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 (1-5)

5.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 11-20

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.

Day 11
Savage savage savage
savagesavagesavage
sa vedge sa vedge
sav edge sav edge
save edge save edge
saved saved
saved

Day 12
What now?
That we must create our own world
That we use the right words for the world we want to live in
Like God: Let there be light
And there was light

Let us forgive our enemies
Let us be good examples for the next generation
Let us belong to one another
Let us be friends

Day 13
There was a rainbow in that sky
the day a chain-linked fence separated us

You probably saw the rainbow in the sky
The chain-linked fence, you probably saw it as well

Here are Days 11-20 as they come
Day 14
Now their eyes flit flit flit
dragonflies in the afternoon
their hands are calm as they write
but clammy in the handshake
what can we do for you?
what can we do for you?

Their eyes like dragonflies, what can they do for me?

Day 16

We were the carriers of the events
Days and nights worked in tandem
to make us forget

We carried proof of place & proof of time
We recited these details over & over
We marked our steps
We marked the cadences into a rhythm & held them close to heart.

Day 17
This is the horror that did not turn you into stone
This the poem, the mirror with which you can behold
that you did not turn into stone
This is true: you’re still not stone

Day 18
Yesterday tripped and fell into evening
As it plunged deep into the night, voices rose up
from the abyss:

Come! Come!
They called
Come!
We never slept, trying to makes sense
whose voice was whose

Yesterday tripped and fell into a long night
of calling, of voices beckoning, recalling
things done, things undone by time

Today, I’m trying to sort out the differences
whose voice was whose
which place, what time

They all sound the same now — the dead and the
unborn; they all sound the same.

Day 19

So this is what the Greek storyteller foretold:
First, the pity inducing event

Those poor, poor people,
Pity in the numbers, pity in the grotesque photos that followed
writing and the reading that followed

There was nothing, nothing we could have done different
Everything was beyond us

Then came the fear it would spread like contagion
Uncontrolled like a forest fire

Now it is time for catharsis

Day 20

It has been called a harvest of death

It was more like a net that was cast

A fisher net

A fisher net cast by a man

A fisher of men

Christ, was that you?

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

100 Days, 50 Days In: A Poet’s Journey

From Zocalo Poets

Zócalo Poets

I am keenly aware of the paradox in thinking about the halfway point of writing and posting one hundred poems. For those who lived through or must still live through their own hundred days, there is no luxury of knowing a halfway point and yet I’m exhausted by the knowledge that this is only the halfway point.

I’ve come to appreciate the ability to count and depend on the passage of days as a reliable indicator that time passes. I’ve been watching how Wangechi Mutu’s photographs have morphed from very personal, embodied experiences of pain and death to images that radiate loss and loneliness through the passage of time and neglect. And I have looked at the poems I’ve written, thinking about what I can see – and what remains inaccesible to me.

When I wrote the first poem, Day 100, I gathered my visual cues about the landscape from

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