in crosswoods, march eleventh, six o’clock

some people think it
is the doom of a generation—

this speck on the face of a speck.

some people say they see
a cleansing flame—this

thing that punishes the rich
and the old first—and the travellers

and the republicans and the chinese and it shows
that we were right all along about

everything. this speck on the speck
of a speck

sword aflame and raised

and some people pray for a return to
the law as they thought it was—

science and experts and the man
from hope playing saxophone they

tremble that we would continue lurching
towards the abyss—

but never was there any law like that—
we can’t go back to where we never were.

the virus is an angel oh
the virus is an angel

so many of us wish it
to the core of ourselves—

fear and uncomprehension
and extraordinary signs—

takes come in their thousands every day
but no one knows shit

and no one was ready
no one is ready oh

we will hear soon enough.

april, wherever we are

you become so aware of the trees
the flowers change daily hourly minute by minute even
and the woods have their own agenda

the foxes you know think of us plenty
we throw all our bones off the deck
all the old things sit

not long in the wild onions
before the foxes come mute
neighbours we know well

they spend the day coming and going
up and down the stream where we cannot
in a pandemic but we still eat

and they must find it rather strange
to find the courts and places and drives
not deserted by day as usual

but full of vigorous couples and children
on bicycles almost ceaselessly
almost as if we had only just noticed spring

for the first time in history and thinking
it solemn and wondrous cancelled all our normal plans
to focus great concentration

on the miracle.

The 2019 South African Election: A Primer for Americans

On Wednesday, May 8th, South Africans will come out in their numbers to vote for national and provincial legislators in the country’s sixth general election since 1994. I’m a little ambivalent about writing this post, because I know I can’t really do justice to the subject in what little time I have to write (and finish this) before Wednesday, so it will be of some use.

Nevertheless, American media coverage of South African politics is, to put it mildly, abysmal. This is, I suspect, because South Africa is a complicated place that doesn’t neatly fit into any of the categories the American news uses to group the hazy collection of countries that are not America.

Essentially, we can boil the story of South Africa according to the American media down to four major nuggets of wisdom: (1) apartheid bad, (2) Nelson Mandela VERY VERY GOOD, (3) other black people probably bad, and (4) it’s Zimbabwe waiting to happen. There’s a certain awareness that apartheid was “bad,” but little understanding of why it was different than American Jim Crow. Nelson Mandela was a great man, but he’s remembered only for what he did after being released from prison (the smiling, harmless, grandfatherly Mandela), not for what got him there. He comes across as a South African version of a caricature of Martin Luther King, Jr.: acting heroically and on his own, without help from the thousands of other people of all races who fought and died for South African democracy. Despite Mandela’s brilliance, however, according to these commentators present-day South Africa is composed mainly of vengeful and incompetent black people who ignored his pleas for forgiveness and, by advocating the expropriation of land without compensation, are going to take the country down exactly the same path as Zimbabwe. It’s all very tidy.

I don’t have time to comprehensively address each of these points. Suffice it to say that each assumption contains a germ of truth: apartheid was a crime against humanity, Nelson Mandela was definitely a hero, lots of poor South Africans are unhappy with the slow pace of change post-’94, and land reform could indeed go poorly! But since Africa is very far away, and complexity is seen to be hard for many people, these ideas are often presented more or less nuance-free.

Election placards in Johannesburg

This is really a shame, however, because we could learn a lot from South Africa if we paid attention. After all, South Africa is the only place I’m aware of since the election of Donald Trump where a corrupt populist has actually been removed from power, where we can observe how the remains of a country’s democratic institutions are left to pick up the pieces. President Jacob Zuma presided over looting on a mass scale. In the thrall of the notorious Gupta family, he and his allies swept in on a wave of populist sentiment and proceeded to plunder almost everything they could get at, from the state revenue agency to the public broadcaster to the national airline. His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who managed to oust him after narrowly beating his preferred successor in the race for African National Congress (A.N.C.) president, was one of the chief negotiators of South Africa’s democratic constitution. He’s urbane, soft-spoken to a fault, cautious but formidable. In other words, aside from being very rich, he is the perhaps the perfect cosmic antithesis of Donald Trump. Personally, he’s popular with almost all segments of society. But Jacob Zuma’s faction didn’t vanish into thin air when their leader left office. Like Donald Trump’s hardcore supporters, they remain an energetic minority within the A.N.C.’s leadership. They would jump at the chance to regain power, if only to stay out of jail.

The dilemma for ordinary voters has to do with South Africa’s unique proportional voting system. South Africa’s houses of parliament are elected on a purely proportional basis: you vote for a political party and depending how many votes they get a certain number of people off of their parliamentary candidates list take up office. Parliament, in turn, elects the president. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this system. The main rationale for it in 1994 was that it would protect minority rights in South Africa, but it was not meant to be a permanent solution; in 2003 the Van Zyl Slabbert commission recommended introducing multiple-member constituencies, but this was never enacted. Without constituencies, MPs and provincial legislators are essentially at the mercy of their party’s leadership, which decided whether they’re on its list. Ordinary citizens, in turn, have no say over who gets to be on the list. This is a dilemma because, for example, the A.N.C. list for 2019 includes many politicians credibly suspected of corruption mixed in with the anti-corruption hawks. If the A.N.C. returns to power with a strong mandate, which faction would be empowered? Likewise, if the A.N.C. takes a beating because of the corrupt politicians on its list, it’s possible that Ramaphosa will be weakened as leader of the party, or possibly removed. It’s fundamentally unclear how voters’ preferences on the ballot will affect what is in many ways the more important fight: a factional battle within the A.N.C. over which ordinary citizens don’t have much control.

What about the opposition? The second largest political party is the Democratic Alliance, or D.A., led by a charismatic young Barack Obama-wannabe named Mmusi Maimane. He’s the first black leader of the D.A., which is the successor to the Progressive Federal Party, the most racially liberal legal (white) political party during apartheid. The party’s positions are analogous to that of a very centrist Democrat in America: capitalism with a human face, skepticism about economic redistribution, and a professed commitment to diversity. These are middle class, suburban values, and the D.A. in recent years has attracted middle class voters of all races in the country. Most whites, Indians, and “Coloured” (mixed race) South Africans vote D.A., which has resulted in notable success: the party governs in one province, the Western Cape, and in three of South Africa’s largest cities: Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Tshwane (Pretoria). But with success has come new challenges. Corruption is easy to disavow when your party doesn’t control any largesse of its own, but when there’s loot to fight over, factional battles inevitably arise. Patricia de Lille, the popular (Coloured) mayor of Cape Town, was hounded from office recently on hazy and unsubstantiated corruption allegations; she has since founded her own political party. Helen Zille, the former leader of the party and the premier (governor) of the Western Cape, was suspended from the party (but not her office) after a lengthy and unedifying fight over tweets she wrote that implied colonialism wasn’t “all bad.” Which highlights the D.A.’s persistent cultural problem: many people will never vote D.A. because they see it as an essentially white party. Mmusi Maimane is a gifted orator, but these controversies and others have contributed to a narrative that he doesn’t really run the show; that the core of the party’s leadership is still very white and quite conservative. Because of the party’s troubles in the Western Cape, they are expected to lose votes on Wednesday overall but probably hold on to the province, since the A.N.C. leadership there remains inept and unpopular. Depending on the A.N.C.’s performance in Gauteng, the largest and most urbanized province, they have a shot at governing in a coalition there with the Economic Freedom Fighters and smaller parties. They are unlikely to make much of a dent in the other provinces, winning 20-25% of the nationwide vote.

Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (E.F.F.) are poised for big gains on Wednesday, expecting 10-15% of all votes. Now, I could spent pages and pages talking about Malema and what everyone and his uncle thinks about Bra Julius, as he’s known, but suffice it to say that he’s a brilliant man. I can remember when he was the firebrand president of the A.N.C. Youth League, convicted of hate speech for singing the struggle song “Dubula iBhunu” (“Shoot the Boer”) at rallies. Now, almost a decade later, he’s matured significantly, but remains something of a political chameleon. One day he’ll make statements that seem to advocate (or at least be open to) bigotry, violent revolt, and extremism, and the next day he’ll say things that seem eminently reasonable. His signature issues have always been expropriation of land without compensation and the nationalization of key industries, and, despite leading a fairly small party, he’s the one responsible for putting the land issue at the front of everyone’s mind. People used to accuse him of being unintelligent; they know better now. His base of support consists of people who are traditionally among the hardest to get to the polls: unemployed youth, the poor, the disaffected. But even if his party underwhelms on Wednesday, he’ll likely be right where he wants to be: in the catbird seat as a political kingmaker deciding whether the A.N.C. or the D.A. governs in key areas.

The three biggest issues in the election are pretty simple: land reform, corruption, and the state of the economy, which has remained pretty dismal since the Great Recession began. The A.N.C. and E.F.F. support land expropriation without compensation, but as yet there isn’t a concrete plan to enact this policy. The overseas media likes to portray this issue as Zimbabwe-redux, with fat, sunburned white farmers squaring off against hate-filled black zealots, but the reality is much more complicated. Nearly one in five South Africans lives in an informal or shack settlement, often without electricity, plumbing, or running water. Racist laws like the 1913 Natives’ Land Act and the 1950 Group Areas Act directly contributed to this state of affairs by enshrining white ownership of about 90% of the land and moving black people from cities to far-off, hellish “bantustans” and peri-urban “native locations,” later called townships. Thus, while many rural Africans want white-owned land for subsistence or commercial farming, the desire for land inside and close to cities is even more in demand, and much of this prime real estate is owned either by corporations or the state, and left idle. Thus the battle over land in South Africa isn’t so much about taking land away from white farmers (and remember that only a small minority of white South Africans are farmers), but redesigning the inherently racist spatial configuration of South African society.

This is, as you can imagine, incredibly tough to do. The laws that would address this have yet to appear in any form that I’ve seen. Even then, it’s no secret that while South Africa has some of the best laws in the world, implementation is an entirely different matter. I don’t think there will be any violent land grabs like we saw in Zimbabwe twenty years ago; South Africa and Zimbabwe have very different histories in this regard. I suspect and hope the powers that be will figure something out; but it will take someone above my pay grade to figure it all out.

The last thing I’ll say is this: corruption is the great vexation of modern South Africa, but it has deep structural roots going back literally centuries. The economy has always been structured in a very top-down manner, with almost every industry consolidated into the hands of a few massive enterprises who are able to exploit an enormous, largely unskilled and poorly-paid workforce. This, sadly, is a recipe for corruption, regardless of the moral probity of whoever happens to be in power (very much a colorblind disease, by the way). As much as I love and admire the democratic values of this country and its constitution, I don’t have confidence that any opposition party would do a much better job than the A.N.C. of preventing graft and looting. And, of course, the poor are the worst victims of corruption. When your children die falling into pit toilets at their primary school, your business fails because the power is cut to your house four hours a day, and you lose another job in the faraway city center because the commuter rail network is unsafe and unreliable, what use is the vote? Julius Malema is right to argue that the basic economic structure of South Africa needs to be overhauled, because if not the social contract is in great danger. I’m just not sure he—and if not he, who else?—is the man for the job.

The Great S.A. Comedy Odyssey Begins: Chester Missing, Wokpo Jensma, and the Meaning of Laughter

i toss my head off
i cry with agony
that they may laugh
but they only stare

i show them my bum
they still stare
i tell them a joke they stare

ah, i get it
i must be their judge

—Wokpo Jensma

I encountered this poem in the basement of the Wits Art Museum one Saturday morning a few weeks ago, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I had to know more about the author of these haunting lines. It turns out that the man who wrote them, Wokpo Jensma, is one of the great enigmas of South African cultural history. Born in 1939 in the Eastern Cape, he studied at two of South Africa’s leading Afrikaans universities and made a name for himself as a poet in the 1960s. He married across the color line (in Botswana, where it was legal) and suffered from schizophrenia. In 1993, according to the sources I could find, he “disappeared.”

The words are short and simple but leave us with a powerful image. What does it mean for our narrator, the victim of the poem, to be the judge of his audience? Jensma wrote this poem in 1972, at the height of the apartheid era. The South African economy was booming and white supremacy seemed invincible. If we apply this context to the poem we might observe that systems of oppression require constant performance on the part of both torturer and victim, oppressor and oppressed. But what struck me most was an image familiar to me from watching stand-up comedy: the unspoken, inarticulate urgency of risky jokes, jokes that temporarily unmask the unpleasant realities of power. Audiences in those moments want more than just a fun night out. What do they want? It can be dangerous to ask that kind of question.

A view of the stage at Blacks Only, April 6th, 2019. It was a sold-out show.

I’m thinking about this in the context of a comedy show I saw later that day. It was a Blacks Only Comedy Tour event, at the massive casino monstrosity called Emperor’s Palace, near Johannesburg’s main airport. The tickets were expensive and I didn’t like the venue at all: I was seated only a few rows from the very back of an enormous convention center ballroom. It was a sold-out show: 3,500 people in stackable plastic chairs on a flat convention floor. If it wasn’t for the six big screens hung from the ceiling I wouldn’t have seen a thing.

People often ask me what sets South African comedy apart from comedy in America or in other countries, and I never feel like I have a satisfying answer. Laughter is one of the things that unites us as a species; almost everyone, the world over, likes to laugh, even if they have different ideas and theories about what laughing means. And of course laughing never means just one thing: it usually means many different things all at once. But if I say that South African humour (or French or women’s or queer humour, for that matter), is such-and-such, I immediately pigeonhole that tradition in a way that can never stand up to scrutiny. If comedians thought like that the world would be a much less creative place.

Maybe my stance will change by the end of my travels here, but for now all I feel I can say is that South African comedy is special because it’s from South Africa. First and foremost, that means an overwhelming concern with diversity. Diversity of race, diversity of language, diversity of culture—diversity of truths, even in an era of fake news. South Africa’s incredible diversity lends itself easily to the absurd. After all, this is a country where so many unreconcilable things somehow manage to coexist. It’s a country where some of the most crushing poverty in the world exists cheek-by-jowl with some of the most ostentatious wealth. It’s a country where the ruling party officially espouses socialist rhetoric while bolstering one of the most monopolistic and influential corporate regimes in the world. By laughing about it, South Africans name that absurdity and make it less powerful, less intimidating.

Comedian Sne Dladla performs at the Protea Hotel Fire and Ice, Johannesburg, April 27th, 2019

When people are laughing, their guard is down, after all, and they’re prepared to listen to things they would avoid hearing about otherwise. Yet humor also has limits. To quote Chester Missing, speaking to a hushed auditorium after goading Koch, his ventriloquist (the only white comic in the line-up) to apologise for apartheid on the spot, “You see that? Absolutely fokol has changed.” Naming absurdity disarms it for a while, but resolves nothing.

Conrad Koch holds a master’s in sociology and received a raucous reception that night (David Kau, the host, opened by taking a racial census of the audience, asking each of the four apartheid-era racial groups in the audience to cheer and be counted—probably 95% of the audience was black). Koch is almost certainly the most politically relevant ventriloquist in the world—Chester Missing is a household name with a prime-time network TV show and almost 400,000 Twitter followers. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that South Africans have an appetite for ventriloquism. After all, as anyone will tell you, the place is full of “ventriloquists”: “white monopoly capital,” “Gupta puppets,” “tenderpreneurs,” and “Stratcom spies” are just a few of the terms used in everyday language to describe people who are not acting straightforwardly, but on behalf of more sinister forces. Years ago, Chester Missing himself used to be visibly black or Coloured, creating an explicitly racialized puppet/puppeteer dynamic. Eventually Koch decided to turn Chester white, to avoid the charge that he was indulging in blackface. Judging by the audience’s laughter at Emperor’s Palace, his fanbase seems to have accepted this.

Koch uses his “whitened” puppet to call attention to the inadequacy of his work. He leans in to the fact that his satirical attacks on South African injustice do not negate his privilege as a white performer, any more than his audience’s laughter can assuage their pain over continuing injustices or alter their position in the society. The depth and rawness of South Africa’s historical wounds makes for an intensely existential comedy. The louder the laughter, the sharper the pain; pain which is no less necessary for being futile.

We find the same paradox in Jensma’s poem. His narrator wants to please the people watching, perhaps hoping that doing so will cause his abasement to end. Yet their desires are mismatched; the crowd wants a judge. And this is, in many ways, the dilemma of comedy: the audience usually wants both a judge and a jester. A judge to pass judgement, and a jester to reassure it that there are no consequences; comedy demands recognition, but not repentance. Like moths to a porchlight, the dance continues. Living in a country where so much seems unresolved, it seems fitting that South Africans would be more comfortable than most with loose ends.

at montecasino

if all it took to
make Johannesburg a normal city
was a teenager in an ill-fitting jacket
wanding everyone—my God,
is it that easy?

or maybe what it takes
is a few million dollars
and some paving stones and Vespas you can
chain to fake light poles,
some canvas to paint like permanent Italian sunset
and a judicious use of neon.

maybe the whole nation could be like
Montecasino: we could put the food court
in Bloemfontein and convert Port Elizabeth to toilets;
Cape Town would be nothing but gelato
shops and underwear boutiques—basically unchanged, and
we could hang shabby-chic bulbs
from the blikkies we’ll repurpose
into craft gin bars

(the shack dwellers will all be working
at the famous Fourways Mugg and Bean
which will have five million seats,
or at the Spur next door
in Hartebeespoort).

all will have jobs this way, you see,
and none hungry.


What to know before you write a syllabus: Some loving advice.

In my second semester of graduate school, I learned that syllabus writing is hard. I’d signed up for a class (technically an independent study, though there were four or five of us who would meet weekly, usually without a professor present) that was well outside my comfort zone.  It was a class on Islam in Africa, and all the other students were historians of either East or West Africa in the advanced stages of preparing for comps.  Still, I’d taken a few classes on Islam in undergrad, and I was a religious studies major—I didn’t feel totally out of my depth. Our final assignment for the course was to design a syllabus.  It was a great experience—I’m really glad to have done it so early in my graduate career—but it was definitely rough going.

Syllabus writing is hard for many reasons.  To put it bluntly, a syllabus is an exercise is branding.  It’s a venue for your values as a scholar, and a way to actually do something about all the stuff you’ve been complaining about in seminars.  Which, by the way…let’s just say that it’s never too early to get some perspective on the graduate seminar phenomenon.  They’re not useless; they can  be fantastic under the right circumstances, but the nervous energy of a gaggle of impostor syndrome-addled graduate students should never be underestimated.  If you aren’t careful you might find that instead of learning how to be a historian (or a practitioner of whatever it is you study), you’ve spent two years learning to absolutely crush seminar discussions—which is not the same thing.  The latter generally entails a lot of complaining about what the author omitted, about citations, about methodology, et cetera.  But do you have a better idea?  Without having your own published monograph, a syllabus is where you put your money where your mouth is, as it were.

Are the canonical sources too uncritical of [blank]?  Cut ‘em.  Is it a problem that the vast majority of Africanist historians cited in the West are white non-Africanists?  Screw ‘em, assign some African voices, some primary sources, some queer scholars.  It’s your call.  It’s your time to shine.  It’s all wonderfully open-ended too—are you pissed that your undergrad Africa survey never mentioned Madagascar?  Do a unit on Madagascar.  You can make it work.

But making bold choices like that invites second guessing.  Fifteen weeks seems like a long time when the syllabus is blank, but it fills up quickly.  I used to think it was a cop-out in undergrad when professors admitted up-front that their survey wasn’t going to be “comprehensive” and some worthy topics were going to get the shaft; now, from the other side of the desk, I realize I was wrong to be so critical.  There really are limitations on what you can get to in a single semester, and the more you value getting students to really grapple with the past and think about cases in more depth, the more limited you’ll feel.  Some topics and sources won’t make the final cut, and not only will you be pissed, but you’ll also have to take responsibility for it.

You have serious limitations too. Unless you’re able to design a course exclusively around your research interests (something I don’t think many people would recommend, even if it were possible), you’re going to have to spend a good chunk of the course covering material you’re not really an expert in.  Islam in Africa was a case-in-point for me: I know a heck of a lot more about it than the average undergrad, but much less than someone who studies precolonial Senegal or Zanzibar.  When you’re gathering sources it can seem overwhelming, because you probably won’t know many names beyond the blockbusters, let alone the way their work has been received and debated.  And if you worry about your expertise when it comes to your own dissertation topic, how much more phoney is your command of the Trans-Saharan slave trade in the fifteenth century?

The biggest problem of all, though, is the literature itself.  As you seek out readings to fill your blank syllabus, you’ll probably have some faves in mind that were always going to make the cut.  As you continue, though, your well-honed grad seminar senses will be tingling like crazy as the shortcomings of the books and articles you find become manifest.  You’ll find that many of the sources you wish were out there just don’t exist, and that the ones that do are deeply flawed.  Worse, you’ll find that a lot of the sources you might use are totally inappropriate for undergraduate students, which is a special kind of disappointment.  You might push back on this, thinking you can hold your students to a higher standard—and you might be able to!  It depends heavily on your ability and the nature of the class you’re designing, but obviously the definitive test is whether students actually read what you assign.  If they have a low threshold for abstruse scholarly prose, they might just be apathetic. 

Of course, it also might be true that said prose is simply bad.  We academics put up with a lot of bad writing.  When we write, most of us spend our time thinking about our colleagues rather than the public, which is fine except when you have to convince the public (your students) that the material is worthwhile.

So how does one do it? There’s no magic bullet, but I would start by setting a series of goals for the course: what do you want students to get out of it? Some of the goals should relate to specific content (i.e., colonialism was bad) and some should relate more generally to the discipline. Why is history so important? Why is it necessary to approach sources critically? How do historical narratives get pressed into the service of oppression and resistance? The case studies you choose can then illustrate these broader ideas. To expand on George Orwell’s famous axiom from 1984, all debates over the future are really struggles for control of the past. If my students take nothing else away from my class, that’s the message I would want them to take away. Syllabus writing teaches you how that sausage might be made.

I haven’t even gotten to discussing ways students can demonstrate their learning to you through exams and projects. Designing assignments isn’t as laborious as populating your syllabus with readings and lectures, but it’s every bit as important. Again, your process here should be shaped by your overall goals. I’m a big believer in mixing small items like reading quizzes in among bigger essay style assignments, because as important as the big takeaway lessons are, it’s impossible to learn meaningfully about History writ-large without mastering the nuts and bolts of particular cases. I think group projects can be valuable, but their burden tends to fall disproportionately on stronger students, and I don’t think I would ever design a syllabus with a group component of more than 30% of the final grade (I also totally reject self and group evaluation assignments; in my experience they are basically useless and place students in an inherently uncomfortable position).

So there you have it: perhaps this advice isn’t quite as “targeted” as it might be, but this is the kind of thing I wish I had read before embarking on my first syllabus writing journey. Set goals, be realistic, and don’t underestimate the difficulty. As always, drop a comment if you found this post helpful, or to suggest a topic for another post! I’m currently in South Africa starting in on my dissertation research, but I’ll still be posting content as often as I can.

matthew 25:14

the bonds are all we have in the end,
prone to forget how empty is emptiness,
how silent is silence

tangle up in what you can
so that when the judgement comes
your train stretches to the far horizon:

hermit crabs and bad poets and nude
lawyers woven in it, a mighty haul,
all the mad frustration you provoked

in your infinitude, matchless in their
beauty, such that when the light hits
it will sing and stink with color

like an endless trellis of orchids.

tightsqueeze center songs

i

if i were cleverer
i might know the motion of the leaves

and soil in winter, where i just see
the forest’s carpet of brown bones,

just the deer and february
birds, them that stay.

ii

but i am not clever,
nor am i good nor ordered, oh,

all i am is luck,

iii

the embodiment of it, luck that can
reject a city only to come back a few years

later and take liberties with the goodness
of folks and drive a day up 29 in dark rain

unworried by money, unworried by the future,
unworried by others, pulling in and out

of tightsqueeze (pittsylvania county, where there
is a food lion) with an inward laugh,

unworried by the damage of my hands and
the damage of my eyes that would

not look on you in pain.

iv

all i am is luck, who could hide from it
in asheville with near strangers,

kneel by the waters of badin
full of tender pity for my own self,

by the brown yadkin nobly decide not to end it all,
a martyr to martyrdom and a prophet too.

v

we earn so little of what we have;
it hardly seems worth mentioning

unless to comment that what happened
after badin and bethania grief and all that nonsense

felt a lot like hell and looks a lot
like heaven, far away now,

now that i can see it.

vi

all i am is luck,
such that i would see this woods

and think it all a dead and ugly place
ignorant of what is being prepared;

of the hadedas, too,
all the hadedas

in melville.

the curse of great beauty [for eef]

there should be an instagram for unpleasant things:
ranch stuck in beards and bikinis from poor angles,

blurry pictures of dead squirrels and row on
row of dirty dishes in sinks rarely washed
themselves,

legal disclaimers and rejection letters photographed
on resume paper in artful lower case

indexing the minor miseries of the era in a
hot harmattan wind of dorito dust and anxiety.

grid upon grid of the floor behind refrigerators
covered in little mouse shits, with saturated colors,

badly parked cars and wilted spring mix; oh,
leave it for our children as a monument, a windblown

antidote to the dulcet fascism of san serif fonts and
negative space, of making yourself out better than you

are, or saying that you aren’t, which in
the world’s deep cruelty amounts to

much the same thing.