Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Stereotype

You know too the stereotype about black men,
   that we care too deeply
Unlike the rest of the world,
  all those shifty flaneurs living carefree

The black man's burden
  is of a lifetime duty of care and responsibility
The lack of physicality is appalling
  which, I daresay, is why we hide our bodies

What a life, always the first pick
  for the keynote at the philosophy colloquium
And hopelessly out of our league
  in athletic sports except in technical events, say equestrian

Always to be found, long past the midnight hour,
  in the lab at the science center
And hard at work in the afternoon,
  when most others are taking their siesta

Can't get them to crack a smile,
  so humorless, always so serious
Two left feet on the dance floor,
  no rhythm to speak of, can't carry a chorus

Unlike those undisciplined others
  who are so quick to lose their temper
Equanimity in repose is the natural mode of the African,
  the cerebral thinker

Forever with masks of civility, a confession of faith
A model minority dedicated to inspiring higher forms of debate

A change in perspective,
  badged with the confident sovereign's regard for tradition
Elevating the discourse,
  our contribution to humanity's curriculum is conversation


You know too the stereotype about black men,
  that we write long poems
One stanza is never enough,
  effusive outpourings are the order of the day

This afternoon, The Wife ran up the stairs away from me shouting
"Don't give me another poem to read". The prospect is of marital counseling

While my poet friends have always casually stressed
  its pickup potential and aphrodisiac powers
They never mentioned
  that poetry has been cited as grounds for divorce in New York courts

I'm genuinely curious what the tipping point was
  that forced her drastic measures
I'd like to think it was the quantity,
  rather than the quality of my poetic gestures

Did she see me approach with a sheet of paper?
  Was that the tip off?
Perhaps I should instead be declaiming
  my fragments of lyric verse

I too have watched Love Jones
  and realize that the spoken word cats
Get a lot of love and action.
   I've got to change up my game quick fast

Was it the accumulation of metaphor
  that broke the camel's back?
Or the searching scrutiny every encounter is now provoking?
  Imagine that

Quoth Chateaubriand,
  poets are like birds, the least thing makes them sing
Witness this poetic impulse
  now causing marital discord and misgiving

Needless to say, the warning shot was fired,
  I'm going to have to stay in my lane
I'll have to make do with you, Dear Reader,
  if only for the sake of my children


You know too the stereotype about black men,
  that we have large vocabularies
And frequent affairs of the heart,
  owing to a frisson de folksonomie

Liminal undertakings,
  we pursue the psychogeography of far regions of the mind
Forever mindful that some only fancy
  the hyperlinked territory we outline

The hatchet job tag gets a lot of mileage,
   that and the proverbial zingers
Fallen angels abound, those rogues,
  the strange bedfellows and the grifters

Aficionado of shell games,
  I'll concede an obsession with gremlins and parasites
These last may get plaudits, but take heed of their insatiable appetites

The human factors, the economics of whimsy,
   and the laws of grief
It's all about manufactured serendipity
  and finding comfort suites

Where comprehension is poor, turn to glue layer people,
   their networks and infrastructure
We seek to capture social interplay through observation,
   the changing perceptions of culture

If there are dark matters,
  there is the determination to bear witness
Biting satire as a weapon
  when confronting the heart of darkness

The necessity of permanent outrage informs the exiled soul's identity
An immigrant's stance contra dislocation and this fraught modernity

The joy of small things is a mainstay
   as is compulsive storytelling
Humour is everywhere in communities
   and ultimately social living

Of late, public health has been a focus
  what with this covidious pandemic
Needless to say, the specter of the superspreader looms,
  observers are worried

The one important contribution that the African can make to the world is to keep reminding everyone that it is out of sympathy and the love for one another that we can build eventually what is valuable and peaceful.

- Kofi Abrefa Busia, The Prospects For Democracy In Africa

aburi mask

Stereotype, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. Looks aren't everything. (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log. Concept: April 1, 2006; April 26, 2021

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Idleness Outlawed

He'd decided to go even further than the communists
Who maintained that it was illegal to not have a job
The future emperor improvised with this novel twist:
The added condition that idleness would be outlawed

Thus "Idleness Outlawed" read the headline in Africa Report
The news intimated something akin to a kangaroo court
For idleness isn't disturbing tranquility or moving to cavort
Inertia, even Barthelby's, doesn't normally incite contempt of court

Thus the first of August 1966 was a date to remember
To paraphrase, always something new out of the heart of Africa
The Central African Republic government made laziness a crime
Punishable by up to a year in prison and a heavy fine

All was laid out in a decree emphasizing the "national duty to work"
The regime stated that healthy residents of both sexes - the young turks,
Between the ages of 18 and 55, must show evidence of working for a living
Or get the "or else" treatment, the unspoken threat of a Bond villain

The statute book stated violators faced arrest by "control brigades"
That would "scour the country in search of loafers" and those who strayed
Earlier, the President told government officials to "shake off their lethargy"
If they wished to avoid being fired, or transferred for defying authority

That literary man Bokassa, as history bore witness,
Hearkened explicitly to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Fears of being transferred into the bush in Central Africa were not overblown
For indolence could prompt a journey to the epicenter of the torrid zone

This was, I suppose, years before he crowned himself Emperor
And before we started to hear the cannibalistic rumours
He had taken over months earlier in a coup on New Year's Eve
His countrymen were to experience dread they could hardly conceive

"Scour the country in search of loafers" and "shake off their lethargy"
The things that we have suffered in Africa, it doesn't bear scrutiny
The panache of uneasy phrases, the inventiveness of their euphemisms
The African leaders bestiary, rogues who heed the conqueror's catechism


Idleness Outlawed, a playlist

A soundtrack to shake off our lethargy. (spotify version)
the military seize power africa report 1966-02-001


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See also: In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

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Writing log. Concept: July 9, 2020; March 29, 2021

Saturday, May 21, 2022

First Class Compromisers

I was reading W. Arthur Lewis on consensus, compromise and the role of the African intellectual: Some Aspects of Economic Development (Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg memorial lectures at the University of Ghana 1968).

One strand in his thought that I keep coming back to is about restraint, something that would have been taken as anachronistic back then and altogether quaint today

It is remarkable what a difference just one or two sensible leaders can make to the whole temper of a country. Take for instance the following riddle.

The political temper of seventeenth century Britain was more violent and extremist than anything that has happened recently in West Africa. Anglicans, Puritans and Catholics were at each others' throats. One king was executed and another chased off the throne. An observer writing, say, around the year 1715, after the abortive rebellion of that year, would have described Britain as a violent country where consensus was unthinkable.

Yet from the middle of the eighteenth century, just thirty years later, Britain was being held up on the continent as the model of a politically stable society. What had happened in that interval of thirty years? Historians now agree that a major element, though not the only one, was the fact that Sir Robert Walpole became Prime Minister in 1721, and held the office for twenty one years. Walpole was a compromiser, who made it his business to conciliate all the major groups who were fighting each other...
1968 was a heady year and the tectonics affected Africa too, even beyond the military coups that had been sweeping the continent
My generation was an ideological generation. We had no use for compromisers. Our heroes were the men wedded to great principles, to socialism, independence, negritude or other great ideas.
The 20th century as the age of extremes
One consequence of our high emotional level is that ours has been the bloodiest generation since the 17th century, killing, or liquidating, as we now say, about 25 million people in the course of 50 years.
His prescription?
I think that what West Africa now needs is some first-class compromisers, who will bind up the wounds of their respective countries, and lay solid foundations for growth. They may not win our love or adulation, but they will certainly deserve our gratitude.
Now of course W. Arthur Lewis had more influence on economics than on politics, and Africa's lost decades illustrate fairly well just how little we listened to his like. Still, his keen insights do raise the counterfactual:

Do conversational politics just need better public relations?

The notion of first class compromisers appeals to me but, well, you go into your lost decades with the leaders you have. You go into a pandemic with the leaders you have (as the body count we have seen illustrates). And not just leaders, you get the political class, the economic interests, the media environment, the feckless and the opportunists in equal measure as the astute and the competent. Even with the best will and cultural context, you need a lot of luck.

Contra first class compromisers like Walpole, I'm minded of Orson Welles speech in the Third Man about the Swiss and the cuckoo clock, and perhaps an earlier zinger
Honesty hath no fence against superior cunning.

— Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels
One can only hope that the first class compromisers of this generation of African leaders also have the savvy and luck to push their agenda through.

africa report 1966-12-040 third world investment gap this need not be the future george woods world bank

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022


Retinal hemorrhage, that was the diagnosis
If you ask me, I was on my way to psychosis
I just wanted to scratch my eye out to remove this damn floater
And to be rid of the piercing pain, it was akin to an electric motor
Spinning out of control, and tearing right through that eye socket
Without regard for all those plans and things I had on my docket
It was all I could do to not scream, "This is killing me, cease and desist"
I'm quite used to ellipses but this blind spot was rather an eclipse

The soul was duly darkened even as my vision was threatened
The pain was altogether unbearable and no relief beckoned
I must say, I couldn't suffer fools during that interlude, I was rather uptight
It's quite hard to keep it light when you literally can no longer see the light
I was curt and incredibly frank
   during those six months of blinding regress
When the obviously-misnamed, eye-opening affliction
   was my daily business
But there was no comfort to be had, I'd been told, just apply eye drops
Take frequent breaks, rest, the body will heal and, in time, it will stop

"You have an incredible tolerance for pain,
   why didn't you call me earlier?"
Now you tell me, I mentioned that I was in pain,
   and you ignored me, Doctor
I've been religiously applying those drops
   that you said I could buy over the counter
Do you really mean to tell me now
   that I might have gotten some relief much earlier?
"Well yes, there are any number of interventions
   that I could have prescribed.
Well, all is good now, you've made a lot of progress, that can't be denied.
We'll just take a look at things, keep using those eye drops on demand."
He quickly bade me goodbye, and I left his retinal consultancy stunned

Dear friends and family, it is a matter of some regret
That I belatedly explain why my conduct was so circumspect
True, during that time I was in considerable pain and rather upset
And, as I've explained, an unwitting victim of a doctor's neglect
It's cold comfort, however, and understanding will never quite offset
The feelings hurt and perhaps the frayed tempers
   that came with the mindset
But look, it was the loss of my sight, after all, what do you expect?

my scream for edward munch

Visions, a playlist

By definition a Visions playlist should simply be Stevie Wonder's incomparable album, Innervisions, first on my desert island list. However I'm trying to broaden my perspective so I offer this musical look at things (spotify version) See previous sensory processes ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: April 14, 2021

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Quality of Life

The city's works department has been out and about
With strange contraptions leveling out the sidewalk.
It's surprising how much of a difference it makes in this concrete jungle.
We never realized how much smoother everything goes,
How much load one's feet and ankles were bearing
Dealing with nature's minor intrusions on our daily walk.
The little bumps would no doubt be treacherous in a wheelchair
And even to those without that affliction, we appreciated this duty of care.
We literally couldn't put our foot on what had changed for the better,
But, in short order, we came to realize
It's the little things; quality of life.



The landlord next door came upon the revived pandemic garden
Saw that it had weathered the Texas freeze that was our gift for Lent
Who'd have thought I'd end up being a neighborhood ambassador
In my guise as chief toli monger and amateur gardener
He decided to stop being an absentee landlord,
And resolved to keep up with the Ofosu-Amaahs
A fortnight later, we found him out front
Digging up a hole where there was grass
He planted a cherry tree to add a little spice
I can't wait for it to blossom; quality of life.

pandemic garden starting to bloom

pandemic garden starting to bloom 011

pandemic garden starting to bloom


I'm a happy pedestrian who lives for his daily walk
When it comes to commuting, I rather favor the train or the bus
Thus while it's been confounding
   to find myself working for a car company
I've been happy, during this pandemic,
   to behold the power of the bike lobby
All power to them, for where bikes get an opening,
   walkers invariably benefit
Against the almighty automotive industry, walkers tend to get short shrift
Years ago, I gave no mind to the mobility bond in those local elections
But my tax dollars, this past year, have certainly made an impression
And what a lovely path was inaugurated. A veritable trail of delight
Come join me, let's take a walk sometime; quality of life

boggy creek trail refurbished path

trail restored

revamped trail

quality of life

See also Quality of Life (Redux)

This sweet slice is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: April 14, 2021

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Soul Insurance

A covidious folktale, call it a people's history...

I. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe

Once again, Nyame found himself displeased with all of humanity
Not atypically, the immediate reason was lost in the mist of time
But had something to do, he recalled, with a lack of integrity
Furious, he called upon the claims adjuster to deal with the crime

All the chosen tribes were agitated and concerned as he drew near
For the adjuster was known in those parts to be rather severe
He would bestow calamity freely, as if it was all part of the package
Enjoying his grisly work with a zeal you could only describe as savage

In the past, the plagues and famines he'd inflicted
   were entirely without reason
And, even in these modern times
   where we'd long eschewed hunger season,
Had been known to last for up to three years,
   devastating and hard to manage
There would surely be what the linguists now called collateral damage

Ananse saw the opportunity, in this upheaval, to make a quick buck
With these feckless humans, it usually paid to try one's luck
So many of their number had herd immunity to shame
That he saw it as an obligation to play a shell game

He made his way to Wiase, the hometown of the Usher tribe
Sidling along, as was his wont, and came up to the chief's scribe
"Tell your Okyeame that I, Ananse the Spider,
   have a solution to your problem
That, if you grant me an audience with him, I will endeavor to describe"

It was "a breach of protocol", the scribe said, "I pray you desist
For you must first make your representation to the chief linguist
One doesn't approach the chief's scribe like a traveling salesman
Peddling Schnapps and palm wine willy-nilly, and without a plan"

Ananse chuckled inside, these people and their bureaucracy
So fixated on minor things they rather embodied useful idiocy
Couldn't they see that things were urgent,
   that there was no time to waste?
Oh well, he could play their game, they could lie in their bed of disgrace

So he kept quiet, it always paid to keep a straight face
And disguise one's purpose, the watchword was dissimulate
"My dear Scribe, for my haste and lack of decorum, I must apologize
I can see clearly how my intemperate ways would leave you scandalized"

"Rest assured, I beseech you, I will not repeat my faux pas
Please accept as an apology this serving of foie gras
I would be doubly grateful, if you could direct me to the linguist
So that I can make a proper approach, I am only here to assist"

He made to also add a bottle of Schnapps as he handed over the package
A little liquor was known to lubricate things with these savages
There was a little contretemps as the scribe paused to assess his booty
And made a considered show of possibly requiring additional tax duties

At length, the scribe grudgingly acquiesced,
   although he feigned being rather fatigued
Viewed with Ananse's typically discerning eyes,
   you could tell the man was intrigued
He summoned a small boy unit, a cheeky youth, his man Friday
"Take this visitor back there yonder to the linguist, use the back way"

As he took his leave of the scribe, there was a rumbling in the distance
He asked the youth, Fifi, to explain the cause of the disturbance
It was the talking drums sounding the rhythmic cry, albeit rather unhurried
Considering the message that they were conveying:
   Observers are worried

Observers are worried

Tribes, Vibes and Scribes, a playlist

Incognito provide the soundtrack to the first offering from this folktale and people's history, the aptly named Tribes, Vibes and Scribes, a delicious slice of Acid Jazz released on Talkin' Loud when that label could do no wrong. In the vein of George Duke, Roy Ayers, and Stevie Wonder (quite literally with their cover of Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing), Maysa Leak's vocals meshed wonderfully with the instrumental tracks. Soul inflected insurance in prospect, a great meeting of minds.

Soul Insurance (Index)

A covidious folktale
  1. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe
  2. Enter the Claims Adjuster
  3. An Audience with the Linguist
  4. Pity the Mink
  5. Short Sale
  6. Excessive Liabilities
  7. Premiums Due
  8. Soul Insurance, a playlist
  9. Indemnity Provisions
  10. Full Circle
  11. Enforcement Actions
  12. The Die is Cast

Image by Tim Little

This folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time.

Next: Enter the Claims Adjuster

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Writing log: Part 1 March 21, 2021