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Ubuntu by HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS   An anthropologist tells a story Of how he proposed a game To the children of an African village; The game was played like this:   He placed a basket of fruit beneath a village tree, Then told the children the first one to reach it Would be judged the winner […]
Williams and Nieves
by POETS' BASEMENT

Ubuntu

by HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS

 

An anthropologist tells a story

Of how he proposed a game

To the children of an African village;

The game was played like this:

 

He placed a basket of fruit beneath a village tree,

Then told the children the first one to reach it

Would be judged the winner and could have it all,

But as soon as the anthropologist called “Run!”

 

The children looked at each other, then they grasped

Each other’s hands and all together

Ran forward, and then they ran back with the basket

And then they all sat down to enjoy it.

 

When the anthropologist asked them

Why they’d run like that, in unison,

Instead of letting a winner have it all

And take the fruit for himself,

 

They said, “Ubuntu” “What’s Ubuntu?”

The anthropologist asked, confused.

“How can one of us be happy,” they explained,

“If all the others are sad?”

 

Ubuntu’s an African philosophy

And the word Ubuntu translates:

“I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Or, being selfish makes no sense.

 

But its spirit’s forgotten if people are programmed

By money and competitive tyranny

To believe that the world is more efficiently run

By opulent psychopaths using violence.

 

Arms are exported to Africa to allow corporate power

To elbow its rivals for resources to one side:

Rivals for oil; for diamonds; for gold and for coltan,

None of which can be as good for you as fruit.

 

 

The Moon, or,

How to solve the world’s problems

by HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS

 

The sunlight shining

On the surface of the Moon

Arrives undimmed

By an atmosphere.

Without cloud cover

It has an extra radiance.

 

And so, if long, photovoltaic

Bandages of silver solar panels

Were wrapped around the Moon

To harvest pure sunlight,

The Earth could be solarized

And its energy needs met

By billions of terawatts

Relayed by microwave

And beamed down to earth,

Allowing the Earth’s ancient Moon

To stem Earth’s rising tides

For as long as the Sun may last –

Thus calming the polluted ferment

Now cursing Earth with a deadline.

 

The Selenium in solar cells

Generates electric power

And, by coincidence,

Selene is the goddess of the Moon –

As if her silent, wordless Moon magic

Was fated to make this interconnected galaxy Queerer than we can ever think

And give Earth a new beginning.

 

Life on Earth first began

With tides caused by the Moon –

Powerful cyclic tides creating

Self-replicating molecules –

And thus, before the world ends,

A Moon Messiah may heal

The breathless lunacy below,

Upon which it still smiles.

 

Heathcote Williams a poet, playwright and actor, has made a significant contribution to many fields.  He is best known for his extended poems on environmental subjects: Whale Nation, Falling for a Dolphin, Sacred Elephant and Autogeddon.  His plays have also won acclaim, notably AC/DC produced at London’s Royal Court, and Hancock’s Last Half Hour.  As an actor he has been equally versatile – taking memorable roles in Orlando, Wish You Were Here, and Derek Jarman’s The Tempest, in which he played Prospero.

 

 

when you killed my wife

by KHALIL IHSAN NIEVES

 

Ibrahim, you are my oldest son, and I want you to always remember this poem.  Know, that when you receive it, I may be dead.

 

while I was away in my fields,

you came to murder me,

strafing my home,

and killing my wife and youngest son,

rasheed.

 

killing them,

you ripped the sun and the moon suddenly from the heavens

shredding my heart,

leaving open scars

in the burnt land.

now, what is there for me?

 

i gave what was left of my broken burnt home to my uncle

and took to the mountains.

 

the first month i hardly slept,

but one night,

i slept for 12 hours

i dreamed of maryam

she called me

as I just stood there

watching her,

unable to move,

and

wanting to reach and touch her face

 

i don’t want to wake

you must

our country must be free

 

i had met her when i went to sell my pomegranates in the village market

she asked me their price,

whatever you would like to pay

and she smiled

 

i fell in love then

with this shy woman,

yet, she was as strong as the trees that bend with the mountain winds

pure as the spring snow melting and rivering

towards the village.

 

it was then that i knew i would marry her.

dreaming that our children would be like her.

so,

ibrahim,

that is why i married your mother.

 

the next day

we climbed higher into the mountains.

the thin air rasped my lungs,

and in the distant skies

a strange and yet beautiful metallic bird of death

glinted in the sun.

 

as we marched,

we constantly recited, from Allah we come

and to Allah, we return,

not knowing when and where and how we would die.

 

still we climbed into the mountains

 

we were always mindful of death-

one day we came under fire

it was as if earthquakes were exploding

that afternoon, sayid, bilal and abu dhar died.

 

we buried their bodies

in shallow graves,

in the rocky soil.

 

we have breathed life into these rocky soils,

growing pomegranates,

and now our brothers are returning to the source of life.

 

russian, british, russian, american

 

we have known generation,

after generation,

now eight generations of our people have known war.

 

you may snap the last thread of my slender life,

but my brother, my son, and his son

will take my place.

 

on the third day of ascension

we came across a russian tank

its rusted barrel thrust into the sky

still expecting an attack on a long vanished enemy.

 

the russian monuments are now joined

by the american monuments

 

the metal bird came again

as we hid among the rocks by the upper mountain spring

 

it is april

in those long ago times

maryam would bring me cold water in the  fields.

we would laugh,

then she would tease me,

you silly old farmer,

and toss small pebbles at me,

then scream when i chased her

 

and as I ran after her,

i would catch glimpses of the young, shy girl i had married.

 

that is the past.

 

there were no afghanis on the twin tower planes

we bore no enmity to the american people

now, we have grown to hate you,

masters of the universe.

 

ramadan began when we made camp that evening

the wheat in the fields is green.

my uncle will hitch the old mare

and plow the fields that my father

and his father

and his father plowed.

 

today, the wheat is golden.

in different times ahmad and i would harvest it

this time another dream

i have prayed to Allah

that this old and lonely man

could return home to his simple farm

to his wife,

and his son.

 

that night I slept 11 hours.

 

when we broke camp

i thought of when the wheat will be ready to make bread.

 

i would give this rifle

for a plough,

these bullets

for seed

and this sleeping bag

for a bed.

 

in different times, ahmad and I would

harvest it

 

this time another drone.

i have prayed to Allah

that this old and lonely man

could return home to his simple farm

his wife,

and his son.

 

i had only wanted to be a farmer

to come home in the evenings to our small stone home,

to walk with my wife in the waves of my wheat,

to draw water from the well my grandfather dug.

 

my son,

i had married our mother when i was 20 and she was eighteen

and i told her,

i want to grow old with you.

 

we had built a small house

and when you were born,

we cried, and i went to the mosque more often

ploughed the field for the widow

whose husband died fighting the russians.

 

when the predators came

some in our village say it was futile to resist

and other, we took to the mountains.

 

when I asked her father for her hand

she blushed.

 

she could have married iqbal

who would have taken her to paris simply to shop for shoes.

but she chose a simple farmer.

 

i was born in those mountains,

and your mother was born in the valley,

because of her,

we moved into the valley,

but now i am returning home.

 

on the fifteenth day of ascension we came across a russian helicopter,

its blades slowly turning in the mountain air.

 

there were no afghanis on the planes slamming into the world trade center

we bore no enmity against americans

 

take my slender life.

but my brother,

my son,

and his son

will take my place.

 

it is spring.

the wheat in my field is golden.

my uncle will hitch the old mare

and plow the fields that my father,

and his father

had plowed.

 

i had not wished for this

but, it is the time of martyrs.

 

that night i cried

not from fear of death

i have my death shroud

and view it constantly,

imagining the smell and touch of the earth

that will soon be my home.

 

i cried,

because i would be leaving you

 

and i prayed that in the life to come, ibrahim

that we would be together,

 

once again.

 

there will be no tears,

our laughter will echo across the rivers of paradise,

no sorrow,

and we will be together,

again,

 

forever.

 

khalil ihsan nieves. I am going to let you into my heart. My grand-daughter, Sakina, smiles like her mother’s, it is early morning sunlight.  One day I want to walk with her on the beaches in St. Croix, but our very existence is in danger because of the threat of World War Four.  As a father and a grandfather, I am committed to preparing people for generations of struggle to stop this war and to continue creating a new world.

 

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