On There’s A Riot Going On, Sly Stone sings with ancestral depth about his vocation. He declaritively sings that he is a poet. There is the poetry of rhyming words. But there is also the poetry of a life that reinvents itself or endures something which is far more profoundly poetic than the rhyming of words. Verses so lived in, that survival is not even the monument. A Poet who not only survives but thrives before words are accorded to her voice. We may never read her words, yet she existed.
“As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.”
– Walt Whitman
It has been noticed that I sometimes hold mine as she does hold her own. I wasn’t aware of that until it was pointed out to me. However in my case it may have more to do with the sack of fluid pressing on the nerve which restricts the fingers and forces the hand into a mildly clenched form when not active. Or it might just be that I am my mother’s son and have inherited a physical trait of hers.
Last December she told me that before I was born she prayed for another boy. She had read an article in a Reader’s Digest magazine titled ‘If your dreams came true’, and that was her dream. I was her dream come true. I was a little startled when she shared that with me. The idea of being someone’s dream is rich food for contemplation. Naturally I was destined to disappoint somewhere years down the line. Lawyer was not becoming of me with my head high up in the clouds. And there are some other things on the vicarious life through your children box that I didn’t tick off. But the hands have not failed to live up to the weight of dreams if not expectations. I’m not the baby in the picture and I’m not the differed dream. Just the dreamer still working with troubled hands that turn inwards but reach out for impossibilities like love. Some do wonder if fate and destiny, like some parents, have favourites. And yet children take sides too. I had only the hands of my mother so there was never a choice to be made. The bastard is fathered by the world he reconfigures. Made up mentors in books and elsewhere fill up his imagination. He chooses to love. He chooses to believe. He chooses to never give up. Bolder than stone. He chooses the hand he was not dealt and the hand he has not felt, to hold. And to be held, not held back.
When I was a child I was taken to see a Palmist who revealed something that would happen to me when I was older. It happened but I survived. Do not let people speak into existence your present or future if it is not for the good of your life. And that goes for your children too. When I was lying in bed in hospital in 2014, looking through an open window, I rejected those words spoken over my life. A hard lesson learnt. I spoke words of my own aspirations and decided I would live on. God would have the last word. And the hands of time would have to fall in line.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
– Bob Marley
I was not meditating but there are times when I tap into a peace that bounces back up in the abstract of sounds and colours. In this captured moment I put on my Sci-Fi music and reached for my guitar just to see what might happen. Sometimes I like to work out ideas on just one or two strings. Not chords. Single notes. Purples and reds at the bottom of the neck. One note can be everything. It can tell the whole story if placed and timed right. Not to say that it necessarily comes down to the semantics of right and wrong in the creative playground of imagination. It is as much a percussion instrument as anything that hands and feet can hit. The lower E string is home. It gave me my first guitar child, Love Never Fails, but I don’t always arrive at something of permanence. I had an old tape of home made jungle music that I dabbled in for a little while, trying to learn some modern production techniques in 1999 when I got my first computer. I was just throwing ideas out into the ether to see what might happen at a particular bpm. I had also read Octavia E Butler’s Mind Of Mind in my local library within that period or maybe a bit earlier and the images and ideas I got from the Afro-Futurist world of her novel aligned with the sounds and colours I didn’t know I was searching for. Fast forward to a few years ago, and I was now hearing something else in that old jungle music. I started to employ techniques pioneered by the late great Lee Scratch Perry, to strip down and make new out of the old. Just to see what might happen. I dared myself.
Jungle is a true school London sound which had faded out of counter-cultural relevance before the turn of the century but still held up low end sonic value owing much to Black America as most popular music does, and the polyrhythmic continent that we associate with the groove of life. In an ideal world of parity and fairness, The Amen break should have provided financial compensation for drummer, Gregory Coleman, and his bandmates in The Winstons for they and their heirs lifetime. Not to trivialise, but it is no less than the Henrietta Lacks of music samples, perhaps only matched in equivalent significance by Clyde Stubblefield’s Funky Drummer break. A similarly glorious and tragic story. I say this respectfully and without exaggeration. It is a cornerstone of recorded music over the last 30 years. Though Jungle music never truly crossed over, it had its moment in the zeitgeist. And its cult heroes. Goldie whose album, Timeless, marked its emergence from the underground into the homes of taste makers and gatekeepers of perceived cool in the era of Brit-Pop, has been a part of the institution of British music for many years. A purist? I couldn’t say. Whatever that means and for whatever that’s worth. What I do know is that the power of Jungle is visceral and almost indescribable.
I remember going to a Jungle music basement party in Camden with my friend, Beru Tessema (just for the record, this is not a false memory), long after its heyday. The hardcore massive as we would say, were out and they were mostly youngsters. Kids in late adolescence. They didn’t live those years of its come up and scene. Not that I did either. They would likely have been in their primary school years during its peak in the mid nineties and some in infancy. It found them or vice versa before the playlist era. There were mantra like moments when the DJ would mix out the drums and turn up the wobbling, squelching, soul curling bass. Alien textures that was felt. Colours of mystical sounds wildly spraying over everyone like lighter fluid in a sprinkler. Then the drums would come back in and planets in orbit collided or so it seemed. In that heaving space packed with substance fueled low gravity bodies, the intensity was overwhelming. Sweat dripping and filthy. The bass was that dirty and heavy all night. Sexual pummelling of the sensory. All the air was sucked out dry. Flesh watered by sound, and wet as the greatest sex ever consummated in a standing position. Possibly. Perspiration photographs life and holds mysteries by the hand too.
Once upon many moons ago, I met an elderly Japanese Haiku poet in Borders on Oxford Street. A favourite hang out spot of mine in the olden days. He told me his life story in the little English that he knew. A fast friendship was forged. He didn’t have a place to stay so he would spend his daylight hours in the book store and rely on the kindness of strangers, then at night he would wrestle with the odds and chance at finding somewhere to sleep, with all his earthly belongings in a bag for company.
I’ve been thinking about sleep a lot lately. I think about the line in Act IV of Macbeth. The lady’s inability to sleep without the light around her because of her fear of the dark. I’ve been in a dark place too and I have been awake through much of it. Sleeping with the light on in the dark. What light? Sometimes I watch the moon till my eyes tire enough to turn in. I rarely sleep without some light on inside my head. But getting back to the poet. He said to me “be the moon.” What did he mean? Light a way for yourself or someone in need. Perhaps that’s not what he meant but he wrote those few words in a book of his poems that he gave to me. I still wonder what became of him.
To be the moon. To turn the tide. An idea. Light as possibility. Light as love. Uncovered by night. Unbroken by morning. Even as we mourn through dark days and tread lightly on the minds of those who are dear to us, not wanting to hurt the gentle soul that has been pressed down to the bare bones of indifference in the war of being human. Naked enough to be badly disguised by the masks that silence sees through. And does the light come through when we lie? To each other? To ourselves? And do we die if we do not grasp it? Love. Light. The Moon. Us.
An Igbo couple in Lagos, 1955, reads the caption. I still find myself in contemplation of the fact that once upon a time most lives lived were untold or rather undocumented. And it didn’t matter. Your world was a village. A town. Maybe the expanse of a city. And that’s all the world that might have known of you. The people you encountered. Perhaps they wouldn’t have a picture of you, so you would have only existed in the memories of people till they unremembered you. Cause you still existed in the memory. At least in real time, when you encountered and were accounted. So what can one do with images without a context? Maybe this is one of the chief reasons why fiction as a literary form is enduring and vital. These people caught in the lens of their lifetime could be any number of possibilities of character and story that is invented. It is probable, though I can’t prove it, that every human scenario has already been lived before so that even projections into vacant images to invent narratives are old tales retold in new clothes.
This Roman city has been my stomping ground for all my life, and like a woman, it remains a mystery to me. A beautiful and sometimes infuriating mystery. And with all its challenges and failings, it has a beating heart that dares you to embrace it. Its old architecture and industry built from the profits of the slave trade, colonialism and the far reaches of the British Empire are part of London’s legacy. As a post colonial descendant, I am able to harness the history of London as both a symbol and witness of the city’s possibilities. The immigrant blood that upholds the NHS and that has permeated its way into the life and culture of Londoners is only one of many ways in which the history contends with the present. I try to see the beauty, resilience and hope that escapes into the polluted London air. I see the London of the Arts. I think of the fact that London can claim Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye as former residents. Its been the city of visionaries like William Blake. It gave the world the genius pathos of Charlie Chaplin. Its the city of Shakespeare and boasts the world’s greatest theatre scene and tradition. Charles Dickens did not hide the ugliness and brutality of London. Neither did Dizzee Rascal. As reflected in the Grime and Drill music, London has a screw face too. Knives and young lives have not been kind to eachother. But I’ll always be grateful to London because its where I found the great love of my life. She knows who she is. I hope that we will enjoy this city together again someday. A man can dream. I love London.
Was it fundamental to die before we ever got to learn about who we were? Our second birth gave us skin. We await our humanity on the third go round. The unreturned, who never knew sleep didn’t discern the need to play on the hallow ground or ween on the blood of sacrifice.
Basil chases the child who runs into walls. Transparent heart is planted in a climate of hate. Lucent as the dark covering, lashes closed the eyes they never used. See through your sounds, the blind mouth utters crimes of thought, a berry too sweet to swallow all at once.
Drown deep slowly. You are continents of water. Drown long and timeless. You are bodies of murder. Drown soft, you are but a baby in all your lifetimes spent searching for your soul.
80s was Mr T and Murdoch, Wimpy for the toys that went with the grub, scuffling at the laundrette, Cheetara, He-Man and She-Ra, Ghostbusters and Thriller, Christopher Reeves was Superman, comics were Marvel, Peter Parker made sense to this kid back then, had a Mary Jane of my own wired imagination that bought me a Batman action figure in 89, best friends were Irish, Egyptian, and Indian, literature was Roald Dahl and Hardy Boys, arcades were where we hung out, if I wasn’t at the library (Damilola Taylor and I would have been buddies if our years crossed paths), Street Fighter, Pizza Tropicana was the spot where Minesh and his brother got shook, gangs snatched watches and pocket money, I got lucky one time, more than once, BMX bikes were the wheels of dreams, indoors we drove Scalextric cars, soundtrack was pop, trust was Prince, Vicki Vale was the Kim that rocked our world, View to a kill, old Roger was my Bond, caught the whiff of adventure and grabbed the hat I wear in the present, Indiana Jones, red was my colour, had to be a Jedi thing, Murphy was Robocop and Eddie, the golden child, the leader of a primary school country dance, class of 89, Mary Anne, French as my name, teacher was Polish, she remembered me too, spitting image, Nintendo, a falling wall, kinda spooky channel 4 girl at the end of transmission, never thought much about the doll…..
I see with foresight the burning, naked and aged skin that sheds its fears to reveal a doubt which weighs heavily on the water that contains the boat of promises, still wet and unclean as misguided infancy and the harbour that yields to the shame.
A codependency of misfortune. A child raises its parent, addicted on the imposter serum mislabled as power. Every miscellaneous shell of a citizen has walked the plank. The inquisition has been and gone, and the version of future that is being foretold has cast its judgement on history.
We are the here and now and the dead and gone. Both tied to past denial and the second coming of delusions. What is a country, if its offspring can claim to not recognise its swollen face, with eyes leaning over the balcony to survey the dead of hope, whose bones protest while the dogs strip off the flesh of indignation, clean of evidence. And what of mothers who sought out land within that hostile terrain to make an idea out of dispossession, four walls of tender to tame the patriach’s emasculated by conquest and subjugation? A father’s name carries only the tide and its tongues, of tribulation and tribe but to which child does a country belongs to?
A body of water and blood where we drown our morning sorrows, again. And threaten to sleep with our decaying spouse hung by the terror that was born in us.
Clementine kisses you on the nose. Rose button drowned in your eyes. I drank your milk of kindness through my lies. Red wine and coke, you must play through the madness. Best thing you ever heard in your blindness. Muted tongue on pause bites the lip that feeds you. I remember what mama told me. And I remember you. Oh so tall in stature till they bent you over the bullsweat. They have teeth to match your fangs. And tongues of fire to heat up your secular soul. It burns just as hot on the outside of the inn. Keep it. She’s a keeper said nobody but your gentrifried mind. The flame dies but twice. Let it burn like the bushes of vanity, skin deep and heart swept feet off the ground, you put the foot in the mouth but forgot to bite down on it. Deep dead on it. Liver for the thrill. Killer of sheep you ran through the mill on a goose chase for the ages. Bronzed behaviour patterns after laughter and the clock is tocking.