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.

2014-08-02 20.25.13

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.

2014-08-02 20.54.12

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.

2014-08-03 11.18.32

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.

2014-08-02 20.25.13

 

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.

2014-08-02 20.54.12

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?

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (6-10)

 

 

 

10.

Sons Also Daughters 

For Tamara Symanska-Golik

 

Sons Also Daughters

Rummage through your life

Picking this, picking that

 

Killers all,

Sorting through your bones

Taking this, taking that

 

Also daughters

Picking at strands of hair

Gawking at roomfuls of combs, ribbons, brushes

 

Also daughters

Picking what seeds to save

Which to discard

What instances to remember

Which to forget

 

Sons also daughters

Killers all

Spreading seeds, writing code

One zero one zero

One for life

Zero for nought

One for air

Zero for everything else

 

Sons also daughters

Bear life

Hold the proof of your existence

In the stories they pick from your things

Your hair brush, your bones

Your fingernail clippings, you clothes, sheets

Shoes, you papers, love letters

Your old spices, the whole kitchen

Your memories of that place

Your loves, regrets, dead dreams

 

Also sons

Also daughters

Also sons

Also daughters

 

9.

2014-08-03 11.18.32

Enough

 

Enough with the uneasiness

The not belonging

The where are you from really where are you originally from

Enough with the how long have you been here have you been back when are you going back do you visit often aren’t you lucky to come from a place so warm do you like it here

Enough with the statistics that show that migrants come to this country with a higher level of education than the natural-born citizens and on average their children tend to do better than their parents maybe because they are born citizens but not natural-born citizens and why is there such a lack of nurses and doctors but we can’t trust the level of training they bring so they must mop the hospital floors and drive the gurneys to the morgue and drive taxis with their strong accents because they are used to driving in impossible traffic over there and at least they have a job in these days these terrible days these days of world-wide recession also called an economic down turn

My economic down turn happened way back when we left with some clothes, one photo album no books and plenty of hope because there was a shortage of nurses and they spoke English where we were going and it was not going to be so cold in the winter after all

My economic down turn happened when my job searches were limited to those that required high-school certificates and on the job training otherwise the directions to the human resources office led to the exit at the back of the building where a dark-skinned security guard held a cigarette between a yellowed thumb and index finger and had no smile for me

I want to go home

I’ve got the high-school certificate and years of misdirection, decades of living in paradise aren’t we lucky to live in paradise aren’t we lucky to have the mountains and the beaches and all this aboriginal art to look at to look at to look at don’t touch

I’ve done my stint at washing dishes for twelve-hour shifts working at the golden arches where customers demand white vanilla ice-cream no chocolate on it because I could never have understood that white vanilla ice cream was no swirl and what didn’t we have ice cream where I come from

We all want to go and live in paradise after all this after all this

After all we are not the inheritors of the riches in our backyard because we don’t have any trained geo-physicists to survey the land or ethics panels to tell us

That it is

Not right

not right

not right to

take

take

take

And leave us the pollution to deal with the high unemployment the shine gone from our dark skins the white smiles the ring-wormed children the long train of cervical cancer that they say is on its way to Africa

Now all I need is a passport and a country to call home

 

8.

2014-08-02 20.54.12

Smoke

I’ll never smoke again

Smoke

I’ll never drink again

Smoke

I’ll only drink for health and only red wine at that

Smoke

I already drank another one and hid away the can

Smoke

I lie

Smoke

I evade

Smoke

It’s all make up anyway

Smoke

We all die some day

Smoke

It’s not really a struggle, it’s a game, I can handle it

Smoke

You don’t matter

Smoke

What a fucking disaster

Smoke

I can’t wait to start again

 

7.

2014-08-04 16.58.39

Our lands like our bodies like our minds like our mines

for excavation

what’s your blood type?

what’s your blood type?

what’s your blood type?

will you be donating your organs?

If so, tick this box

 

If not tick this other box

Sign here and here and here and here and here

 

6.

2014-08-04 15.47.32

 

And so it was that we slid into things at the beginning of spider season

Spiders across the kitchen floor

Scuttling over the memory of us just there

 

Spiders along the wall exactly where your palms were

 

One spider hanged delicately, deliciously

hovered and then climbed up and disappeared into nowhere

Perhaps you were never here after all

The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (1-5)

5.

2014-08-02 20.54.12

The Microphone is not a Gun

The fact that a man picks up a microphone – that’s it, you see? That’s what makes him a rapper. It’s not a gun, it’s only a microphone.

Eminem. Interview with Zadie Smith. “The Zen of Eminem,” for Vibe Magazine.

I agree.

It’s not appropriate to think that the microphone could be a gun – it’s not. It’s only a microphone.

Not like the blues weeping, dripping all sassy like, sexy like, painful like, relieved like, sad again, like no word ever spoken – it’s nothing. It’s only a microphone.

And microphones are dead.

No.

Microphones are not dead.

No

Microphones are dead.

No.

Microphones are not dead.

No.

A microphone will switch on a voice whose cross-hairs marks everyone in the room; more, everyone within earshot.

A microphone will illuminate the dogs, the cockroaches, the foreigners, illegal aliens, refugees, the bastards arriving here by ship, here to take our women, our men, talk our children out into the streets, into hazy drug addicted lives; here to convince us that it never happened, it never did, nobody touched their them, nobody, nobody sodomized our kids, not even in God’s name.

The microphone is not dead.

It’s dead.

It’s not dead.

(The microphone is dead without a voice)

The microphone is all your life reduced to nothing

You’re dead when the message comes through to say that you are, or soon will be anyway. The voice behind the microphone says — kill the bastards! Gas them! Hack them! Shoot them! Get rid of every single one of them.

It’s not a gun, Eminem says. It’s not a gun.

 

The microphone for sure is not the poet who proclaims the death orders.

It’s certainly not a pile of tusks in Mombasa waiting to catch a fire and scream nothing.

Don’t you know that elephant tusks have no voices?

 

Microphones are not flowers, not love songs, not God on the podium, not Christ, or Mohammed, wailing in the desert

God is love! God is love! God is Love!

There is only one God

There is only one God

There is only one God

And God is love in the priest’s hands, in the killer’s trigger finger, your mother’s hands, mine – all God’s love – tell us!

Tell us, God’s man, tell us!

 

This microphone is not a gun. It’s a microphone. It’s not God carrying on, spewing love from the mountain-top.

It’s only a microphone.

It’s not a gun aiming to shatter your innards, desecrate that temple of love that you carry about, as your thoughts disintegrate into dust motes that float only in the light.

 

But have no doubt. The microphone is not a gun, but it can and will kill you.

The one that will save you only needs to whisper the truth that you already carry in your veins —

You’re alright as you are.

You’re lovely as you come.

You’re beautiful even as you look away, even as you sigh, holding you head in your hands, thinking that you can’t take much more than this.

You’re here

You exist

I see you

You belong with me, with us.

I love you

I need no gun, no microphone for that.

4.

2014-08-03 11.18.32

Blue Grey for Jodie Martinson

 

We, who are peddlers of stories, only focus on the blue grey

It’s the blue grey you insist on, isn’t it?

 

Once there was a woman who lived and died, as we all do

But she had a story

 

 

We, peddlers of stories, trade in the dark

Un-mucking details

Clearing shadows

Sweeping the dusty edges of stories that might have been fun, or even funny

 

Once there was a woman with a story

And now there isn’t

 

It’s the blue grey in the shadows beneath the boats

At the marina on False Creek

Nobody looks there and nobody cares

Small waves, small waves

 

We peddle stories, what more is there?

 

Once there was a woman

What happened to her made us take second glance

 

Once, a woman with a story mattered because she had a story

We peddle these things as if they were nothing

One story, the next and the one after that

We get fixed

We get our fix

We fix

 

Once, there was a woman who lived and now doesn’t

She mattered because she had a story that piqued our interest

 

Once, there was a woman, six times, sixty six or six hundred

But none had a narrative like hers

 

Once, there was a woman whose narrative claimed her

Molded her, like clay, into someone

Someone who mattered when her story engulfed the headlines

Her details were important

Having been dusted off from the corners and shadows where no one looks

 

It’s your insistence on the blue grey, isn’t it?

Grey December skies, whitish, sometimes black, belie soft waves under the boats

At False Creek, where red-roofed houses upon houses overlook the water

Witnesses at everyone turn but none are interested

Except you and I, peddlers of stories

Who get our fix, fix and are fixed

3.

2014-08-02 20.25.13

I wish it were night

Because what I need to tell you needs night

 

It needs drawn curtains, Bob melody, warm blankets, sleeping children dreaming, sucking at their mouths and your dark skin

 

What I need to tell you

Needs night

Your hands cupping my shoulder, the heat in your eyes

 

This night

Tonight

This night I need to talk to you

This night needs me, needs you, needs black

No streetlights – black

No moon – black

 

No black thoughts of black people here there every place

That black is black is black is black is me is you

 

What I need to say needs you black night

black skirt on stained carpet

black stockings

black boots, bra, bangles in a gold heap jangling the day away now quiet

 

What I need to say needs night with thunder that tremors

rain in sheets

lightening that brightens the sky for a second — a truth that you are more than the sum of all the parts that make me feel good

:you are black soul

 

What I need to say needs no TV

no shadowing bombs in Beirut

boasting suicides bombs

bragging shots

competitions of displaced people inside outside

borders citizen refugees unwanted migrants vagrants

on the west side of a blue green planet with echoes of canned laughter

 

No fingers to my lips, love.

What I need to tell you

What I need to tell you

What I need to tell you

 

2.

2014-08-04 16.58.39

I’m holding your foot in my hand

Your right foot or left

Socked, and you’re not even Jesus

But

God, I need saving

 

I peel off your sock

or I put it back on

(I can’t remember now)

Your foot, socked in my hand

& you’re still not Jesus

I need saving

I need saving, my lord

My lord, I need saving

 

Your foot in my lap

I cradle it close

Slow enough to diffuse into my mind

 

In this moment

I am safe

 

 

1.

2014-08-04 15.47.32

How was it that in my mind I was walking through the field

Gathering armfuls of flowers

While you lay dying?

 

How is it that flowers don’t exist

that the most beautiful spot on the beach

is where you stood, hands in pocket, glum and scowling?

 

Race and stop, not much matters anyway

Stones and sand are evolutionary relatives

You and I are stars

Orion has become a coward, hiding behind the sun

And none of this happened

None of it happened.

100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 21-30

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 21-30 as they come

Day 21

A ring around a rosie

A ring around a posy

A ring around a peony

A ring around a buttercup

A ring around a baby’s breath

A ring around a bouquet

 

A pocket full of posers

A pocket full of diamonds

A pocket full of memory

A pocket full of justice

A pocket full of ideas

A pocket full of shit

 

Ring around a rosy

A pocket full of posies

Achoo! Achoo!

We all fall down!

 

Day 22

Twenty years later we’re young again

as we should be

Welcome to this country

Welcome

 

Come and see how we live

Come and see how we get over everything

Come and see how we exhibit skulls

Come and see how we caress skeletons and tell stories about who these bones were

Come and see how how easy we are with things

Come and visit.

 

Our country is now open for tourism.

 

Day 23

Some of us fell between words

& some of us onto the sharps edges

at the end of sentences

 

And if we’re not impaled 

we’re still falling through stories that don’t make sense

 

Day 24

& then there was just the two of us

everything in flames

 

There was the two of us

your arm around my shoulder

mine around your waist

we hobbled on

just the two of us

 

we hobbled on

just the two of us for a while

& then there was just me

 

Day 25

Bones lie

Bones lie

Bones lie

About their numbers and bits and parts

 

Bones lie in open air, in fields, under brushes, along with with others in state vaults

in museums as if they belong there

in piles, as if they would ever do that in life

 

Bones lie about being dead

bleached

broken

pulverized, as if we who are not all bone

don’t live with nightmares

 

Bone have nothing to say

Nothing about who it was that loved them the most

 

Day 26

That day dared to set

As did the one after it and the one after that

Days became long nights

That became mornings which appeared innocent

of the activities of the day before

 

That day shouldn’t have set

 

The next day

if that other day had collapsed from exhaustion, should have held the night sky at bay

That day should have remained fixed in perpetuity

so that we would always know it to be true

 

Day 27

Glory be to the Father to whom all this is his will

Glory be to the Son who claims to have died for the sins of all men

Glory be to the Holy Spirit that guides the tongues of flames of the believers

As it was in the beginning

As it was in the beginning

As it has always been

 

As long as we need to hark back to a beginning

that only exists in the memory of the elusive trinity who can only be accessed through faith

Nothing will ever change

Nothing will ever change except by faith

So nothing will change

 

Day 28

When I (survey) look out at the world around me

(The wondrous cross)

On which (the Prince of Glory) every one that I loved, died

(My richest gain) My richest gain? My richest gain?

I count (but) as loss

It was all loss, all of it

And so I pour contempt on all (my) the pride

That seems to think that there is anything to celebrate

 

Don’t ever forbid it, Lord

That I should (boast) dare to speak out

(Save in) on the deaths

(of) Christ, my God, everything, everything that mattered

All the vain things that charm (me) you most – the sky scrapers, the clean streets

& the moneyed vendors

(I) You sacrifice (them) your own morality (to his blood)

 

There is nothing to party about, nothing

 

See from (His head, His hands, His feet) this vantage point

Just how much sorrow and love and bone and blood flow mingling down

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet? Did ever?

Where did ever such a twisted sense of wreath making come from?

Or why would thorns compose so rich a crown?

Can you not read the land?

 

Were the whole realm of nature mine

That were a present far too small

Love so amazing so divine

Demands my soul, my life, my all

 

So it took my soul, my life, my all

 

Day 29

Time is a curve

so long that it seems to be a straight line

 

I can see myself walk away

I see

& then remember my heel striking the ground first

the weight of my shoulders

the back of my head & the low hang of my neck

 

Circle forward

What does my face matter if my heel is still cracked?

 

Day 30

A grid

a fence

a field

some grass

some stumbling

 

a ditch

mud

a broken slipper

 

a tear

a sheet

some fumbling

a groan

 

a metal plate with a faded rose in it

a rusty kettle that will never boil.

Tikkun Daily

The Art of Revolution: Spoken Word, Video, and Performance Art to Change The World — Juliane Okot Bitek

by:  on January 8th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Juliane Okot Bitek knows the power of narrative. An award winning writer living in Vancouver, Canada, Okot Bitek is also an Acholi woman who calls Gulu in Northern Uganda home. Considering the civil war (1986- 2006) that plagued northern Ugandans, it’s no wonder much of Okot Bitek’s passionate writing focuses on social and political issues. In the last decade, through her poetry, essays, fiction, nonfiction and opinion pieces, Okot Bitek has fought both to make sense of, and to expose the tragedies of her homeland.

Okot Bitek comes to writing through an impressive lineage. Her late father is the famed Ugandan poet, essayist, novelist and academic, Okot p’Bitek, who was, shortly before his death in 1982, appointed as the first professor of Creative Writing at Makerere University in Kampala. Things weren’t always so rosy, however. As a result of her father’s work, Okot Bitek and her family spent the early years of her childhood in exile in Kenya. As a result of this history, Okot Bitek is no stranger to political strife and social unrest. Still, in spite of this, she describes the pleasure of growing up in a house full of books and lively debates between her parents and their literary and artistic friends. Some of Africa’s luminaries were regular houseguests: Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and David Rubadiri were men she called uncle, and on a given day they might be filling the Okot Bitek household with their intellect, their opinions and their friendship.

Growing up in such an environment would make anyone sensitive to the importance of storytelling. As Okot Bitek says, “Stories are everything. Without a story, none of us exists.” But it’s not just the significance of narrative that is so dear to Okot Bitek, she is sensitive to the invisibility and the silence that shrouds those whose stories don’t get heard. This is evident in the work she has recently completed, which is provisionally titled Stories From the Dry Season. Collaborating with Dr. Erin Baines of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia and Grace Acan, a women’s advocate and LRA survivor, Okot Bitek took on this work as a way to tell the stories of women from northern Uganda who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A) and who eventually returned to civilian life after long and terrible years of abuse and assault.

A doctoral student at UBC herself, Okot Bitek recently participated in a poetry reading at the Liu Institute for Global Issues with one of the subjects of her book and co-author, Grace Acan. In 1996 Acan was abducted, along with many other girls, from her school in Uganda when she was only 16. For eight years she was the captive of rebels, living a terrifying and unstable life in the bush as a “rebel wife”. She bore two children during this time, but tragically, one of her them was killed in an attack by the Ugandan army. Attempts at escape by other bush wives were met with brutal beatings, even murder, but eventually Grace did escape and she is now a university student who is also involved in the Women’s Advocacy Network, a local NGO that seeks justice for women affected by the war in Uganda.

More on Grace Acan can be found here.

And an interview with Grace Acan can be heard here