The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (71-75)

2014-08-02 20.54.12

71.

World without end

world without end

so this is what it means to know that you have a crazy mother

world without end it was always like this

world without end and then someone broke in

& told us & told us & told us that our mother was crazy

world without end she was normal

she ironed her memories into her kanga

she used that same kanga to wrap her head

to carry us

to dry the plates

to wipe the snot from the baby’s nose

world without end that’s the way it always was

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72.

now that we know that our mother is crazy

we wrap ours about our waists

to protect us from evil

til the hour of our death

amen

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73.

we’re the startling green grass after the fires of the dry season

insistent

& clear

& knowing

& remembering

& expecting that this was not the last of the fires of the dry season

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74.

the earth remains as still as it ever was

dust rises and rises

creating silhouettes of the men in the road before us

red powder

red powder everywhere

and then the re-settling into stillness

the earth is stony, rocky, stubborn

it will only yield at 3 in the afternoon

& it will take in volunteers

in the smallest of yawns

to maintain the red of the the dust

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75.

over here, money is liquid

it melts nothing

costs nothing

buys nothing

moves nothing

but copious amounts of pleasure & satiation

over there money is cold

it moves everything

costs more

induces cold sweat

& can never provoke a smile

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The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (66-70)

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66.

At 3.15 am the door slams

the last of the whole words are gone

an army of ants had taken their place

& are hauling out crumbs

& verbal punctuations

bits and pieces

ahs & ums

shas & sheez

jeez & jesus!

all crystalline

all salty bits of sound

 

the ants make quick work

by mid-morning they’re all gone

 

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67.

by midday

all that’s left are images

too awkward to fit through the door & windows

 

like the two bald girls lipsticked and high heeled

like their mother wiping off some of the lipstick

like the one girl pouting afterwards

like the other smacking her lips, still smiling

 

like the mad man scouring the pews with his eyes

like the moment that he seeks you out

like the stern point he makes towards you

making all your pew-mates glance at you

 

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68.

a story emerges after church

how he has a wife & daughters

how he has a twin brother

how his name is Forgod

& how his equally mad brother is Forget

 

& how all this

is performance & story without words

 

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69.

Incandescence, I tell you

isn’t the sum of everything

it’s not even the multiplication of light

it’s nothing without the tapestry inside a black sky

 

Didn’t I tell you that stars would wear thin?

Stars don’t change

Stars don’t move

Stars don’t do a damn thing but stare

 

Incandescence is a red moon

a white moon

a low moon

a half moon

a sliver

a joke

 

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70.

A gecko darts silently out of the shadows

& scurries across the whitish wall

& then stands still

 

A mosquito buzzes angrily

she has no access

 

Inside the safety of a net

I snicker

& then

wait

what’s with the sudden itch

of a spider bite above my knee?

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (61-65)

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61.

You & I on the couch this morning

You in your work clothes & I in my bathrobe

Both of us cloaked in silence

 

when is a good day to die?

 

Not Monday because she’s fair

Thursday maybe

because Thursday’s child they say has far to go

 

A list of words to go through:

Laundry

Banking

Baking

Insouciance

Slithery

Computational

Universality

Dispersal

Do words feel the tongue of the speaker?

 

In the middle of a sentence, a dream

After fucking like dogs pounding ourselves into each other

Intent on each of us becoming one other

 

When is a good day to die?

 

At the junction where Broadway meets Main

A heart falls out on to the road

& the bus brakes just in time

 

Look after your heart, mister!

What are you doing?

Didn’t your mother teach you

to take care of your heart?

 

May or August, perhaps

Any month but your birthday month

That would be altogether too cruel

 

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This week we swore we’d dismember language

We pinky-promised to make a list

 

We’d take first English apart word by inept word

We’d begin with articles

 

From Monday on, we’d dismiss the specific

the general, the commander & the war

& just like that:

there was no more war & no language for it

 

On Tuesday you suggested

that we bleed out the possessives

Nothing could belong to anyone or anything

Share one, share alike

& I was no longer your darling

 

So we buried Conrad in the backyard

Along with all five European languages he used to speak

We buried Marlowe beside him, greedy fucker that he was

along with all the declarations he made

 

By Friday we could still articulate love so we hanged on

to action words as political cowardice

 

Saturday, there was no more point

we opened blue caches of verbs

No subject

No verb

No object

No simple sentences to point towards complex existences

 

No subjects

No other

No thing

So we hummed ourselves to sleep

 

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63.

Beloved, yesterday I sent my gal to the market

& she hasn’t come back

 

Beloved, I sent my daughter to the market

the loud one

the big one

the noisy one

the boisterous one

I sent my best self to the market

&  now she won’t come back

 

She was to pick up fresh vegetable, fruit

some other grocery — soap & the like

 

How long was she there?

Not very long, I expected her back any minute

 

Yesterday’s market isn’t there any more

That big, loud, boisterous space

where storied & money & goods changed hands is gone

 

All the souls fled except for the ones that hang around

Dancing in the breeze

& whistling through plastic bags that flap about

 

All the scattered things & bodies & embers

All the bits that used to represent life

All the stories that were interrupted mid sentence

when my daughter, strapped by some strangers

blew up into nothing

 

Yesterday I sent my life to the market

It’s as if I never existed before

 

Beloved, where did we take the wrong turn?

 

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64.

Today you bury your son

breath in & breath out

How is it even possible?

 

Yesterday I sent my daughter to the market

& today you bury your son

 

Breath in & breath out

never stopping, never stopping

even in the middle of wracked grief

where did we take the wrong turn, beloved?

 

Where?

 

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65.

Adjectives, nouns & adverbs

in a bowl

like fruit

from last week

starting to go bad

starting to have the sick sweet smell

of fruit going bad

starting to die

starting to know that fruit knows

that they’re dead

the moment that they’re picked from the tree

 

A collection of wilting words

waiting to be thrown out

into the compost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (41- 44)

41.

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There is no power

There is no power to a cursed god

A dumb god

A rabid god

A terrible, terrible god

 

However

There is power to a nature that doesn’t care about curses

 

42.

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My fiction is a seduction — let’s get married

My fiction does not lie — c’mon, let’s get married

Fiction doesn’t cajole or threaten — what is it with you?  you have nothing to lose

Fiction will carry you, light as nothing but your actual weight

Fiction will place you there, right there, in medias res

 

Once there was a girl who had started to run long before the story started

& then you became the girl

& then you were the one that was chasing her

& then you became the fiction and the girl became the teller

 

What fiction is that if it’s not true?

C’mon. Let’s do it. Let’s get married today

 

43.

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A thirsty god finds me at the shore

selling water by the cup

A thirsty god, a broke god stands before me

You pay first, I tell him

You pay first

 

So this thirsty god tosses a couple of coins into the metal bucket

& draws deeply from the cup

Another cup?

You pay first

 

My god turns his pockets inside out

Shows me his wallet, his overdrawn credit cards

You pay first, I tell the damned god

 

I’ll give you a wish

A wish from a cheap god, a broke god

 

I wish, I begin

I wish I knew if she still wore that pink underwear

 

My god sputters out the water in his mouth

That’s it?

Not world peace?

 

I meet his incredulity with steady eyes

My wish, god, not yours

Who died and made you judge?

 

Christ, my god mutters, his lips still wet

Jesus Christ

 

44.

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Once a woman came to give a talk

I sat in the audience, rows and rows and rows away

almost in the back

 

After the introduction she got up from the front row

She wore all black — black top, black pants, black scarf

but as she got up there was a flash of pink at her waistline

 

 

 

 

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (21-25)

21.

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In this full moon

Two men get ready — a legacy and impending widowerhood

One man takes down a calendar from the kitchen wall

& re-marks the rest of the year in blue felt pen

then he sharpens the knives in the cupboard

no point in keeping blunt knives anymore

but he will keep the gold band for a while yet

The other makes his way up a mound of stories

clears his throat and begins his speech again

22.

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In this full moon

a man cuts out the remaining days of the calendar already marked in blue

miss, not miss, miss, not miss, miss, not miss

he strings them out on a clothes line to catch the sun tomorrow

We hear you, man

It was never going to be easy

23.

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The other man stands atop a mound of stories

Layers and layers of narratives, sketches, vignettes and the occasional poem

Right up there he leans on the podium and clears his throat

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m honoured to stand here today

A gold band glitters in the light

He’s married, don’t you know?

We hear you, man

We hear you, we’re not deaf

24.

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In this full moon

a man prepares his legacy by parsing out the relevant dead

the relevant dead being men from a thousand years ago

he points at a picture of two metal fragments

(what are the indications that this man may live on forever in light of the evidence

of these two metal fragments?

Pretty good, I’d say.  Pretty good)

As long as we forget that women still go missing

As long as we forget that women still get murdered

As long as we forget that the missing and murdered women come from that pile of stories

Miss, not miss, miss, not miss, miss, not miss

wedding bands, moonlight, madness and stories

So what is it, man?

25.

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Between this full moon and the one before it and the one before that

and before that and before that going back some time

a woman steps into a place that vibrates at such a high frequency

that she disappears altogether

we never see her again

we call her among the murdered and the missing women

what is it about the Franklin Expedition that we must never forget?

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (16-20)

 

16.

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Tell me a story, you said

Tell me a story  if you want me to stay

 

Once there was a woman in pieces

One arm here and one arm there

One leg flung across the living room

& her individual lashes were impossible to find in the patterned shag

 

17.

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Once there was a woman

who was struggling to put herself back together

Most of her torso was in the bathtub

& her tears were draining away in the kitchen sink

after having rinsed all the dishes from last night

 

18.

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Once there was a woman who hadn’t known

that care was what had kept the hinges of the elbows fluid

Take care of yourself

Take  care of yourself

Take care of yourself

 

Tell me a story if you want me to stay

 

There was a woman who went shopping at the dollar store

She managed to get a bottle of school glue between her teeth and paid for it in pennies

Her limbs re-fused when the white glue turned clear

but it was hard to glue the skin on her back properly

because her fingers had become tacky from all the gluing that day

 

Tell me another story

If you want me to stay

19.

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White butterflies by the rail road trucks

A motorcyle parked by a flower garden

A man plays guitar by the waterfront and sings a sad song

The sky is blue

The sky is clear

 

Tell me a story that is not a sequence of beauty

Tell me a complicated story so that I might forget that I should be happy

 

20.

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Once there was a woman who wanted to be a saint

So she conjured up a trophy at the mayor’s office and lined up at ticketing

 

(That doesn’t make sense)

 

Once there was a woman who wanted to be a saint

So the mayor walked right out of the office, right up to her at her place in line at the ticketing office

and handed her a trophy

Her parking tickets disappeared at that same moment

 

(That doesn’t make sense)

 

Well sainthood doesn’t make sense, does it?

How can we make miracles when we can’t see the precious that we are?

100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 31-40

Inspired by the quiet homage to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that Wangechi Mutu started posting on social media on April 6, I decided to respond. I offer these poetic pieces as a way to think about the way in which we navigate through knowing about and understanding the genocide and other wars that endure.

Here are Days 31-40 as they come

 

Day 31

Here: it is daytime now

We’re here

It is now twenty years after a hundred days that we did not plan on living through

We wanted to, prayed, yearned to make it

 

Not that those who didn’t didn’t

Day 32

 

In Eden

We heard birdsong and didn’t hear it

We saw the soft flutter & sail of a falling leaf, but we didn’t know how to read it

We worked the earth, lived off it, trampled it back and forth, back and forth

 

In Eden

We never thought about the difference between house and home

we never even thought to call it; we were it, it was us and ours

gang wa

 

Now as we fall unendingly

we know different

we understand belonging as transitory at best

& as elusive as the future we once imagined.

 

Day 33

So we mothed along towards the fire

With the full knowledge that there couldn’t be anything else beyond this

We mothed along

with bare arms, wingless

 

a light step here

a light step there

sometimes no step at all

& other times dreamless stops

 

We mothed along knowing that it was possibly death

& not fire that beckoned

 

Day 34

So we saw, tasted, smelled, touched, felt and heard what we knew to be true

 

We had to see, taste, smell, touch, feel and hear in order to know this word

–genocide?

How much made it valid?

Would one less death have disqualified those hundred days from being called a genocide?

 

And more?

 

Day 35

There’s no denying the flap of an angel’s wings

for someone who felt it fan her face in those days

 

The salve of a gentle touch

The stretch of an arm to catch you as you reached for the top of the wall

the strength of a wail

the depth of a moan

the light of unending days

the consistency of seasons

as real as angel wings

 

There is, however, a slope that leads

from these days of fiction

into nightmares that are real.

 

Day 36

Oh, I curse you

I curse you long and hard and deep and wide

I curse you with fire from my mouth

I join everyone with fire in the mouth

Wherever we live & wherever we lay

We curse you, we curse you, we curse you.

 

Day 37

When Christ lost a beloved friend, he cried out:

Lazarus!

Lazarus, come out of the tomb

Lazarus, come out of the tomb

 

Imagine Christ crying for the beloved on this land:

Lazarus! Lazarus! Lazarus! Lazarus!

Lazarus, come out of the tomb!

 

Imagine Christ with a croaking voice:

Lazarus, Lazarus, Lazarus

 

Christ in a whisper

Christ mumbling:

Lazarus, Lazarus

 

Christ spent

Christ crumbled

Oh, Lazarus

 

Christ either had no idea of these one hundred days

Or he must have lost his voice in the first few moments

 

Christ may just have not been capable

He might have noted the endless and boundless losses of the beloved on this land

He might have hung his head down, powerless in the face of this might

 

Christ, look to your mother

ask her to pray for your intercession

 

Day 38

If there’s a breeze tonight

We might think for a moment that it is sweet

 

There is a breeze tonight

& it is sweet

 

I can’t remember if the breeze was sweet in those days

There was a breeze

There might have been

 

Why not?

It might have been the same sweet breeze that kept us from burning

 

Day 39

If we were to go back to the time before these hundred days

We couldn’t return without knowing what was to come

 

How could we?

 

If we were to swear off, that we couldn’t return to these days

I don’t know that we could; we know

 

We’re marked by this knowing

We know that we’re marked

 

& this knowledge taints us

& so we can never absorb your innocence

 

But

Your innocence will not shield you from these days

Because your innocence does not cleanse

& so your innocence cannot save you from what you must know

 

Day 40

She is my country

 

Every time she goes

I am a leaf in the wind

Every time she goes

She takes with her

All the home that I can ever claim

 

What use do I have for the carrier of bones?

What anthem can I sing for the graves of children?

 

She holds my home in the country that she is

& every time she returns, she is my flag

& I am home again

A Minute with Juliane Okot Bitek

An interview by the lovely people at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program

A Minute with Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek is a PhD student in Interdisciplinary Students Graduate Program.  She holds a Master’s Degree in English and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art (Creative Writing).  Her doctoral research focuses on post-conflict narratives of formerly abducted women in northern Uganda.  Juliane is an essayist and poet whose work has been anthologized and published widely in literary magazines, on-line and in print.  She recently completed a book, Stories from the Dry Season, which she co-authored with Grace Acan, a women’s advocate in northern Uganda.  Juliane has been an invited poet at the International Poetry Festivals of Medellin, Colombia (2008) and Granada, Nicaragua (2009).  She continues to write and speak about issues of home, homeland and diaspora.

We interviewed Juliane Okot Bitek in July 2013.

Essential biography:

“A Chronology of Compassion or Towards an Imperfect Future” International Journal of Transitional Justice Special Edition. Vol. 6, Iss. 3. 394-403.(Fall 2012)

“Dreams of Home Place and Belonging: A Fractured Essay for a Sense of Home.” Cutting Edge; A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies at UBC. Vol.1

Drums of My Flesh by Cyril Dabydeen (Tsar Publications, 2007) Canadian Literature: A Quarterly of Criticism and Review 198 (Autumn 2008) Canada and its Discontents 106- 107

What is the best moment of the day?

For certain, it’s got to be after dinner. With the exception of days when brilliance shows itself whenever it does, the moment supper is done I feel as though all my responsibilities for the day have been met and the world is mine.

What kind of music do you listen to at the moment?

I don’t have a music collection on my phone. I don’t feel the need to be plugged in and I’m also afraid of missing out in real life sounds.

Do you listen to the radio?

CBC Radio while I make dinner so mostly I catch the news. As it Happens and sometimes The Current Revue. On the odd Sunday I’m thrilled to catch The Vinyl Cafe with Staurt Maclean.

What was your first job?

Selling snacks at the cinema before and during the intermission at my mom’s kiosk. I didn’t get paid in cash but we got all the benefits of watching movies, playing pinball games and watching concerts for free.
What Academic books/articles are you reading now? In preparing for comps, I have a bunch of reading to get through. At this very moment: Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries, James Scotts’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance, Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Richard Delgado’s Critical Race Theory.

What Non-Academic books do you have on your bedside table?

They Call Me Lolita, 419.

When you were a child, did you want to study a PhD?

Where do you work?

At the Liu Institute for Global Issues.

Do you discuss your work with other researchers or academics, aside from your peers?

Yes, anyone who will listen.

Describe what is to be “interdisciplinary”, like you would describe it to a good friend.

Like a good outfit made to fit your figure through different sizing for the top and the bottom but it looks good together.

What interdisciplinary research or work has given you the best satisfaction?

The intersection between the politics, creative and critical writing, reading and thinking is so exciting when it comes together in a piece through the works of Toni Morrison, Dionne Brand, Wangechi Mutu, Wambui Mwangi, Anne Carson, Audre Lorde for example.

Is there any researcher or academic you admire or appreciate a lot?

Oh yes. My supervisory committee are my intellectual stars.

What advice would you give up to aspiring Grad-School, or Grad Students.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and so it’s important to work your core muscles, eat and sleep well.

What are you afraid of regarding the future?

That my core muscles won’t hold.