From Gauntlet (Nomados Press 2019)

glove1 we2 were the ones3 that didn’t fit4 so they5 were6 acquitted7 weren’t8 they9 while10 we11 got12 tossed13 back14 into the box15 got labelled16 stamped17 with18 date19 & time20 & forgotten21

1 department compartment

2 department compartment

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6 department compartment

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21department compartment

 

gratitude1 because2 where are you from3 because4 wow you’ve been here for such a long time because5 so you must have come here as a child because you’re such a long way from your home because6 because7 where did you learn to speak english so good because8 I’m just curious because your accent is so charming because9 you don’t look or sound like you’re from here because I’ve never seen you before

1 because i must feel so lucky to live in this country
2 where am i from where am i from where am i really really from 3 magic i’m from clouds from anywhere of nowhere that could fit
within the limits of your imagination
4 i know what alienation sounds like i really do
5 right you didn’t hear what I said can i repeat myself I have such
a sing songy way of speaking
6 these are your concerns how far i am away from home
7 at the borders between nations our tongues are measured & this
time they let me in
8 i still know what alienation sounds like I hear it every day

9 so i cannot forget what alienation sounds like

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The Dogs are Coming

I hold my madness to my chest
after the dogs have gotten here

I hold my madness to my chest
because chest madness is silence everywhere else

God in the basement drunk
& it’s only just past noon
God in the basement in bits
& I’ve failed to put him back together

So if time won’t do?
Can we count words to remember the lives we lost on that day?

With what words?
With what stories can we tell
when we round off figures of people who lived their lives, or not;
madness just
madness just
madness across timelines
madness beyond graphs
madness beyond the clotheslines
lines & lines & lines & lines

except for the spot at the fence
where the neighbours haggle over who’s going to pay for what

What stories are there to tell in the presence of lovers
what of nature
what of annual cycles
what of wind & ocean rising to meet the stars?
What of the sun?

Yesterday you got out for the first time since last Monday
I told you to wear your madness around you like a cape
you refused
then you rushed back into the house
howling, splintering, gasping for breath

You’ve got to keep your madness to yourself
I’m telling
you just must
the dogs are coming
& the sun is not your friend
the dogs are coming
& the sun won’t be your friend

Superwoman cape
for Superwoman nothing

What words can rise up
collect itself like a hill or a mountain
on Monday morning on the way to work
same as it has always been:
we have nothing
we are nothing
time is nothing
& the mountains & hills will mock us until the end

So this is why I keep mine close to me
these are the end days

God in the basement in pieces
God toes scattered across the carpet
& God digits remain on the coffee table

Copyright © Juliane Okot Bitek. Originally published in EVENT Magazine (Issue 47.1, Spring/Summer 2018).

The Dogs are Coming by Juliane Okot Bitek

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (36-38)

36.

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On the other side of Saturday, she is shiny with desire

Today, not so much

 

Desire for what?

A clean house?

Well-behaved children?

A successful practice?

An unwavering hand at her back?

 

Saturdays leave much to be desired

Breakfast in bed for a tired woman

One day in the year

Two, three

A bouquet of flowers

Weloveyouweloveweloveyouwedo

A lop-sided smile

A small pinch

 

Ah, bwana, lakini wewe?

Let us not arouse the dead

 

37.

2014-08-04 16.58.39

Distinctions:

1. Your loveliness — for this there is no struggle

2. Your location on the east gate. No one is coming to acknowledge your presence

3. The relationship between the breeze and a full skirt

4. There is nothing else but you

 

38.

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Grace Lee Boggs on the period of transition:

“I’m very conscious of the sense of time.  How long will I live?  I’m very conscious of what time it is on the clock of the world.  As I have grown older, I think more in terms of centuries, whereas eight or nine years ago, I was only thinking about decades.”

 

It’s almost morning in the clock of the world

A chandelier in the living room swings gently on it’s own, remember?

 

A pale sky

A tired night

An almost morning in the clock of the world

The earth itches in yet another spot

The first sign the the cold season is over — earthworms wriggle out

The first sign that the cold season will never be over — Grace Lee Boggs is gone

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesdays like Fridays Joe said

Tuesdays like elephants, like laughter, like skin. Tuesdays like elements of nature, like commitment, like fire. Tuesdays like forewords, like bridesmaids, like flowers, like coffee at eleven, like lotion that wears out with the afternoon sun. Tuesdays like opportunity. Tuesdays like relationships. Tuesdays like references, like printers, like home.The Hail Mary Project

165 New Poems: The Mundane, Sublime & Fantastical (151-155)

2014-08-02 20.25.13

151.

forgive me, Jasmine

the foolishness with which I speak

surpasses my lack of humility

from last night

 

the world might heave

& swallow itself

but your arms about me are strong

& I’m safe

2014-08-04 16.58.39

152.

when the instructions were given for jericho

we lined up, we of the margins

we lined up to sing & pray like everyone else

but they pointed at us & called us infidel

& called infidelity from our lyrics

& told us to go

 

so further & further out from the wall

of Jericho from the columns of song

from the layers & layers of prayer

& the centre where a golden god waited for freedom

 

we heard: not you infidel

not you with your infidelity

not you with that kind of soul beside you

 

so further & further

further & further until we turned our backs

to the centre & from the wall

& headed back home

2014-08-04 15.47.32

153.

we headed for ethiopia

i to look for anu

you for aoife of the marvellous thighs

 

we walked a dark night

you held my hand

reminded me to look for the white line on the road

to watch for traffic

to listen for the direction of the river babble

2014-08-02 20.54.12

154.

we walked in the dark

away from the margins

away from the walls of jericho

 

so the stars dimmed

& enveloped us into a darkness

with hard edges & a soft centre

2014-08-03 11.18.32

155.

watch for traffic

remember the road line

stick to our stories

hold hands, hold hands

 

so we forgot about jericho

because we had each other

& a cabin that waited

165 New Poems: The Mundane, Sublime & Fantastical (146-150)

2014-08-04 16.58.39

146.

Because Binyavanga Wainaina asked: “where were we when the beautiful Moses Taiwa Molelekwa died?”

trees line the street like widows waiting for a coffin

where were we when mokolekwa died?

i might have been painting likely not

i might have been loving or cracking hearts for dinner

i might have been walking home or stuck in traffic

or on the bus

or waiting for time

or waiting for time

mokelekwa was dying

mokelekwa was dead

the boulevard remains lined

trees like widows waiting for the body

where were we when molelekwa was dying?

i might have been doing dishes complaining

loving life or hating everything

mololekwa was dying he was dead

where were we?

where were we?

Where were we

when molelekwa was dying?

With their straight backed trunks

dignified trees still line the street

the coffin is on the way

2014-08-04 15.47.32

147.

brother, we listened to you full of life

drank in your music as i marked papers

felt that much

that much

that much kinder, lighter

more alive

where was i when molelekwa died?

where was i split apart by his notes

remember

remember, damn it

remember

2014-08-02 20.25.13

148.

i want you back but i have to contend

i want you back even as i have you

i have your music

i have your smile i have your words

still

i want you back i never had you

i want you back i won’t ever have the music

that died with you

where was i when molelekwa died?

2014-08-03 11.18.32

149.

The trees are still in lines

that insist beyond the boulevards

we were waiting even when we didn’t know

we couldn’t have known

we were waiting a decade

before piano tickles & after

before trumpet blows & after

before we understood that the horns

would precede your last walk home

2014-08-02 20.54.12

150.

where were we when molelekwa died?

the children were little still precious then

the children were incessant still dependant

i longed for music

i longed for you, molelekwa

not knowing & not knowing

on the way home

on the bus

in traffic

longing for this music

longing for this jazz

painting

or not painting

complaining all the time

longing longing

& still longing

other widows line the street

the way they always do

they wait backs straight heads bowed

to receive molelekwa & his love

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (141-145)

2014-08-03 11.18.32

141.

When weren’t they my hands

The dark-skinned ones

Weaving the loom with blackened nails

I see you, man

I see you on the other side of the window

Having an animated conversation

 

My head in my hands but I see you

 

When weren’t those hands mine?

The ones in the fundraising ad

To help preserve old knowledge, you know?

Because only your money can help save them

Us them us them us them us

 

I see you, man

Having an animated conversation

Now your first fingers under your chin

Your head tilted back

Your thumb is the trigger

My head in my hands

Crowd funding crowd funding

Crowd funding crowd crowd crowd

 

Shall I help you pull the trigger, man?

 

2014-08-04 16.58.39

142.

We’ve fallen into story

& inside story this is all there is

This is all there is this is all there is

This is all

 

We fall

We fall

We fall

Into lightness

Into being

Brightness into flight

 

This is all there is this

Is all there is this is

All there is this becoming

What they wanted us to be

Coming into becoming

Into being

Who are we who are we who are

We again?

 

2014-08-02 20.54.12

143.

You kissed me on the threshold

Because

You wanted to show

Your wife to

See you wanted my husband

To see you

Kiss me on the threshold you

Wanted me to see

Love you wanted to show your wife

Love you wanted to show my husband

Love you wanted to

 

2014-08-02 20.25.13

144.

I almost saw you today

Almost you sitting in a chair ahead of me

Intent on the presentation

& I on almost you

 

& then almost you turned

& almost you wasn’t you at all

But just the back of your head nape shoulder

& the memory of my hands on you

Shapeshifting

2014-08-04 15.47.32

145.

& now you’re a tiger snarling

& now you’re a memory

Now you’re an ache

Now goosebumps

&  all I can feel is you

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New poems (136-140)

2014-08-04 15.47.32

136.

we arrive at the courthouse

my thighs & I

judge is already there

waiting for us

so he can be announced

& stood up for

 

we arrive, my thighs & I

judge with his red eyes glinting

i can’t yet tell whether he remembers

where we were last night

 

we arrive, my thighs & I

the courthouse is awash in excitement

the evidence is apparent

the collar of a priest

a rabid dog

a fan

 

we’re late, my thighs & I

late because you you said

we were only 8 minutes to squamish

& you know it took a lot longer than that

2014-08-02 20.25.13

137.

the jury, all bespectacled

the jury of my peers

the peers of my thighs

the jury to decide our fate

 

finally

silence in the court

we stand there, my thighs & I

& await pronouncement

from a judge who’s eyes glint

with something

that may be a memory

2014-08-02 20.54.12

138.

the gavel

a rabid dog

a fan

the collar of a priest

a sweaty palm

a smirk

a quiver

 

we won’t be going back home

if we’re pronounced guilty today

2014-08-02 20.25.13

139.

my thighs & I are accused

of adjusting the truth

 

adjusting the truth?

yes, adjusting the truth

to fit the time we needed

to get to squamish

 

(you know exactly what i mean

you said it would take 8 minutes

& we were late)

 

& now we stand convicted

for this

 

but adjusting the truth

is no lie

the lie may be a fiction

but fiction is no lie

2014-08-04 16.58.39

140.

she’s on her knees

as if caught in the grip of religion

muttering, muttering

a tulip sprouts from her head

the way it did last tuesday

 

she’s on her knees again

like she’s

in the presence of a mighty one

her hands over her face

you can’t hear if she she repeats

amen, amen, amen

 

on her knees

as if her legs have given out

& the lord won’t forgive her

as if he ever has

 

 

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New poems (131-135)

2014-08-03 11.18.32131.

First he came crawling on his belly

A leather bound note book in his mouth

— I sent him back

Then he showed up like a donkey

pulling a cart behind him

he wore blinders like a race horse

looking for a master

— I sent him back for the note book

all leather & bound

 

2014-08-02 20.25.13

132.

On Tuesday he returned

a platter of kisses in his left hand

& a note book entitled:

The Mundane, the Sublime & the Fantastical

Sit, he said

Write

 

2014-08-02 20.54.12

133.

You are the skin of my back, girl

I tell you, you are

You hold me together

even when I hardly ever think about you

 

but when there’s an itch, a pimple

a thing that is beyond my reach

my whole body comes to a standstill

 

Help me, I ask my friends

get that itch, I ask my lovers

& they try

& they approximate

& they want to help me, they do

 

That’s it, thank you

but my body still vibrates with unease

because you’re the skin of my back

& you hold me together, girl

 

2014-08-04 15.47.32

134.

As my head poured out yesterday

I came to understand the following:

for others it light & love

for me it’s only you

 

2014-08-04 16.58.39

135.

that, & this:

A is the laziest but most elegant of cards

that 6 is the hardest working number

followed by 8

2 is eager

3 shirks work

4 doesn’t care

9 doesn’t pay attention

 

Queens are hardworking but extremely privileged

so much so it’s hard to see her work

coz she’s just so upppity

& yet nothing happens without her

the King wouldn’t know if he was coming or going

she holds him

she binds them altogether

& the Joker is a Joker

that’s always true

 

7 & 2 are cousins

best not to let them be together

they can’t be trusted

 

5 is just stupid

but that’s nobody’s fault

& 9 is lovely

everyone knows that

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New poems (126-130)

2014-08-03 11.18.32

126.

I need to forget

the whisper of your fingertips

& the firm hold of your palms

so I can know the sensuousness of skin again

 

but I won’t forget

I can’t yet forget

the way you move beneath me

 

2014-08-02 20.54.12

127.

Men in red t-shirts and khaki pants work inside

men in blue t-shirts and rolled up khakis tend the ground outside

a snake pours out of my head

 

Men in red turbans & blue t-shirts

their faces & hands covered

in dust & cement

(who knows what they do)

women in white serve food

 

a snake slithers

 

sullen women in brown sweep, mop the floor

I sit at the beach with a snake dangling from my head

 

2014-08-04 16.58.39

128.

 

Red ants black ants pale orange ants

red ants black ants pale orange ants

tree tree tree tree tree

palm fronds in the wind

my head pours out

a red hibiscus

 

more women in brown — housekeeping

they will not greet me back

my head pours out

snake after snake

snake after snake

snake after snake after snake

 

2014-08-04 15.47.32

 

129.

first snake slithers in the sand

monkey shit on the steps won’t wash away with the rain

angry-looking guard men at the gate in white

 

my head pours out

starry nights

monkey shit

 

first snake disappears

others writhe about for a while

 

2014-08-02 20.25.13

 

130.

 

a family in single file

the boy — red shirt, green pants — cartwheels

the women— heavy with a multitude of colour — shuffle along

three girls — red dresses, gold trim — skip, skip, skipping

a man in an orange shirt, rolled up pants at the rear

a riot of colour against the blue grey of the sea & sky

they stop to picnic

& colour takes a break