Monday, July 13, 2020

La poesía como salvación, una lectura de The Migrant States, por Enrique Bernales

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Indran Amirthanayagam es un poeta prolífico, siempre migrando de una a otra casa lingüística. Así, mientras escribo esta reseña sobre su último libro de poesía en inglés, The Migrant States (Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, New York, 2020), acaba de salir otro libro suyo en francés, Sur l’île nostalgique (L’Harmattan, 2020), cuyo tema principal es la isla de Haití, tan presente en su poesía.
Indran nació en el seno de la comunidad tamil en Ceilán, un país que, como el mismo ha señalado en diferentes entrevistas, ya no existe. ¿Qué significa que una administración cambie su nombre de Ceilán a Sri Lanka? Los nombres de los territorios son esenciales para entender cuál es el discurso de las élites que construyen el ideal de la comunidad nacional. Así cuando la isla se llamaba Ceilán, la comunidad tamil formaba parte integral de la nación. Por otro lado, cuando se refunda la isla como Sri Lanka — Isla Bella en sánscrito — es la mayoría singalesa (74.9%) la que impone su visión al territorio, siendo la comunidad tamil (4.2%) a la que pertenece el poeta, traductor, profesor y diplomático, una de las grandes perjudicadas, consecuencia de eso fue la cruenta Guerra Civil iniciada por el movimiento de Los Tigres Tamiles que buscaba la independencia de los territorios considerados históricamente tamiles en el norte y el este de la administración y conocidos también como  Eelam — la Patria en tamil.
The Migrant States es un libro donde el poeta, la poesía, la isla y el eterno movimiento de la migración original crean un encuentro con las diversas comunidades con las que el autor ha interactuado a lo largo de su vida. El libro empieza y culmina con una sección dedicada a Walt Whitman con quien la voz poética ejecuta un diálogo magistral. Así, el poeta de Paumanok, el nombre nativo americano de la isla de Long Island, lugar de nacimiento del poeta nacional de los Estados Unidos de América, y el poeta de Ceilán o Eelam, poeta migrante, poeta de su nación tamil, danzan a lo largo del libro, que es una celebración de las lenguas, de todas las migraciones. The Migrant States es un encuentro y un intento de integrar en una nueva pequeña patria momentánea, las islas que conforman todas nuestras humanidades, así sucede con los Estados Unidos, con Haití, con Perú, entre otras hermosas y rebeldes geografías.
La poesía de The Migrant States continúa el mismo camino estético que el poeta ha creado a lo largo de todas sus publicaciones anteriores en múltiples lenguas, es decir, nos muestran el mapa — y el territorio — de lo que significa lo poético para el poeta: una invitación a descubrir y hermanarse en múltiples lenguas, un canal de vida que conecta nuevas tierras, nuevas islas donde los escritores y la vida diaria y complicada de los distintos lares son objeto de reconocimiento para este gran viajero poeta que como los grandes exploradores de la historia de la humanidad va coleccionando de cada comunidad con la que él ha interactuado, palabras, lenguajes poéticos, autores, nombres de ciudades, alegrías y tristezas, la esencia misma de sentirse un humano universal como lo fue a su manera el mismo Walt Whitman que colocó a la poesía de los Estados Unidos de América en el plano mundial, pero además en el cariño y admiración de su pueblo, el estadounidense, algo que para un poeta activista como Indran Amirthanayagam es de una urgencia vital para su escritura, para su itinerario metafórico.
Antes de entrar a las distintas secciones de este viaje que es The Migrant States, se incluyen dos poemas liminares, que son dos artes poéticas que generan una dinámica dialéctica entre ambas y a partir de la cual, el lector puede sumergirse en el mundo o la isla del lenguaje de la voz poética. Así “Mind Breathing” presenta en verso estrófico diferentes motivos de la poesía de Indran, la importancia de la lectura, la presencia de una figura señera de las letras locales o universales — que hace las veces de voz autorizada o figura paterna que permite al poeta fluir en esa persecución de la palabra poética como si se tratara de una cacería o un safari de significantes — un momento histórico destacado en la biografía del autor, la reflexión sobre la poesía misma y los detalles mundanos de la vida:
On November 17, 1960 I breathed for the first time without
maternal assistance, on a cot, at Macarthy Nursing Home,
a few blocks from our residence in Colombo.
Allen brought a harmonium as a carry-on music box
on his flight to Oahu. Back then nobody examined
strings for chemical traces, death marches, laments. (1)

En “This No Time for Criticism” el otro arte poética liminar, carente de organización estrófica, el sujeto poético autoexamina, autoevalúa la calidad de sus versos, testimonia los acontecimientos históricos del ultimo año y cómo su voz o escritura genera una sinergia con esa historia particular del mundo, para validar así su tono poético dentro del campo cultural. La voz del poeta, en este sentido, se reproduce de una manera muy distinta a otras voces con las que cohabita en la galaxia Gutemberg de las letras:
I realize my lines are not lyrical. They have no surprising leaps,
or rhythmic epiphanies. They are flat, a body shot on the street
visited by paramedics, wailing young men and women. We do
not discriminate in 2019. We are witnessing birth of a revolt,
a rejection, and you say my verse is agitprop, an unfit exercise
for poetry. I reply writing, that the body must be buried with dignity, (2)

Luego, el libro empieza, propiamente dicho, con la sección For Walt, título también de una sección intermedia y de la sección final que cierra el viaje por The Migrant States. ¿Qué comparten Whitman y Amirthanayagam? Pues, una isla con una matriz multicultural, una poesía que huye del hermetismo, que tiene una calidad de activismo hasta erguirse como un ethos nacional — Leaves of Grass y The Migrant States se hermanan a pesar de los siglos de diferencias como libros y poéticas que proponen una gran narrativa nacional — con firmes implicancias populares o que convocan al pueblo como referente o actante,  cofundador y gobernante en la isla-nación poética. Así se afirma en Stop by: “I am in your debt, Walt, and to all the poets who gave birth to you and to those / you have sired in turn. Thank you. The word is good and in our hands now” (5). El nacimiento en la isla es el punto de inicio del viaje de los poetas, así sucede con Walt y con Indran, pero además ambas islas se funden generosas en el té que producen, Ceylon Tea y el también famoso y espirituoso Long Island Iced Tea. De este modo, en “After Midnight” la voz poética afirma:
Walter Whitman will come out of his mother’s ninth month midnight
tomorrow, the 31st of May, in the family room, at the Walter Whitman
home in West Hills, Huntington, Long Island, to be known henceforth
in all poetry as Paumanok, the birth island of the poet who at eleven (5)

El viaje por The Migrant States continúa con la sección titulada Curtain Call que, de acuerdo a los temas tratados y desarrollados en los diferentes poemas, se establece como un Bildungsroman de versos que abarcan el período de formación estética de la voz de los poemas, la misma que fluye en sus continuas migraciones de lengua en lengua, de país en país, buscando su propia voz, su propia isla-nación de poetas. De esta forma, se desarrolla en “Curtain Call”:
When you please, make the reader laugh, lighten
the baggage he carries around home, street and
office, you reach the first level of enlightenment,
then you pause, consulting the poets along
the way. Yeats wrote what then, Cavafy offered
that you cannot escape the city in which
you were born, Nazim dreamed of a straw blonde,
a night train across Europe, poplars falling
in the Turkey from which he remained in exile.
Exile is the modern condition, Ceylon felled (22)

Luego el lector llega a la sección titulada La Voix du Port con Haití como protagonista de esta travesía migrante de versos y sentires. Haití cala hondo en el sentir poético de Indran, su Ceilán natal y Haití comparten mucho, un pasado colonial, una actualidad compleja, al mismo tiempo, un sentir cultural intenso, propio de los habitantes de una isla. Así explora esas vivencias el hablante en el poema “We Are Spirit. We Are King.”:
You cannot deny my identity.
I am there even if I am not there.
I am in your head, in the memory
of the country. Even if you have
never met me I am there because
my Sri Lankan brothers
served on the island
as UN Peacekeepers. You know
the whole world came to Haiti
to save us from the gangs?
The island is very important,
a responsibility of foreign countries.
Once, we produced profits
greater than the 13 British
colonies in America. (33)

Nuevamente aparece en nuestro viaje por The Migrant States, una sección llamada For Walt, el gran leitmotif de este libro, el legado poético de Whitman y su pasado isleño representado en esa dualidad que es el territorio conocido como Long Island-Paumanok. En el poema “Setting Off” que es sinónimo de empezar un viaje, la voz poética da como una ofrenda sagrada sus versos al gran Dios de la poesía de los Estados Unidos de América, para que — así como se hace con el ídolo de Lord Ganesha que es internada en las aguas del Mar Arábigo para su Chaturthi, o fiesta de cumpleaños — esa otra divinidad que es el poeta de Camden, New Jersey, bendiga la travesía del migrante devoto, le concede la prosperidad — el Artha — en este caso literaria, al acercarse con sus ofrendas de versos sinceros y de prístina emoción, tal es el sentir de los versos tamiles de Indran:
Walt explodes on impact in the mind. Nothing becomes everything,
everything nothing,
the equation turned inside out: poems, democratic practice, phrenology,
the discovery
of India. There is no pebble from under which Walt does not peep out. I
fell in love
with him again at the Walt Whitman rest stop on the New Jersey
Turnpike. (39)

Posteriormente se llega a la sección central que da nombre a todo el conjunto, The Migrant States. Aquí la voz poética explora las complejidades del ser estadounidense, aparece nuevamente la patria pérdida, la isla de Ceilán, y también Sudamérica, Lima y la selva del Perú. Como lo he señalado anteriormente, ser estadounidense significa — de acuerdo a lo que plantea el sujeto de estos poemas — sentirse de todas partes del mundo, sentirse un poco haitiano, un poco tamil, un poco peruano, un poco de New Jersey, ese es el verdadero Melting Pot al que apunta la esencia de estos versos poderosos e inspiradores, ser estadounidense, finalmente, es llevar todo el mundo consigo mismo. En el poema “Lima, January” se logra retratar al detalle la atmósfera de ese espacio llamado Lima, durante un día de verano en enero, ese espacio que bien podría ser un barrio de New Jersey que el hablante desconoce, como para mí era Boston cuando vivía allí, un barrio de Lima que nunca se había explorado, es que el mundo es nuestra casa y ésa es la característica de estos versos que nos aproximan a esos territorios, a esas ciudades que habitan en nuestro corazón migrante:
It is summer here,
hot for the moment,
plantain tree bearing fruit
in the garden, passion and
mango in the shops, a lot
of fish, the country blessed
by the Humboldt Current
which brings cold water
from the Antarctic and
plentiful anchovies with it
to feed up the food chain (63)

Departures es la sección que nos anuncia que el viaje está llegando a su fin, es un momento para rendir un sentido homenaje con los versos a los que se fueron, incluyendo la figura señera del padre del poeta, también sirve para comentar las partidas del migrante a otro país, a otra ciudad por devorar literariamente con la vista, con la escritura, con el canto, con la palabra. The Migrant States es una ciudad poética, constituye un Aleph de todos los tiempos, todas las anécdotas, todos los saberes donde finalmente nos asombramos de estar mirando nuestro propio rostro, tal como ocurrió con madre Yashoda cuando encontró el Aleph en la boca de su amado niño, Krishna Vasudeva. Los versos del poema “Summer, Chess (for Anandan)” expresan con sencillez y virtuosismo el vivir en la pérdida y en la partida, esa dialéctica propia del ser y el sentir migrante que, en este caso espécifico, ha encontrado un hogar en esa constante reproducción de sentido de la palabra sencilla:
You go now and I am sad,
and the sadness will spill
into late summer
and autumn until we meet
again when the leaves
fall and chestnuts
smack our memories (77)

La lectura del libro concluye con la tercera sección titulada For Walt. En el inicio era Walt, en el final sigue siendo Walt. Esta vez, el último homenaje ritual busca que la voz poética consiga la bendición y la autorización para salir de la isla, que es una metáfora para referirse al maravilloso mundo de la imaginación poética en la que habita el hablante y que tiene por nombre Paumanok, pero que bien podría llamarse Ceilán, pero jamás Sri Lanka. Así los versos de “Gone from Paumanok” inciden en la tradición poética en la que se inspira el hablante de los poemas de The Migrant States, en las palabras y la vida sencilla, en suma, una estética familiar y, al mismo tiempo, rebelde y contestataria, llena de mucha humanidad y de un sentir isleño particular:
I feel I must end with a bang, at least a shake and a whistle,
a riff, a taste, a dance on a dime. I want to end because
suites must finish, poems arrive at the punch line, the final
full stop. I am not sure if I can go on like the sea, ridden
with plastics, with patches dead even to oxygen. I am not
sure I can whirl in space like a meteor, an asteroid
or some rubbish from a failed satellite. I am not after all
a celestial body, or a golden sunflower, just a fifty-eightyear-
old man a few hundred miles from Paumanok
and stopped—owing to family ties, to work and the need
to build a house, high enough to avoid the rain when it floods. (79)

Para culminar puedo afirmar que The Migrant States se nos presenta como un app, una aplicación o una tecnología de la migración que nos invita a ejecutar un nuevo pacto con las tierras que habitamos, reconociendo el valor de las diferentes lenguas, comunidades y culturas que pueblan un territorio. The Migrant States nos propone un nuevo pacto para salir de la simulación llamada Melting Pot que no buscaba el generoso encuentro o la valorización de las múltiples lenguas y tradiciones en los Estados Unidos de América, sino, su respectiva asimilación, su desaparición en una supuesta nación multicultural, constituida para y por el interés de las élites que respondían a un sino caucásico, sobre todo. De esta manera, las diversidades debían ser absorbidas o sacrificadas. The Migrant States es un app o tecnología que propone exactamente lo contrario: el canto, en constante migración o movimiento, que incorpora múltiples lenguas, tradiciones, autores, objetos; evitando precisamente su asimilación y celebrando su alegre y necesaria diferencia. Por eso mismo, considero imperativa la lectura de The Migrant States en las escuelas secundarias y en las universidades de los Estados Unidos de América para que las nuevas generaciones reflexionen y estudien la importancia de la migración como un estado de vida esencial para la especie humana como lo ha sido desde hace miles de años.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Too Much


Too Much

I don't think anyone has ever written a book about this,
he tells me, tongue in jowl, but I suspend my disbelief
just long enough falling completely before the joke
then smiling widely and on all sides of my face
and the subject. So, yes I am writing a book about love.
I wrote before about a tsunami and an uncivil war. Now
I write not quite about a tsunami although sadness hits
like a wall of water and I have visited black, bottomless
pits and the edges of ponds that seem like rousing rivers
roaring to a nearby precipitous drop. And I have felt
slings like teargas canisters fogging my eyes and head
as I swig a tumbler of whiskey and peer at the midnight
screen imagining the street scene near the White House,
citizens protesting against murder of black brothers
and sisters as I think of my island love whose heart
is no longer open to nostalgias of the past once
it decided that geography, a couple of bodies of water,
an ocean, and the gulf of age, were too much.


Indran Amirthanayagam, c) June 17, 2020


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Black, A Poem. Indran




Black


Black Lives Matter. Your life matters. Black Lives
Matter. The Mad Hatter's Life Matters. And his right
to change his name, to wipe the mad prejudice
out of words matters. Black Lives Matter. My life
matters. Black Lives Matter. All lives matter. Black
Lives Matter. The squirrel's life matters. Black Lives
Matter. The elephants eat bamboo, and babies gather
round their mothers, and there are no electric fences
or shot guns and there is earth to roam and there are
paths to forge. Black Lives Matter. The police chief,
senator, assemblyman, garbage collector, teacher
and poet and all other professions and creatures
on all arks of the world join the march along
16th Street in Washington D.C. beside giant
yellow letters shouting Black Lives Matter.



Indran Amirthanayagam, c) June 10, 2020



Thursday, February 14, 2019

Otra Iglesia Es Imposible: Indran Amirthanayagam / Contra la ilusión

Otra Iglesia Es Imposible: Indran Amirthanayagam / Contra la ilusión: Hay una distracción al parecer, un puesto de atención a alguna nueva mariposa. Pero ya no soy un mozo. Ya no tengo gana...

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

On the International Day of the Diplomat (Sobre el Dia Internacional del Diplomático)



On the International Day of the Diplomat, October 24, 2018
Sobre el Dia Internacional del Diplomático, 24 de Octubre, 2018


Encienda una vela el 24 de Octubre para honrar el Día Internacional del Diplomático. Coincide con el Dia de las Naciones Unidas, y un día después del aniversario del natalicio de mi padre que se fue hace 15 años. Era mi primer diplomático y poeta. Somos muchos a través del globo, representando a nuestros pueblos y culturas, llevando mensajes, suavizando sentimientos de pena y olvido, asegurando que el comercio siga de pie, negociando la paz después de años de guerra. Algunos entre nosotros son vestidos de smoking, sí, y comemos bocadillos en los cocteles, y otros en ropa de calle, escondidos, ayudan a encontrar a los asesinos de nuestros ciudadanos en países extranjeros. Suscribimos también la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos y trabajamos en algunos casos bajo cielos hostiles donde nuestros papeles como representantes nos hace un blanco para quienes quieren destruir los lazos que nos unen a todos. Somos un mundo y una comunidad humana con una variedad deslumbrante, profunda y particular a cada uno, de la fé en Dios, Mujer u Hombre, en las libertades de expresión y de asamblea, el derecho de enterrar a nuestros muertos con dignidad y de dar la bienvenida a los nuevos miembros de la familia con pompa y honor.
Honremos a los ciudadanos de países que dan la bienvenida al viajero, al visitante, al residente a la vez temporal y permanente, este diplomático que comparte pan con ellos por dos, tres, cuatro o cinco años antes de abordar un avión, un auto, o aún un barco para irse. Llevamos nuestro pasado, presente y futuro en los momentos de llegada y partida. Y hoy pedimos a cada miembro de la familia humana, aún si no tiene un carnet del ministerio de asuntos extranjeros de su país, a levantar la copa en favor de la paz, de respetar las culturas del anfitrión y visitante. En Haiti, uno recibe al recién llegado diciendo onè, y él o ella responde respe.
Así que por favor honrar a su vecino, y él responderá, le respeto. Y si, suscribimos el principio de no meternos en los asuntos internos de los estados soberanos. Al mismo tiempo decimos que hay respeto y honor para la dignidad de cada residente de la tierra, y eso es transversal, y salta los límites impuestos por el seguimiento de aquel principio. Somos una comunidad y tenemos que afrontar la música y hacer música también. Hemos desarrollado maneras de resolver disputas. La diplomacia es clave para estos métodos alternativos y necesarios además de los tribunales tradicionales. Trabajamos detrás de la pantalla para asegurar que la rueda de vueltas trayéndonos, nuestras ideas y culturas, al otro lado de las fronteras, hacia la luz, hacia lo nuevo.


Indran Amirthanayagam, October 24, 2018.




Light a candle on October 24th for the International Day of the Diplomat. It falls on United Nations Day, and one day after the birth anniversary of my father who passed 15 years ago. He was my first diplomat and poet. We are many throughout the globe, representing our peoples and cultures, passing messages, assuaging feelings of hurt and neglect, assuring that commerce continues to come and go, negotiating peace after years of war. Some of us are dressed in tails yes, and we even eat canapes at receptions, while others in plain clothes help find killers of our citizens in foreign lands. We also subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we work sometimes in hostile climes where our status as representative makes us a target for those who wish to break down the ties that bind all of us. We are one world and one human community with an amazing variety and depth and particularity of faith in God or Woman or Man, in freedoms of speech and assembly, the right to bury our dead with dignity and to welcome the new members of the family with pomp and honor.


Let us honor the citizens of countries who welcome the traveller, the visitor, and the temporary yet permanent resident who is the diplomat, breaking bread with them, for two, three, four or five years, then boarding a plane, a car, or even a ship to leave. We carry the past, the present and future in the moment of arrival and departure. And today we ask all members of the human family, even if you do not have a carnet from the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to raise your glass for peacemaking, for respecting the cultures of host and visitor. In Haiti, one greets the arrival saying onè and he or she answers respe.


So honor your neighbor, and he or she will reply, I respect you. And yes, we subscribe to the principle of non-interference in affairs of sovereign states. At the same time we say there is a transversal, cross-cutting honor and respect for the dignity of each resident on the planet. So we are a community and we have to face the music and make music as well. So we have developed ways
to resolve disputes. Diplomacy is key to alternative and necessary methods as well as the traditional courts. We work behind the scenes to assure the wheel turns bringing ourselves, our ideas and cultures, across border lines, into the light, into the new.

Indran Amirthanayagam, October 24, 2018.











Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Reginald Paul, R.I.P.


                         
 Reginald Paul, R.I.P.


We live with the comforts of landmarks, police station, bookstore,
hardware emporium,  the church of Saint Pierre and the plaza in front,
banks, supermarkets, shoe sellers, a neighborhood, Petionville,
but everywhere we go thieves ride along with us. They scout

us on the street corners, sitting on scooters as we leave cash
machine, bank, supermarket with our fine French bread.  
The pastor said it was his time What does he know
of  the inscrutable will? Why does a 15-year old daughter,

and a beautiful companion, celebrated in Haiti, parents, siblings,
friends, students--all the ties that bound him to the city--why
must we wrap ourselves now in the desolate shroud , untimely
grief. He taught English like a native. He rode his scooter to pick

me up one day in Morne Calvaire to go to a party at a friend’s
home. He failed to warn me about the muffler and I singed
myself that afternoon. The mark remains on my ankle, his words
yesterday when he said he could be better but only the recovery

remained, his brilliant exposition on the value of learning English
in today’s multi-lingual Haiti, that conversation we shared
on the radio two years ago,  these gifts, these fragments
sealed in memory by his soothing baritone, Reginald Paul,

the ancestors are lucky to have you now to themselves,
and we will carry on here as best we can, not forgetting
your gifts, preparing too for the next inscrutable loss,
and —why not--the joy of new life in the morning.


                        Indran Amirthanayagam, c) June 27, 2018




Tuesday, June 26, 2018

interview-with-poet-indran-amirthanayagam

https://tamilculture.com/at-home-in-the-world-an-interview-with-poet-indran-amirthanayagam

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Faking the Screen, a poem, Indran Amirthanayagam

Faking the Screen

Kneeling on the field or on the sidelines while the anthem
is played will generate a fine for your team.  But if you choose
to stay in the locker room, you will not bother the faithful

and your team will be spared a financial hardship. Not sure
how much money will be charged, and whether the pleasure
of acting freely is worth that cost. It is for you to decide,

as a team, because individual choices cannot be allowed
to disrupt the checked flow of the group,  offense driving
down the field, then defense running out to stop 

the opponent. That is football as it used to be played 
before somebody decided to kneel, thinking of black men 
mowed down in the street for walking in the wrong place, 

the wrong time.  America, when will you wake us up 
from this nightmare and serve the football to all 
your children? Run the play through a color-blind screen?

                Indran Amirthanayagam, c) May 23, 2018

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Otra Iglesia Es Imposible: Indran Amirthanayagam / De los poemas a Paolo

Otra Iglesia Es Imposible: Indran Amirthanayagam / De los poemas a Paolo: Lectura: hojas del té Estuve distraído por la clasificación, y dejé los hijos abandonados, mi querida sin caricias, adem...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On Two Trains Running, Directed by Juliette Carrillo, Fichlander(Arena Stage) until April 29, 2018




On August Wilson's Two Trains Running. Directed by Juliette Carrillo. Fichlander (Arena Stage), until May 6, 2018

“There are always and only two trains running. There is life and there is death.” And as I write, every evening at Arena;s Fichlander Stage, a brilliant group of actors are getting on and getting off. They are the most compelling passengers I have come across in years of celebrating and crying about life depicted on the floorboards of those moving trains. Here, in the round, with pathos and irony, comedy and tragedy, life is given a circular thrashing, only to conclude in the manifestation of an emotional attitude, the one great playwrights have tackled before August Wilson, and will after he is gone, namely American optimism.

Death is everywhere, from the slow dying of restaurant and black Pittsburgh neighborhood where the drama takes place—to be gentrified, taken over first by the city--from an undertaker across the street who buries everybody sooner or later, who found a sure way of making a living after experimenting as a youth with numbers and other betting games. And we witness the potential for death, in handguns two characters sport at a moment in the play when the audience fears the worst, a cathartic murder, a suicide. And we have the ageless Aunt Esther off stage, 332 years old by one count, who defies death and who counsels those who seek her advice to throw twenty dollar bills into the river, and to keep doing so, until their wishes are realized.

The actors are excellent, seasoned, sure in delivery and convincing. Some are new to Washington stages, coming East from Seattle fiefdoms ( William Hall as West, Reginald Andre Jackson as Wolf). But all leave the audience wanting more and standing in ovation at the play's end—especially David Emerson Toney booming as Holloway.

And I should not mention actors without praising director Juliette Carrillo. The transitions she creates between scenes, giving each character a moment in the spotlight as he or she tussles with some deep-seated memory, accompanied by a harsh and relentless blues, to the sweet, Shakespearean romantic dance—think of Rosalind in As You Like It in that play's enchanted forest-- but here we are transported by a young man, fresh out of jail, and a beautiful girl who cut her legs in order to make herself ugly, and to escape the eyes of marauding men, dancing in a beaten-up, dying ember of a restaurant with only a few items left on the menu.

One of those items, if I may stretch the metaphor—one that informs the whole play—is dignity. What is Man's worth? How much should the city pay Memphis as compensation when he is kicked out? Memphis wants 25 thousand dollars, nothing less. West (played with marvelous cynicism by William Hall) at first offers fifteen, and then twenty, as long as he can use the restaurant as leverage in some other insurance schemes he is juggling. Memphis, will have none of it. Memphis had been stripped of land in the South by an ironic clause in the deed (he would lose rights to the property if he finds water). And how can a farmer manage without water? So Memphis, using his smarts, finds that water. And like a character suffering from Beckettian existence he is denied his rights as a result

So he moves North—compelled rather, as he has to escape some hard-arm tactics (with lynching implied)--and he sets up the restaurant which is now both insurance and manifestation of optimism. He will get his twenty five thousand he says, and he will go back South and reclaim the land that belonged once to him.

And Sterling will play the numbers Risa gives him, seven, eight and one, for seven lashes on her left leg and eight on her right and one in a place only she can know—Wilson is brilliant in coaxing out our laughter in the midst of harsh and bitter reality. Sterling will learn the location of that last cut. And he is lucky. The numbers are called. And he is a winner, along with a number of others in the neighborhood. So the issuer of the numbers—the white businessman off stage—decides to cut the winnings in half (invoking certainly some buried clause, like the one that denied Memphis his water). So what choice do the winners have? Accept half or go into the streets and shout (like supporters of Black Power and the late Malcolm X, which provides another theme, underlying this play, namely how will the black man re establish the dignity stripped of him in slavery.

But as I survey the lines of the seven characters in Two Trains Running I find myself at a loss about some basic terms in describing plays. I laughed a lot during the show, so much that I cried. Does that make this play a comedy with a bitter backbone? A tragic comedy? But nobody dies directly on stage. A comedy? A romance? Or maybe I should call it a bittersweet, romantic comedy with muted tragic elements.

These elements happen off stage—the assassination of Malcolm X, the chasing of Memphis from his land in the South, the death of Prophet Samuel, and the dying in sleep of Hambone. But on stage, we see characters surviving their moments in the desert, on the plank at sea, and somehow, with their resourcefulness or a combination of grits, intelligence and luck, they find a way back to the deck, out of the desert. They even find their love (Sterling and Risa), or get more than they expect from the city, a surprising Deux ex machina--thirty five thousand dollars--not twenty five, not a hidden clause that could lead to nothing, but thirty five thousand dollars. We know it will help Memphis retire. We know it won't be enough to satisfy the grandiose dreams he now hurls to the audience. Hambone has died without his ham. But Memphis says. “Risa, take this fifty dollars and get some flowers. Get him a big bunch. Put on there where it says who it's from ...say it's from everybody...everybody who ever dropped the ball and went back to pick it up. “ He then adds that when he gets back....if I get back from seeing Stoval (to reclaim the land he lost)...I'm gonna open me up a big restaurant right there on Centre Avenue/ I'm gonna need two or three cooks and seven or eight waitresses...”

Sterling enters the scene then “ carrying a large ham” as the directions state. And he says to Mr. West “ Say, Mr. West...that's for Hambone's casket.”

Hambone finally gets his ham, after nine and a half years of persistent effort, but only after he has died. He is given a dignified burial. And the flowers are from everybody who ever dropped the ball and went back to pick it up.

Congratulations, director, cast, crew, sound designer, and shapers of set, costume and lighting, and of course the playwright as well. Do not miss this production of Two Trains Running. Through April 29, 2018 in the Arena Stage's Fichlander theater.



--Indran Amirthanayagam (http://indranamirthanayagam.blogspot.com)






Saturday, February 24, 2018

Momento Presente (The Present Moment), A Poem by Valda Fogaça


The Present Moment


It is the way people live.
It is the art of time.
The time of the people.
It is the stress of the moment,
and in the present
it is discomfort, neurosis
and pain ...Are we still happy?

Will we be glad, all of us,
poor people living this
atrocious life? Nothing offends
our eyes! In our silence
we live, woe unto us!

And in our faces
we trace smiles whether
the hour is tranquil
or tight; we bring
to our eyes our sceptical
laughter, our misguided guise



Valda Fogaça, translation Indran Amirthanayagam




 MOMENTO PRESENTE


O viver da gente
É a arte do tempo
E o tempo da gente
É o estresse do momento
E no momento presente
É dissabores, neurose e dores...
Ainda somos contentes!?

Contentes seremos todos nós...
Pobres viventes de vida atroz
Nada ofende seus olhos!
Calados vivemos, pobres de nós!

E na cara trazemos o sorriso
Hora frouxo hora apertado
Traremos nos olhos o
Ceticismo no riso
Guisa desacorçoado.


Valda Fogaça




Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Rebirth with Rankont Dout, a music album

I left Haiti with  an album of music in my bags. Called Rankont Dout, the music has now been released worldwide and I am deeply grateful to my fellow musicians, to the dear friends who inspired the poems, to Haiti which gave me to eat and drink and a bed to rest my head.  I invite you to listen, to tell your friends about the music and about Haiti, the island of my rebirth, its coconuts and mangoes striking in their resemblance to the ones I used to flesh and scoop in my native Ceylon. Ou vle vini ave m nan lach noe m? Do you want to come with me on my Noah's ark?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Some Notes on Rankont Dout

It means meeting in August, meeting with doubt, a meeting that takes place with the knowledge of parting, of a residence on earth ending. For this reason, the songs are full of nostalgia, and they are bittersweet. They note the impossibility of permanence. But they are also full of hope. In one song I write of a Noah's Ark and I ask the listener to come with me on my ark. In another I speak to myself, saying you are a Haitian. You write in our language. You love in our language. In another song I talk of the djonjon mushroom, which I came to love in the island. It adds a black ink to rice and a fine taste. So I talk of carrying djonjon in my suitcase (malet)....enough to last until my next return.

I wrote the songs fearing that I would have to say goodbye, that I could not take the island with me,...so ironically I have indeed taken it with me, in this music, these drums of Pawol Tanbou, the haunting piano of Donaldzie Theodore, the voice and guitar of Titi Congo, in the odd sounds such as the "hoo hoo hoo'" of the song 5 Kesyon Kle nan Dezod.( Five Key Questions for the Disorder). I am free. You are free. He is free. We are free. They are free. Why do you make such a ruckus?. Poukisa tout lobay sa a.?

I also write with wonder and irony. , Brezo means bow tie. I say with the money I will make from my book I will buy a new bow tie and take a taxi to the airport and take a flight to my childhood island to ask the elephants there if they still want to know why I left


I fall in love as well, Mo Maji. Magic Words. I say you know the magic words, simple and forceful, that eliminate dark clouds, and allow me to dance once more (danse anko)

There are songs too about the planet as an island, subject to missiles in the form of comets and asteroids....the apocalypse which also forms part of our consciousness along with the dream of paradise.

Here is a link to the music. 




Cheers