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?

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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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.