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By Menoukha Case

 

As my month ends I’ll try to wrap this all up – calendars as signifiers of epistemological differences, crossbloodedness, water stories, and bizarre questions like: are Newton’s laws natural? – in a lumpy bumpy bundle.

 

And thank you all for the great honor of doing this in visibility to your presence. OK.

Mirror Sculpture

 

I drive three hours through clouds and mild snow and park in a residential neighborhood of detached houses with garages and yards in the Bronx. A thin white veil over the intricately landscaped entrance sparks rainbows as the sun comes out. Two Padrinos lives upstairs and a bembe, a drumming ceremony, is taking place in their immaculately white cellar that has been fitted for Orisha work: initiation, drumming, divination, other ceremonies.

As I walk down the stairs to enter my ile – my home – my glasses mist over with steam succulent with spice from a feast being prepared in the kitchen, mingled with body heat in the already full room. I shed my coat and hang it in the closet. Some people, as I am, are dressed all in white to honor Obatala; some choose to honor another Orisha, perhaps their own. People of all shapes and sizes are gracefully covered with mostly white and light or brightly colored cloth, more or less from neck to ankle. Many women wear long full skirts; some wear beautifully tied head-wraps; some men wear bandanas, or caps, or little Yoruba hats that look like rakish mushrooms; faces of all colors shine beneath. The faces of those who have been dancing are brighter yet with the sheen of delighted perspiration.

I step into the room, pass the ancestor altar, and look for my Madrina on my way to greet Oshun, the Orisha we’re feting today. People are greeting me, I them, at every step. I know some intimately and others barely at all; we share genuine joy in working the beloved Spirit together. The musicians are playing a liturgy in song and drum language – barago, ago, Yemoja, barago ago, oro mi – open the way for my mother’s tradition! Almost everyone present is singing and many are dancing matching steps in a series of fluid lines that meander across the tightly packed space. Those nearest the drums are elegun, possession priests.

The musicians and most ‘children of the ile’ arrived before noon; others come and go throughout the day, some dressed in work clothes. When each arrives he or she salutes the trono, a sculptural installation in which the vessel of an Orisha is enthroned. The area is demarcated and draped with costly cloth. Because we’re paying homage to Oshun, owner of sweet water, and because her priest is exceptionally artistic in his devotion, there is an actual running waterfall bedewing a multi-layered forest in mist. Deep in this forest, a sculpture honoring Oshun gleams mirage-like, almost hidden by filmy draped cloth that undulates in air currents and signifies animate spirits. Paintings and sculptures of trees, peacock feathers and fans, complete the shifting palimpsest of veils around the throne. Flowers, fruits, and delectable dishes are aesthetically displayed in offering to Oshun herself. The clay vessel that contains medicine to amplify the deity’s awo, her secret, is elevated and gorgeously dressed.

A young policewoman arrives in uniform. Its dark cloth, her narrow trousers, the gun and stick and handcuffs secured to her belt, stand out in the crowd. She prostrates herself before the trono and Padrino lifts her. Although I can’t hear her voice over the drumming and singing I see that when she rises she’s crying; she dries her eyes to go back outside, back to the work of policing the secular world. On her way she touches the floor to salute Baba Angel, who dances before the drummers. As she ascends the stairs people start to call out “Omi, Yemoja!” Baba Angel has begun to show signs of possession by his Orisha, Yemoja, the great mother, mother of fishes, mother of the world. All Oshun’s sweet water flows to Yemoja’s sea and her visit is a culmination; the policewoman leaves with a serene smile on her face.

I can just barely see Baba Angel’s luminous dark head, the light-dark dark-light patterning of the sea-like motions of his slender dark arms and white sleeves as he spins amongst the rhythmically shifting waves of dancers who call Yemoja’s name. He is moving towards the trono where he disappears to the floor and rises hidden by several priests, is accompanied inside a small white-curtained enclosure.

The next time I see him he is the mother, he is she, is Yemoja, and around her waist she wears a blue and white flowing wrap. She moves royally through the crowd, followed by an attendant who carries jicara gourds of fresh cool water, of molasses. When I salute her she lifts me, rocks me in her arms, then pours some of her molasses into each of my palms and tells me to eat. She says she will give me everything I need to fulfill my destiny. An observer comments that Baba Angel “has a very sweet Yemoja” and as she gracefully dances away I agree.

 

That the possessed body is male is irrelevant to us as we salute our mother Yemoja, but an outsider observes a man speaking in a light voice, wearing something reminiscent of a formal skirt and dancing the swaying ‘feminine’ dance of the ocean in peaceful mode. If the Santero happens to be a gay man – and in our ile he is as likely to be as not – the outsider may also infer a gender performative dimension to possession. It as at this point in our “unspinning the cocoon of Western stereotypes” (Wangari Matthei) that we encounter the tangled heritage of nineteenth century race and sexuality theories, an Afrophobic heterosexist/sliding invert model knotted in place by racialized gender, gendered sex, and sexualized possession, promulgating the delusion that possession is ownership and ownership is control.

To ile members when Yemoja, the owner of salt waters, appears among us, she is herself, not a man performing Yemoja. The young man, the Santero, will not have any memory of the healing, gifts, and advice Yemoja bestowed on us through the medium of his body, and when she leaves he will dance with us again. When he leaves this life, she will arrive through others, riding them, as Zora Neale Hurston explains, like horses. Who will these horses be? Orisha don’t care if the horse they ride is rich or poor, black white red green purple or speckled, male female hetero homo asexual or all-sexual, short tall skinny or fat, a graceful dancer or a person who hobbles with a cane. What do any of these things have to do with character? They bear with us patiently as their devotees, a motley crew of 21st century Americans, slip slide or struggle beyond our varying cultural conditionings. Suuru baba iwa – patience is the father of character – and iwa pele, good or gentle character, an elision of the longer phrase i wa ope ile ( “I come to greet the earth”) is the cornerstone of Yoruba philosophy (Fatunmbi, 2005, 70).

People enter and leave the dance the room the world – we continually flow in and out of existence and Oshun and Yemoja, the owner of sweet water and the owner of salt water, continue to flow as our blood. The sweetness Oshun owns flows into the saltiness Yemoja owns, evaporates to become clouds owned by Obatala that are moved in the possession of Oya, the wind, to fall as rain and once again feed Oshun’s creeks. Their constant exchange makes it plain that possession does not denote the Western notion of control over, power over. Instead, olo, the word translated from Yoruba as “owner,” is literally spirt-brings-spirit, indicating someone or something having the quality of,beingrepository of, being responsible for or to. In Yoruba theology if anyone holds onto ownership, ibi commences. Literally ‘afterbirth,’ ibi refers to misfortune, understood as arising from resistance to change – what was nourishing, if held inside, leads to illness. Too much communal ibi, and life on Earth will cease. EuS schemata have inevitably led us towards just such a crisis.

So I’ve said it again, and I’ll say it again: translating epistemological difference has become a matter of life or death. These can be macro differences – such as the that between my mind on what’s right and the kind of thinking represented in treatment of Kelley Williams-Bolar – or same-differences, such as those I’ve brought tastes of from my Ojibwe and Orisha families to the table of this blog (told you upfront I was crossblood). Or micro differences, existing even between twins. I’ll end with another Yoruba saying: if your life gets better, my life gets better. Different as we may be, we have one thing in common: we’re all in this together.

Sheelagh-na-Gig courtesy of Simon Garbutt

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By Menoukha Case

 

2009: Three of us were in the car when the 5 traffic lights at 18 junctions in Bartleby simultaneously turned and stayed red. People jockeyed for position, waved fists. Then all the lights turned green and you could see their faces realize only co-operation undoes gridlock.  Some helped folks move in turns, people smiled, waved each other through.

When the lights suddenly returned to orderly duality all the LED in town – Bank Ad with Clock, Town Hall Time and Temperature, Lotto – displayed waves and roses.

“Waddaya know, it’s beginning.”

“What is?”

“Suspension of Newtonian laws. Quantum mechanics gone viral, Mama Earth shouting wake up.”

“Huh?”

 “Newtonian laws only seem immutable because pushy people agreed to them and tried to beat the rest of us into submission. They’re no longer acceptable because they’ve been used to abuse the Mother.”

“Some people’ve always lived beyond those rules, anyway.”

“Anishinaabeg who understand neural regeneration in chickadees.”

“Dogon diviners who saw stars telescopes are only now revealing.”

“Yoruba medicine people who saw germs without microscopes.”

“Yogis buried alive for a month … hey, even the Albanian Orthodox Church has saints who bi-located like shamans”.

“So – you’re saying Mama hits the Just Say No to more insult & injury button, and all the lights in Bartleby turn red. Pretty funny.”

“Right, remember I told you how Dennis’s teacher showed up when Dennis was sick – everyone saw the old man go into that lodge with us and Dennis’s fever broke – and then the old man sat down to a bowl of chili, I gave it to him myself, and the phone rang and it was that old man calling Dennis to remind him to dig some namenipiniig. So here he is, eating chili in Minnesota, and he’s calling from Arizona.”

“Holy crow!”

“You got that right. Some weren’t sure if he was a show off or a joker, and being polite, rolled on the floor laughing. But he was teaching, always.”

When we got home Robin teased Jodie, praising the way she eased neatly into a parking space, turned off the engine, locked the doors with the push of a button: Newtonian business as usual.

“Hold onto that key, girl, it still works for you.”

Winter Cabin

 

2021 – 2052: Seven of us live in a one-room cabin on a pond where Robin used to squat. Kids, bugs, grandkids, dogs, nieces, cats, nephews, mice, and cousins come and go between the cabin and neighboring lodges. We moved here when the laws of physics totally melted. We worked the fluidity, learned to bend light so the cabin with all of us in it went invisible. Eventually no one from Bartleby bothered us anymore, because those who made it back to town told the others how they’d starved with full bellies, shivered in the heat, lost their own selves in broad daylight. We’d learned how to spin confusions, shaking our heads at the necessity. We tried sharing first, salved their soreness and fed them – why did you think their bellies were full? But they just couldn’t make the change. Whatever they saw, they wanted to own, not out of need but from fear.

We had old habits too – take food for instance. For a season or two thought it was something you grow dig pick or catch, cook up, put on your plate. And then, too, when we first got here the land didn’t remember Robin, never knew the rest of us. Before we learned to listen, respectfully co-operate, we almost starved, weak on needle soup from a solitary pine too lonely to give, nauseous on polluted water. We went to town looking for an easier way, were ravaged helpless with anger, with rapes, beatings, murders we escaped but witnessed.

People wandered far and wide for food. Areas that’d been clear-cut grew back so thick with scrawny trees that though most animals became smaller, they’d mostly moved down what used to be the road to what used to be landscaping around houses caved in on their own weighty grandeur. Waabanikwe showed survivors how to thin saplings and build lodges. Animals came back to live among these neighbors – wawashkeshiwag with their flag tails and antlers, mishi-bizhiwag with their unearthly mating screams, makwag – all of them. Mikinaakwag, snapper turtles, say since they never abused the law they have no reason to change, and keep growing: they’re enormous now, ancient. They remind us that beneath change, history lives: the Aazhoomog Crossroads Anishinaabeg lived here before the went to the Great Lakes, and this land itself is a crossroads where old and new met aeons ago, shale and iron deposits to one hand, sand and deep-buried African migis shells to the other.

The dense spindly backwoods around the pond is too tight for even small deer and bear, but we’re finally home, brought the place to peace after long hard years. You can hear gijigaaneshiinzhag sing chicka-dee-dee-dee, a wabooz flash cottontail through underbrush. Amik, an old beaver Robin told me once left in despair, grow cattails, and his lodge is alive with amikoonsag. As family, we eat a share of those cattails, too. Robin’s always liked underbrush, and Waabanikwe says it reminds her of the sloughs back home. We eat more fish and rabbit than deer or bear. We have an agreement with the bears, and Ernesto brings one home from time to time. We tan the hide and render the fat the way Sandy taught Waabanikwe back in Minnesota. We make medicine with it and it heals us. Is it a great life, or what?

 

2023 – 2028: What’s left of Bartleby is another story: broke down buildings full of bickering people calling each other squatter try to take ownership, can’t get the hang of sharing. They still try to “make things work” according to beliefs from the slimmest skim off the skin of history. Some of them are my cousins. When I left they were in factions and nothing’s changed.

“Progressives” run infirmaries, build windmills, plant community gardens. They call Frederick, my father’s cousin, Juice Director: he’s in charge of keeping windmills going because they believe they need electricity, and Fred, loving his people, will go to any lengths to provide it. It’s a tall order because they’re running out of mined and manufactured substances of every kind: wires, metals, but most especially, grease to keep the wheels spinning.

On the other side is my aunt’s second cousin, Omar, called Big Boss Man, funny because before it all he couldn’t hold a job, can’t stand anyone telling him what to do. I never liked it either way – being told or telling – but I like working with people so I’ve learned to listen. Omar doesn’t have “with” in his vocabulary: he likes working people, period. He’s an old school bully who only feels good about himself by feeling better than somebody else, which means getting them to do for him.

Both sides are into mastery: Fred’s group tries to “master” nature into tame paradise; everyone on Omar’s side works to “master” the others because they believe in survival of the fittest, nature red in tooth and claw. So you have Fred’s idealization of nature, Omar’s vicious notion of nature, and their endless clash. It’s a living hell, Bartleby, either way you slice it.

They both want electricity, grease for the machinery. After we left for the second time they got together and tried to steal or beat our bear fat out of us. I already told you what happened.

Why our fat? Why not hunt? Hah – they’ve never seen a bear, and some think they’re mythical. It’s simple: things no longer answer or appear unless they’re respected. They never asked, and the bears never gave permission. That’s why I call it “our” fat: Robin did ask, and she got her answer.

Waabanikwe Ties Saplings with Basswood Bark

 

2053: On the last day of her life Robin sits on the bridge with chickadees at sunrise. I tell her how way back someone told me that little bird is a helper, and later that week it came to my windowsill as I tried to answer my teacher’s question: “Indigenous Peoples often describe all nature as kin or as ‘relations.’  How does this understanding of the ‘essence’ of nature differ from modern scientific approaches that treat natural entities simply as objects for study and classification?” I’d googled chickadee for the answer. Turns out there’s an Anishinaabe story about how gijigaaneshiinzhag amuse themselves by throwing their eyes into the sky, staying perfectly still till they pop back in place, rendered in science-talk as the “fact” that chickadees literally change their view, “allow[ing] neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes.”

“Google! Science! The laws of physics! Remember that?” She laughs so hard she almost falls in the pond. We’re quiet, remembering.

As the sun shows over the trees she remembers out loud how Dennis said his people are supposed to live 130 years, and he would damn well do it. “Old darling, I’d tell him, you’ll be looking for a new wife when you’re a hundred because I won’t make it that long.” Six months later he was dead and now she’s 103.

“When Dennis was dying he told me, ‘If I only had some bear fat salve I could lick this, live 130 years with you, sweetheart.’ I prayed so hard for a bear, that prayer made a path in my mind that kept going when Dennis was gone. Witookawishinaam, makwa makade: help us, black bear.” She’s silent for awhile.

“Each word is important. Maybe if I’d said witookaik, help him, it would’ve ended when he died. But that ‘us’ went on after he passed. He’d been gone near a year when Ernesto gave me that first bear.”

The sun’s directly overhead. Robin’s wrinkles reflect so much light she’s almost blinding, features near impossible to make out until a cloud covers the sun. Then she looks just like a shriveled gold delicious apple haloed with frost on the tree in winter.

The last things she said: “Things happening in other places make our skirmishes over bear fat almost funny. While we’re making salve the whole world could go up in flames.”

Robin sighed. “I can’t remember all the names for family, they come with numbers: one family unit; six family units. But they have ode in them: heart. Ishkode, heart of the ancestors, that’s what fire means. If we don’t get along with our relatives, we’ll become one family in a final fire. Keep re-birthing the lodge so you know what to do.” The sun was setting and we could smell the soup Jodie and Ernesto were cooking.

That’s the way it was, may be, was told to me. Maybe I died in that fire and I’m dreaming this. Maybe Dennis is alive, Robin never died, and they’re sitting together dreaming me. Maybe that old pine had children and they’re dreaming you hear me tell this, maybe it’s all yet to come. We all dream together. If you’re hearing this, part of what happens is up to you.

Mishi-bizhiw, the Cougar

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By Menoukha Case

 

Children's Water Dreaming with Possum Story, 1973 by Old Mick Tjakamarra

 

Water is life. Without it, nothing grows. Fresh water is in jeopardy. What to do about this depends on who’s talking. Is it a sacred trust or a chemistry problem? Is it our patriotic right or a political pawn? Is it a human right or “blue gold,” the latest corporate frontier?

A range of verbal and visual cultural productions tell conflicting tales of water, promoting divergent values and beliefs with a variety of narratives from corporate to indigenous. These different kinds of “water talks” raise questions: who decides who deserves what? How do cultural assumptions about “deserving” play out as narratives about water? Are water rights human rights? Can we “own” nature?

Films on the subject set up an intriguing conversation:

Tapped. Edition addresses U.S. concerns, from personal health, to the environment, to local activism against corporate water takeovers. In typical american fashion, it rallies people through self-interest. Hey, this is “my” backyard and it’s my patriotic duty to defend it!
Blue Gold: World Water Wars examines political and corporate power dynamics. For example, did you know that the Bush family bought up thousands of water-rich acres in South America? Does that give you a chill?

Flow: for Love of Water  addresses the global impact of water problems, and also investigates repressed solutions and alternative ways of thinking about water. Pretty strong race & class analysis here. The Special Feature interview with Vandana Shiva addresses the idea of water as cultural, as sacred.

Water Dream Map by Old Mick Tjakamarra

 

Then, there’s the understanding that water is Earth’s Wisdom in perpetual circulation. Yes folks, that water you’re drinking is the same water that was

sucked up by dinosaurs

bottled in liquor stores

pissed out by drunks or

slithered through the thin lips of lizards

into chicken gizzards and

OUT the other end into the slurp slurp slurp thirsty earth and

UP again into the roots of something you ate or

Something someone you ate ate … 

Yemoja, Mother of Fishes, photo courtesy Joan Kaczmarczyk

 

Sweet water creeks continue to run to the salt water sea, who continues to rock, her exuberance rising and floating as clouds who rain into sweet water creeks: that’s the natural cycle. Water makes it plain that ownership is not natural: it’s cultural. In Yoruba theology if anyone hoards or holds onto stuff, ibi (misfortune) commences. Too much communal ibi and life on Earth will cease. EuS cultural schemata, driven by the principle of domination, control, ownership, have inevitably led towards just such a crisis.

Shared experiences circulating around water have led to common cause, to resistance to dominance in Africa, India, South America, and even in the US. Cultural beliefs translate into actions, which translate into ecological effects, which arouse actions and reactions. We can no longer take water for granted: if we want to live, we need to understand where we stand in natural and cultural cycles. Translating epistemological difference has become a matter of life or death.

Something in the Water by Just Greg

Ok now I am not endorsing everything he says – like for example, not that gender bit around 3:20 – still he lays out a whole lot here.

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By Menoukha Case

 

Room 3B: In Dan’s Defense

Approach the building and you’ll hear Dan’s anthem, a rewrite to the tune of “Cindy,” the one and only hit left behind by Lorraine Hansberry’s sometime husband, Bobbie Nemiroff. It’s where our pasts quilt together as a security blanket: my Mom had known Bobbie since he was 14 years old; I’d named my first cat Cindy; Dan’s Mom used to hum the tune as a lullaby and turned it to call and answer when her baby grew up and went away. I sit down and sing it her way with him, answering his call:

Dan: I joined the Navy to see the world ♪ ♫

Me: But nowhere did he find – a life as sweet as his life – the life he left behind ♪ ♫

Dan: I searched the whole world over ♪ ♫

Me: But nowhere did he find ♪ ♫

Both: My life, my own life – Oh life don’t let me down – Teach me my name again – and I’ll be homeward bound. ♪ ♫

But before Dan could defend his country the Navy gave Dan defensive inoculations. Every antidote doted on Dan. Antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, antiplague: a plague of injections searched the whole Dan over until capillary by capillary, he became them, not himself.

He hardly remembers who he was when he’s not singing that song. He’s allergic to everything and he can’t take pills anymore. Even a glass of water can make him sick.

They sent him back to the city to sit on the stoop in the sun, surveying oceans of pavement.

Room 4G: Lee’s Language

Friday evening sun set, Lee arrives, we ride the elevator together. Dan pushes Lee’s wheelchair into 4G, Lee wheels into the bathroom and drops what he’s carrying into the sink. Hair falls forward from behind his ears and he leaves it there.

One lock forms the letter L before his left eye. His gestures are a language Dan would read if he could read anymore.

Lee stares at the things in the sink. Small orange cylinders with sturdy white caps, multiply stickered with warning labels. DO NOT in red curves under ALWAYS in blue.

A packet is upside down, lime green letters bent across silver foil. The underbelly is vulnerable, puckered around twelve lozenges it was force-fed by the enormous clatter of a monstrous machine. Lee understands. He works on such a machine. It feeds cookies. Chocolate chip; oatmeal; vanilla sandwich on Monday Wednesday Friday. Ginger; pecan sandy; on Tuesday Thursday and so on, ad nauseum.

Damn pills make me sick. What you think, do packets find cookies is tastier than pills? Articulating rare words, that’s what he asks us as he fills a glass with water.

We see Lee thinks he’ll shower when he un-bunches the shower curtain and slides it along the pole.

He looks in the mirror and changes his mind. Knowing this is simple: he slides the shower curtain back along the pole and bunches it up again. Reaches for the sink faucet. Hot. More hair falls before his eyes, an overanxious tangled alphabet obscuring its own sense. He changes his mind again.

Un-bunches the shower curtain, slides it along the pole. Kekekekeke-kere-gere-geshhhhhuuuuh. It speaks in sounds. He speaks in gestures, mostly. Do I read that he’s slightly nauseous? Dan and I help him undress.

His body language says he’s slightly dizzy: as his clothes falls to the floor the angle of his head follows them, leaning to the left against a shoulders smooth and round as ever, an un-inscribed boulder. His neck’s a thick bark-creased branch and on the granite of his face is written his reading of ours. The stone of his stomach is where his nausea’s etched. Sticks and stones: few words. His gestures are the language we read: his wink says Honey, I’m home, fix me a cocktail; the shrug that follows says psychotropic, babay, I’m a flashback.

Lee stares at the things in the sink. Hard, turn clockwise. Sharp, puncture foil. These seals are proof against children without alphabets.

He bends down and picks up a towel. Nauseous. Raises his torso and wraps it tight around his shoulders. Dizzy. He drinks the water and rolls to the bedroom, goes to bed without taking his evening pills.

By the end of the week refusing those pills is the only remaining gesture. Incremental loss of gestures, suicide on the installment plan, consumes another portion of Lee’s life each day. One day the plate will be clean. A large blank plate only God can read.

Room 2C: Bill’s Pills

Saturday morning and we’re on the stoop in the sun, Dan, Lee, and me, when Bill arrives. Bill tells us how on the way home he’d braked at the yellow blinking light in front of the firehouse. He knew he shouldn’t stop but he couldn’t go on. He’d stared at the firehouse as it melted down to the bare bones of its rock foundation. Those stones were something you could stand on, he says. So he got out of the car and stood on them – and leaving his car behind forever, walked home.

He pulls his phone from his pocket and calls his doctor, tells him about the stones. The doctor tells him the prescription’s no good for him, to pour all his pills in the sink and wash them away with hot water. We all go upstairs for the ceremony.

At the wastewater treatment plant the city filters our water, but Bill’s pills micro-dosage their way through the gauntlet.

At Monday breakfast people all over the city drink coffee brewed with Bill’s pills. They get into their cars to drive to work. Each and every one brakes at a random location, initiating an eternal moment of gridlock. Nothing melts for them. Finding no stones to stand on, they fall from their cars and crawl home. Sitting on the stoop, we see the liquid glint of sun on car roofs, stilled as far as the eye can see.

Only the four of us know how to end that gridlock, but we won’t tell.

When the dammed pills speak, shut up and listen for the water.

Ste. Croix River, Aazhoomog, Minnesota

 

 

Postscript:

Back in 2000 when I typed up these true stories about some of the guys in our building, I thought I only made up one part: the idea that pills got into the water supply. That it is actually happening hit mainstream media towards the end of the decade. Example: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-03-10-cities-water_N.htm

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By Menoukha Case

 

Tengri Drum

 

Anishinaabe Ojibwe writer and scholar Gerald Vizenor says he’s crossblood. Not mixed-blood like a lot of native texts: crossblood. When I heard him speak at University at Albany this winter, I wondered if that particular self-representation of his self-envisioning had anything to do with the way he appeared to oppose representation, which he represented as humorless and static, to vision, which he represented as teasing and fluid, emblified by Chagall. This binary was bugging me like an itching powder that skidded its irritating way into tender places.

My people are cross. Sanguinely speaking, there are two fairly ancient sources of Jews, though the term ancient is relative since five-figure-year-old lines are childlike compared to indigenous lineages. There are Jews whose line runs directly from African migrations, and there are indirect Jews from a line of Eastern European converts; I carry them both.

On the African side, it’s worth noting that the Yoruba and Hebrew languages have, I’ve been told, a sizeable overlap, and some of the arcane Judaic traditions carry African traditions: I remembered my Hungarian grandfather, Papa Sol, spiritually cleaning us with chickens swung in circles above our heads on the High Holidays, so when I was initiated into mysteries of Yoruba religious practices I was already familiar with bird squawks chirps and clucking as part of the devotional chorus.

In the 8th century a bunch of royal Khazars converted to Judaism. Like the Khakas, they were Turkic folks living in what we now call North Eastern Europe or Eurasia. So far I haven’t found written records that they met up, so I don’t know if any of Papa Sol’s folks ever got wind of how Khakas and other ancient Hungarians’ Eternal Blue Sky called Tengri and Fertile Mother Earth called Eje who conjoined in shamanic practices. Many years later, googling “Russian Shaman,” I discovered this image and was amazed by the echo of the Ojibwe wigiwam and drum. Her drum, could be, had once been painted and after repeated beating the images were deep in its skin, invisible as Tengri himself.

 

Khakas Woman Shaman

 

Supernatural is an unnatural term derived from the idea that there’s this body/spirit schism that’s an un-crossable chasm, and anyone who’s felt the spirit knows different; people work hard to cross and they do. For people like Vizenors’s admired Chagall and my late beloved, Larry-ban, crossing only registers as compassion for the foggy way its apparent difficulty obfuscates people’s possibilities.

The so-called supernatural is as natural as anything, and it can be and is represented, or that’s how I looked at it. Until our further conversations brought relief, I had thought that Vizenor just wasn’t willing to come out and call a shamanic shovel a shovel. Larry-ban had taught me all about this shovel thing when I haltingly confessed that I’m the embarrassed possessor of a P-H-D.

“Got two of those in my garage,” he said.

OK, post-hole diggers, I get it, I thought.

In case you never saw one, they’re binary shovels conjoined by a hinge. You pick a spot on your trajectory, stamp the blades into the ground, wiggle them around to loosen the earth and use the hinge to close the twin shovels over a nice plug of dirt that you remove to make room for a fencepost – a lot like doing research. Sure, I know what they are and I liked his analogy. Still, I only partly got it, and he saw that.

“They’re used to do the same job,” he added.

Then I got it, duh, a fence isn’t neutral and neither is a thesis: they’re wielded to build boundaries, concoct claims, formulate fences, terrorize territories: the same use, the same uselessness.

Chagall painted enduring embodied spirit, conjoining color stroke by stroke. Envisioning isn’t like post hole digging, but it is work and it does take time. After Larry-ban’s first wife died he’d spent six months beading sky blue regalia swimming with intertwining red flowers, yellow flowers, green leaves with rich black shadows. He preferred representing the visionary relationships between us all with little round beads to separating people with linear fences.

“Life is simple,” he said, “people make it hard.” He was a listener who absorbed every word and his response to difficulties was to gather community, showing us our oneness bead by bead.

Photo courtesy of Stan Spruce

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By Menoukha Case

 

It’s North American New Year Day & my mind is a spectrum that’s not quite a rainbow:

There’s a reddish streak of my own skeptical resistance to social constructions instigated by the Gregorian Calendar’s subtle imbrication in persistent hierarchical heritages of slickly harsh imperialist moves associated with how a 1582 Christian Calendar was papal bullied into our Global Civil Calendar.

It lies beside a broad muddy band of indistinct hue, of north americans suffering over-abundance resolving to lose weight; suffering addictions, from alcohol to cruelty, resolving to achieve liberation; suffering success, resolving to pile on more and screw the rest, including the earth they walk on.

It meanders among multi-colored curves of Mayan, Chinese, Jewish, and Anishinaabe possibilities for measuring cycles.

The Mayan calendar, scientifically brilliant and iconic in New Age fantasies, is rooted reality in parts of Mexico, for example villages in Oaxaca like San Augustin Yatareni, where curanderos know that animals share souls with people and caring for an animal can remedy a person’s problems. The 4,863 year old Asian Calendar is luni-solar, associating moons and years with animals, and has a nineteen year leap cycle; the 5,771 year old, thirteen month Jewish Calendar registers the triple spiral of earth’s circling on its axis, the moon’s circling of the earth, and the earth’s circling of the sun.

Thorn in Ice, Emmanuel Boutet, Wikimedia Commons

 

Then there’s the swash of white that sparks rainbows, the snow-in-the-sun of north american natives who say the Spirits are asleep in winter, so that’s the time old people tell Spirit stories to young people, teaching them how to live bimaadiziwin, a good life. In the warming moons storytelling ceases as the power of the word engages wide-awake Spirits in conversation and action. When the New Story Cycle sparks depends on where you are: it may be October in Minnesota and December in Massachusetts; each locale has its thirteen moons and their shifting is probably the original time-zoning.

The Anishinaabe time-place cyclic poem is replete with living action names: makoonsag-gaanitaawigiiyat-i-giizis, birth of bear cubs; maango-giizis, returning of the loon; iskigamizgei-giizis, boiling sap moon; ode’imini-giizis, strawberry moon; manoominikewi-giizis, lake rice picking moon; waatebagaawi-giizis, leaves turning color; and gaskadino-giizis, freezing water moon November (Anishinaabe Ojibwe). Boiling sap moon takes place in March in Massachusetts and April in Minnesota. All of us, from the Great Lakes to Boston, from Maine to North Carolina, experience some permutation of this native cycle whether or not we know the natural names for the seasons. Eyah (yes), that’s how it goes here, and the names were given by the Spirits some 30,000 years ago, they say. Maybe it’s time we learned them.

There’s the shimmer of the traditional Yoruba calendar, in its 10,053rd year, which came to the Americas on slavers’ ships remembered in Erele / February, dedicated to Olookun, treasurer of beloved souls at the bottom of the sea. The week rolls on an axis so the fifth day of one week is the first day of the next. Its indomitable genius scintillates into synchronization with the Gregorian Calendar via months like Agẹmo / July, dedicated to the Witness of Creation; Ọwara / October, dedicated to the Wind’s restless movement through the spiritual/physical/spiritual portal; Erénà / March, dedicated to men’s rites; Èbìbí / May, dedicated to the ancestors; and Okudu / June, the New Year, dedicated to women’s rites.

Santa Ana Winds, NASA-JPL-Caltech, Wikimedia Commons

 

My feet are planted in snow-storying, my head is thinking in Yoruba, the current between them pulses and my heart is where I’m feeling it – feeling that desire for a good turn for each and every one of us as we continue to weave our fragile, imperishable togetherness.

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Introducting January Blogger,

Menoukha Case!

 

Photo courtesy of Krysha Kurzyca

 

Menoukha Case’s poem/book, Tidal River Sediment, is published by Main Street Rag. Her visual poems are in Xtant and her artwork appears in Fingernails Across a Chalkboard: A Literary and Artistic View of HIV/AIDS Affecting People of Color, and on the covers of Randall Horton’s Lingua Franca of Ninth Street, Truth Thomas’s Bottle of Life, and an issue of FemSpec. Her academic work has appeared in journals such as Callaloo, Critical Sense, and the Writer’s Institute Newsletter. She has an MA in Women’s Studies, an MA in English with a creative thesis, and a PhD in African Diaspora literature through the lens of Yoruba philosophy, from the University at Albany. She teaches at SUNY Empire State College. Menoukha dug back through millenia of Jewish migrations to West Africa to become initiated in the Orisha tradition. This tradition includes reverence for ancestors, and as a Diaspora child seeking to honor the ancestors of the land where she lives, she met her late partner, an Anishinaabe Ojibwe, who deepened her learning about Native Americans. She lives with her 84 year old mother in the Mohican-Iroquois bioregion, the lush mountainous area between the mid-Hudson and northern-Housatonic Rivers, where she gardens and paints.

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