Thursday, December 31, 2020

The New Variant

It is with a heavy heart
That I must tell you
That the facts have changed.
We have to act on information as we have it.

Given the early evidence,
The new variant is out of control
And we must change our method of defense.

We cannot continue with Christmas as planned
When the virus changes its method of attack
Because this is now spreading very fast
We need to bring it under control

And this news about the new variant of the virus
And the potential risk it poses
Has been an incredibly difficult end
To, frankly, an awful year

After Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock (December 19 and 20, 2020)

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See also:

This found note is part of a series: In a covidious time

The Spike Protein

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Now that you've had your jab
How about advocating
For the rest of us poor slobs?
The pandemic's not near abating
So many lives are being robbed
Relief checks? We're still waiting
It's a matter of survival, send a squad
The new variant's still mutating!

The English Strain

This obsession with naming
When it comes to The English Strain
Feels like casting aspersions
On people now firmly under lockdown
But B.1.1.7 is really quite dry
And, well, Ebola is a great river
While Marburg is a campus town
Remember too, these viral RNA mutations
Have much bigger fish to fry

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Timeliness and Prescience

One part of my writing practice - a self-imposed constraint of the past few years is that I typically delay publishing. I perhaps took to heart too deeply that Gambian proverb: "Words are like bullets. When you release them, you can't call them back".

Perhaps it's a reaction too against a recency effect in much of today's world. Many writers chase the new and shiny and the temptation of the public intellectual mill to opine on the brouhaha of the moment. Contra punditry is a motto of sorts.

Cambridge city hall

The times when inspiration flows are exhilarating moments, I cherish them immensely, they provide great relief, if not gratification, from their opposite counterparts: the fallow days of creativity. Yet the latter are often a prelude or even sometimes, a prerequisite to the former.

When you are firing on all cylinders, everything comes easily, intuitive connections are made, and the writing practice is a game not a chore. Indeed it can become a compulsion, every conversation somehow ties into the fugitive thought you were pursuing earlier.

You find yourself up at all hours lost in composition. Narratives take over, you're in the grip of an obsession pursuing the muse.

Cambridge city hall

Prolific is the adjective that is used when you are flowing in the zone. What is the writer's equivalent of the heat check?

I had a couple of stellar months recently and, as is my tradition, I simply saved the output for the vault. It's a kind of bank of ideas, or, rather, my wishing well of toli. The idea is to be able to dole out the work at a more measured pace.

Sometimes, the muse doesn't leave, so now the problem becomes that you start to have too much in the tank. Yet you don't want to give the audience whiplash and overwhelm them with the pace of your creations. So you find yourself married to your admittedly arbitrary constraints. Dilemmas.

The upshot is that my blog invariably features things authored months earlier. I made my peace with this as this idiosyncrasy helps me move to my own tune and I still manage to push boundaries in my own manner and time.

Still I do enjoy marking my beliefs to market, as it were. There's a lyrical tension my routine now presents between timeliness and relevance on the one hand, and prescience and substance on the other.

A strong idea ought to be able to withstand some neglect, to paraphrase Garcia Marquez. I enjoy tilting against the windmill of time.

big ben

There is of course the peril of the scoop and I have a few recent examples...

Losers and suckers is a turn of phrase that I hit on back in June, it's a phrase that is firmly in the news, and frothy too, as it was ascribed to a feckless president in September. Perhaps it was in the air back in June, when it stood as the punchline to that hatchet job bit of toli that came to me. Indeed throughout September, I was sorely tempted to bring it forward.

In the end though when The Justice and Secretary was published, it turned out that my worry about the defanging of my punchline was misplaced. Rather, it was timely and prescient that I had written about the rank corruption of the Scalias as they were quarantining after celebrating the ascendancy of another servant of capital to the Supreme Court in another case of winner's justice. Indeed I got virtual pats of the back for scooping the New Yorker and the like. The repercussions of the White House superspreader event were becoming obvious. Thoughts and prayers to the Scalia family and, as I put it, the tree of iniquity.

I had long ago said my piece about Jerry Rawlings in this joint, but couldn't leave it alone and wrote Truth and Reconciliation in September. Again, I'm glad that, even delayed, that I published it in November and, as fate would have it, a few days before the Flight Lieutenant died. I have no regrets about what I wrote but am especially grateful that it didn't appear post mortem.

The last one is about mink. In early May I started a piece about mink, initially titled The Mink Connection, as I'd been collecting links pondering the various avenues for viral transmission. At some point, it turned into a kind of alternate history of our covidious pandemic - the plight of workers in meatpacking plants and farm workers were of concern as were other small things. The minks would reappear with lucid logic into a dreamlike poem in August. Then, of course, the minks became commonplace, the scientists raised the alarm in Denmark. While the hypertext dreams escaped from the vault, The Mink Quadrant as now conceived remains unpublished, existing only as a playlist. Pity the mink.

Observers are worried


Your notional prescience in prose
Early to despair and viewed as being too on the nose
The real danger of being dismissed as piling on,
And appearing as mere conventional wisdom.

For all it takes is the arrow of time
To separate the prophets and oracles
From the most banal pub dabbler
Precious blueprints of digital ink
Become newsprint to wrap fish and chips

A victim of self imposed constraints
Sometimes scooped by events but no matter.
You may call me Captain Obvious
But I remain my own gatekeeper

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

Soundtrack for this note

A playlist straight from the basement (spotify version)

This note was written on September 13 2020, links added in early October per the mink predicament, and November per the death of the coup maker.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Early to Despair

I guess I was early to despair; don't call it prescience for, as I've noted, I'd rather be wrong.

They say misery loves company but I'd rather not have fellow travelers of gloom, it only accentuates the impotence and, indeed, the outrage.

I retired my coronavirus superspreading event timeline months ago, noting that the die was cast, that public health notions were being roundly ignored. If anything, there has been a quickening of dismay since then. While friends continue to send links of doom, there's been no joy in this repetition.

The Sturgis motorcycle rally, the White House clusters, the Swiss yodeling concert catastrophes, the Redding megachurch, the Sweet Sixteen superspreader session, the schools and universities high on their wishful thinking, the Gators, the Yale men's hockey team, and so forth.

Worse still, the continued refusal to address the meatpacking plant and food production pipeline and protect farm and other workers. I'm no Upton Sinclair, but Mr Surgeon General, Mr CDC Director et. al, you have plainly failed. Titans of failure, ship stewards of the Titanic, do you sleep at night?

I suppose if "they" won't even take simple steps to protect themselves, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for them to protect the needy, yet essential, Others.

Social living is a bridge too far for these rulers' psyches, it's the antithesis of the conqueror's catechism.

At the outset it was a parlor game, speculating on which outrage or dereliction would be the most catastrophic in the ongoing shambles. There were many candidates and, sadly, all have done their worst.

Soundtrack: Do your worst by Jaguar Wright

It gave me no pleasure to note that Ghana had managed things better than the US, UK and even France. It would be a strange kind of pride to think of celebrating that we were less inept. Dancing, as it were, on the graves of strangers. Human lives lost unnecessarily anywhere is an affront to one and all.

The notion of a Center for Disease Control is essentially a modern American invention. How many times in recent decades have American or Western logistics and expertise rolled in to save the day around the world? The modern language of public health has long followed the American script. It is confounding to watch the inaction and rank paralysis. Like students watching teachers flail, one starts to second guess all previous lessons.

And now we'll probably want to quarantine any American help. Their navy vessels are suspect viral vectors, Tyson's frozen chicken could well have RNA droplet coating; they have so little concern for their workers safety. Secretary Scalia in any case would have gutted any OSHA enforcement actions. The guys in the white hats died with their boots on.

The big asterisk of skepticism now looms over all things American.

The Brits have had longer to deal with decline and the fall from grace, and have the long history and attendant coping mechanisms to disarm the potency of perceived incompetence, if not impotence. Decades ago, the Suez imbroglio opened eyes and forced a reassessment of their stature. Still the notion that Mr Johnson's entanglements and dithering cost tens of thousands of lives ought to be hard to take.

Rude awakenings galore are in prospect in short. There will be a reckoning for "excess mortality" no matter how couched.

The saving grace culturally is the lack of reflection in America life, especially when coupled with this curious affinity for selective amnesia, mythmaking and nostalgia. Bunk and hokum at once, and the stab in the back routines have been readied to distract. The Murdoch press is well practiced.

There will be scapegoats for the shambles. It will be the usual suspects that will be said to be the blame, no matter how improbable; the stakes are simply too high for the culpable to admit responsibilty.

Still, if all you have is marketing prowess and the hard sell but fail plainly at operational excellence and execution, the world will pick and choose your wares at their leisure.

Goodwill and reputations are hard to win but easily squandered. You have to fall back to the tropes of disaster recovery once your brand in the toilet. Tough crowds abound. The downsides of a grievous decline in stature are all too severe.

I know all too well about lost decades. Ghanaians are still living down visions of Ghana must go and our basket case interludes. Reputation scrubbing is an all-consuming endeavor, if not a generational struggle.

Still, the parade of dubious decisions made, even in the face of months of increasingly dire warnings, is hard to take. You can't say that we don't know how to protect, or where transmission is likely to occur. The timeline made it obvious.

I was incandescent with rage in April that my uncle's rehab facility in Boris Johnson's austerity-ravaged NHS became his grave rather than his sanctuary. The notion that, months later, countless others are having to face this same fate, that other families are going through this unbounded grief is scandalous.

That nursing homes are still daily death traps is beyond disgrace. For shame.


Pandemic fatigue might be a thing, indeed epidemiologists incorporate it in their models, but it only really matters because so much goodwill and time has been squandered. There was no mobilization to secure equipment and resources or ramp up testing capacity.

Beyond ignorance and wishful thinking, there is the fact that people clearly assess risk and value life differently. Fine, I hear you say, it is what it is. Opinions differ, yada yada...

I would counter that, again, this is something epidemiologists model. It's the human factor: for any plan, there will be non-compliance. This is the challenge of any public health intervention. During this pandemic we may all be amateur epidemiologists, but, surely, the best practices are well known by now.

Rules and regulations should be simple and explained plainly. Most importantly, rules should be enforced, shared sacrifice demands no less. If we are all in this together, there can be no impunity, no trips to Barnard Castle.

Clear consistent communication is of the essence. Mixed metaphors are perilous and sow confusion.

The active disinformation and the weaponization of ignorance that we have seen is nigh genocidal, most certainly sociopathic, and, arguably, criminal.

I would say disgraceful if I wasn't so sure that shame was an impossibility with Trump and company.

And yet. And yet.

I'm minded that I've been writing my Things Fall Apart series for years now and should be no stranger to things indeed falling apart. I have my coping mechanisms against incipient despair; I mint playlists, I bury myself in writing and reading. I find joy in small things and optimism even in daily absurdity.

As Theodore Roethke put it in his celebrated poem:

In a dark time, the eye begins to see
Robert Lifton, writing in an atomic age, expanded on this notion and tried to achieve the psychological effect of an emetic through the juxtaposition of carefully chosen words; it's an approach I've come to embrace as an antidote to despair.


Years ago, I came across some paintings by Edward Munch at Harvard's Fogg art museum. It wasn't quite The Scream but they seemed in the same vein. 2020 has been a year of primal screams all around. A juxtaposition suggested itself naturally when I came across Kodjo Crobsen's satirical works which have had pride of place in my pandemic reading. The illustration of the angel that he would publish periodically in his columns, as Ghana seemed happy to go from worse to worse during our lost decades, was especially poignant. The angel's message was always the same and it was fitting:

At this point, subsequent horrific events are still reversible...

So yes, early to despair yet resilient and hopeful for a reversal of fortune. Things can be salvaged and the point of the daily struggle daily is the knowledge that there will be better days ahead.

at this point subsequent horrific events are still reversible, vrs my scream for edward munch

Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair

The Leaden Echo - Gerard Manley Hopkins

Optimistic, a playlist

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Searcher and other dirges

The Searcher

The searcher's mission is never complete
The exploration is its own reward
For God imparted this understanding
Of the things that happen to man.
To the ancients, it came down as proverbial wisdom
Our sojourn on these lands may be only temporary
But he strove to map this earthly territory
The search for truth and for better days ahead
What is the tenor of a man that he leaves love in his wake

Black Clothes

I had to pull out the black clothes today for I am in mourning.
There's a hole in my heart and the resort to tradition came unbidden.
I didn't even realize what I was doing this morn
And made straight for the sad, mournful part of my wardrobe.
The ritual unfolds, for now he's gone.

"He's gone... The hearse just came..
To pick him up", said my mother, his sister.
I didn't hear anything else afterwards, I so wanted to hug her.
But there was no comfort to be had, it made no sense
That's the nature of this thing: there's only the absence.

He's gone. He was always here, and now he's gone.
Last night, I went to stare at my sleeping son who bears his name,
As if I could summon him back to this mortal plane.
The 7 year old has been testing all boundaries of late
And we'd resolved on parental discipline and strict rules.
In lieu of those nighttime conversations with his namesake
He gained an ironic inheritance out of this misfortune:
I gave him a pass today, if only he knew.

volta boats

Newfangled Farewells

The routine, now all too familiar and dreadful,
The early morning wake up to stream the trans-Atlantic funeral
And catch a glimpse of family and friends in grief
Hoping that the dearly departed now rests in peace

Terrified, for they are putting themselves in mortal peril
Celebrating a life in community, such is our ritual
That in your pajamas, you turn to the mortuary's facebook channel
While your numb relations file past the coffin in somber fashion

Onscreen, Mum sang the dirge, Blewu, and you lost all composure
Your son took a deep breath, realized that his father could also cry
He steeled himself to comfort you but this new fact was hard to measure
This is all too much, internally displaced, this is no way to say goodbye

Road Warrior

His car always broke down when we took a road trip, it was inevitable.
Sometimes you asked yourself if he was the exact opposite
Of an engine whisperer, because he seemed to always coax trouble
In whatever vehicle he drove. Constant car woes and he was no mechanic.

But I loved those road trips we took, even when we would break down
On the Accra-Tema motorway or somewhere near Sokode or other towns.

I treasured the extended conversations we would share
Even as the car would limp along at a glacial pace
Making increasingly alarming sounds, or as we would wait
Or walk to find helping hands or spare parts to repair.

That was when you realized that you would be arriving late,
That your deadline or appointment was of no great import
What mattered was the conversation you were having
And that this shared moment was well worth the cost.

In this way, we discovered and roamed through every village
The entire country was fair game; Ghana was his stage.
We found the best chop bars in the smallest of hamlets
There was no patch of earth too inaccessible as yet

We always stopped to get street food at the far side of Adomi bridge
Abolo and the red shrimp from the Volta river were mandatory treasures
Cholera outbreaks be damned, it was our just deserts, a feast of riches
Bargaining for food with my dear uncle, those were the simple pleasures

And our poor garden. The pots in our yard
Would come out the worse for wear
As he again unerringly banged into them hard
When he put the car in reverse gear.
Mum's orchids were relocated so many times
But he always seemed to find them even when reborn
And he'd unfailingly repeat his minor vehicular crimes
His parking routine took on heat-seeking missile form.

volta river


Habib was the nickname
But it could just as well have been Cabral
Whether it was Amical or Bourguiba,
You knew were dealing with a political animal
Debates that seemed like they would last forever
The reputation might have been a campus radical
But the reality was just that of a loyal friend

Once in his orbit, his word was his bond
At any sign of trouble, he'd come to your defense.
And helpful in so many other ways,
Forever intervening on your behalf,
How many fortunes were made without recompense
And countless problems solved with his assistance
Friends would tear their hair out when he was in this mode
"Just send me a bill, Emma. It's simply what you're owed"
He seemed to be averse to creating invoices, no matter how much time spent

Of course a football game helped, we were passionate about our sports
Come the weekend, we'd consult the papers to see what we could catch
I can hardly forget going with him to countless matches
Ohene Djen stadium, our second home in Accra it felt
We would discuss the Kotoko-Hearts rivalry back in the day
Or how Baba Yara's phantom moves could make your heart melt
And the new global game, the moneyed Premier League of late.
Unfortunately I missed the family expeditions to the World Cup
To Germany and South Africa but I could hear the joy over the phone
When we fully expected that our novice Black Stars would bring it back
Who can I count on to discuss the great game now that he's gone?

The Original Toli Monger

There was a tic, or was it rather a vein that popped,
In Daa's brow until the day she passed on
At the bachelor ways of her eldest son
For even as he approached his sixties
He gave new meaning to confirmed bachelorhood.

All he needed was a mat or a couch;
A garden variety bed was a luxury in his eyes.
He didn't want for anything, Uncle Emma,
Much to the alarm of his bank manager
Material things were not a concern for him.
His vocation was to be the patron saint of lost causes
He spent his own money freely, never seeking applause

Where others sought out lucrative practice,
He, rather, chose the law to fight injustice
A lifetime mission to be a social avenger
It was the strangest thing, however,
This obsessive concern of his,
For whoever heard of a poor lawyer?

At once a giant in his chosen profession
Winning plaudits for his sharp insight.
Lawyer Ohene was born inquisitive,
Brilliant and focused, investigation ran in his blood
Furiously probing any and all iniquity
The implacable pursuit of justice, a beacon of integrity
He carefully following the thread of evidence
He sought equity, come what may, as a result
Truth seeking was his compulsion, almost to a fault.

What interested him was you
Your story and the puzzle of you.
He listened very carefully and made his every word count.
His quiet, calm interventions always made a difference to us.

An intense curiosity about how the world worked.
What was the story behind the story that you would read in the news.
We learned that we shouldn't be content with appearances
And the cover story was merely the opening chapter,
That it was important to know what really lay under,
That, indeed, getting to the truth was what mattered.
Without a doubt, he was the original toli monger

When troubles arose, he was unrushed and unconcerned,
They would be sorted out, and he set about to do so.
We still had to focus on our open ended discussion,
Our free-for-all exploration of life.
He was up for anything, no topic was too taboo
And his unique way of looking at the world will be missed.
It is hard to conceive that he's gone.
We have to hold on to the lessons that he imparted.

abutia village

Exeunt: Cuba

The last chapter was something of an expedition
In the pre-covidious era, he got on a plane to Havana
Flanked by his brothers, all hoping for a better outcome
After eighteen months of pain and now an enforced silence

The youngest would stay with him while he sought treatment
His primary caregiver or, is it, his night nurse
A reversal of fortune, after all those years,
The shielded now would have to protect the shield
While this already quiet man was deprived of his speech
Communicating with his eyes and the occasional piece of paper
Never mind that, in this new land, there was the language barrier

Then of course, this ghastly pandemic struck
And the two of them were well and truly stuck
And the prognosis got worse, even after all sorts of therapies
Were attempted, feeding tubes would now prove necessary
So. Borders were closed, there were lockdowns and quarantines
All this complicated by those cruel American sanctions
The weeks would turn to months with rising despair

All chits were called in, lifetimes of social capital
Ambassadors and even Presidents were invoked
Stranded, such were the humanitarian concerns
At length in August, came the first repatriation flight
South African medical students chartered to Johannesburg
Stopping first in Accra hence avoiding the laissez passer European gauntlet
Six hours at the airport it took to pass all the covidious checks
These newfangled travel protocols that caused much exhaustion
Then the crisis, to be taken off this plane full of doctors.
Quite the setback, he had to be wheeled back down to the tarmac

"The plane left without him."
His sister got the fateful call from the Ambassador
Or was it the chargé d'affaires?
I can't imagine the depths of her despair.

Did you know an air ambulance to evacuate would cost $238,000?
And that sky high sum wouldn't even include his younger brother.
Look it up, I had a consultation with Medivac Canada
Frantic we all were, considering second mortgages and other sacrifices
But further mountains were moved and he came home weeks later
Turned out there would be another South African flight
We held our breath that he would be strong enough to travel
All the time wondering what sack of bones we'd face upon arrival

He came home and spent his last days on Ghana's soil
After the obligatory quarantine,
At least there were quiet goodbyes,
He was surrounded by family
The inside's strong. Not on the outside.


The blows of grief have been piling on the damage
Leaving one numb in contemplation.
The all-consuming sense of impotence at this strife
And especially that we couldn't improve his quality of life
I had written just that week about African Ceremonies
Ironic that I got the news that caused unbounded grief
All the while highlighting the celebrations.
I trust there'll be better days ahead, so I held on to the sweet
Even as the sour overwhelmed, and a funeral beckoned.

In memoriam: Emmanuel Kwasi Sesi Ohene (1949-2020)

Searching, a playlist

A soundtrack for my uncle (spotify version) File under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Hypertext Dreams

I dream in hypertext.
It happened almost imperceptibly
And hypertext thoughts and practice crossed over,
And begat liminal links to the undercurrents
   that move the slumbering mind.

And now the surreal order is met with page transitions
As the mind navigates the context switches.
Thankfully, there are no spinning cursors
In the nightly realm for this impatient searcher.

The saving grace also is that the back button endures in that territory,
And no gremlins inject popups of misfortune obscene.
Nor do parasitic trolls invade
   with their Greek chorus of chaos and anxiety;
Their robot armies, the comment farm factories, are nowhere to be seen.
I count my blessings.

As yet untainted, these hypertext dreams of mine,
They remain the soul's consolation.
Solace for the mind's edifices at rest
Defended in depth,
And readied with deperimeterization strategies
Contra clickbait and worse.

The last time my dreams were of any interest was when I was nine,
After about six months of living in exile in France,
When I realized that I had started to dream in French.

The content of dreams is, of course, of no great import,
But changes in form do merit the occasional navel gazing.

So for me it has been French (per Ghana must go)
Eros (a few years later, circa the onset of puberty),
And, sometime in middle age, hypertext.
My life in dreams, as it were.

The belated realization of my latter day tendency
Towards hypertext dreams confounds as a matter of neurology
But perhaps it might also explain a lot, goes a school of thought
If we consult the Austrians about the interpretation of dreams.

I'm a hypertext thinker, an aficionado of the link.
I believe that the search and the journey is its own reward.
I mint references willy nilly and forge connective tissue
Like my tribe of fellow travelers and glue layer people.

I craft ballads to the link,
Odes to that moveable feast of attention.
Never mind the perils of broken links
Or the dead ends of referential integrity,
I believe in failing fast and code on demand.

At scale, I trust that the density of my thoughts
Is served by promiscuous reading and widespread referral.
The joys of private annotation at once
   and curation in public at the other.
That the hypermedia imperative prevails is all that matters.

My chosen canvas is thinking aloud in overlay networks.
I'm unafraid to send readers on discursive journeys,
Trusting that the sorting hat and those oracles of insight,
The great rankers of pages and web sites,
Will properly value the worth of my thought.

So I'm unapologetic about the intertextual heft of my brand of toli.
It's liberating too that hatchet jobs can mingle with whimsy.
Those who can handle conceptual whiplash
   will appreciate my dark matter.
Pick and choose your fare from my buffet,
   slice and dice at your leisure.

I remain comforted that form is not destiny,
For at night when I slumber and lie in repose,
The pineapples and elusive beaches of yore
Continue to appear in my hypertext dreams.

The wayfarer's path is marked only at inception
There are no boundaries, there's only conception
Streams of thought effusive, how my heart sings
In dreams I revel in the joy of small things.

... The next night ...

Hypertext Dreams Part II

I now welcome these hypertext dreams of mine
The journeys to the far regions of the mind
Staccato episodes of nighttime discovery
The torrid zone meets manifest destiny
Cross ephemeral boundaries of trancelike impressionism
An elegy to fever visions unconstrained by euphemism
Passionate mantras sound while navigating lush sites
Caution, take heed of our insatiable appetites

Fugitive memories that escape the corporeal
With lucid logic, prehensile limbs grasp the surreal
Intangible connections made with timeliness and prescience
The gift of prophecy, your networks adapt with resilience
The poor beasts culled by the pandemic are farm raised mink
All protocols observed, behold the ballad of the link

The medium equates the message, it is said,
A typographical error made serendipitous truth
In dreams, reversals of fortune are rather the rule
Gremlins and parasites dance with abandon in consonance
With nymphs and angels their counterparts providing balance
Elaborate nocturnal scenarios staged for interactive display
Vivid experiences immediate yet forever elusive in the light of day

In dreams, we forge the outlines of the myths we serve
The connective tissue salves and the mesh protects
We discard the waking realities we daily observe
Storytelling as restoration, deserved relief from stress
Deliverance from troubles, these bite-sized victories
Dreaming wide awake on the pathways to normalcy

hot summer by amos amit

Dreaming, a playlist

A soundrack for this note that starts off with the quintessence of dreamlike songs, Prince's ineffable The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. As for the rest, I did mention eros in passing, obsessions are many. (spotify version)

Links of a Native Son

I'm a child of the web and came into maturity when Berners-Lee, Andreeson and Fielding's creation was unleashed and shaped, it is no wonder that I've succumbed to the hypertext temptation in my work and, indeed, in my creative process.

There is no set formula to what I write but I do sometimes discern a few trends in my writing. Liminal links play a role.

Annotating with links is akin to writing in code and laying down references and pointers. Hypertext serves to flesh out an informational mesh, a network of thought. It admits that one is not definitive but, also, that the story builds on prior iterations and arguments.

A carapace of insight built incrementally and revisited anew. An exoskeleton of wordplay and affirmation. Such is my asylum.

The archetypal toli intervention consists of snap judgement, changing the frame, case studies, and arguments by analogy. When weaving these strands together, I tend to play with which aspects I emphasize and, of late, satirical parables serve my purposes.

When it comes to form, however, the typical bit of toli might have some prose, a photo, and a playlist. Sometimes it's a poem or a play instead of prose. Sometimes a poem augments the prose or serves as counterpoint. I'm not wedded to form and the muse indulges my roving mind.

Oftentimes I don't get to a photo, I'm not very visual or much into aesthetics. Mostly though, I do seem to require a playlist to resolve things satisfactorily in my mind and consider matters closed. Photos and music seem to soothe things, a balm for both this writer and the reader.

A few times, I've found that the playlist says it all, and might be both the starting and the end point - the prose, if any, is mere decoration in those instances. Perhaps it's a pathology, but writing sometimes comes so easily that I might spend more considerably more time crafting the playlist.

This multi-media and hypertextual approach poses a dilemma if one presents onself as a "writer". Perhaps this is why writer is sandwiched between "omnivorous reader" and "music lover" in my bio.

Thus I'm comfortable presenting myself as a web native writer rather than a book "author". My terrain is hypertext and my "books" of toli so far have been online affairs. I remain seduced by the immediacy of hypertext.

A frustration that editors have with me is that my brand of toli seems to linger in cyberspace and often refuses to be caged to the printed page. Blame the link, I'm resigned to dense hypertext and the judicious link. The temptation of the annotation.

I've noticed, per server logs, that photos seem to help in the popularity stakes. It's not that I sometimes tackle harrowing topics that need trigger warnings or that my writing is especially challenging, readers like photos.

So. Photos might be a better way to get whatever point I need across concisely. Picture, thousand words... yada yada. Still, I'm not a visual person hence I'll always lose in the acquity stakes... collages and juxtapositions are the most elaborate I get. And as for video creations, well those are the stuff of dreams.

But maybe I'm fooling myself crafting narratives, most people simply don't read much or, indeed, deeply - we're all busy and attention is scarce. The metaphor of surfing the web endures even if the majority these days are rather scrolling through feeds and video entertainments. I count mercies that anyone engages with what I offer.

And I even got two poems out of it, such is my asylum

But enough of the navel gazing, my purpose with the foregoing was only to lay down a mood marker, to note the wayfarer's change in routine in this season of migration to the torrid zone.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Back There Yonder

"Back there yonder" goes a man in some distress
"He's messing with someone else", mental health can be such a mess
You wonder if he's also ripping up their flower bed
Or if his demons have since summoned different tactics instead

"I feel bad for guys like that... They go on a bender like that"
Your neighbor commiserated, then looked at the ruined patch of earth.
"But this...", he gestured, "sucks". A statement of fact.
He didn't need to elaborate, this gardener was feeling the hurt

Another neighbor had knocked on your door earlier, quick to alert
And you'd walked out to catch the vandal in furious motion
Pausing first, though, to don your face mask from the pile near the stairs
The necessary prelude these days to any social confrontation

You might have saved more plants but for your public health caution
Our covidious predicament has caused all manner of collateral damage.
A root and branch clearing, it appeared that that was his intention
This homeless man dutifully uprooting your flowers was hard to manage

His shorts fell down as he grabbed a cosmos flower with speed
Thankfully, modesty would save this one that you'd grown from seed
He made to cover up his privates; he dropped the stalk.
By then you had approached him, all the while yelling "Stop!"
He turned and backed off, now chastened perhaps.
Recriminations would surely ensue, he was caught in the act.

Still, he remained belligerent and was plainly not happy
That a tall black guy would be the one dressing him down,
However mildly, for his transgressions. Some folk are uppity.
He was in a fugue state, if not drunk or high, and dealing with demons
Of his own. Amidst the raving, the bloodshot eyes were what you focused on.

You must confess that you briefly contemplated wrath
And extravagant violence of some sort,
Stung, even as an amateur gardener,
Revenge, you wanted him to pay the cost.

You guess he expected a beating or something
For he seemed to shrivel up into a shell
So he was quite confused when you, instead, asked him
If he needed any help,
"Anything I could do for you, sir?
Can I be of any assistance?"
Those with your skin tone are used to navigating
Rage and civility with a fine balance

Modernity too, you took out your phone to record the floricultural crime
This your rectangular glass slab of digital android protection
You're not quite sure if he registered the directions that you gave him.
For his destination was surely the torrid zone, a far region of the mind

You know all about mental illness, sadly, more than you could mention
And you wondered who one could call for a psychiatric intervention
You used to spend time with your uncle in his office at Asylum Down
It takes a village, they say, and lots of behavior to get along.

As he walked off, still ranting and raving
You made to salvage your garden of Eden
The tallest and most glorious flowers,
Those wildflowers that had grown to five feet and more
Were done for, shredded and dug up from their bitter roots.
A few others too, you picked up the pieces off the earthly floor

Oh well, you now realized just how much this had been bringing you joy
Your amateur horticultural labor was the source of much delight.
Well, at least you'd taken photos of your pandemic garden
Preserved the digital memories, before this unfortunate abuse
But you held on to the thought and pithy insight:

"People are to be loved and things are to be used."

Sadly, too many people in this world seem to think the reverse
Well, you'll shower your antagonists with concern rather than a curse

It was no surprise, however,
That this lost soul continued on his bender
And someone else, a half hour later,
Was dealing with him "back there yonder"

flower garden

Back There Yonder, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)
me flower gardener

See also Pandemic Garden

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Friday, November 27, 2020

Sights in the City

We heard the drums as we turned the corner and came upon a gathering in the park. An awesome explosion of color, such are the sights in the city.

sights in the city

The first thought was that The Village People had mounted a revival in a covidious time but the rhythmic prowess of the drummer - or lack thereof, indicated otherwise

sights in the city

They wore masks but hearkened back to gladiators or carnivals of yore. One felt that some dragons would be surely be appearing shortly, given how they were festooned with spikes and feathers. We watched from the side of the trail.

causing a commotion

Many families with young children frequent the Boggy Creek trail, the morning walks are a good way to relieve the covidious monotony and get their energy spent. We do 2 hour walks on weekends. And so we settled to watch the strange happening with other passersby. It sounds better in French: cette histoire insolite.

sights in the city

The spell was broken when one of the warriors, the sun goddess as it turned out, stepped out of formation and approached the gathered onlookers. She uttered the dreaded and immortal spoiler: "Do you want to make a donation?"

sights in the city

The reaction was swift, it didn't need to be said out loud but it was a collective thought. "Don't come any closer, lady, it's a pandemic. You may look other-worldly, cool and all, but do your pagan routine or photoshoot over there". The curious watchers started to disperse.

sights in the city

"Yeah, yeah... We'll look you up..." Head nods. "Instagram... Facebook... Twitter... Venmo... Yeah, yeah" Mutter, mutter. Some, the mask wearers - only about 50 percent, this is Texas after all - adjusted their own masks reflexively. Others simply took a few steps back or aside. We all perform modern masquerades.

sights in the city

And what of carnival life these days?

Now this winter of our discontent
Has gone on long past than the month of Lent
Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year was a superspreading event
We're measuring the cost in excess deaths - a great amount.
We also know that after the earlier Sermon on the Mount
Came the reaction from Judas Iscariot, the young disciple
Our own Caesars obviously think they are nigh invincible
Free to discard the cautionary warning of The Mosquito Principle

Herd Immunity

A sigh. The escape from our routine was over. The kids weren't impressed in any case, and had started walking away unbidden. We'd have to find something else to pass the time. We got back on the trail, we'd be home in half an hour. Back to life, back to reality.

Sights in the City, a playlist

A soundtrack to this note (spotify version)

Sights in the City

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

For Want Of A Bolt

For want of a bolt, I planted a flower garden
Packed up the push reel, no more mowing the lawn
Back to basics, I planted yams, herbs, flowers, and even tried corn
The zinnias, cosmos and basil took - it was an unexpected dividend

Some of the seeds had arrived in a dubious package
Labeled as wiring cable no doubt to pass through customs
Even though they claimed to be creeping thyme
Seeds and crossed wires an apt parable for globalization
Amazon has now brought this seed trade to a full stop
Buying into fearmongering about sowing the Wuhan crop

Regardless, I've been slowly digging up the grass in the yard
There was a temporary setback, a hail storm disposed of my seedlings
Almost nothing survived, I felt like I missed the growing season
We'll try again next year, nature, as ever, is a wild card

zinnias in effect

For want of ballast, it's been weeks of cooking in the near dark
The kitchen's lighting situation now reminiscent of a well shaded park
The prospect is of a rewiring job without a certified electrician
Circuit breaker peril, unlike Lord Finchley, you should reward the artisan

For want of a dryer, we've been hanging it all on the line
The mildew protocol, we're worried about the creeping signs
The cause was a rattling sound, a spinning mechanical disaster
Still, with the pandemic we've been afraid to call in a repairer
On the off chance that we'll invite into our house a superspreader
The paradox of these times is how to adjust to all this uncertainty
Sometimes you need a live human to exercise the terms of your home warranty

my glorious flowers that someone just walked away with

For want of a policy, we've had wishful thinking
Porous rules and regulations and magic realism
Many rulers don't want to consider social living
And ignore The Mosquito Principle in favor of solipsism

For want of a vaccine, they're pursuing herd immunity
And bristle when questioned on their lack of integrity
Quack cures suggested and curious distractions
From the matter at hand: public health interventions
We got presidential obfuscation, and sleight of hand so sublime
A surfeit of mixed metaphors in a covidious time
Still, the second wave is coming, as is the bread line
Rent is due, and what about those evictions?
Moratoria were mooted without income support provisions


For want of a public health intervention, we've been painting the fence
Self isolation and social distancing our only defense
From the plague of incompetence from a parade of political actors
Instead of a plan, "We would have anticipated that the private sector..."

A mantra based on evidence-free ideology
As if viral RNA cared a whit about "the economy"
A curious narrative of inaction would then unfold
It was reminiscent of when Alice went down the rabbit hole
Certainties and wonders, all the rigged bets were off sadly
For we're in the terrain of the science called epidemiology.

Lockdowns couldn't be avoided even if delayed by dereliction
We heard firm pronouncements of control, there were hopeful predictions
But it was hard to reconcile the reality with the advertised glories
It was global narrative collapse, the tale of the lost stories

Still, for some it's been a tonic to embrace the new normalcy
All the while knowing that our frontline workers tread warily
Doing the essential work of fighting this grim disease.
That the virus sets the timeline is cause for much unease:

Not too virulent like Ebola or polio to cause sheer panic
But not too easily dismissed to be waved away by gaslighting magic
We've seen the incoming blows approaching but insouciance was a master
This covidious business has all the makings of a slow moving disaster

The contrast in human lives couldn't have been more stark
Wet work in meat packing plants or homebound in Noah's ark
Some have to deal with Tyson's reassurances
   or Smithfield's bromides
While others complain about the nuances
   of the mute button before zoom asides

The 5 year old brought the iPad over
   for you to "fix the internet connection"
While you were in the shower! 'Twas a flash of fleshy insight
You might have given her zoom classmates an early anatomy lesson
This modernity, first world problems can be hard to describe

me clearing garden

For want of integrity, you bear the country's leaders a deep-seated grudge
What? The only order of business in the Senate was to appoint judges?
In the long game of thrones, all that matters was to pack the courts
To safeguard capital and reverse social welfare proposals
A few gambling debts paid off
   - blind justice, judicial votes can be bought
If you control the referees and the commentators,
   it's easy to assign blame
It's worth restating the contention:
   America's real herd immunity is to shame

The United States only has interests, and narrow ones at that
Her firm pronouncements of solidarity must be taken with a grain of salt
Cock and bull stories,
   Hollywood fictions sold with Madison Avenue's sheen
Are wearing off now, doused down by concoctions of hydroxychloroquine
But it's hard to market the lifestyles of the rich or operational excellence
When preserving human life doesn't appear to be a core competence

The parable of the sower was also a prescient tale from Octavia Butler
But even with the gift of prophecy,
   she was trumped by this kind of grim reaper
The bodies continue to drop, their burden barely helped by the ventilators
That a president dithered
   to even invoke the Defense Production Act to procure
His conception of his office, as throughout his life, was as a sinecure
Preferring sweetheart deals and monopoly rents
Instead of securing personal protective equipment
Say nice things about me and I'll grant you items from my "free" market
A distinction without a difference, call it by its name: a protection racket

It wouldn't hurt if, at least, lives were being saved in short order
But they're not and, goddamn, he dares mention law and order
There's no comfort to be living not a dream but a lie
At evening's end the daily toll unfailingly makes one cry
"It is what it is", but the sad fact is hard to deny:
For want of a conscience so many people have had to die

growing puna yam in my covidious backyard

And all for want of a bolt...

flower garden

Soundtrack for this note

See previously: Nuts and Bolts

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

A covidious folktale, call it the first draft of history...

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Truth and Reconciliation

The statues have been coming down of late
Their existence is at least contested these days
The shadows of impunity that were proudly erected by History
Are later seen as blind spots, per Auden's Archaeology
The legacies of men reexamined in a crisis's light
A change of perspective that provides newfound insight

That while one's forefathers may have looted and wielded the whip
It's no minor proportion of humanity that is descended from Genghis Khan
One needn't have been bloodthirsty to be a slaver in days of yore
We know foundational framers owned sour property on their sugar farms.
But wilful ignorance of sins past is quite the strange fruit
Turning your nose up at banana republics while forgetting your own crops
'Tis a blissful privilege to live, as the song goes, in unfinished sympathy
And to have to be actively taught about the importance of empathy

Recall that well before Winnie's husband had assumed the mantle,
Long before the ink was dry on South Africa's new constitution
Their spokesmen were already calling apartheid ancient history
And, well, de Klerk would later join Kissinger in the rogues' gallery
Call it, of cold blooded murderers that have won the Nobel Peace Prize
The three musketeers of fate: irony, infamy and goddamn lies

In my own life there was neither truth nor reconciliation
Our philosophy of survival meant that my countrymen rather embraced fictions
True, we always sought consensus and shared humanity
And our preferred political tactic was conversation
Yet this has meant a fraught and enforced civility
So even with my keen outrage - it comes with the territory
They're an open wound: those provisions of that amnesty
The depth of my feelings towards someone I used to call Uncle
The revulsion towards the Flight Lieutenant might prove to be a mistake
So while I view him as a sinner who drips blood in his wake
A living testament to unresolved matters of justice
His every utterance contemptible and scornful in practice,
That he still walks around unencumbered is too hard to handle

Still, I'm minded that my cousin once fell for one his daughters
The heart wills it wants, I heard the news and broke into kotokious laughter
Indeed, how could I even have forgotten? I was once her babysitter
It's just flesh and blood, hell, my mum was the woman's godmother
It just goes to show that social interplay is complicated
This is as it should be, harken back to Tristan and Iseult
Or Montagues and Capulets, wherefore art thou, Oduro
Inconvenient truths, and that modern saying, entanglement
Or rather that uneasy phrase, structural adjustment

The good professor would ask: is democracy of universal application?
The self-appointed general merely laughed at the quaint suggestion
An article of faith in the conqueror's catechism:
Impunity first, we'll loot to demonstrate dominance
The lessons of brute force, our country has learned in spades
We've been treated to imperialism, militarism, and even consciencism
The die was cast, I'll say we earned our lost decades
But those painful interludes were a temporary inconvenience
True, it wasn't easy living under rogue authoritarians
Yet history's arc would shift us away from those blows of providence

It all now falls to the next generation
To enact cultural revival and a quiet revolution
Yes, blood and sin remain at the heart of the matter
As, indeed, do cultural universals and particulars
The perils of greed and opportunism we'll have to suffer
And irony will linger as life's key register
The roots of our conflicts have always proven to be bitter
The search for a blanket of soul, a soothing balm for painful chapters
What profit a man? In this life, we're all political actors
Forgiveness and love, the anthem of Bloodbath, South Carolina

Containers: Bitters

Truth and Reconciliation, a playlist

A soundtrack to this note, a meditation on secrets and lies. (spotify version)

Photo credit: DK Osseo-Asare

I nominate this note for The Things Fall Apart Series under the banner of The Rough Beast, which asks: who is writing the script?

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