Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Here's the poem promised in the previous blog.  Happy New Year 2013!

The Automaton at Sandy Hook
(in memory of the 20 children and 6 teachers killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on 12/14/2012)

He has our natural features
and hails from the same species
he has our smile and creeds
and pathology of the soul
and the greed for vanity’s sake.

He’s different the experts say
but not that much from the Enabler,
he is illogical says the Dialectician
and insane concludes the Psychiatrist
but not that much from the Mother Cell
the nourishing source
the germinating seed
the empty space here and there
even within the friendly enclosure
the furtive look of the neighbor
the effort to avoid all contact.
the empty square
seriality at the neighborhood level
like I saw it in the South End.

He is the apple fallen near the tree
the product of the chemical mix;
he is NRA, the Congress and Wall Street’s
combined voracity just like larrons en foire
to create Macabral and Maldyòk.

He is you and I assembled
in automation made fate
and faith in the Market’s goodness
in the gun’s good feeling
and its mythologized lore
the Second Amendment made fetish
of a nation guided by high valued imperatives
of the Military Industrial Technological Complex
and desensitized by mediated hypes
by the Nintendo’s procurement of pleasure to kill
the thrill of the murderous instinct
the lost spirits already perturbed
would find solace in madness
a shorter distance to salvation.

No! He is not the Other, the killer,
he is not even a stranger 
he is part of a whole
prototype of a rational scenario
perhaps your existential denial.

The little fan of the New York Yankees
who refused to leave home and yet
still getting the excitement rolling
in the schoolyard and beyond;
the little beautiful darling, smart light
and pride of her parents
they had not had the time
nor to have or to inspire hatred;
they didn’t ask to come among us
still they took pleasure and reveled
in the happening of the moment
in the miracle of growing and learning.

“We cannot go back to the school,”
they said, “we don’t have a teacher anymore.”
Other teachers are trapped before death
and yet still trying to save their pupils’ lives;
parents who will never see them
their memories haunted by every instant
that preceded the fateful morning.

The most evil emblem after all
despite images of gunman toting gun
is the quiet of corporate input analysis,
the invisibility of arms-profiting dividends
the big guy that pockets the plus-value
from killings and mayhems
from families in pain;
the honorable entrepreneur hero
who produces a high-tech producing factory
that produces the AR-15 style rifle
and the elegant, sky-lurking drones
that kill miles away in the comfort
of the peaceful father in a US suburb
in the invisibility of the distance.

They hire MIT geniuses for maximum effect
those kill as magicians do
to erase all links to physicality
as if God himself had conducted the action,
metacosmic fluidity guided by laser,
and yet the blood spilled is real,
real red blood of the villagers;
they kill, the drones, with an impunity
more impenetrable than the Newtown killings
those have never paid for their deeds
because no deed was ever committed
in the absence of accountability.

Killing is never justified
although it always has a context
even a nourishing matrix
and a bad attitude
and a huge arsenal of means.

Even Halliburton which sells arms
and oil and illusions and cynicism
in the same package is innocent in this scheme:
the soul of the country wants it, they say,
the Founding Fathers wanted it, they say,
major national interests want it, they say,
it’s the continuation of the fairy tale.

They kill for the Empire
as for the nation-state
for the honor of the family
for the decimals on the bank account;
they kill because they have the means,
beautiful garments for social engineering.

Before all the tears will have dried off
and the spotlight changes focus
and the next mayhem occurs
and the memories of the twenty-six
evaporate in the air and Walmart registers
its nice cut in weapon sale
and the maniac gets to be happy
with his beautiful dispenser of horrors
and the mayor gets to show magnanimity
confronting a danger minutes after the fact
and the Guns Producer Industrial Complex
shows robust elevated patterns
and the Psychologist shows, immovable,
confirmed tendency to deviance,
hate of the mother and her doubles
and the children, product of her matrix:
casualties of madness
also of living cost challenges
innocence perished in Hell,
that’s what these children are
in the objective meanness of Globality.

They are not rare artistic marvels
for the sake of beauty, the weapons,
they are instrument to an aim
regardless of the original intent;
their function is to kill
and ease up the labor of God
manifested in sport killing
in political killing
in Mafia killing
in killing for the pleasure of the libido
testosterone in chute libre.

I invite you, my friend,
to stroll along the river way
on a full moon any night
when  a warm, caressing wind penetrates
the instant, oh eternal instant!
I invite you to join in and rejoice
of the splendor of the space, its smell,
I invite you to let loose
of all the links of horrors
and the false stress
and the appetite for hideous thrills.

Before Newtown there was Oklahoma City
there were Ken State, Waco and Colorado
there were Wounded Knee and the Negrier
there were My Lai, Abu Ghraib and Fallujah
there were Hiroshima and Nagasaki
there were LaSalin and Site Solèy
all memories of past thrills.

(The children would not have died in vain
if we approach thoroughly the calamity
and its many facets; often the absurd is the problem
that has eluded conscience’s penetrating gaze.)
These little cadavers conjure you to close down
both the engines and the sustaining source of Hell;
they conjure you to sanity’s road in the face
of madness and cold-blooded interests;
they conjure you to utopia
they conjure you to elevation of the senses.

-Tontongi, Boston, January 1st, 2013

(Read other works by the author in the politico-literary review Tanbou)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Poetics From the Sandy Hook Killings

When I heard the news of the massacre in the Sandy Hook Elementary School, on Friday December 14, 2012, I taught of the attempted killing of August 10, 1999, in the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, California, where 6 toddlers were shot and injured by Buford Furrow Jr., a neo-Nazi carrying a 9-millimeter semiautomatic gun. I wrote a poem and an introductory note at the time to commemorate the memory of this hideous crime.

The ghastly massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, has inspired me its own poetic impulse which I transpose into a new poem that I am still composing at the moment (4 days after the tragedy). While awaiting its release, I’d like to share with my readers both the introductory note and the poem, written in the late summer of 1999.

An Advice-Poem From a Poet to a Pedokiller

(dedicated to the children who were shot at and wounded by a racist gunman at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills on August 10, 1999, and to all the other victims of that madness)

- by Tontongi

In the midst of total nothingness, absurdity and despair, I want to continue to believe in something, to still have hope in tomorrow, hope that our children will have the option to make of this world of ours a better place. It is with this desire to be part of the solution to madness that I wrote the following poem.

The poem is dedicated to the children you have hurt, killed or intended to kill, but it is most of all addressed to you, you the beautiful children you once were, but who at one point decided to hate people instead of hating the human-made adverse conditions and structures that alienate your lives.

The path you are leading us on is a dangerous path, for if we continue to demean not only other peoples’ lives but also our own and that of our children, we will surely condemn ourselves to extinction as a species. Perhaps this is what you want all along, but think twice, does it really make any sense to you? You may be crazy, but you are not a fool.

To all those of you who want to kill just for the hatred of the Other, I would like to ask this: How would you feel if your prophecies and goals were really fulfilled? Would you really like a world of “only you,” only one color shade, one physical feature, one representation of God, one single song, one literature, one single expression of love? Do you really want a world of one truth, one book, one horizon? A world where you have the moon and not the sun, the plains and not the mountains, the lands and not the oceans, the rocks and not the plants, hate and not love, death and not life? Do you really wish for a world of sweet and honey without the spices, the aroma of hotness, the libidinal high of salt? Perhaps; but you surely will be bored to death.

While I may empathize with your anger and unhappiness, the darkness that festers your despair, there is absolutely no reason to hate or harm people you have just bumped onto, much less little children who are relying upon you for guidance and support. If you, personally, really think harming them will further your cause, you are just a lost, demented soul who needs help right now. Open your heart to the person dearest to you or the moral figure you happen to respect. Please, do it now; do not wait! I want to reach you in your inner soul, your humanity, for in spite of all you’re still a human being entangled in circumstances you may not have brought on yourself but on the demarcation of which you still have some control. Remember what the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said: One can always do something about what society or circumstances have done to one.

If talking to someone doesn’t work, and you still feel the impulse to harm, do this one more thing: Go to the nearest ocean beach, bring enough food and drink for only one night; lay half-nude on the sands and watch the days and nights go by; let yourself enjoy the diabolical wonders of the sun, the calm of the moon, the changing shade of the weather and the vast freshness of the water waves; take the time to reflect on your dreams as a growing child, the pain you have endured; think of all small good deeds you have done and the grateful smile you saw in their recipients’ faces; think of the people you have hurt and of how deep in yourself you wish things were different; revive the people you have loved and the unforgettable joy they have brought in your life; think most of all of how a simple decision of yours would save many lives, avoid unnecessary pain, thereby, perhaps, contribute to the evolving fulfillment of a promising life. Continue and repeat this process of self-inquiry until you feel ready to go back to a human village — any human village — and help toward the betterment of living. Otherwise, stay on the ocean beach until you are ready or until Mother Nature recycles your body in the soil of her infinite re-nourishment of life. Perhaps going away into the nothingness of matter was your true mission in life.

Please, do not harm the children

Little gentle hands
as if playing ring-around
joined in unison together
entrusting to the adults’ guidance
their lives and fears and dreams.

They were born just yesterday
a time when joy was for them possible
they came with their vulnerability
armed if only with their hope
to receive our blissful offering.

Burn as long as you wish
the mountain will not go away
destroy all that is still living
our memory will resurface one day
and life will still be our lot.

Please, do not harm the children
you can for your tormented soul
sow new seeds to grow a new garden
tell your grandchildren a new story
share the pride that makes you cry.

If you feel you must kill — kill instead
the nightmares that engulf our world
exterminate the pain that blinds your horizon
the darkness that festers your despair
the miseries brought by human avarice.

Please, do not harm the children
those angelic lilacs of infinite wonders
breath the same air you inhale and pollute
reclaiming your wisdom and boredom
inheriting the deepness of your roots.

Please, do not harm the children
remember the cute child you once were
the marvels you wanted to conquer
the smiles you fostered on many sorrow faces
remember tomorrow is a new beginning.

(August 1999)


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Siege and the Killings in Homs, Houla, Hama (Syria)
(this poem is dedicated to the unrelenting resistance of the Syrian people against State oppression despite murderous carnage)

-by Tontongi

A Macabre indecency
a systematic barrage of fire
symmetric even in horror
cast a specter of death
all over the city, 
maiming and killing
from the sure distance of power
power of the artillery
power of the State control
power of State immunity.

Removing the world’s agenda venom
against everything Syrian-like,
this Boston Globe’s article speaks volumes:
“During a terrifying two minutes ...
At least 22 bodies, including that of 6-year old
Mohammad Yahia Al-Wees were recovered...
And amid the rubble on the stairway of the
ground floor, 10 yards from the door and possibly
safety, lay the bodies of two foreign journalists,
Marie Colvin, and Remi Achilk...”

A macabre indecency,
but an irony of fate and history
that the Romans’ wretched,
the terrorist of time past,
special guest villain in Others-haters’ show
and in the warmongers’ holy book
that includes offspring of Saladin and of Genghis Khan,
offspring of Toussaint and the shoeless fighters
is now killing his own 
in cold bloody indifference...

Conscience doesn’t discriminate
even when petrified by terror and madness,
even when horrified by fear of the unknown,
fear of the uncertainties of finitude;
fear of the cafard, the blues,
the blue blues of Macabral;
fear of saying the impolitely
correct thing that disturbs the gentry
instead of seeking clarity.
Still conscience doesn’t let fear
silence her for ever.

What’s wrong with calling for freedom
says this father whose two sons were slaughtered
early in the morning without much warning:
Freedom for the people! Freedom of conscience!
he says even though for his sons it was too late.

Conscience must not discriminate
regardless the manner the killing was performed
be it done by drones on your family villages away
or on your neighbor next door in large urban centers
like in Homs and Houla in the heart of Syria
where kids were massacred like toads
just the same the indignation should be.
Killing must not be an option
especially for a powerful State;
it should be in jure or de facto
the never acceptable mischief...

On a certain Wednesday of hell
More than 40 women and children were among
78 killed in Mazraat al-Qubeir, near Hama,
killed by remote barrage of the artillery;
those killings from the sure distance of power
power of the blunt interests of the State’s minions
power of immunity of the Syrian army
— must now cease and desist.
The people of Homs and Houla and Hama must live free!

Tontongi, June 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Occupy Wall Street: They Cannot Destroy The Idea Nor The Ideal

-by Tontongi

Jean-Paul Sartre said he held Gustave Flaubert responsible for the repression of the Paris Commune in 1871 because he didn’t lift a finger to defend it. The same would be said of many intellos of the US intellectual Establishment, both inside and outside Academia, if they continue to be mute in the face of the mounting police repression of a peaceful protest that seeks socioeconomic equality and a better quality of life for the people.
     Indeed, to judge from the brutal repression of the Occupy Wall Street movement unleashed by many US municipalities, one can deduce that the powers that be take very seriously the potential threat that it represents to the continuation of the status quo— that is the continuation of inequality, of exploitation of others’ work, of racial discrimination, of domination of Wall Street’s greed and ethos.  While it has not totally articulated its liberational ideas, to judge from the likes of Michael Moore, Cornel West, and Naom Chomsky who have embraced it, the OWS demands imply also the end of reification of life, of alienation of labor, and of materialization of work’s gratification and finality.
     The Occupy Wall Street movement is the single, latest good thing that happens to this country, the United States, a country that has spent the last 30 years in the embrace of cynicism and soulless robotification of the mind. The writer Naomi Klein, in a recent essay in the journal The Nation, has called the OWS movement “the best thing in the world right now,” observing that “today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well.”
      It has been painful to see a dynamic country such as the United States operate on itself the putrefying process of sterilization and idioticization. To watch the debates among the Republican presidential candidates, one comes out frustrated that such a great country would have so many illuminated morons — or calculating cynics playing illuminated morons — aspiring to lead it. Many commentators think this epistemological trend started since Ronald Reagan.  Or, is it the necessary sign of decline of all imperial and imperialist powers as many others conjecture?

Historical antecedence
The Occupy Wall Street movement — along with the Arab Spring despite the interference of the imperialist powers in the latter — is the embodiment of human vitality and consciousness;  it is a welcoming evolution in a country accustomed to the glorification of capitalism’s wisdom and success, and to self-interested myopia that created a functioning malaise, sometimes political dead-end and existential confusion, some inspired idiots even calling it the “end of history.”
     The main threat posed by the OWS movement, and the Altermondialist movement in general — that is the collective engagement for alternative, revolutionary change — is their radical repudiation of capitalism’s dogma of transcendental necessity, making the financial speculators of Wall Street and the complicity of class privilege and government corruption and intellectual cowardice, the main culprit — the 1 percent of the population — responsible for the politico-economic crisis, thus the calamity of the 99 percent others.
     The OWS movement has certainly not invented protest against malfeasance — that has existed throughout history.  Nor has it pioneered the struggle against the New World Order. The distinction of main inspirer of the Occupy Wall Street movement can be fairly attributed to the international anti-globalization, alternative movement that took shape in Western Europe in the 1990’s and culminated in the United States in the valorous demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, in November 1999.  But not everyone agrees with that antecedence, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson who, in a January 13, 2012, essay in Huffington Post to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, has linked the OWS movement to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s: “Dr. King understood that the civil rights movement, having ended segregation and gained the right to vote, had to challenge poverty and economic inequality. In his final days, he was building a poor people's campaign, planning to bring people to the nation's capital across lines of race, religion and region to create a Resurrection City and demand economic justice. He was the true precursor of Occupy Wall Street.”
     However, given the potential radicality of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the all-encompassing, liberation objectives of the Altermondialist, anti-globalization movement, which, Foucaultian, rejects all relations of power and oppression, the most plausible ancestry of the Occupy Wall Street could be traced to the Haitian Revolution, started in August 1791.  This revolution has not only rejected oppression and defeated the military forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore slavery, it also, more defiantly, affirmed the notion of the universality of the human being, therefore the inherent inalienability of his/her rights.
    Anti-slavery and Haitian revolutionaries such as Dutty Boukman, Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines etc., made it impossible for the colonialist powers (and their imitators, as was the United States at the time, especially in the question of slavery) to legitimize their rule while they engaged in anti-human-universality policies, like keeping human beings in bondage.
     Suffice to say that the Occupy Wall Street movement is inspired and nourished by multiple sources and energies.

A new model of social contract : Attention to others’ voices and concerns
The greatest contribution of the OWS movement is its breaking of the torpor, fatalism and defeatism that permeated the US-American people’s reaction to the economic crisis and to the government’s timid, if not complicit response.  Apart from being an idea to revamp the ossified discourse of normalization that accepts as divine dogma the objective conditions of oppression and inequality, the OWS movement is also an ideal that puts in evidence, through its participatory democratic practices and attention to others’ voices and concerns, the exemplar of a humanistically oriented society that considers the Other as not only an equal but also as a companion in life, an alter ego with whom one faces the tumults and uncertainties of both the instant and the future.
     The ideas that inspire the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the ideals they emanate should be supported by all concerned citizens and residents.  That’s bad enough to lick the hand of the oppressor, it’s doubly condemnable to help nullify or destroy the means by which you can attain your liberation.  The OWS movement represents those means.  At least potentially.
      In summoning the people to the public space to denounce the injustice that is being done to them and in their names, the OWS movement has shifted the responsibility from private shame for supposed personal failure, as the capitalist’s infallible axiom implies, to public criminality that calls for redress.  The pain and the hardship that have fallen on the people are no longer seen as fortuitous or accidental occurrence, but rather as ineluctable consequence of a systemic, sociopolitical order where economic interests of a small minority take precedence over human needs and perils. 
     Therefore, the solution to the current socioeconomic calamity must involve a reevaluation together of the economic rapport of production and exchange, of the financial transaction and wealth distribution — essentially the old problematic Marx has so well analyzed —, and the foundation of a new model of social contract and living together.
     Another aspect of the OWS movement that is encouraging — beside its carnival of colors, lyrical songs and poetic emotions that it comes to symbolize — is the important proportion of young people that composes its leadership.  Naturally, young is not necessarily good, and any progressive movement needs the wisdom of old militants to help anchor the adverse instances and channel past lessons; but the grand plurality of young people in the OWS movement is a good thing, if only for investing so overwhelmingly in the everyday functioning of the movement, and for helping articulate the ontological meaning of its being and finality, that is both its essence and raison d’être.

The cumulative effect of the multitude
Reality is already too stark and painful for us to want to sweeten it with bullshit reductionism that only perpetuates the status quo, but I cannot gloss over the historical importance of the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially in light of the so-called Arab Spring and other protest movements that topple governments around the world.
    Just like Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have demonstrated in their recent book, Commonwealth, how the cumulative effect of the multitude, that is the ultimate power of the assembling plurality of people, can help establish revolutionary change and democratic practices and policies, the OWS movement has shown its potential in building up a mass movement capable of channeling people’s suffering and anger and hope towards a different and better life (especially when they’re willing to occupy the public sphere and space with all their bio-political energy). 
     That was the idea behind the beginning of the first Paris Commune on July 14th, 1789, when the multitude marched on the Bastille Prison and “occupied” it; they more precisely stormed the state prison, killed the warden, freed the prisoners, and demolished it for good effect. Three years later, they occupied the whole city, and ultimately the entire country.
     The multitude’s bio-political power was also operative in the establishment of the government of the Soviets in Russia in 1917, where class privileges and power of the 1 percent trumped the rights and the well-being of 99 percent of the population; it was equally in full blown fashion during the March on Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King and hundreds of thousands others challenged the nation to end its Jim Crow, Apartheid system and respect the civil rights of all citizens or else. 
     The power of the multitude was furthermore in evidence when the Haitian people, after days of mass protest in January-February 1986, deposed  the 29-year old long dictatorship of the cruelly powerful Duvaliers, defying all expectations.
The OWS occupiers are heroes
I always ask myself, in the face of so much injustice and horrible conditions of living in the world, how is it we don’t have a revolution everyday. Interestingly, the deployment of the power of the multitude in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in the spring of 2011 followed the same script as that of the Philippines and Haiti in 1986, where both countries were transitioning to democracy after decades of autocratic rules whose end was brought about by mass oppositional protest.
     There’s no reason for this scenario not to repeat more often.  Louis Farrakhan assembled about one million men in Washington DC on October 16, 1995.  This was a powerful manifestation of political reach and influence.  Unfortunately, instead of asking the multitude to demand specific redresses and power-sharing, or to storm the White House as his enemies insinuated he might do (and some more radical supporters had hoped for), Farrakhan asked them, the assembled black men, to “atone” for their supposed sins.  But the powers that be didn’t underestimate the trouble-making potential of the Million-Man March.  That’s why they made certain that its reach and objective didn’t reach beyond the acceptable limits (lines of the Establishment’s attack dogs denounced the Million-Man-March as being anti-women, anti-Semitic and racially inspired, and Farrakhan failed to sufficiently counteract these false allegations of his critics with an inclusive, revolutionary discourse not racially tainted).
     In brief, the idea and reality of the multitude — or the commons — are well alive as attested by the so-called Arab Spring and the worldwide resonance of the Occupy Wall Street initiative.  All it would take for the OWS movement to turn to an Arab Spring-type upheaval is for the multitude to join it and make it clear that they intend to stay there as long as it takes, and die for it if necessary.
     The OWS occupiers are heroes and leaders who set examples for creative, revolutionary actions that are necessary to break the politico-existential apathy.  To be fair, not everyone can afford the sacrifice they consented to endure, many for legitimate familial and social obligations.  The rude fact, however, is that change can come only if the multitude joins the protest and demands qualitative socio-political change.
     The Occupy Wall Street movement doesn’t have to confine its ambition to narrow political goals within the two-party system.  Indeed, unlike this system, it has a great potential capability to help change the way we’ve been, meaning change the current status quo of inequality, oppression, exclusion, and alienation.
     Naturally, the road to political conscientization and revolutionary action is paved with obstacles and self-doubt, especially in the context of the atomization of the individual and the multiple ambient, everyday life’s difficulties that discourage action, and unrelenting State and media propaganda that disqualify  critical thinking.  Still, it’s been a great pleasure to see that the human spirit and political conscience are alive and well.

-Tontongi, Boston, January 2012

Tontongi is the Editor of the trilingual, politico-literary journal Tanbou.  He is the author of the most recent book Poetica Agwe and co-author of the newly released Anthology of Liberation Poetry.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

BILINGUAL POST: The Vodou Gods’ Joy* (fragments)

Between the age of three to six I lived right within the walls of a vodou perestil. The houngan of the perestil was my uncle, Kamelo, who took the helm from his mother, the powerful mambo of the oumfò, who was my mother’s paternal aunt. (…) This was a real enchanted world, with its mixture of magic, transcendance and mundane reality. It was also pure theater from the standpoint of the young child that I was. (…) My family left me on my own to comprehend the complexities of the vodou world, its rituals, its modalities, its finality and meaning.

The poem The Vodou Gods’ Joy/Rejwisans Lwa Vodou Yo, is part of my reminiscences from that period, part inventions, part reproduced dreams…Here are some fragments:

I. Reminiscences and Vision

Erzulie the coquette, charming soul,
shining beauty with a terrible spell
is the goddess of love, smiling power.
Dragon saint of all sexual prowess
defender of women’s mysterious glory
guardian and mother of the land
she covets tenderness, celestial fulfillment
in a life of tears and betrayed desires.
She is my mother and lover and wonder
the sun from the darkened horizon
the light through the tunnel of pain
she is Erzulie my sweet compañera
the transcendental link between horror
and Bad-life perturbed in non-sense;
—Erzulie the coquette, charming soul
has filtered the air with powerful magic.
Ogoun-Feray the cosmic warrior
thrives on conflicts that disturb his rest
—like a Nero with destructive follies
he sets afire the village to only play the fool
or just to convey the message of valor,
power of the loas to recoup and regroup
the last lost song from the lost spirits.
Meanwhile Gede-Nibo would join
with all his perverted and noble majesty
along with Legba, Agasou and Shango
to explode vibration—storm open
the inner mystery of the compact universe,
reveal the orgasmic Nirvàna of Agasou’s aims
or just dance and dance and sing and laugh
to celebrate the spirit of life in bare mortality.
Ti-Jean Dantò conquered Long Island
from my sister’s animated basement
in a suburb numbed in self-serving distress;
he manifested himself insolent as always
by defying the law of human gravity
—just like any drunkard loa happy in ectasy.
He made my sister drink rum through her ears
until she became a born-again Christian
who rebelled and demanded a sanctified exit
to rejoin the safe gods servitors of Jesus
—she wanted just a simple peace of mind.
On any rainy day on the Caribbean shore
or near River Sous-Pyant of repulsive smell
Simbi planted a flag and solicited people
to come along and live a life of adventure
free soul and free will of maroons in search
of authenticity in a world full of joy—
they would never be seen again on Earth.
In their supreme madness the gods of Yoruba
had called on Providence and gave her
a last chance for a redeemed kingdom.
the death celebrations while dreadful in style
were not always dark and somber and sad
even in the midst of half-alive beings
agonizing in dead-end purgatory—
all was not lost in mortal and total emptiness.
Uncle Kamelo’s death was a resurrection
accomplished in weeks of secret masses
to re-link his soul with his gwobonnanj.
Ason in left hand and lasso in right hand
the houngan exhorted the hounsi to action
all were invited to play the huge drum
placed on the top of my uncle’s bare chest
Tom!Tom! Uncle remained alive among us
long after the decrepitude of his death.
During the season of yam and the bright sun
Kouzen mounted his hounsi around the vèvè,
amidst casseroles of yam, dried fish and incense
—he brought nourishment to a village united
in the grace of living the splendor of the land.
After decades of being dead in absence
Zombi was resurrected in total forgetfulness,
the salt was diluted in reality’s nightmare.
My country is a vast land of hope and despair
immersed in the infinity of survival instincts;
I refuse to adore the gods of the West
who claim humanity for their own deliverance.
My country is the land of Cedye and Maryam,
land of the cries and pain and joy of a people
trapped in a pursuit with mystic remembrance.
Baka was the clown of the shrine
unpredictable sorcerer with a vengeance
and with a disarmingly cute baby smile
he made his victims pass a terrible time
in tragicomic plays of amazing fear
just to give to himself a good laugh.
On a full-moon night all over the firmament
within the no man’s land of social misery
Erzulie-Red-Eyes was dreaming in silence
her eyes fixated on the goal of freedom.
Our loas rejoiced and let go all the pain
from the last frontier of cursed hope
Ayiti had become their temple of refuge
as they vowed their wonga would heal all
the millenia of dead souls and lost beings
—vast horizon renewed of vital energy!
And Zaka re-emerged innocent and happy
from the maldyòk of the new plantations
Devil’s deeds assembled all over his Ginen
and the peasants came en masse to witness
the marriage of Petro and Rada and Samba
in a constellation of light and beauty all over
the cosmic Pantheon of the Yoruba gods
joining hands with their long exiled kin.
Those were the soul and nanm and joy
of a land of torment craving liberation.

II. Trance of the Sun

The trance ascension was created
in anvalou rhythm and a bash of deodorant,
voice, sweat and the howl of the loas
moved by the pulsing tom-tom of Asòtò.
Ayibobo! Ayibobo! Shan Ago! Shan Ago!
Hail to the Spirits! Peace to the land!
yelled back the hounsi with white robes
and white veils—gaze vested in infinitude.
Then in a brisk move with exalted élan
absolute incarnation of immateriality,
in a cadence and mixture of water from tears
water from blood and flood and hangover vomit
and rum aroma sprayed through the mouth,
her saliva sending fire all around the poto-mitan
Mistrès the Mambo in holy majesty
executed point by point the service.
Sister Altagras was already made the horse
when she spiraled around and jumped legs spaced
all along the vèvè with gesticulating fervor.
She grabbed the jar of the hot chili pikliz
and mixed it with the rum and cried: Ayibobo!
and massaged the potion on her vaginal arteries
and they became red—red skin and red cloth,
red pepper and red blood, Ayibobo! Ayibobo!
the loa had come in vital amazement.
The magic had materialized and become
an unexpected recurrence of poetry everyday;
people laughed and danced and rejoiced
the candor of the divine moment—
the loas had come and gone for good
toward the immensity of life’s finality
calling for their ancestors’ redemption.
Lenglensou! Oh he came with nothing
“Do not on my spirits call for redemption
if your soul is not impure of human sins;
do not blaspheme Sister Rada’s elation
by humanizing her loas in pretty pettiness.”
Within the impossibility of peoples’ dreams
and drama and trauma of all deceased souls,
I reunited a single moment of revelation
with a walk all through the mountain’s soil.
And I ran playfully along the sea-side curb
just for the pleasure and leisure of Dantò
—the Yoruba gods are full of joy.

Glossary of Vodou Words and Expressions

• Agasou: From the African prince, Agasu, supposed ancestor of all Dahomeans; loa or spirit with no definite attribute; has a reputa-tion for meanness.
• Agoe or Agwe: Loa or spirit (or “mystery”) of the sea, travel, ex-ile.
• Aidawèdo or Aida Wèdo: Loa considered as the wife of Dam-balah; expression used by the believers to show admiration for the grace of this loa; also an invocation to Dambalah to bring grace in the face of life’s calamities.
• Anvalo/Yanvalou: A Vodou rhythm.
• Ason: Ceremonial rattle made from dried calabash or gourd used in most of the rituals.
• Asòtò: The largest of the three drums in a Vodou ceremony; be-lieved to have special power.
• Ayibobo: Hail to the spirit; expression of welcome to the loa.
• Baka: a minor evil spirit of the pantheon; has a reputation for scaring people just to give himself a good time.
• Baron Samdi: Spirit keeper of the cemeteries. He is usually rep-resented by the first person buried in a cemetery; a strong associate of Gede.
• Bòkò: A sorcerer or a devilish houngan.
• Dambalah or Danmbala: Dahomean deity of the sky or the rainbow, usually represented by a snake. Considered as the husband of Aidawèdo.
• Dosou: The sibling who comes right after twin siblings; he/she is believed to have exceptional power that, at critical times, can neu-tralize the overwhelming power of the twins.
• Erzulie or Èzili Dantò: Rada goddess of love, charm, wisdom.
• Èzili-Je-Wouj or Erzulie-Red-Eyes: Petro goddess of defi-ance, love, female genius.
• Gede Nibo: Familiar name of Gede, the Vodou god of the de-ceased, but also of the libido, known for his foul language and sex-ual openness.
• Gwobonnanj: The corporal, material part of a person in opposi-tion to his/her immaterial part, the tibonnanj; the zombie is the person who has retained his/her corporal part but who has lost his/her spirit, his/her soul, his/her consciousness.
• Kouzen Zaka or Cousin: Deity or spirit of the peasantry and agricultural fertility. His power is usually invoked to counter a drought or, more often, to celebrate the generosity of Mother Na-ture. Kouzen has a reputation of exhilarating quiet power and wis-dom although of a crude nature.
• Laso or frètkach: Lash made of woven agave or woven leather used in the ritual of certain Vodou ceremonies.
• Lwa or loa: Spirit or “mystery” in the Vodou religion; he/she is considered as the messenger or the intermediate between God and humans. *
• Legba: God who holds the key to the sanctuary of all the other loa; by extension, to all travels, opportunities or existential quests for happiness.
• Lenglensou: Spirit from the Petro rite; has a reputation of being cruel, vengeful, diabolical.
• Loa or Lwa: Vodou god or goddess.
• Maldyòk: Curse of bad luck (evil eye).
• Manbo or Mambo: High Priestess Vodou, with power equal to that of the houngan.
• Marasa: Twin siblings; renowned for having exceptional spiritual power.
• Master Midnight or Mèt Minwi: Dreadful spirit who usually starts his nightly walk at midnight. You’ll be dead or irrevocably cursed if you cross his path. He is sometimes identified with Baron Samdi, although Master Midnight is of a more dreadful nature.
• Nanm or Ti-bonnanj: Creole for soul but with a more complex connotation which means together soul, consciousness, spirit, clair-voyance, awareness and cognitive faculty. Often referred as the “es-sence” of an individual; the zonbi is the one who has lost that es-sence.
• Ogatwa: A small Vodou shrine, usually in the form of a small cabinet the believer keeps at home.
• Ogoun Balagi: Other configuration of Ogoun; he’s sometimes referred as the brother of Ogoun Feray.
• Ogoun Feray: Dahomean god of iron and fire; he’s usually seen with a machete or a sword. He’s also a metaphor for the peasant’s revolutionary spirit.
• Ounfò: Peristil or temple of the Vodou.
• Oungan or Houngan: High priest of Vodou, with power com-parable to that of the manbo.
• Ounsi or Hounsi: Initiated, important practicing member of Vodou in whose body the loa manifests him/herself.
• Papa Doc: Nickname of Haitian dictator François Duvalier; re-lating to his medical profession before becoming president of Haiti (1957–1971).
• Pè Savann: a lay person, half Catholic priest, half hounsi who usually officiates the last rite to the dead at the cemetery during fu-nerals.
• Petro: Vodou rite from northern Congo, designated after a houn-gan named Don Pedro, from the south of Haiti; it is known as the “hot” side of Vodou, associated with fire and healing power capable of defeating adversarial forces.
• Poto-mitan: The center post in a peristil (Vodou temple); it has special significance as the rallying point of the loa.
• Rada: Vodou rite from the Dahomean village Arada, known as the “soft,” “cool” side of Vodou.
• Rivyè Sous Pyant: A Haitian river whose name means “smelling river;” it is famous for its healing power which attracts thousands of Vodouists every year. The nasty smell of the river reinforces its magic power; luck is expected to come after one bathes in the river.
• Samba: A Vodou rhythm, possibly related to the word for poet-musician from the inhabitants of Pre-Colombian Haiti.
• Sèvitè: Believer, adherent practicing the Vodou.
• Shango or Chango: Loa of thunder from the petro rite; re-puted for violence.
• Ti-Jean Dantò /Ti-Jean Petro: loa usually associated with good luck; has a reputation of fairness but also of firmness. Repre-sented (as most of the loa) in both rada and petro rites.
• Vèvè: Ritual graphics or drawings to express welcoming disposi-tion to the loa; there’re usually placed on the floor of the oumfò, preferably around the potomitan.
• Wanga or Ouanga: A fetish or magical mixture made specifi-cally by a bòkò to punish a targeted person or to attract good luck.
• Zombi, Zombie or Zonbi: Person presumably killed by a Vodou spell. The “dead” will be resurrected in a half dead-half alive state of semi-consciousness which makes him/her malleable by the “bòkò” (a Vodou sorcerer) who had induced the “death.” However, if the zonbi tastes salt, he/she will regain normal consciousness and, often, fight back.
* The majority of the loa’s names are masculine, but more often the loa doesn’t show any particular sexual identity. Many of the loa with feminine characteristics such as Èzili and Aidawèdo have a comparable power to loa with masculine characteristics such as Danmbala and Ogoun.
* This poem was first published as a bilingual (English–Haitian) collection in 1997. It was republished in 2011 in my book Poetica Agwe.

Rejwisans lwa vodou yo* (fragman)
Lè m te ant laj twa ak si zan, mwen te viv nan yon perestil vodou. Oungan perestil la te monnonk Kamelo, pitit madan Ogis, manbo mètrès oumfò a, ki li te matant bò papa manman mwen. (…) Lavi nan perestil la te kouwè dewoulman yon rèv nan yon dekò ki melanje maji, ekzaltasyon ak reyalite maldyòk. Fanmi mwen te kite m poukont mwen pou m chache konprann sans fondamantal tout sa ki t’ap pase nan perestil la (siyifikasyon, rezon ki deyè e finalite seremoni yo).
Powèm nan Rejwisans Lwa Vodou yo / The Vodou Gods’ Joy, se souvenans sou peryòd sa a nan vi mwen, souvenans ki melanje kèk kote envansyon atistik ak repwodiksyon rèv mwen…Men kèk fragman ladan yo :

I. Sonjri Vizyon
Cham koketri manmzèl Èzili
mawonnen tout mwèl bonnanj nou ;
bèl fanm deyès k’ap fè lanmou fleri,
li se tou Sent Mari ak Amazòn bèl sen
k’ap selebre mistè pouvwa fanm Ginen.
Li gade e pwoteje lakou a
li ban nou tandrès nan lavi kèmare
li fè n kado lesyèl nan lapenn.
Èzili se fanm mwen
Èzili se nanm mwen
Èzili se manman m
li louvwi e kouvwi solèy pou blayi frechè
sou tout kretyenvivan ki bezwen ladousè.
Èzili se limyè ki kontinye klere anba tè
li se bèl ti cheri an mwen
li melanje lagras ak maji zansèt yo
pou depoudre poud malediksyon,
O Èzili, fanm kokèt cham zespri libere !
wonga ou pirifye oksijèn souf lavi !
Ogoun-Feray se yon sòlda mawon
yo voye pou defann jistis inivèsèl ;
rasin li tranpe nan tout kontmaltaye
ki kreye tansyon sou latè kou lesyèl
pou l blayi dife kouwè Neron nan Ròm.
Ogoun mande pou lwa yo pran pouvwa
e pou yo pa chante chan bliye nanm pèdi.
Papa Gede-Nibo te mèt tout koze nan lakou
ki konn tout sa ki pral oubyen ki ka rive ;
li jwenn avèk Legba, Agasou e Shango
pou louvwi baryè pou mòtèl san lafwa.
Lespri li te terib si w pa ka kontante l
si w pa ba l mayi ak diri ak bweson
l ap fè tonè gwonde nan vant solèy klere ;
si w pa selebre grandyozite glwa li
si w pa satisfè chimè mistè Gede
le san ap vin koule sou latè malakwa.
Ti-Jean te rwa Long Iyland nan Nouyòk
anba besment lakay sè m manbo dirijan ;
Ti-Jean konn fè sè m bwè ronm nan zòrèy
jiskaske li vin di Abraham di sètase !
Manmzèl fè l pwotestan pou sèvi lòt Bondye ;
li pa t fasil pou li pou l te viv nan lakwa,
nan redevans anvè lespri lwa temerè.
Ou pat ka wè Simbi san ou pa disparèt
devan similak sen l louvri pou l tante w ;
bèl mouda l dirije w vè paradi nan dlo
pou fè w viv mèvèyman lanmou etènèl :
Yo pap janm tande pale de ou ankò
paske nanm ou vin delalay nan absans,
Simbi dezoryante w kou yon vivi nan dlo
detounen w kou oun bakoulou yo pran.
Menm seremoni pou akonpaye mò yo
malgre tristès vwal nwa alantou lakwa
malgre tètchaje nan lakou pigatwa
te selebrasyon pou salye cham lavi.
Yo te resisite monnonk Kamelo
anvan menm lanmò te reklame l
lamès nwa te dire sèt semèn
pou rekole gwobonnanj andetrès
avèk tibonnanj li ki te deja nan wout ;
ason nan men goch e laso nan men dwat
ougan an kòmande tout hounsi kanzo yo
pou plase asòto sou lestomak monnonk
pou tout moun vin bat yon rit petro-nibo
Tam ! Tam ! Tam ! monnonk te ret anvi
menm apre dèzane dekrepitid lanmò.
Nan sezon yanm sezon solèy leve
nan anbyans kasròl pwason seche
melanje ak odè lafimen ansans
vèvè alawonn zantray potomitan
Kouzen monte hounsi l kou yon bòzò
e di tout moun gen dwa pou yo manje
dwa pou yo dòmi e reve
dwa yo pou selebre bèlte grandè Ginen.
Jete dlo ! Jete dlo ! lespri yo konvoke
pou ranvwaye movezè ka mèt li—
yon ti van te soufle pou beni gwosès,
beni mèvèyman manmzèl lavi ;
gwosès pou delivrans solèy nan nofraj
pou viktwa sou kochma lapenn lamizè ;
verite kont malpouwont malmaske.
Zonbi te retounen je-klere
apre syèk pèdisyon nan lakou Ozanfè
sirèt li te souse nan govi Agasou
te pwazon chita tann kou pwa tann
ki te fè li kaba anvan menm l te jonnen.
Aidawèdo ! Aidawèdo ! Oye Dambalah !
zonbi te rele pou l reprann konsyans.
Peyi m se latè mouye ki jèmen lespwa
menm nan kalamite nan Zafra ;
nou refize adore sen ki pat sot nan govi
sen ki pa konn chay bourik nan ravin.
Peyi m se peyi Cedye ak Maryela-San-Fil
moun nan tristès k’ap viv nan lajwa
moun san jodi k’ap viv pou demen
elevasyon pou bay kreyasyon yon rezon.
Lè Baka ap fè w ri
se lè pou w sou gad ou
dan l griyen kou timoun inosan
l’ap vin fè mwèl sot nan nanm ou
cheve w drese san w tresayi ak perèz
pou l sèlman rele : Ah ! Ah ! Ah ! Ah !
Nan yon lalin briye nan syèl nwa
ki kouvri lanfè mizè malè
Èzili-Je-Wouj t’ap reve an silans
sou batay pou livre pou delivre lavi.
Vijilans entelijans se zye kalvè pèp
Je-Wouj te zye limyè nou
nourisman lafwa nou
zam aspirasyon nou
sajès destriksyon ouragan !
Lwa nou yo konbat lapenn
pou sove inosans nan chagren ;
Ayiti te refij yo
perestil enspirasyon yo ;
yo kwè nan lagras wonga byenfektè
ki kapab geri nanm pèdi nan nofraj ;
yo kwè nan lavi libere—enèji degaje
pou kreye yon lòt etènite.
Zaka te retounen inosan kè kontan
apre yo te lage l nan prizon plantasyon ;
mechan yo te pèdi konba a
peyizan te regwoupe an mas
pou selebre maryaj petro-rada-samba
nan konstelasyon bèlte toupatou ;
lwa yo reprann kontwòl tout linivè
yo jwenn pitit esklav sou latè degrade
pou fòme yon gepye lespri revòlte.
Sa a se listwa nanm lajwa pèp mwen
k’ap goumen pou libere latè.
II. Solèy ki pran lwa
Sekous ak sekous sou yon rit anvalou
tout bagay transfòme kou yon monte-osyèl
nan santè pafen, swe kò ak rèl aplodisman
plis asòtò k’ap bat Tam ! Tam ! Tam ! Tam !
Ayibobo ! Ayibobo ! Shan ago ! Shan ago !
hounsi yo reprann nan linison
vwal ak ròb blanch yo al voltije nan van
zye yo vire kou nwaj k’ap janbe lespas.
Sibitman tout moun vin sispandi anlè
san kò san pwa san gwo bonnanj, Ayibobo !
tanbou a limenm ak kontinye ap bat
nan yon imateryalite benyen nan dlo zye
dlo san ak vomi bwesonyè malmakak
plis gagari poufe kleren blanch
chwal lwa maspinen sou zòt san respè ;
saliv li kalonnen dife toutalantou vèvè
sou tout potomitan manm vanyan ;
lwa a entèvni avèk tout majeste l
ansanm ak manbo a ki transfòme an gid
pou mennen sèvis la jiskobou ;
lwa a pandansetan te deja moute
chwal sò Altagras k’ap lanse pa ki long
li ponpe—l li lanse l isit, li lanse l la
epi li chita janm li louvri bò vèvè a,
li vire anwon souplalsòl oumfò a
epi l leve e grape yon gwo boutèy piman
melanje l avè ronm e rele, Ayibobo !
li vide l nan pla men l yon mannyè deside
e li badijonnen nan tout tipati li. Ayibobo !
Ayibobo ! Ayibobo ! li rele nan oun ton fò ;
sa Bondye ba li a te vin wouj dife
wouj piman pike, wouj san, Ayibobo !
lwa a te vini avèk elevasyon.
E pwezi te blayi nan tout katye a
nan yon tyaka maji wouj ak mirak
moun yo t’ap ri danse rejwi kò fatig la
nan yon moman divinite k’ap jwi ak lavi
lwa yo te vini e ale pou tout bon
rejwenn mistè sa lespri yo ye e vle ;
yo fè yon ti dènye koze anvan yo te ale
ki mande pou zansèt reprann lòlòj yo.
Lenglensou te vini san anyen (…)
men l te mande defann pirite zespri yo
li di : « Pa mande zespri yo redamsyon
si ou pa pechè ki vle chanje chimen w
w’a plase pikan nan asansyon Sò Rada
si w imanize lwa l yo pou jebede touris »
li sèmante pou l travay pou lavi vin pi bèl.
Menm nan mitan enposibilite revri
nan yon mond ki pyeje avèk trajedi
zespri k’ap trepase nan dram e dezespwa
mwen mande pou yon timoman libere
yon pwomnad nan mwèl sen forè a
oubyen yon jwèt lago bò laplaj lanmè a
pou m sèlman fè plezi ak Dantò
—zespri yo konn viv rejwisans lavi.
Glosè (definisyon) mo ak ekspresyon vodou
• Agasou : Mo ki deziye prens afriken, Agasu, yo di ki se zansèt tout Dahomeyen ; lwa oubyen zespri ki pa gen ankenn karaktè patikilye ; lwa sa a gen repitasyon mechan.
• Agoe oubyen Agwe : Loa, mistè lanmè, vwayaj, ekzil.
• Aidawèdo : Loa ki konsidere tankou madanm Aidawèdo. Ekspresyon vodou pratikan itilize pou montre admirasyon gras lwa sa a, ansanm ak Danmbala pou li pote gras anfas kalamite lavi.
• Anvalou oubyen Yanvalou : Yon rit dans vodou.
• Ason : Yon tchatcha pou seremoni yo fè avèk kalbas sèch e ki itilize nan tout sèvis rityèl vodou.
• Asòtò : Tanbou ki pi gwo pami twa tanbou nan seremoni ; pratikan yo kwè li gen yon pouvwa espesyal.
• Ayibobo : Salitasyon pou zespri yo ; espresyon ki itilize pou bay lwa yo onè-respè (labyenveni).
• Baka : yon ti lwa ki pa two grade nan panteyon oubyen tanp donè vodou a ; lwa sa a gen repitasyon li renmen fè moun pè pou l ka pase moun lan nan tenten.
• Baron Samdi : Mistè ki se gadyen tout simityè. Li jeneralman kou premye moun ki antere nan yon simityè ; li se yon gwo asosye Gede.
• Bòkò : Yon sòsye oubyen yon oungan ki fè wout lemal.
• Dambalah oubyen Danmbala : Mistè dahomeyen pou syèl, lespas oubyen lakansyèl, li reprezante sou fòm koulèv. Konsidere tankou mari Aidawèdo. • Dosou : Timoun ki fèt apre yon marasa ; yo di li gen pouvwa espesyal ki kapab, nan moman kritik, netralize menm pouvwa espesyal marasa yo. • Erzulie oubyen Èzili Dantò : Mistè rada pou lanmou, koketri, sajès. • Èzili-Je-Wouj : Mistè petro pou temerite, lanmou, jeni fanm. • Gede Nibo: Tinon jwèt Gede ki se mistè lanmò, men ki ka tou reprezante libido (enèji seksyèl), ouvèti seksyèl ; li renmen di betiz.
• Gwobonnanj : Pati kò yon moun, ann opozisyon avèk pati espirityèl li, tibonnanj li ; yon zonbi se yon moun ki kenbe pati gwo kò li men ki pèdi lespri li, nanm li, konsyans li.
• Kouzen Zaka oubyen senpleman Kouzen : Mistè ki reprezante peyizan, agrikilti, semans. Pratikan yo rele pouvwa li pou l vin pote fètilite nan moman sechrès oubyen pou selebre jenewozite Manman Lanati. Kouzen gen repitasyon yon lwa ki gen yon pouvwa trankil chaje ak sajès, menmsi pafwa li yon ti jan ròk.
• Laso oubyen Frètkach : Kòd a manch yo fè avèk pit trese oubyen kui trese yo sèvi nan sèvis anpil seremoni vodou.
• Legba : Mistè ki gade kle tout oumfò/peristil tout lòt lwa yo ; pa ekstansyon ki gade kle tout vwayaj, opòtinite, rechèch, bonè ekzistansyèl.
• Lenglensou : Mistè rit petro, li gen yon repitasyon mechanste, renmen fè vanjans, mannyè dyabolik. • Loa oubyen Lwa : Espri oubyen « mistè » nan relijyon vodou ; yo konsidere l tankou mesaje oubyen entèmedyè ant Gran Papa/Bondye ak moun.*
• Maldyòk : move sò, malchans.
• Manbo oubyen Mambo : Grann pretès vodou, li gen menm pouvwa avèk yon oungan.
• Marasa : frè jimo oubyen sè jimèl ; yo gen repitasyon yo gen pakèt pouvwa espirityèl.
• Mèt Minwi : Zespri redoutad ki renmen mache nan lari chak minwi. W’ap vin mouri oubyen w’ap vin gen move sò tonbe sou ou si ou kwaze li nan chimen ou. Pafwa yo pran l pou Baron Samdi, byenke Mèt Minwi gen yon karaktè ki pi redoutad.
• Nanm oubyen Ti-bonnanj : Tibonnanj siyifi nanm men li gen lòt sans ki pi konplèks ki vle di pran konsyans, lespri, klèvwayans, vijilans, fakilte konesans. Souvan yo refere de li kouwè « esans » yon endividi. Yon zonbi se yon moun ki pèdi tibonnanj li.
• Ogatwa : Yon ti kote beni pou adore mistè a, li reprezante souvan sou fòm yon ti kabinè pratikan an kenbe lakay li.
• Ogoun Balagi : Yon lòt non pou Ogoun ; yo pafwa refere avè l tankou frè Ogoun Feray.
• Ogoun Feray : Mistè dahomeyen pou fè e dife ; ou toujou wè l avèk yon manchèt oubyen yon epe. Li se yon metafò (yon lòt fason pou reprezante) lespri revolisyonè peyizan an.
• Ounfò: Peristil oubyen tanp vodou.
• Oungan oubyen Houngan : Gwo monpè ou prèt vodou, li gen menm pouvwa avèk yon manbo.
• Ounsi oubyen Hounsi : Yon initye, sèvitè, yon manm enpòtan vodou trè souvan lwa a chwazi pou li monte sou li.
• Papa Dòk oubyen Papa Doc : Tinon jwèt diktatè François Duvalier, ki refere ak pwofesyon medikal li anvan l te vin prezidan Ayiti (1957–1971).
• Pè Savann : Yon pè san òdinasyon, mwatye katolik, mwatye hounsi, youn nan fonksyon prensipal li se chante libera moun ki mouri nan simityè diran entèman.
• Petro : Rit vodou ki soti nan zòn nò Okongo, non an soti de yon oungan ki te rele Don Pedro nan zòn sid Dayiti ; yo konsidere li tankou kote « cho » nan vodou, li asosye avèk dife, avèk pouvwa pou li kwape fòs advèsè l yo.
• Poto-mitan : Poto ki nan mitan yon peristil ; li gen yon siyifikasyon espesyal antanke kote tout lwa yo konvoke.
• Rada : Rit vodou ki soti nan yon vilaj dahomeyen ki rele Arada ; li konsidere tankou kote « mou », « cool » vodou.
• Rivyè Sous Pyant : Yon rivyè ann Ayiti ki trè santi (non li soti de fransè « source puante »); li trè koni akoz de pouvwa pou trete moun malad yo di l genyen ; chak ane plizyè milye pratikan vodou al fè pelerinaj la. Odè santi rivyè a ranfòse nan zye pratikan yo pwisans majik yo di l genyen ; yo di si ou benyen ladann l’ap pote chans pou ou.
• Samba : Yon rit vodou, se posib non li ka vini de jan Endyen anvan Kristòf Kolon yo te bay powèt ak mizisyen ann Ayiti.
• Sèvitè : Kwayan ki pratike vodou.
• Shango oubyen Chango : Lwa, mistè ki reprezante loraj nan rit petro vodou a ; li gen repitasyon vyolan.
• Ti-Jean Dantò oubyen Ti-Jean Petro : Yon lwa yo asosye avèk bòn chans ; li gen repitasyon yon lwa ki renmen jistis, men ki renmen montre fèmte. Li reprezante nan toulède rit vodou yo, rada e petro.
• Vèvè : Desen ou grafik ki siy labyenveni pou lwa yo, ou souvan wè vèvè yo layite atè oumfò a, bò potomitan an de preferans.
• Wanga oubyen Ouanga : Yon fetish oubyen talisman oubyen yon asanblay majik yon bòkò prepare espesyalman pou l pini you moun yo make oubyen pou atire bòn chans.
• Zombi oubyen Zonbi : Yon moun ki sipoze mouri pa wonga vodou. Bòkò ki te « tiye » moun lan resisite l e kenbe l nan yon eta demi-konsyan, mwatye mouri, mwatye anvi pou l ka fè l fè tout sa bòkò a vle. Men, si zonbi a t’a vin goute sèl, l’ap reprann konsyans li e, souvan, goumen ak bòkò a.
* Majorite non loa yo gen karaktè maskilen, men anpil fwa tou lwa yo pa montre yon idante seksyèl an patikilye. Anpil loa a karaktè feminen tankou Èzili ak Aidawèdo gen menm pwisans avèk lwa a karaktè maskilen kouwè Danmbala ak Ogoun.
* Powèm sa a te pibliye pou premye fwa kou yon rekèy bileng (ayisyen e anglè) an 1997.Li te repibliye an 2011 nanliv mwen an Poetica Agwe.

Monday, December 20, 2010

O.J. and Me: The Take of the Poet

First, a warning: The following poem was composed before the not-guilty verdict concluding the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson. Naturally that verdict ruined the poem, since its credibility and authenticity rested on the firm assumption that O.J. was guilty as charged, conformingly to the circumstances presented and alleged during the trial, and taken at face value. Therefore the O.J. here discussed is a fictional O.J., reinvented by my subjective hypothesis of what the truth is, independently of the legal judgment or of the real truth of the matter.

Second, while the subsequent verdict by the civil court ruling Simpson’s “responsibility” in the death of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman has somewhat reinstated the credibility of my guilt assumption in the poem, it also left me angry by the realization that justice—as search for the truth and correction of wrongdoings—was being perverted by people’s emotions and perceptions, and by the Machiavellianism of the arcane justice system. The death of Brown and Goldman was not really properly adjudicated per se at the end, neither, possibly, were the perpetrator or perpetrators irrefutably proven and punished.

In any case, as with the Von Bulow or the Rodney King cases—and regardless of its application in instances that pleased our ideological bias—a justice system which needs two trials (with two opposite outcomes and two sets of standards) to establish justice, must be a system of injustice. Whatever our empathy for the stricken families of the dead and our admiration for a father’s strong-mindedness in single-handedly seeking justice for the death of his son, amidst tremendous odds; and however captivating was the theatrics of the drama or demeaning was the process, the Simpson’s trials have demonstrated, if anything, that the US justice system remains a Janus, with two faces: One for the poor and one for the rich; one for Black and one for White; one for men and one for women; one for the politically connected and one for the excluded. A justice system unduly influenced by the multiple relations of power in the socio-economic sphere of human interaction, creating a general climate of mystification and untrustworthiness, thus disproving US society’s ideals of itself as a nurturing unit in the pursuit of life’s splendors. Despite our fundamental differences in wealth and material acquisition, O.J. and I have a lot in common. He is Black and male, so am I. He is an athlete, I am a poet: We both deal with elements, space, time, contingency, hazard, dreams, and speed. Speed?… Rather mistrust of the fast lane-life, for my part.

When I first heard the news of the murders, I cried for this one more romance turned hellish and nightmarish. I cried for Nicole, this beautiful woman—who was once an innocent and angelic girl—when she faced her assailant, with his look of perdition, destruction, full of mortuary passion. Her sudden life’s ending let me with a bitter feeling of a life stopped by un-necessary, un-needed and arbitrary situation. Had she woken up on another day, in different circumstances, his gaze could have been one of joy, beauty, inspiring trust, pleasure, a sense of showering in the sun and caressed by the wind, wind and hands of her man, handsome man, charnel creature who would tell her: “I love you.” I also cried for that young and innocent man, Ronald Goldman, who was apparently put, by the contingency of a mere chance encounter (or un-beknownst to us all, by other mysterious causality), between the cross-fire of passion and destruction.

I also cried, of course, for O.J., that man who suffers in silence, in the deepness of his soul and heart; a man who has lost everything that is really dear to him, including his own connection to himself. Despite my assumption of his guilt of the monstrous crime, I empathize with his terrible loss, for this man is the most miserable one among all the tragedy’s protagonists. Faced with his own conscience, probable exclusive receptacle of the ultimate truth, he becomes the undesirable hero of an unwanted drama that transcends his own apprehension of the unfolding events. He becomes an object, passive figurant in a worldwide absurd theater. A fallen hero.

Of course, a fallen hero doesn’t a fallen destiny make. As the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, one can always make something different—by mere will power, by a claim of freedom or a sense of drama,—of what is prescribed by the existential and social determinism of the existing social order. O.J. was sociologically destined, both by the structural construct of this order, and within the historical confine of the time, to be at best a hustler, possibly a resigned poor man, but certainly not a hero. His short-cutting foray into becoming a celebrated sport hero didn’t erase the fact that his success only illustrates the rules of the game: The chances are not every single Black man in the United States would become a sport hero, even though they’d want to. In any case, sport is a safe category that doesn’t need much soul searching. It’s a spectator’s pleasure activity for which the personal odyssey of the athlete is totally irrelevant, much less his political or historical context.

As was the case for most famous black athletes, notably Muhammad Ali and Nascimento Pele among them, the Establishment’s acclaim for the black athletic hero is always lived as a phenomenal, exceptional, even accidental occurrence, which together satisfies its phantasms of glory and its need of a contented self-conscience. Interestingly enough O.J. Simpson and Malcolm X come from, basically, the same historical, ethnic and social background, but while one was celebrated by the so-called mainstream Establishment, the other was perceived as its worst nemesis. While one has inoculated his soul with the fast lane splendor of the American dream, the other launched himself into the unknowns of political rebellion to force justice on the land and freedom for his people. Both are, however, survivors of the same dysfunctional, socio-economic reality from two different angles.

That one was killed as a martyr and the other vilified as a villain, says a good deal of the US spectacle culture. Make no mistake, however: their common blackness is just a small part, a referential epithet in the overall signification of the drama. The fact is that most down-trodden men and women of this society—be they black or white or yellow—share the fundamental alienation of these two men’s destinies by the constant tick-tack of validation between success and failure, representativity and exclusion, acknowledgement and oblivion, celebrity and invisibility, poverty and wealthiness, necessity and contingency, plenitude and imcomplétude, being and nothingness.

Neither the old-time chivalry of the noble classic era, nor the chic of the Post-modernist nihilistic dogma of today, has a remedy for the soul. Killing for my love is no different from killing for my property or killing for my glory and my image: the well-being of the soul is despondent of the nutrients with which it has been fed. Emptiness creates artificiality which in turn creates alienation and heartlessness.

Ironically, independently of his ultimate guilt or innocence, we make O.J. hold the key to our understanding of what occurred that fateful night: but he can also foul us by claiming either innocence or guilt. The sadness of the situation is that whatever the truth behind the dual verdict will prove to be, O.J. will always have to deal with his losses: the loss of a woman he loved, the loss of his children’s trust, the loss of his status of hero. Hero or villain O.J. will never again live in peace.

Naturally, in this matrix of virtuality and reality interceded in a symbiotic madness of wealth, power, sexuality, racism and plasticity, love ceases being a simple joy of being in the company (or the memory) of the beloved Other, be they a sister, a cousin, a friend, a lover, or a spouse; it ceases being the joy of experiencing a moment of transcendental elation with any beautiful human being who brings to your per-sonal existence a little human warmth.

In the end, stripped of its cosmic element, unrepresented in the high drama, love’s “got nothing to do with it,” as the Tina Turner song goes. It becomes an expression of a narcissistic game, a manipulated pawn in a relation of power—as if love the tender, the sweet honey, love the subliminal splendor, love the erotic trance, happiness translated in a feeling of actual well-being, had created a kind of alternated malicious sublimity, a transubstantiated eroticism made of human negations. That devi-ated love would kill on a certain day when it is faced with its reflection of existential boredom, its lacking of purpose, its emptiness, its imcomplétude of being. It will kill because it finds itself far away from the soul, penetrated by terrestrial impulses, taken by a huge force of total destruction. Alienated.

Alienated by a cosmic and social epistemology within the confines of political expediency, for which fundamental issues like life and death, suffering, happiness and human destiny are devalidated, relegated to fantasy category, dismissed as doctrinal orthodoxy coming from obscure preachers lacking the right credentials. While, of course, humans are being marketed as computer data, stupid consumers for whom no manipulation technique is absurd enough to demerit their monies—and their souls.

Today we are already being designated for mass human cloning. Perhaps we will need no mother’s mound, her uterus, her nourishing breast, nor the father’s sperm or parental wisdom, to make us grow and prosper. Can we break away from such a nightmare and build a new human perspective based on the assumption that we can recreate our lives conformingly to our liberational aspirations? That is the question.

Very fortunately, the human spirit always reaches a certain breaking point where it cannot take it anymore, and acts to change the mess—be it in a decade, a century or a millennium. Human cloning, human marketing and human devaluation may be the most trendy achievement that is offered to us today, but we also know that the concept of human redemption—cherished by the religions—is the same as the notion of liberation cherished by the revolutionary movements: a stage of humanization of life, which together encompasses and reformulates all adventures, misfortunes and aspirations of the human soul toward the realization of the dream of being.

We shall not return to the Stone Age because we invented High Technology; we must use High-Tech to help realize the dreams of the Stone Age. After all, why would we want to clone a multiplicity of the same when the sample is in such a state of dismay and decay? It’s sad that the Simpson story was such a compelling story of our time. This world of ours would be a much better world if we had devoted the same amount of attention and concern to the plight of the homeless as we had devoted to the problematic of O.J.’s guilt and innocence. The troubles of the factory worker who has no future in a system of structural exploitation; the confusion of the teen-age mother denounced as a sin-ner in a society of pseudo-parental virtue; the nightmare of the homosexual deprived of a nurturing space; the ghetto girl and boy excluded from the American Dream; the immigrant lost in a virtual and multilateral reality that devaluates his or her sense of being; the proud woman trapped in the male-dominated world of so-called penis envy and pussy reification, would be better off if the O.J. story were just a story. By default of a more nurturing and humanized cosmos tending to real human happiness, we made of the O.J. story our story, while, in fact, it is just the illustration of our nothingness. There must be another way.

Elegies to the Simpson Madness

He killed her one hundred times before
when he told her he loved her as a bird
lost in the wonderment and madness of being.
Adventurer in hell trapped by his own ego,
he descended into the pavement, his soul
had forgotten the path to the infinite space,
to the vast cosmos—celestial transcendence.

He killed because his heart was petrified
by the nostalgia coming from the time passed;
time of love under the pine trees, in open sky,
sensual and sweet moment of ultimate pleasure
when the unity of being and the grace of her flesh
were in enamoring trance with the sun.
—He killed when he was no longer just a dream.

He killed because killing has then become
the purest expression of the male’s power trip,
ero-sacrificial ritual for the fucked-up lovers
bent on destroying the pleasure principle
just to place their unhappiness in a museum.
He killed when beauty was an ideal no more,
when his heart changed suddenly to stone.

He killed when he became a prisoner
restricted in the confines of a miniature cell,
narrow road on a too fast a lane to nowhere,
to the infinite finitude of a morbidity
escaping the artificiality of the naked matter.
His endurance had conquered the magic
only to let it sleep under a zombie spell.

He killed when his love told him in disgust
that all will from now on be a disaster,
dreams changed to nightmare; hailed freedom
for a regained dignity of an oppressed soul,
would end at the tunnel of the Impossible.
O! Valorous courage to attain transcendence
within the nothingness of a dead-end corner!

While the elixir of the Simpson’s drama
was instilled in our veins of spectator guinea-pigs,
soon as the spotlight was on, fixated on the scripts
of myopia and self-hate hailed as entertainment,
you and I were reduced to primal contingence,
ideal consumers for marketing scheme
—happy recipients of soap-opera epics.

While we were dazed off by the Simpson’s pills
zealous legislators were deciding in silence
of our fate and virtues for the next millennium;
innocent men were found guilty as charged
because of their profiles of terrorist bandits;
groups of tenants ended up on the streets
due to downsizing of Wall Street’s junk bonds.
Mortuaries of broken bones, dry tears,
children killed in absence, their dreams depleted,
betrayed within the bureaucratic grandiosity.

Teen-aged mothers were made the enemies
to scapegoat scandalous bilking of the civic trust
by those who take our world as their own domain.
This was a time when suffering was made a crime.
In this diabolical mess smiles changed to swears
while love was reduced to mundane etiquette,
the ideal family was thrown trough the window
for mass consumption and anthropophagy
of a public conditioned to applauding bad-taste
—Magnificence of mediatic happiness,
defiance, defeat and death of a sad romance.

This had begun a long time ego, since the time
when the proud profiteers were made the saviors
of the exotic land—aiming for spatial conquest
and redemptive prayer for life’s degradation
in usurped lands and souls, death in the desert,
amid laments of despair of whole communities
whose souls were eaten by hunger and pain.
It began when we killed the dream and installed
in its stead a computer center to quantify progress
and dis-qualify whatever emotional in-put
or humanly feeling which distracts production.

After they had killed the ideal and the dream,
the law of the jungle became the mainstream,
global madness, false ecstasy in a hellish Nirvana.
Hatred for the self and the Other’s self, eternal
purgatory in Bad-life—and killing will follow,
for we are being told that is the only way, the way
of a soul so distraught that it needs to destroy.
The cops might have been happy, adrenalin risen,
to have hero-figure O.J. feed their prejudices
and keep peace on the land without a fanfare.

O.J. has reincarnated what he was made to be
from the start in a hatred-dominated world,
world of losers who kill wives and girlfriends,
deviants who make love under a freezing sea
beyond the frontiers of Apartheidized lives
and who kiss and yell and dream and cry,
living in constant displacement and defiance.
World of teen-age mothers giving birth
in vast cemeteries paved with grey boredom;
metamorphosis of a boy in an asshole killer
or a pimp who uses charm to collect his dues
and terror if love failed to impose blindness;
surreal manipulator with majestic prestige,
athletic hero edge from Hollywood canon
—phantasms of a universe with no dream.
Celebrate all the protagonists’ histories,
but leave in peace the dead and the living
who share the emptiness of common fate.

The O.J.’s tale is not our history—it is
the lost memory of our depravation;
the mountain’s cloud hiding the beauty.
Who will sing the song of the awakened dead?
Who will throw the first stone at O.J.?

(Boston, 1995–1997)

These essay and poem are extracted from my book, Poetica Agwe : Essays, Poems and Testimonials on Resistance, Peace, and the Ideal of Being, released in December 2010. You can purchase it at amazon.com.

Cet essai et ce poème sont extraits de mon livre, Poetica Agwe : Essais, poèmes et témoignages sur la résistance, la paix et l'idéal d'être, paru en décembre 2010. Vous pouvez vous le procurer amazon.com.