Over the last forty-eight hours at the Westgate Mall in Narobi, poets and diplomats were killed, everyday people too. Others still are being held hostage. This kind of terror is horrifying any time it happens because it is so threatening to the "ordinary," to whatever kind of normal we think we all deserve. And Al-Shabaab is on Twitter live-tweeting their case, justifying this launch. Their military leader actually has a chance to defend the #Westgate attack via Q&A with Al Jazeera.
Ghanaian Poet Kofi Awoonor was among those in the attack. His last poems eerily attest to the eternal. He writes,
And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn
Resurrected with laughter and dance. A Resurrection. A laughter revival. How do we stage it? It would take a massive, collective detachment from our screens and phones, calendars and chores. At what point will "hope and history rhyme," how do we reach for the shore on the far-side of revenge? Thinking of Seamus Heaney, how he helped us with Double-takes of feeling.
History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
I find it interesting that this Al-Shabaab is about a "striving youth" movement. While living in East Africa, mostly Zanzibar and Tanzania, I was mostly friends with the young ones. With over half of the country under 25, it's probable, but still a somewhat strange dynamic for me, a woman in her late 30's. I found that the young ones are full of fire, ready for change, striving, reaching for creativity and outlets for creative expression. They want to speak and be heard, be part of a larger conversation, take the floor, have a place, but even more so, just be normal, find rhythms, have enough change in their pockets for lifts on the dala-dala to and from friends and family. There is so much power in youth -- how then to channel it for good -- how not to mangle and bend Islam's strong pillars of faith in the name of justice, how then to listen to young people when striving for something greater than all of us? How then to tap the enormous potential of young people?
I realize that the story of Somalia is a sordid one, not simple enough to couch in terms of youth empowerment. NGO speak won't rescue us from this one. But I can't help but wonder what an Al-Shabaaber would say in a poetry workshop, or a philosophy class on seeing, or even any old conversation where his or her experience mattered to the larger chorus?
I think too about John Berger today. About his notes on ways of seeing -- the world, ourselves. Of poetry he writes, “Every authentic poem contributes to the labor of poetry… to bring together what life has separated or violence has torn apart… Poetry can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates. And it does this by its continual labor of reassembling what has been scattered.”
― John Berger
There has been a scattering, a need to defy the space which separates. A reassembling of what got scattered.
Divine Double-Take on Westgate
Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein
The Westgate bodies were so dead
They were counted twice.
And the horror was so horrific,
We doubled the horrible utterance.
And the attackers doubled as men
And as women, confusing the army.
It was a like a war situation, a double
War on me and you.
And everyone should have had two names:
A Muslim name and a secular name,
One to save you, one to get you killed.
And everyone should have carried two guns
One to shoot your attacker, and one to shoot
Me into the shape of mangled, metal shame.
And everyone should have had two prayers
Memorized, one for the Prophet, Mohammed,
And one for any other goddess of choice.
Because don’t you know all the gods
Are not just in love with us, but in love
With each other as well? A massive, holy
Orgy of divine obsession with the other?
A euphoric, ribbon of grinning for the god
In each us, growing green from the seed