Monthly Archives: August 2011

Hurricane Irene

Times Square is deserted but the lights are still on.
Screens flashing in the rain, selling products to no one.
This is the last Saturday of the summer.  Broadway
has shut down. The show apparently must not go on.
When the icecaps melt or the meteor hits us
or the big one breaks the earth in two, I fear
Times Square will still be standing, blinking, yelling
with bulbs and fluorescent smiles
as the wild beasts, the zoo animals, the zombies
gallop down 42nd Street, upsetting pretzel stands
and trampling cheap pashmina scarves.
If Charlton Heston stood on that beach on
that forsaken planet today, he would not see
the green torch and crown of Lady Liberty
but the phosphorescent phallus of commercialism,
sending our F-U-S-O-S out into space
for our alien ancestors or descendants to decode.
It’s not that somebody forgot to turn them off
when the last tourist went home and the last waitress
at the World’s Largest Applebees spent all her tips
to take a cab to Brooklyn because the last subway
had left Grand Central Station.
It’s not that advertising contracts with sponsors
could not be suspended for a hurricane.
It’s just that nobody remembers—if we ever knew—
where the light switch is.

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Métro Tisséo

Oh her voice used to dance
on the metro in Toulouse when she said:
Saint-Cyprien République
with a Parisian push on the “que.”

A few stops after Capitole and Esquirol
but before Arènes, Bagatelle, Reynerie.

Later, she started speaking Occitan:
Santus Cyprianus Republicanus.
A Romanesque word had to be invented
for the sake of modernizing a dead language
for the station named after the Toulousain
Tony Bennett, the local crooner Claude Nougaro.
Claudus Nougarus she said
as if she didn’t quite get the joke
in an Astérix comic strip.

The Manhattan mumblings on the Metro North–
today Jamaican, tomorrow the Bronx–
leave your head buzzing at each station,
unsure where static unravels into human sound.
Jolted from a dangerous, helpless nap,
you squint into the darkness for a sign:
Harlem, New Rochelle, Larchmont, Rye.

Oh for the automated simplicity
of the metro de Toulouse! For the snobbish
way the disembodied subway fairy godmother
used to say: Marengo-SNCF.

So precise, so clear. You always knew
exactly where you were in the darkness.
You always hoped that one day, you would
pronounce a word as perfectly as she said

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the berbers in algeria

Reprinted from a Journal Entry on April 5, 2009.  I was living in Madison.  S. was in France.  This was one year before we were married when we were waiting on immigration papers to secure a little homeland security of our own.  I think for the most part, what I predicted has come true.  S. and I have made a home here.  We keep moving, finding pathways.  English was not too much for him to fold into his identity, but the tyranny of this so-called international language has started to impoverish my French, not his.


S. found articles for me about reading culture in Algeria. I found something on GoogleScholar in English that explains all the Berber uprisings and strikes in the 1990s.  All they wanted was to speak their own language, write their own language, read it to their children.  But Arabization took over.  Islam and Arabic were thought to be the cure to French colonization.  And the Algerian people will remain colonized if they cannot learn to accept a multicultural, pluralistic Algeria.

America is not perfect either.  America has bankrupted the dreams of generations, defaulted on its promise.  But we do have two-party elections.  We have term limits.  We have libraries, publishing houses, Internet.  We have a widening gap between rich and poor and we underfund our schools.  Yet we have 99% literacy.

I am lucky to be here.  Lucky to be alive now, rather than in the time of Camus or Taos Amrouche.  Because now my being in a first world Information Society means I can stay in love with my fiancé, born into a second-and-a-half world where all his brothers spoke Kabyle, all his teachers Arabic, and all the girls spoke French.

Let me try my best not to tyrannize him with my language.  English in the 21st century is a digital empire.  The real language of power isn’t even English but HTML, XML, ones and zeros.  Caught already between multiple languages and therefore, inevitably, identities (especially in a country that sees Arabization and homogeneity as the only path towards national identity), S. can absorb one more language. One more nationality. I hope. I believe. Espero.  Je croix.  J’epère. Creo.

The immigrant story happens over and over again.  The only reason, according to the article I read, that there was not a Berber Amizigh state is Africa is that the population was so dispersed across Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania, Burkina Faso.  Why dispersed? Because they were nomads.  A people without land but with pathways.  Un peuple sans terre mais avec des chemins.

So although my fiancé lived for 23 years in the same house in Béjaïa/Bougie/Bgayet, he has migration in his blood.  And I, who have never stayed too long in one place, am pulling him across an ocean, reaching deep back into his blood, his past. his fables of the daring youngest, fairest sons.

If he brings his house on his back, then maybe I can have a home ready for him when he arrives.  I will be sitting in a rocking chair under my purple blanket and he will awaken me in the sunbeams with a kiss.

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chesterfield gorge

The old man said:
Go down to the
Chesterfield Gorge.
It’s where the plates
of the world crashed eons ago.
It has some of the oldest rocks
on Earth.

We followed his directions
accidentally.  Parked the car.
Safety was a snaking
wire of metal rope.

The boulders at the bottom
of the crevasse were sculpted
in their ancient jumble,
their stillness conjuring the memory
of a glacial avalanche.

And we looked down like fragile dishes
spinning atop long poles, unaware
our variety show is almost over
and the plates of our porcelain existence
will soon come crashing down.

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