Children’s Books and my Father: A Remembrance

Culture and memory share a root, like branches of the same plant. That root is us, human beings, in our most creative and unself-conscious renditions. Once again, after the whirlwind of systemic violence and structural upheaval engineered through the COVID19 pandemic response, the time has come to honour the memory of those we love who have been lost to the novel coronavirus. My father, the late Professor Manabendra Bandyopadhyay (1938-2020), was one such deep loss. 

Although he had been suffering from loss of sight and other health issues in his last few years,  for over half a century, he contributed vastly to the field of Bengali literature and poetry, fiction/poetry in translation, and critical approaches to the early discipline of comparative literature— from the late 1950s until his retirement from teaching at the Department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. In his participation in the cultural and socio-political world of Bangla letters, my father often searched out unusual or unique writers— “against the grain”. While in his translations for adults, he often examined and explored different schools of writing from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, it was his love of books for kids that had a big impact on me as a  young reader and thinker. 

For my father, books for children were as eclectic and engaging as those for adults. He presented me with hundreds of books over the years, and it is especially those books of childhood I often turn to, for a break from the grinding neo-liberal world with its anxieties, bleakness, and inhumanity. 

I fondly remember a range of books from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tales to Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, to Toronto poet’s Dennis Lee’s Wiggle to the Laundromat. Along with these, Andrew Salkey, George Lamming, James Kruss, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Erich Kastner, Rhoda Power, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne,  and the inimitable Tove Jansson made paths into the rich and exciting world of books, a world that was both escape and confirmation, at different times. Through the reading of such international cast of characters, historical moments and types of books, my interest in historical periods, and how people live in different times and places, was piqued. 

In particular, I am grateful to my father for sharing his love of Indigenous and Aboriginal cultures from both Turtle Island and Australia. This awareness of the space I inhabited as a brown child of an immigrant parent to Canada, set me apart from other primary and middle school children as did my experience of racism from a very early age at the hands of my peers in the pristine provincial primary schools of Ontario of the 1970s. 

But when reading, the ability to imagine other worlds and ways of being, allowed me to understand and perhaps at a young age, confront the reality of racial inequality which I experienced. Books like Aguhana, Half-Breed, The Island of the Dolphins, A Nice Fire and Some Moon Pennies gave me a glimpse of a world that was made invisible and silent in the Canadian educational system, that of First Nations, Metis,  and Inuit peoples. Stories by Lois Lenski based on interviews with children and families, gave me an idea of how  working class and rural children, especially girls,  lived as recently as the 1930s-50s in the various United States of America, and how important they were to household economies as recently as the ‘50s and ‘60s. Stories about Harriet Tubman and Julius Lester’s To Be a Slave, were a part of my personal canon, as much as Anne Frank and Laura Ingalls Wilder were the staple authors for little girls at the school library. 

In remembrance of the important role that fiction and poetry has played in my own life,  I offer up today’s blog post as a tribute to all those amazing writers who tackled the daunting task of writing gripping and memorable fiction for children, writing that satisfies at any age, books such as Alice in Wonderland, and those of Roald Dahl.  And through acknowledging them, I acknowledge the fount of this fictional diversity, my father. 

Yellow Butterflies, Kaushalya Bannerji, August 2022

This week on the second anniversary of his passing, I have been thinking of him even more. When my partner planted a butterfly bush in his honour, butterflies immediately came to visit. White, orange-patterned, and yellow, they fluttered down to the purple, pink and red flowers. We will always think of our absent loved ones when the butterflies float and dance by us on their invisible currents.

I want to end by sharing a musical piece about the world of Macondo,  from One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A  Colombian Nobel-winning writer who was popularized in Bangla by my father, and whose work he explored for many years. Here the lyrics are by Mexican accordionist and composer Celso Pina and performed by Leiden (Cuba-Mexico) and Andrea Echeverri (Colombia) formerly of the group Los Aterciepelados (The Velvet Ones). I am sure he would have enjoyed hearing this rendition.

Macondo by Celso Pina (Mexico) (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)

The hundred years of Macondo, sound, sound, in the air

And the years of Gabriel trumpeting, trumpeting, his announcement!

Enchained,  Macondo dreams along with José Arcadio

And although life is a whirlwind of memories

Aureliano’s sorrows, are four

The beauties of Remedios, violins

The passions of Amaranta, guitar

And the spell of Melquiades is the oboe

Úrsula, one hundred years, loneliness, Macondo

Úrsula, one hundred years, loneliness, Macondo

You are the epic of a forgotten town

Forged in a hundred years of love and history

You are epic of a forgotten town

Forged in a hundred years of love and history

I imagine and live again

In my memor,  burned by the sun

Yellow Butterflies,  Mauricio Babylonia

Yellow butterflies flying free

Yellow Butterflies,  Mauricio Babylonia

Yellow butterflies flying free

National Poetry Month with Chabuca Granda!

María Isabel Granda Larco (3 September 1920 – 8 March 1983), known as Chabuca Granda, was a Peruvian singer and composer. She was a trailblazer as a woman lyricist and composer, drawing on Peruvian Criollo music, as well as Afro-Peruvian rhythms, which were much devalued in high society of Lima at the time. It was a world which was plagued (and continues to be) by racism and classism toward Indigenous and Afro-descended peoples while highly dependent on their labour, particularly domestic labour provided by women workers who are often racialized as non-white. In this song, Chabuca shows her continual break with convention by centering the experiences of a working class woman and her labour. Enjoy some poetry put to music and sung by one of Peru’s most noted singers of the late 20th century!

Maria Lando by Chabuca Granda, Peru

La madrugada estalla como una estátua
Como estátua de alas que se dispersan por la ciudad
Y el mediodía cánta campana de agua
Campana de agua de oro que nos prohibe la sóledad
Y la noche levanta su copa larga
Su larga copa larga, luna temprana por sobre el mar

Pero para María no hay madrugada
Pero para María no hay mediodía
Pero para María ninguna luna
Alza su copa roja sobre las aguas…

María no tiene tiempo (María Landó)
De alzar los ojos
María de alzar los ojos (María Landó)
Rotos de sueño
María rotos de sueño (María Landó)
De andar sufriendo
María de andar sufriendo (María Landó)
Sólo trabaja
María sólo trabaja, sólotrabaja, sólo trabaja
María sólo trabaja
Y su trabajo es ajeno

Blood Moon, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022

Maria Lando, Chabuca Granda, Peru, Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji

Dawn breaks, exploding like a statue,
like a statue of wings scattered
All through the city
And noon sings like a bell made of water
A bell made of golden water that forbids loneliness
And the night lifts its large goblet,
its large goblet, large, an early moon over the sea

But for Maria there is no dawn
But for Maria there is no midday
But for Maria there is no moon
raising its red goblet over the waters

Maria has no time to raise her eyes
Maria ,to raise her eyes, broken by lack of sleep
Maria, broken by lack of sleep ,from so much suffering
Maria, from so much suffering, all she does is work

Maria just works and works,
Maria only works,
and her work is all for another.

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.

Solstice 2020

Today marks the shortest daylight in our hemisphere, and the arrival of winter’s official season. But as of tomorrow, the days will lengthen again imperceptibly, and for those of us who need the light, like morning glories or sunflowers, hope will gradually be born anew. Indigenous and pagan peoples celebrated and celebrate the energies and magic of this day when the darkness must be propitiated for the sun to rise again. I share a poem by Wendell Barry and some drawings I’ve been doing. I’ve added a musical interlude, Victor Jara’s haunting instrumental La Partida / The Departure. A gentle honouring of this moment in our earth’s revolution!

TO KNOW THE DARK BY WENDELL BERRY 

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
 
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

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

One Hundred Posts Against Solitude!

Gourd, Kaushalya Bannerji, October 2020

Today marks a very special day for me. It is the occasion of my hundredth blog post. I started this project as a labour of love and as a way to contribute to a culture of resistance, love, and hope for a more just and equitable world about a year and a half ago. I had no idea when I started, that Covid19 would make life so unrecognizable for so many. There is virtually no territory that has not been affected by this bizarre scourge and the even more crazy-making ways in which it has (not) been dealt with by the powers that be.

As a result my participation on the blog has been uneven, my attention veering between the initial shock of the pandemic, to racial /casteist/ islamophobic and economic violence all over the world to days of personal ill-health and grief, as I continue to mourn the passing of my father and my partner’s father during this difficult time and to worry about the bleak economic times we are in. Even bankers are speaking of recession.

 I thank those of you who’ve joined me both from the humble beginnings for sticking with me, to those of you checking out this blog for the first time today! While the coronavirus swirls around us, equally harsh and invisible ideas are making themselves manifest. Many of those ideas are amplified through the Internet. Ideological manipulation through social media networks, internet surveillance and tailored advertising… All that is intrusive and prying, is marketed as convenience. This is truly a time of commodities, not people.

Some say the darkest hour is before the dawn. That is why your human accompaniment of this blog and the sharing of it, is such an important part of this creative and rich journey.  So eartotheground is an antidote to those forces of death, disrespect and despair. These three forces make up the holy trinity of psychological fascism that accompanies corporate monopolization and centralization of power in militarist and vigilante backed dictatorships.

While the world awaits the results of the election in the United States, we  all seem immersed in a depression that “experts” call ‘pandemic fatigue’. I characterize it as ‘cruelty fatigue’, for surely this coronavirus has exposed the the meanness and pettiness of class and caste inequality, the banal brutality of racial oppression experienced by so many Black, Indigenous, South and East Asians, the virulent misogyny of courts and citizens; the core of rottenness that is at the center of our social organization and structure. And the hunger for redistribution of material resources that is the very real hunger, of millions, for food.

Antonio Berni, The Demonstrators, Argentina

  To celebrate this hundredth post, I share some poems today that remind me, and hopefully you as well, that in spite of a time when any judge anywhere  can be called “pro-life” while being “pro-gun”— we are being shown  a world where language— and thus the lives we lead— have been turned upside down. These miserable ironies must not delimit our world.

Personal autonomy over birth control including abortion is a woman’s individual and private right. It cannot be alienated from her without re-premising the law on slavery, that is, ascribing the ownership of her body to another— the only legal system by which humans were de-autonomized and dehumanized for profit. 

Candido Portinari, Cotton Pickers, Brazil

The following poems hail from different times and places. But the one thing these writers all share is a belief in justice, truth, witness, and hope— the cornerstones of a culture of love and solidarity. Humour, rage, love,  and humanity are intertwined in the following verses below.

Suicide note from a Cockroach in a low income Housing Project,  Pedro Pietri (Borinken/US)

I hate the world I am depress I am deprive I am deprave I am ready to propose to the grave Life is too complicated to proceed Fate is the only medicine I need to feel good Seriously speaking I’m seriously seeking The exit to leave this eerie existence My resistance is low and will not grow Rent Control My Ghost Will Haunt You
 I hate the world I am dejected I am rejected I am neglected and disrespected Ever since these damn  liberals got elected And corrected nothing really important I am starving I am no good at robbing I have no ambitions These damn housing projects Are responsible for my nervous condition 
I hate you credit cards Because of you there is a pain in my brain Because of you all the minority groups Own a television set and will not let me sleep At night watching the late late show at full blast I hate the world I hate the world I hate the world I am disgusted I totally busted 
The welfare department Will not handle my case I am homesick for the past When radios used to be a luxury For the minority groups And there were no such things As the late late show 
Oh how I hate those damn Anti poverty  programs I am hungry My folks are hungry My friends are hungry Every member of our generation Is a victim of starvation We are down and out without a future To look forward to WE ARE THROUGH 
I attend over ten funerals everyday I don’t have time to send  my black Melancholy suit to the cleaners anymore That is how bad the situation is And all because all of a sudden Everybody wants to be somebody This is ridiculous this is absurd Why should our race be erased to make America  a beautiful place
 for everyone but us We are the real American We was here before columbus We was here before general electric We was here before the ed sullivan show We are older than adam and eve Noah also took Cockroaches into his ark Why should we be denied co existence??? 

I use to come From a very large family And now I am down To my last second cousin-in law I have been married seven times I have never been divorced All my wives and husbands Are now resting in peace None of them died from natural cause They have all been fatal casualties Of the games the great society plays 
This so called civilisation nation Has made a lonely cockroach out of me My insurance company Has informed me that they will not Insure another wife or husband I take They think I am trying to make A living out of this - THEY ARE DEAD WRONG I come from a good Non catholic Non protestant Non Jewish Home 
I have never read the holy bible I will never read the holy bible Cockroaches in their right minds Will never go near the holy bible Bible reading is a dangerous mission Is like committing suicide to get to heaven
 I once had this uncle Who was very religious He read the good book all the time One day he fell asleep reading The twenty third psalm and woke up In the hereafter the following morning 
The owner of the bible close the book on him If those are the kind of people That go  to heaven  - You can send me to hell lord
 My first wife Lived a very short life Tragedy came Separated our name The first year We started our atmosphere She was ambushed By this retarded boy Who destroyed her pride And swallow her body After she died 
My second wife Lived a shorter life When tragedy came And separated our name She was still a virgin We married in the afternoon And somebody stept on her On our way to the honeymoon 
My third wife Was taking a short cut home Thru the kitchen sink A homicidal maniac saw her While taking a drink And turned on the hot water
 My first husband Lost his sacred life In a DDT strike Coming home from the A&P for insects only I was in tears for one whole year after he disappear from the atmosphere because the day before his destiny came near his insurance policy lapsed I mailed a payment a week before he died but somebody stepped on the mailman and the payment never arrived
 My second husband was suffocated by this complicated mentally constipated fire engine impersonator who got his kicks kidnapping cockroaches molesting them sexually and throwing them into empty coca cola bottles and putting the cap back on and keeping them without air until their life was gone 
My third husband Lived a miserable life He had lung cancer Ten wooden legs One glass eye Fifty fifty vision On his good eye A weak heart A broken back Respiratory ailment Undernourished Mentally discourage Unemployed eardrums Condem features And bad breath galore from a bottle of Weight reducing pills He shoplifted At the drugstore 
I gave him a divorce Not because his health Was hazardous To my health I gave him a divorce Because he wanted Me to sell my body to science And give him the money For plastic surgery
 One week before Celebrating his last Unhappy birthday At the funeral parlor He hit the numbers For one thousand dollars Went to the hospital And paid cash for A heart transplant An eyes transplant A face transplant A legs transplant A lung transplant A rear end transplant A breath transplant And he was all set to live and let live
 For one hundred years But on his way home From the hospital Somebody stepped on him And that was the end Of his breathing career 

So you see You cannot really blame me For wanting to seduce my destiny I have nothing else to live for In this corrupted world anymore The employment situation is bad The starvation situation is worst

 It hurts to continue living like this Cockroaches are starving to death Ever since incinerators came Into the life of the minority groups In the old buildings the people Were very close to everything they had Food was never thrown away But today everything is going Into those incinerators The last family that lived here Took the incinerator To get to the first floor They do not live here anymore
 Damn those low  income housing projects Years ago suicide was never spoken But today suicide is a luxury For a heartbroken cockroach Trying to make a decent living In a low income housing project Goodbye cruel world I’m through being screwed By your crossward puzzles When the bomb comes down I will not be around 
Forward my mail to your conscience when you get one The last request the cockroach made was to be cremated So I lit it up and smoked it 
The Late, Great Reverendo Pedro Pietri!

Frame, Adrienne Rich (U.S.)

Winter twilight. She comes out of the lab-

oratory, last class of the day

a pile of notebooks slung in her knapsack, coat

zipped high against the already swirling

evening sleet. The wind is wicked and the

busses slower than usual. On her mind

is organic chemistry and the issue

of next month’s rent and will it be possible to

bypass the professor with the coldest eyes

to get a reference for graduate school,

and whether any of them, even those who smile

can see, looking at her, a biochemist

or marine biologist, which of the faces

can she trust to see her at all, either today

or in any future. The busses are worm-slow in the

quickly gathering dark. I don’t know her. I am

standing though somewhere just outside the frame

of all of this, trying to see. At her back

the newly finished building suddenly looks

like shelter, it has glass doors, lighted halls

presumably heat. The wind is wicked. She throws a

glance down the street, sees no bus coming and runs

up the newly constructed steps into the newly

constructed hallway. I am standing all this time

just beyond the frame, trying to see. She runs

her hand through the crystals of sleet about to melt

on her hair. She shifts the weight of the books

on her back. It isn’t warm here exactly but it’s

out of that wind. Through the glass

door panels she can watch for the bus through the thickening

weather. Watching so, she is not

watching the white man who watches the building

who has been watching her. This is Boston 1979.

I am standing somewhere at the edge of the frame

watching the man, we are both white, who watches the building

telling her to move on, get out of the hallway.

I can hear nothing because I am not supposed to be

present but I can see her gesturing

out toward the street at the wind-raked curb

I see her drawing her small body up

against the implied charges. The man

goes away. Her body is different now.

It is holding together with more than a hint of fury

and more than a hint of fear. She is smaller, thinner

more fragile-looking than I am. But I am not supposed to be

there. I am just outside the frame

of this action when the anonymous white man

returns with a white police officer. Then she starts

to leave into the windraked night but already

the policeman is going to work, the handcuffs are on her

wrists he is throwing her down his knee has gone into

her breast he is dragging her down the stairs I am unable

to hear a sound of all of this all that I know is what

I can see from this position there is no soundtrack

to go with this and I understand at once

it is meant to be in silence that this happens

in silence that he pushes her into the car

banging her head in silence that she cries out

in silence that she tries to explain she was only

waiting for a bus

in silence that he twists the flesh of her thigh

with his nails in silence that her tears begin to flow

that she pleads with the other policeman as if

he could be trusted to see her at all

in silence that in the precinct she refuses to give her name

in silence that they throw her into the cell

in silence that she stares him

straight in the face in silence that he sprays her

in her eyes with Mace in silence that she sinks her teeth

into his hand in silence that she is charged

with trespass assault and battery in

silence that at the sleet-swept corner her bus

passes without stopping and goes on

in silence. What I am telling you

is told by a white woman who they will say

was never there. I say I am there.

Between moon and sun, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Home, Warsan Shire (Somalia/England)

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city

running as well.

your neighbours running faster

than you, the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind

the old tin factory is

holding a gun bigger than his body,

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home

chased you, fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about

doing, and so when you did –

you carried the anthem under your breath,

waiting until the airport toilet

to tear up the passport and swallow,

each mouthful of paper making it clear that

you would not be going back.

you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles travelled

meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,

be beaten until your shadow leaves you,

raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of

the boat because you are darker, be sold,

starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,

be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,

make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,

stripped and searched, find prison everywhere

and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side

with go home blacks, refugees

dirty immigrants, asylum seekers

sucking our country dry of milk,

dark, with their hands out

smell strange, savage –

look what they’ve done to their own countries,

what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street

softer than a limb torn off,

the indignity of everyday life

more tender than fourteen men who

look like your father, between

your legs, insults easier to swallow

than rubble, than your child’s body

in pieces – for now, forget about pride

your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home tells you to

leave what you could not behind,

even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home

is a damp voice in your ear saying

leave, run now, i don’t know what

i’ve become.

Home, Kaushalya Bannerji October, 2020

A Comrade is as Precious as a Rice Seedling, Mila Aguilar (Philippines)

A comrade is as precious

as a rice seedling

One of many, it is true,

but nurtured by them

whose faces grow dark,

and taut, and lined

for the sake of their rice seedlings.

A comrade is as precious

as a rice seedling

for whom the peasant’s hands

grow thick and calloused

for whom his fingers

scrape the hardened mud.

A comrade is he

for whom the peasant’s toes

get muscled and big

because, like a rice seedling,

he will grow, one of precious many,

to fill the hunger

of him who cared enough

to nurture little seedlings.

A comrade is as precious

as a rice seedling

fed and nurtured

guarded from pestilence and floods

And yes, beloved of the peasant

because a rice seedling

grows, not only to fill his hunger,

but to give birth

to other seedlings

who will give birth

to many more

who will fill the hunger

of generations of peasants

for food, and land,

and right.

Small Unfurling, Kaushalya Bannerji, October 2020

And because poetry is not only read but spoken and sung, I have included the following links to some marvelous crafters of poems and songs.          

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

Post-Equinoctial Saudade

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

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

Selfie, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020

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

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

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

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

Poetry for the Peeps!

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

.

Sunflower, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

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

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

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

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

Jacob Lawrence, Barbershop, USA

Palabras Fundamentales, Nicolas Guillen ,

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

Kaushalya Bannerji copyright 2018

Mariposa, Pedro Luis Ferrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butterfly Migration, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

The Soloist

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!