426 Slices
Medium 9781743603604

A Face You’ll Never Forget

Berendt, John Lonely Planet Publications ePub

At a young age my eldest daughter had a fascination with the night sky. When darkness enveloped the world, she’d urge me outside to look for constellations. Her book for beginning astronomers splayed before her, she asked for my help finding Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper, Cancer.

‘There, Daddy, look,’ she said, pointing up. ‘There’s Orion.’

I knew Orion. I didn’t know many others, especially in the washed-out sky of urban North America, but I knew Orion.

Long before my daughter was born, I had stood at midnight by railroad tracks on the tropical island of Sri Lanka, looking at a sky full of stars. The moon was long gone, the darkness so complete I could barely discern the outlines of the surrounding forest. Above, pinpricks of light so filled the sky that I began to believe I could see in three dimensions, looking into the depth of the cosmos at layer upon layer of stars, rather than the usual flat expanse of sprinkled light. It seemed I was viewing the universe for the first time. A trickle of sweat meandered down my spine and I wondered if it was caused by the tropical heat or the sudden awareness of my utter insignificance.

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Medium 9781771870849

Balaam’s Ass

Ratzlaff, Lloyd Thistledown Press ePub

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SOME FRIENDS WHO HAD BEEN RAISED in a fundamentalist sect much like mine, also grew tired of traipsing up the aisles for evangelists, and had finally converted to Ukrainian Catholicism. This was an inadvertent return to the faith of two of their great-grandparents; but I was intrigued to visit this new church and watch a baptism, for instance, with priests “spitting” in the children’s faces to expel the devil before christening them; and later, when the children could walk, to see them go up this new aisle to “tith de icon” — kiss the icon, as the youngest one said.

In our coffee discussions, it seemed to me that the parents had remained as dogged as ever in their beliefs, only they had transferred their loyalty to a new authority. After some years of lively combat, we reached a tacit agreement to stop debating our religious ideas, but one day we got caught anyway in a discussion of the biblical story of Balaam’s ass.

According to the twenty-second chapter of Numbers, the prophet Balaam beat his donkey because she kept veering off the road — into the ditch and field, down a vineyard path; and finally at a narrow spot crowded against a stone wall and crushed Balaam’s foot. The ass saw an angel standing in the way, but Balaam flogged the beast until she collapsed under him, and (by the King James account) complained bitterly to her master: What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?

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Medium 9781743603604

Song

Berendt, John Lonely Planet Publications ePub

The man is in a hotel just outside Nairobi. A local friend of his has set him up here, saying the hotel was clean and cheap.

It is indeed cheap, $45 a night, but it does not seem safe. The locks on the doors do not work, and the clerk sits behind bulletproof glass. The man’s room is small and smells of paint, and the outlets don’t work, so he goes down to the hotel bar, which is unadorned and empty.

He orders a gin and tonic from the Kenyan bartender, who is wearing a red vest and white shirt and black bowtie. The visitor drinks his first drink down, feeling sad about so many things, wanting to be home, wanting to be doing something else, and then orders another. He takes this second drink and, not wanting the bartender to feel compelled to talk to him, he walks to the other side of the bar and sits in front of a large flat-screen television. There is a music video on, in which eight African women in traditional clothing are singing and playing instruments. The song is jangly, buoyant, joyous.

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Medium 9781927068304

The Champion

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

THE CHAMPION

First let me get the devilry out of the way. He was a formidable six-year-old obstacle, a runny-nosed waif with dark, suspicious eyes and something weasel-like in his face, who drove his first-grade teacher to distraction. He whined and snarled, he pestered and annoyed, he fought and he lied. Many times a day he flopped out of his desk and crawled on the floor among the legs of kids who were working obediently. He picked his nose and rolled the snot into a ball and flicked it at the teacher, then sat silently as she disintegrated, looking up through big eyes from under a growth of wiry unkempt hair. He fantasized excessively, or lied (often nobody knew which), he ate erasers, he threw things around the room and tantrums at the teacher. And once in awhile he worked a little.

There was more; but let’s just say he was an impedance to the flow of all educational currents. He was so exceptional at so young an age, that no official labels had yet been hung on him — TMH, ADHD, LD, BD, ED, and no DSM diagnosis either. He was Kent (an invented name), an exception to many rules, somewhere out near the first or ninety-ninth percentile of things, and something in me found that appealing.

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Medium 9780253018595

The Newly Black Americans

IU Press Journals Indiana University Press ePub

African immigrants and black America

THERE IS A moment in Dinaw Mengestu’s well-received novel The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007) where the narrator, Sepha—Ethiopian, refugee, victim of an anomie that is as Naipaulian as it is stereotypically modernist—encounters traces of Pan-Africanism and, what continues to be celebrated in scholarly and cultural circles (often uncritically) as, black Diaspora. Walking through neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. convulsed between decline and renaissance, where the domestic migrations of gentrification speak to the displacements of post-Independence Africa, Sepha encounters amongst the abandoned lots and littered condoms, the prostitutes and alcoholics, the memory of black transnational solidarity, or at least its symbols. The memory trigger in question is “a black-owned bookstore called Madame X,” where once were Afrocentric poetry readings, shared plates of “yam patties,” and no doubt the sound of jazz, reggae, hip-hop, or even Afrobeat.

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