Today, I’ve chosen a child’s memory of Christmases past, not in Wales, but in Cuba. Daughter of poet Eliseo Diego, Josefina de Diego’s prose poem, El Reino del Abuelo/Grandfather’s Kingdom, is a gentle and melancholic look back at Christmas time in a house full of inquisitive children, and adults immersed in the literary and musical worlds of Cuba in the 1950s, just before the Revolution.I’ve excerpted three sections from the book which has forty five pieces.
All the people in the book are real, and so fondly described by Josefina Diego, that they are instantly recognizable. And more than anything, it is the spirit of wonder and observation that make these reminiscences glitter shyly. Set in a tropical island, a time long before pandemics made it impossible to for so many to be together. So. in this Christmas of yearning, I wish you season’s greetings and the best of New Years to come!
A little cold, a drizzle. Sweaters and jackets of brilliant colours displaced the scant clothing of summer. The blankets with our names on them, so they would not get mixed up; mine was red, those of my brothers, green. The pajamas of yellow flannel with drawings of clowns and candy canes. Christmas Eve and Christmas were coming and everything had to be done with plenty of time so everything would turn out well: choosing the best tree, the ornaments, the garlands, the star. The ornaments would break on us—some without meaning to, others we dropped after a rapid interchange of glances—they would shatter into a dust so fine it would scatter on the snow of cotton. The Christmas tree had to be tall, with lots of branches, but only mama knew its exact dimensions and in what little corner of the house it would go.
The preparation for the Nativity was more solemn. The figures, from an Italian set, could not be broken. We held our breath each time we took one of the figures from its boxes and put it, with much care on the table. The Nativity was big, bigger than the one owned by cousins Sergio and Jose Maria.
Every year, always the same—perhaps his voice more hesitant each year—papa told us how it had been, how everything had happened: The visitation of Mary, the flight to Egypt, the Shepherd’s’ tidings, the long road of the Three Kings, the manger with the Child. Each piece had its history, each moment, its mystery. The shepherds, surrounded by sheep, next to a bonfire, near a lake: an angel appears in the middle of the night and they retreat, frightened. The Three Kings bending over the Child, and Mary, smiling at them, grateful. Papa’s voice, tired, breathless, across time.
Papa’s study was set apart from the house, on top of the garage beside the henhouse. One went up by a staircase made of cement, on the side. In front there were two balconies with wooden bars and behind the study was the ravine where the train ran.
The garage was wide, with room for two cars, but half of it was filled with broken furniture, bits of games, a carpentry table that belonged to uncle Rosendo, boxes filled with the figures, the Nativity, and the Christmas tree decorations. It had its own characteristic odor and was one of the places where we preferred to play and hide.
Papa worked in his study until very late. The sound of his little typewriter could be heard at all hours, mixed up with the song of the crickets and the owls; it was yet another night sound. But he didn’t always write. One of his favorite amusements was to draw, with a fine pencil, the uniforms of the little lead soldiers that he had in his unique collection. The English armies of World War One, soldiers of the Prussian armies and of the Russian tsars He created battlefields based on real maps and completed them with mountains, rivers, bridges and tunnels, made from cardboard, wires, broken glass, paper. He also reproduced all the various moments of the Nativity in a masterpiece of ingenuity. He created different levels, with the help of books covered in special paper in multiple colours. With a spotlight illuminating all the scenes, he had the precision of a professional metalworker.
Many years later I found this perfection and fineness in his poems. And I understood why his big boy’s hands constructed the Nativity and the battlefields with so much care, so much respect. “It’s necessary to do things right”, he would say to us.
Finally it arrived, Christmas eve. On this day, grandmother Bertha asked me very early in the morning to put on a record of villancicos. Sitting in the doorway, while we could hear mama tidying the house, we would hum all the carols: Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Maria, coming and going, cooked the supper. Roast pork, rice, black beans, lettuce, tomato and radish salad, chatinos, nougat, walnuts, hazelnuts, wine and cider. The dining table was opened up in the middle and sturdy planks of wood inserted. It became a huge table, oval in shape. In the afternoon the family began to arrive: grandmother Chiffon, our cousins, uncles and aunts, friends. We were especially dressed up for the occasion, very elegantly and, we were permitted, on this night, to stay up very late, like the “grown-ups”. Upon finishing the delicious supper, we went to the living room and sat around the piano, by the Nativity and the Christmas tree. Grandmother Chiffon began to play, villancicos, zarzuelas, Cuban songs and dances. Uncle Sergio, the doctor, accompanied her in his beautiful tenor. On Christmas Eve, grandmother Chiffon and our cousins, Cuchi and Chelita slept over. Grandmother slept with us so we wouldn’t make any noise and frighten away Santa Claus. And when we awakened, there was the tree, — dreamt of and desired all year long— surrounded by toys, the games of the adults, our happiness. There was no morning more beautiful than Christmas. And there still isn’t. Isn’t that right, grandmas?
The above extracts are from a dual language edition translated by me and authored by Josefina de Diego, Havana, Cuba. El Reino del Abuelo/Grandfather’s Kingdom, Tarjama Books, Kolkata , India, 2012.
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.
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?
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,
I read the news about L.A.
In misery our colour takes
On its own class. Beyond us.
Our colour demands vengeance
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
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
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.
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.”
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”.
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.
I have been travelling and experiencing the world through the eyes of my childhood and the “now”. The city I return to is not the city of my childhood and teens, nor the city of my twenties and thirties, where the excitement of women’s liberation, the furious exchange of ideas, politics, and philosophies at the Universities, and the lack of consumer culture and indeed, “things” to buy were notable for their presence. Books, not bottles of cheap perfume from Forever 21, were our currency.
Perhaps that is why I feel at home in places where people still get excited by the art of the narrative, the meaning of the narrative and want to know more about the narrators. That is why, in a world which reveres the emoji, we need to encourage words and art to flourish. But equally, it is why half of what passes for “new” ideas in art and literature, is actually regurgitated without acknowledgement by contemporary figures, because they have already forgotten yesterday.
How many ways can we describe our worlds? I would say, nearly 8 billion. Because we all see the world from our vantage points, our standpoints, and each one is slightly different. How many ways are there of being a human? 8 billion.
How many ways are there to dehumanize others? Not that many.
Political neglect and oppression, unchecked male entitlement and patriarchy, and the disparagement of formerly colonized people– especially black, indigenous and brown, always looks more or less the same, and sounds it too. Whether insulting African men by calling them “Boy! as I witnessed regularly in Amsterdam, or throwing acid on women, as is the practice with women who are seen as transgressors in South Asia, or blinding protestors in a visceral fascist response to those who have witnessed neoliberal glory at the barrel of a gun in Chile, or those simple citizens of Mexico who co-exist with fear and deprivation in the same house, all over the world the possibility of the human story is being destroyed by human cruelty to those considered less than human. And this human cruelty is rooted in two things, profit— which needs deprivation and fear, to be in the red– and domination to make that profit.
I think the time is coming when we will realize that there are other ways to “succeed”. Breathing oxygen is already reserved for those who can afford it, in the hellish world of the Third World bourgeoisie with their Honeywell air purifiers, oxygen bars, and N99 masks (which, by the way, make a great profit for those same corporations that spew genocidal chemicals into the air).
I recently heard a story about a man who polished marble floors for a living in high-rises that are being built at a flying pace. He worked, as do millions of others, without a “health and safety” committee, in bare feet, with no mask, and for a pittance. When he dropped dead, they took him to the crematorium and his entire body burnt except his lungs. Why? They had hardened into cement and marble from all the dust the poor man had inhaled. What horror indeed.
What is going to happen to all those who buy and sell the bodies and labour power of the poor, when the poor are unable to breathe, to see, to move their mosquito and tick infested joints, to respond to commands as they lose their neurological faculties to insect-borne illness and chemical genocide?
As the old song says, “we are born on the same earth, we have the same blood in our veins and the same sky is above us”. And they have not yet built that surveillance camera or satellite that can see our souls, though they may demonize our very bodies.
Like many people with poorly understood disabilities and conditions, I have heard every possible advice that people’s grandmothers, parents, aunts, doctors, naturopaths, second cousins, and their neighbours might possibly have to offer.
Headache. Oh, just do this, and it will go away. My aunt/doctor/grandmother used to have them. but after they did this one thing, they went away forever!
Endometriosis/Adenomyosis. Oh poor you, your period’s hurting you, huh? I never had that problem, but my best friend in high school had wicked cramps. She used to get to stay off school! She loved it!
Yes, I did my naturopathic training in a clearing in the forest. All the fairies and elves sang and danced in a circle after i was intiated. That’s why I don’t have a certificate, see, fairies don’t give them.
Anyway. Basically, you take off your underpants and then we’ll have you squat over an aromatic fire heaped with herbs that will cleanse your yoni, and enter into your womb, purifying it and getting rid of the growths very gently (read over numerous sessions at $150/session).
Yes, I’m aware this is unusual, but it’s often when we’re excruciating pain-either mental or physical- that we’re willing to take risks! That’s why I’ve been trained as well by a Mayan shaman!
You’re in severe chronic pain? Try to verbalize what that might sound like! (Sobbing and groaning). Good, good. Now direct that healing sound to the spot that hurts most. You know, you might be paralysed facially because you need to learn how to express yourself differently. This is a teaching!
Arthritis. Why dont you try drinking a shot of rum every morning on an empty stomach that had garlic steeping in it for a month? My mother/gardener/veterinarian does that and she swears by it!
Why don’t you try doing weights and conditioning the joints that hurt? Because they hurt too much to hold the weights, obviously! Have you tried skating? It really strengthens the ankles!
Have you tried drinking green tea at 4 hour intervals? It will burn fat and decrease inflammation! While turning me into more of a raving insomniac than I already am?
If you wear shoes with lumpy gel points, it’s like a constant massage on your feet as you walk. Totally cleared up my grandmother’s foot pain, you must try it!
Having fatigue and inflammation? My guru and I drink our own pee and we’ve found it worked wonders for our wellness and skin issues. Have you considered it? You must start low and slow, you know!
Then there are the doctors
These are the people we generally trust to be able to help, guide and minister to us in some of the most terrible and bewildering times of our lives. If you are a person who doesn’t go to the doctor much, perhaps you have a friendly and benign relationshp with them. But, if you have complex and unclear multi-systemic issues, going to the doctor can provide you with the same laundry list of offerings as those above—except these ones come with warnings and side effects as long as your arm.
Got a headache? Try every kind of migraine abortificient whether the side effects are well-known or not. Take Gravol for the nausea. If you have chronic nausea, you can take Ginger Gravol!
Swollen arthritic joints ? Try Lyrica and gabapentin which will help with the nerve pain caused by discs compressing onto your nerve and pinching it.
Chronic pain? Have you tried trazadone, tramadol, fentenyl patches, hydro-morphone? And then they bemoan the opiod crisis.
Feeling depressed? Try paxil, effexor, celexa, amitriptyline, etc, etc, and if you feel even more anxious than you can have Xanax. If the rebound anxiety from the Xanax unexpectedly kicks you in the butt then you can pop an Ativan. If the Ativan doesn’t do the trick than you can have a long acting clonazepam or klonopin as it’s sometimes known!
Have you been offered medicines/ treatments, where the prescribing doctor reassures you, oh we don’t really know how it works yet, but I’m sure you’ll be fine?
All of these interventions and remedies purport to bring some relief and ease to me and people like me. I have been offered every one and many others, and have even tried some, which benefited me for short periods. But I have come to realize through the experience of being ill and my frequent interaction with the medical system, that all these enigmas of blood, flesh, nerves, bone which are me— are always complicated by that MEness, because my brown skin, non-Anglo name, and gender and sexuality are as much factors in my health care— along with class and percieved class status— as in everyone else’s. How could it not be otherwise?
We are ourselves engaged in multiple and sometimes overlapping constellations of social relations wherever and who ever we are.
They are bound to be the foundation through which other relationships are built, in particular the reciept of goods and services, of which health care unfortunately is one.
Health care ought to be a basic human right administered by and carried out by those who fully understand the human in human rights.
But until that day comes, we are doomed to vie for human status in front of the masters (whether they be male or female or non-binary or trans) of our health care— encased in our bodies with their telling tales of burning hands and feet, flu-like symptom, chronic and sudden fatigue, disabling insomnia, erupting skin, sudden weight loss or gain. Encased in our bodies with their headaches and paralysis, their swollen knees and aching hips, stiff necks, and even stiffer upper lips!
If you are interested in this topic, I’ll be following up in future posts from time to time!
I’ll leave you with some good and much needed discussions about the multiple evils plaguing our health care systems in both the U.S. and Canada.
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.
I’ve been thinking alot about the state of the earth lately. We are not living here, we are holding the planet hostage. And the ransom is too little, too late… In Greek mythology, Ouroboros symbolizes completion, wholeness, even the infinite.
For me it has come to symbolize the cannibalism of capitalism, the ways in which all species and forms of being have become implicated and contaminated by a logic and ways of living they never chose.
The implications of the current climate crisis are staggering. And the absolute lack of accountability and remediation are ushering in an era of open eco-cide. Since we humans are also nature— we are also being affected.
Disaster refugees, increases in auto-immune disorders, chronic illness, chronic and environmental illnesses— all of these are consequences of the paths our rulers have chosen. Factory farming, big pharma, factory medicine, fracking, mining and logging practices, deep sea oil exploration, cell phone/microwave radiation, exploitation of children and women in specific industries, and sexually— all of these are parts of the web which ties a system of exploitation and exclusion together.
Apathy can feel like the answer when the choice of what shampoo or pair of jeans to buy preoccupies us more than our exclusion from making decisions about what really matters. These are indeed dangerous times.
Climate justice implies placing the most vulnerable first when we make policy and implement it. It means thinking of the global good— not the particular profit. But we are a long way away from recognizing that people in the colonized world or that people of colour and poor people in the Americas and Europe merit a human and humane quality of life.
Young people have started organizing for a response to the climate crisis. And their participation means the difference between a future and being eaten by the snake…
Afternoon crept slowly
through the window.
From this high perch
you see dreams floating
like clouds against the clear spring of sky.
Around you, Europe in all its nostalgia.
Magrebi workers in all their anonymity
walking eyes averted
like so many unwilling brides.
In this world
we must choose our place.
If our eyes are blinded
we must smell feel taste
the way we make our lives.
Grey transparency of rain
unbidden and unloved
on lands where cities hunch.
Ouroboros of progress, how close the distance from devouring mouth to tail.