the poem at the center of burn

the poem at the center of burn     attentive to
each edge     the prerogative of silence &
beginning of yearn     the poem as child     I
have begun the rule as gate     rule as arrow
and then the mouth of song comes to a dot     I
have begun to read the strung syllables as sentinel/
breach of grief/want of the late arrow     the
sound gate & center of burn     deep night negating I
negating the other     ax of becoming     ax of return
and bond     the voice     the poem at the center of burn

Pragmatic-authoritarian II: throwback to Dakar/Senegal, 2007

Yesterday, an old university friend, Saqib, asked me if I would join him and another friend for a trip to Senegal. In reply I narrated the travails of my 2007 visit there while making sure that none of the enthusiasm is dampened.

Incidentally, Senegal was put by Eqbal Ahmed under the same category as Cameroon, i.e., pragmatic-authoritarian (in his research paper that I covered in my last post). Interesting too, that the regime covered by Ahmed is that of Léopold Sédar Senghor who was a poet! So I read him and a few more Senegalese poets from a collection of African poems and came up with the following poem:

I ask of the dream     song     unfettered
promise as it rained night     rained night as
as you dared to sing     your warrior
song     wounded     worded as wound     what
then of the sword     forgot to sheathe
forgot the hearth of song? I ask
of the dream     song     unfettered night.

Here is what I messaged (verbatim):

To say that getting a visa to Senegal on a Pakistani passport is difficult is an understatement. I tried to get one in Togo in 2007. The officer at the consulate said he could stamp a visa right there, but since I was from Pakistan, it would have to go through a security check. After some time, I got the clearance, and then I used that clearance number to apply for the visa in Gambia. I got the visa. When I reached Dakar, I was not allowed entry on that visa saying it was not valid. They kept my passport and allowed me to leave the airport only because I was accompanied by two goras and after speaking with someone from the ministry. Next morning, after receiving a letter from the ministry, they gave me back my passport. When I was waiting at the airport, a guy from Bangladesh told me nobody comes to Senegal on a Pakistani passport (they either use Canadian/Australian/American etc. passports to come to Senegal). I figured either because of drugs or illegal crossing over by sea. That said, I found Dakar to be quite electric. The captivating music is a giveaway to something stirring. It has been the shadiest African city I have been to. And hence closest in comparison to Karachi. We were mugged the last night we were there, but my colleague caught the guy and took him to the police station; a lady was in charge; she prayed her isha while we waited in the room. Couldn’t catch the conversation as it was all in French… so I wouldn’t be able to come, but you guys will definitely find it very very interesting.

Saqib then asked me why wasn’t the above a blog post. So I posted this as a sequel to my last one emphasizing the continuity on West African and Eqbal Ahmed’s pragmatic-authoritarian themes. Of course, this post is memory from way back in 2007 unlike the Yaoundé one which snapshots fresh impressions from last week. Saqib is an author/filmmaker. His debut book, The Warehouse was published last year.

PS: I realize that it was in 2008 and not 2007. Instead of changing the year in the text and title, I will let it be, a reminder of how memory stands in relation to fact.

Yaoundé by May

A short 5 day work trip to Yaoundé, Cameroon.  This was my first central African state so I was curious as to what is common and what sets it apart from the 9 others I have visited since 2002 starting with Ghana, my most frequented African state.

– attendant in bakery: you are from China?

– bureaucrat in his office, after I get his last name right on first attempt: I am surprised you can pronounce my name; most people get it wrong. Me: if the name is in your local language, I will get it right.

Not speaking French was a handicap    also a source of amusement for the women working in the bakery.

what is common: the quintessential African green    the booming laugh    the roadside stall    mud    old cars    70s architecture    at ease with unlit spaces
what sets it apart: too bureaucratic    policewomen at breakfast

I wrote my last post while in Yaoundé, and just before leaving the hotel room wrote this:

need of the forest    burn
of the

ashen past    will    wilnot
the bread

of fury and tread of summer
these are

kind, various, available as

To get some background, there have been two presidents since independence in 1962. The current one is in power since 1982. This bit of information alone might go some way in explaining the high bureaucratization and security. The late Eqbal Ahmed in his 1980 paper, “Post colonial systems of power” (which I visualized here), categorized Cameroon then as pragmatic-authoritarian. This is how he defines pragmatic-authoritarian:

This highly personalized system of power enjoys a certain legitimacy and the support of significant sections of the population by virtue of the historical nationalist credentials of the leader.

Two noteworthy characteristics: these deeply pro-Western regimes tend to prefer strong political, economic and cultural ties with the ex-colonial metropolis rather than the United States. The strength of the armed forces remains circumscribed and, in comparison with civilians, military officers are assigned lower status in the official hierarchy.

the door of maul

– i –
has the
door of maul begun?     to

my sound, there is a beginning     has
     maul begun?     to my belonging there is a stair
     has the maul
     begun?     to my lack of eye there is the nectar

no place under the sun has begun to seek     has
     the maul begun?

“You might as well answer the door, my child, the truth is furiously knocking.” – Lucille Clifton

– oo –
have I stolen dreamlight off
your eyelids

shine off your sense of breath
or has

dust welcomed you once again
to breathe,

to meet the thin edges of possibility
again where

night knows only the pounce of
day     to

greet that possibility with an
ancient cheer?

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” – Lucille Clifton

– xxx –
a deceased poetic space     where
swarm of privilege

mobs the otherVoice     where
night coopts as day

and no one cares to call it
out     a diseased

poetic space     where the club
of law is high

ness standing over & above

“Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.” – Lucille Clifton

musings on memory

the elemental surrender     where peace
is the point

in silence space     a plenitude of
happening     still –

the elemental small     reaching into
forbidden space

a plenitude of happening     still –
the elementally

restful     piecing together loss

Would you be able to steal rest away
from its rest

ful nest     catch it glimpsing at a
lazy noon     edge

of the panther’s easy eye grasping
the full measure

of the poet’s voice     midstream
before inkdry?

whereas magic has no number
               truth is grounded in the beast’s calling     whereas
               my eye is the knot through which
your vision calls
whereas the ground believes only what can be remembered

Poet as silence

As unmitigated sound    un
           tone of possible
           palpable presences

morning hints warily at
           at the tip of    trust
           of harbinged rhythms

to tug at the poetic handle
           scans sense of self
           as an unmundane possibility

true to beginnings    true
           the etched tenacities that
           bring to an end    –