Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
“I had no time to Hate”
I had no time to Hate –
The Grave would hinder Me –
And Life was not so
Could finish – Enmity –
Nor had I time to Love –
Some Industry must be –
The little Toil of Love –
Be large enough for Me –
. . .
“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.
“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 (1872-1906)
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
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
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
. . .
Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)
Hope means to keep living
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.
. . .
“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 (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,
“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 (1861-1941)
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)
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.
. . . . .
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.
. . .
Andre Bagoo (poeta y periodista, Trinidad y Tobago)
“En Los Bosques, Cielos Salvajes”
Douen, mírame a la cara. Dentro de ti
Eres una cara. Tan silencioso. Caen sobre mi
La sombra de la tumba en los pliegues de la madera que se encrespa,
Una tumba con suave aroma, astillados por el sol.
Florecemos atonalmente: años después de conocernos
Atraídos aquí a la ternura del algodón.
El castillo de Moloch llena con nosotros.
Ahora, dedos no tratan de huir
Pero acaricia las vainas que contienen nuestras almas
Y crecen como las ramas sexuadas por el sol.
Que ya no se molestan en advertir al mundo
Que la hendidura de un corazón es tan grande como la de un árbol
Que el corazón de un corazón es tan grande como el tiempo.
Douen, una cara dentro de mi.
. . .
Traducción del inglés al español: Luis Vasquez La Roche
Nacido en Caracas, Venezuela, en 1983, ahora Sr. Vasquez La Roche – un artista multimedia – es trinitense, y vive en la ciudad de Couva, Trinidad y Tobago.
Aquí: un video del poema
. . . . .
Mildred K. Barya
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.
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 shelved—and 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)
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
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-
Gee, that poor shine!
. . .
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
. . . . .
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 – aunt – butthere 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.
Addendum: 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.
. . . . .
Carolyn Forché (born 1950, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)
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.
. . .
Carolyn Forché (nacida en 1950, Detroit, Michigan, EE.UU.)
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,
Translation from Spanish: Wilfredo Castaño
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,
solitario fantasma de la noche,
agoniza… y usted:
. . .
Alfonso Quijada Urías (Salvadorean poet, born 1940)
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.
Translation from Spanish: Barbara Paschke
. . .
Alfonso Quijada Urías (poeta salvadoreño, nacido 1940)
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.
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 SassoonPosted: November 11, 2013
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.
. . .
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!
. . .
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
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
Filas de rostros grises, murmurantes, máscaras de miedo,
abandonan sus trincheras, pasando por la cima,
mientras el tiempo pasa en blanco apresurado en sus
y aguardan, con ojos furtivos y puños cerrados,
luchando por flotar en el barro. ¡Oh Dios, haz que pare!
. . .
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.
. . .
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)
. . . . .
Just above: Two flags hand-drawn by citizens during 1964 as part of designing a New Canada Flag to replace the old Canada Red Ensign. The submission immediately above included the following note: “Indians were here 20,000 years ago, getting along peacefully until the White races came and stole nearly all they own. They are the true Canadians.” That statement is as polemical in 2013 as it would’ve been in 1964. History is cruel but the future may well be just. November 11th – Remembrance Day – makes us ponder human beings and their all-too-human culture: shipbuilding, trade, conquest, slavery, immigration, resistance, renaissance, reconciliation, mestizaje, and evolving nationhoods…
Forgotten not gone
For Invisible Peoples
I’m beating my drum
Our Story is long
Oh my Sister, my Brother
The Future is Now
—And Something be lost
—And Something be won
Yes, Hear my Song!
Ship of Theseus
I have to see your face
if am not going to stare.
How do we know for sure
a dead body is really there?
Call all you wed by my surname
so that when I die, we breathe
in your body, in your new lover
and then, later, his new lover
his and his. In this way
our marriage lasts forever.
Father of the Nation
My life should grow longer
With each moment you live
We, strange twins, each
Through reversed ends
Assuming I will live tomorrow
I can time my midlife crisis
My life chained to yours
Our wrong-footed estimates
Leave one set of footprints
. . .
I will put my bucket down
Over my head
And turn it into straw, spin
Bark into gold.
Our ways always hold.
We cup love with tightness.
We know enough of currency
When you see me
You always say,
“Excuse me, you from China?”
You’ve nearly understood.
Our ways are old
Our bodies, our own.
We don’t take back
What we never gave.
. . .
These poems are taken from Douen Islands, a poetry e-book produced in collaboration by poet Andre Bagoo, graphic designer Kriston Chen, artists Brianna McCarthy and Rodell Warner, and sitarist Sharda Patasar.
Read more here: douenislands.tumblr.com
And get involved here: firstname.lastname@example.org
. . . . .
Doyali Farah Islam
Zamzam was found
under a heap of dung,
where the blood of rites
… Zamzam … was found …
under a heap of dung.
it was ‘Abd al-Muttalib
who decided which to cherish.
it wasn’t just springwater,
but his decision
that was the freshness.
… this ground we unmuck
called listening heart
carves deep the shallowest
somewhere breathes its breath
from between your two breasts.
(no need to divine
approximations are enough.)
… out in the plain open, I was searching for a particular thing,
and a thousand hidden
wellsprings of treasure
passed me by.
Hajar runs between two hills, desperate to find what quenches thirst.
then she gives up going back and forth in the desert of fear,
and Ishmael’s heel strikes water.
. . .
Poet’s notes on “Zamzam”:
The Well of Zamzam was in use from the time of Ishmael and Hajar’s story (explained below), until it was filled with the treasures of pilgrimage offerings by the Jurhumites who controlled Mecca (Lings 4). The Jurhumites covered the well with sand, and the water source was largely forgotten (Lings 5). Many years later, ‘Abd al-Muttalib, sleeping near the Ka‘bah, heard the Divine command, “Dig Zamzam!” (Lings 10). The well was recovered, and it still serves Muslim pilgrims on Hajj.
While the “heap” element in the poem is hyperbolic, Muhammad’s grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muttalib, did re-locate the spring of Zamzam near the Ka‘bah at the site upon which he found dung, an ant’s nest, as well as blood from ritual sacrifices performed by the Quraysh (Lings 10-11).
Hajar and Ishmael:
Hajar (Biblical: Hagar), the second wife of Abraham, after Sarah, was alone in the desert with her baby, Ishmael. Desperate to find water, she ran between two hillocks – now called Safā and Marwah – so that she could view the desert from better vantage points. After seven tries with no sight of a caravan, she gave up and sat down. A well sprang up where Ishmael’s heel touched the ground (Lings 2-3). This well became the Well of Zamzam.
Reference: Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings (Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.) © 1983, 1991, 2006, originally published in the UK by George Allen & Unwin © 1983.
. . .
“Zamzam” is taken from Doyali Farah Islam’s 2011 collection, Yūsuf and the Lotus Flower, published by Buschek Books in Ottawa, Canada.
Doyali Farah Islam is the first-place winner of Contemporary Verse 2’s 35th Anniversary Contest, and her poems have appeared in Grain Magazine (38.2), amongst other places. Born to Bangladeshi parents, Islam grew up in Toronto and spent four years abroad in London, England. As to her true dwelling place, she can only offer: “I am borrowed breath. / if you too are borrowed, / we meet in the home of our breather.” Islam holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Equity Studies from the University of Toronto (Victoria College).
Image: Water – a photograph by Laboni Islam
. . . . .