Category: Civil Rights

In Search of a Higher State: A Short Essay Interview with Sari Nusseibeh by David Garyan

Sari Nusseibeh (photo by Dinu Mendrea)


In Search of a Higher State:
A Short Essay Interview with Sari Nusseibeh
by David Garyan

October 8th, 2023



“Truth is white, write over it / with a crow’s ink. / Truth is black, write over it / with a mirage’s light.” So begins the fourth stanza of Mahmoud Darwish’s piece, “To a Young Poet.” With the very next lines, however, the poet raises the stakes: “If you want to duel with a falcon / soar with the falcon.” If Mahmoud Darwish is Palestine’s poet, then Sari Nusseibeh is Palestine’s philosopher. Born a mere month before the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli war in 1949, the future thinker was in a sense defined by a moment. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, he was witnessed his homeland change. Anwar Nusseibeh, his father, was shot in the leg that same year by Israeli forces. He subsequently lost the limb.

Fortunately, neither loss nor history went on to embitter the son. Having led numerous peace efforts and spoken out vehemently against the use of force, Sari Nusseibeh has not gone down the predictable road. Instead of trying to dismantle the state of Israel, Professor Nusseibeh has spent much of his life trying to understand Israel’s true aspiration. In his view, this has been a limited success. When asked what it is that Israel really wants, the philosopher seemed not so much tongue-tied, but rather frustrated with the nation’s unidentifiable essence: “answering the question ‘What is it that Israel really wants?’ for me remains something of a mystery.” A powerful statement, especially when it comes from a man whose family can speak of a 1,400-year presence in the Holy Land.

Professor Nusseibeh is a sensible man. He understands the nature of nation-states. Competing interests—along with real and supposed threats against their existence—have prompted even the most democratic ones to take heavy-handed measures. The US’s internment of its Japanese population is only one examples of this.

Thus, Nusseibeh’s frustration with trying to understand the country that holds his homeland is, to say the least, understandable: “These are questions that continue to bother me—whether we are thinking of Israel or of other places. There are two components to these questions. Does Israel (or any political organism) have a core identity and a determined path that allows the observer to predict its future? For example, one might say—next to other essential features it has—that it is a colonial enterprise, set to possess itself of what doesn’t belong to it, and to dispossess natives of what naturally belongs to them. One could then look around for concepts associated with colonialism—e.g., expansionism—that will allow us to fine-tune our diagnosis and draw help from these in an attempt to better read Israel’s future trajectory.”

Many contemporary philosophers and activists have rightly branded the country’s actions as “colonial.” Others have even referred to it as an “apartheid state.” About the matter, Professor Nusseibeh had this to say: “If it [Israel] is bound by its core identity to appropriate the land it conquered in ’67, then of course, one could dismiss its declarations about being ready to withdraw from those territories.” That is precisely what seems to be happening. Others argue that Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza runs contrary to the colonial, apartheid argument.

When looking at the facts closely, however, another picture seems to emerge. Not only was the enterprise of disengagement difficult from a logistical standpoint, it was even more gruesome from an emotional one. Many Israeli settlers—in Gush Katif, for example—refused to leave; they staged demonstrations; many broke down in tears, and some even referred to their own forces as “Nazis.” Eventually, authorities didn’t just accomplish their goals of disengagement, they also accomplished another, more important thing: They were able to make the rest of the world ask: “But at what cost was it all done?”

For better or worse, the government had made its point: The PR campaign associated not only with that specific disengagement, but disengagements in general, remains a telling story. Yet, there are more subtle issues besides land—the question of identity. Being a philosopher, Nusseibeh understands the complexities, challenges, and controversies behind the issue all too well: “the other component to this kind of question (What is Israel?) is whether Israel knows itself, i.e., knows itself to be exactly what its core identity defines it. This is a tricky issue. How do we define the ‘subject of knowledge’ here? The only measurable way for us to define this ‘subject’ in a ‘democratic’ system is by its elected governments and their actual policies. But here we come up against a difficulty that questions our initial assumptions: for many years after ’67, Israel’s labor leaders seemed willing to cede some conquered territory back to Jordan. This changed once the Likud came to power. Unless we take this change to be a mere con, what it tells us is that our definition of Israel’s core-identity was wrong: that its identity is not fixed in this respect but is changeable … for instance, that it can claim to be able to remain itself as a nation-state, even a democratic one, alongside a Palestinian state to which it cedes conquered territory. This, after all, is the creed of a sizeable part of its population.” The fact that Israel is a place where beliefs, opinions, and ideas are not homogenous is a trait it shares with many countries claiming a democratic essence. Israel, however, isn’t just another so-called democratic state—its borders also encompass the Holy Land. And so, even the seemingly straightforward issue of what to do with land (and how to use it) is something not universally agreed upon. While ceding territory may be unthinkable today, Israel is in fact no stranger to the act.

Years after its astounding success in the Six Day War, the victorious leadership eventually ceded the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Why? To make peace. The question thus becomes: Why are today’s leaders not willing to take similar steps? Perhaps, unlike Egypt, they don’t see Palestine as a formidable enough enemy. Nusseibeh seems to hint at this possibility. In his closing remarks to the question about what it is Israel really wants, he states: “But beyond trying to answer such a question, there is a yet more vexing one: perhaps Arab (military and political) failures have inexorably driven Israel (or its elected leadership) to become the voracious animal it has. If this is true, then we need to add another dimension to the problem of identity: that it is affected by the circumstances surrounding it, and therefore by the actions (or inactions) of its neighbors!”

But what about the past? The Jewish people have suffered a genocide (the Shoah). The Palestinians have suffered a catastrophe (the Nakba). I asked Professor Nusseibeh about the possibility of using this joint historical suffering as a starting point for a new “road map” for peace. His response: “I believe that the Shoah and the Nakba are incomparable, except by saying they are both causes of deep pain affecting entire communities. As an after-effect, the Nakba stripped the Palestinian people of their land. The Shoah stripped the Jewish people of existential security. The pains are thus generically different from one another. Does one party’s pain help them sympathize with that of another party? This is hard if the first party’s pain was caused by the second party. And it is also hard if the second party believes that its solution for existential insecurity consists precisely in that which they know is a cause for the pain of the first party. That is to say, their different and somehow mutually exclusive pains make it hard to use them as the stepping-stone for a reconciliation between the two. I think this leaves us with having to look elsewhere … maybe for pragmatic considerations affecting the lives of the two communities. I think practical wisdom will be needed here. As matters stand now the future does not bode well for either community. That future is what needs to be looked into, and it is perhaps future pain that must be avoided or minimized.” Sari Nusseibeh’s response offers neither optimism nor pessimism—only a sobering reality. Where do we go from here? Is Palestine destined to become the title of the brave professor’s book—“once upon a country?” Only time will tell.


For the purpose of reference and transparency, the following questions and responses (exchanged via email during the period of April 2021 through October 2022) were used to craft the essay interview.

David Garyan: Ever since the creation of Israel in 1948, authorities there have continually instituted various measures to prevent the assimilation of non-Jews into mainstream Jewish society (mainly to ensure that Palestinians cannot participate in Israel’s political and civic process); the 2018 Nation-State Law may perhaps be considered the most outward manifestation of that policy, granting only Jews the right to pursue national self-determination in Israel, establishing Hebrew as Israel’s official language while downgrading Arabic to the level of special status, and, lastly, establishing Jewish settlement as a national value, meaning that the state can now openly promote such developments. It seems to be that Israel neither wants a two-state solution, nor even a one-state solution in which all citizens are considered equal, able to participate fully in all aspects of life—such approaches, whether we support them or not, have led newspapers like Al Jazeera and even an Israeli general to make the rather cliché yet emotionally charged parallel to Nazi Germany. While the comparison is rather inappropriate and more or less futile, it nevertheless makes sense to ask what it is that Israel really wants—and not just with regard to the Palestinians living there but also for itself, if not a two-state solution or even assimilation?

Sari Nusseibeh: These are questions that continue to bother me—whether we are thinking of Israel or of other places. There are two components to these questions. Does Israel (or any political organism) have a core identity and a determined path that allows the observer to predict its future? For example, one might say—next to other essential features it has—that it is a colonial enterprise, set to possess itself of what doesn’t belong to it, and to dispossess natives of what naturally belongs to them. One could then look around for concepts associated with colonialism—e.g., expansionism—that will allow us to fine-tune our diagnosis and draw help from these in an attempt to better read Israel’s future trajectory. If it is bound by its core identity to appropriate the land it conquered in ’67, then of course, one could dismiss its declarations about being ready to withdraw from those territories. But the other component to this kind of question (What is Israel?) is whether Israel knows itself, i.e., knows itself to be exactly what its core identity defines it. This is a tricky issue. How do we define the ‘subject of knowledge’ here? The only measurable way for us to define this ‘subject’ in a ‘democratic’ system is by its elected governments and their actual policies. But here we come up against a difficulty that questions our initial assumptions: for many years after ’67, Israel’s labor leaders seemed willing to cede some conquered territory back to Jordan. This changed once the Likud came to power. Unless we take this change to be a mere con, what it tells us is that our definition of Israel’s core-identity was wrong: that its identity is not fixed in this respect but is changeable … for instance, that it can claim to be able to remain itself as a nation-state, even a democratic one, alongside a Palestinian state to which it cedes conquered territory. This, after all, is the creed of a sizeable part of its population. So, answering the question ‘What is it that Israel really wants?’ for me remains something of a mystery. But beyond trying to answer such a question, there is a yet more vexing one: perhaps Arab (military and political) failures have inexorably driven Israel (or its elected leadership) to become the voracious animal it has. If this is true, then we need to add another dimension to the problem of identity: that it is affected by the circumstances surrounding it, and therefore by the actions (or inactions) of its neighbors!

David Garyan: Today, a word like Nakba does not capture the same cultural consciousness as Shoah. And yet, this is not a “competition.” We must look at both tragedies for what they are—unnecessary suffering. Do you see any parallels between these events, and could this shared plight perhaps serve as the foundation for a new “roadmap for peace?”

Sari Nusseibeh: I believe that the Shoah and the Nakba are incomparable, except by saying they are both causes of deep pain affecting entire communities. As an after-effect the Nakba stripped the Palestinian people of their land. The Shoah stripped the Jewish people of existential security. The pains are thus generically different from one another.

Does one party’s pain help them sympathize with that of another party? This is hard if the first party’s pain was caused by the second party. And it is also hard if the second party believes that its solution for existential insecurity consists precisely in that which they know is a cause for the pain of the first party. That is to say, their different and somehow mutually exclusive pains make it hard to use them as the stepping-stone for a reconciliation between them. I think this leaves us with having to look elsewhere … maybe for pragmatic considerations affecting the lives of the two communities. I think practical wisdom will be needed here. As matters stand now the future does not bode well for either community. That future is what needs to be looked into, and it is perhaps future pain that requires to be avoided or minimized.


About Sari Nusseibeh

Sari Nusseibeh is the former President of Al-Quds University, the only Arab university in Jerusalem. He is also a professor of philosophy. He co-founded The People’s Voice, an Israeli-Palestinian grass-roots organization which advocates peace between Israel and Palestine. In 2001 and 2002, he was the chief representative of the PLO in Jerusalem, advocating a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is the author of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life. He lives in Jerusalem.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: John Brandi, Poet, Artist, Traveler, interviewed by David Garyan


John Brandi

October 9th, 2023

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

John Brandi, Poet, Artist, Traveler

interviewed by David Garyan

 

John Brandi’s poems appear in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature



DG: I’d like to begin with your most recent book, A Luminous Uplift, Landscape & Memory, a project which spotlights forty years of your writing career. Included in the collection are also new writings. The work is set to be released on October 31st, 2023. Can you give readers a sneak peek? Are the pieces arranged chronologically? How did you choose what to include, what to leave out? In addition, did the compilation/writing of this book cause you to see your experiences in a new light, or perhaps make you remember something you’d long forgotten?

JB: A Luminous Uplift is subtitled Landscape and Memory. Recollection is where it begins. Books, maps, human and physical geography, the idea of walking into a landscape and recording something about it were all part of my early upbringing. The book proceeds into how that background affected my creative focus as an adult. My parents came to Southern California in the early 1930s as Michigan transplants. My father found work as an accountant at the Los Angeles Examiner. Photography was his hobby. His favored camera was a large-format press camera. He and my mother were enthusiastic about their new environment of mountain, desert, and seashore—dad with his camera and wooden tripod, mom as a supportive partner. I was the back-seat kid traveling with them on their road trips. It was they who gave me pencil and paper and asked me to draw whatever impressed me, and to write a line about it: a bear invading our camp, Indian pictographs on a rock, an ocean wave that knocked me down. When the drawings and writings accumulated, my parents gathered them up. “Now you have some pages, all you need is a cover and a title.” So I would do that and they would staple the pages and cover together, and hand them back to me. “Now you have a book.”

Thinking about the many times I told this story when students asked how books became part of my life, I decided I was ready to collect some memories. Luminous Uplift begins with my mother reading from A Child’s Garden of Verses and Treasure Island, the Scribner’s edition illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. Later I was gifted books on natural history, geography, and famous paintings. Often we would peruse scrapbooks of my father’s photos and notes taken while serving as an army private in the India-Burma Theater. Thatched villages, stone temples, saddhus, street markets. In his darkroom I watched magic images—the Taj Mahal, minarets of a mosque, a multi-armed goddess appear as he swirled the paper in a tray of solution. As a teenager I discovered John Muir and Steinbeck after hiking the Sierras and driving the Baja coast. Early college years I was interested in oddball Indian saints, Ramakrishna, and Tagore. A bit later: Watts, Suzuki, Japanese haiku masters, Spanish poets, the American Beats, notebooks of Paul Klee, and all sorts of lost-in-the-shadows renegades who published their poems in mimeographed editions. In South America I read James Agee, Orwell, Baldwin, Graham Greene, Conrad, Gide, Barbara Tuchman, and others packed into a foot-locker the Peace Corps provided to keep you sane in your bamboo hut. Books! No little handheld screen to keep you occupied.

The core of A Luminous Uplift consists of published and unpublished prose. Landscapes that affected me as a poet-painter. A section called “Somewhere in the East” is devoted to haibun sketches, essays published in small mags, excerpts from limited-edition books. The Himalayas, India, Ghalib’s house, Khajuraho, Sikkim, a Balinese trance dance. A second section focuses on the American Southwest: Hopi sky villages, Río Grande Pueblos, Nanao Sakaki, details from homelife in northern New Mexico, my evolving haiku practice.

DG: You were friends with the notable Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki. As a walking, wandering writer, there are many stories about him—even that he once walked from California to New York and back. Can you talk about his influence on you, and conversely, to what extent you think the American West influenced his own perception of the Far Eastern culture from which he came?

JB: Nanao was the archetypal planet pilgrim. His address book had no A to Z order of last names. It went by regions, starting with friends in Japan, then Australia, Indonesia, Alaska, Seattle. And so on. Great Basin, Rocky Mountains, New York City, Western Europe, Caucasus, China. Nanao settled in an old school bus below Taos Mountain for awhile, a good base. Once, as I was leaving the bus, he stuck his head out the window: “Come back,” he laughed, “You forgot your footprint!” Nanao was a planetary citizen, but in the unique style of the old Japanese outrider poets Saigyo, Ikkyu, Ryōkan. Creative rule-breakers whose priorities were to get down low, see the world through the eyes of common people. You’d find Nanao talking to a purple gentian on a rocky slope, or singing a Japanese folk song on a New York sidewalk  or along a prehistoric trail in Chaco Canyon. His reputation grew not through a promotional website, clever bio, or a fat list of published books, but by meeting people face to face. No Instagram, Linked In, Facebook. He created dialogue with the likes of bears, humans, dragonflies, and maidenhair ferns. He stood up for threatened landscapes, especially the Okinawa coral reefs.

Nanao was a quintessential drop out. He quit the Japanese mainstream after World War II, organized the Bum Academy, took up communal life on a remote Japanese island with farmers and fisherfolk. When he came to New Mexico, it wasn’t just the unusual topography—mesas, high desert, craggy peaks—that called him. It was the indigenous cultures, their song, poetry, and ritual-drama. Also, the pioneering spirit of the evolving counter-culture that took root in the Sixties. Independent thinkers, especially artists, who had come to live in the rugged mountain valleys. Nanao was at home with the anarchist spirit of northern New Mexico, Indians and Hispanos with a history of standing up to protect their land, water, language, and lifestyles.

DG: You’ve been impressively prolific in the haiku genre, having published almost an equivalent number of books as your poetry collections. Is it an effortless transition, or is poetry all poetry in the end for you?

JB: Poetry, in whatever form the experience, the place, the emotional pitchpoint demands—haiku, prose poem, haibun, enlightened fragments, solitary experience, social experience—is the beginning and the end. An out-of-frame, out-of-time vibration sounded into words. As a poet-painter I have a work space split into an easel room and a desk room. On some days what I can’t write I paint; on others, what I can’t paint I write. Right now I have an exhibit up in Santa Fe, “Wind, Water & Temblor: Geologic Ruminations.” At the opening I’ll do a reading from a just-released haiku collection, The Rain Sweeps Through. Small book, small poems, small adobe gallery that steps down into a little garden. My favorite kind of venue.

DG: Apart from poetry, prose, and translation, you’re also an artist. You’ve held exhibitions in places like the Magpie Gallery in Taos. The work you do is heavily influenced by themes of nature, but the depictions have magical elements to them, especially the collages. Can you speak about the beginning of your artistic journey, your influences, and whether you see art and literature as very much connected, or distinctly separate, specifically in your creative approach?

JB: I’ve already covered some of this, but I could add that I had an early fascination with Wyeth’s illustrations, Ryder’s paintings, Paul Klee’s magically configured kingdoms, old geography books. I loved the contours on topographic maps, following squiggles, copying them, expanding them as an adult, blending the earth’s seismic activity with my own psychic contours. Recently my wife asked me what all the dots and graphite flecks in my drawings were about. First thing that came to mind: “They are particles of air and enthusiasm.”

DG: In your early days, activism was very much at the heart of both your personal and poetic activities. Abroad, you worked with disenfranchised populations, and at home you were well integrated in the counter-culture movement, working with individuals we now consider household names. Do you think those times have anything to teach us about the world we live in today? In other words, would a cultural rediscovery of those ideals, in your view, be beneficial in changing the current world, or do you think we need a new activism—with a new philosophy, or perhaps a hybrid approach?

JB: The Sixties were wide open, a time of loosening, reckoning, opening up, throwing off the old, making new. Michael McClure said it was the very energy that defines poetry. A shifting merge of dream and waking into new structures of verse; new music, new publishing, new ways of living. There’s lots to not just remember, but to reawaken: simple lifestyle; no sell-out to overblown consumerism and corporate sales pitch; absolute resistance to tyrant political rap. A friend active in the drive to register Black voters in Mississippi in 1964 reminds me our struggle is even harder now. So-called public debate is infused with mythology like that of the dark ages; politics filled with even more hate and conflict than we faced in the Sixties.

You can step to the side, hide out somewhere. But times have changed. The electronic eyeballs are on us. Wherever we go, we are visible. Better to grow roots in one place, keep things small, base yourself in a circle of progressive individuals, plant a tomato, give away some peaches, maintain a positive attitude. As for the evil voices out there, Lew Welch said you’ve got to have “charms against their rage. If nobody tried to live this way, all the work in the world would be in vain.” He also said “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal Them!”

An artist can disregard social-political commitment and get on with his work. Or regard such commitment as part of his work. In the Sixties I worked with a group of Americans and Ecuadorians to help connect indigenous people who were organizing to take legal action to retrieve their stolen lands. They were Quechua serfs scratching out a living in a visually stunning landscape under the snows of 20,000-foot Chimborazo. Between interviews I began writing poems from notes scribbled in a pocket pad. Some were political rants that ended in the wastebasket. Others brought to the forefront voices of the underdogs, people the media usually kept in the background. Some poems found their way into little mags back home. It was a boost. And I would have missed it had I stayed home like some of my college teachers advised. They said I needed to raise my visibility as an artist, establish an audience. Worthy advice, but I tossed it aside as practical and limiting.

Speaking of small circles, a recent New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert reported on a circle of scientists studying the language of sperm whales, threatened, like most creatures, by climate change. One marine biologist, when asked why research, replied “Inspiration is the key. If we could communicate with animals, ask them questions and receive answers–no matter how simple those questions and answers might turn out to be–the world might soon be moved enough to at least start the process of halting our runaway destruction of life.”

DG: I’d like to speak about your travels in relation to the guiding activities you’ve undertaken with the students you’ve taught. Which fond memories or particularly special experiences do you most treasure?

JB: I loved the outback schools in Alaska where a classroom was more like a living room full of shoes-off students lying about the floor. An extended family. One winter I was bush-piloted into a Yupik village. The fourth graders were out ice fishing along the river. When we got back into the classroom the kids were fresh with the experience of drilling holes, dropping their lines, waiting in the cold, pulling out pike. I had a haiku project in mind. We read wilderness poems of ancient China, then launched into writing haiku while the cafeteria was busy frying up the catch. After we read our poems we had a feast. It was a memorable time!

I got to another Yupik village one weekend, and the men immediately invited me to sweat. Jokes were made about how I was going to be cooked. “You bring d’salt Freddie?” It was a test  to see if I had a sense of humor, a must if you want to hang with Native Americans. When we exited the steam room for the antechamber where we left our clothes, I found my bundle missing. The men smiled and helped me look around. “Don’ see ‘em anywhere, d’you Alex?” I ended hobbling through the snow–a towel around my waist—right into a kitchen where the women and girls were waiting to sweat. Everybody giggled as I stood there dripping. Then one of the men pointed to a kettle of salmon chowder and freshly-baked rolls on the counter. Next to them were my clothes. The laughter was communal. I dressed and sat down to eat with the men while the ladies left to sweat. On Monday morning the same girls who saw me near-naked in the kitchen were still giggling as they entered the classroom for my poetry session.

DG: On your website, you make some of your travel journal available to read for free. One of the many interesting observations you make is about is about the Hindu tradition of Theyyam, best described perhaps, as a mix of ritual, theater, and religion. As you write: “Theyyam performances are remote from the West’s notion of theater on a raised stage. Here, the earth is the platform. Characters roam helterskelter in a courtyard, disappear into the trees, return through the crowd, vanish into mist. As in a Javanese shadow-puppet play, the audience is free to roam. There is no fixed place where one must be …. And that is what lies beneath all Theyyam rituals: unpredictability.” Apart from perhaps the indigenous populations, would you say that there are parallels between Theyyam and any of our artistic traditions, or do you feel that the West, especially, today—with its obsessive need to categorize and rationalize—is much too uncomfortable with unpredictability?

JB: Unpredictability is uncomfortable for all of us. Especially in travel. To get  lost is to become vulnerable. So many of us want it all sorted out before we leave home. No risks. The mythic journey is sabotaged for the rational linear route. In the old days of travel one left home and was gone. No email connect. Hardly a working phone to be found in Mongolia. No web surfing to bring up the next destination. No seeing before going. No checking out rooms online. Travel was a bumpy ride full of conflicts and resolutions. You got lost, had to ask real questions to real people. You floundered and fumbled. Your head got turned around, you came back somebody new. You do the same in poetry. Get lost, fumble, reawaken, find yourself in new territory. Unpredictability drives the poem.

I don’t think I answered your question about parallels between the Theyyam ritual and artistic traditions in the West. In New Mexico the same sacred and profane juxtaposition in the Theyyams—bawdy clowning, serious propitiation of the gods, oracular advice—you find in the Pueblo rituals. During the plaza ceremonies dancers are choreographed into intricate weaves, the women robed and crowned with wooden headdresses, the men in kilts and skins, shaking gourd rattles to call the rain. All the while impersonators of deer, eagle, antelope prance about to a chorus of singers and drummers. Then come the clowns—in breechcloths, bodies earth smeared—hooting, yelling, mirroring bad-mannered humans joking and pointing, refusing to become part of the dance. But soon the clowns begin to see that life is more than fooling around. That is their message for us. They begin to sing with the chorus and learn how to dance from the dancers. And they show compassion. Now and then one will stop to adjust a little boy’s animal skin, or refasten a girl’s headdress.

DG: You’ve amassed a great deal of experiences (both through travel and art). A great deal of experiences, likewise, is yet to be had. Years on the road and words on the page have brought you to the great state of New Mexico, where you’ve settled. Can you talk about the foundation and reasons which made it irresistible for you to choose this road?

JB: Ha, I’d like to get out of answering the question by referring you to the book itself. The final chapter of Luminous Uplift, titled “Finding New Mexico,” was inspired during a phone conversation with Gary Snyder where I found myself complaining that my grandkids had never asked how I got to New Mexico. “Well sometimes you just have to begin telling the story,” he advised. The story begins in 1971 when a friend gave me his pickup and set me on the road. But it really goes back to the first travels with my parents, early discoveries of outriders like Hale Tharpe, a hermit who lived in a fallen redwood. Or meeting poet Eric Barker who had a cabin in the cliffs of the Big Sur. Or Johnny Lovewisdom in the Andes, a writer-philosopher dropout who lived in a stone hut and showed me how to mimeograph my own poems.

DG: In all your travels, what’s the tastiest dish you’ve tried and which New Mexican one would you recommend to a guest from abroad?

JB: I’m trying to come up with something far away and exotic, maybe a jerk chicken on a Jamaican beach; a pulao spiced with pistachios, dried fruit, and saffron at a Kashmiri wedding; a lamb souvlaki in Thessaloniki; or a red curry in the Chiang Rai night market. But my favorite eating experience—one I’d recommend to any world traveler—is right here in New Mexico in the pueblo of Kewa, also known as Santo Domingo. On August 4, the big feast day of dance and ceremony, the villagers open their homes to the public. A communal table is set with food for guests who are called in from a living room decorated with blankets, baskets, pottery, and family photos. At the table you share talk with a dozen strangers between servings of the best slow-cooked red chile with pork, and green chile with beef you’ll ever taste. On the table you also help yourself to bread baked in outdoor adobe ovens, bowls of posole, pinto beans, tamales steamed in corn husks, cheese enchiladas, cold slaw, sautéed squash and corn, melon, strawberry Jell-O topped with Kool Whip, plum pie, and anise cookies called biscochitos.

DG: Apart from getting ready to release your newest book, are you reading or working on anything else at the moment?

JB: Frankly, I need a bit of a break. I’d like to return to Canyon de Chelly for some sketching. There’s also New York, the Nicolas Roerich Museum. And maybe another Aegean island. But with two books out this fall, there is promotion. Plus an archive commitment with UC Berkeley. Let alone the woodpile, planting of garlic, and putting away the garden tools. The first frost happened yesterday, and today’s the annular solar eclipse. So much going on!

14 October 23
Río Arriba, New Mexico



Author Bio:

John Brandi was born in Los Angeles, 1943. Early travels in the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave, and along the Big Sur coast proved to be unshakable experiences from which his world travels grew. After receiving a B.A. from San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge), he worked in the Peace Corps with Quechua farmers in the Andean land rights struggle. In South America he began publishing his poems, became an active war protester during the Vietnam era, returned to North America to live in Alaska and Mexico, built a cabin in a remote Southwest canyon, received a National Endowment Poetry Fellowship in 1979, and worked as an itinerant poet in schools, prisons, backland ranching communities, Pueblo and Diné tribal centers, and as a lecturer for students in Mexico, Indonesia, and India. He gave keynote addresses for haiku conferences in Canada and the Punjab, and was awarded a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for A House by Itself: Selected Haiku Masaoka Shiki. In 2015 a limited edition of his haibun, Into the Dream Maze, was issued by the Press at the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, followed by Planet Pilgrim, his paean to Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki. Two books of poetry and travels appeared in 2019 and 2020: The Great Unrest (White Pine) and The Way to Thorong La (Empty Bowl). As a visual artist, he’s been honored with solo exhibits in San Francisco, Taos, Santa Fe, Houston, and Milwaukee. His papers are at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: James Cagney, Poet, interviewed by David Garyan


James Cagney

August 24th, 2023

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

James Cagney, Poet

interviewed by David Garyan

 

James Cagney’s poems appear in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: The publisher, Nomadic Press, which released your first book, Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory in 2018, ceased its operational activities on February 28th of this year. Two questions: How has this affected your book, along with your writing, and do you foresee more publishers closing their doors in the future, or are we headed for better days?

JC: It was a disappointing surprise hearing about Nomadic’s closure, but the pandemic changed every industry across the board and shut down many good businesses. The publisher, JK Fowler, was incredibly thoughtful to all his authors and worked to get books transitioned over to another publisher. My book is now available through Black Lawrence Press. They’re a superb, hardworking press and I’m grateful they saved a bunch of Nomadic authors from obscurity. Me too. For a minute I thought my book was going to go out of print, but I’m relieved it’s still out there. It’s foolish to attempt to foresee anything, so I offer no predictions. I watched the last COVID infected cruise ship enter San Francisco the day the city mayor shut the city down. I never could have predicted what was going to happen next. But years later things are different. Nothing remains fixed. Everything changes, we just have to remain flexible enough to move with it.

DG: Let’s stay with your first book, which has a special significance for you. In a 2019 SF Chronicle interview you discuss the background behind the collection, which centers around the major life revelation you received at the age of 19. Crafting the book, as you say in the article, was a way of writing “all of that stuff out of my system.” It’s been five years since the publication of the book, and a pandemic on top of it. Has anything changed about the way you perceive not only what you wrote, but the events themselves?

JC: That book was me assembling my personal mythology into a single unit before the stories become lost to time. I grew up an only child, so now that my parents are gone, there’s no one around for me to volley any memories and stories with. I feel as if I can’t prove anything from my life that I remember or experienced. I have photos of my parents, I’ve Googled my old house, but I can’t prove they really existed or that I once lived there. The only thing that remains is memory and memories are less than nothing if they’re not preserved. The book has made me a supportive relative to myself. Its weird going through that book now. They’re my experiences and memories, but there’s no way I could rewrite them today. Reading that book is like conversing with my past self.

DG: In a KALW radio interview with Jeneé Darden you discuss your latest collection, Martian: The Saint of Loneliness. The title encompasses so many themes and yet you reveal that the overall “title and identity happened last after everything was said and done.” Throughout the book you tackle themes of isolation, along with the sense that you’re a “person truly dropped here from another planet.” The books deals with themes of “feeling like an alien inside your body.” Questions like: “What exactly is the man I’m supposed to grow into?” To what extent did writing the book help you address those questions and do you see poetry more as a form of healing or as an art that, above all, brings awareness?

JC: I’ve utilized poetry and writing as a healing art, and always have. Being introduced to spoken word, café society of the 80’s and 90’s, I realized I could use my time on mic to speak the truth and work through some things. As a performer I felt a responsibility to be real with audiences who would attend open mics and themselves never share. They would appear, applaud, and leave. I wanted to respect them enough to be honest and tell the truth. I wanted to learn to speak without fear and poetry allows for that. As writers all of us come to the page with questions we haven’t found answers for. Sometimes, if you get quiet enough, the answers actually show up.

DG: You witnessed the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, which destroyed the home you’d grown up in. You’ve talked about not having, in a sense, a real childhood, and if it did exist, it was quite a protracted one, as you’ve stated, given how quickly the environment forced you to mature. Can you speak about how 1989 affected you personally—at that time—and how the impact subsequently went on to affect your work?

JC: I tried to leave home and go to University. I chose a college as far away from home as I could get, because I wanted to find myself and grow up beyond my parents immediate gaze. But college never worked out. That year I went to Washington DC twice to rectify problems with my admissions, once in the spring then again in the winter, to no avail. When I came home after my second try, the quake hit one month later. It was October, and by the opening of the new year, my father would be diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him. That quake severed me from everything I thought I wanted. In a way, it forced me to engage writing. My father died, the house was being repaired, and my mother became ill from a similar cancer that claimed my dad. I gave up my college dream to work for her, and then we had my grandfather, her father, as our roommate for a while. So my life stopped for a number of years. I did In Home Care for the elderly, my remaining family, and hated it. The only thing I could practice was writing. The library and my journal was the only places I had to go. I had no one to vent to; I couldn’t complain to my mom, I didn’t have a huge number of close friends, I wasn’t dating. Plus, I just learned I was adopted so there was a lot of stress in me around that. Somewhere during those years I discovered poetry and that was hugely important in directing my creativity. Those years were hard, more than I’m sharing here, and certainly forced me to mature. That quake changed the course of my life.

DG: Your connection to California is undoubtable, and you capture the environment in a very personal way. At the same time, all the issues within the collection have a deep, insightful sense of universal relatability. This is the ultimate accomplishment for a poet—to make the personal universal. At the same time, do you perceive this with some sense of sadness—some sense of longing or hope for a world where the pain you describe wasn’t as widespread as it is now?

JC: I’m cynical. Its helpful in writing satire, but still, I’m stuck. I was in a workshop this week and they offered a prompt to write about humanity and I couldn’t think of anything positive. I hold hope for the future, but mostly I feel happy to be aging out of it. Social media fuels narcissism and I don’t see humanity getting over worshipping itself. I grew up in the church, but today God feels locked behind gates of human greed and abuse. People have been lured away from God for the robotic mirror in their hands. The only thing besides writing that helped me survive was faith, was relying on God, whom I find to be the source of all hope. But God feels like a hard sell in today’s age, and there’s people who’ll leap over this paragraph because I merely mentioned it. But I do hope people begin to remember love and veer towards that. My mother always told me God Is Love—love is the antidote pain and sadness. If we can only get people to see the word love and not conflate it with sexuality, as Americans often do. After my dad died, I found myself compelled to tell close male friends that I loved them, but they never saw the word as one of respect and openness. It was always shaded and misunderstood. Somehow the word love becomes an arrow pointing only to the crotch, not the heart.

DG: You’ve always been very active in the poetry community. Can you speak about some of the most vivid recollections you’ve had throughout the years and how reading/working with other poets has driven your own poetic development?

JC: I’ve learned a lot from a wide array of writers, many who’ll never be recognized, many who flared locally for a few years and are now long gone. I think a lot about Lee Williams, a brilliant and beautiful storyteller and poet from Oakland who got around better than I did and was in a wheelchair. I miss him and his voice greatly! I learned a lot from this club series, Above Paradise Lounge in San Francisco that maintained a fierce open mic that I considered my poetry university. I featured one night and read this rather homoerotic chain-gang story to a room full of lesbians, there in support of the co-feature. That was a great series and that room was hugely influential for me to push into writing darker, heavier more personal poems. The Afrometropolitan series in Oakland organized by poet Richard Moore (Paradise), was my first primarily African American open mic. That series was fostered by a far more politically engaged community that allowed me to engage historical poems or personal poems about family or race. That was a wonderful place to grow and practice. I started doing poetry in the years before slam, so after slam caught on, The Starry Plough which hosted the Berkeley Slam became a serious contender and was hugely influential. One night, this poet got on stage and performed what he called Wiggle Poetry. He announced his poem, then laid down on his back on stage and vibrated at different levels of intensity based on the stanzas. He spoke no words except gibberish while he shook. I don’t remember anything else about that night except for him. That crazy, distinctive poem will live within me forever. I wish I had the courage to do such a thing.

DG: What’s your favorite place in the Bay Area and have you written a poem about it?

My favorite place is near where I live, Lake Merritt. I haven’t written about it or many specific local places, really. Being local they’re sometimes hard to see and appreciate and trigger writing. Truth told, my favorite places are bookstores and record stores, with many being lost or compromised to time. Haven’t written about them yet.

DG: What’s a place in California you would like to visit and why?

I never get to do anything touristy. I currently work in San Francisco and have never visited Alcatraz. I’d like to go back to the redwood forest, but I never take the time. I could use an extensive visit to Hollywood, to be honest.

DG: Do other mediums, such as music and art, influence your work in any way?

Absolutely. I love visual art and painters are hugely influential. Robert Rauschenberg. Jean-Michel Basquiat. I’m currently a fan of Mikael Owunna and Kehinde Wiley. I honor visual artists and wish I practiced it.

DG: What are you reading or working on at the moment?

I just finished The Delectable Negro by Vincent Woodard, and Race and the Unconscious: An Africanist Depth Psychology Perspective on Dreaming by Fanny Brewster. Both fascinating books. There’s a great new translation of poems by Joyce Mansour which I adored, called Emerald Wounds. And I just started The Exorcist Legacy by Nat Segaloff which explores the cultural history of that film. Personally, there are some other poetry collections I’m in the midst of editing and hoping to find homes for soon.

 

About James Cagney

James Cagney is the author of Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour Of Chaos Theory, winner of the PEN Oakland 2018 Josephine Miles Award. His newest book, Martian: The Saint of Loneliness is the winner of the 2021 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. It is due from Nomadic Press in 2022.

American Pandemic, a poem by David Garyan, published in Interlitq

«American Pandemic» was first published in Volume 12 of The American Journal of Poetry (January 1st, 2022). Volume 12 was the final issue of The AJP before it ceased publication. The archive remained available for some months, until early 2023, after which the website disappeared completely.

Please click here read the story behind the initiative to republish all my work.


 

American Pandemic (The President’s Prayer)

For although you may have absolutely no choice in some matters, this does not mean the things you must do in these moments are absolutely right.
—Wilde 3:16

Dear Lord, today we give
thanks for no longer
having to fear the rapists
living next door to us—
at least those who,
out of their own volition,
did trust in the miracles
of science and go down
to the nearest vaccination center,
where shots
of AstraZeneca are done—
approved, of course, by the CDC and EU,
for its benefits
lie precisely in the fact
that it has killed
a trivial amount
of people,
and was made
by a British-Swedish company,
unlike Sputnik,
which, regrettably,
also, did ice
a similarly trivial amount,
but was, of course,
made by the Russians—
a dilemma, indeed,
for if the rapist
had simply chosen
Slavic vaccination,
it would’ve prevented
him from entering indoor
venues like movie theaters and schools,
much less having access to Europe,
where this vaccine,
along with the Chinese Sinovac,
are still under rolling review,
all for your own safety, of course.
Dear Lord, though we must keep walking
through the valley of the shadow of death,
we will fear no evil;
for Thy Protestant and Catholic
vaccines will protect us,
while the heathens of the East—
Orthodox Slavs and Chinese communists, that is,
will be barred from entering
the Schengen Area
for having disobeyed Thy command,
and taken jabs
from the forbidden list of vaccines.
For we know that your only
begotten Son, Jesus,
cares not whatsoever about all Christians,
nor even those recognized
by the United Nations,
but only those G-7 (formerly G-8) Christians,
who by their burden of upholding
democracy, human rights,
and women’s rights,
(two different things altogether,
as women aren’t humans),
did follow the true path of Thy Son
when they expelled Russia
from this hallowed community
after its illegal annexation of Crimea.
Lord, we ask that you give us
patience and strength
in this time of uncertainty—
for our other neighbor, Bill,
living with his lovely family
just four houses down,
are followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
despite having frequently made generous
donations to charities fighting poverty
in Sub-Saharan Africa,
they remain unvaccinated due to their beliefs—
thus posing bigger threats
than the very rapist living next door,
who, in fact, holds a bachelor’s degree
in pharmacology,
and this he received from Tufts,
meaning he has rightly
been ordained as a monk of science,
with fervent faith in all the hottest biology.
Indeed, our dear Lord,
it helps neither Bill,
who once rescued two children
from a burning building,
nor his pleasant family
that often volunteers
to pick up trash in their neighborhood,
to be good, yet unvaccinated Christians.
For the Lord so commanded:
Thou must let all vaccinated
fornicators into heaven,
for if they present
the Green Pass,
and it is valid,
every sin and transgression henceforth
shall be forgiven by the glory of God.
Let us rejoice, sweet Jesus,
and let the miscreants inside!
For it is at once righteous to do so,
but, alas, also legally necessary,
for Lord Fauci,
in all his infinite
scientific glory
and wisdom,
hath ordained that full
vaccination bestows
full immunity
against any sexual misdemeanor,
and perhaps even felony,
but only so long as blood
tests can show
the presence of antibodies;
heathen Bill, however,
can neither be allowed
to keep his job,
nor attend any community functions,
and his satanic family
shall have to wear medieval
masks of shame wherever they go.
Let us pray, dear Lord,
that blasphemous Bill
and his infernal ménage
continue being good Christians,
for their donations
and community service are important,
but let us, nevertheless,
wholly distance ourselves socially,
for they cannot be spoken
to until they receive the sacrament of vaccine.
But let us all the while, dear Lord,
invite the rapist—
provided he agrees to wear a mask
and continues, like before, observing
social distancing rules,
because, indeed, the sacrament of vaccine
works not miracles every time,
something the pharmacologist offender,
or more aptly, offender pharmacologist,
knows very well;
and so, in the name of Jesus, our Savior,
let us pray for that gentle predator,
for he has become
the epitome
of responsibility,
and a shining example
of good fellowship
towards Woman (and also Man,
but only in rare homosexual cases—
for let us not, dear God, tolerate
those who discriminate
against a misfit
that prefers chasing men),
for he knows not only
all the hip sciences,
but also totally trusts
every hip doctor and science,
even when they say
opposite things.
Let us hence rejoice
and place our faith
in that rapist,
for he truly cares
about the safety of others,
even when he’s raping them,
for he will not lay hands
on any unvaccinated souls—
no matter how strong
his urge to do so may be,
and in this way, our heavenly Father,
we didst finally see
a prominent drop
in not only COVID infections,
but also cases of sexual assault;
these latter numbers, howbeit,
are neither relevant nor crucial,
for we’re not so concerned
with them these days,
mostly because developing
vaccines against battery,
even the sexual type,
is scientifically impossible.
And so Lord, we ask that you bless
and watch over
the sexual deviants,
(but only the inoculated)
for before Johnson and Johnson
they were blind,
but now they can see,
and protect also those who took
Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca,
and especially young women
who took AstraZeneca,
since they are most at risk
of dying from it,
but let us, oh Lord, have faith
and renounce our fright—
for these fair maidens
are now vaccinated
and no longer need Thou;
truly, they hath nothing
left to fear,
for we know
that all the world’s problems
disappear after full vaccination,
two weeks after the second dose, that is.
Have no mercy, howbeit, on those who took Sputnik,
for pride, tyranny, and wickedness cannot last,
but the righteous shall live by Western-approved
jabs and that holy democracy worthy of us all—
the one which accidentally bombs
civilian targets in Afghanistan,
but only under a Democratic administration;
a Republican democracy where civilian
targets are accidentally hit,
can, absolutely, not be tolerated.
Our Father who art in heaven,
we need good, honest democratic
leaders who blow up churches and schools
in the name of Saint Schumer,
of whom the public does approve
no matter what he commands,
and if there be doubt,
it shall excuse his failures
as honest blunders;
the same mistakes
just across the aisle, however,
must properly and justly incur the wrath
of all left-leaning news networks out there,
because that is what it means to be fair,
balanced, and objective, in the name of Christ Almighty.
We ask, also, in this time of uncertainty, dear Lord,
that you promptly hear the grievances aired
by the LGBTQIA+E=mc2@admissions.caltech.edu community—
for on numerous occasions
they’ve demanded that bombs
dropped on civilian targets
proudly display Pride flags on them,
otherwise protests will erupt
across the whole country.
We pray, as well, that all who deny
the scientific thrust behind
these rockets be labeled
provocateurs and Republicans—
meaning anyone from Afghanistan
must display proof of bombing,
preferably with QR codes,
before we can consider them refugees,
much less admit them to this country,
which, supposedly, isn’t a Christian one,
but whose presidents have all been Christian.
And so, in the name of all that’s holy, dear Lord,
please forgive us for putting
sanitizer dispensers
inside your churches,
and wearing masks,
for it’s nothing personal
against you or the miracles
you’ve worked on this earth;
it’s just that washing your hands
frequently absolves us of all sins—
for if Pontius Pilate only had some Purrell
that day he was to condemn
your only begotten Son,
there would be nothing
he would need to answer for today.
Dear Jesus, please know
that if and when you decide
to have your Second Coming,
all the vaccinated rapists,
murderers, and pillagers
will be free to attend the event,
which is scheduled to be held
at the LA Convention Center,
or perhaps Madison Square Garden,
depending on parking—
strictly observing, of course,
all the social distancing
protocols recommended by the CDC.
And if the people
ever decide to crucify
you once more,
something they are bound
to do sooner or later,
proof of vaccination
will no longer suffice;
given the more exciting nature
of this particular spectacle,
negative PCR tests (valid for 48 hours)
and cavity searches will be required
to access the crucifixion site,
for when it comes to safety,
no right or freedom
is sacred enough to uphold.
Oh, hallelujah, dear Lord,
we pray that the planet
and every hallowed
thing you created,
in the name of the Father,
the Son, and Holy Spirit,
simply go to shit
while our chosen leaders
sit there and figure out
how to save us from COVID;
for there are maps, statistics,
and analysis, sweet Jesus—
so much scientific scripture
capable of showing us all,
and very precisely at that,
how fucked up things have become.
Do you not see, my brethren,
that the US registered
148,202 new cases today,
which, on a fourteen day spectrum,
represents a twenty-nine percent increase?
Have the numbers and colorful graphs
not made an impression, my dear brothers?
For if we can’t quantify something,
the problem isn’t worth solving.
And is it not such a tragedy
that we have more vaccines
than anyone knows what to do with?
For in Pelosi 2:3-4 it is so written:
When Moderna ran out,
Fauci’s mother turned and said to him—
“They have no more Western vaccines.”
But that Son of Science so replied:
“Woman, why do you involve me?
My hour has not come yet.”
And after having ordered the syringes
to be filled with Sputnik,
the patients were given those injections
and all were then amazed
they had turned into Pfizer.
The Son of Science did this—
the first of his many signs,
in Cana of America,
and it revealed his glory,
and his disciples believed in him.
So now we must jab them all,
starting with dead people
and unborn fetuses
that can no longer be aborted,
for if daily quotas are not met,
the UN will come raining down
on our asses like a goddamn fucking
firestorm with their resolutions
that have never been legally binding
anyways, hence why be afraid?
And so, feel free to keep committing
your war crimes, my fellow African dictators,
for though they might say
and even shout a lot at the UN,
fear not, I command, fear not—
for everyone sitting
in those plush chairs
will be much content
to have heard the pretty sounds
of their own voices,
only to have done nothing at all
about the problems
they so enjoyed discussing;
at most, they shall show
“deep concern about the rising
tensions in the Middle East and Africa,”
but this too shall pass,
and with some persistence,
you’ll be free to plunder again,
without those pesky
colonizers (Europeans, that is)
scolding you for being colonizers.
And so, my brothers,
forget the rising levels of racism,
greed, and unhappiness,
for there’s no science
behind them anyways—
no graphs, maps, or tables
to show us the daily increase
in anti-Semitism, apartheid,
or even xenophobia,
for all the lab rats
working in democratic countries
have yet to develop vaccines
against these pandemics,
but if there’s no jab
to solve the problem,
then there’s no problem
to begin with—
nothing worth inspecting
any longer.
Just to be safe, howbeit,
keep distancing yourself
from Blacks, Asians,
Latinos, and anyone who isn’t White,
including Arabs and Persians
with American passports,
some of whom may look
and act “Caucasian,”
but don’t be deceived, my brothers,
and remember the famous Bible passage,
Shakespeare 3:16, Act I, Scene III:
Libyans and Iranians
can cite US passports
for their own purpose.
Also never forget
the Civil Rights Movement,
and which color of skin
was then barred
from entering buildings
and using facilities,
even before the Green Pass;
but let us, dear Lord,
remain vigilant as ever,
for unvaccinated Whites,
especially the poor ones,
now pose the same threat
as vaccinated Iraqis
and Afghans with US passports;
alas, should the unjabbed
Whitey, however,
happen to be quite wealthy,
then we must consider
this proof of vaccination,
because gaining COVID
from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
then dying from it
bestows both status
and upward mobility
upon the dead one,
while catching COVID
from a homeless drunk
then dying from that
is simply a tragedy—
upward mobility
without any fame.
Oh, dear Lord, we pray to heaven
that you get with the program at last
and allow just fully vaccinated
souls into your kingdom;
it would also be nice, sweet Jesus,
if you could demand
that the certificates be shown
in digital form,
with QR codes and cavity checks
and the whole nine yards, really,
for so many have already
been tempted by Satan,
and bought fake certificates
on Telegram and WhatsApp—
a clever business model
with great revenue streams,
something deeply upsetting
for the bureaucrats of Big Pharma.
On the other hand, dear Lord,
Big Tobacco may have cause
for celebration, as some studies
have shown that smoking
may help prevent COVID—
indeed, it doth appear as if nicotine
interferes with ACE2 receptors,
thereby preventing the virus
from entering cells.
Hallelujah, our Father in heaven!
We pray in the name
of your only begotten Son
that all the smokers in Kentucky
will now rise up and initiate
protests demanding mandatory puffing
measures at work, schools,
and hospitals,
but especially hospitals,
for no freedom,
and this we swear,
is sacred enough
to give up in the name of safety,
even the freedom to breathe.
Starting next week,
mandatory proof
of smoking shall
be presented
at the entrance
of every gym, restaurant,
and nursing home.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, fellow brethren!
And as with vaccines,
connoisseurs of Russian cigarettes
will absolutely
be prohibited from entering
any indoor venues,
until the proper clinical trials
can be carried out;
the CDC has already
scheduled rolling reviews
to see if cancer sticks
made by former communist heathens
pose the same health risks
as those made in the free world,
because only the cancerous kinds—
the ones with arsenic,
liberty, and lead inside them
have been known to interfere
with the aforementioned ACE2 receptors.
So far, the CDC has only approved
the democratic cigarettes of Marlboro,
Newport, and Camel against the coronavirus—
in clinical trials, they’ve shown
a smashing 99 percent effectiveness
in killing people before they contract COVID,
much lower than the despotic
brands of Russia,
which have far less additives
and kill only 89 percent of subjects,
but these are just the results
of one medical study funded by Republicans;
the very same study funded by Democrats
showed that Russian cigarettes
kill people on contact,
with vaccinated Americans
from ages 0 to 100 being most at risk;
the State Department hence recommends
that anyone holding a US passport
avoid traveling to places
where this tobacco is sold—
if you absolutely must travel,
buy forty packs of Marlboro
and smoke two a day while wearing
a mask fully covering nose and mouth.
Our dear Lord, we ask in the name of Jesus
that you please forgive
all the fornicators,
thieves, and lawyers,
but especially lawyers,
for any wrongs
they may have committed,
be they sleeping with monkeys,
stealing relics from your churches,
and, naturally, defending
those who slept with monkeys
and stole relics from churches,
but solely if said miscreants
who’ve lived total lives of sin
agree to accept Science
as their only true Savior,
and receive the holy
communion of antibiotics,
and when, with glory, those sins
have been thoroughly cleansed,
shall they proceed, at last,
with the deathbed vaccination,
for the Church of Democratic Science
teaches that only sincere deathbed inoculations
can prevent the spread of COVID at funerals,
while the Church of Republican Science
asserts that COVID was manufactured in a Chinese lab
and hence can threaten only Chinese funerals—
ever since the Great Schism of Science in 2020,
questions surrounding the afterlife
remain a disputed issue in both disciplines,
all because the Church of Democratic Science
and the Church of Republican Science
couldn’t agree on the issue
of whether it was acceptable
to use unleavened jabs
for the sacrament of full vaccination;
other disputes revolved around the fact
of whether scientists could marry
or had to remain celibate,
devoting their whole lives
to the study of reproduction,
rather than reproducing themselves.
And so, it looks as though the teachings
of Democratic Science
and Republican Science
will remain at odds forever.
Dear Lord, we ask that you punish
those scholars who sell indulgences—
fake vaccination certificates, that is,
for it will take a Reformation of Science,
initiated by the one and only
Martin Luther, MD, PhD, PsyD,
with no relation to the former
Augustinian monk,
to create yet another split,
and this time in the Church of Republican Science—
it shall come to pass that doctors
will have no right
to exercise power over people
in jab purgatory,
that is those who may qualify
for vaccination exemptions,
but must show extra proof
of valid medical contraindications
to receive that holy Green Pass.
The Church of Democratic Science
sees all this as heresy,
arguing that patients
must prostrate themselves
before doctors and ask
for vaccination penance—
only this way can they be
admitted to the Stanley Cup Finals,
and also Super Bowl LVI.
The World Series, however,
is a totally different ballgame—
being America’s Pastime,
it does, unfortunately,
require not only prescribed
vaccination penance,
but also a full baptism
with either Olay or L’Oréal—
also known as a “shower”
in scientific literature;
any rituals conducted
with Russian water
and their heathen
communist products
will not be recognized as democratic,
and may result in excommunication,
but also being burnt at the stake.
For we know, dear Lord,
that Psalm 51:7
tells us to purify our sins
strictly with Purell, but perhaps also Lysol—
only, however, if there’s a shortage of Purrell,
for that is surely the superior product,
and then we will be clean;
wash us, our heavenly Father,
but just with brands
approved by American
board-certified dermatologists,
and we shall be whiter
than Russian snow.
Let us pray, dear brothers,
that neither the ACLU,
nor the Woke Apparatus
of Twitter bring
charges of racism
against the Old Testament,
and perhaps even the whole Bible,
for, certainly, African-Americans,
along with darker skinned Latinos
and Asians, have no way of cleansing
themselves to the level
of Scripture-approved
shades of White—
at most, they shall be known
as “Two or More Races,”
or “Some Other Race,”
with the US Census Bureau
very much highlighting “Other,”
for that is how powerful
and prestigious
American body washes
remain on the world stage,
so help us God.
And let us remember,
today and for all times,
Fauci 3:5, where it is so written:
Trust in the Science
with all thy heart,
and do not depend
on your own understanding—
something, dear Lord,
which is good and true,
but certainly contradicted
by Biden and Harris 14:15,
which doth proclaim:
“The simple believe anything,
but the prudent give thought
to their steps.”
For it is the spiritually unvaccinated
who remain separated from Science,
and thus tempted by Satan himself—
for, today, that devil
is not really the Devil,
but rather the embodiment
of the Christian religion,
for in Buttigieg 16:23
it is so written:
Fauci turned and said to Jesus,
“Get behind me, Satan!”
You are a stumbling block
to my Science;
you do not have in mind
the concerns of vaccination,
but merely human concerns.
And so, from this day on,
Christianity became the Devil,
for it was not concerned
with just biology and the body,
but merely human concerns.
For yes, we all know, dear brothers,
that only the communion of vaccination
can absolve us from our sins.
And as the disciples
gathered for the Last Supper
at the White House,
Fauci said: “Take these masks
and wear them, for they are my body—
made in China, of course,
and though America
is on the brink of total collapse,
we can be sure these masks
will protect us from every economic,
social, and natural danger.
He then gave thanks to China
and offered his disciples
the syringes, saying:
“Each of you inject,
for this is my blood,
which seals the covenant
between the President
and his people,”
thus it was written
in Biden and Harris 26:27-8.
And so Washington
did truly rise again
from death,
and took its vaccinated
body—with PCR tests and everything—
that which appertained
to the perfection
of Man’s American nature,
wherewith it ascended into Heaven,
and there will sitteth, until the government
returns to judge all unvaccinated Men
(and also Women, of course,
for we must certainly discriminate
against unvaccinated Women as well)
on the last day.
In the name of the Father,
Uncle Sam, and American Spirit.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Heading West, a poem by David Garyan, published in Interlitq

«Heading West» was first published in Volume 9 of The American Journal of Poetry (July 1st, 2020).

Please click here read the story behind the initiative to republish all my work lost with the disappearance of The American Journal of Poetry.


 

Heading West

In a free world,
surgeons of words
could cut suicide
from ropes like a tumor;
and still, climbers
wouldn’t lose faith—
tying them around their bodies
on the wildest mountain.
The age of emergencies
has arrived like electricians
getting shock therapy
for schizophrenia.
Now our economy needs
the elderly’s bones;
living off buried
animals is nothing new—
call it fossil fuel.
Speed up the rate
of extinction;
save free enterprise.
Already, we’ve turned the uterus
of women into coal mines,
all for carbon-intensive babies—
there’s no resource we can’t touch,
no land we must conquer with consent.
The US belongs to us, Marx;
we own the means of reproduction;
commercially transmitted
diseases are cured;
hospitals are factories
where assembly lines
for life end.
You have poor vision?
Receive books but no glasses.
You have poor judgment?
Build libraries
where no one returns
what they borrow.
Hold a camera
that forgets everything.
Speak to a world
whose eyes
never stop
taking pictures—
our ears are the windows
of skyscrapers in which people
believe they can fly.
Our minds are lightbulbs
away from spotting reason
in the darkness.
Our hands are paintbrushes
coloring millions
of homes white.
The scars on society
are visible like mistakes
corrected on a typewriter.
Still, our loneliness collects stamps—
only because there’s
no one left to address.
We became treasure hunters
only after losing our wealth—
asking gravediggers for shovels
and thieves for maps.
Presidents and PMs
of the free world
sit behind their desks,
bodies stiff
like exclamation marks,
egos bulging
like dotted eyes
never lowercased,
but still staring
like journalists
working in safe countries.
Liberty is now too popular,
hiding behind bodyguards
with guns;
democracy has nothing left to conceal—
like submarines
that are never in danger,
yet still refuse to surface.
Freedom is more than just freedom—
the ability to go anywhere,
but also without the danger
of landmines.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.