“how can I / the epilogue of my own long torment / understand the prologue I dreamt you to be?” ~ Kori Awoonor, from “To Sika”

Kofi Awoonor AFP
Poet and Statesman, Kofi Awoonor (AFP)

Two for Tuesday: Kofi Awoonor, one of the Westgate Mall victims felled in the 9/22 attack in Nairobi, Kenya.

As I was reading stories about the attack on the Westgate Mall, I came across a name that seemed familiar, Awoonor. Turns out Kofi Awoonor, famed Ghanaian poet, was among the scores of people killed by Al-Shabab terrorists over the weekend; Awoonor was in town for a literary festival.

Al-Shabab (Arabic for “the youth”) is a Somalia-based terror group. The latest totals put the death toll at 68, with over 175 wounded.

I freely admit that my background in world literature is sorely lacking as I was schooled in literature at a time in which world literature seemed limited to a world inhabited mostly by Europeans, so in recent years I have tried to take in poets and writers of whom I knew very little.  Awoonor is one of those poets. I find it heartbreaking that in one of his last poems (below), Awoonor speaks of “bad men” who “interrupted our dance/with obscene songs and bad gestures.”

From The Wall Street Journal:

African poet Kofi Awoonor (1935-2013) was among those slain in a terrorist attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The African Poetry Book Fund is set to publish Awoonor’s latest collection, “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems” in 2014.

Across a New Dawn

Sometimes, we read the
lines in the green leaf
run our fingers over the
smooth of the precious wood
from our ancient trees;

Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together

There is dancing in the streets again
the laughter of children rings
through the house
On the seaside, the ruins recent
from the latest storms
remind of ancestral wealth
pillaged purloined pawned
by an unthinking grandfather
who lived the life of a lord
and drove coming generations to
despair and ruin

*

But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummers
are in rehearsal?

No; where the worm eats
a grain grows.
the consultant deities
have measured the time
with long winded
arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn

*

We are the celebrants
whose fields were
overrun by rogues
and other bad men who
interrupted our dance
with obscene songs and bad gestures

Someone said an ailing fish
swam up our lagoon
seeking a place to lay its load
in consonance with the Original Plan

Master, if you can be the oarsman
for our boat
please do it, do it.
I asked you before
once upon a shore
at home, where the
seafront has narrowed
to the brief space of childhood

We welcome the travelers
come home on the new boat
fresh from the upright tree

From Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014

                   

We Have Found a New Land

The smart professionals in three piece
Sweating away their humanity in dribblets
And wiping the blood from their brow

We have found a new land
This side of eternity
Where our blackness does not matter
And our songs are dying on our lips.
Standing at hell-gate you those who seek admission
Still the familiar faces that watched and gave you up
As the one who had let the side down,
“Come on, old boy, you cannot dress like that”
And tears well in my eyes for them
Those who want to be seen in the best company
Have abjured the magic of being themselves
And In the new land we have found
The water is drying from the towel
Our songs are dead and we sell then dead to the other side
Reaching for the Stars we stop at the house of the Moon
And pause to relearn the wisdom of our fathers.

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” ~ Charles Dickens

                    

“They are trying to make me into a fixed star. I am an irregular planet.” ~ Martin Luther, c. 1530

Early Saturday evening. Sun and clouds. Scattered showers.

National Poetry Month (2002)

I haven’t done a regular post for days. The usual factors at work: health, bills, anxiety . . .

Corey finished his first week at his new job. He really seems to like being back on a boat, doing the things that he likes to do. At least it’s not the constant monotony of maritime security, with long stretches in between of nothing upon nothing.

Monday I go back to my gastro doctor to follow-up on three of the tests that they have done so far. They’ve scheduled another one for later in the month. Lovely. Can I just tell you how much I like discussing the inner workings of my intestines?  I have to admit, though, that always lurking in the back of my mind is my dad’s pancreatic cancer, how all of that started with a bunch of stomach-related problems, how they did test after test.

To put my mind at ease, I’ve decided that I’m going to remind my doctor about what happened with dad (same doctor), just to bring it to the forefront of his memory when we are discussing possibilities. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that I have pancreatic cancer. That’s not it. I just remember all of the tests that he had to endure, driving him back and forth, and watching him suffer and lose more and more weight.

I don’t have that problem, as my mother reminded me the other day when she pulled into the driveway and blew the horn (always such a pleasant way of announcing her arrival). I went out to her car, and she put her window down to talk at me (yes, I mean at); then, she ever-so-pleasantly put her hand out the window and patted my stomach and said, “Why are you so bloated?”

Just thought I’d remind you guys as to why I have such horrible self-image problems.

“Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” ~ Victor Hugo 

National Poetry Month (2009)

But, just to remind me of why it’s better that my mother honk from the driveway . . . she came inside the other day to bring me a bunny rabbit head decoration for Easter (?). She walked in, looked around, and then, looking me dead in the eye, said, “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen your house look so bad.”

Thanks, mum. You’re the best. Actually, I had been thinking that it’s really been looking fairly good lately. We’re keeping it picked up. Vacuum, polish the furniture, mop the floors, clean the glass on a pretty regular basis. I clean the bathroom at least three times a week. But to her, it looks bad. Why?

Because in the corner of the living room we still have the very large wardrobe that Corey and I purchased over five years ago to put into the bedroom once we move things around. Yes, it is a big piece of furniture, but it doesn’t look bad in the corner, and in spite of her protests, she has seen this particular piece of furniture several times. Yet she insists that she has never seen it, wants to know where it came from, when we got it. I bite my tongue to remind myself that discretion is the better part of valor.

The fight simply isn’t worth it, and she probably won’t step foot into my house for another three years. At least, one can hope.

“There is goodness in blue skies and flowers, but another force—a wild pain and decay—also accompanies everything.” ~ David Lynch

National Poetry Month (2006)

April is Poetry Awareness Month, which makes me aware that I am not nearly as up on my contemporary poets as I used to be. The Academy of American Poets first designated April as such in 1996 in an attempt to increase the awareness and appreciation of poetry in the U.S. Of course, we’re talking about the same country that is cutting arts funding like it’s a budget for unnecessary Snickers bar, has stopped funding the Reading is Fundamental program, and wants to get rid of NPR.

Culture? Beh. Who needs it? (I like the 2009 poster with the T. S. Eliot quote the best)

There was a time when I knew who the up and comers were, when new books were going to hit the stands. Now, I mostly rely on the people I follow on tumblr to find new poets.

Sad, really.

I have learned of several Polish poets of whom I had known nothing previously. I like the idea of Polish poets, mostly because the whole (American) concept of world literature used to be such an oxymoron: World literature might include a few famous South Americans, lots of British and French writers and poets, perhaps a Russian or two. Now, the writings of  people from every little corner of the world are available just from a Google search.

I would love to be sitting in a world literature class now, absorbing the words of people I have never read. I mean, even the old style European literature classes were so narrowly defined. Not so, any more. European actually means European, not just three countries in Europe.

But back to the Polish poets. Take this section from “Going On,” by Bronislaw Maj:

Unattainably beautiful 
for those who like me—slovenly, 
chaotic, from day to day—go on 
dying.

Or “The Moment of Reconciliation,” by Anna Kamienska

Take in your hand the gray wafter of day
for the moment of reconciliation has arrived
Let there be reconciled
apple with knife
tree with fire
day with night
laughter with sobbing
nothingness with body
Let there be reconciled
loneliness with loneliness

Of course, these are in translation, so they probably are not as powerful as in the original Polish, but they are still so full of the kind of angst that I appreciate. I love the pairing of slovenly and chaotic, the poem that can include an apple and sobbing and still be moving.

“It must be those brief moments
when nothing has happened—nor is going to.
Tiny moments, like islands in the ocean
beyond the grey continent of our ordinary days.

There, sometimes, you meet your own heart
like someone you’ve never known.” ~ Hans Borli  

National Poetry Month (2007)

Anyway, so that’s the current state of my life. Exciting, huh? Well, there is the appointment with the neurologist this Thursday—finally. The person who called me from the doctor’s office said, “Be sure to call us at least 24 hours in advance if you need to cancel this appointment, or we’ll have to charge you $100.”

I told her that there was nothing that could make me cancel this appointment. A couple of days ago I had a migraine that was on the right side of my face, including my teeth. It was the weirdest sensation. A migraine in your teeth? Whoever heard of such a thing?

Corey is working today; he picked up a 14-hour shift doing security. I asked him why in the world he would want to take a security shift on his first weekend after working on a boat? His reply was that we’ve been without regular decent paychecks for so long that he wants to do everything to get ahead.

That’s great, but I don’t want the poor man to work himself to death. He’s already too thin. But truth be told, I think that he remembered that today is opening day at the park and took the shift so that he wouldn’t have to hear the loudspeaker at 8 o’clock this morning.

There is a reason that I am not armed with any kind of weaponry. Not because I am violent or want to hurt anyone, but this morning I would have felt completely justified in shooting the loudspeaker. I hate opening day. People parking everywhere, litter strewn about as if people were raised in a barn, car alarms blaring, and idiots honking their horns at 8 a.m. At least a police car was stationed in front of our house for a time this morning to keep people from parking in the no-parking zone in front of our house, you know, where the fire hydrant is?

Apparently that bright yellow fire hydrant is easy to overlook when you don’t want to carry the cooler a few extra yards to the stands. I know. I know. I’m a bitch. You would be too if you had to endure this for months every year. I mean, when I try to be nice and tell people that it’s a no-parking zone, they just glare at me as if I’m that old man yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off his yard. When that happens enough times a person can become jaded. Just saying.

More later. Peace.

Music by Crowded House, “Falling Dove”

                    

Couldn’t decide between two poems, so posting both (found on Poetry of the Poles tumblr):

List

I’ve made a list of questions 
to which I no longer expect answers,
since it’s either too early for them, 
or I won’t have time to understand.

The list of questions is long, 
and takes up matters great and small, 
but I don’t want to bore you, 
and will just divulge a few:

What was real
and what scarcely seemed to be 
in this auditorium, 
stellar and substellar, 
requiring tickets both to get in 
and get out;

What about the whole living world, 
which I won’t succeed
in comparing with a different living world; 

What will the papers
write about tomorrow;

When will wars cease, 
and what will take their place;

Whose third finger now wears 
the ring
stolen from me — lost;

Where’s the place of free will, 
which manages to be and not to be 
simultaneously;

What about those dozens of people —
did we really know each other; 

What was M. trying to tell me 
when she could no longer speak;

Why did I take bad things 
for good ones 
and what would it take 
to keep from doing it again?

There are certain questions
I jotted down just before sleep.

On waking
I couldn’t make them out.

Sometimes I suspect 
that this is a genuine code, 
but that question, too, 
will abandon me one day.

~ Wislawa Szymborska (Translated by Clare Cavanagh)

                    

The City Where I Want to Live

The city is quiet at dusk, 
when pale stars waken from their swoon, 
and resounds at noon with the voices 
of ambitious philosophers and merchants 
bearing velvet from the East. 
The flames of conversation burn there, 
but not pyres. 
Old churches, the mossy stones 
of ancient prayer, are both its ballast 
and its rocket ship. 
It is a just city 
where foreigners aren’t punished, 
a city quick to remember 
and slow to forget, 
tolerating poets, forgiving prophets 
for their hopeless lack of humor. 
The city was based 
on Chopin’s preludes, 
taking from them only joy and sorrow. 
Small hills circle it 
in a wide collar; ash trees 
grow there, and the slim poplar, 
chief justice in the state of trees. 
The swift river flowing through the city’s heart 
murmurs cryptic greetings 
day and night 
from the springs, the mountains, and the sky. 

~ Adam Zagajewski (Translated by Clare Cavanagh)