Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Challenges of Ndi Igbo

Igbo Nation 
 History, Challenges of Rebirth and Development (Volume One )
By S Okechukwu Mezu and T Uzodinma Nwala

Igbo Nation: History, Challenges of Rebirth and Development is a chronicle of the Igbo past, the challenges Ndi Igbo have faced across the centuries, how Igbos have survived discrimination, pogrom, genocide and how now they stand on the threshold of a new renaissance that will make their numbers and business, intellectual and scientific acumen manifest the world over. They probably constitute the single largest ethnic group in the world and geographically, Ndi Igbo regard Igboland as the center of the earth. Present state of Igbo studies and research tend to lend credence to the postulation that Ndi Igbo were part of the original inhabitants of the earth before their migration to other parts of the world as we know it today.


Response by Adeyinka Makinde

I would like to browse/read through this at some point in the future. My fear is that much of the content of this work will contain assertions and thesis of debatable historicity.

What one looks for as we struggle to discover and re-define the black African soul is a substantive level of introspection in the tradition of hermetic thinking. How deep does this work attempt to penetrate the psyche of the Igbo-African? Or is it just another exercise in expressions of a crudely contrived nationalism. A lot of cultures consider themselves to be at the centre of the universe. 

The Yoruba of western Nigeria have the Oduduwa myth of the man descended from heaven to an earthly watery waste on a chain while holding a cockerel, earth and a palm nut. The Japanese on the other had have the godess Amaterasu-omikami and the creation of Yamato culture.

I have never before heard of this thesis of Igboland being at the centre of the world.The purported similarities between Igbo and Japanese words needs to be handled with extreme caution. There are other Nigerian/African languages which have words which are same or similar to Japanese. In fact, there has been enough research to ascribe to Far East Asian languages a near African languages theory.

There will be those who will smirk at certain Igbos attempting to position themselves with Japanese and wonder whether this effort has supplanted the previous efforts to ascribe Igbos with Hebrew-Judaic origins.

Why is less effort being put into discovering the links with fellow black Africans particularly with those in West Africa who form the ‘Kwa’ language group? Igbo is like Ashanti, Yoruba, Bini etc a member of this language group. The Igbos are a black African people and attempts geared towards ‘proving’ links with Jews and Japanese people may be suggestive of having an inferiority complex.

Recent Igbo history has been mired by persecution, pogrom, marginalisation: all palpable evidence of rejection by their neighbours. But such rejection also applies to the wider world particularly to the United States and Western European nations who for the most part did not support their bid for secession in the 1960s.

All this talk of a renaissance is misguided. We can admire the remnants of discovered artefacts from the civilisation of Igbo-Ukwu. But the existence of a presumed empire of Biafra is thoroughly discredited. The Igbos were a disparate group of village-dwelling farmers, artisans, hunters etc who arguably did not develop into a feudal system of social organisation.

Igbo communities, particularly the Aro were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Where does this fit into the scheme of effecting a renaissance? I have heard of Igbos constituting much of the slave populations in the Americas with much pride being expended on Igbo descendants been part of ‘Igbo landing’ in the Carolinas and slave revolts.

They acknowledge that Igbo were the most plentiful of African groups in Haiti scene of the first independent, black-run country in the Western Hemisphere. But Haiti remains the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere.

A different course needs to be taken among African intellectuals in terms of how history is constructed. The aura of superficiality pervades a lot of works and I fear this is the case here - no matter how detailed it is.

If this work fails to carry out a detailed deconstruction of the psyche of the Igbo-African mind and critically explores the underlying impulses behind his creativity, enterprise and self-destructive tendencies then it is an utterly worthless endeavour.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mockingbirds at Jerusalem Available at Amazon

Mockingbirds at Jerusalem: A Poetic Memoir (2014)
By Rudolph Lewis


"My Father Still Comes to Me" is the first poem in 
the newly published Mockingbirds at Jerusalem: A Poetic Memoir (2014)

My Father Still Comes to Me

When he died, I was not in the room, that bed where I slept 
as a boy cold nights by a wood heater. Tinka built that room,
that house from ground, three cinderblocks high, eight rooms
for his family. That country was of mules, outhouse, well dug
with pick & shovel. Mama pulled buckets mud & clay heavy,
for water to drink, wash away fields & harvest. As he passed
to dreamland he took all that world. This house he left behind.
A sun goes down. I’ve come back to Tinka’s home to conjure
that world, a backbreaker crosscut saw & ax splitting fire logs

& walking to school dirty miles &yellow bus faces screaming.
We waited by a highway, far too few words spoken. Trailways
Bus took me away to the city. I was sixteen. I began to be man
beyond the bounds of fields, barnyards, pigs & chickens. Books
& picket signs, college & blackness borne brave new worlds.

In flight I circle above. I’m not too unlike the father who raised me
silent & gloomy as he was in my years he wanted me to be him.
Mama his wife Ella & Ann his daughter nursed him through his
long illness after doctors cut his enlarged testicles—a disease no

one could pronounce. I visited home. He was in bed hiccupping,
prostrate, weak but for his earthmoving prayer to unseen powers.
Did he hear Him, that Negro God of so long ago who I learned to
fear in his voice, a heart he yearned silent? In dreams he comes to
me I forget he went away before I could know him. We strangers
learning in that house he kept building from the ground. Dreams
mirror that rough space. I was never homeless. Walls spin round.
He pulled me into his arms. We dancing whirling like dervishes.
Afraid of falling, I woke from my childhood when he went away.

from Mockingbirds at Jerusalem: A Poetic Memoir (2014)
*   *   *   *   *

"Ode to Walls" is the last poem in the newly published
Mockingbirds at Jerusalem: A Poetic Memoir (2014)

Ode to Walls

1. You rose from the stony earth with bloodstained groans
to bestow birth and growth to civilization.
You were created first to support roofs
and ceilings against the sun and storm—
mud huts and the wooden longhouse
to divide space for privacy
a barrier to moving earth, stone and water.
You’ve outgrown your modest grace for mural beauty 
& amp; art. You’re upright now for prisons and trophies.
O, Ancient One, monstrous stone Serpent 
that will not fall. You snake your way speaking
volumes from the Great Wall of China to Israel’s 
West Bank barrier to northern Mexican boundaries 
to secure residences here in America. Your strength
mortared dead men’s bones to ideology.

2. You metamorphosed Deceiver, descendent of Satan,
tossed from Heaven, so long ago. You Separator of
togetherness! we breathe your essence deeply daily
as the skull’s wolf bane, in the heart's pump. Our soul’s
categories embrace nothingness not flowing, not permeable
to warmth and care, no connecting doors to enter rooms
of ethical ruminations. As mechanical as industrial
centuries we return to a hotel hallway change our masks,
our business suits before entering another orange toga 
fantasy of ourselves. Our precarious lives demand
we call such deceit—poise, freedom from terror.

from Mockingbirds at Jerusalem: A Poetic Memoir 

*   *   *   *   *

By Rudolph Lewis

This is an achievement, a long black surreal song about 1) return and exile, 2) family history and confrontation with legacies basically devoid of romanticizing, 3) nature uncooked, 4) dreamwork much akin to what Australian Aborigines brought out of some African time warp to the island continent, 5) an echo of Bob Kaufman’s imagination that pays tribute to his undersung goodness, and 6) a poet’s psychology.  

The subtitle for the collection is crucial, because it reminds us that while the individual poems can stand alone, they present a richer and deeper texture in combination with one another.  Just as my friend Sterling D. Plumpp found his voice in probing and reprobing of a blues ethos, you have discovered your own in Nature, time, and human nature that identify your origins.—Dr. Jerry Ward

Your imagery is rich and your emotion feels authentic.  Your poems read like a canvas—painterly. For some (southerners like me), the book should and probably will create a strong sense of nostalgia.   For younger persons, it may help to educate. I pray that God will find you the right publisher because your manuscript deserves to circulate in hard copy (as well as in digital format.)   It should be on a new books library shelf in places you have never heard of so others may know and learn.—Jeannette Drake

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Resurrecting We after the Flood

Resurrecting We after the Flood
A poetry review by Rudolph Lewis

“Second Line Home: New Orleans Poems”
By Mona Lisa Saloy
Truman State University Press, 2014

June 2005, almost a decade ago, was the time I last visited New Orleans. It was still almost the Big Easy I knew in the mid-1980s. Several months later the nation observed via television the flooding of the Crescent City—85 percent after levees collapsed. The Lower 9th Ward was devastated and much of the 7th Ward. That is, entire communities and family homes were destroyed and were never to be reoccupied. New Orleans lost 140,845 residents, most of which were black and poor. Maybe the best of New Orleans retreated to cities in Texas, and other sanctuaries east, north, and west—made refugees by government officials.

That is, the abandoned poor were not given a choice—they went where they were sent. Other cities provided these impoverished rejects opportunities New Orleans wouldn’t. Only a quarter of the city’s 4,200 public housing units demolished . . . have been rebuilt” The black population fell from 67.3 percent to 60.2 percent.  Over a 1,000 were killed by the flooding (David Mildenberg, “Census Finds Hurricane Katrina Left New Orleans Richer, Whiter, Emptier”). “City blocks . . . smile / Toothless, missing homes now demolished, / Families lost to Gonzales, Vacherie, Houston / Black-lanta and all points out of here” (Mona Lisa Saloy, “Sundays in New Orleans”).

Construction and real estate agencies encouraged Latin “fresh blood” from Mexico and Central America to come work for them, while natives of New Orleans were not allowed to return by a collusion of city, state, and federal agencies—done legally by condemning homes, dynamiting federal housing projects undamaged and inhabitable, and specious housing codes which prevented poor residents and homeowners from returning and rebuilding their family homes. “Obstacles to public funding of affordable housing came from within New Orleans and in neighboring parishes. Many in New Orleans do not want the poor who lived in public housing to return” (Bill Quigley, “Eighteen Months After Katrina”). In the 1980s (and before) the cost of housing in New Orleans was rather inexpensive compared to other big cities. The poor lived rather comfortably in the arms of cultural and familial traditions and look forward to an even brighter future. Many homes, especially in the 7th and 9th wards had been passed down from generation to generation.

For tens of thousands that future in New Orleans was drowned. Housing costs soared. According to Jose Torres Tama “Hard Living in the Big Easy” (June 2006), “In the Marigny neighborhood where I live, downriver and east of the Viuex Carre, a double shotgun Creole cottage that was worth $120 grand in 2001 was selling at the hefty speculated value of $240 to $280 thousand dollars.” All of what was the Big Easy was lost by leaders careless and corrupt in September 2005.  Later, eighteen months after that tragic drama—the flooding of New Orleans—Jerry W. Ward, Jr. published a literary view of the cosmic depth and breadth of the grief and loss and the evil that brought on the flooding in his  The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery (2007). One of Ward’s journal pieces was written as early as 6 December 2005, titled “Reckoning with Displacement”:

“The disadvantages of forced exile, you can freely lie to yourself, are sweeter and yield higher dividends. Matthew Arnold thought sweetness and light were primal ingredients of the civilized mind. He was dead wrong. The truly civilized mind is a product of recurring darkness. It can not flourish where the dirt is not as saturated with bitter toxins like the soil of post-Katrina New Orleans. Examine the fabulous textures of writers exiled from the Crescent City for evidence. Or explore the weavings of writers who have returned to the Big Easy to create in the moldy stench, in an "exile" from the normal.”

In contrast to Ward’s journal of poems, essays, letters and other materials, Mona Lisa Saloy’s refreshing, Second Line Home (2014) is a poetic memoir of her post-Katrina experiences—from her evacuation with friends and neighborhoods to her return, through efforts to rebuild and reoccupy her 7th Ward home handed down to her by her Black Creole father. Saloy emphasizes the resilience of Black Creole culture, which she views at the core of New Orleans cultural life. With its central faith, New Orleans, with a little help from her friends, can be as the fabled phoenix bird and live again as it once did before its demise. That is, a fount of cultural creativity.

As a teller of tales in the tradition of New Orleans’ excellent oral storytellers, Professor Saloy uses printed verse to mime the voices and intricacies of life lived fully in the Big Easy before the post-Katrina flooding. Personally blessed with talents and intellectual skills, she too was forced out the city. Nevertheless, Dr. Saloy managed to return to her home city and reestablish her position of professorship at Dillard University. She returned in 2007 after almost two years in Seattle. Still teaching and speaking for New Orleans unique culture, she’s still trying to rebuild her home in 7th Ward New Orleans, nine years later. To do so, the new housing codes required her to demolish her flood-damaged family home: as she reports, “$100,000 cost to elevate it and termite eaten wood / Nixed keeping our family place” (“From Lament to Hope”).  Professor Saloy is exceptional. Only a select few have had her resources, talents, and persistence necessary to jump through all the political and legal hoops needed to acquire government assistance and loans. Of course, we cannot underestimate her profound love for the community in which she was born and raised, as well as thankfulness for her familial inheritance and her conscious desire to sustain and extol the virtues of that neighborhood life passed down over the generations.

A story of despair, grief, love, and hope, Second Line Home contains 54 poems, divided into six sections and slightly over a hundred pages in length, including “Notes” and a “Glossary.” Dr. Saloy, a very skilled poet, as well as a local folklorist, captures Black Creole speech, music, and other cultural aspects of New Orleans neighborhood life. For instance, the title references the cultural tradition of a marching band playing after the loved one is buried: neighborhood folks—family and friends—follow the employed band chanting and dancing. This procession is called the “second line.” The book title used as a metaphor, this book of poems thus is a kind of celebration. But, as we all know, a celebration is not without thoughts and memories of the past, sometimes a very tragic past and present. The book opens with the section “See You in the Gumbo” (a folk statement of cultural unity) containing three poems that sketch out and describe what New Orleans is and the westward traffic-jammed evacuation.

The first poem of the same title characterizes the uniqueness of what is New Orleans—a place of food, music, dance, celebration, religion (“venerating saints like Anne, Joseph & saving sinners”). All of which caused, before the tragic flooding, a derision of fears of a windy and watery death. The first poem provides background (a prologue) of how the poor folk of New Orleans dealt with hurricanes before Katrina:

Storm warnings rise like cream in café au lait
Folks don’t make no never mind about
Hurricane season starts, we
Joke about Hurricane Betsy whose waters flowed
Down streets like a parade with
Floating bodies of dogs, cats, people, shrimp, swollen stinky, we
Party, shake off the coat of fear with a DJ spinning Joe Jones’
                           “You talk too much, you worry me to death . . .”
           Dance like nobody’s there; dance like nobody’s there,
Gas up the car, pack emergency lights, shout
See you in the gumbo! See you in the gumbo!

The next poem “Sankofa NOLA” provides a sketch of the historical background of the multiethnic character of New Orleans, not only its European ethnic groups (English, Irish, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) but also from Cuba, Haiti, and Central America, “to carve lives into New Orleans, Caribbean North, into neighborhoods / like Gentilly / Sugar Hill, Treme, Pallet Land . . .” as well as “Natives Choctaw, Houma, Natchez, and Alabama.” The poem ends with a statement of the unique healing aspects of New Orleans Creole culture. There was

Love always, committed to caring
One family, one block, one church, many Cubans, Haitians, Puerto Rican Creole
Cultures together celebrating each one’s crafts
Teaching each one’s generations grounded in this
Crescent City landscape of camellia, bougainvillea, hydrangea, iris in
‘Sippi & Pontchartrain clay, with swamp, ‘squitoes & sunshine.

Certainly, the clay, the swamp, mosquitoes, and sunshine remain. It’s not so certain that the post-2005 recomposition of New Orleans has the same creative qualities as it was before Katrina. In a manner, the rest of the book—filled with hope and belief in miracles, and political recognition of the significance of New Orleans—asserts that that Big Easy  can be reborn. But that hope might indeed be baseless in that politicians and investors (without grace) have ignored the negative impact of excluding its poor natives and discouraging old neighborhoods from resettlement. According to the 2010 census, the poverty rates have returned to the pre-2005 levels (28 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012). Political decisions that caused the emptying of New Orleans of its poor has not effected the long-term economic opportunities necessary to sustain hope and prevent high crime rates such as those that are generated by violent drug trafficking, and other criminal pursuits taken by the poor for mere survival. Empting the Big Easy of its poor thus only had a temporary impact, that is, a poverty rate that dropped to 21 percent in 2007.

The third poem “Evacuation Blues: This is how we did it” dramatizes the poet’s exodus or path of escape from pre-Katrina New Orleans, and stops along the way.

We were bumper to bumper for hours, the
Sun high over our heads, we waving at cousins in caravan, other
Church folks in contraflow lanes, all traffic fanned akimbo from the
Crescent City praying for safe passage, affirming that
“Nothing can happen that God can’t handle.” Then we sing along with
94.5 FM, the Praise Station blasts Fred Hammond:
              “We shall mount up on wings
               Like an eagle and soar . . .
               They that wait on the Lord, wait on the Lord . . .”
Rows of traffic, cars, trucks, in lanes like ants to anywhere safe,
Stopping in lines unable to move 45 minutes at a time, then
Longer, Jasmine happy looking out of the picture window, then
Nightfall outside of Baton Rouge eight hours later, Miz Ruth & I
       Dancing in our seat, I
Call Cindy La . . .

Later in the 2nd section, “Requiem for the Crescent City” the poet speaks more in detail about the multiethnic cooperative character of and relationships in New Orleans in the poem “2 Friends”: Cindy Lou Levee, a middle class Jew from Uptown New Orleans contrasts to Saloy born to a Seventh Ward, downtown working class Catholic Creole father. Despite the differences, they’re for each other in crisis. This example (this kind) of friendship is one way Professor Saloy believes New Orleans can be better than it has been under the government response to the urban crises. The poem “August Landing & Katrina Hits” again sets the tone of persons working together for the common good, as she and her neighbor take refuge at the house of Cindy & her husband Terry in Baton Rouge. The poet as well renders a very vivid feel of the impact of the hurricane they endured through the night:

Winds wail through wee hours, bigger branches beat windows,
     Rooftops, and bomb doors like a war zone rattling shrapnel, then
     lights fail; the television blackens. . . .

No one sleeps. Storm surges sound sprays, breaks windows nearby,
Windows pained by pressure.
We pray in Creole, English, and Hebrew. Papa nou. Our father
Too scared to talk anymore, silence sends sleep.

Probably the most powerful of these requiem poems is titled “On not being able to write a post-Katrina poem about New Orleans.” Though shorter than and less militant than the notorious “Somebody Blew Up America” by Amiri Baraka, Professor Saloy knows the cause of the flood disaster: the incompetence and corruption of government officials. One possibly may also even speak with conviction of a conspiracy to “bring in new blood” and expel the old, a curative bleeding like pre-20th century medicine. She writes:

It wasn’t Katrina you see
It was the levees
One levee crumbled under Pontchartrain water surges
One levee broke by barge, the one not supposed to park near Ninth
         Ward streets
One levee overflowed under Pontchartrain water pressure
We paid for a 17-foot levee but
We got 10-foot levees, so
Who got all that money—the hundred of thousands
Earmarked for the people’s protection . . .

With the tragic sufferings and horrors of the black poor vivid for all to see, the public masquerade of innocence and government lack of responsibility are challenged. Outraged Saloy compares post-Katrina events to the brutality and cruelty that occurred during the eras of the Atlantic slave trade, slavery, and Jim Crow brought with callous self-interest into the Republic by slaveholding White Fathers, like Tom Jefferson, who had no respect for the human worth of black life:

Our poor who without cars cling to interstate ramps like buoys
Our young mothers starving stealing diapers and bottles of baby food
Our families spread as ashes to the wind after cremation
Our brothers our sisters our aunts our uncles our mothers our fathers lost
Stranded like slaves in the Middle Passages
Pressed like sardines, in the Superdome, like in slave ships.

Though there’s no mystery about those responsible for the flooding of New Orleans 2005, the poet ends the poem with a barrage of probing questions how the post-Katrina tragedy could be allowed to happen. After reviewing the bitter images of neglect for the least of us, the Invisible made visible by a media hungry for sensationalized black life they are questions whose answers are filled with mockery, scorn, and sarcasm:

Where is Benjamin Franklin when we need him?
Did we not work hard, pay our taxes, vote our leaders into office?
What happened to life, liberty, and the pursuit of the good?
Oh say. Can you see us America?
Is our bright burning disappointment visible six months later?
Is all we get the baked-on sludge of putrid water, your empty promises?
Where are you America?

Saloy also recalls the barriers—material, legal, and spiritual—preventing residents returning home to New Orleans. The poem “September 2005, New Orleans” begins with the lines: “They said only businesses could come into the city, / First, then residents by zip code. New Orleans is all / Our business, so I went by rent-a-car . . . / Traffic slowed stacked, like toys, past Causeway / At the 610 Interstate split. Armed GIs in fatigues say: / ‘State your business’.” But even worst to the spirit

Once in the neighborhood, the smell of death
Laced streets, covered in debris along the sidewalks,
Enough room to pass, with some live wires popping,
No sign of anything alive, no birds chirping, no
‘squitoes buzzing, no cats crossing, no dogs running,
No people here, downtown, no cars either, just empty
Silence, so loud, like the dead ghost towns of the Old West.

Still there was a star of hope at Bullet’s Bar on A.P. Tureaud, which provided ice, food and drinks for those drudging and digging their homes out from the debris and muck. With such poems in this section, Saloy begins to reassure her audience that there is a path forward, as in “New Orleans in January”: “Angel trumpets and night jasmine fragrance dusk / When the moon rises in eastern skies smiling.”

Though the loss remains prominent and grief subsides, it “scratches your skin / Till it bleeds all the bottled-/ Up hurt.” In response, Saloy evokes a  martial tone in several poems, including one of her two grief poems, “Black faces” are  “Still at war with American justice / Just us / Still thirst for peace / And a home.” In her “New Orleans Broken Not Dead,” a free sonnet, she invokes Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die.” Her poem ends with the couplet: “Like men and women, bold, we make our pact, / Pressed to our knees, held down but kicking back!” One would be blind not to acknowledge the role Race plays in our political decisions. Saloy points out the “Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis / Crushed into crumbs / Their neighborhoods smashed, / Artifacts of humanity looted / Like the lives of young and old. / The sea is painted with their blood” (“Iraq by the Numbers”).

Back home in the States, “racism, prejudice, / Walking while Black, / Glass ceilings, / Brick walls, Emmett Till, / 41 bullets shot at Diallo in NYC / . . . Deflated dreams of equality, and / The fact that African Americans still / Scrape for crumbs of the American pie” (“My Race”).  Though still living with hope of equity, justice, and progress, Saloy knows that “New Orleans still lies broken”: gas bills are four times higher, and “rentals four times too” (“Meanwhile, Back in America”). What may be worst for community is the generational differences: the carelessness, lack of respect of wayward youth, those hopeless and dispossessed of chances for the American Dream: “I wouldn’t be so shocked to find my 100-year-old cypress doors & windows destroyed, / My cement and bricks—formed by Creole craftsmen—broken like rotten teeth,” as they slither away (“For the New Young Bloods on my Porch”). Repression of the black poor not only has an egregious impact on white fears but also on those of the black middle-classes. All have been disappointed by black elected officials and their lack of effectiveness in providing an economy and a social atmosphere that works for the poor. Too often they have worked for self-interest. That is, the poor have gotten “black faces in white places”: “Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced . . .  to 10 years in prison for bribery, money laundering and other corruption that spanned his two terms as mayor—including the chaotic years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005” (Kevin McGill, “10 year sentence for ex-New Orleans Mayor Nagin”).

Section 3 “La Vie Crĉole & Étoufĉe Talk” contains eleven poems: 2 about Creole foods, e.g., breads and beans; and the rest about family and neighbors. There are several about Saloy’s Creole dad; and several about her mom. Both parents have passed—her mom when she was sixteen. One of those poems is fairly dense. It reports personal difficulties of her Creole father and his other two wives, the third and last DD. “Some say she drank herself to death, some say / DD had bourbon with a Coke back for breakfast most days. Still, / I know better. Grief. / Grief got hold of her like the left side of bad luck and / Never let go, Finally, / She has peace.” Hope and grief are locked hand in hand. DD’s “last daughter” was killed on her way to her senior prom. Like Saloy, she “wanted college.” (“Creole Daddy Ways”). When her Creole daddy’s second wife, “Deep, dark chocolate, tall like me, 5’8”, heavy boned, a / Black beauty” [when her mom] died, Saloy reveals, “my world” was “crushed like smashed pecans.” That’s a lot of hurt.

Imaginative thinking like poetry writing, indeed, is a special way of discovering the spiritual beauty in hurt and loss, e.g., courage and endurance. Such is evident in Saloy’s other poems about her deceased mother and father. Both are connected to that hundred-year-old Creole house that was lost and that lovely neighborhood “soaked in the stench of death” (“December 2005 at Stephanie’s House”). But a house is not a home, which is a place in which people live—talk, laugh, cry, and all the other acts that fill life with humor and tragedy. Saloy is the first poet I know to write two Alzheimer’s poems, or even one such poem. And she does it well and compassionately: it matches observations of my grandmother’s behavior during her last post-90 years. The poet in “The Day Alzheimer’s Showed,” recalls her father’s early stages when he confuses TV reality (“The Young and Restless”) with everyday street reality. In “Alzheimer’s, Day Two,” she paints a lovely portrait of her father (in his 80s) in mental decline: “Bebé, get the door. / Can’t you hear that damned doorbell ringing?’ / This Creole crazy man / is my daddy, the / First man I loved, At whose feet I read the funnies, the dictionary, / At whose side we read all the jokes in The Reader’s Digest, / At whose table we searched the / American Peoples Encyclopedia / . . . His eyes are gunmetal grey today, and / Stare with questions bouncing eye to eye. / ‘I don’t know who that is, Shut the door’.”

In two other poems, Saloy’s mother meditations are prompted by a “Sepia photo circa 1943.” The poem “She was not a queen, but . . .” focuses on her mother’s “smooth skin, / Burnt chocolate brown” which was in great contrast to that of her Creole dad, who appears white in a rescued black-and white photo. The poem ends reflectively with the line, “I wipe the mold carefully, / Caress her eyes with mine / Thankful her photo survives.” In a world that praises “whiteness,” Saloy suggests that her Creole dad Louie boosted her mother’s self-confidence regarding her dark complexion. The poet plays on that image—“he was in love, gave her the first taste of chocolate, the / Color of her cheeks” were a “frame” for the whiteness of her smile. The poet again returns to her mother’s eyes, “she liked to wink at me, and I / Melted each time, warmed over with / Her narrow brown eyes, the color of raw almonds.” In her “Missing Mother” poem, there’s sadness and reconciliation. Only “two weeks past 16,” Saloy recalls, “she left me / Shriveled up like a blue prune, and / Left this life without saying goodbye.” Maternally abandoned, the poet now realizes she herself is “older than her last day.” The poet’s personal endurance and victories have brought some understanding to her mother’s view of the world and her own mother’s hurt, which resonates as taking her mother’s advice given during the poet’s childhood: “Today, from now on, I’m sitting and standing erect / Thankful for the dream of days and / Mother’s wisdom packed in my pocket.”

The fourth section “Hurricanes & Hallelujahs” presents a newly developed attitude by post-Katrina New Orleanians with respect to hurricanes and the hurricane season. The tragic consequences of the flooding of New Orleans and the barriers set up against the return of its natives brought an end to an era that might be referred to as “Laissez le bontemps rouler” (“Let the good times roll”), when the folks “dance like nobody’s there” (“See You in the Gumbo”). The lost of over 100,000 residents, the break up of families and neighborhoods, the federal neglect, the economic disregard, and an unkind racial petulance grown wild among the white middle-classes during the post-80s era flaming monotonously in the 21st century set chains on black optimism. The readily apparent negation of its black poor, in short, brought on a reticence and a watchful attentiveness toward the warning months of the hurricane season, in which the people and the city were on the “hit-list target.” In the interim (2006 to 2012), the Crescent City was threatened near and far by Gustav, Isaac, Irene, and then Sandy. The poet concludes, “We give thanks for such / Reminders, what’s important / Being here” (“Hurricane Days”).  The people have been forced to learn truth-telling lessons about callous cruelty. In the poem “Hurricane Lessons: Isaac September & Sandy October,” Saloy reminds her readers of the nation’s forgetful sense of history and appreciation:

Post-Katrina flooding was an unnatural disaster to a
Beautiful city below sea level, a city whose typography
Scoops are the neighborhoods making culture almost four
Centuries old and still warming the world with wonder.

But from all reports, governments near and far from New Orleans have not learned to be generous to “beautiful” people who became victims of natural and “unnatural” disasters. On the whole rather what we have noted is a most stringent lack of generosity to people who embraced the Big Easy, and suffered a mean-spirited denial of humanity.    

I am uncertain what to make of the fifth section, “Presidential Poems,” other than they were written in the post-Katrina period, sometime between 2006 and 2012. I am almost certain these five poems are peripheral to the consequences of the “unnatural” flooding of the Big Easy. They indeed may provide a lighter, balancing tone to the main narrative of this poetic memoir. Of these five praise poems, three poems are about Mr. Obama’s success in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. One poem is about Mr. Lincoln’s two visits to learn “horror firsthand” (“Lincoln in New Orleans, 1831”). Of course, Louisiana was not the only slave state or even the worst of the slave states. Mr. Lincoln may have made the visit like millions of others subsequently for the unique pleasures the Crescent City offers compared to other American cities. “We, a Poem” written for George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton honors their work abroad as presidents. 

Specifically, what work Saloy had in mind is rather fuzzy, as she speaks wondrously of American ideals. From my remembrances, I found both presidents a disappointment, especially the presidency of Bill Clinton, who ushered in “block grants” to states, rather than money set-asides that would go directly to decaying urban centers; the man who also reformed welfare, making life more difficult for poor black women and placing a target on the backs of black men. His “three strikes and you’re out“ expanded the prison industrial complex, overwhelmingly blackening jail cells nationally. In 2006 Ishmael Reed published this occasional poem, although other poets had declined the offer to compose for the Liberty Medal presentation.

It’s not that these are not good well-executed poems, expressing confidence and belief in American ideals. My problem is that I do not share the politics of these poems. Their sense of American history and their praise of American ideals, upon which Professor Saloy in other poems heaps scorn and disappointment contrasts are in contrast to my own critically complex views. My perspective is that America still makes and will continue to make war on the black poor, as well as its artists and writers. In short, my own optimism about American justice and the fulfilling of its ideals is much more measured, especially with regard to its black citizenry. In his Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Derrick Bell expresses more cogently my own political perspective:

"I want to set forth this proposition, which will be easier to reject than refute: Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary 'peaks of progress,' short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance" (p.12, 1992).

Thus I cannot sing sentimental praise songs of American progress and racial reforms as beautifully as Professor Saloy.

Many on the left (black and white) are inclined to think of our black president as a war criminal with respect to his use of drones in the assassination of two American citizens. Then there is his dismantling of the government of Libya and his targeted assassination of Gaddafi. And much more such acts in Afghanistan. Though his elections, noteworthy historical events, ones in which I cast votes for him, Mr. Obama did not generate within me the emotional response that Professor Saloy experienced. I did not in either instance cheer or cry. Professor Saloy, however, confesses, “I cried for joy . . . for the first time in my life” (“The Night America Elected the First Black President”). As a journalist I have not only been a critic of his foreign policies but also critic of his domestic policies. Too often in his public rhetoric has spouted the patronizing attitude of white liberals and conservatives who blame the victims for their own oppression. In short, he has failed to address the problems and issues that most affect poor black men in their powerlessness. By the larger society, they have too often been viewed as criminal, less than human, available to be verbally abused, beaten and gunned down in the streets.

Unlike Saloy, I do not see the elections of Mr. Obama or other black politicians as a means to bring “America back to democracy” (“God Bless President Obama & the United States of America”). Curiously Ms. Saloy believes that Mr. Obama gave America “historic free health care” (“Four More Years for President Obama”). But we know there is nothing free in this country, which justifies profit at any cost. While billionaires stash their profits abroad to avoid paying taxes for the general welfare, pharmaceutical and insurance companies (the general medical industry), banks, energy and food industries gouge the poor and the middle-classes. Though personal achievements, the successful elections of Barack Obama and other black politicians do not and did not and can not balance the books for the horrors visited on the Big Easy. Barack’s elections were a corporate sick joke, a con job, a popular liberal self-delusion at the expense of the black poor. One might say his presidency has been more significant and had a greater impact for Latinos than for poor blacks who suffer universally about a 30 percent poverty rate in our most populous metropolitan centers. Recently, not concern about re-election, Mr. Obama has been more vocal about troubling injustice regarding violence of white police and private citizens and about the drug policies instituted by Bill Clinton during the 1990s.

The last section of Second Line Home contains eleven poems, mostly in praise of New Orleans, and what it has to offer the nation and the world by its example. One exception to this worthy praise is the poem “100 Thousand Poets for Change,” with the chant-like exhortation, “Change yourself / Change your block / Change your community / Change your city / Change the World,” first recited at New Orleans Café Istanbul 29 September 2012. And the other is “From Lament to Hope,” which returns to the narrative tone of the first four sections, which speaks again of her childhood home: “Now, a demolished 105-year-old / Treasure bought for $2,000 on the / GI Bill post-WWII by my / Creole Sergeant Daddy . . .  .” Unable to hold onto a family heirloom, Saloy had to replace it with “concrete and steel.” The section concludes with “New Orleans Matters,” a note of bravado:

We ain’t dying y’all; like roaches
We can’t be buried.
We rise after funerals!
Ever heard of a Second Line?
We live, celebrate lives in beats, songs, and dances.

But there are darker notes that are being song by the lovers of New Orleans, especially by artists and writers. Listen to how Jose Torres Tama, complained in 2006 what had happened as a result of real estate speculators and government officials:

“New Orleans of old as a creative cauldron of bohemian tolerances, street life, and ritualistic culture, which was known to rise up from the ground, is a sad postcard of itself.  I truly love this city, but in my twenty-two years of life here, I have never been at such a crossroads, singing the familiar rock-n-roll Clash anthem of ‘should I stay or should I go now?’  Even the local newspaper, The Times-Picayune, which has failed miserably in covering the rental crisis, has used this lyric as front-page headline to denote the mood of thousands caught in the same personal debate.

“The tragedy is that I may not have an economical choice to stay and forge a living when basic shelter is oppressively expensive.  New Orleans has been my poetic muse for half my life, but for numerous artists and working class residents, it is hard living in the ‘Big Easy’ with post-Katrina rents as high as the lingering water lines.”

Here is what I wrote in review of Professor Saloy’s first book, Red Beans and Ricely Yours (October 2005).

“The life rendered in these poems will never reconstitute itself after the 2005 Katrina flood. Thus Saloy’s poetic documentation makes the book exceedingly more precious, especially for those persons displaced who lived in such communities as the 7th Ward.”

I’m willing to admit that I may have under-estimated the resilient spirit of that which is New Orleans. With natives like Professor Saloy, just maybe, New Orleans can be revived and made into something just as wondrous as the Big Easy that was murdered September 2005 in cold blood. Just maybe the genius of its people can gather together all the pieces scattered like ashes nine years ago and create that which may amaze again and keep the fires of creativity stoked. Long Live the Big Easy!  See y’all in the Gumbo!

Related Readings

Bill Quigley, “Eighteen Months After Katrina” (February 27. 2007). First published in “Truthout.” http://www.nathanielturner.com/eighteenmonthsafterkatrinabillquigley.htm

David Mildenberg “Census Finds Hurricane Katrina Left New Orleans Richer, Whiter, Emptier” (4 February 2011)

Jerry Ward, “Reckoning with Displacement”

Jose Torres Tama, “Hard Living in the Big Easy” (19 June 2006)
Kevin McGill, “10 year sentence for ex-New Orleans Mayor Nagin” (9 July 2014)

Rudolph Lewis, “Obama and the Hunger for a Black President” (3 September 2007)

Vicki Mack and Elaine Ortiz, “Who Lives in New Orleans and the Metro Now?”
(26 September 2013)

Author, folklorist, essayist, and poet, Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy is professor of English at Dillard University. She previously published Red Beans & Ricely Yours, which won the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize and the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Prize in 2006. Saloy’s literary voice represents the African-American and the New Orleans Creole cultural experience.

Saloy’s work appears in many anthologies, journals. An active Educator and Scholar, Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy is a noted speaker and storyteller, who consults to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH), the Louisiana Division of the Arts (LDOA), and is an active member of the Louisiana Folklore Society. Also, Saloy composed a praise song & performed for two presidents. http://aalbc.com/authors/mona-lisa-saloy.html

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Passing of Maya Angelou at 86

From Gravity Comes the Grief
By Jerry W Ward, Jr.  

There is a language in silence you must use in communing with the living, the dying, and the dead.  Time ordains that you deal with the gravity and brevity of manifest being.  Humility demands that you accept legacies from word spirits with grace and respect. Time appropriates words from Amiri Baraka’s 1987 eulogy for James Baldwin, forcing out of your mouth “the intelligence of our transcendence” and forbidding you to traffic with bad faith in “retelling old lies or making up new ones, or shaping yet another black life to fit the great white stomach which yet rules and tries to digest the world.” Time and Baraka ignore your reluctance to speak and the dread in your saying the world is not white but pale brown pink. You have no choice but to close your eyes, open your mind, and let your fingers play respect for Marguerite Annie Johnson (April 4, 1928 –May 28, 2014).  Baraka smiles at you wisely and says “I know your parents reared you to stay more in the tradition than that!”

Your mind back flips to an iconic photograph of two people dancing on a marker for Langston Hughes at the Schomburg Research Center.  That is your clue. Speak of Maya Angelou.  Toni Cade Bambara, Alvin Aubert, Lorenzo Thomas, Audre Lorde, Tom Dent, John Oliver and Grace Killens, Margaret Walker, Wanda Coleman, Albert Murray, Louis Reyes Rivera and others and others nod approval. They give you the gravity of words from which comes the grief and its resolution. The heart that does not belong to your body pumps words.

You walk in the rivers of glass from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy.”  You feel with Maya Angelou why the caged bird sings, why inevitably the bird flings its spirit into the limitless cosmos. You regret the myopia of the New York Times headline that begins “Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South…” Balderdash. There is a Jim Crow North, West, and East, a Jim Crow Earth.  Maya Angelou was the phenomenal woman she said she was.  Birth in St. Louis, Missouri and death in Winston-Salem, North Carolina did secure her temporal being, along with Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells, a woman of the South.  

But Maya Angelou’s fluent command of languages and her extensive work as dancer, poet, actress, writer, filmmaker and director, civil and human rights activist, singer, conscience of the grace that ought to obtain in earthly life ---all of this made her more than a mere witness to universal lynchings and human wantonness. She had a more powerful vision. She was the authority and author what all of us are existentially obligated to witness, existentially destined to do.  As her friend and “brother” Eugene B. Redmond might put it, we must excavate a heavy lode and lesson ourselves in the lore she created.

At this moment, it is sufficient that you know Maya Angelou touched the world with her brave and radiant spirit.  Documentation of her life in biographies, bibliographies, critiques, memorials, and writings seasoned with womanist theorizing is matter for a later moment. At this moment, ours is the work of spiritual renewal and creativity.  Maya Angelou has gone, her “blood breath beating/ through the dark green places (Audre Lorde, “To Marie, in Flight”). Return to the language of silence and find peace in its embrace.

 May 28, 2014 

Source:   http://jerryward.blogspot.com/2014/05/maya-angelou.html      


A Comprehensive Bibliography on the works of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou's Poem "On the Pulse of Morning"

Maya Moves On to Higher Ground, dancing with Amiri Baraka
By Marvin X

Dance Maya dance
You and AB cuttin' a rug
so smooth
in tune
flying high
in the Upper Room
Dance Maya dance
swing low sweet chariot
comin' fa da take me home
let her rise now
let her rise now
rise ta touch da sky
see Amina laughin
what a moment
don't take da J out ma joy devil
not in da eternity of things.
Dance Maya dance
poet to poet
something special
Dance Maya dance
no more caged bird
fly black bird fly.
Peace Maya dance

28 May 2014
Oaktown Cali

Edward Snowden and NSA: Spies, Patriots, & Confidence Men

Edward Snowden and Actuality Television
By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.    


Fifteen minutes after the broadcast of the long-awaited “Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden,” the nicely photographed NBC interview with Brian Williams, we know little more about this brilliant man than we knew fifteen minutes before the program aired.  He speaks very good Standard American English. His presentation of self is disarmingly innocent.  In fact, he is so pristinely innocent that were he to be “disappeared” by aliens, the Roman Catholic Church would be obligated to give him sainthood immediately.  Edward Snowden is not one of us.

The bit of truth that Snowden communicated to Williams has to do with how the United States of American as a security state has held the United States Constitution hostage since 9/11 and how very powerful technology has destroyed belief that privacy can again become operative.

Once destroyed, privacy is possible only in theory and fantasy. All world governments know that.  It is unpleasant to think about what world governments knew about our President and our military and our intelligence agencies prior to the advent of Snowden.  It is more disconcerting to think about what Snowden has enabled them to know as “fact,” because one is free to believe he only leaked an immense amount of encrypted NSA disinformation.  If that be true, our world has entered an advanced state of “science faction.” Damage is damage is damage.

 Snowden revealed little about his grandfather who allegedly worked for the FBI.  Given that the NBC program allowed us to guess whatever we wanted to guess, one might guess that the grandfather never told Snowden that the FBI and other surveillance agencies had a quite long history of spying on United States citizens at home and abroad. Thus, he had to discover the obscenity of reality by working not as a systems analyst but as a bona fide spy. It is easy to believe that Snowden does not have a family and the he would have great difficulty in producing a birth certificate. I believe Snowden did indeed lie about having destroyed information before he left Hong Kong for Russia.  One does not destroy information that is worth a trillion dollars in the blue market.

 In a very smart rhetorical gesture, Snowden asserted that he is still working for the United States, the country he loves passionately. I believe he did tell the truth about his current employment, although he failed to provide a job description. Had he been less “in love” with his country, Snowden would probably not have done the right thing wrongly or the wrong thing rightly.  He is as transparent as that marvelous novella by Henry James, “The Turn of the Screw.” And the television-viewing public has been royally corkscrewed. Do not blame Obama for that.  Blame the hidden and sinister powers that really control NBC and other forms of mass media.

It is not surprising that Snowden does not know whether he is guilty or blameless.  Were he merely an actor on reality TV, he would be able to explain his moral state, his ethics without engaging sophisticated trash talk.  But like Brian Williams, Snowden is trapped in actuality television, a research area that within less than a decade will become our most vital and viable non-academic discipline.

May 28, 2014

Glenn Greenwald, No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA and The U.S. Surveillance State, Metropolitan Books, 2014

In May 2013, Glenn Greenwald set out for Hong Kong to meet an anonymous source who claimed to have astonishing evidence of pervasive government spying and insisted on communicating only through heavily encrypted channels. That source turned out to be the 29-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and his revelations about the agency’s widespread, systemic overreach proved to be some of the most explosive and consequential news in recent history, triggering a fierce debate over national security and information privacy. As the arguments rage on and the government considers various proposals for reform, it is clear that we have yet to see the full impact of Snowden’s disclosures.

Now for the first time, Greenwald fits all the pieces together, recounting his high-intensity ten-day trip to Hong Kong, examining the broader implications of the surveillance detailed in his reporting for The Guardian, and revealing fresh information on the NSA’s unprecedented abuse of power with never-before-seen documents entrusted to him by Snowden himself.

Going beyond NSA specifics, Greenwald also takes on the establishment media, excoriating their habitual avoidance of adversarial reporting on the government and their failure to serve the interests of the people. Finally, he asks what it means both for individuals and for a nation’s political health when a government pries so invasively into the private lives of its citizens—and considers what safeguards and forms of oversight are necessary to protect democracy in the digital age. Coming at a landmark moment in American history, No Place to Hide is a fearless, incisive, and essential contribution to our understanding of the U.S. surveillance state.

Oh, George, Review by Danny Schechter

“Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”—George Orwell

May 23, 2014

Oh, George
By Danny Schechter

We need you now,
more than ever, ever
to help us wade through
new words of war by wankers
high on high tech
& fudged perceptions
in a security bubble of insecurity

We need help, George,
penetrating acronyms
of government gone wild
of spies & lies
and the madness
of the overtly clever
and covertly maniacal

Hey, Hey, NSA
How many emails did you ‘process’ today?
How many calls did you convert
into acres of unread metadata
stored somewhere in Utah
until the big roundup
that’s coming soon

Hey, Hey, NSA, why do you play
with code names
coined with a clear intent
to maim
and restrain?
So lame.