Rain, The Inward Journey of Politics

November 14, 2004 Sunday morning in Honolulu

It's five a.m., still dark and very raining. Yes, very raining. I am to be at Hui Nalu Canoe Club in an hour for a paddle out into the bay. Do I feel like it? No. Will I go? Probably. It might be raining at the beach; it might not be. It's like writing, which is as much about the process, the practice of writing as it is about the poem, story or song.

Following is a very edited blog I'm posting now. I waited a few days to come back to it:

November 12, 2004

Once again I woke up between four a.m. and five. I don’t fight it anymore. I get up and write. Most of it is junk struggle on paper. Important is the stuff of dreams. Dreams are atmospheric poems, of mythic, mystic and physical layers to be deciphered and read. Some of them are, anyway. Others, I’m convinced, are ways for the body and spirit to throw off poisons. Try eating a pizza and drinking a few beers just before sleep and see what you dream.

Lei, my wonderful lomi lomi massage friend in Waimanalo confirmed that many of her female friends and clients are depressed, when I daringly stated (for me, I don’t like to admit things like this) that I might be a little depressed. Many of us are depressed since the election. The voters have just given a Christian fundamentalist and corporate regime permission to destroy the world. Women tend to carry these currents in their bodies, or maybe we just admit to them. We are all made of water. I feel stymied, like my spirit is wearing lead boots, walking up a mud mountain that’s been stripped bare of all animal and plant life and I’m alone. What especially bothers me is the thought that at least half this country would vote to support an administration that lies, kills and steals. There. I’ve said it. Yes, there probably was vote tampering and other forms of dishonesty at work. But each of us has relatives who support the current government, though they have suffered from the terrible economy, don’t have a job, or support for educational programs, are having a hard time buying clothes and shoes for the family, and are afraid that their lifelong American dreams will be lost by the liberals who will let the terrorists get us. Maybe it’s really fear that’s ruling the country. And the struggle is not to give into it, whether it’s our beloved duped ones who are afraid, or we who are afraid because we dare to look past the television and our bellies to what we see happening all around us.

The rest of the world is aware. In Durban, the first night of the Poetry Africa events, each of the poets was asked to read or speak for 3 to 4 minutes. I was introduced as only: “a poet from the U.S.”, after some succinct comments about the U.S. government by a verbally gifted young praise poet... I learned what it felt like for the first time in my career, to stand up in front of an audience who didn’t want to hear from me because I represented a bully country. I have had audience members who were forced to attend by teachers, spouses or friends, and I can usually turn them around...but this was rough. And I didn't turn it around in 4 minutes. One young South African woman said to me later during a panel of women writers: “Your words didn’t move me, but when you played your horn, I blacked out.” And that's why I took up saxophone, to go where the words couldn't go. But don't all poets strive to go beyond the words?

(A few horn wailings here.)

Hence the huge gap in my blog during and after South Africa. I went with a great love and respect for that country, for what that country has meant for many of us who has watched and listened and spoken of the struggle. I’ve studied for answers in our tribal dealings with the colonizers. Have met with and admired many South African poets, writers and humanists, like Sandile Dikeni, Lesego Rampolokeng, Mzwake Mbuli, Nadine Gordimer, and of course, one of the world’s most developed human beings: Nelson Mandela. (Another side note: Zoleni Mkiva, the young praise poet who rose to prominence in 1990 when he was called upon to praise the recently released Mandela and has since traveled extensively with him, told me that the role of a praise poet is to call attention to anything that needs to be addressed politically-personally; they’re linked. Even if the leader is your employer. He said that Mandela was consistently impeccable in his behavior, always. And that he’s had to say a few things publicly about the recent president, but the president has taken it good-naturedly.)

Now, the sun is up. I’ll put on some lighter hiking shoes, some good music, some faith and head up the mountain again.

Back to Sunday morning. Please note that Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet of resistance has a new book of poetry translated and published in the U.S.. He lived in exile for years because his family was forced to flee to Lebanon in 1948 after the Israeli Army occupied and destroyed his family's village. They sneaked back the next year. When he was eight he read a poem which called the attention of the Israeli military governor. After that he was often imprisoned, for either reading poetry or traveling within the country without official papers. He roamed for years outside of his country, and returned in 1996 to live in Palestine, but couldn't live in his village of origin. He now lives in Ramallah. His new book, UNFORTUNATELY, IT WAS PARADISE, Selected Poems, translated and edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche, with Sinan Antoon and Amira El-Zein is now out from the University of California Press, Berkeley 2003. I say "now out" because this is the first review I've read on the book, in Poetry Flash, the Summer/Fall 2004 issue....It's been out at least a year. The reviewer, Tiffany M. Higgins reports: "...while in these mid-to-late career poems, he transitions to a poetry which, while still fiercely resistant, has become less attached to drawing attention to specific political objectives than to the inward journey, which, while situated among crowds, must, in the end, be individual. Then she quotes from a poem:

It's possible we might find an answer
to the questions of who we are when we are alone."

"My prison cell grows by a hair to make room for the song of a dove."

I will have to check out the translation. Four translators points to possible problems. Check out his body of work, nonetheless. He's important. Especially in these times.

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