On the battlefield with Atsushi Nakajima; Samantha Hunt gets noticed by her neighbors; Yiyun Li eavesdrops on hers; Fiction by Shena Mackay & Petina Gappah; Impossible Sightseeing with John Wray & Matt Dojny; Poetry by Adrienne Rich & Mahmoud Darwish; & much more.
A woman of the citizen party—what’s that—
is writing history backward
her body the chair she sits in
to be abandoned repossessed
The old, crusading, raping, civil, great, phony, holy, world,
second world, third world, cold, dirty, lost, on drugs,
gangrenous, maiming, class
war lives on
a done matter she might have thought
ever undone though plucked
from before her birthyear
and that hyphen coming after
She’s old, old, the incendiary
whose warped wraps you shall find in graves
and behind glass plundered
The time and place and manner of my death are three facts that don't exist yet.
Facts exist for whole centuries and then suddenly cease.
Pluto used to be a planet and now it is a chunk of debris, number 1341340.
My grandmother's house stands on the hill above the sea where she left it.
When I come back to visit I discover a crater in its place.
This room is full of facts.
All day I let the cat out, let it in, then let it back out again.
I mean this metaphorically.
Some facts never exist.
It is winter. It is summer.
All night the branches tap at the glass.
On the typographic bushes of the poem down a road leading neither out of things nor to the mind, certain fruits are composed of an agglomeration of spheres plumped with a drop of ink.
Black, rose, and khaki together on the bunch, they are more like the sight of a rogue family at its different ages than a strong temptation to picking.
In view of the disproportion of seeds to pulp, birds don't think much of them, so little remains once from beak to anus they’ve been traversed.
But the poet in the course of his professional promenade takes the seed to task: “So,” he tells himself, “the patient efforts of a fragile flower on a rebarbative tangle of brambles are by and large successful. Without much else to recommend them—ripe, indeed they are ripe—done, like my poem.”
When the prices of everything went up ninety-seven times in one year, M’dhara Vitalis Mukaro came out of retirement to make the coffins in which we buried our dead. In a space of only six months, he became famous twice over, as the best coffin maker in the district and as the Mupandawana Dancing Champion.
Fame is an elastic concept, especially in a place like this, where we all know the smells of one another’s armpits. Mupandawana, full name Gutu-Mupandawana Growth Point, is bigger than a village but it is not yet a town. I have become convinced that the government calls Mupandawana a growth point merely to divert us from the reality of our present squalor with optimistic predictions about our booming future. As it is not even a townlet, a townling, or half a fraction of a town, there was much rejoicing at a recent ground-breaking ceremony for a new row of Blair toilets when the district commissioner shared with us his vision for town status for Mupandawana by the year 2065. Ours is one of the biggest growth points in the country, but the only real growth is in the number of people waiting to buy coffins and the lengthening line of youngsters waiting to board the Wabuda Wanatsa buses blasting Chimbetu songs all the way to Harare.
You will not find me joining that queue out of Mupandawana.
In the ninth lunar month of Tianhan 2 (99 b.c.e.), during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, Commander of the Cavalry Li Ling led a force of five thousand foot soldiers north from the border fort of Zheluzhang. For thirty days, they threaded their way through harsh foothills where the southeastern end of the Altai mountain range starts to give way to the Gobi desert. The cold north wind cut through their uniforms, and they felt truly isolated, ten thousand li from any source of help. When they reached the foothills of Mount Xunji at the northern edge of the Gobi desert, the army at last made camp. They were already deep inside the territories of their enemy, the Xiongnu nomads, known to the West as “the Huns.” It being so far north, the clover had withered, and the elms and willows had shed all their leaves, although it was still autumn. Even the trees themselves were hard to find, apart from the area surrounding the camp, so harsh and wild was the landscape, with nothing but sand and rocks and a waterless riverbed. As far as the eye could see, there were no signs of human habitation. The only signs of life were the occasional antelope that ventured onto the plain in search of water, and formations of wild geese flying south high above the distant mountains clearly outlined against the autumn sky. Yet not a single man was moved to sweet nostalgic thoughts of home. Their situation was too perilous to permit that.Continue reading