2007 – 2008 Readings and Talks

Nuruddin Farah and Dinaw Mengestu

Fictional Places: A Conversation

September 14, 2007

4:00 PM | Old North 205

From Knots

— Nuruddin Farah 

Cambara waits for him to push the door shut, which he does with a squeak, and she watches him as he turns the wobbly handle a couple of times in a futile effort to secure it, notwithstanding its state of malfunction. Meanwhile, she reminds herself that it has been years since she last set eyes on him or was in touch with him directly. Arda has carried words back and forth from one to the other and has persuaded her daughter to put up with him, at least for the first few days, since Cambara informed her of her wish to go to Mogadiscio. At her mother’s cajoling, Cambara acquiesced to stay with “her blood,” as she put it, for the first few days, until, perhaps, she has made her own contacts with a close friend of a friend living in Toronto. No doubt, Cambara cannot expect her mother to recall her nephew’s malodorous breath, nor is it fair to assume that this is reason enough to warrant her daughter’s not wanting to share the same space. But how on earth could she, Cambara, have forgotten the awfulness of it, so vile it is sickening? Nor had she known him to be a chain-smoker or a constant chewer of qaat, the mild narcotic to which urban Somalis are highly addicted.

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From The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

— Dinaw Mengestu 

Joseph’s already drunk when he comes into the store. He strolls through the open door with his arms open. You get the sense when watching him that even the grandest gestures he may make aren’t grand enough for him. He’s constantly trying to outdo himself, to reach new levels of Josephness that will ensure that anyone who has ever met him will carry some lingering trace of Joseph Kahangi long after he has left. He’s now a waiter at an expensive downtown restaurant, and after he cleans each table he downs whatever alcohol is still left in the glasses before bringing them back to the kitchen. I can tell by his slight swagger that the early dinnertime crowd was better than usual today.

Joseph is short and stout like a tree stump. He has a large round face that looks like a moon pie. Kenneth used to tell him he looked Ghanaian.

“You have a typical Ghanaian face, Joe. Round eyes. Round face. Round nose. You’re Ghanaian through and through. Admit it, and let us move on.”

Joseph would stand up then and theatrically slam his fist onto the table, or into his palm, or against the wall. “I am from Zaire,” he would yell out. “And you are a ass.” Or, more recently, and in a much more subdued tone: “I am from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Next week, it may be something different. I admit that. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be from the Liberated Land of Laurent Kabila. But today, as far as I know, I am from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

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Thomas Sayers Ellis and Pierre Joris

October 18, 2007

Seminar 5:30 PM | ICC 462
Reading 8:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

Giant Steps

— Thomas Sayers Ellis

Sugar Bear is the Abominable Snowman of Go-Go,
Laying stone-cold sheets of bottom
Over forgotten junk farms and Indian deathbeds.

Years ago, a conspiracy to melt him
Was put to sleep by an unlimited freeze.

He bridged the gap between Southeast & Northwest,
Passing through, Anacostia & Watergate,
Untouched, plucking veins & exposing hidden tapes.

Bear’s melody is Big Foot music;
2 places at the same time.

On atomic nights
His footprints can be viewed from heaven,
Extinguishing mushrooms.

Bear let the first fox loose on the moon.
Hear his cry: ooh la la la!

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From Janus

 Pierre Joris

Trust the calendars
the solar’s paltry
static assurances,
the shiftier moves
of your lunar,
start afresh with a
fresh round, no matter
how illusory all
beginnings are,
time is
or the wound
crater on the second
joint of your left
index finger.
It throbs—I am
all around it, in
the red flesh, the welts
surround it, as nightmares
surround dreams, as time
does the calendar, my stepladder,
stepfather, towards
nowhere, no-time
soon enough. Scratch some-
thing into the interstices
notch your bone
break your nails
count the days.

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Monica Arac de Nyeko

October 25, 2007

Reading 8:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

From The Bananna Eater

— Monica Arac de Nyeko

Her name was Nalule. Everyone called her Naalu, except for the silly estate boys who spent their afternoons whistling after girls. They called her Shortido. They said she was a dwarf. That her legs were short and fat. That her calves were the size of Kimbo tins. The boys said there were no more than twenty strands of hair on Naalu’s scalp. But these things weren’t true. Naalu’s hair was thin, but it was dark and beautiful. Her calves were more like tumpeco mugs.
Naalu and her family lived a block from us, in number G.16 in the housing estates. Many things about our houses were similar. Their size: a kitchen and store, a sitting room and a bedroom. The paint: cream and magenta against a brown tiled roof. Only our backyards were different. Theirs was almost bare—grassless and without any bougainvillea, thornbrush, or red euphorbia fencing to keep trespassers or vagabonds away. Ours was lush with paspalum grass. We had flowers too. In the rain season, dahlias and hibiscuses bloomed; so did roses and sophornitellas, cosmos and bleeding heart vines. Everyone who passed by our house said the garden gave a fine display of color and fragrance. “What is your secret?” they asked. Ma said it was hard work, but I thought she should say it was passion.

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Cole Swenson and Carl Phillips

November 17, 2007

Seminar 5:30 PM | ICC 462
Reading 8:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

From Five Landscapes

— Cole Swensen 

Green moves through the tops of trees and grows
lighter greens as it recedes, each of which includes a grey, and among the
greys, or beyond them, waning finely into white, there is one white spot,
absolute; it could be an egret or perhaps a crane at the edge of the water
where it meets a strip of sand.

There is a single, almost dazzling white spot of a white house out loud
against the fields, and the forest in lines
receding, rises,
and then planes. Color,

in pieces or entire; its presence
veneers over want; in all its moving parts, it could be something else

half-hidden by trees. Conservatory, gloriette, gazebo, or bandshell,
a door ajar on the top floor.

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Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm

— Carl Phillips

So that each
is its own, now–each has fallen, blond stillness.
Closer, above them,
the damselflies pass as they would over water,
if the fruit were water,
or as bees would, if they weren’t
somewhere else, had the fruit found
already a point more steep
in rot, as soon it must, if
none shall lift it from the grass whose damp only
softens further those parts where flesh
goes soft.

There are those
whom no amount of patience looks likely
to improve ever, I always said, meaning
gift is random,
assigned here,
here withheld–almost always
as it’s turned out: how your hands clear
easily the wreckage;
how you stand–like a building for a time condemned,
then deemed historic. Yes. You
will be saved.

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Danny Hoch

Performance: Takin’ Over

November 29, 2007

8:00 PM | Gonda Theatre

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Ammiel Alcalay

May 3, 2008

Seminar 5:30 PM | ICC 462
Reading 8:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

From The Warring Factions

— Ammiel Alcalay

lo these many years of construction repairing
the irreparable potholes the gaping erosion of
industrial repetition this tarred and feathered
landscape this tarred and feathered history
my neighbor found an arrowhead in
his backyard 385 10th st. Brooklyn
waking up in a sweat I found the Old Bridge hanging
from my neck and the whole town of Pocitelj
in the pocket of my jacket draped over a
chair in the shadow of a pot filled with
rosemary and lavender

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Laura Moriarty and Elizabeth Robinson

February 19, 2008

Seminar 5:30 PM | ICC 462
Reading 8:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

That Explode Together

— Laura Moriarty
It gets worse It gets better
The words seem to shrink
He writes about his experience
I write about mine
Song lyrics on her lips
Make the same sound
The automatic movements were the ones
Isolated like notes
I tell everything in plain words
Thinking against the action
The body changes what is said
I also write in zeroes
The flexibility is exact
He reads as if the words were his
He treats the book like an accordian
She belongs to El Diablo he sings
Over and over they agree
He tears it apart acapella
Her nerves are numbered like stars
Too distant to record

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— Elizabeth Robinson
“Willy nilly runs the river
Without an original edition.”

I think about death
and so it appears, like a ghost with legs of uneven length.

Each step makes a noise, an uneven chatter
that turns just outside the window of my mind like a brook.

No, I am not troubled by this visitation because
death is a facsimile, a fundamental

awkwardness. All felicities

I bestow on so earnest an attempt at imitation. I imitate it
myself, with an accommodating stumble.

The susurrus of death tells me that nothing is cleanly divisible,
that life is a current that wends crookedly.

But the ghost beguiles and I cannot resist putting my hands in,
wrist-deep, pulling apart where I reach, finally, the stream

of the original,
the prime number, the place where parting cannot occur.

Indivisible or lopsided.

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Ilya Kaminksy and E. Ethelbert Miller

March 11, 2008

Seminar 5:30 PM | ICC 462
Reading 8:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

We Lived Happily During The War

— Ilya Kaminsky
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

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— E. Ethelbert Miller
i will take the
journey back
middle passage
would be better
to be packed
like spoons again
to continue to
live among
knives and forks

Read more about E. Ethelbert Miller