An unhandsome toil


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
true

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
akin

"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
inconvenient

"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.

Poems, Justice and Data Visualization

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.

the ten thousand things

Resistance, the flowering fire of memory – Rukeyser, Muriel

As we mark the thinness of the
ten thousand things, as we go

past the halt, the hark of memory,
can we shirk off the rock of

my mountain’s mountain? as we
claim the fire of childspeak,

childstone, where will the song
of my deadwood ash its spike,

its noose? to resist is to burn
with remembrance, with the thing-

ness of the ten thousand things

mornglazed

mornglazed eyes
tiptoed dreams and their whys: they

are nearer to us to you to me these
lovetangled ephemera sub-

conscioned into day, brought up
to an interactive tea-pretation


The above is another possible response to Rukeyser’s Song, in a mood quite unlike the earlier one:

The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love,
         my home is where we make our meeting-place,
         and love whatever I shall touch and read
         within that face.

Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
         peace to look, life to listen and confess,
         freedom to find to find to find
         that nakedness.

The moon remembers

Returning in her blood, the
moon remembers which

near star is no more, and
it sinks its shade again,

builds up the root of the
mountain as it climbs out

of yet another shadow.


Here is Muriel Rukeyser’s poem:
Martin Luther King,
Malcolm X

Bleeding of the mountains
the noon bleeding
he is shot through the voice
all things being broken

The moon returning in her blood
looks down   grows white
loses color
and blazes

…and the near star gone—

voices of cities
drumming in the moon

bleeding of my right hand
my black voice bleeding

we dig these trenches

This bleached night is a sparrow’s song
and home    this

Furthest of form, article, pretense: a
grip on time    we

Stray on the fictions of an undiluted
lie    and streak

The night white with pain    we dig these
trenches and flee

Poet’s Epitaph
He sang until his death
singing close to his eyes
to his true life, his real life of lies;
and to remember till he died
how it had lied, his unreal life of truth
– Muriel Rukeyser’s translation of Octavio Paz’s poem


Why so loyal to a worldview which
Shrinks your

Space    are they good people? Why
So crumbling

In deference to so many potted stances
Have their hearts

Spoken anything true of late?

Unborn song

my full song has yet to be
born but it

was sung yesterday and it
will be sung

tomorrow   my first song is birthed by wood, stone and
participle   it was sung before and will again   my loud

song is silent, but silence is dawn, and it has your roots.
___

The mouth saying nothing.     The air saying live and die.
The womb saying welcome, the sun saying Dare.
– Muriel Rukeyser from ‘Unborn Song’

___
this cot of unsong/birthed
with revel   this

brood of a long slant of edged faith   this crime
yes

this crime teaching further buds to unburden the crime
    this cot   yes
    this cot of unsong   flame