Rhodes on the Brink: A Postscript.

The impulse to archive the native in a series of disjointed snapshots, which together form an unhappy whole, is a form of cultural warfare. Through this process, the native identity is substituted with a series of objects. For example, the “African culture” fills all of their museums as trinkets However, to become cultured, the “African” must surrender all the parts of himself which have been cast as “African”. With such manoeuvres, the European asserts that this “tribal” culture can only be an anachronism to which progress must be brought from without. Of course, we know that this is correct. There has never been an “African culture” – that which the European speaks of, is a figment of his own dissonant imagination. However, we must pay attention to the technology of the coloniser’s project of cultural violence.

As Fanon says, the coloniser cannot convince himself of the “objective non-existence of the oppressed nation and its culture” (190). Thus he is driven by a desire to force the natives to submit their own culture as inferior to the magnificence of European modernity. The teleology of the native in this “new” nation, on a “new” path to modernity, isolates the native from communities which existed prior to colonialism by forcing these same communities into the new paradigm of the nation state – here we must take note how this entails a slippage between the liberation of a national culture and obtaining the title deed to a geographical space. “You have your strongmen, we shall have our own.”

In this we see colonisation of the national culture by the nondescript forms and customs of the nation state. In these moments, the momentum of “progress” is lost from the coloniser’s tongue, though it had never been present in his deeds. We find instead a zeal for stability – the native becomes an indecipherable chaos. The coloniser’s ignorance becomes the native’s incoherence. Renewed efforts to stabilise the national culture – that is, the practice of culture – ensue. The intellectual’s of the Mother Country, pour their time and resources into unearthing some essential truth in the native’s proclivity to effervescence. The colonial edifice is responding to its deepest vulnerability. To stabilise a culture, the coloniser must first admit both its existence and its changing character – its intensification.

We find ourselves in the midst of this struggle. Because we know that culture is practiced, a living breathing mass; because we see how the coloniser clings to his idolatry in the statues he has erected of great colonial terrorists, we know that the promise of liberation is hollow. We now see the folly in forgetting that liberation must be demanded and not requested, taken and not given. In turning on the coloniser’s artefacts, we threaten to snatch the towel from the edifice of colonialism. We see clearly that native culture can only be found in resistance. We must resist if we are to escape obliteration.

The native resistance is misrepresented as both regressive and peculiar. The coloniser will accuse us of all manner of things – of destroying history, of living in the past, of decadence. In a fit of petulant rage, he will defend his coloured memory to the tune of millions. Confronted with the barbarity on which he sits, from which he eats, he runs in the hope that this will increase the span of time which separates them. Rhodes is substituted with his statue, he becomes an artefact. Rhodes is an object of the coloniser’s fantasy.

The coloniser will say “Rhodes was a man of his time.” What he means to say is “Rhodes was, and is, exactly where he belongs.” Which is to say, think about today’s problems, “We have found new ways to oppress you, our barbarity has an ostensibly gentler face.”

Here we find the two opposing instincts in today’s colonising consciousness. He clings to the statue both because he is not yet done with the barbarity of Rhodes but also because the artefact, the objectification of Rhodes, allows him to believe that he is. He is driven by the desire to possess the timelessness of the Rhodesian object as he has done the native’s “culture”. Thus, it is ironic but not at all surprising that he who demanded the forward march to modernity, uncompromising progress, must defend his history against the passage of time in order to protect the dynamism of colonial culture.

an offering on silence

i have seen the depths of despair

and what have i to show for it

but

this sprinting chest

and traitorous lungs

these hollowed eyes

and hungry hands.


the movement in my chest happens as stasis

a startstop rhythm

on the way to nowhere


what am i?

am i here?

was i here?

*


at the grave yard

to think

again, to speak

dead and waiting for them to die

i cannot remember which home this is


the movement in my chest

and the sinking of my stomach

mean nothing if there is no

body count

again, i am weak

but there are no bones left to

spend


i am dragged out to sea

and i


am sorry

that the ghouls have conjured our ghosts

*


were my wounds not open

were they not gaping

enough

and had i not ripped

the skin from my back


to speak

was I not loud enough

and cry and mess

too much blood

help me find the rag

i will clean up after myself

*


and again,

you are the only shard of

obsidian in the room.

you are drowning.

you are gasping.

Whose voice is sitting on your mind

and demanding your salvation?


she asks of your name

baptises you the trauma in her white tongue

you do not correct her

you never do

you fear

that she has noticed your black

growling back

in the way you speak;

without teeth

and the shadows which have seized your throat.

and you are afraid that she has seen you for all

she conjures in her mind

afraid that one day soon you too have seen


remind your body of the infinity between skin and bones.

*


And, i speak


i have

spines,

knuckling

down

my

tongue.

curl it bone straight.

And i speak

Again, they


snag against my teeth;

fight their way out of rot, it weeps

the whole thing is a messy affair

all blood and creak

caught between my teeth.

and under my nails

all wail and breathless

caught between my lungs

and choking.


my breath is restless

bones brittle with mudblood.

It feasts under skin,

finds crumbs in the pockets

between my joints

licks the ink from my fingers

and my tongue is knuckling

parting flesh and forming skin

It is wet and heavy.

carries me bone straight.

and curling into fist

and

folding

around

everything

which was once soft


but                                            I was once

everything

which was once soft


Again, it weeps –

What of me can be softening bloom

all winter’s opening wombs

Again, it weeps

these spines rattle against my teeth

fall into my mouth to speak

and moving through these restless lungs

Again, this mudblood tumbles out


a messy affair it surely is

all bones and teeth in the way

all chattering and tooth picking

all blood and weep

all stench and clinging to my fingers

Can’t get the smell out

Scrubbing this skin out

Again, it weeps

all wet and heavy

all

hanging

from these bones like spines from teeth

all screaming cheeks for quick release

all           lost           and           wandering

all out and wondering


my, these teeth make quick

guillotine

and always such troubling mess

and spilling on the sheets

always hollow and lip staining

always wailing slurred and stippling blush

always failing words and thunderous hush

Again, I speak.

but do not breathe)

Again, it weeps.

but do not breathe)


the movement in my chest

happens as

stasis

i can no longer see the ghosts in me

again, we are atoms

as we always were

again, we are haunted

by that deathly silence

and here again

that dreaded fog

the site of the wound

is wet and anointed

open and festering

and all this power

yet i am weak

again i speak


i have watched the bone collectors

rob graves many times before.

i have written this many times before

always too bloody and

mistaking the rattling bones for night terrors.

always speaking silent through the

spines in my teeth

silent as the bodies disappeared

until i was myself the ritual

And So the Radical Vagina was Most Patriarchal of Them All

This Summer, the trajectory of the Jeremy Corbyn surge has been mirrored by the most fascinating but also irritating brand of cuntpolitik. After frequent reminders of Yvette Cooper’s radical vagina, comment pieces about how abstaining from voting on savage cuts to tax credits was feminist and how real feminists would elect a woman whatever her politics, I was feeling all cunted out. Then it got worse, the cuntpolitik came back last night with a vengeance as my newsfeed was overrun by the march of the #WhiteKnights4WomensRights despairing that Corbyn didn’t have enough vaginas at the top table – OH NO! Which white women will represent all the women of the land?! And yet – masked by this circus of identity politics — are the most violent forces of patriarchy at play. The masculinity of liberal imperialism is being mobilised with full force.

The politics of women’s representation in Labour has often been a bitter pill to swallow. While the excitement about Blair’s Babes raged on in the 1990s, it was Harriet Harman, the new Secretary of State for Social Security, who announced that Labour would go ahead with the Conservative plans to scrap lone parent benefits. This is a  politics that has  always been about securing the interests of cis white middle class women. I asked, only to be met with a resounding silence, where all these think pieces were when Diane Abbott was running for Labour Leader. Suzanne Moore (who doesn’t even think trans women are women) instead seems comfortable leading the charge against ‘brocialism’ while bemoaning a socialism which focuses too much on inequality as working class women continue to bear the brunt of austerity. This kind of lazy privilege is why the ‘bold’ portfolio of cuntpolitik unleashed on us this summer, Corbyn’s consultation on issues disproportionately affecting women and his support from the majority of women in the party received not one mention. The demand for women’s representation above all else wrongly presumes that women exist on a singular axis – that we are not black, queer, disabled or working class. It misses the first lesson of intersectional theory, our difference means that to speak of ‘women’s’ issues is necessarily incoherent.

Indeed, this politics rests on even shakier ground – an inaccurate understanding of patriarchy. If patriarchy was concerned primarily with men and women, it would not punish feminised men so violently. Rather, it is concerned with pegging that which is not masculine as undesirable. While we debate whether John McDonnell got the job because Corbyn trusted him most or because he is a bloke, we all remain blind to a broader and more pernicious consolidation of liberal masculinity.

When the Cold War ‘ended’ the seeds for the War on Terror were already being sown. Now, in ISIS, it has found every caricature of horror realised. As for Corbyn, he is the only thing more frightening to liberalism than beheadings – he who will not go to war. The imperative of war was deeply embedded in the conception of the liberal state. The white noise of war drums has been sounding ever since. It is in the shadow of war that political obligation* is constructed, by exploiting the claims that women – under patriarchy – have on the emotions of men. It is necessary therefore for the liberal state (or its women) to constantly be under threat. For so long, we have been on the cusp of war and it is to this mode of being (one of constant emergency) that Corbyn represents a serious threat.

We should have seen it coming. When the tide turned in Corbyn’s favour and the smears kept rolling in, the salient accusation was not one of racism or extremism but his passivity. From Yvette Cooper’s shift in CLP hustings to more adamantly defining the position of Prime Minister by the ability to ‘defend’ the country (read: militarily) to his Sky Hustings stand-off with Liz Kendall – the contradiction would be as delicious as it is illuminating if it wasn’t so frightening. Kendall and Cooper, the two women in the race, led the most gendered attack – the emasculation of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn is not only passive, he is also irrational. He cannot be rational because the West needs there to be no option but to fight. ‘In these uncertain times’ – when the infantilised arab other is playing with the toys we left behind – it is now more important than ever that that which is masculine is ready to fight for the liberal project. As the non-white other is feminised by his irrationality, so too is Corbyn. The anti-imperialist is necessarily queered – Corbyn’s is a masculinity that the hegemon cannot comprehend.

This is why, as a feminist, my interest was most drawn by the announcement that Jeremy has appointed the UK’s first woman Shadow Secretary for Defence – Maria Eagle. I’m fascinated by the contradictions this appointment exposes. The Conservatives are on the offensive, the war machine is readying itself for an intensification of struggle and the carnage of Europe’s sins is landing squarely on its doorstep. The nebulous question of ‘security’ is about to be milked for all it is worth. In the coming months, we must constantly remind ourselves that it is those who have power who determine what is most in need of security – single mothers on benefits or the pockets of arms traders.

Owen Jones, in hindsight, was right to identify that Corbyn will come under attack for being “weak on defence and military action abroad” but he was wrong to think that taking on the language of the military industrial complex will provide any solutions. To shake the core of this patriarchal rot, Jeremy Corbyn must uproot the foundations of the marketplace of morality on which liberal imperialism rests. He must queer the state.

Edit: the article was written in the early hours of Monday morning when reports emerged that Gloria De Piero had been appointed shadow Defence Secretary. Since then the shadow cabinet has been reworked with the position now going to Maria Eagle. The article has been edited accordingly.


See specifically: R Westbrook, ’I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl That Married Harry James’: American Women and the Problem of Political Obligation in World War II, American Quarterly (Dec., 1990)

An Anatomy of Exhumation

I

I go to the graveyard to think. And to speak. I watch the people in their boxes dead and waiting to die. I cannot remember which of my homes this is, which street, castle or group. I go because their deaths remind me of all the coffins I have lived in – ready me for the offering. This is my safety when I forget my mouth full of graves and the gravediggers in my spine tiptoeing across their hungry mouths.

II

The coffins are in, they are back from being lonely elsewhere and here, somebody will listen to them. They have all these bones to spend but nowhere are they so tender but here. The bone collectors come around with their metal detectors, they wait for these coffins to thrust their skeletons to the surface decorated with the medals of their previous deployments.  As the exhumation continues, we hollow ourselves to prove that we are weak and thus pure. The collector will throw the bones down at the shrine, dissatisfied with their diagnosis she will move them until they fit. The bones are now blessed and ready to be spent.

III

I don’t always remember well enough what happened to steel my argument with assurance. The movement in my chest and the sinking of my stomach mean nothing if there is no body count. And yet they believe me – even as the fog clouds the edges of my vision. Even when I forget to remember, because my Blackness is all they need know. There is a story in this black, even though I do not know it yet. I do not know it but I am worthy of safety, for now – so long as they know that I too have pain, that I too am powerless. I have been trying to breathe through these movements in my chest; to speak but this safety is suffocating. The lifejacket is dragging me further out to sea, the water is blurring my vision and seizing my chest until all I had to say comes out in gasps of desperation. Again, I am helpless – now, I am worthy of audience. The ritual continues, until we all lay bound and ready for sacrifice. There is no sign of the Deity, so we lay there speaking but in silence – here, we are safe.

***

I cannot remember where or when I wrote this. And yet, as soon as I read it, I remembered how it felt to write. Like a hollowing of the self. Like looking out over the graveyard, fighting conflicting struggles for the privilege of trauma and humanity. Like sacrifice for the promise of visibility.

I spend a lot of time thinking about ghosts. The ones we revive to try to bury. I wonder how they feel and taste, how they think and act; and yet I know. I feel them kicking and screaming under the surface, knocking the wind out of us whenever we hang on the precipice of exorcism. I feel them isolating us as we build community. I feel them. They permeate every aspect of this ritual of politics in which I have immersed myself, or in which have been immersed. I spend more time contemplating my position. This space in which I scream at my comrades for visibility and yet feel consumed to nothingness by my sisters. And now these thoughts must spill on to pages, lest they join the spectres which haunt me.

***

“Genuine love is rarely an emotional space where needs are instantly gratified. To know love we have to invest time and commitment…‘dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of the love — which is to transform us.’ Many people want love to function like a drug, giving them an immediate and sustained high. They want to do nothing, just passively receive the good feeling.” bell hooks

As Powerlessness.

I have come to rationalise the politics of safety as ritual. It has its own (flawed) logic but it produces, for that moment, something very real – something which brings us back to the shrine for worship. We, sick patients, come seeking healing and restoration. They, those who came before, pass down their own medicines. Soon we too become ailing doctors.

We define these spaces as safe to keep ourselves safe. We invest in the most mephistophelian of myths – that the danger is on the outside and that here, on the inside, we are out of harms way. [We know because we have seen. All those fiendish ghouls and trolls cast out, we must stay open so we can cast out the bad blood.] That so long as we are bleeding we are safe.

We see the balm and think it a cure – keep our wounds wet and anointed, festering and open. We use the balm to remind ourselves that we are in pain and thus pure. That we are in pain and thus can do no wrong. We rub our wounds in the open so everybody will know that we are in pain and that we too require protection.

I mistook your fingers in my wounds for safety. Where is the healing in that?

As Violence.

We do not cower, we brandish our weapons to show that we are not afraid. And yet, the practice of safety is all too often a practice of fear. We cannot speak for the ghouls and trolls wait on the sidelines to celebrate that we are weak but not safe. Through this repression, we find the ghouls in ourselves, ugly and violent. The whip grows fervent. We dispose of those whose wounds are not gaping enough. Cut deeper; bring your bones with you to the altar.

To keep ourselves safe, we must guard the gate. The effigies of violence make our bones ache, they must be cast out. We cast out the unintersectional. We cast out the unreconstructed. We cast out the appropriators. These things are bad because they make our bones ache. Our bones are always aching. They ache because our fears loom over us. We do not know why we fear but we do. The whip reminds us of what to fear.

The practice of safety is all too often the practice of violence. Here, at the intersection of blackness and womanhood, my wounds set an example and my wrath is fearsome. Before I speak, I must remind them that I too am a victim, I too am weak and thus pure. Some days they believe me. Somedays their bones ache louder than mine. Somedays I leave the bones I’m sure I have in my nightmares.

I gave you my bones to pick your teeth with. Where is the safety in that?

And Transformation?

“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” bell hooks

The movements in my chest happen as stasis. My chest is moving but I am not breathing; or growing. To succeed, the ritual must immortalise our trauma. We cannot interrogate it. We cannot touch it or taste it. If we do the mirage will fall and behind it the same violence we were always running from. And how sorry is this irony. That the ghouls have conjured our ghosts and yet we did not know it was they who uttered the incantation. That we had thought our own language appropriated when it is really their own sorcery. And what have we lost in this time, that we are more alone today than when we started building our communities in graveyards.

We say oppression when we mean trauma. We say trauma when we mean oppression. For our wounds to be radical, we must be alone in having them. We know real pain. We know what is authentic. It is real if you are oppressed. You are real if you are oppressed and yet you are not. We must remind the ghouls that they are too strong. They must know that they are strong and thus impure. We do it when we think we are talking to people who have ‘power’. We do it when we think we are defending the ‘powerless’. We do it to the very people who we claim to be ‘protecting’. We turn our backs on the red raised scars.

I can no longer see the ghosts in me, or the skeletons. I have spent all the spines in my tongue. The site of the wound is wet and anointed, open and festering, until it is too painful to speak. Again, we are atoms, as we always were. Again, we are speaking in silence. We have forgotten the spectres in the face of our wounds. The contradiction is dangerous but heady, a balm but no cure. The pretence of structural analysis supported by a convergence around the individual. The liberal masqueraded in the language of radicalism. The ghouls have colonised our silence. We are ripping ourselves open to speak. There will soon be no bones left to spend. And for what?

Why are we fighting a war that we think we will lose?

IV

I have watched the bone collectors rob graves many times before. I have written this many times before. Always too bloody and mistaking the rattling bones for night terrors. I have written it now, and yet somehow still feel hollow.

Wading

Darkness,

Dear old friend

Who are you to open this door

And in your own time?

And where is the blessing I am owed?

 

*

 

I wonder why

Only God himself

would put white boy in brown womb

And will their coming save his mother?

 

how many miracles will rattle beneath his milk skin

speak in tongue and toothless

And when calvary comes,

whose hands will tie her noose?

 

I have hollowed this womb in search

of rebirth)

but this skin is too unclean for salvation-

too flesh and ripe

 

But what does salvation know of rotting carcass

Of anything but honeyed shrines to pale pale Gods?

And how does this sweetness catch my breath and clench my lungs

 

*

 

Girl

do not speak

your tongue is stronger than

this spine

know

you will not carry this

revolution

to term

But you do not fight alone

 

*

 

Like many things, I have a complicated

relationship with my blackness.

I have learned to hate a great many sins into it

which I am now unlearning –

all this contort,

all this bendback

in all this deepdark;

a colonized blackness would have this queer woman

at war with herself.

 

And what is it to love this black despite

 

and into so much hate?

and yet i know the monster is hungry to collect my bones on his way out

 

Who is counting my dead

What is it to be whole again

 

Can you swim in whiteness until you are wading, girl?

But there is no air in these waves

 

And that tongue will not keep you afloat.

Interring. Or, White boy, What Have You Done With My Father’s Bones?

Drapetomania: A mental illness which causes slaves to attempt escape.

 

For as long as I can remember,

my father has had more than one phone.

On days when we remember that we are looking for him, my mother

rattles off the numbers we think may still be in use

 

I heard once that two phones are a sign that you are running away.

 

No, This is not about seeking love in blue bedsheets;

not to the man who once asked me why I love like it will get me free

giggled me wade in these sheets –

 

no, this is why are black men ghost town and hero?

 

It is April and I have not spoken to my father in months

I imagine him aging slow, sick, sequestered like old drapes in smoky rooms

Paranoid that we will one day grow bored of the tired landscapes his fists could paint

Which is to say, remember, father your melanin is no special thing.

 

No, not to the woman who wondered if I would find him in the gutting of her; no.

Today is not about pain and the graveyards in which we seek salvation

Not to ask where he was when they were making a blackhole of me

Not to ask how I can be empty and yet so full of grief

And if I could, would it matter?

 

no, this is how do black fathers mistake home for shackle; and wade?

 

Have they not fed you well from the glut of these girls

Enough to fill that girl shaped hole in your home?

Isn’t it easier to throw all of that trauma into the grave with her

And where is the room for all your guilt?

 

All those goodbyes they have gutting your tongues

Make a loose chain of this home

That is to say, was it so easy to lose us?

 

How could you hear father if you could never stand on the alter?

That is to say, I know this world can make memories of black fathers,

them black men ain’t been disappearing themselves

 

Always been that pipeline

Always been some poison

Always been some passlaw

Always been some pig’s gun

 

Black men have always been sacrifice to their paperface gods

Stay hunting niggers down and want to ask us why our fathers are always running

Steady your noose and ask me why black men are ripping our families apart

 

I know now why he keeps falling in love with the only chains he can take off;

That is to say, they have made plantation of black family

 

Freedom has always been a sickness in black bodies,

Always been some kind of psychosis

Always been seeing some shit that just ain’t there

Always been catching those white hoods in his periphery.

Always been an itch in his feet that he just can’t scratch.

 

But;

who will teach me to love myself when my father is a village in ruins?

On Decolonizing Education and the Perils of Speaking Good English

When asked about the legacy of colonialism, I point out that we must still speak a colonial language in order to be granted the courtesy of humanity. To be intelligible to the power structures which govern our lives, we must first submit ourselves to its language, to its frameworks and reference points, to the culture which continues to visit violence upon our bodies. I wonder, where was my black when decolonization was happening?

In watching the protests, led by the Student Representative Council (SRC), at the University of Cape Town, I am struck most profoundly by my jealousy.

It is outside of term time – most people will have gone ‘home’, you will put up the event page for a solidarity action, under Oxford’s statue of Cecil Rhodes, at half past midnight. By the morning, 75 people will have clicked attending – You will count 24 people in the photos. The photos will go up soon after; they will be shared by the UCT campaigners. You will be proud and yet your action will still feel lacking. It will feel as though your struggle is borrowed and this solidarity is hollow. You will feel as though you are looking in on another struggle, disconnected and writing home again from home.

They will sing their songs, share in this pain and find strength in their tongues. Who will you share this tongue with?

I speak two tongues; my colonizer’s better than my mother’s. This is the first problem.

 

the native intellectual gives proof that he has assimilated the culture of the occupying power. . . . His inspiration is European and we can easily link up these works with definite trends in the literature of the mother country. This is the period of unqualified assimilation.

Of the 18,550 professors in the UK, only 85 are Black – of these, only 17 are Black women. You know well how this has come about – you have mastered their language but you will never speak their English good enough; your tongue will never rest lazy in their colonize.

You will take the first African History paper you can. All the academics will be White. As will all of the African Studies faculty. Whose heritage are they preserving?

You will praise their progressiveness, congratulate their sensitivity. Having endured as others spoke of Europe as the world, you will delight in the fact that they have deemed you worthy of study. Anything is better than what came before; this is a mantra that you will come to know well.

Remember that you are on a frontline of the colonial project.

You will watch as your truth becomes the object of curious enquiry – they will first ask you to map their European models onto your exotic, if these do not fit, there can be no model. Black may have agency but the uncivilised tribe may not be granted the possibility of a logic. Logic is European.

You will sit in a room looking at white faces; speak of the continued struggle to decolonize. Their faces will contort with scepticism, they may speak of international institutions; they may kindly allow your anger at structural adjustment policies. You may debate the usefulness of Fanon, as you did that time in the pub with your tutor but they will not understand, just as Sartre did not. The elephant will remain in the room, that this classroom is a colonization of your truth, just as Sartre’s preface colonized Fanon and good English colonizes us all.

They will speak of agency to absolve their European – And where is your absolution for daring to wear your Black? Must you beg forgiveness for rejecting the idea that Black history is a mere appendage to a European one?

They will study you but know they can never learn from you; such is the arrogance of hegemony. The violence is in teaching you that there is nothing there to learn.

Who are the keepers of our memory?

 

I speak two tongues; I think I may be losing one. This is the second problem.

 

we find the native is disturbed; he decides to remember what he is… Past happening of the bygone days of his childhood will be brought up out of the depths of his memory; old legends will be reinterpreted in the light of a borrowed aestheticism and of a conception of the world which was discovered under other skies. . . . We spew ourselves up

Your grandmother will call you Oyinbo. Your friends will cast you Oreo.

They will remind you that your English is good, that your arguments are perceptive, noting how incongruous this is with your dark skin. This is why there are so few of you there – so few of you have mastered the master’s tongue. Maybe this is why your home cannot hear you when you speak any more – you are losing yourself in this sea of white.

And who are you now?

My subject: how to explain to you that I don’t belong to English though I belong nowhere.

 

Your tongue has grown lazy; you have forgotten how to speak what matters. You had worried that this would happen – that the offer would only widen the gulf between you and home. Yet, you knew that you had to take it – that you must submit your tongue to theirs to find its salvation.

And to whom does your voice now have use?

the native, after having tried to lose himself in the people and with people, will on the contrary shake the people. Instead of according the people’s lethargy an honoured place in his esteem… During this phase a great many men and women…feel the need to speak to their nation, to compose the sentence which expresses the heart of the people and to become the mouthpiece of a new reality in action.

That hunger to be heard will be sated only once you have slain all this ancestry, dragged the Aso-Oke out of the cupboard by her Brazilian weave; still, you will be a mere approximation.

And so what is the use?

You will remember the first time, when speaking to your mother you referred to Oxford as home. Have you forgotten who made you?

I speak two languages, they are becoming one. Herein lays the possibility for transformation.

 

Culture is yesterday’s politics stabilised, depoliticised and authorised as ‘truth’ and ‘history’

Every day, thousands of people walk past the statue of a man who visited this trauma upon black bodies thinking nothing of it. They do not know or they do not care. Such is the culture in which we are immersed, where to speak of decolonization is to say our White has refashioned your colonial horror more palatable. Thank Mr Rhodes for his generosity Girl, He is philanthropist before he is pass laws and dispossess and murderer. That is to say, he has already paid for your tongue with the money he had made from your blood.

I have spoken a great many tongues in my life, all of which inherited – none of which adequate, many I have tried to teach my comrades.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

B. Berman describes the ‘palimpsest of contradictions’ which characterises the colonial condition, the shadow writing of the past visible in the text of the present. There is an English in this mouth – this, I am sure, cannot be changed; but can we find a language of our own in this English? Can we speak and yet not be heard by the colonizer’s gluttonous gaze? This is my new work.

Here, I constantly check my words, fix my tone, lift my face – I wonder, would the world fall down if I spoke without first submitting. They would not understand me but it is in this light that I may leave my Black some room to dance.

(love)speak

Eden has nestled her head amongst the swelling egos;

who will wake such soft sibilance from her slumber

and fall amongst the settled sheets

(That is to say, can she love me much longer)?

 

this is not about love,

but to render ourselves become

and find in this darkness softening eyes

(That is to say, I have never found such softness before)

 

she will find me in the firewood

render me a city of ash

teach me to map these scars to tenderness

(That is to say, I know now that not all gods find their tongues in gunpowder and shotgun barrel)

 

just as time is fleeting,

even we will soon forget ourselves

to gasp for what little air is to be found at the surface

The poet will make a habit of pain until she learns the face of healing

 

search for my eyes in this dark

you will find them lost in yours

entranced by tightening skin

and sharpening breath and

 

the assonance I found in you alone

 

must I paint you a muse

but everything I sought in the forage

 

show me the fountain

from where I might drink the last of this sorry pain into nothing

 

What else might our survival resemble

but the reflection in which we have realised dysmorphia

but histories cannot be written out of love

anymore than this redemption

 

and so, who will write our (love)story but me

who had found in you the will to be

(That is to say, even keloid scars can fade into insignificance)

 

and so where might we start a tale

whose beginning is stuttering

her fear of the end

(That is to say, we read what lines these palms had written for us)