Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A Shadow's Burden

The soul's weight descends on the bearer in a blanket of worry
For something so insubstantial yet tethered to a foreign body,
There's a frightening power, a Newtonian attraction to its pull
The eclipse of the heart appears suddenly in the blink of a lifetime

Dark matters apply their weight handily on the human chest
The entire mass, the full pressure, a mountain of silhouettes
Fragments of grief, scarcity, and all manner of precarity
Step right on, send me your troubles care of the soul's sanctuary

As a boy I would run freely for hours and hide from my own shadow
Try as I could, God knows I tried, it was never out of my reach
As a parent, I've found that the toughest lesson I've had to teach
To my children, without a doubt, is that no one is promised tomorrow

A shadow's burden chases the notion of whimsy away
The upheaval leaves in its wake a patchwork of dismay
Heavy on the mind, the heart aches in search of a cure for the perceived defect
The body seeks solace, but only time can supply the blanket of neglect

fabric batik patchwork

A Shadow's Burden, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. See previously: The Laws of Grief and Rhythm of Loss

This internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: March 15, 2021

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Naming Conventions

Prosecutor: Mr Witness, what did Reflection tell you about who shot Superman?

To Make the Road Fearful

Transcript of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Trial of Charles Taylor
Witness: TF1-375 [On Former Oath], June 24, 2008
Your Honor, I would first like to caution the witness,
Before he starts to speak with typical military directness
And turns to the sheer horror of the moment and macabre grimness
That there is the matter of naming conventions that we must address

Could we start, if he pleases, with the death and desolation
Of Operation No Living Thing or Operation Spare No Soul?
Oh, I see my learned colleague would rather not go down that rabbit hole
I withdraw the question, let's consider instead Operation Stop Elections
Which introduced the alarming spectacle of random amputations
Institutionalized by his troops as shock and awe situations
I ask you, Mr Witness, what, in all this, was your considered position?

Uh-huh, but what of Operation No Monkey, or the obvious invitation
To marauding and looting embodied in Operation Pay Yourself?
Surely he'll admit the sordid manner in which he outdid himself?
Any observer would marvel at that affair's rather cynical precision

Okay, the witness is being argumentative, we are not getting anywhere,
We can stick to the well worn terrain of what he previously admitted
Just the other day in open court, freely, in his earlier testimony.
But let me ask, what does he think about the names of the wicked?

Where, in all this, was Jungle, Black Jesus, Savage, Crazy, Red Goat, Rocky and Rambo?
All right, I'll restate my question, I am asking here about R.U.F. Rambo
Your Honor, could you advise the witness not to opine on who was scarred and handsome
And please answer instead of commenting on which of the two Rambos was the most fearsome

No, your Honor, my intent is not to blame the witness and the footsoldiers,
It is rather to determine the chain of command, the soul controllers
I understand that you, Mister Witness, followed orders to the letter
But from whom? Was it Zigzag Marzah, Five Five or General Dry Pepper?

Was it Captain Blood, Leather Boot, or the wannabe footballer, Gullit?
Was it Dawn-Dawn, Waco-Waco, Butterfly, KGB, Zino, or Black Diamond
Were the Black Gaddafa involved, or the notorious Adama Cut Hand?
And where was The Devil, The Killer, Scare the Baby and Monkey Brown?

Or was it General 50, General 245, or the rather confusing General Dried Pepper?
I'm sure you, Mister Witness, on this point, can provide further and better particulars
I submit to you that the Black Guards and the West Side Boys were part of the plan
And yes, of course, we'll get to the aforementioned Reflection and Superman

Now you would have us believe that you were present when, I repeat,
Scare the Baby was discussing with Butterfly "somewhere in Ganta"
In Ganta mind you, where to take Superman and Red Goat for dinner

Are you seriously telling this Court that a piece of pizza in Ganta
Costs more than twenty five US dollars?
So it would cost more than the rent of one of your motorbikes
For a whole day just to eat a piece of pizza? Jesus Christ

Witness: In Monrovia, not in Ganta. Monrovia. Monrovia. Yes, in Monrovia.
And I can locate the areas to you, for you to make a background investigation.

There's no need to bring up General Butt Naked, this isn't a fishing expedition
If it please the Court, my purpose is not to summon a play by way of Ionesco
Of logicians, and the plight of those who dance the corruption tango
Of all the things, the blood and the sin, Mister Witness, that this trial has heard
It seems to me that you're taking us to the torrid zone, the land of concern
Now we're completely unmoored, and reaching for the theater of the absurd

The child solder narrative in African literature

Postscript


See previously: To Make the Road Fearful

The most harrowing bit of reading I've done, the transcripts of the Charles Taylor trial, prompted the scariest piece of writing I've ever published, To Make the Road Fearful. Indeed, after getting it out of my system, I couldn't write a single word for almost a year, I was simply spent.

Four years later, I received a short email from the Chief Prosecutor who was then back at the UN. My piece had been doing the rounds at the International Criminal Court and United Nations and was being well received. It seems my close reading wasn't for nought, that plumbing the depths served some purpose even beyond assuaging this reader's curiousity. I can't say enough how heartened I was by this head nod of appreciation. Still, I felt that I had no business ever tackling this subject matter. I still felt the taint of its dark matter.

Perhaps the global pause enforced by the pandemic has occasioned a soul refresh. With a little distance from that cautionary tale, I now believe I can start to mine that terrain again. Satire is tragedy plus time, a wise man once said, and the balm of time can elevate the heart of darkness into its rightful domain: the land of concern, the terrain of the absurd. Do let me know if this is an easier read than the earlier grief concoction.

Naming, a playlist


A soundtrack for this joint

This internal displacement is part of The Things Fall Apart Series under the banner of Doctor Simbo.

Previously

Next in Part IV: Enter Doctor Simbo


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Writing log. Concept June 2008; Prose: April 2015; Poetry: March 28, 2021

Friday, January 07, 2022

Shock of the Familiar

It's uncanny when you first recognize a kindred spirit
When you find yourself in conversation with a long lost friend
Beholding that ineffable nous that immediately speaks to you
A substance and outlook that, you realize, tints your customary lens

For what is familiar to you, what you've long known as normalcy
Is not the same for others, rare are the cases of deep empathy
You wrote the tale of the lost stories in an attempt to find yourself
For it's not often that you recognize yourself on the book shelves

It's bracing to read them as they take you into their worlds, these writers
With their finely detailed narratives, it's the underlying story that matters
What with the shared love of limpid language and angular storytelling
We are children of Ananse, with words as music, lovers of social living

I have my tribe, masked in words, with whom I'm in episodic conversation
Members of my cohort who give me comfort with their singular discursions
Blood brothers and sisters, most of them badged as modern travelers
I don't need their likes or plaudits, their very presence is enough

Humorous anecdotes and elliptical notions thrown in for good measure
Unafraid to take our time and tell stories and let them take us where they may
There are distinctions for sure, I'm not one for some of their enthusiasms
Even when I disagree, I have a deep and specific connection with their artistic impulses

The long tail of community, kindred souls who risk and dare
We are normally dark matter, but clarifying with the stories we share
Each pushing our way towards the moment when you see your face in the mirror
But even with our undoubted self confidence, it can be the shock of the familiar

In a life of mixed metaphors: the middle passage and the torrid zone
I'd rather not face the challenge of humanity's curriculum alone
At once stranded mid-Atlantic, dislocation is our ultimate subject
A head nod to my fellow travelers engaging in the normalcy project

Aburi mask

Evocative, a playlist


The Friends playlist would normally be my first port of call, but this note seems to require something a bit more angular and evocative. Taken mostly from Massive Attack and Portishead who frankly won the 90s and finishing with the incomparable Stevie Wonder taking flight.
...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: March 25, 2021

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Flavor of the Month

No one is indispensable
Your kind are a dime a dozen
Don't delude yourself on special standing
Don't fall for that kind of racket
True, your skills are specialized and you're now being feted
Your insights are recherché, studied as befits the media glare
With the acclaim, you seem to have gained an entrée, a seat at the table
But the real power brokers are at the high table, far from where you are seated

No one is indispensable
True, for now you're the flavor of the month
But, as the history of all creative endeavors has shown,
Originality, although prized, has a shockingly short shelf life
Humanity can amble along with the merely mediocre, or plain ordinary
Survival is the biological imperative, your talents are unnecessary
Excess sauce, a thrill for the moment, a temporary passion
Tastes are bound to change, albeit you may be the latest fashion

No one is indispensable
I know, it's sad. They're throwing fine labels at you:
Edgy, Emersonian, afrofuturist, avant garde
Such is the frisson of authenticity granted those bearing a ghetto card
Your time might have come, feel free to enjoy the spotlight of this phase
But steel yourself for when their gaze surely shifts in the coming days

No one is indispensable
I tell you, let me count the ways
My friend, trust me on this,
Get ready to be lavished with faint praise
An ode to this fleeting moment when you are labeled Number One
Ephemeral, disappointment is nothing new under the sun

me mercy ocansey shop

Flavor of the Month, a playlist


A soundtrack for this cautionary tale.
  • Drop a Dime by Charlie Hunter
    I like the version on the Gentlemen I Neglected to Inform You that You will Not be Getting Paid album and accompanying tour but any version of this groove will suffice
  • High Fashion by The Family
    Here's hoping that Prince's vault will reveal more from the sessions for this band.
  • Flavor Man by Public Enemy
    The album's title poses the existential question of the internally displaced: How you sell soul to a Soulless People who sold their soul? The greatest hype man in history, Flavor Flav.
  • The Latest Fashion by Prince and The Time
    The live and original versions are light years from what was released, I hold on to them. Staying power was suspect with this tune.
  • Hot Property by Jamiroquai
    A light fun jam to round things up. It sounds almost like disco which we know quickly became branded as a passing fancy.
...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: Concept March 2012; March 17, 2021