Canada, first peoples and their descendents are participating in a resurgence of collective voice and fightback against ecocide, capitalism and a brutal patriarchy whose female, trans, lesbian and gay victims are increasingly characterized by intersectional identities. But broadly speaking, poverty is a shared characteristic of those who are fighting back against austerity policies that are engendering starvation, insecurity and environmental contamination.
The paths chosen by these different nations and their alliances, may differ from country to country. Quito is not Standing Rock or Grassy Narrows or Ayotzinapa or Ayacucho or Haida Gwai. But in order to stand shoulder to shoulder with indigenous peoples in whatever countries we inhabit, we must begin to hear with their ears, see with their eyes, and abandon the notions that “white is right” and “might is right”.
We must shift the lens from the eye of the eternal colonizer whose great body we make up in settler societies through our schools, courts, health care, and governments, our Indian Acts and Decrees of Prohibition, our broken treaties and broken societies. We must shift the lens to the eye of the colonized so that we can work to create a future environment of racial and economic justice where the land and her people are relations, not dominators and dominated.
I’ll leave you with some fantastic music from aboriginal performers from North America, both past and present. And some art representing a fraction of the richness of indigneous artists and their sympathizers!
Today’s piece is sharing some poems which have been part of our English poetry canon for centuries and decades. Some I had to study in school, and thus happily rediscovered in adulthood. My mother suggested me a beautiful poem by John Keats, Ode to Autumn. I share it below. A beautiful cadence of the English language and evocative images. Here it is
Ode To Autumn, John Keats
season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook; Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Day in Autumn, Rainer Marie Rilke/ trans. Mary Kinzie
After the summer’s yield, Lord, it is time to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.
As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.
Whoever’s homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city’s avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.
Autumn Song, W.H. Auden , 1936
Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last,
Nurses to their graves are gone,
But the prams go rolling on.
Whispering neighbours left and right Daunt us from our true delight, Able hands are forced to freeze Derelict on lonely knees.
Close behind us on our track, Dead in hundreds cry Alack, Arms raised stiffly to reprove In false attitudes of love.
Scrawny through a plundered wood, Trolls run scolding for their food, Owl and nightingale are dumb, And the angel will not come.
Clear, unscaleable, ahead Rise the Mountains of Instead, From whose cold cascading streams None may drink except in dreams.
The Time of Year thou Mays’t in me Behold ,William Shakespeare
That time of year thou mayst in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou see’st the twilight of such day As after sunset fadeth in the west, Which by and by black night doth take away, Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the death-bed whereon it must expire, Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by. This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
These haiku are inspired by music from the 1940s onward. I used to love listening to “latin jazz” and afro-cuban jazz. Years ago, when I had a radio spot, finding music to share was a delight, especially since it was long before the Internet!
Chano Pozo revolutionized American jazz at a time when it was increasingly open to global influences, while at the same time, changing Cuban music forever, with Bandleader and tresero/tumbadora player, Arsenio Roriguez (1911-1970), You can hear him here:
In 1942, Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo collaborated on “Manteca!”, one of the first latin jazz tunes to survive and thrive in the crossover market with mainstream music.
Chano Pozo’s Drums
We can’t help but marvel
each time that syncopation
beats air to feet
talks to the wood and skin
our feet answer back
Merceditas Valdes ( 1922-1996)
was a singer who popularized AfroCuban music both in her home country of Cuba and throughout Latin America. Colloborating for many years with Grupo Yoruba Andabo, she also worked with Canadian flautist and bandleader Jane Bunnet. I even got to see her perform, though she had slowed down quite a bit! Merceditas Valdes got her start at the end of the 1940s and performed until shortly before her death.