witness across the threshold of sense

You mark this song, this horror
Of syllable as eye

Witness to impalpable harm, ex
Nihilo crucible of

Further waste - turn now, read
The shades of hade

He is forever trapped
who suffers his own waste.
Rain leaching the earth   for lack
of roots to hold it
and children who are murdered
before their lives begin.

– Audre Lorde

Whatever cries and changes, lives and reaches
Across the threshold of sense; I know the piercing name;

– Muriel Rukeyser

Dispossession

A fear of place, of
breeding to

Haunt the place, of
want and if

Of place, the trove
giving love

Of place, the trove
matching it

And mess of place -

If it is possible to have in language – popular or literary – hooks that thrive on an awe of the hallowed; words, poems, books that convey the sense that the key to this fascinating ineffable lies in somehow giving up your voice in favor of the few who have crossed on to the other side, the side that looks down only to be relieved; does that not goad us in forgetting genocide every took place, and even if it did, what’s the big deal?

This tree will not sound out
Beginnings; it will not prepare
A crowd to tumble the heart’s

Mend to a clearing; more acid
Is the earth’s bile dream believing
Catacombs to be phoenixes, armor

To be insufficient and the roots
Of earth as linking the ends: here
Where it starts and the outmost in

most there.

Silence and freedom

The quotes prefacing my poems below are taken from a 1977 paper delivered by Audre Lorde titled, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”.

“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”
the bureaucracy of joy
Operationally exigent, the
Skill of my day-to-day is
Contingent, held by the
Noosed nylon that will swing

You to the other side; the door
Is procedure, sentiment; cross that
Tee and knot that eye with thatched
Thistle carving up the parchment

Into friendly spaces, cells and columns,
Political economy of verbs & nouns,
Forms content with fill, ink’s dissent
With fill of space, the dotted eye.

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”
rules of communion
Commit to the arbitrary whim
That seeks plenitude but knows

Not how, and then organize those
Whims, the exigencies of action.

Figure out the ancestry of the
Why of what you have to do, and

Write it down: to commit is to
Want to breathe, sink and greet.

“The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”
freedom is inherently dangerous

freedom is inherently dangerous; it can
unfetter the slovenly pink and discolor
the unfelt solder, the axed appropriate
mandate, the breaking of swords, triads

of affiliation, tinpots of manged hate;
freedom is thus danger; and why not? it
reeks of past, it seeks the past, flits
of memory crawl out of nowhere nothings

Slavery according to Aristotle

“One who is a human being belonging by nature not to himself but to another is by nature a slave; and being a man he is an article of property, and an article of property is an instrument . . . The slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.

Hence there are by nature various classes of rulers and ruled. For the freeman rules the slave, the male the female, and the man the child.

The art of war includes hunting, an art which we ought to practice against wild beasts and against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, refuse to submit; for war of such a kind is naturally just.

Bodily service for the necessities of life is forthcoming from both, from slaves and from domestic animals alike. The intention of nature therefore is to make the bodies of freemen and of slaves different.”

“Slavery according to Aristotle”, from the book, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano.

Bodily service – the axe to grind
An historical allegory; would you
Refer to the nightwatchman to
Guard you against the sinning saint?

Or would you rather breathe content,
Despising the reined, despite the
Rain off course, of coarse fabric,
Taint, hubris, hued with haw & pun?

Decree of refusal

A necessarily clumsy translation of the last four lines of Faiz’s 1966 poem, sar-e-waadi-e-seena, written after the Arab Israeli war would go thus:

As the chosen few have ritualized oppression
And the preacher exhorts holy surrender to servitude
Reversing centuries of acquiescence to injustice
Mandates an urgent decree of refusal.

Here are the last four lines in transcribed Urdu:
ab rasm-e-sitam hikmat-e-Khaasaan-e-zameeN hai
taeed-e-sitam maslihat-e-mufti-e-deeN hai
ab sadyoN ke iqraar-e-ataa’at ko badalnay
laazim hai ke inkaar ka farmaaN koi utray

Here now is my own rendition of those four lines, taking the spirit of what Faiz says and transfiguring it, correcting it even, to fit the spirit of our times. The self-love imagery – and the line from Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” – comes from my visit to the gym earlier today where I saw a man continually admiring himself in the mirror. On my way back home, the line on sewage was decreed.

Narcissus is want is need is
Me and I, I, I -
The flex of an inflexible memory, the creed of
Muscle and
Harm - The stench of sewage will overpower
The lord of mercy as he pleads, "Man, what are you doing here?"

faiz

Presentism and the poet’s rage

Presentism is a modern stain. It is vehement in denying all explanations of now that go back in time, wanting to start anew with such passion that the past becomes trivial. Forgetting becomes less an explicit act and more an implicit elision brought about by massive distraction.

(The social forces that compel presentism are the same that animate the modern assault on understanding, restricting the scope of vigorous debate to a limited spectrum (Chomsky1) creating the illusion of diversity.)

When we are robbed of the past, we have no choice but to project the image of the present onto the future (Galeano2). The assault on imagination is terrifying. When our language is robbed of historical consciousness, the sensibilities brought into play are dystopic.

If language is fossil poetry (Emerson), then the poet should be all the more outraged by such an appropriation of expression. Dylan Thomas rages against the dying of the light. If we accept Kundera when he says, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” then Dylan’s rage is sterile unless the dying light is cast in the light of the ever alive past.

rage is the new normal; night is
an interpretation; flip open the
valves and let the ink bleed the
catchments dry for a new version
of night, a variation on history

rage is the new normal; the long
machinery of myth, the stench of
an older order, more primal than
the scream of the new version of
night, permutating with mutation

rage is the new normal; delights
in the rediscovery of the ultra-
mundane, the hodgepodge factotum
and mishmashed equilibria - this
is no more primal, no more night

rage is the new normal; the fist
that dares to open, to ask, want
to dare to ask, to stamp its bit
on the new version of night, the
variation on theme, an older one

Notes
1. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” Noam Chomsky, “The Common Good”

2. “Incapable of recalling its origins, the present paints the future as a repetition of itself; tomorrow is just another name for today.” Eduardo Galeano, “Upside Down”