Which fragment of geometry is soil and which is property? Do you have enough plastic to wrap it all up? Do you Have enough rubber to bounce off your impunities, enough metal to drill them further into the abysses you have dug through millennia? Whose fire do you use to burn down houses? “we don’t really have to go down there anymore, we have a button for that..” Does your shrapnel seek little Zaynab’s permission before entering her heartchamber? “we now have algorithms for that..”
What brews below is symptom, nay act
it follows that the feather is free
Communion with the people ceased to be a mere theory, to become an integral part of ourselves– Che Guevara
What haunts below is wish, nay will
it follows that the word will suffice
The wise have no mind of their own, finding it in the minds of ordinary people– from the Tao Te Ching, transl. by Ursula Le Guin
When the river speaks you listen you
tend to the bend of the river they say is pain as it tends to
the shadow you hark to the sense of
at the heart of the river –
true is the cardboard box true too
the hunger &
the pigeon, now
But the fellah, the unemployed and the starving do not lay claim to truth. They do not say they represent the truth because they are the truth in their very being.
– Frantz Fanon, from “The Wretched of the Earth”
Sweet Sally took a cardboard box,
And in went pigeon poor.
Whom she had starved to death but not,
For lack of love, be sure.
– Gwendolyn Brooks, from “the ballad of the light-eyed little girl”
Some dust to be sure, some nails I will bring, we shall nail the dust to wind –
Can you will your shadow into being stone
And will it rain when the stone turns color?
I’ll think up some fire, you bring your clay, and pray earth to give us song –
when the urchin boy
girl go out to sea I
ask them of that old song the one
their parents’parents’parents’ knew by heart the one about
water & salt –
when the urchin boy
girl go out to sea I
ask them of that old song the
one about fire & salt & fire & naught and how loud
how loud it was –
People ask about the Cold Mountain way:
plain roads don’t get through to Cold Mountain.
Middle of the summer, and the ice still hasn’t melted.
Sunrise, and the mist would blind a hidden dragon.
So, how could a man like me get here?
My heart is not the same as yours, dear sir . . .
If your heart were like mine,
you’d be here already.
– Han Shan, “Cold Mountain Poems” (translated by Jerome Seaton)
Here are poetic tangents – mine with Lorde’s and Rukeyser’s – to a podcast I heard last night: a tribute paid to Eqbal Ahmad by his friend, Edward Said. Said contrasted his personal ‘filiation’ with his ‘affiliation’ in relation to Ahmad and the world of idea(l)s, Ahmad’s unceasing commitment to the creative versus mere politics, his fiery exhortations rooted in peace, and the sacrifice one has to make in pursuit of love (justice by any other name).
To engage what is true with what is most
It's the moor to an unhandsome toil the imperfect the stone it's the moor to loveless anchor blanched in yellow in-& out of tune
It’s compensation for kin with what is most
"I say across the waves of the air to you: today once more I will try to be non-violent one more day this morning, waking the world away in the violent day"1
To once more blur imagination with what is most
"Disrobed need shrieks through the nearby streets... a brown sloe-eyed boy picks blotches from his face, eyes my purse shivering white dust a holy fire in his blood"2
1. from “Waking This Morning” – Muriel Rukeyser
2. from “The Politics of Addiction” – Audre Lorde
I have taken the liberty of changing the line breaks in the two excerpts above.
The algebra of insufferable justice – its
slope and variable tangent – slips down
scope of tangibles: recylabilities that
form no horn
of hope – this is thunder on vacation re
its itinerary: the iteration of irritabilia
I have long been entertaining the possibility of somehow tying together the three areas: poems, social justice and data visualization. It has been tricky, but here is my first attempt.
The 10 poems by Audre Lorde and Muriel Rukeyser (wellsprings of poetic sensibility) are intended to provide context for the accompanying data visualization on gender (using data from genderstats.un.org). This is intended in a tangential and somewhat disruptive way. Data for indicators in the development world is mostly presented in a cut and dried way. Add to that their lumping together in neat categories and the bobbing up and down of pretty graphs and charts, and you end up euphemizing the underlying reality. The technical brilliance on display then serves as spectacle. That of course does not take away from the fact that the underlying numbers have been painstakingly collected and systematically organized. And these numbers are pretty much the only authoritative ones that map the reality that social activists use to change the world.
Hence the poems as corrective.
I shamed my soul, lost heaven’s place,
when I fawned upon the oppressor’s flabby hand.
– Lance Jeffers (from his poem, “And God got down before the fool”)
so you respond
as the poet has to, as the poem
can (should?) so you despond
as the times
will have you, as this cess is
wont to so you sit, quiet
arm in bloodied
ink, eye in sullen slight fire
brewing on the potted page –
an eye sees what the pen holds out as premise
the field of X an algebra of
an eye begins what the pen hollows out as seed
tyranny of X an unknown of
fsetting the known
an eye opens what the pen stamps out as possible
imaginary X an amalgam of
steel & need