October 27th, 2009 — in the Year of Our Word (to quote Looking for Livingstone)
Haven’t been in Africa 24 hours yet. Am sitting in an internet cafe writing a blog for the first time ever. At my age there are not many first- times-ever left, or perhaps shouldn’t be. But I’m also thinking that you’re only old once, which to my mind is far more relevant and meaningful than you’re only young once. After all, in the latter case you have your whole damn life in front of you. In my case it feels like my whole damn life is behind me, or under me, or sometimes above me pressing down with all its might. And then again sometimes there is no ‘or’ — I’m completely encapsulated by my life. Which doesn’t feel like such a good thing.
Perhaps that’s what I’m doing here. In Ghana. Trying to escape my life… perhaps trying to chase a life that escaped and still escapes me. Anyway hunter or hunted, pursuer or pursued, here I am in Afronet. That’s the ever- so- cool name of the internet cafe. So many resonances there that connect with African cultures that, at their foundation, work on principles of connectivity and breaking (dance); synapse jumping and colliding; bouncing off this, riffing on that, picking up stuff here and leaving it there. Like jazz, I mean. Or Negro music as Ellington wanted to call it.
It’s warm outside and cool in here with 2o or so people, mainly men – young men, working industriously at computers. Whoever runs Afronet has it locked down in a positive way — there are always one or two people walking around to give assistance. You — I — notice these things in Africa because so much doesn’t seem to work, and I fret like an anxious parent. When are we going to get it right? (If the media were to be belived, the only thing we seem to get right is killing and raping each other.) When are we going to get out from under that life that is “downpressing” us so relentlessly?
So why am I in Africa — what am I doing here at this particular point in time? Three years ago, while in the throes of working on my last book of poetry,Zong!, I visited Africa — Ghana, believing I needed to ask permission (of whom?) to bring to light the voices of the submerged that are at the heart of that work. I always knew that once the work was done I would have to return. John Keats advanced the theory of negative capability –”being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” And negative capability best sums up — often with lots of irritability and anger, though — my thoughts, such as they are, and feelings about a journey which is not metaphorical but very real: should I, for instance, take malaria pills or use herbs or homeopathic remedies and prophylactics instead? Which immediately brings up the apparently irrevocable link between disease and Africa, which I will explore in another posting. To return to negative capability, however, I “knew” I had to shave my head after I was done with the work — took me some time but I did do it. I also “knew” I had to wear white after I was done. So I did that as well. Interestingly enough, this morning in conversation with a friend here about the death of my mother at the age of 90, he tells me that white would be worn for her because one of the practices here in Ghana is to wear white when there is a victory of sort. If a woman, for instance, has had a difficult labour and survives, she would wear white. Or, as in the case of my mother, her living a long life is considered a victory, so we, her survivors would wear white. I say hmmm to myself and listen some more.
I’ve learnt that having a bald head and not having to worry about twisting and/or combing one’s hair frees up a lot of time and that one’s head get cold very quickly. I’ve also learnt that you can wear an article of white clothing a lot longer that you think you can and it still “looks” white. But I sense that there is more at work here than these trivial pieces of information — perhaps, it has to do with the roots of poetry being in the sacred and in ritual, and, perhaps, some resistance to that on my part. So, I will continue in negative capability around this trip “without reaching after fact or reason” and continue to post as the spirit moves me.