Saturday, December 30, 2023

Heidelberg Tavern Massacre

We'd passed the tavern on the same night
   but decided to go somewhere with more color
We woke in the morning to hear on the shortwave radio
   about an overnight massacre

As a good journalist,
   Mum grabbed her microphone and tape recorder
As a journalist's son,
   I made sure to grab my notebook and camera

No breakfast, we made our way to the scene
   from the university guest house
Checking the maps, we parked the rental car
   as close as the police allowed

The news didn't make for the best start
   to tomorrow's New Year
Ominous really, indeed,
   the country was in a state of suspended fear

It wasn't how we were planning to spend our short vacation
But the journalistic impulse is a lifetime occupation

Then again it was South Africa, forever on the verge of doom
There were elections planned in April, 1994 loomed

Heidelberg tavern massacre Cape Town

The BBC didn't have anyone in Cape Town,
   no boots on the ground
For things had not been as heated there as in KwaZulu-Natal

But now we could see the commotion,
   the heavy police presence
Flashing lights, weapons everywhere,
   and the sounds of sirens

Truth be told, it really felt as if we were in the middle of a war
Darn it, I had run out of film.
   Luckily, I spied a convenience store

Walked in briskly and asked what kind of film they had
Noting that I preferred Fuji but would gladly take Kodak

Taken aback, the shopkeeper,
   it felt as if I was integrating the shop
Ah right, should have known better,
   they'd never served black people before

The way he was startled, as if I had come in the wrong door
Was in the wrong place, an affront, and sullying his shop floor

It was so over my head.
   Had they really never been ordered around by my kind?
Well anyway, their countrymen would soon be doing the same,
   it was about time

"Where are you from?",
   a latter-day attempt at small talk over the counter.
"I'm on holiday, Sir. Came from the States.
   But I'm originally from Ghana."

"Ghana." "Yeah, West Africa."
   Rands proffered gingerly, patterns of exchange
I picked up water and a Twix bar.
   I told the owner to keep the change

Dad used to regale us with stories
   about his cohort of African diplomats
Integrating New York right after independence.
   This country was a throwback

I loaded the roll of film,
   would the memories I'd record be paparazzi gold?
Well it was South Africa, 1994 beckoned.
   Who knew what life would hold?

heidelberg tavern massacre - mum

Mum had already walked up beyond the security cordon
Her microphone a kind of spear that opened all doors

Looks of grudging respect from the soldiers and police officers
Badged as she was as a live representative of the foreign press

There was a local journalist on the scene
   who seemed to appreciate a colleague
It's not everyday that this kind of carnage
   comes to your quiet streets

It was only as she drew nearer
   that it struck me that it was a near miss
That it was only a matter of luck
   that we weren't yesterday's victims

This was the enlightened part of town
   where races supposedly mingled every day
Surprising really that the tavern would be singled out,
   a real case of dismay

An hour away, Khayelitsha had been rough,
   but this was quite different
This was the day, I guess,
   that Observatory had lost its innocence

Elsewhere, of course,
   Buthelezi's people and the ANC were going at it
That was the background of disquiet
   that was giving most of us fits

True, there were rumors of the apartheid death squads,
   the rearguard action
By and large however, on the ground
   there was a lot of empty posturing

Albeit we were learning the vocabulary of bloodletting
The country at large becoming connoisseurs of necklacing

But this was a terrorist attack plain and simple
Shooting up a bar out of some misguided principle

Students and others winding down the year
   with music and alcohol
Left for dead, maimed or injured,
   and now a cautionary symbol

   it's not that I'd discounted her war stories about being shot at
   even as I was well aware of journalists' occupational hazards

This was the new South Africa
   whose leaders were lawyers who spent time debating
At inordinate length, the finer points
   of the mooted constitutional provisions

heidelberg massacre - mum inspects damage

"It's bad." Onlookers murmuring, sidewalk symphony
"It's bad. They seemed to have shot up outside."

She gestured for me to come past the police tape.
"Come, you're my photographer."

"It's bad." What a refrain
"Oh it's bad. Damn." "It's bad." A chorus of pain

"Three dead at least." "How many?" "Three at least"
"It's bad. We don't know if the others will make it."

"It's bad." "What a shame."
"No responsibility declared." No one to blame.

"I counted ten, oh god. What a scene, it's bad."
"They found a bomb, it could have been even worse."

"Bomb squad was here. It didn't detonate. It's clear now"
"They say... You don't want to see inside. Believe me, it's bad."

"Come closer, take some photos."
   Not quite as intrepid, I was staying behind the tape.
Unabashed, she came and lifted the tape,
   pulled me over to the front. "Go on"

"Right here in Obz". Afrikaner accent
"Terrorists. I can't believe it."

"They should clean up the blood. It's bad, it's upsetting."
The broken glass dispersed, shards everywhere.

"It's bad. Oh, it's bad. I tell you. It's bad"
"Station Road. Right here in Obz. Oh, it's bad."

"Who was playing last night?" "Josh... so sad."
"Is he okay? I wonder." "Oh, it's bad"

There was blood on the ground and this was the aftermath
"Oh, it's bad", I couldn't help but join in with the refrain.

heidelberg tavern capetown

It took hours to interview everyone and talk to the police
Bystanders and witnesses, shocked
   yet wearing that mask of normalcy

Later we went to SABC, to the main studio, to call in her report
Filed for the African service, and then filed another for Focus

We weren't sure how the story would go over,
   the party line from Bush House
The news cycle doesn't afford the complexity
   that a long report allows

This wasn't the kind of story that anyone wanted to receive
No hearts would be warmed
   by this tale of blood on New Year's Eve

We decided to not get the film developed.
   Her copy would have to do.
By the time we finished reporting,
   it was late afternoon

We'd been so caught up that we'd forgotten to eat
   and now we were hungry
Thankfully I remembered my Twix bar,
   the cheap snack came in handy

We drove past the tavern again
   on the way back to the guest house
Canceled any nominal plans for the night,
   we'd had more than enough

Back in our rooms, it was time for some quiet reflection
   We were shaken by our proximity to this unseemly action

Cape Town devoid of music, and turned into a place of hurt
Pain unbounded, the whole country holding its breath

The broken glass at the Heidelberg Tavern,
   death at the barrel of a gun
We would bring in the New Year very quietly that night,
   mother and son

heidelberg tavern cape town

Soundtrack for this note

The great guitarist Josh Sithole was holding court as ever at the Heidelberg Tavern on the night of the massacre. He was lucky to escape with his life but some of his audience, and someone from the next door checking in on what was happening lost their life. Casualties of a senseless deed.


Thirty years ago, I filled my notebook with some of the above impressions, I had yet to take everything in. I am still to write about the rest, what I later learned about the victims, the families and indeed the perpetrators. Having published my photos of the tavern online, I was often contacted as the legacy of the trauma was debated and processed over the years. All in good time, I suppose.


Lost in Obs is an artwork commemorating the tragic events.

See previously: Truth and Reconciliation

Next: Bound Together (a surprising aftermath)

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

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Writing log. Concept: December 31, 1993. February 3, 2022

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

To Hunt the Wren

The Wife and kids will occasionally catch me enthusiastically singing a quite eccentric song, To Hunt the Wren.

It seems to tickle their funny bone as it's quite a bit different from my usual soul/jazz/blues/hip-hop fare but, well, there's a story there...

To Hunt the Wren is an old English folk song that is typically sung on Boxing Day as it commemorates a tradition where townsfolk would gather in the morning around Christmas to go hunting the titular wren - wrens being those cute (and tasty) little birdies.

The lyrics, as I recall, are:

Where are you going?
To hunt the wren
This Christmas morning calls for hunting them
How will you kill him?
With sticks and stones
Hatchets and cleavers honoring his bones
And so forth.... The bloodthirsty quotient quite accentuated by repetition

Anyway... people who attended my boarding school might well recall choirmaster's Alan Vening's arrangement that the whole school would spend a entire term practicing, I believe we had a school-wide Christmas performance; To Hunt the Wren was a big feature during my time there.

I guess it was a combination of the striking lyrics and the inspired arrangement that caused the song to be so firmly imprinted in my mind.

(Or perhaps it was the savagery of those English tribes that the song laid bare)

The felicitous way the tongue curls around "Hatchets and cleavers" is satisfying in its own sweet, merry way. In it, we can hear the deep origins of Maxim guns and future paeans to Rule Britannia.

The verve of the call of response too was fitting and had some swing to it. You wouldn't guess how often the "How will you kill him? / With sticks and stones" refrain is heard in our household, thirty odd years later.

Still the kids are quite blasé about the troubling lyrics - I suspect early exposure to such things fortifies the soul readying them for this neo-feudal world of organized gleeful violence visited on a (mostly) defenseless wren.

The imbalance of power. Peace starts at home.

To Hunt the Wren does have a certain incongruity in its imagery. For one the fascination and flair it finds in the act of killing. This is plainly a hands-on affair albeit with sticks and stones.

And then there is the fact that it is a single wren that is being hunted by the gathered crowd. Communal catharsis, perhaps, in the ceremony of blood. Is this a kind of Sussex scapegoating at work? Stonehenge atavism? Middle England savagery? Who knows?

The hunt of the wren does takes place after all on Christmas morning just days after the winter solstice. A celebration of harvests to come, the depths of these dark times, the light ever increasing going forward. I suppose you can deconstruct further meanings from the tune.

The web being what it is, you can hear the song for yourself. Sadly the online versions will never approach the melodious peaks that stay in my memory. The lyrics and arrangements are quite suspect, says this expert. Trust me, you'll have to come my way to hear the real thing

I notice that Natalie Merchant sings a version in her latest album!

These takes are far more mournful than what I grew up with. Interesting an Olde English sense, but they don't quite spark joy in the same way. Where is the joy, I ask?

So imagine, if you will, me crooning the peaceful coda on this Boxing Day morning
Yay and so amen
Yay and requiem

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Writing log: December 26, 2023

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


Places are a part of you, they leave their imprint
As they burrow into your pores, piercing your second skin
Slowly at first, then, before you know it, you're a local
Affecting the manners and outlook, and reciting idées fixes

The fabric of nostalgia is connective tissue to time and place
That, even as your body faces the present, your soul lingers
Tracing invisible boundaries in sand, affirming kinship
Even at a distance, you can't suppress the great longing

Phantom organs whose purpose is revealed on later reflection
Their notional contribution is to supply a sense of balance
Their stamps of indelible ink are charged with memories
Such are the identity markers of modern travelers

You touch, tentatively, as if to revive that feeling of old
The sound of the streets you roamed, that playground you owned
Grasping to decipher the messages weighted with meaning
The lost stories are outlined faintly in the veins of belonging

stamps african countries collage 3

Places, a playlist

I give you 120 or so neighborhoods of the mind, a musical journey around the world (spotify version)

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

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Writing log: February 27, 2022

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

In a Moment

I. Solidarity

Without a common language, all we had was a stare
Yet a mere head nod opened an entire conversation
In the silent gesture there was the keen recognition
Of a fellow traveler, badged with the burden of loss
The sour journeys we'd taken to get to this place
The consolation of each other's presence assuaged all
We looked around at the others,
We realized: together we would stand.

II. Seduction

Without a single word, we reached an understanding
Intertwined with searching glances
Imperceptible pursing of lips
Involuntary flicks of the tongue
We would soon be wrapped in each other
Without a doubt
The rest was waiting
We looked at each other,
We realized: the game was on.

kagyah dancer

In a Moment, a playlist

soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)
See previously Close Contact

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Writing log: February 21, 2022

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Forgiveness and Love

Scars unforgotten
Marked the liminal landscape
Monuments of loss

We sought redemption
Escape from the memories
Refuge in the hills

Out there at night time
Relief in the melodies
We sang without end

Nature's comfort suites
Sleeping chambers of welcome
Forgiveness and love

aburi carved tree detail sculpture carving

Soundtrack for this note

See previously: Bloodbath, South Carolina and Until Such Time

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Writing log: January 16, 2022

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Addresses are given to us to conceal our whereabouts

— Saki (H.M. Munro)
First you take a right after the vegetable seller's kiosk.
   The blue one.
Then you'll pass the school painted green
   by the way before the T-junction
Turn right, you'll find him
   just after the big mango tree on the left
If you get to the gold house with the black gate,
   you'll know you've gone too far

You can't miss him, his prose style is inimitable
There's no artifice, he's the genuine article
Elliptical, yet full of quips and surreal turns
When you read him, you feel as if you're with a friend

Deceptively deployed and unadorned,
   the language is unassuming
Yet, on a sentence by sentence basis,
   his writing is simply sparkling
But even with the arcane plots,
   his characters come out fully fleshed
Still, don't ignore those few hints in the dialog,
   he might be pulling your leg

M.C. Escher stairs

Addresses, a playlist

soundtrack for this note. The titles tell a tale of unanswered questions, lose yourself in the music (spotify version)
See also: Finding your way in a country without street addresses and newfangled addresses


A lovely documentary on the conundrum of addresses in Costa Rica.

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Writing log: January 31, 2022

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Ode to the Word Nuisant

Harmful, for though it made for the perfect rhyme
Its impact was marred by that red, squiggly underline
I checked, not only in that web browser,
But also in countless other word processors
The word is nary to be found in most dictionaries!
I'll admit a strong case of disbelief
For even in the authoritative one from Oxford,
I came to find it marked obsolete

Hurtful that such a perfectly good word
Would fall into this state of disrepair
So that future editors of my prose
Would be confronted by supposed linguistic error
An intimation of lack of care or poor grammar
Inattention and pretension in equal measure

Nuisant, as a word, it doesn't get much press
Forever prone to replacement by auto-suggest
Yet its plain meaning isn't hard to decipher
An apt weapon in the hands of a writer
And so it behooves me to take a stand
In favor of the adjectival nuisance
And pen a minor ode in its defense
This is plainly a nuisant development

"Harmful, hurtful; of the nature of a nuisance"

Oakland Container Port 124

Word, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version) File under: , , , , , , ,

Writing log: January 29, 2022

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Close Contact

A state of grace, a rarefied connection
Revealed belatedly the identity of your companion
Retrospectively located through track and trace
A fellow traveler similarly internally displaced

A fleeting encounter, side looks and glances
The human marketplace of second chances
Leading to a stolen moment of solidarity
A stare, recognition, and then complicity

Your lot in life, still, you were startled by the realization
Strange bedfellows you were, normally masked in alienation
Sporting badges of ambivalence, angst and dismay
And now to find a comfort suite in social interplay

A conversation that seemed as if it would never end
The joys of discovering you've made a new friend
Such are the pleasures of proximity, the virtue of presence
And the ease with which you share a comfortable silence

Floral Arrangement by Wiz - 1998

Closer, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)

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

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Writing log: January 29, 2022

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Quality of Numbness

Please ensure that you're in the right tasting environment
Pleasant conditions are preferable for maximum enjoyment
Open yourself up to the experience of bearing witness
Dress casually to appreciate the quality of numbness

Sight evaluation is the first order of business
You'll learn how to describe the ingredients of catharsis
Start with a top view,
   examine the density saturation of the substance
Stare closely for a few seconds
   to imbue the essence of the absence

Then, visual inspection from a side angle,
   observe the color of shock
The oblique viewpoint will gather up all signs of discomfort
Over time, you'll recognize the shades
   that are said to be characteristic
The burden of the shadows can overwhelm,
   the way they move is mystic

Sip slowly, don't swallow unease as your liquid companion
Taste for yourself the astringency of alienation
Mature vintages will often leave you numb in contemplation
A result, it is said, of the intense period of fermentation

Savor the aromas of regret, the heavy burden of loss
Let the waves of disbelief wash over you, do not resist
Caution, take heed of spontaneous outbursts of cynicism
A rout of the soul often dampens one's initial enthusiasm

Scents are next on the agenda,
   but be mindful of your surroundings
With unbounded grief, you're apt to wallow in nostalgia
   and its misgivings
Try not to miss the cues,
   musty glasses are a sure sign of resignation
There is no simple formula,
   doubt can be balanced by complete immersion

Swirling around the tongue,
   you'll discover the flavor that lingers
It's much like a social disease
   this sense of communal numbness
After a taste of deficiency,
   you may find satisfaction ever elusive
Off kilter, the quality of numbness ensures a satisfying finish


Numb, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)
See previously: Rhythm of Loss and The Laws of Grief

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

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Writing log: January 22, 2022

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Dancing in the Dark (The Heart of Darkness Playlist)

I give you a playlist fit for Joseph Conrad and his inspired creation: Kurtz. Musical relief for the darkness and an entry in the Comfort Suite. The liner notes were written 15 years ago for the heart of darkness. Thankfully, these days the songs are mostly available for streaming (youtube, spotify).

Heart of Darkness, A Playlist

Miles Davis Sorcerer

See previously: Heart of Darkness

I nominate this note for the Things Fall Apart series under the banner of The Comfort Suite.

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Writing log. Concept: June 30, 2007

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Operation Urgent Fury

Truck bombings
Bad optics

In a foreign land
French and American marines

Contingency plans
Swift change of the narrative
Operation Urgent Fury

Small island, little scrutiny
Marxist Bishop, revolutionaries
"Visit America before America visits you"

Structural adjustments
Our sphere of influence
Washington consensus

Destabilization strategy
Of brutal leftist thugs
A base for aggression

Scripts readied
Protection of the free world
Prime time address

Rollback of influence
Strategic vision of democracy
Liberation, security in our hemisphere

This is a dangerous situation
The threat posed to our nationals
For their safety is paramount

We decided on preventive action
Moving forward to restore freedom
And bring about regime change

Rapid troop deployment
Our special forces
Armed intervention

Simply responding to an appeal
A formal request for aid
This morning's invasion

After Grenada, 1983

maroon lives tribute to maurice bishop and grenadian freedom fighters

Soundtrack for this note

gil scott-heron ronald reagan and john wayne - b movie

See also: Excellent Discussions

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Writing log: September 4, 2022

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Staffing Shortages

Staffing shortages in a covidious time
Supply chain snafus, empty shelves and long lines
Rising positivity rates were how we bore witness
For our streets were paved with discarded rapid tests

Inboxes flooded with statements
   explaining the difficult decisions
Structural adjustments:
   "We make every effort to minimize disruption"
"The increase in cases
   created an impact on essential services around the country"
"Our staffing levels are being affected
   by those who are either sick or in self-quarantine"

While sirens were testaments to the ebb and flow of capacity
Partners in health bemoaned the limited testing availability
We were living in an interminable era of incalculable loss
Even as we asked the obvious, what paradise have we lost?

covid risk december 22 2021

Staffing Shortage, a playlist

soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

After Omicron BA.1

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

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Writing log: January 16, 2022

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Playground Education

They pantomimed the firing squad
Reenacting the march of the bedraggled and confused
The older boys had grabbed sticks
   and descended on a group of us
They lined us up roughly, laughing and barking orders
Repeating phrases they'd heard from their parents
And the dawn broadcast
"We'll finish them..."

They set up a few paces out,
   on the edge of the playground.
"Line up.
Take your marks.

Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow.
Six shots.

Then the recriminations:
"You. You didn't die properly.
   You. The General. You didn't slump.
Let's do it again."

More laughter.
Scenarios were contemplated for the next round.
"Let the blood flow..."

There must have been something in your look
   that gave them temporary pause
For even as you had kept a brave face,
   you couldn't break out a smile
Appalled frankly. You recognized a wrong,
   something beyond the pale
The comment escaped your mouth, you couldn't help it
"That was someone's daddy."

A brief pause, but then the conversation resumed
Mocking tones infused their frenzied acting
You detached yourself from the game
Dusted yourself
And walked off
You didn't look back

digable planets

Playground Games, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried


See also: The Wages of Thermidor and June 4th

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Writing log. January 4, 2022

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

End-User Certificates

End-user certificates
Squalid bureaucracy

Did you ever wonder what was in those planes?

Contractual obligations
Roaring trade in ammunition

Did you ever worry about the company you keep?

Warlord clientele
Improvised identities

Did you think it would come to this?

Cult of corruption
Merchants of death

Did you see what they left in their wake?

Bulletproof warriors
Small boy units

Did you ever wonder about the price we all paid?

Cargo of weapons
Shipments from Belarus

Did you realize the tangled web they wove?

Profitable transactions
Collateral damage

Did it mean anything to you?

Neutral brokers
Two-sided networks

Did it really seem innocent?

Equal opportunity
Excess revenues

Did you ever wonder how they sleep at night?

International transfers
Dealers of deceit

Did you remember how it all started?

Final recipients
Embargo detours

Did the excuses really stand up?

Supply chain lubrication
Undesired buyers

Did you get everything that you wanted?

Victims everywhere
Blood and sin victorious

Did you ever wonder why these men are smiling?

Clean hands
Indelible ink

Did they leave a trace?

Rebel militia
Intractable conflicts

Do you ever wonder when this will end?

elmina castle 5

elmina castle view 3

After: Blood from Stones by Douglas Farah, Darwin's Nightmare and that pulp piece, Lord of War.

End-User Certificates, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Arms on Ghana Plane

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Writing log: January 1, 2022

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tracking Package

Grainy video clip, Nest cam, low resolution
Slight angle from your front window, fishbowl vision
Poor lighting as befitted the early hour, 4 a.m.
After bringing in the new year, he was walking down the street
A double-take, a package at the door, who'd have thought it?

A brief check, took a look around, no one around to witness
But still, precaution, eyes darting, quick, pull up the hoodie
He shuffled in at an angle, eyes turned away
Made a beeline for the door, only a minor course correction
Then, grab and lift. Bulky, a little heavier than expected
What to call it? Booty or bounty? Practiced operator
He walked away furtively. Happy New Year, sucker.

A thief in the night, a liminal shadow, this interloper
Fittingly, in this covidious time, he was not a mask wearer
He duly seized the opportunity to perform the crime
Leaving only this digital trace, the notification
Discovered the next day. And the sense of violation

Grand larceny, you wonder: what was in the package?
Think. You rack your brain, did you order anything?
Stocking up for the lockdown, or was it a gift?
Amazon? UPS? Who even delivers on New Year's Eve?
Maybe your aunt sent a care package from your parents
She just returned from home and asked if you'd received it
That would be something else, what mortification
Oh well, to my nocturnal visitor, compliments of the season

snake at the door

Tracking Package, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)

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

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Writing log: January 1, 2022

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Ghost Transcripts

Brief messages left behind by the dearly departed
Ephemera in times past, letters and scraps of paper
Of late, these new artifacts of the digital era
Faint traces, bylines, icons and avatars
Photos and videos, the color of memory
But also emails, logs, and chat transcripts
Voice mails that we remind ourselves to never delete

No, I want to hear that voice periodically
My brother imploring me to return his call
The chuckle, the slight hesitation
As if pondering the best approach
Before jumping in with the juicy morsel
That would whet your curiosity and impel you to respond
Then, without fail, the obligatory closing joke,
The lesson we learned early, always leave them wanting more

The voice is what I hold on to, its teasing inflection
And so I save the message every sixty days
And so I stay with this phone company
Despite the gaps in their coverage, and usurious rates
That customer satisfaction survey didn't have the option
For me to enter the real reason for my brand loyalty
Contra the telecom operator's retention policy
The textures of a life underwritten
The comfort of the ghost transcripts


Soundtrack for this note

Mostly the Voice by Gang Starr

See also: The Laws of Grief

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

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Writing log. December 18, 2021

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Blue Sand

The headline was striking sixty odd years later
The dust was said to be returning to sender
Swirling dervishes on magic carpets, a blanket of fine particles
Radiation straight from the souk, the message in a bottle

A sixties affair held, not in Provence,
   but rather in the Sahara
Uncharted territory
   in what they then called French Algeria
A convenient location,
   just a few Berber nomads around at best
The fruits of settler colonialism,
   a prime spot for a nuclear test

A case of droit de seigneur, this was the desert after all
Proud of his entrée to the nuclear club was General de Gaulle
Still, it's not something that one could sweep under the rug,
   this thing
Indeed, the test rather embodied a literal carpet bombing

First, the sharp flash of the detonation
Then, later, shock waves and the almighty sound
The scientists marveled at the novel reaction
The blueish fire that preceded the mushroom cloud

Ground zero, the impact crater, the hole in the dunes
The military had assigned a codename: Gerboise Bleue
The desert rodent of Reggane would be baptized in blue
The blue of the tricolor harkened to Saint Martin de Tours

In the aftermath, as expected, came the fallout in all its forms
The uproar was swift,
   later tests would have to be moved underground
Expressions of surprise
   that radiation would drift west and south
Significant traces detected
   in Upper Volta, Ghana and even Senegal

Ballistic rockets launched primed for nuclear payloads
The initial fear was of fission and Strontium 90 isotopes
Decay was all, the main byproduct was rather Caesium
It is an ill wind that blows no good, this reckoning

We are all casualties in the torrid zone of this triangle of fire
That, in a new century, nature had decided to share the wealth
Donations of micro doses spreading irony across the land
A radioactive gift to posterity, a legacy of blue sand

After: Irony as Saharan dust returns radiation from French nuclear tests in the 1960s (March 1, 2021)

France, don't do it! Atomic bomb tests in Africa

Blue Sand, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)
strontium 90 - future generations


The Wife's history of Atomic Junction dug up lots of interesting material. Here's a 1960 speech by by Tawia Adamafio denouncing French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara. See also a few more clippings from Ghanaian newspapers of the time.

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Writing log: December 16, 2021

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Action Items

Oh! I think I'm going to have to end this presentation now
I... I just got a message... It's on the news?... Oh wow
There's... there's an active shooter at my daughter's high school

What's that? Yes, yes, I have a number of action items
Look, I'll.. I'll schedule another teleconference
I have to go now. Rob can handle things. Um, Rob over to you

Mics unmuted. Gasps. Harrumphs.
   Worldwide expressions of sympathy
This is America.
This is the country's regular brand of insanity

Still, action items?
Who asked that? Poor form. Absurdity.
What is wrong with you, man?
Where is your humanity?

digable planets

Michigan High School Shooting: 3 Students Killed and Several Critically Injured

A 15-year-old sophomore was taken into custody with a semiautomatic handgun that was bought by his father four days before the fatal shooting.

Action Items, a playlist

A soundtrack for this lament (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log. Concept: November 30, 2021; December 12, 2021

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Color of Memory

First, the red cloth in the marketplace
Shimmering prints. Dakar was a revelation
First time abroad. First time on a plane.
The sounds, the laughs, friends and family
They have different jollof these Sénégalais
And, mon dieu, how about that poisson braisé
Black and white world cup matches on the TV
Then, a treat, we watched the final on a color screen
The orange of the Dutch team and their fans.
They lost. Orange was the color of memory

Again, a few years on, back home
Black and white TV. Monochrome.
Charles and Diana. A royal wedding.
We drove across Accra to my cousin's
A dash to their impromptu watch party
Just in time. We caught the carriage ride in color
Bright imprint, young mind. Colonial press
Strangely pallid, the prince and princess
Crown jewels from the Gold Coast. British monarchy
Our former rulers. Red velvet was the color of memory

Later. Exile. Someplace called Golders Green
Our own Babylon, mother and son, not quite refugees
Creature comforts, we bought our first color TV
This 9 year old's research pointed to a Panasonic
This was during the 1982 world cup, football fanatics
Fresh. The first thing we watched: Brazil vrs Italy
So unexpected, enter Paolo Rossi
A blue bandit overcame heroics from Socrates
Transcendent beauty outdone by clinical speed
Gutted. Frankly, everything has been downhill since
Contra the poacher, yellow was the color of memory

rainbow installation at The Contemporary Austin

Colors, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. I give you sixty odd flavors of a rainbow spectrum, listen without prejudice (spotify version)

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Writing log: December 11, 2021

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Until Such Time

Mystical spirits loom
Natural healing will soon come
Bringing justice promised us

Maroons, these searchers roam
The men of the hills journey
With rhythms of defiance

Crossing effervescent streams
Marking sanctified borderlands
Truths disclosed in light of day

Guidance duly salves the soul
It's the force of freedom
Protection until such time


Until Such Time, a playlist

soundtrack for the maroons courtesy of that griot Burning Spear (spotify version)
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Writing log: December 7, 2021

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Coinage Capitalism

Hottakes galore, call it coinage capitalism
Reification of the zeitgeist, the books proliferated
Bearing weighty tomes laden with keen, academic discourse
Along came the bright observers and the futurists

Cassandras calling, heady charges were duly leveled
Observe well the rhetoric of these social synthesizers
But scratch the gleaming surface of their mooted frameworks
And behold a fundamental misdiagnosis of the economics of networks

Such edifices they erected
   as they bemoaned the newfangled platforms
Perverse incentives touted by the lawyers among them,
   stern demands for reform
Bullet points on their charge sheets,
   not your garden variety contrarianism
A veritable rush to be the first to pinpoint the original sin

They extolled the perils of the day,
   but it was a new age of puffery
Their research probed the fatted calf
   or, at least, its dark underbelly
These pundits, badged with brows of concern and alacrity
Were minting think pieces full of shrink-wrapped profundity

Talking to themselves,
   the commentariat selling policy prescriptions
Data is the new oil, and other slogans that belied their fictions
But to take them at their word would be a crying shame
For, at the end of it all, they were merely playing a shell game

Tell us something new, there's no such thing as a free lunch
Captain Obvious, if you aren't paying, you are the product
Dark patterns applied as you skipped over the fine print
Taken hostage, the convenience of the Faustian pact in one click

Blinders on, the profit imperative,
   next they'll be fleecing you
Slouching wide awake, you customer,
   as they extract surplus value

Still, was there really anything novel
   in this dark empire of fear?
Methinks their sole invention
   was a new way of saying buyer beware


Cheap Talk, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log. Concept: January 29 2019. November 21 2021