To the Land of the Maroons! Commemorating Georgina Herrera

Dear all, it is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know Georgina Herrera has passed on yesterday. She was an inspiring and much beloved poet whose  glittering sparseness was a counterpoint to the Spanish classical flowery formalism of older Cuban writers. Her personal story centers  Afro-Cubanhood as the location, from where, and for whom, she wrote. 

Her experience of the formative years of the Cuban revolution was instrumental in her joining writers’ groups and writing as a profession. Her poems, unlike Nicolas Guillen’s work, do not try to forge a mestizaje or biracial identity as the foundation for Cuban nationhood. Perhaps because she came from a line of more working -class people than the lawyer’s son, Guillen. Herrera herself laboured as a domestic worker through her teens. It is through working for the entitled white cuban middle-class, that she began to have access to a literary and cultural world that drew her into its ambit. Within that circle, she brought a voice of defiance and fierce independence that makes her work still so relevant today.

Viscerally, she describes the reality of being Black in Cuba, where, unlike George Lamming’s work, her writing exists, not “in spite of” as Lamming would put it , but “because of“. It is precisely that centering of her reality that makes Georgina’s work so relevant to other Black women and women of colour. As a scriptwriter, poet and mentor to many others, especially in the Afro-descended community, Georgina Herrera’s legacy will live on the hearts of her readers and friends and family.
 Her motif acknowledges that self-definition is rooted in material lived freedom, a bitter truth harvested from her ancestors’ enslavement  in Cuba. Born, in 1936, to a Cuba where the formerly enslaved were still alive, Georgina Herrera, or Yoya, as she was known to her friends, was a remarkable presence whose poetry explored the experience of black women in a society highly uncomfortable with talking about raced gender and racism in open terms within their own history. 
She herself, rejected the pretences of mestizaje, for maroon-hood, (cimarronje) which she defiantly and repeatedly came back to in her writing and self-definition. In this way, her writing speaks to the universality of Black experience in the Caribbean, North, and South America as a result of brutal worlds built on trading in persons. But she celebrates the rehumanization -as Lamming himself does– of barren colonial landscapes of fear, deprivation, and demonization of Afro-peoples, by any means necessary– even poetry…I leave you with her own words, and join with Cubans and poetry lovers in wishing her a safe journey. Ashe.

Bridge, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Grand Eulogy for Myself- Georgina Herrera/trans. Kaushalya Bannerji

I am the fugitive

I am she who opened doors

Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”.

There are no traps into which I fall.

I throw stones, break heads.

I hear complaints and curses.

I laugh furiously

And in the nights

I drink the water of the mangroves,

because in them,

The moon shines, for me alone,

All the glory of her light.

Season of Verses

I haven’t been on the blog for quite a while. 2021 is proving to be a year of elusive concentration, spiralling exhaustion, sadness, and intense physical pain. I have re-acquainted myself with some drawing, although I have been reading about the state of the world and am often disturbed by what I see our little planet coming to. But visually, October, and the autumn in general, is a beautiful time– as in this part of the Americas, foliage puts on a show as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the northern lights. Thousands of stock photographs and painters can attest to the power of fall’s colours in the northern hemisphere.

Poets like the U.S’ Mary Oliver, whose primary inspirations were self and nature, give us an idea of the feelings evoked in this season of impermanence and darkness. Cultures all over the world celebrate the vanquishing of the long bleak night of winter and pay homage to those we love who are journeying beyond this life. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead on November 1st is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone– their favourite foods and music, flowers and marigolds to adorn their visit between the worlds. Offerings and altars, graveyards and candles, photos and colours, not for nothing are Mexicans famed for being detallistas! And the lived-in voice of Chavela Vargas reminds us that the passion and drama of artists live on in all of us who hear and read the works of those who have gone before.

Black Velvet Autumn, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Fall

the black oaks fling
their bronze fruit
into all the pockets of the earth
pock pock

they knock against the thresholds
the roof the sidewalk
fill the eaves
the bottom line

of the old gold song
of the almost finished year
what is spring all that tender
green stuff

compared to this
falling of tiny oak trees
out of the oak trees
then the clouds

gathering thick along the west
then advancing
then closing over
breaking open

the silence
then the rain
dashing its silver seeds
against the house

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

A Neighbourly Appearance, Halloween 2021, Kaushalya Bannerji
Chavela Vargas, La Llorona
You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by.You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by. You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman, I even thought you were the Virgin.You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman,I even thought you were the Virgin. 

Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman from a field of irises.Woe is me, Weeping Woman.Weeping Woman from a field of irises. 
He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony.He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony. 

I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery.I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery. When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying.When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying. 

Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river.Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river. Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman, because I'm freezing to death.Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman,because I'm freezing to death. (Trans DaphneKarina PG)
Autumn Leaves, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Late September Commemoration

I’m late this year in commemorating the anniversary of September 11, 1973. This infamous date came into being as the day that the military dictatorship of General Agusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens in Santiago, Chile. Much has been written and recorded from that time and in terms of historical and personal testimonials of thousands of Chileans who experienced political violence/murder, persecution, and exile. I thought I would share a song written by fellow Latin American singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez of Cuba, as he responded to the events of the 1973 coup d’état in Chile.

There I loved a terrible woman,
crying through the everlasting smoke
of that city, cornered by winter symbols.
There, I learned to remove cold skin 
and throw my body into the drizzle 
in the hands of hard white fog 
in the streets of enigma.

That is not dead. 
They didn't kill me.
Neither through distance, 
Nor by the vile soldier.

There among the hills, I had friends
That among the smoke bombs, were as brothers .
There I had more than four things that I have always wanted.
There our song became small, 
Among the desperate crowd, 
A powerful song of the earth broke over us.

That is not dead .
They didn't kill me .
Neither through the distance, 
Nor with the vile soldier 
Neither through distance, 
Nor by the vile soldier 

Even there, it followed me like a shadow
The face of him, who I no longer see
And death whispers in my ear that it will still come.
There I felt a hatred, ashamed by
Children beggared by dawn
And this desire to exchange each string for a bag of bullets…

That is not dead.
They didn't kill me .
Neither through the distance, 
Nor with the vile soldier. 
Neither through the distance, 
Nor with the vile soldier.
Santiago De Chile
Silvio Rodríguez Dominguez

allí amé a una mujer terrible 
llorando por el humo siempre eterno 
de aquella ciudad acorralada 
por símbolos de invierno

allí aprendí a quitar con piel el frío 
y a echar luego mi cuerpo a la llovizna 
en manos de la niebla dura y blanca 
en calles del enigma

eso no esta muerto 

no me lo mataron 

ni con la distancia, ni con vil soldado×2


allí entre los cerros tuve amigos 
que entre bombas de humo eran hermanos 
ahi yo tuve mas de cuatro cosas que siempre he deseado
ahi nuestra canción se hizo pequeña 
entre la multitud desesperada 
un poderoso canto que canto de la tierra era quien más cantaba

eso no esta muerto 
ni con la distancia, 
ni con el vil soldado

Hasta allí me siguió como una sombra
El rostro del que ya no se veía
Y en el oído me susurro la muerte del que ya aparecería
Allí yo tuve un odio una vergüenza
Niños mendigos de la madrugada
Y el deseo de cambiar cada cuerda por un saco de balas

Who’s Your Troubadour? Fifty Years of Chico Buarque

More than fifty years ago, a young singer songwriter burst on to the exciting and boundary breaking music scene in Brazil, a country grappling with the legacy of cruelty, colonization, migration, and above all, enslavement. Burgeoning movements for racial and regional equality, along with student and feminist movements, workers, and small peasantry, found themselves clamouring for both more and just representation in Brazilian social, economic and political life. In response, the ruling oligarchs and their allies and offshoots in the media, banking, land-owning, and other sectors brought in a military junta whose tank-laden shadows lay heavily across the streets of Brazil for twenty long years. Those were years of active repression of progressive social movements and artists and intellectuals. 

The period 1964-85 saw Brazil, Chile, and then Argentina, in the grips of  repulsive comprador elites who could not hurry fast enough into the arms of the U.S. military-industrial complex. During this period, we may have heard of the many Chileans and Argentinian artists and musicians who were persecuted or even assassinated for their political views, such as Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Quilapayun, Inti-Illimani, Fito Paez, etc. To this list, we must add some of the greatest proponents of the Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) group, loosely comprised of Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimiento, Gal Costa, Maria Bethania, and so many others. The fusion of African, Indigenous, U.S. and European influences found in the Tropicalia music scene, was matched by a desire to write lyrics which resonated with the public and youth of the time. 

Censorship, military crackdowns on the left and student organizing, inattention to the needs of the poor and the landless, over-policing and under- provision of social services were the norm under the Generals.  Meanwhile, artists and intellectuals were also challenging ideas about race, racism, and class and respectability, ideas of gender and sexuality; all of these were part of a dynamic and vibrant wave of Brazilian culture in the 1970s. The chanson traditions of France and Europe migrated across the Atlantic ocean as troubadours and folk-singers brought styles of music that melded over time to local sounds and rhythms, producing a musical syncretism that sets Brazilian music with its nasal vocals and complex rhythms into a distinctly recognizable sound of its own. Samba and Bossa Nova are only parts of a vast spectrum of Brazilian music comprised of rock, funk, jazz, forro, rap, and other influences. But they are hugely important because they gave rise to a new understanding of nation-state in the minds of Brazilians themselves– a nation comprised of ethnic plurality in which African elements were inescapably tied up with Brazilian popular expression and identity. This admission of biracial demographic composition or mestizaje in national identity forced a constant confrontation with the past, as Brazil was the last country in the Americas to forbid slavery, as late as 1888. This preoccupation with racialized and national identities characterized many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, along with the great economic upheavals that reliance on mono-crop agriculture brought with the Great Depression, in the world economy. By the 1960s, racialized and classed stereotypes about afro-descended peoples and aboriginal nations, abounded, along with regionalist stereotypes. The young artists of the era hoped to dismantle and deconstruct the elitest image of Brazil as a land of playboys and trophy girls, drinking caipirinhas and swaying to the sunsets of Rio. Indeed, novelists like Jorge Amado had already begun articulating a new vision of working class and racialized Brazilians as the real heirs to the nation through their blood, sweat, and tears. Musicians were part of this rich contestation of the meaning of the “popular”, as they tried to portray a culture of the “people”, in opposition to the massification and commodification of shallow and superficial cultural values.

In 1971, poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter, Chico Buarque de Holanda (1944) wrote the song “Construction”, a homage to the every day construction workers and working class men of Brazil. This song’s  own amazing construction is beautifully expressed in the original Portuguese and also in Spanish translation. Each line is repeated in the next verse but given a different last word. It’s a marvel of symmetry, compassion, and cadence in the original Portuguese, with a dramatic  musicality that characterizes Chico Buarque’s songwriting. Even Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez pays homage to his fellow musician and poet, in his beautiful song, Quien Fuera? or Who’s the One? The two songwriters share a love for surrealism and social justice that does not lend itself well to translation! I’ve tried to convey some of the meaning of this iconic song, on it’s fiftieth anniversary; when Brazil is again confronted with a choice between popular democracy (Lula) and dictatorship (Bolsonaro). I’ve shared a recent version by Chico and a version in Spanish by Pedro Aznar, that showcases the guitar’s rhythmic capacity.

Wikipedia tells us that 

“ (Chico) wrote and studied literature as a child and found music through the bossa nova compositions of Tom Jobim and João Gilberto. He performed as a singer and guitarist  during the 1960s as well as writing a play that was deemed dangerous by the Brazilian military dictatorship of the time. Buarque, along with several Tropicalist and MPB musicians, was threatened by the Brazilian military government and eventually left Brazil for Italy in 1969. However, he came back to Brazil in 1970, and continued to record, perform, and write, though much of his material was suppressed by government censors. He released several more albums in the 1980s and published three novels in the 1990s and 2000s.

In 2019, Buarque was awarded the Camões Prize, the most important prize for literature in the Portuguese language.”

Construcao, Francisco Buarque de Holanda 1971

Amou daquela vez como se fosse a última

Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a última

E cada filho seu como se fosse o único

E atravessou a rua com seu passo tímido

Subiu a construção como se fosse máquina

Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes sólidas

Tijolo com tijolo num desenho mágico

Seus olhos embotados de cimento e lágrima

Sentou pra descansar como se fosse sábado

Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse um príncipe

Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse um náufrago

Dançou e gargalhou como se ouvisse música

E tropeçou no céu como se fosse um bêbado

E flutuou no ar como se fosse um pássaro

E se acabou no chão feito um pacote flácido

Agonizou no meio do passeio público

Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o tráfego

Amou daquela vez como se fosse o último

Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a única

E cada filho seu como se fosse o pródigo

E atravessou a rua com seu passo bêbado

Subiu a construção como se fosse sólido

Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes mágicas

Tijolo com tijolo num desenho lógico

Seus olhos embotados de cimento e tráfego

Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um príncipe

Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse o máximo

Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse máquina

Dançou e gargalhou como se fosse o próximo

E tropeçou no céu como se ouvisse música

E flutuou no ar como se fosse sábado

E se acabou no chão feito um pacote tímido

Agonizou no meio do passeio náufrago

Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o público

Amou daquela vez como se fosse máquina

Beijou sua mulher como se fosse lógico

Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes flácidas

Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um pássaro

E flutuou no ar como se fosse um príncipe

E se acabou no chão feito um pacote bêbado

Morreu na contra-mão atrapalhando o sábado

Construction,  Francisco Buarque de Holanda (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021)

He loved, that time, as though it were his last

He kissed his wife as though she were the ultimate

And each child of his, was like his only one.

He crossed the street with his timid gait

Climbed the construction site as if he were a machine

He built four solid walls on the landing

Brick by brick in a magical design

His eyes encrusted with cement and tears.

He sat down to rest like it was Saturday

He ate his beans and rice as if he were a prince

He drank and sobbed like one shipwrecked

He danced and laughed as if he heard music

He stumbled across the sky like a drunk

He floated in the air like a bird

He ended up on the ground like a limp package

He agonized in the middle of the public boulevard

He died against the grain, hindering traffic.

He loved that time as though it were the last time

He kissed his wife as if she were the only one

And each child of his, was a prodigal son. 

He crossed the street with his drunken gait

He climbed the construction scaffolding as if it were solid

He built four magic walls on the landing

Brick by brick in a logical design

His eyes encrusted with cement and traffic.

He sat down like a prince to rest

He ate beans and rice as though it were the best

He drank and sobbed like a machine,

Danced and laughed like he was next

And stumbled across the sky as if he heard music

He floated in the air as if it were Saturday.

He ended up on the ground like a timid package

He agonized in the midst of a shipwrecked ride

He died against the grain, disturbing the public.

He loved, that time, like a machine

He kissed his wife as though it were logical

He built four flaccid walls on the landing

He sat down to rest like a bird,

And he floated in the air like a prince.

And he ended up on the ground like a drunken package

He died against the grain, disturbing Saturday.

The Real People

I see the chaos being fomented in Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia… All places where I have had the fortune to travel and the misfortune to read the news of those countries forever after… They are locked in my heart like the humble pleasures of nostalgia for friends in my country of origin. Yet health has always forced me back to Canada… So this verse by Danish poet Benny Andersen is so perfectly apt for how so many around me in the “West” see the “3rd World”. The rise of poverty and disaster tourism is a “thing”. But so is the benevolent tyranny of the friendly tourist, dangling luxury consumption like an emerald green light in front of those who work in and around tourism. This poem is truly one that speaks to this time.

, El Valiente/The Brave One, Kaushalya Bannerji 2019

The real people
To travel
away from the hot water bottle and pork sausage
out to the real places
where the real people eat real food
live in real houses with real balconies
speak real, walk real
stop real
really get in trouble
have real children with real eyes
far from pork sausage and the hot water bottle
down south
in the south there’s colors, atmosphere
all the houses resemble famous old paintings
all the people can sing and look like famous statues
often substitute for them
in the south you drink wine
in the south you’re excitable all year round
in the south you do everything out in the open
love, fight, live, whistle, die
really
it’s inborn
in the north you have runny noses cancer envy
in the north you walk around the puddles
around the statues
around one another
in the north you drink milk
in the north you have to think about your health
in the north you’re stiff with health
in the north you’re right
in the north you don’t budge an inch
in the north
in the north
you go south
where the real people have real cats
real lice
real teeth, sores, contrasts
you meet at the real places and hold real parties
where the real blood rushes
everyone knows one another
far from the hot water bottle and pork sausage.

The Nobodies/Homage to Galeano, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

Ma, Ek Paisa Hobey, Ma? Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

Our Eyes See the Blood on the Red of Your Flag

Christi Belcourt, Canada, 2021

I’ve slowed down on my blog due to health and other very important circumstances. But I have not stopped… I have been, like so many of us in Canada, overwhelmed by the physical forensic evidence of a genocide so recent that it is actually on-going.

Kamloops Residential School, Cowessess First Nation Marieval Residential School, and other Residential schools have provided evidence of over 1300 deaths in the last two weeks. That is in addition to the approximately 4000 deaths recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission had recommended the forensic examination of all residential schools for indigenous peoples, but that was denied by the federal government of Canada on the basis that a $1.5 million price tag at the time was “too high”.

This callous indifference characterizes the Canadian State’s approach to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples when it is not engaged in the antics of the Indian Act or helping its corporate partners in resource extraction.

So I took the Haiku challenge set by Ronovanwrites (https://ronovanwrites.com/2021/06/07/ronovan-writes-weekly-haiku-poetry-prompt-challenge-361-home-and-weep),and decided to think about the word prompts. I approached them in terms of the confirmation of genocide and ethnic cleansing that recent revelations about child abuse and murder at Residential schools, have proven.

Christi Belcourt, Our Lives are in the Land

I fear there may be thousands more children found before this is over. And as an ally of colour or person in solidarity with indigenous nations in this settler country, I feel we need to use all our means of protest to say that this Canada we have built is rotten, from and to, the core. Supporting both treaty and unceded nations, we have to add our voices to the Landback movement. Taking our cues from the demands of Indigenous people, water, and earth protectors from various parts of the country shows us how interconnected abuse and genocide of people is to dispossession from their lands

I am sharing below the art and haiku I have created in homage to these living struggles on our current lands. Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must be done. And words like “reconciliation” are hysterically cynical in my humble opinion. Where are the words, “accountability”, “due process”, “law enforcement”, “justice”? Some of the perpetrators of abuse and worse, are still alive– protected by the Catholic Church and Canadian state.

Why are aboriginal peoples incarcerated and survivors of a social apartheid at inhuman rates, while those who squeeze their life blood out of them, get to run free? All of us who tread this soil, who weep at the dehumanization of children and entire peoples, who struggle for equality, respect and liberation in our own lives, must realize that all of that is meaningless without a fundamental shift in what it means to live on Indigenous land.

Weep/Home

Home, weeps this land, fenced
by greed disguised as civil-
ization. Landback.

Home, they cry, you have
taken the ground beneath.
Give us back our souls.

Thousands of children
home. Weeping parents shattered.
Kkkanada fed blood.

Home, they wept, take us
back. Hug these small bodies back to
families, lands, names.

They Tried to Bury Us, They Did Not Know We Were Seeds, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/residential-school-records-missionary-of-oblates-of-mary-immaculate-1.6078260?fbclid=IwAR0IUmZpdIEAZtxU1IUlpBaCfjMzN3LwMkCq4dCdt6-4lAAkIY0j4w6ggVI

https://si-rshdc-2020.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2021/06/MassGravesFramework_2021.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2BfRPGR0KPuB9zvnMM8UsID-SSom8G49onLy6F4Enhi44mtcg14gS9Bcw

Intersecting Pride and Resistance

Happy Pride Month! It’s been strange to be as fragmented as the LGBT community has been even before covid19. But lack of face to face contact has in particular been hard for LGBT people, especially young people who may be living with homo/transphobic or disapproving family members.

So it’s a month to honour our many communities’ resilience, our survival in spite of centuries of exclusion, hatred and scapegoating, our many ways of being who we are in spite of difficult odds. This year the evidentiary burden of genocide against Indigenous survival and the massacre of so many vulnerable people through the market logic of the corona pandemic, along with personal grief on so many levels, has made it more of reflective time than one rooted in the raucous marchers and the desperate gawkers that characterize Pride weekend on Corporate Ave., oh sorry, i mean, Church St. I probably miss the music the most!

This last week with its revelations about the active recent complicity of Catholic Church, , and God knows how many other Christian institutions– shows us how white Christians intertwined with the ruling powers as to make separation of Church and State, a total joke when it comes to the civilizing mission of settler colonialism! Two hundred and fifteen children assassinated in the name of a merciless white God. And that is only what they have let us find. The violence of settler colonialism reveals itself as a violence against the very lives and existence of Indigenous peoples. An informal apartheid made formal through the Indian Act.

Statue of Egerton Ryerson in front of University named in his honour. There are calls to change the name of the University as well as remove the statue

So for many reasons, it’s hard to feel celebratory There’s been tons of new cultural activism and expression from Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. But I’ve gone with a familiar voice from the long-ago days of joining an anti-racist lesbian community! Menominee poet Chrystos has definitely been a voice calling for truth to power, even if that makes things uncomfortable. So I’ll leave today’s post with this poem.

Into the Racism Workshop

For Alma Banda Goddardmy cynical feet ambled
prepared for indigestion
& blank faces of outrageous innocence
knowing I’d have to walk over years of media
declaring we’re vanished or savage or pitiful or noble
My toes twitched when I saw so few brown faces
but really when one eats racism every time one goes out one’s door
the appeal of talking about it is minuscule
I sat with my back to the wall facing the door
after I changed the chairs to a circle
This doesn’t really protect me
but I con myself into believing it does
One of the first speakers piped up
I’m only here because my friend is Black & wanted
me to do this with her
I’ve already done
300 too many racism workshops
Let it be entered into the Book of Stars
that I did not kill her or shoot a scathing reply from the hip
I let it pass because I could tell she was very interested in taking
up all the space with herself & would do it if I said a word
They all said something that I could turn into a poem
but I got tired & went to sleep behind my interested eyes
I’ve learned that the most important part of these tortures
is for them to speak about racism at all
Even showing up is heresy
because as we all know racism is some vague thing that really doesn’t
exist or is only the skinheads on a bad day or isn’t really a crucial problem
not as important certainly as queers being able to marry
or get insurance for each other
When they turned to me as resident expert on the subject
which quite honestly I can’t for the life of me understand
or make any sense out of
I spoke from my feet
things I didn’t know I knew
of our connections
of the deadly poison that racism is for all of us
Maybe some of them were touched
but my bitch voice jumps in to say
NOT MUCH!
I heard back that someone thought I was brilliant
Does that mean that I speak well
Or that she was changed
It’s only her change
I need

Chrystos, “Into the Racism Workshop” from Fugitive Colors.  Copyright © 1995 by Chrystos.  

Andy Everson, Every Child Matters

Our Uncomfortable Dread: From George Floyd to Henry Dumas

It’s been 6 weeks since I have been on the blog. I have been watching the state of the world with eyes that want to look away, but can’t. It seems we are on a collision course with hopelessness and destruction, vaccine or no vaccine. Human rights are being violated and lives taken with impunity, due to governmental inaction (India, Brazil, Peru) and governmental action (Colombia, USA, Israel). From patients to protestors, the poor across the world are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s cost.

It is a year since the murder of George Floyd in the United States, and in Toronto, Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Last year, people overcame their fear of covid19 and took to the streets en masse after a fear-laden set of global lockdowns stopped all social presence in its tracks. Since that time, people have been amassing at numerous events in response to local and international news all over the world.

There have been hundreds of Black and Indigenous and Latino people murdered by police in the last few decades in the U.S. and Canada. To list and say their names would take some time. 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/25/how-many-people-have-police-killed-since-george-floyd

In order to honour the memory of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Sandra Bland, and Brionna Taylor, among so many others— I’ve decided to go back to the 1960s, back to amazingly powerful Henry Dumas, taken from us at the age of 33,  when he was shot in a case of “mistaken identity” by a New York City Transit Cop. 

Henry Dumas 1935-1968

He was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas and spent his childhood in New York City. After serving in the military, he attended Rutgers University and ended up eventually teaching language workshops at Southern Illinois University. 

As a Black Power militant and civil rights advocate, his poetry is rooted in the fullness of Black experience; to be a son, a lover, a father,  a subject of history. At the time when he was writing the use of the “n” word was as contested as it is today. But for many, writing from the ironic corners of Black America, the use of this noun both underscored the derogatory and the resilient, if not the redemptive. In her recent piece on Henry Dumas,  “Some Requiem”, Harmony Holiday says of his work,

“Come, it is time to be born,” Dumas announces in “Pane of Vision.” “Do you remember the sweet pain of turning around?” he asks in “Green Hill, Golden Mountain.” Dumas is always addressing us, as if we’re old friends who have crossed the threshold of bones into the West together and dream of returning to a land we cannot name except by feeling its terrain. He wants us all to turn around in unison. His poems call us toward the fantasy of feeling like our true selves and imagine where we might have to travel to accomplish that, what we will have to risk and forfeit, and then they take us there in simple disguises.

Below I share  3 poems of this great U.S. writer, fighter for Black liberation and historian of the feeling of being Black, in the eyes of White America. In this, he’s been classified as an Utopian poet because he shows us “our true selvesthe tenderness and the terror… there is no repudiating him or looking away from his warnings. 

These poems are for George, Michael, Tamir, Eric, Brionna, Regis, Sandra, Adam, and so many many others. They are  for  all of you, who’ve ever been terrified for yourself or your loved ones as they/we/you— live their simple, human lives, in the face of institutional  white supremacy and social, political, and economic exclusion. 

Kef 24

lay sixteen bales down in front on the plank

let me set and bay at the houndog moon

lay sixteen bales down of the cotton flank

pray with me brothers that the pink

boss dont sweat me too soon

beat my leg in a round nigger peg

lord have mercy on my black pole

lay sixteen bales in the even row

let me sweat and cuss my roustabout tune

lord have mercy on my shrinkin back

let me go with the jesus mule

lay sixteen bales for the warp and loom

beat a nigger down and bury his soul

boss dont sweat me too soon

pray with me brothers that I hold my cool

lord have mercy on this long black leg

let me ride on the jesus mule

lay sixteen bales of white fuzz down

lay sixteen tales of how I got around

lord have mercy on this sweat and stink

lord have mercy

lay sixteen bales

pray brothers

beat down

lord have

let me

lord lord

brothers

the houndog moon

howl jesus,

howl!

Street Artist, Feist, U.S.A, 2020

Knock on Wood

i go out to totem street

         we play

         neon monster

                  and watusi feet

killer sharks chasin behind 

         we play hide

         siren!

                  and out-run cops

they catch

         willie

         and me

                  splittin over fence

they knock

         in willie’s head

         hole

they kick me watusi 

         down 

                  for dead

like yesterday

         runnin feet in my brain

         won’t stop willie lookin blood

                  beggin me

cut off blackjack pain

so whenever you see me comin

         crazy watusi

                 you call me watusi

i keep a wooden willie

         blade and bone out that fence

a high willie da conquieror 

         listen! up there he talkin

wooden willie got all the sense

i go out to siren street

         don’t play no more

me and willie beat a certain beat

         aimin wood carvin shadows

sometimes i knock on wood

         with fist

me and willie play togetherin
         and we don’t miss

Thought

Love came to me and said:

What do you want of me?

Save me I said, Save me.

Love knelt down beside me

and love said:

If you knew the price

of coming to you,

you would ask nothing

but would give.

Say Their Names, Kaushalya Bannerji, copyright 2021

A Groundhog Spring! Haiku

This spring, the second of the covid19 pandemic, is another lockdown. I remember my fear and isolation during the first one, the first stay at home order I had ever experienced. I am grateful that I am able to be out in sun, sitting on my balcony and enjoying the calls of the birds. The cat is also filled with alertness and enjoyment from her whiskers to the tip of her tail! Birds, she feels, call to her! Sometimes she chitters back.

Easing back into the blog, I’ve made up for the Haiku challenges I’ve missed on Ronovan Writes. Here, I’ve written around the words suggested for the past three weeks. I hope you enjoy these new shoots of poems!

Dawn, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

swift/ branch

Chirping, spring perches
on branches bare of verdant
bloom. swift, full throated.

fleas/ sneeze

When fleas sneeze rats might
scurry. plague upon both their
nations! leave us be!

comfort/ erupt

Oh comfort erupts
when sun’s days grow longer yet
shadow lies above