Chris Abani on Ted

  • SumoMe

What an amazing man!!

Imprisoned three times by the Nigerian government, Chris Abani turned his experience into poems that Harold Pinter called “the most naked, harrowing expression of prison life and political torture… In this deeply personal talk, novelist and poet Chris Abani searches for the heart of Africa through poetry and narrative — including his own story of artistic and political awakening, which began with an inventive teacher who taught him the forbidden history of his own people. How, he asks, can we reconcile stories of terror, war and corruption with one’s enduring sense of pure wonder?

The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the wordsget it all wrong. We say bread and it means accordingto which nation. French has no word for home,and we have no word for strict pleasure. A peoplein northern India is dying out because their ancienttongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lostvocabularies that might express some of whatwe no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts wouldfinally explain why the couples on their tombsare smiling. And maybe not. When the thousandsof mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,they seemed to be business records. But what if theyare poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelveEthiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with boltsof long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundredpitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are whatmy body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are thisdesire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan scriptis not laguage but a map. What we feel most hasno name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds. –Jack Gilbert

Ode To The Drum
Gazelle, I killed you for your skin’s exquisite touch, for how easy it is to be nailed to a board weathered raw as white butcher paper. Last night I heard my daughter praying for the meat here at my feet. You know it wasn’t anger that made me stop my heart till the hammer fell. Weeks ago, I broke you as a woman once shattered me into a song beneath her weight, before you slouched into that grassy hush. But now I’m tightening lashes, shaping hide as if around a ribcage, stretched like five bowstrings. Ghosts cannot slip back inside the body’s drum. You’ve been seasoned by wind, dusk & sunlight. Pressure can make everything whole again, brass nails tacked into the ebony wood your face has been carved five times. I have to drive trouble from the valley. Trouble in the hills. Trouble on the river too. There’s no kola nut, palm wine, fish, salt, or calabash. Kadoom. Kadoom. Kadoom. Ka- doooom. Kadoom. Now I have beaten a song back into you, rise & walk away like a panther. –Yusef Komunyakaa

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