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)
Two unequals sitting
talking amiably about what it is
that makes one half have and the other not –
this is where imagination cedes ground
to unreason –
so pitch perfect you are in a hurry to call it love
Here is the data visual accompanying the poem (click through if you may):
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
it's the moor to loveless anchor blanched in
out of tune
It’s compensation for kin with what is most
"I say across the waves of the air
today once more
I will try to be
non-violent one more day this morning, waking the world
away in the
To once more blur imagination with what is most
"Disrobed need shrieks through the nearby
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
Do your words support this one tradition or
that? did the vault of your craft meek out
yet another salve or did it glare in revulsion to craft? do you
salvage or savage the cow at the altar of the unholy? does
the sacred tempt you to sacrilege or do you bow?
will you pause to recall or
move on? will the line ever reveal
what hides or will it too linger off into
distraction (o the webs to save our
words from being more than what they pretend
to be)? where is beauty in this rubble
in the aftermath of one million six hundred sixty
seven forgettings? what molds the tank of
tumors that five hundred and fifteen
vessels of impunity contend to hide?
this is all within reason this is all within
sight and the bugles will sing of your
aftersong they will burn less brilliant
with each lie unless the count
is singed anew.
Caring is done with mouths / fingers
ink tub of feel worded want it is done without
question it is done within each ask of want it
is the want of curbing blood it is how the hammer
nails your meaning into your skin into your gender into your kin
into each marker of sin each voice that stuns your station
your reach your win it is done with mouths / fingers
ink “I care for our world / if I stop / caring about one
it would be only / a matter of time / before I stop
loving / the other (Pat Parker)”
Something in a poem misses a beat and a river crashes
somewhere a village whispers the vapor of retreat a
slur gashes the rainbow as each arrow of harm
is blurred – something in a poem misses a beat and
the heart quickens to mollify the red mishappenings.