“Sentient beings can get completely lost in it”: the erotic poems of Ikkyū

Ikkyu and a Lady of Pleasure

Ikkyū / 一休宗純 (Zen Buddhist monk, 1394-1481, Kyoto, Japan)

.

It is nice to get a glimpse of a lady bathing—
you scrubbed your flower face and cleansed your lovely body
while this old monk sat in the hot water
feeling more blessed than even the emperor of China.

.

A woman is enlightenment when you’re with her and the red thread
of both your passions flares inside you – and you see.

.

A sex-loving monk, you object!
Hot-blooded and passionate, totally aroused.
Remember, though, that lust can consume all passion,
Transmuting base metal into pure gold.

.

Ten days in this temple and my mind is reeling.
Between my legs the red thread stretches and stretches.
If you come some other day and ask for me,
Better look in a fish stall, a sake shop, or a brothel.

.

Follow the rule of celibacy blindly, and you are no more than an ass;
Break it and you are only human.
The spirit of Zen is manifest in ways countless as the
sands of the Ganges.

.

With a young beauty, sporting in deep love play;
We sit in the pavilion, a pleasure girl and this Zen monk.
Enraptured by hugs and kisses,
I certainly don’t feel as if I am burning in hell.

.

A Man’s Root

Eight inches strong, it is my favourite thing;
If I’m alone at night, I embrace it fully—
A beautiful woman hasn’t touched it for ages.
Within my
fundoshi there is an entire universe!

Fundoshi, traditional Japanese underwear, is a loin cloth made of one length of white linen or cotton.

Fundoshi, traditional Japanese underwear, is a loin cloth made of one length of white linen or cotton.

 

A Woman’s Sex

It has the original mouth but remains wordless;
It is surrounded by a magnificent mound of hair.
Sentient beings can get completely lost in it.
But it is also the birthplace of all the Buddhas of the
ten thousand worlds.

.

The Dharma Master of Love

My life has been devoted to love play;
I’ve no regrets about being tangled in red thread from
head to foot,
Nor am I ashamed to have spent my days as a
Crazy Cloud—
But I sure don’t like this long, long bitter autumn of
no good sex!

.

To Lady Mori with Deepest Gratitude and Thanks

The tree was barren of leaves but you brought a new spring.
Long green sprouts, verdant flowers, fresh promise.

.

(Mori, a blind minstrel, was 77-year-old Ikkyū‘s young mistress.)

.

Pleasure, pain, are equal in a clear heart.
No mountain hides the moon.

.

I’m up here in the hills starving myself
But I’ll come down for you.

.

I think of your death, I think of our touching,
My head quiet in your lap.

.

Suddenly nothing but grief
So I put on my father’s old ripped raincoat.

.

Translations from the Japanese: John Stevens, Stephen Berg

.     .     .     .     .


“Bird-songs accompany our laughter”: poems of love and desire

Yellow Hibiscus

Suzanne Dracius (born 1951, Martinique)

Women’s Wicked Desires”

.

Women too revel in riding

Thighs spread apart

Seated astride shamelessly

As they say in polite language…

À la Andromaque

That’s why you won’t talk about it

That’s how you will be happy to

Do all of these things you are saying

Promptly at dawn

All of these honeyed things

Forbidden in theory

As they say

Women’s wicked desires

What can befall us

By doing all that you are asking for

If we do them for fun

Since today’s strong woman

Won’t be abused for it

I do hope you can grasp

How I defy the kind of feminine prudishness

That wants to hold me back

When I dare perform

The saucy somersaults you ask

Even though I know I shouldn’t

Since I’m a well-bred young lady

As they say

Now I am the wicked one

And I am asking you to do all these juicy things

And sing my song in tune with me

As they say

A woman’s wicked desires.

Do I really need to leave my senses

For us to enjoy some pleasure

The wild way

With dazzling unbridled wantonness

With cuddling which was not done openly

The snuggling that we see today

Wickedly as they say

With a frenzy to swoon

To women it is pleasure

To ride astride

As in the frescoes of Pompeii

Thighs wildly spread apart

Soaking your potent organ

Just like on Rue d’Enfer in Saint-Pierre

Doing all these forbidden things

Truly paradisiacal

Women’s wicked desires

To put myself in all the positions you ask

In mystical cries

Ho misticri, krik krak monkey!

To offer myself in all these forbidden positions

And krik and krak

And krik krak

So the audience doesn’t fall asleep

Poetically

Philosophically

Oh Lord! Dear, dear, dear Lafilo!

I’m taking to flying

I’m stepping out

Running like a maroon

To get myself off

Epicurean Caribbean style.

.

Translation from the Creole: Hanétha Vété-Congolo

. . .

Here is the original poem – in Creole:

.

Suzanne Dracius

Fantasm Fanm”

.

Pou fanm tou sé bèl plézi

Di monté adada osi

An mannyè kal…

Ifourchon

À la Romaine, à l’Andromaque”

Sé pousa ou pé di hak

Sé konsa ou ké kontan

Fè tout sé bagay ou ka di

O pipiri

Tout sé bagay ki intèwdi

An téyori

Kon yo ka di

An fantasm fanm

Sa ki pé rivé nou davré

Di fè tousa ou ka mandé

A sipozé ki nou ka fèy

Dépi nou fè sa épi

Ti bren foli

Puis fanm jodi

Pé ké modi

Mwen ka espéré kou pé konpwann

Sa ki sé kalté pidè fanm

Lè man noz fè

Sa ou ka di-a

mèm si man sav

Ki fo pa fèy

An jèntifi

De bonnfanmi

Kon yo ka di

Atjolman sé mwen ki bandi

Ek sé mwen ké mandé-w li

An mélodi

An narmoni

Kon yo ka di

An fantasm fanm

Es fok tèt an mwen pati

Pou nou pwan titak plézi

An vakabonnajri

Kon yo ka di

An féyéri

An barbari

Pichonnaj ki pa té ka fèt an gran lari

Dousinaj ki nou ka vwè jodi

An pitènri

Kon yo ka di

An frénézi

An malkadi

Pou an fanm sé bèl plézi

Di monté adada osi

Kon sou lérwin Ponpéyi

Alabodaj an bèl péyi

À l’Andromaque, à la Romaine”

Pa an sèl wozé pijé grènn

An mannyè pakoté Senpyè

An mannyè a lari Lanfè

Fè tout sé bagay intèrwdi

An paradi

Fantasm fanm

Fè tout sé bagay man ka di

An mistik kri

Yé mistikri

Fè krik krak

Kon yo ka di

Yé krak yé kri

An filozofi

Pou lakou pa domi

An poyézi

An malapri

An malfini

Lafilo!

Lavol an pri

Épi kouri

Caribéenne épicurie –

. . .

Obediah Michael Smith(born 1954, Bahamas)

Bee Mad” (for L.M.M.)

.

how can you withhold from me

where your thighs meet

like honey in the crotch of a tree

and not expect me to buzz as angrily as a bee.

. . .

Chapel Steeple” (for M.B.)

.

I’ve had my head between her legs,

where her thighs meet

bushy place to ramble wild,

berries growing by the spring I make flow

in this I wash my face to wake myself

face in the Bible she opens to let me read

to convert me to true love, to the truth of love,

to let me taste the fruit of love.

Love is Grand 1_Image from Saddi Khalid PhotoLove is Grand 2Love is Grand 3

Ken Forde

Nectar”

.

In this tome

of silence,

I will enter

your quietude;

have you come

with me

to a place

of red and yellow bloomings,

humming birds

their feathered flash

tongued nectar

sweet and fragrant.

With you

I will leap

across the distance

to this place

of caimate purples

and sapodilla browns,

our skins caressed

by warm fingered sun.

Bird-songs accompany

our laughter.

. . .

Colin Robinson

Loosening my Tongue” (for Reggie)

.

is an old

metaphor is a young

man you

are an old

metaphor loosening my tongue

flicks to the back of a youthened

mouth

a second set of teeth

yawns

spit

wide

flies hungry

watering for a metaphor that I can swallow whole

that will go

somewhere

that will last a whole poem

something hard and round and risky

musky ancient hairy language

reaches back

coughing up cotton

congealed in

big blue balls

of speech

old stiffened yellow rubber socks

policy       proposal       political       position       posture

place sex into my mouth again

unsheathe, untangle old poetry

poke at my prostate

full of old fragments

waiting for your big hands

to rub it      soothe

a gasping warm white

stanza flows between my legs

into a purposeful brown

man

hole

envelopes my tongue

young

man you

are a

metaphor on the tip of my tongue

making my poems come

whole again

. . .

The above poems are © their respective authors:

Suzanne Dracius: “Fantasm Fanm”

Obediah Michael Smith: “Bee Mad”, “Chapel Steeple”

Ken Forde: “Nectar”

Colin Robinson: “Loosening my Tongue”

.     .     .     .     .


Poemas para o Dia Mundial de Combate à AIDS / Poemas para el Día Mundial de la Lucha contra el SIDA / Poems for World AIDS Day / Poèmes pour la Journée mondiale de lutte contre le SIDA

All for one and one for all_Together we are stronger. . .

Não ser amado é uma simples desventura; a verdadeira desgraça é não saber amar.” (Albert Camus)

.

No ser amado es una simple desventura;
la verdadera desgracia es
no saber amar.” (Albert Camus)

.

To be unloved is merely misfortune; the true tragedy is in not loving.” (Albert Camus)

.

Il y a seulement de la malchance à n’être pas aimé; il y a du malheur à ne point aimer.” (Albert Camus)

. . .

Liduina Felipe M. Fernandes (Mossoró, Brasil)

Dia de Celebrar a Vida todos os dias

.
1º de dezembro – dia de comemorar
O Dia Mundial de Combate à AIDS
Para que todos possam espalhar
Que a melhor solução
É sempre a informação
Educação e prevenção.
Dia de celebrar a vida.
Dia de socializar conhecimentos,
Respeitar, e não discriminar
Pois a vida pede dignidade,
Solidariedade e qualidade
E não apenas quantidade.
Dia de compreender que não basta falar
É preciso garantir condições para que a vida
Se possa resgatar e preservar.
Dia de gritar que direitos sociais legais
Carecem de aplicação no dia-a-dia,
Pois se forem “leis de papel”
Onde estará a garantia
De que tudo que foi escrito
É sinônimo real de cidadania?
1º de dezembro – dia de refletir
Que todo dia é dia de viver e de lutar
Pelo direito à vida,
Pelo respeito à saúde,
Pela consciência individual e coletiva
Para que todos, sem discriminação,
Respeitando as diferenças, possam desfrutar
De melhores dias sem AIDS.
E todas as armas violentas biológicas e “fabricadas”
Que nada mais fazem do que vidas, desrespeitar e ceifar.
1º de dezembro – dia de lembrar
De que todos os dias devemos, a vida, celebrar!

. . .

Maria do Rosário Lino (Brasil)

Saudação à Vida(2000)
.
Era um médico
e peregrinava
pelos templos
do mundo
onde a natureza
humana
lhe pedia ajuda.
.
Percorrendo aldeias
miseráveis
transportava
sua profissão
como um sacerdócio
onde o ócio
não havia.
.
Perplexo,
combatia
a mortandade social
que estagnava
as possibilidades
de nascedouros.
.
Paz e saúde
a toda a gente
era sua passagem
pelas cidadelas
e sua mensagem
era a superação
das mazelas
como produto
de uma fé
que se prova,
bebendo em pé,
no copo
da força de vontade.
Saciedade, nunca!
.
É preciso
epidemizar
o bem estar
de todos,
do café da manhã
ao jantar,
do deitar-se
ao levantar,
quando então
se pronunciará
a morte da decadência
ao bem da ciência
e um dia,
com a sapiência
e muita sorte,
a decadência
da morte.

. . .

Rui de Noronha (Maputo, Moçambique, 1909 – 1943)

Mulher”

.

Chamam-te linda, chamam-te formosa,
Chamam-te bela, chamam-te gentil…
A rosa é linda, é bela, é graciosa,
Porém a tua graça é mais subtil.
.
A onda que na praia, sinuosa,
A areia enfeita com encantos mil,
Não tem a graça, a curva luminosa
Das linhas do teu corpo, amor e ardil.
.
Chamam-te linda, encantadora ou bela;
Da tua graça é pálida aguarela
Todo o nome que o mundo à graça der.
.
Pergunto a Deus o nome que hei-de dar-te,
E Deus responde em mim, por toda parte:
Não chames bela – Chama-lhe Mulher!

. . .

Rui de Noronha

Amar”

.

Amar é um prazer, se nós amamos
Alguém que pode amar-nos e nos ama.
Amar é um prazer, se por nós chama
Continuamente alguém que nós chamamos.
.
Então a vida inteira a rir levamos,
O mesmo fogo ardente nos inflama,
E os ideais da vida, o bem, a fama,
Mãos dadas pelo mundo procuramos.
.
No encapelado mar desta existência,
O amor é compassiva indulgência
A culpa original dos nosso pais.
.
Que resta ao homem, suprimido o amor?
Buscar a morte p’ra fugir a dor,
Tristeza, indiferença – e nada mais.

New York Times, July 3rd,1981: First newspaper publication of an indirect reference to what would later come to be known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS_Medical correspondent Lawrence K. Altman's article about Kaposi's Sarcoma – which can be a cancer of opportunity for someone with a severely weakened immune system – was buried on p.20. GRID (Gay-related immunodeficiency disease) – as the unknown disease was called in the first year – was emerging in the USA between 1981-1982, and was largely associated with white, gay men in San Francisco and New York...

New York Times, July 3rd,1981: First newspaper publication of an indirect reference to what would later come to be known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS_Medical correspondent Lawrence K. Altman’s article about Kaposi’s Sarcoma – which can be a cancer of opportunity for someone with a severely weakened immune system – was buried on p.20. GRID (Gay-related immunodeficiency disease) – as the unknown disease was called in the first year – was emerging in the USA between 1981-1982, and was largely associated with white, gay men in San Francisco and New York…

...Meanwhile, in two African nations, another part of the same medical story was developing... Slim Disease – so called because people's bodies just wasted away – appeared in 1982 in Tanzania and in the Rakai District of Uganda bordering Lake Victoria, and was debilitating mostly heterosexual men and women. By October 1985, in an issue of the British peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet, Dr. David Serwadda of the Makerere Medical School in Kampala would publish with his team an article entitled: “Slim Disease: a new disease in Uganda and its association with HTLV-III infection”. Soon after, researchers on opposite continents understood that those different early names – whether GRID or SLIM – were, in fact, describing one disease: AIDS. Image shown here: a Ministry of Health public poster, Zimbabwe,1989

…Meanwhile, in two African nations, another part of the same medical story was developing… Slim Disease – so called because people’s bodies just wasted away – appeared in 1982 in Tanzania and in the Rakai District of Uganda bordering Lake Victoria, and was debilitating mostly heterosexual men and women. By October 1985, in an issue of the British peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet,
Dr. David Serwadda of the Makerere Medical School in Kampala would publish with his team an article entitled: “Slim Disease: a new disease in Uganda and its association with HTLV-III infection”. Soon after, researchers on opposite continents understood that those different early names – whether GRID or SLIM – were, in fact, describing one disease: AIDS. Image shown here: a Ministry of Health public poster, Zimbabwe,1989

"Fight AIDS! We need healthcare and research, not bigotry!." A 1985 demonstration in front of New York City Hall as a City Council committee considered legislation to bar pupils and teachers with the AIDS virus from public schools_photograph by Rick Maiman_By the end of 1981, 159 cases of the mysterious new disease had been reported in the USA.  By 1985, 15,527 cases of AIDS had been reported, with 12,529 deaths.  Ten years later, in 1995, it was 513,486 cases and 319,849 deaths, making AIDS the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44.

“Fight AIDS! We need healthcare and research, not bigotry!.” A 1985 demonstration in front of New York City Hall as a City Council committee considered legislation to bar pupils and teachers with the AIDS virus from public schools_photograph by Rick Maiman_By the end of 1981, 159 cases of the mysterious new disease had been reported in the USA. By 1985, 15,527 cases of AIDS had been reported, with 12,529 deaths. Ten years later, in 1995, it was 513,486 cases and 319,849 deaths, making AIDS the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44.

ACT UP_AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power_was founded in 1987 by a group of gay men. Seen here, a demonstration at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C._1988_photograph © Donna Binder

ACT UP_AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power_was founded in 1987 by a group of gay men. Seen here, a demonstration at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C._1988_photograph © Donna Binder

Poster aimed at helping people get past their fear of knowledge about HIV_USA, around 1990

Poster aimed at helping people get past their fear of knowledge about HIV_USA, around 1990

Tanzanian safe sex poster drawn by Father Bernard Joinet_The Fleet of Hope in the Flood of AIDS_A rubber lifeboat is the metaphor for condoms_1994

Tanzanian safe sex poster drawn by Father Bernard Joinet_The Fleet of Hope in the Flood of AIDS_A rubber lifeboat is the metaphor for condoms_1994

Members of ACT UP protest during a session of the National Conference on Women and HIV being held in Pasadena, California_1997_Associated Press photo

Members of ACT UP protest during a session of the National Conference on Women and HIV being held in Pasadena, California_1997_Associated Press photo

. . .

Jaime Gil de Biedma (1929-1990, Barcelona, España – fallecido por el SIDA)

Mañana de ayer, de hoy”

.

Es la lluvia sobre el mar.
En la abierta ventana,
contemplándola, descansas
la sien en el cristal.

.

Imagen de unos segundos,
quieto en el contraluz
tu cuerpo distinto, aún
de la noche desnudo.

.

Y te vuelves hacia mí,
sonriéndome. Yo pienso
en cómo ha pasado el tiempo,
y te recuerdo así.

. . .

S. Luz Teresa nació en San Jerónimo, Guerrero, México. En 1986 necesitó una cirugía, en la cual requirió de transfusiones –siendo alguna de éstas las que le causó su infección por VIH. Falleció en 1996.

S. Luz Teresa

¡Auxilio!”

.

¡Auxilio! Se me está acabando el oxígeno, tengo SIDA,

soy un enfermo de SIDA

quiero gritarlo

para poder vivir en paz

y saber con quién cuento

y quién me rechazará.

¡Silencio! ¡Cállate!

Habla más bajo que te pueden oír

y me callo y me resigno

no por mí, por mi familia

porque la gente insensata

que, lamentablemente,

es mucha todavía,

por el simple hecho de saber

que conviven con una persona

como yo, los señalaría

¡me ahoga esta miseria!

¿Por qué a ellos que son

los únicos prudentes?

¡Maldición!

¿Cuándo aprenderán a distinguir

qué es lo que vale de la vida?

¿Cuándo aprenderán

a respetar el silencio?

¿Cuándo dejarán de cuestionarse

si estás o no infectado?

¿Cuándo cambiarán el morbo

por comprensión o cariño?

¿Cuándo?

¿Cuándo sabrán ser amigos?

Espero que no sea dentro de

mucho tiempo.

Porque si esto sucediera,

nadie más tendría que mentir

y ocultar su mal,

nos haría ciudadanos de nuevo,

nos cuidaríamos mutuamente,

porque como nosotros estamos

mucho más conscientes

de cuan dura

es nuestra enfermedad

quisiéramos que nadie

más sufriera

esta larga agonía,

igual que nuestras familias

y nuestros doctores,

aquellos que sabiendo la verdad

nos tocan, nos cuidan

y nos quieren

y no se infectan

y hacen que nos sintamos bien

y nos alientan a que,

por encima de nuestros problemas,

tracemos nuevas metas,

que en ocasiones

estemos contentos,

que no nos impacientemos

y que no olvidemos del todo

nuestra capacidad de amar.

No, no les estoy pidiendo amor,

seria una propuesta absurda,

sólo les pido comprensión

y eso es mucho más sencillo

soy un enfermo de SIDA

que simplemente,

quiere vivir en paz.

. . .

Jordi Demarto (España)

No te duermas” (2005)

.

Cuando mi cuerpo invadiste
No fui capaz de evitar,
Sentirme sucio, muy triste
Hasta me hiciste llorar. 

.

¿Qué será ahora de mi vida,
Mis proyectos de futuro?
Ahora tenía el SIDA.
Fue un golpe tan fuerte y duro.

.

 Más tarde ya comprendí
“Gracias a la información”
Que mi vida no acababa
– No moriría mañana,
deshuesado y sin razón. 

.

Sentí la fuerza de un oso,
Y hasta ganas de volar,
cada año un lazo rojo
nos ayuda a no olvidar.

.

Que la guerra sigue en pie,
Que esta guerra ha de acabar,
En todos los continentes
“y sin África olvidar”. 

.

Que la vida no se acaba,
Que no hay que dejarse vencer
Por un virus despiadado
Que hoy no podemos vencer. 

.

Sigamos luchando en la vida
Sin confiar en la suerte.
¡No te quedes ahí sentado!
¡No des tu tiempo a la muerte! 

. . .

Arjona Delia (Argentina)

Lucha contra el SIDA” (2011)

.

El cuerpo se daña en agonía,
pierden la esperanza y valentía,
lágrimas, sollozos y lamentos,
acerca la muerte día a día.
.
Cuida tu vida y la de los demás,
del virus letal, cruel enfermedad,
que te lo trasmiten al amar,
cuando no te saben cuidar.
.
Lucha, no te des por vencido,
si la herida te hace sangrar
yo te ofrezco mi mano para andar,
en mi corazón tendrás lugar.
.
No temas, aprende sobre el sida,
la ignorancia es la que contamina,
la mejor defensa es la prevención,
y contar con buena información.

.

http://www.arjonadelia.blogspot.com

. . .

Craig G. Harris (Black gay poet, U.S.A., died in 1991 of complications from AIDS)

Alive after his passion” (for Elias)

.

green mangos

with salt and

vinegar,

hearts of palm

and holy ghosts

make me

speak in

tongues

with garlic breath,

dance to unheard

beats,

fall beneath your

holy temple,

inhaling grey

incense dust,

writhing in

shed snake skins,

purified in the

flame,

wrapped

in unspeakable

joy.

.

(1987)

.

Phillis Levin (New York City)

What the Intern Saw” (1988)

.

I

He saw a face swollen beyond ugliness

Of one who just a year ago

Was Adonis

Practicing routines of rapture.

.

A boy who could appear

To dodge the touch of time,

Immortal or immune –

A patient in a gown,

Almost gone.

II

In the beautiful school of medicine

He read about human suffering,

A long horrible drama

Until the screen of anaesthesia

And penicillin’s manna.

.

But now, in myriad sheets

Of storefront glass refracting evening’s

Razor blue, in a land of the freely

Estranged from the dead, he meets

That face – and fear seizes his body.

III

His feet have carried him to bed.

He thinks he must be getting old

To so revise

His nature and his plan.

.

He shuts his eyes

And in his sleep he sees a gleaming bar,

The shore of pain.

It isn’t far.

People live there.

. . .

Adam Johnson (Gay U.K. poet, 1965-1993, died of complications from AIDS)

December 1989”

.

The nascent winter turns

Each root into a nail,

And in the West there burns

A sun morbid and pale.

.

Now, from the city bars

We drift, into a cool

Gymnasium of stars –

The drunkard and the fool:

.

Into the night we go,

Finding our separate ways –

The darkness fraught with snow,

The leaves falling like days.

. . .

Clovis S. Palmer (Jamaica/Australia)

Guilt”

.

Whoi! Mother, father, mi baby – gone

Whoi! Sister, brother, mi uncle – gone

Whoi! Daughter, mi son, mi family – gone

Whoi! What stain have I bestowed?

.

She held her son, the flesh melted from his bones,

Tears streamed down her cheeks, like raindrops down the window screen.

Unexplainable, undeniable, but beneath the ground he must go

Singing, mourning, cries of pain –

Who next will suffer this dreadful stain?

.

The sunset kisses the Blue Mountain range,

Darkness covers the Kingston plains.

Tomorrow we shall start again –

Who next will suffer this dreadful stain?

.

The sun seeps over the Caribbean Sea,

Today my brother I shall not see.

Like the petals from roses – gone too soon –

Red ribbons I left on his tomb.

. . .

HIV/AIDS is defined by people: their complex lives, their bravery, their fear, their sadness, their need, their laughter, their inconsistencies – basically, their rich humanity. These people taught me how to write about hope, and the beauty in the ordinariness of all of our lives.” (Kwame Dawes)

.

Kwame Dawes (born 1962, Ghana – raised in Jamaica)

Coffee Break”

[This 2008 poem was inspired by caregiver John Marzouca of Jamaica]

.

It was Christmastime,
the balloons needed blowing,
and so in the evening
we sat together to blow
balloons and tell jokes,
and the cool air off the hills
made me think of coffee,
so I said, “Coffee would be nice,”
and he said, “Yes, coffee
would be nice,” and smiled
as his thin fingers pulled
the balloons from the plastic bags;
so I went for coffee,
and it takes a few minutes
to make the coffee
and I did not know
if he wanted cow’s milk
or condensed milk,
and when I came out
to ask him, he was gone,
just like that, in the time
it took me to think,
cow’s milk or condensed;
the balloons sat lightly
on his still lap.

.

Coffee Break” © Kwame Dawes

.

. . .

Kwame Dawes

Cleaning”

[This 2008 poem was inspired by Dr. Peter Figueroa of Jamaica]

.

After a while, you don’t bother
with the brief and the pajamas;
you leave him on the sheet,
make him shit himself, then
shift over to the other side
until I can come, lift up
the body, wipe his bottom
with a soft cotton cloth, bundle
up the sheet with two more
in the corner, straighten
out the plastic over the mattress—
sometimes you have to wipe
it, too, then put a towel
under him until the other
sheet dry, and all the time,
you don’t say a word,
you don’t ask for nothing.
You let your hand brush
against your father’s back
and pray his dignity will last
another day. This is how
a man must care for his father;
quiet, casual, and steady.

.

Cleaning” © Kwame Dawes

.

Kenya_poster encouraging Safe Sex_1990s

Kenya_poster encouraging Safe Sex_1990s

Poster from Morocco promoting safe sex_The Arabic reads: Tradition does not rhyme with Prevention.

Poster from Morocco promoting safe sex_The Arabic reads: Tradition does not rhyme with Prevention.

Safe sex poster from Cuba_The Spanish reads:  Enjoy Life, Avoid AIDS._How do I show that I love you?  (With a flower AND a condom.)

Safe sex poster from Cuba_The Spanish reads: Enjoy Life, Avoid AIDS._How do I show that I love you? (With a flower AND a condom.)

A schoolteacher fired after testing HIV-positive is embraced by his daughter_India_2004_photograph by W. Phillips

A schoolteacher fired after testing HIV-positive is embraced by his daughter_India_2004_photograph by W. Phillips

A Haitian woman takes the opportunity to be tested for HIV_Haiti_2007_photograph © Thony Belizaire

A Haitian woman takes the opportunity to be tested for HIV_Haiti_2007_photograph © Thony Belizaire

South African women reminding passing motorists that condom use drastically reduces the spread of HIV_2009

South African women reminding passing motorists that condom use drastically reduces the spread of HIV_2009

At a roadside HIV-testing table near Cape Town, South Africa, a nurse tests a man's blood_2012_photograph by Rodger Bosch_While South Africa has the highest percentage worldwide of people living with HIV – about 6 million in a nation of 53 million – it also has the world's largest treatment programme using Anti-Retroviral drugs distributed from several thousand  health clinics.

At a roadside HIV-testing table near Cape Town, South Africa, a nurse tests a man’s blood_2012_photograph by Rodger Bosch_While South Africa has the highest percentage worldwide of people living with HIV – about 6 million in a nation of 53 million – it also has the world’s largest treatment programme using Anti-Retroviral drugs distributed from several thousand health clinics.

South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has been a vigorous campaigner for access to treatment for TB, HIV and AIDS;  he has also publicly promoted condom use for disease prevention,  a most forward-looking approach for a Man of the Church.

South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has been a vigorous campaigner for access to treatment for TB, HIV and AIDS; he has also publicly promoted condom use for disease prevention, a most forward-looking approach for a Man of the Church.

HIV-positive activists at a rally in India

HIV-positive activists at a rally in India

The International Medical Corps organized an advice and training programme for women at Mera Kachori Afghan Refugee Camp in Pakistan_December 2012

The International Medical Corps organized an advice and training programme for women at Mera Kachori Afghan Refugee Camp in Pakistan_December 2012

Fight HIV not People with HIV! Activist with banner outside the Russian Embassy in New York City_2013

Fight HIV not People with HIV! Activist with banner outside the Russian Embassy in New York City_2013

In Guandong, China, some bold HIV-related policy decisions will come into play.  In the wake of concerted advocacy efforts the ban on HIV-positive teachers in the classroom will be lifted_June 2013

In Guandong, China, some bold HIV-related policy decisions will come into play. In the wake of concerted advocacy efforts the ban on HIV-positive teachers in the classroom will be lifted_June 2013

Standard Chartered Bank in Brunei Darussalam on the island of Borneo conducted a Living With HIV morning huddle with its staff. True or False statement cards were used to test staff’s knowledge of HIV facts_October 2013

Standard Chartered Bank in Brunei Darussalam on the island of Borneo conducted a Living With HIV morning huddle with its staff. True or False statement cards were used to test staff’s knowledge of HIV facts_October 2013

Melbourne, Australia, November 30th 2013_World AIDS Day event

Melbourne, Australia, November 30th 2013_World AIDS Day event

. . .

This is my dedication and tribute to my patients who live with HIV. I will never be the same because of the way you have touched me, seeing how you continue to move forward every day in this society – with its preconceptions and misbeliefs.” [Paula V. Reid, April 2013]

.

Paula V. Reid (Nurse, North Carolina, U.S.A.)

The Unique Woman”

.

Hello, I am special just like you.
Why should anyone feel differently?

Is it because I may be
a drug abuser,
a prostitute,
a homeless person,
or do you believe I’m a nobody?

Have you ever thought I could be
your mother,
your sister,
your friend?
Would that make a difference?

But in the whole scheme of things, does it really matter?
Because the most important issue is
I am a woman that needs your help.
Are you in a position to give me that help?
I need to be loved.
I need to be cherished.
I need to be cared for.
I face extraordinary challenges every day
and many times face them alone.

Some women have children,
spouses and loved ones to care for.
Where do I get the strength
and energy to keep going?
Don’t I need compassion?

That is why I am the unique woman.

I hear you talk about me in the hallway and stairwells.
“I have to see that HIV lady down the hall.”
“Oh boy, I am the next one up for an HIV case.”

Treat me the way you would want to be treated.
That is what I ask of you.
Don’t ask me: “How did you get it?”
unless it is relevant to my care for that day.
When I cry, cry with me.
When I laugh, laugh with me.
Then, when I am alone it won’t be so bad.

My walk is hard and the road is tough,
but with your help it could be gentler.

I am reaching out to you.

. . .

Rory Kilalea / ‘Murungu’ (Zimbabwe)

Prayer”

.

I do not know how to pray.
I only know how to talk
at you, God.
As a stillness supreme
evading my eyes,
avoiding my ears.
Yet I know You are there.
It is only the reflection I miss.

. . .

Senator Ihenyen (Nigeria)

Is It Because…”

you did not kiss my hand

like you used to

when with so much love in my eyes

I held it up to your lips

beaming with the crystals in my heart –

Is it because I now have HIV?

When you poured the red wine into the glasses

you did not hold yours to my waiting lips

like you used to

so that – as transparent as the two glasses –

we could see the colours in our hearts –

Is it because I now have HIV –

Or because you never really loved me?

.

(2013)

. . .

Senator Ihenyen (Nigeria)

Stranger in the Mirror
of My Life”

.

Before me is a mirror
a mirror beside my bed
away from the sun
burning brightly outside the window-blinds
in my darksome room.

For a moment
before the mirror
I stand to see the face of the victim
whose result returned a death sentence
after a test,
and another test, and yet another,
but they kept coming back
one and the same
like the torrent of tears that keep returning to your eyes
when the heart remains wet with worries

Wavering worries of one’s life walking away from the door,
as the wall clock thcks unrestrained, untouched, unconcerned,
like the footsteps of the world moving on,
unaffected, unmoved, unstirred.

In the mirror
I found a face
a certain face too afraid to look at me.
The face of a stranger –
a strange face sketched in the shadows of my unlit room,
against the fiery fingers of the sun flicking the window-blinds on a fateful morning
to irradiate my day.

I know this face hiding in the mirror isn’t me –
It couldn’t be me!
I looked straight into her eyes,
and it was then she looked back at me –
petrified, she crept back into the closet of her life.

I walk slowly and gently towards her,
and the stranger suddenly steps closer and closer towards me.
And when my feet froze on the floor
Upon the freezing fear that gripped me,
the stranger in the mirror suddenly startles – faint-hearted, intimidated –

this stranger is not me,
No, not me!

She is just a shadow –
the shadow of someone too locked-up in her closet to open up to me.
She is a stranger too steeped in shame to stand up to herself
and say:

I’m Hannah,
I’m HIV-positive –

but see how beautiful life could be
when I open the window-blinds in my heart
and let the rays of the sun
overshadow the stranger in the mirror of my life.”

.

(2013)

.

Is It Because…” and “Stranger in the Mirror of My Life” © Senator Ihenyen

From his just-released 2013 e-book Stranger in the Mirror of My Life: Poems for Everyone Affected by HIV/AIDS

. . .

[The poem below] came as result of belonging to what is sometimes called a “sero-discordant couple” – one partner HIV-negative, the other positive. It’s not a difference easy to negotiate, as perhaps the poem makes clear. Early on, my new lover offered me the choice to avoid commitment, citing his condition; but I chose instead to go forward with the relationship – a decision I don’t regret. I believe that medical research will find a fully satisfactory treatment for HIV and that this epidemic will come to an end. When that happens – what joy it will bring.” (Alfred Corn)

.

Alfred Corn (born 1943, Georgia, U.S.A.)

To a Lover who is HIV-positive” (2002)

.

Grief; and a hope
that springs from your intention
to forward projects as assertive
or lasting as flesh ever upholds.

.

Love; and a fear
that the so far implacable
cunning of a virus will smuggle away
substantial warmth, the face, the response
telling us who we are and might be.

.

Guilt; and bewilderment
that, through no special virtue of mine
or fault of yours, a shadowed affliction
overlooked me and settled on you. As if
all, always, got what was theirs.

.

Anger; and knowledge
that our venture won’t be joined
in perfect safety. Still, it’s better odds
than the risk of not feeling much at all.
Until you see yourself well in them,
Love, keep looking in my eyes.

. . .

 

Mike Kwambo (Nairobi, Kenya)

Positive”

.

Positive…
the status of my HIV.
Negative…
your attitude towards me.
Nonchalant…
is how I choose to be.
Pretenders…
you allegedly sympathize with me.
True colours…
you show them when I turn my back.
Pity…
I surely do not need it right now.
Life…
I am full of it and I am living>
Understanding…
I have a condition, like anyone else.
Positive…
the status of my attitude.
Determination…
is filled inside of me.
Oh
yes
I have the will to live.
I am positive…
in
every aspect
of the word!

.

(2009)

. . .

Tikum Mbah Azonga (Le Cameroun)

Venez vous voir (La séropositivité n`est pas la mort)”
.
Si vous êtes séropositif, mon ami,
Ne désesperez pas
Surtout pas!
Venez nous voir même en catinimi.
.
Nous sommes là pour vous tous
Les activités de conseil –
Pour les amis comme vous au conseil,
C`est notre affaire de toujours.
.
Venez nous voir en toute confidentialité –
Nos sessions de counseling se font en douceur.
Vous n`est pas seul car d`autres sont venus sans rancoeur
Et sont partis satisfaits et pleins de vitalité.

.

(2009)
. . .

Tikum Mbah Azonga (Le Cameroun)

Les confidences d’une mère (La transmission mère-enfant)”

.
Je m`appelle Marthe.
Je suis mère de trois enfants
Dont le dernier a huit mois,
Les trois autres – que Dieu soit loué!
Ont trois, cinq et sept ans –
Je me suis fait dépister a chaque grossesse.
.
Dieu merci, tout a été négative,
Mais si j`avais été testé positive
J`aurais suivi les conseils du médicin,
J`aurais pris des médicaments
Pour ne pas contaminer mon bébé.
.
Avais-je peur du test? Jamais!
Car il y a le counseling.
Alors, si vous êtes enceinte
Comme moi, faîtes

vous dépister protéger votre bébé.

.

(2009)

. . .

Alassane Ndiaye (Sénégal)

Sous Le Soleil De L’Amour”

.

Notre premier baiser
A cette saveur lactée
Ce parfum de rose
Aux vapeurs poivrées
.
Et tes lévres douces
Et fermes comme la chaire
Fraiche d’une pomme
Croustillantes comme le pain nouveau
Embrassent ma bouche
Suscitant le désir coupable
.
Tu es une étoile qui chaque jour
Brille dans le ciel trouble de mon existence
Un soleil qui transperce le voile sombre de mon esprit
Une source où s’abreuvent les âmes en peine

Je t’aime.

.

(2000)

.

. . .

Ibrahim Coulibaly (Côte d’Ivoire)

Ton Sourire et Ta Voix”

.
Mon regard dans le vent
Je vois dans le ciel sourire ta beauté
Qui fait voyager mon esprit
Dans le train merveilleux de ton charme.
En moi luit la lumière du bonheur
Car ta voix d’or
Ta voix aux mille couleurs
Fait couler sur moi des mélodies de miel.
L’harmonie de ton corps est un tableau
Que jamais ne pourra effacer la force des mots.
Si j’étais une larme dans tes yeux
Jusque sur tes lèvres je coulerai
Si une larme dans mes yeux tu étais
Jamais je ne pleurerais
De peur de te perdre.

.

(2013)

.     .     .     .     .


Poèmes sur l’Amitié pour la Journée mondiale de lutte contre le SIDA – Poems of Friendship for World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day 2013_Our Hands Together

Emmanuel W. Védrine (Haïti)

What I want you to know”

.
I want you to know there is
Someone who’s thinking of you,
Someone who wants to help you
Along the way,
Someone who can take your problems away,
Someone who wants to be with you
When the sun is shining
And when there is rain.
I want you to know there is
Someone who won’t let you down,
Someone who will care for you,
Someone you can talk to,
Someone who will make your days brighter
And who will make you feel happier.
I want you to know
This person is me,
Someone who
Thinks about you.

.     .     .

Emmanuel W. Védrine (Haiti)

Ce que tu dois savoir”

.
Je veux que tu saches
Qu’il y a quelqu’un qui pense à toi,
Quelqu’un qui veut t’aider
Au long de la route.
Quelqu’un qui veut solutionner tes problèmes,
Quelqu’un qui veut être avec toi
Quand le soleil brille
Et quand le temps est à la pluie.
Je veux que saches
Qu’il y a quelqu’un
Qui ne te laissera pas toute seule,
Quelqu’un avec qui
Tu peux parler avec aisance
Et tu seras contente,
Contente plus que jamais.
C’est bien moi,
Quelqu’un qui pense à toi.

.

(Traduction du créole haïtien – French translation from the original Creole)

.     .     .

 

Emmanuel W. Védrine

Who are you?”

.
Who are you? You know who you are.
Is it the way you appear in other people’s eyes
That tells you who you are?
Is it what they say about you
That tells you who you are?

.

Sometimes I laugh and I laugh
When someone is taken for what that person is not.
How many mistakes do we make when we judge people?
You can see what a person is on the outside
But not what they have in their heart.

.

Who are you? Is it society that tells you who you are?
How do you see society?
What can you do to change the world?
Is it your passport that tells you who you are?
Tell me who you are, then each of us can bring
A stone for the reconstruction of the world.

.     .     .

Emmanuel W. Védrine

Qui êtes vous?”

.
Qui êtes vous? Vous savez qui vous êtes.
Le regard des autres vous dit-il
Qui vous êtes?
Ce qu’ils disent à votre propos vous dit-il
Qui vous êtes?

.

Parfois je ris et je ris
Quand quelqu’un est pris pour ce qu’il n’est pas.
Combien d’erreurs sont faites à juger autrui?
Ce qui se voit est l’apparence;
Le contenu du coeur est invisible.

.

Qui êtes vous? La société dit-elle qui vous êtes?
Comment percevez-vous la société?
Que pouvez vous faire pour changer le monde?
Votre passeport détermine-t-il qui vous êtes?
Dites-moi qui vous êtes et alors chacun de nous peut apporter
Une pierre à la reconstruction du monde.

.

(Traduction du créole haïtien – French translation from the original Creole)

.     .     .     .     .


Thanksgiving Poems: a Cornucopia

Thanksgiving Bounty 

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

I had no time to Hate”

.

I had no time to Hate –

Because

The Grave would hinder Me –

And Life was not so

Ample I

Could finish – Enmity –

.

Nor had I time to Love –

But since

Some Industry must be –

The little Toil of Love –

I thought

Be large enough for Me –

.     .     .

Emily Dickinson

They might not need me – yet they might”

.

They might not need me – yet they might –

I’ll let my Heart be just in sight –

A smile so small as mine might be

Precisely their necessity.

Emily Dickinson_1830-1886

Emily Dickinson

Who has not found the Heaven – below”

.

Who has not found the Heaven – below –

Will fail of it above –

For Angels rent the House next ours,

Wherever we remove –


Paul Laurence Dunbar at age 19_1892

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

A Prayer”

.

O Lord, the hard-won miles

Have worn my stumbling feet:

Oh, soothe me with thy smiles,

And make my life complete.

.

The thorns were thick and keen

Where’er I trembling trod;

The way was long between

My wounded feet and God.

.

Where healing waters flow

Do thou my footsteps lead.

My heart is aching so;

Thy gracious balm I need.

.     .     .

Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Sum”

.

A little dreaming by the way,

A little toiling day by day;

A little pain, a little strife,

A little joy,–and that is life.

.

A little short-lived summer’s morn,

When joy seems all so newly born,

When one day’s sky is blue above,

And one bird sings,–and that is love.

.

A little sickening of the years,

The tribute of a few hot tears,

Two folded hands, the failing breath,

And peace at last,–and that is death.

.

Just dreaming, loving, dying so,

The actors in the drama go–

A flitting picture on a wall,

Love, Death, the themes;  but is that all?

.     .     .

Guido Guinizelli (1230-1276)

Of Moderation and Tolerance”

.

He that has grown to wisdom hurries not,

But thinks and weighs what Reason bids him do;

And after thinking he retains his thought

Until as he conceived the fact ensue.

Let no man to o’erweening pride be wrought,

But count his state as Fortune’s gift and due.

He is a fool who deems that none has sought

The truth, save he alone, or knows it true.

Many strange birds are on the air abroad,

Nor all are of one flight or of one force,

But each after his kind dissimilar:

To each was portion’d of the breath of God,

Who gave them divers instincts from one source.

Then judge not thou thy fellows what they are.

.

Translation from the Italian: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1861)

.     .     .

Luci Shaw (born 1928)

But not forgotten”

.

Whether or not I find the missing thing

it will always be

more than my thought of it.

Silver-heavy, somewhere it winks

in its own small privacy

playing

the waiting game for me.

.

And the real treasures do not vanish.

The precious loses no value

in the spending.

A piece of hope spins out

bright, along the dark, and is not

lost in space;

verity is a burning boomerang;

love is out orbiting and will

come home.

.     .     .

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

Hope”

.

Hope means to keep living

amid desperation,

and to keep humming in darkness.

Hoping is knowing that there is love,

it is trust in tomorrow

it is falling asleep

and waking again

when the sun rises.

In the midst of a gale at sea,

it is to discover land.

In the eye of another

it is to see that he understands you.

As long as there is still hope

there will also be prayer.

And God will be holding you

in His hands.

.     .     .

Walt Whitman(1819-1892)

When I heard the learn’d astronomer”

.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured

with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

Speech to the Young, Speech to the Progress-Toward

(Among them Nora and Henry III)”

.

Say to them

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers:

Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night.”

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for the battles won.

Live not for the-end-of-the-song.

Live in the along.

Rabindranath Tagore in 1886

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

Closed Path”

.

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,

that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted,
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

.
But I find that Thy Will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

.     .     .

William Matthews (1942-1997)

Onions”

.

How easily happiness begins by   

dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter   

slithers and swirls across the floor   

of the sauté pan, especially if its   

errant path crosses a tiny slick

of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.

.

This could mean soup or risotto   

or chutney (from the Sanskrit

chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions   

go limp and then nacreous

and then what cookbooks call clear,   

though if they were eyes you could see

.

clearly the cataracts in them.

It’s true it can make you weep

to peel them, to unfurl and to tease   

from the taut ball first the brittle,   

caramel-coloured and decrepit

papery outside layer, the least

.

recent the reticent onion

wrapped around its growing body,   

for there’s nothing to an onion

but skin, and it’s true you can go on   

weeping as you go on in, through   

the moist middle skins, the sweetest

.

and thickest, and you can go on   

in to the core, to the bud-like,   

acrid, fibrous skins densely   

clustered there, stalky and in-

complete, and these are the most   

pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare

.

and rage and murmury animal   

comfort that infant humans secrete.   

This is the best domestic perfume.   

You sit down to eat with a rumour

of onions still on your twice-washed   

hands and lift to your mouth a hint

.

of a story about loam and usual   

endurance. It’s there when you clean up   

and rinse the wine glasses and make   

a joke, and you leave the minutest   

whiff of it on the light switch,

later, when you climb the stairs.

.     .     .     .     .


“El amor después del amor”: Derek Walcott

Antique French Wire Horn of Plenty

Derek Walcott  (Poeta caribeño, nacido en Santa Lucía, 1930)

El amor después del amor” (Traducción: Alex Jadad)

.

Llegará el día
en que, exultante,
te vas a saludar a ti mismo al llegar
a tu propia puerta, en tu propio espejo,
y cada uno sonreirá a la bienvenida del otro,
y dirá: Siéntate aquí. Come.
Otra vez amarás al extraño que fuiste para ti.
Dale vino. Dale pan. Devuélvele el corazón
a tu corazón, a ese extraño que te ha amado
toda tu vida, a quien ignoraste
por otro, y que te conoce de memoria.
Baja las cartas de amor de los estantes,
las fotos, las notas desesperadas,
arranca tu propia imagen del espejo.
Siéntate. Haz con tu vida un festín.

.     .     .

Derek Walcott (Saint Lucia, born 1930)

Love After Love”

.

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
.
and say: Sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
.
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
.
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

.     .     .


Mildred K. Barya: Helene Johnson’s “Bottled”

ZP_Harlem, 1970sZP_Harlem, 1970s

.

Mildred K. Barya

Bottling”

.

The first Nigerian movie I ever watched, in early 2000—whose title I’ve long forgotten—featured a woman casting a spell on a man, bottling him, so to speak, so that he was at the woman’s mercy, doing whatever she wanted. I remember thinking, ok, she’s got her man under control, but is she happy to see another life helplessly and hopelessly at her beck and call? Wouldn’t she be better off with someone who can use his mind, body and spirit without the influence of mojos? There was this undersized image of the man speaking from a bottle, a constant reminder of perspective to the audience. Towards the end of the movie the man was released—after a series of other rituals and prayers to break the spell. Ki Nigeria movies infused with witchcraft, superstition, religious fundamentalism, jealousy and the desire to be loved have been part of popular culture across Africa, and have made Nollywood a booming industry. It’s a common thing to say in Uganda, for example, that ‘someone is bottled’ or ‘she put him in a bottle’ if the “he or she” is constantly responding to another’s demands in the name of what’s ridiculously painted as “love”. Harriet Kisakye, a Ugandan musician, dramatizes this bottling practice with a popular Luganda song about ‘putting the man in a bottle,’ Omusajja omutekka mucupa Ki Nigeria style, if one is to have a peaceful, happy home and minimize infidelity. I’ve listened to the song a number of times and I cannot tell whether Kisakye is being ironic or suggesting a potential “creative solution” to marital cheating. 

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_OcF6W5toE)

Either way, it goes without saying that bottling a man, a person, no matter how you look at it, is about power and control. Ki Nigeria movies are predictable, full of melodrama, and most important: they speak of the times—Africa in the grip of fundamentalism, fusing the world of old magic with the new Christian miracles, the ancient and modern coming together once more.

.

Reading “Bottled” by Helene Johnson reminds me of the times in which the poem came into being—1927 and The Harlem Renaissance:  African-American experience echoing the African continent, improvising and fusing jazz-like rhythms to provide an accurate picture and position of the taken, captured, dominated, subdued and shelvedand also the release, transcendence, freedom, dance and beauty in triumph.

There’s all the weight one can imagine in the line: This sand was taken from the Sahara desert. The bottle of sand is placed on the third floor of the 135th street Library in Harlem. At first, one might say, nice decoration, what an important place to be; in a library, who wouldn’t want that?, especially for people who like libraries. But no, oh, no, to think that Some bozo’s been all the way to Africa to get some sand is rather disturbing. So the sand isn’t just sand. The symbolism is significant and cannot be treated lightly. We can’t help but analyze/appreciate the signifier and signified. In addition, place (Library, the Sahara) and history (past and contemporary) are equally crucial.

Further along in the poem, the darky dressed flamboyantly on Seventh Avenue forgets everything and starts to dance the moment he hears the music of the organ. Not only is he given movement, but also his face shines. He is ‘happy, dignified and proud.’ The music is the vehicle that transports him elsewhere: Home. The crowd kept yellin’ but he didn’t hear, just kept on dancin’ and twirlin’… He’s not really on Seventh Avenue anymore. This kind of reimagining was necessary for the people of Harlem, African-Americans who had to think of ways to transcend slavery and where it had placed them in society. Can one comfortably say they invented Jazz as one of those ways? Yes. The influence was Africa, its rhythms and echoes, the beats blending with an incessant need to recreate and experience something in the past that was both beautiful and authentically African. Uncorrupted. Untainted. Helene Johnson weaves this need and transportation in her narrative poem so well: And somehow, I could see him dancin’ in a jungle/A real honest-to cripe jungle, and he wouldn’t leave on them/Trick clothes-those yaller shoes and yaller gloves/And swallowtail coat. He wouldn’t have on nothing/And he wouldn’t be carrying no cane/He’d be carrying a spear with a sharp fine point…

Towards the end of the poem, the ‘bottled man and his shine’ find release via imagination. The ability to be creative and resourceful was at the core of the Harlem Renaissance, why it was a renaissance, and why African-American writers were able to liberate their minds, bodies and souls that were once captured and shelved.

.     .     .

Helene Johnson (1906-1995)

Bottled” (1927)

.

Upstairs on the third floor
Of the 135th Street Library
In Harlem, I saw a little
Bottle of sand, brown sand,
Just like the kids make pies
Out of down on the beach.
But the label said: “This
Sand was taken from the Sahara desert.”
Imagine that! The Sahara desert!
Some bozo’s been all the way to Africa to get some sand.
And yesterday on Seventh Avenue
I saw a darky dressed to kill
In yellow gloves and swallowtail coat
And swirling at him. Me too,
At first, till I saw his face
When he stopped to hear a
Organ grinder grind out some jazz.
Boy! You should a seen that darky’s face!
It just shone. Gee, he was happy!
And he began to dance. No
Charleston or Black Bottom for him.
No sir. He danced just as dignified
And slow. No, not slow either.
Dignified and proud! You couldn’t
Call it slow, not with all the
Cuttin’ up he did. You would a died to see him.
The crowd kept yellin’ but he didn’t hear,
Just kept on dancin’ and twirlin’ that cane
And yellin’ out loud every once in a while.
I know the crowd thought he was coo-coo.
But say, I was where I could see his face,
.
And somehow, I could see him dancin’ in a jungle,
A real honest-to cripe jungle, and he wouldn’t leave on them
Trick clothes-those yaller shoes and yaller gloves
And swallowtail coat. He wouldn’t have on nothing.
And he wouldn’t be carrying no cane.
He’d be carrying a spear with a sharp fine point
Like the bayonets we had “over there.”
And the end of it would be dipped in some kind of
Hoo-doo poison. And he’d be dancin’ black and naked and

Gleaming.
And He’d have rings in his ears and on his nose
And bracelets and necklaces of elephant’s teeth.
Gee, I bet he’d be beautiful then all right.
No one would laugh at him then, I bet.
Say! That man that took that sand from the Sahara desert
And put it in a little bottle on a shelf in the library,
That’s what they done to this shine, ain’t it? Bottled him.
Trick shoes, trick coat, trick cane, trick everything-all glass-
But inside-
Gee, that poor shine!

.     .     .

Aaron Douglas_Congo_1928_gouache and pencil on paperboardZP_Aaron Douglas_”Congo”_1928_gouache and pencil on paperboard

.

Helene Johnson (1906-1995) was born in Boston (Brookline) to parents whose roots were in South Carolina and Tennessee. Her maternal grandparents had been born into slavery. At the age of 20 Johnson moved to New York City with her cousin – later to become the novelist Dorothy West. For a time, the two sublet the apartment of Zora Neale Hurston. Johnson’s poems were published in the journal Opportunity, and one was included in the famous 1926 one-issue avant-garde journal Fire!! A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists, edited by Wallace Thurman. A mere three dozen of Johnson’s poems were ever printed, most in journals and magazines of the 1920s and 30s. Her fresh point of view did not go unnoticed. A reviewer at the time said of Johnson that she “has taken the ‘racial’ bull by the horns. She has taken the very qualities and circumstances that have long called for apology or defence and extolled them in an unaffected manner.”

Helene married William Warner Hubbell in 1933 and they had one daughter, Abigail. The last published poem by Johnson – “Let me sing my song”– appeared in 1935 in the journal Challenge whose editors were West and Richard Wright. Famously reclusive, the Johnson of later years yet still wrote poems, only she kept them to herself. Verner D. Mitchell’s biography of the poet, This Waiting for Love, published in 2000, brought to light thirteen “new” poems by Johnson, and one from 1970 entitled “He’s about 22, I’m 63”, shows that her sense of humour had remained intact despite a jealously guarded privacy.

A black woman writer was an uncommon person back in the 1920s; Helene Johnson “defied the odds and put pen to paper when the century was young.”*

.

*Verner D. Mitchell

.     .     .     .     .


Remembrance Day Reflections: Juliane Okot Bitek

November 11th 2013_Falllen Autumn Leaves in Toronto

ZP Guest Editor Juliane Okot Bitek

Forgetting and Remembrance Day

.

I used to think that Remembrance Day was restricted to soldiers lost in the wars that Canada was involved in. I used to wish that I could remember my brother on Remembrance Day, in a public way, as one of a family who had lost one of its brightest and as one of a community which had lost hundreds and thousands of men and women in the various wars that were fought in my homeland of Uganda. I wanted desperately to claim Remembrance Day for us, because we too had lost a great love and a great life. But I thought it was an imposition, so I wore red poppies like everyone else and reflected on the Canadian dead and listened to speeches about how the veterans had fought for our freedom and how we owe them the comforts of our lives.

I heard my brother call out to me on a sunny morning, just after a high school assembly as me and my friends made our way to class. I looked about. I didn’t see. My brother called out again. It was an urgent call, loud. I turned around, asked one of my friends if she’d heard my name being called. No, she said. She didn’t hear anything. A couple of days later, I was picked up from school and taken home. My brother had been shot.

My brother, Keny, was an officer in the Uganda National Liberation Army, the post-Idi Amin government army. Story was that he was in Fort Portal, a town in western Uganda, and that officers did not usually fight on the frontline. Story was that my brother and other officers were on the frontline, fighting the guerrillas that would eventually make up the current government of Yoweri Museveni. Story was that my brother was shot in that battle, and that he wasn’t the only one. The weekend of Keny’s funeral, there were eight other funerals for eight others killed from the same region – the Acholi region of northern Uganda.  It was a sunny day, no evidence of rain for days to come;  it was hot.  The kind of day that evoked memories of my brother walking with his wife and toddler to his hut during the funeral rites of my father, scant months before. There was a gun salute, I think, with the solemnity befitting an officer. And it wasn’t a grey day, it wasn’t November. The ache from losing my brother would remain just under my skin for years.

I wanted to be a soldier once. When the Canadian military would set up a booth seeking to attract students from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I’d pick up a brochure, take the fridge magnet or the pen they offered, the type that came with sticky notes at the other side. I wanted the chance to join the army and make it as high up as my brother might have done.

Remembrance Day in Canada is usually celebrated with wreaths and the marching of proud veterans who are often shuffling along with age and carried along with pride. Black and white film clips from the First and Second World Wars, Korea; video clips from Afghanistan. News channels often focus on the celebration of our soldiers’ efforts at the local cenotaph where a solemn declaration, carved in stone, is ignored for most of the year. Often it’s raining – a grey day, a grey month, a grey time for families who think of November 11th as a national marker for those they loved and lost, and for those who never returned whole.

Sometime after my brother Keny‘s funeral, I returned to school and tried to melt back into normal. The deaths of my brother and father in such quick succession would’ve been hard to ignore but Ugandans have weathered loss for so long and we know how to pick up, keep moving, keep smiling, keep going. Our English teacher gave us a composition exercise in which we were to write a story that ended with lines from the title of Kenyan poet, Jared Angira’s poem, “No Coffin, No Grave”. We had to write a story that was true, from our own experience, no less. What came pouring out of me was the story of losing my brother. I wrote about my sister-in-law who had gone to identify his body, and I could hear her wracked in pain as she narrated her experience. I wrote about how she identified my brother by a bracelet that she had given him. How it was that he had to be buried quickly, how it had to be a closed coffin affair. And how it was that we never had the chance to say goodbye – not really.

Keny had come to visit me in school the term before. He had come in full military regalia. He stood up when he saw me – and saluted. I saluted back – and giggled. He wanted to know how I was, if there was anyone bothering me. And if there was, I was to promise that he’d take care of it. You know how big brothers are – bragging, seemingly full of themselves. He told me not to worry about anything, that I’d be alright. Perhaps Keny had come to say goodbye, and I didn’t know – I did not know that.

There are families for whom Remembrance Day is Every Day or most days. National gratitude doesn’t and cannot match personal grief and it’s hard to argue with a public show of support and the recognition of soldiers. Often we hear phrases about how our soldiers fought for our freedom. That gives me pause: from whom do Canadian soldiers wrest our freedom? How do they do that? What do we do, for example, with the images we’ve seen from Elsipogtog just last month?

When Canada joined the war effort in Afghanistan in 2002, a professor in the English department at the University of British Columbia started to keep count of the losses. Canadians would never let fifty soldiers die over there. But fifty came and went. The faces and names on the professor’s door grew. If it got to a hundred, surely Canadians would be up in arms. A hundred soldiers died, and more; Remembrance Day was commemorated like all the other ones. A hundred and fifty eight Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan and there was no uproar here, just another solemn Remembrance Day on November 11th.

Soldiers die, their families hurt. Soldiers live with terribly injured bodies, their families hurt. Soldiers get so badly scarred psychically that it should give us pause to think about what it means to maintain an army, to have young people sign up for duty. And then we think about them once a year – with so much solemnity and pomp. But some soldiers go it alone…

Months, years later, I would think about my brother Keny and how useless his advice had been. I worried – and he wasn’t there. I hurt, and people hurt me – and he wasn’t there. He wasn’t there to take care of the nastiness that we had to go through. He wasn’t there when my grade-school teacher returned with our marked composition papers on the “No Coffin, No Grave” theme and insisted that there was one paper that she wanted to read out – and it was mine. She held it up as an example of what not to write. After she’d read it to the class, she turned to me and asked me how it was I could lie like that, to make up such a story. And that I should be ashamed of myself, she admonished me. She told me to leave the classroom and, as I walked out in shame, the tears that threatened to choke me, I willed them to stay back; I was not going to cry.

Keny wasn’t there when I turned thirty three, his age when he died.

I think about the loss of lives of young men and women who sign up for military duty to defend their country, to fight for the rights of others, to invade other nations or to assist in reclaiming Life after disasters like Typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines – which struck land on November 7th and 8th. This is hard and dangerous work, and sometimes it’s awfulwork that returns with evidence of our armed men and women engaging in shameful acts such as the 1993 hazing of Shidane Arone in Somalia. And look at the evidence provided by the recent deconstruction of the Black Blouse Girl photo which shows that there was rape before the Massacre at My Lai. How can we continue to maintain an institution that drives our men and women to such depths, then we commemorate the wars that led them to their deaths? How then can we forget so fast, so completely?

Last summer, I had the privilege of visiting with my nephew, Keny’s son. I was going to be seeing him for the very first time since I left home in 1988. I took the train from Vancouver to Eugene, Oregon, and had dinner with him and his fiancée. My nephew grew up without his father and has no idea whose spectre walks beside him. He feels like Keny, sounds like him. He even called me waya – auntbutthere was no urgency in his voice, not like the one I’d heard almost three decades ago one morning after assembly. We talked about all kinds of things, but nothing about the gaping absence between us. Time had collapsed to have us meet and know each other, but not enough to have my brother back.

Remembrance Day is packed full of history and valour – Canada has lost many brave women and men to the nastiness that is war. This country, and other countries which have lost brave men and women, can step up to count themselves as courageous and freedom- loving, but when are we going to be inspired by the enormity of loss to seek a future in which there are no more wars and no more losses to war? The list of dead Canadian soldiers no longer hangs on that professor’s door – but we remember what hurts, some of us do.

November 2013_Fallen Leaves_Toronto, CanadaAddendum:   In fact, that list of soldiers names on the door of the professor in the English Department is still there. I have visited his office several times since I graduated in 2009, but I stopped seeing. By his own admittance, the list needs to be updated but still, it says something to me that forgetting is an active process and possibly it begins by stopping seeing what’s in front of us. I’m grateful to Professor Zeitlin for reminding me that peace is a worthwhile pursuit and it begins with the intention to see, to remember and to question what it is we must never forget.

.     .     .     .     .


Poems for Remembrance Day: El Salvador’s Civil War

Families looking for quote unquote Disappeared relatives in The Book of the Missing at the Human Rights Commission Office in San Salvador_early 1980s_photograph copyright Eli ReedFamilies looking for “Disappeared” relatives in The Book of the Missing at the Human Rights Commission Office in San Salvador_early 1980s_photograph © Eli Reed

.

Carolyn Forché (born 1950, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)

The Colonel”

.

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

May 1978

.     .     .

Carolyn Forché (nacida en 1950, Detroit, Michigan, EE.UU.)

El Coronel”

.

Lo que has oído es verdad. Estuve en su casa. Su mujer llevaba
una bandeja con café y azúcar. Su hija se limaba las uñas, su
hijo salió esa noche. Había periódicos, perritos, una pistola
sobre el cojín a su lado. La luna se mecía desnuda con su
cuerda negra encima de la casa. En la televisión daban un
programa policíaco. Era en inglés. Había botellas rotas
empotradas en la cerca que rodeaba la casa para arrancar las
rodilleras de un hombre o cortar sus manos en pedazos. En
las ventanas, rejas como las de las tiendas de licores. Cenamos
cordero a la parrilla, un buen vino; una campanilla de oro estaba
sobre la mesa para llamar a la criada. Ella nos trajo mangos
verdes, sal, un pan especial. Me preguntaron si me gustaba el
país. Hubo un breve anuncio en español. Su mejor se lo llevó
todo. Luego se habló sobre lo difícil que ahora resultaba
gobernar. El loro dijo “hola” en la terraza. El coronel le dijo
que se callara, y se levantó pesadamente de la mesa. Mi amigo
me dijo con sus ojos: no digas nada. El coronel volvió con
una bolsa de las que se usan para traer comestibles a casa.
Esparció muchas orejas humanas sobre la mesa. Eran como
orejones dulces partidos en dos. No hay otra manera de decirlo.
Cogió una en sus manos, la sacudió en nuestra presencia, y la
dejó caer en un vaso de agua. Allí revivió. Estoy hasta las
narices de tonterías, dijo. En cuanto a los derechos humanos,
dile a tu gente que se joda. Con su brazo tiró todas las orejas
al suelo y levantó en el aire el resto de su vino. Algo para tu
poesía, ¿no?, me dijo. Algunas orejas del suelo recogieron este
retazo de su voz. Algunas orejas del suelo fueron aplastadas
contra la tierra.


Mayo de 1978

.

Traducción del inglés: Noël Valis

.     .     .

Jaime Suárez Quemain (Salvadorean poet and journalist, 1949-1980)

A Collective Shot”

.

In my country, sir,

men carry a padlock

on their mouths,

only when alone do they meditate,

shout and protest

because fear, sir,

is the gag

and the subtle padlock you control.

In my country, sir,

(I say mine because I want it to be mine)

even on the fence posts

you can see the longing

…they divide it, they rent it, they mortgage it,

they torture it, they kill it, they imprison it,

the newspapers declare there is total freedom, but

it’s only in the saying, sir, you know what I mean.

And it’s my country,

with its streets, its shadows, its volcanos,

its high-rises – dens of thieves –

whose children succeeded in escaping Malthus,

it’s my country, with its poets, its dreams and its roses.

And my country, sir,

is nearly a cadaver, a solitary phantom of the night,

and it agonizes,

and you, sire,

so impassive.

.

Translation from Spanish: Wilfredo Castaño

.

National Policemen using an ice-cream vendor as a shield during a skirmish with demonstrators_San Salvador_early 1980s_photograph copyright Etienne MontesNational Policemen using an ice-cream vendor as a shield during a skirmish with demonstrators_San Salvador_early 1980s_photograph © Etienne Montes

Arrest of an autorepair mechanic for failure to carry an ID card_San Salvador_early 1980s_photograph copyright John HoaglandArrest of an autorepair mechanic for failure to carry an ID card_San Salvador_early 1980s_photograph copyright John Hoagland

.

Jaime Suárez Quemain (poeta y periodista salvadoreño, 1949-1980)

Un Disparo Colectivo”

.

En mi país, señor,

los hombres llevan un candado

en la boca,

sólo a solas

meditan, vociferan y protestan,

porque el miedo, señor,

es la mordaza

y el candado sutil que usted maneja.

En mi país, señor,

digo mío porque lo quiero mío –

hasta en los postes

se mira la nostalgia,

lo parcelan, lo alquilan, lo hipotecan,

lo torturan, lo matan, lo encarcelan;

la prensa dice

que hay libertad completa,

es un decir, señor, usted lo sabe.

Y es así mi país,

con sus calles, sus sombras, sus volcanes,

sus grandes edificios – albergues de tahures –

sus niños que lograron

escapársele a Malthus,

sus poetas, sus sueños y sus rosas.

Y mi país, señor,

casi cadáver,

solitario fantasma de la noche,

agoniza…  y usted:

tan impasible.

.     .     .

Alfonso Quijada Urías (Salvadorean poet, born 1940)

Chronicle”

.

The dead man’s mother is buying flowers,

the village is lovely, yellow flowers bloom on the hills;

the day seems happy, though it’s really very sad,

nothing moves without God’s will.

And the police are buying flowers, which they’ll send

to the dead man’s mother,

and a humble righteous man sends a note of condolence

for the death of the man they killed.

The sun keeps shining on the hills,

then a man playing the saddest music feels sorry to be there

among those men much deader than the dead man himself

who is swallowing with his open eyes the flowering hills,

the village and the walls, where once he wrote:  long lib liberti.

.

(1983)

.

Translation from Spanish:   Barbara Paschke

.     .     .

Alfonso Quijada Urías (poeta salvadoreño, nacido 1940)

Crónica”

.

La madre del muerto compra flores,

el pueble es bello, en los cerros crecen las flores amarillas;

parece un día alegre aunque realmente es muy triste,

nada se mueve sin la voluntad de Dios.

También los policías compran flores que mandaran a

la madre del muerto,

también un hombre bajito de conciencia manda

una nota en la que se conduele

por la muerte del muerto que mataron.

El sol sigue brillando sobre los cerros.

Entonces un hombre que toca la música mas triste

se conduele de estar allí

entre esos hombres mucho más muertos que el mismo muerto

que va tragando con sus ojos abiertos los cerros florecidos,

el pueblo y sus paredes, donde escribió una tarde:   biva la libertá.

.

(1983)

A Salvadorean government soldier with his automatic rifle and a sleeping toddler_after an anti guerrilla manoeuvre in Cabañas province_El Salvador_May 1984A Salvadorean government soldier with his automatic rifle and a sleeping toddler, after an anti-guerrilla manoeuvre in Cabañas province, El Salvador_May 1984

.

El Salvador, at the advent of the 20th century, was governed by presidents drawn from its oligarchical families; these had a cozy yet volatile relationship with the nation’s military. In the last decades of the 19th century, mass production at fincas (plantations) of coffee beans for export as the main cash crop was already being emphasized through forced elimination of communal land ownings belonging to campesinos (peasant farmers). In fact, a rural police force was created in 1912 to keep displaced campesinos in line. Social activist Farabundo Martí (1893-1932), one of the founders of the Communist Party of Central America, spearheaded a peasant uprising in 1932 which resulted in 30,000 deaths by the military – La Matanza (“The Slaughter”), as it came to be known. Decades of repression followed, then a coup d’état in1979 plus the 1980 assassination of human-rights advocate, Salvadorean Archbishop Oscar Romero, triggered a brutal civil war that lasted more than a decade. In the U.S.A., the newly elected President, Ronald Reagan, was determined to limit what he perceived as Communist and/or Leftist influence in Central America following the popular insurrection that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in neighbouring Nicaragua, so the U.S. administration supported the Salvadorean junta with military and economic aid throughout the 1980s. During this time, death squads associated with the military terrorized civilians, sometimes massacring hundreds of people at a time, as at El Mozote * in December of 1981. All told, the war cost the lives of 75,000 civilian noncombatants – this, in a country of a mere 5.5 million people (1992 estimate.).

In the U.S.A. the general population was divided about Washington’s deepening engagement in El Salvador. University student committees and humanitarian church groups coalesced around the issue. While there were major demonstrations in U.S. cities protesting its government’s policies in the tiny Central American country – 1981 saw rallies in several U.S.cities, and one that grouped in front of the Pentagon in May that year had 20,000 participants calling for Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – the continued violence against el pueblo salvadoreño and the U.S. foreign policies that enabled it – made the unfolding “story” of the Salvadorean civil war of the 1980s one of the central parables of the Cold War era. Then, unexpectedly, in 1989, it was a crime truly capturing international attention – the murder by Salvadorean government forces of six Jesuit priests, along with their housekeeper and her daughter – that began to set in motion the wheels of peace. A United Nations Truth Commission investigated and this gradually led to a UN-brokered peace agreement, signed at Chapultepec Castle in México City in 1992. Today, there are free elections in El Salvador, and both sides of the conflict have been integrated into the political process. Yet the economy remains unstable—about 20 percent-dependent upon remittances sent home by Salvadoreans working in the U.S.A. and other countries.  

.

* El Mozote, a hamlet in the mountainous Morazán region of El Salvador, was the scene of an orgy of killing by the Salvadorean Army’s Atlacatl Battalion (trained by the U.S.military) which had arrived in the vicinity searching for guerrillas of the FMLM (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front). Campesinos had gathered in El Mozote seeking a safe haven. The Atlacatl forced everyone into the village square, where they separated the men from the women. The men were interrogated, tortured, then executed. The women and girls were rapedthen machine-gunned down. Children had their throats slit then their bodies were hung from trees. Every building – and numerous piles of bodies – were set ablaze. The entire civilian population of El Mozote and its peripheral farms was eliminated. Author Mark Hertsgaard, in his book On Bended Knee – a study of the media and the Reagan administration – wrote of the significance of the first New York Times and Washington Post reports (January 1982) of the massacre: “What made the El Mozote/Morazán massacre stories so threatening was that they repudiated the fundamental moral claim that undergirded U.S. policy. They suggested that what the United States was supporting in Central America was not democracy but repression. They therefore threatened to shift the political debate from means to ends, from how best to combat the supposed Communist threat—send US troops or merely US aid?—to why the U.S.A. was backing state terrorism in the first place.”

.     .     .     .     .


Poems for Remembrance Day: Siegfried Sassoon / El soldado sincero – y amargo: la poesía de Siegfried Sassoon

ZP_Book cover for Eva Gallud Jurado's Spanish translations of War poems by Siegfried Sassoon_Ediciones El Desvelo 2011ZP_Siegfried Sassoon in 1915ZP_Siegfried Sassoon in 1915

.

Siegfried Sassoon (United Kingdom, 1886-1967) is best remembered for his angry and compassionate poems of the First World War (1914-1918). The sentimentality and jingoism of many War poets is entirely absent in Sassoon‘s poetic voice. His is a voice of intense feeling combined with cynicism. He wrote of the horror and brutality of trench warfare and contemptuously satirized generals, politicians, and churchmen for their incompetence and blind support of the War.
.

Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against The War (July 1917)

“I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this War, on which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purpose for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation. I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed. On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the contrivance of agonies which they do not, and which they have not, sufficient imagination to realize.”

.     .     .

 

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

 

Suicide in the trenches”

 

.

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

 

 

.     .     .

Suicidio en las trincheras”
.
Conocí a un soldado raso
que sonreía a la vida con alegría hueca,
dormía profundamente en la oscuridad solitaria
y silbaba temprano con la alondra.
En trincheras invernales, intimidado y triste,
con bombas y piojos y ron ausente,
se metió una bala en la sien.
Nadie volvió a hablar de él.
Vosotros, masas ceñudas de ojos incendiados
que vitoreáis cuando desfilan los soldados,
id a casa y rezad para no saber jamás
el infIerno al que la juventud y la risa van.

.     .     .

Attack”

.

At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to, meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

.     .     .

Ataque”

.

Surge al alba enorme y parda la colina
en el salvaje sol púrpura de frente fruncida
ardiendo a través de columnas de humo a la deriva
envolviendo
la amenazadora pendiente arrasada; y, uno a uno,
los tanques se arrastran y vuelcan la alambrada.
La descarga ruge y se eleva. Después, torpemente agachados
con bombas y fusiles y palas y uniforme completo,
los hombres empujan y escalan para unirse al encrespado
fuego.
Filas de rostros grises, murmurantes, máscaras de miedo,
abandonan sus trincheras, pasando por la cima,
mientras el tiempo pasa en blanco apresurado en sus
muñecas
y aguardan, con ojos furtivos y puños cerrados,
luchando por flotar en el barro. ¡Oh Dios, haz que pare!

.     .     .

The Investiture”

.

God with a Roll of Honour in His hand
Sits welcoming the heroes who have died,
While sorrowless angels ranked on either side
Stand easy in Elysium’s meadow-land.
Then you come shyly through the garden gate,
Wearing a blood-soaked bandage on your head;
And God says something kind because you’re dead,
And homesick, discontented with your fate.
.
If I were there we’d snowball Death with skulls;
Or ride away to hunt in Devil’s Wood
With ghosts of puppies that we walked of old.
But you’re alone; and solitude annuls
Our earthly jokes; and strangely wise and good
You roam forlorn along the streets of gold.

.     .     .

La investidura”

.

Con una lista de caídos en Su mano, Dios
se sienta dando la bienvenida a los héroes que han muerto
mientras ángeles sin pena se alinean a cada lado
tranquilos en pie en los prados Elíseos.
Entonces, tú llegas tímido al jardín a través de las puertas
luciendo un vendaje empapado en sangre en la cabeza
y Dios dice algo amable porque estás muerto
y añoras tu casa, descontento con tu destino.
Si yo estuviera allí, lanzaríamos calaveras como bolas de
nieve a la muerte
o nos fugaríamos para cazar en el Bosque del Diablo
con fantasmas de cachorros que antaño paseamos.
Pero estás solo y la soledad anula
nuestras bromas terrenas; y extrañamente sabio y bueno
vagas desamparado por calles de oro.

.     .     .

From: Counter-Attack and Other Poems (1918)

Spanish translations © Eva Gallud Jurado (Salamanca, 2011)

De: Contraataque y otros poemas(1918)

Traducciones de Eva Gallud Jurado - derechos de autor (Salamanca, 2011) 

.     .     .     .     .


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 99 other followers