For the Caterpillar

In many ways, I know that nothing I tell you will change the course of history. The vanity of time doesn’t allow it to be changed by the whims of men. And the nature of perception is so deeply coded in the ways in which we understand each other – in which we hide from each other. So deeply rooted in the ways in which we are taught to protect ourselves and in the things we are taught to destroy that there is little I can do or say that will stop the universe from coming at you.

And I know enough of you to know that you will not change course – and you shouldn’t. Your destiny lies beyond whatever you are set on facing. And even if it doesn’t, you’re too much like me. Too set on making the universe yield to your will. Too strong headed to break.

Too strong to break – sounds a bit like a mad cow yes?

And, of course, it is this very strength that will break you. Not just once – again and again. It already has. And as you continue to carry weights that are larger than your capacity your capacity begins to grow. But you can only carry what you can carry – and then you can only carry so much more.

“It’s the greatest thing you’d ever imagine

But you’ll never know until you’re there”

But even as I write this words, I realise they appear to be nothingness. A void of platitudes that carry no weight. The cracks never really seem important until they break down the house. And only when looking at the ruins will you properly identify the source – and even then it might not be apparent. So I’m not particularly concerned with your actions, your decisions – you have always been the master of your fate, you just have to figure out the waters (and that’s the easier part).

What I am concerned about is grace.

Amidst whatever life throws at you I wish you grace. Grace that comes from knowledge of circumstance, understanding that the turmoil of the sea has not been caused by your rowing – and cannot be stopped by it. Amidst the chaos I wish you a still soul and a wandering mind. I pray that your soul is always in contact with your skin. That you might find time to feel the wind and smell the rain. That you might catch every sunrise and sunset.

You have chosen to die – and nothing will stop you.

But, till then, I pray that you live.

For the Language Decoder

I promised myself I would not write to you until I found her. The cyclones in her semi- circular canal were heavy from the whirlwind that was caused by their spinning – so it took her a minute to find her balance. To be honest, I almost didn’t believe you. Lost hope several times along the way and nearly drowned in a pool of my past before I stumbled upon her.

Only noticing her because my own head was spinning.

Do you ever lick the wounds on your palms? I tried once, it didn’t sting much, but the blood tasted bitter. I couldn’t place my finger on what about it bothered me, but I also knew I didn’t want more. That was a long time ago, of course, the scars soon grew scar tissue. Soon after, my carefully etched psalms lost their legibility. Few words remain of this – instead it is a blur of possibilities. The words that remain themselves are too fragmented to bear any meaning. No matter though, I know the psalms by heart now. The scars remain as a testament to the ways in which I had to learn.

But where are my manners? I write a letter to you – unannounced, uninvited and decide to dwell on my issues. You must have questions yourself. Who am I? Why this letter? Why now? Why you? Or you may not – but it is still considered polite to address this issue.

I am writing this letter because while walking along the beach I found one of your bottles. It was lying in the sand and I thought to myself “no shit, who the hell finds bottles on the beach.” So I got excited and went around telling everyone on the beach that I had found a bottle with a note in it – that was my first mistake. Turns out people don’t imagine that notes in bottles can travel thousands of miles. They imagine the sea as a void – and their island as the only one. So everyone had a logical explanation for your note. That perhaps some child did it. It was a prank. It was for entertainment.(to be fair it didn’t help that your language is not as linear as many would like the information they need – something that I now understand also has its reasons).

But I was obsessed with your note.

So you can imagine my joy when I found another, and another. Constantly washing up on shore. Always in the same place – never regularly. I didn’t mind. I imagined constructing notes of this nature must be difficult. And the sea is not a reliable route. But time and tide stayed in my favour, and the notes kept coming.

Which is why I write this letter. In one of your notes you say you are unsure as to whether your notes ever reach the distant shores. I don’t know whether you still wonder about whether your notes get to the other shore – but this letter shows that they did. A friend of ours, ruined by his vocabulary, wrote on the back of a napkin that these things are dead men talking to each other. We are, of course, dead on arrival. Doomed to be saved by our own damnation – we run headfast into our destruction more times than we need to. They thought alchemy was the flames consuming impurities, but that’s what I saw from your notes. It isn’t is it? It is the impurities consuming the flames. Taking everything that they can from the fire before it burns out – and the alchemist’s job is to keep the fire burning, isn’t it? I ask for confirmation because this is what I suspect but you are the one who wrote the notes and so I expect you to know. Though, as I write this out, I realise that too might be misguided on my part.

Anyway, you were heard, and you were right – she is here.

Send my love to all.

Regards,

A Dependent Observer

For the artist formerly known as Alice.

Did you listen when they heard you speak? Or were you caught up in chasing the every elusive thought down the rabbit hole? Not seeing any reason to identify with alice, it made no sense to you to say no when the mad hatter offered you some tea.

As a matter of principle it is bad behavior to say no to a cup of tea. And who is to have tea with a stranger without at least asking their name? They always said that bad behavior can get you in trouble – no one told you that good behavior could do the same. And that there is nothing like bad or good – there is more a grey area of behavior and perception.

Were they shocked when you told them that this was your home?

Did it hit them harder than they thought? When those that heard stories of hurt glory shook their fists to the moon – were you there? Did you hear them whisper in corridors and scribble on the walls? Did you attend their meetings? Did you see the fire in their eyes as they recited their chants? Were you there, in the middle of the night, as they swore on gods that have long lost their lustre?

Or is it because, acutely aware that they were listening, you found yourself doing their dance? Right foot, left foot, shuffle – right foot, left foot, shuffle. A simple enough pattern – or so you thought.

Do you ever wonder why the first dancer moved? What the first beat was?

Or were most people born dancing to the rhythm of their mother’s hearts?  What does this mean of those who have irregular rhythm? Do we dance because we were born out of tune and are always just trying to catch the beat? Or do out feet learn to move because they are not allowed to stay still? When we dance, then – we are not still. But still, we dance.

Still.

What does it mean to claim still when the elusive thought continues to be dangled right in front of us? Did you notice it was dangled – by some mad hatter closely watching his brew? Or were you distracted by the scent of tea? Perhaps it had more to do with the nature of rabbit holes. After all – didn’t the prophecy say something about the path being less lit, less traveled?

Had you found out how many rabbits had been down the hole before Alice? After? Or were the discarded wrappers too many to count?

Would you do it again?

A dilemma crosses your mind as you read this letter and the waft of fresh tea drifts into the room. Even before the wind whispers its question you already know your answer.

“Black, two sugars.”

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

For the Poet in Running Shoes

When it is all over for the day and you sit, waiting for the onslaught of dawn, which poets keep you awake? Do you whisper in couplets to Gibran and hear echoes of Lorde as the night washes away the ills of the day?

There’s a spot on the roof. If you stand there at the right moment it is as if you can hear the collective dreaming of a drowning city. In many ways one begins to understand why all the superheroes have their moments of soliloquy above a sleeping city.

Where do you go to be alone with your thoughts?

Is there a special seat where you go to gather the fragments of yourself from the atmosphere?

Do they come flying back from around the world? Or do you just connect with all the versions of yourself that you have left nursing those who needed them the most?

*

Somewhere in the city there is an arboretum. In the arboretum stands a tree with golden flowers. Surrounded by a sea of dull this tree continues to flower, unashamed of putting the trees around it to shame.

*

I still find these letters increasingly difficult to write. I see the poets coming to read them like I once read poetry myself. Looking for traces of a self I wanted to possess but never seemed to summon in person. Did you ever read poetry like that? In whose lines have you found yourself? Which poets left fragments of themselves behind to fill the holes left by the pieces you no longer had?

*

Where do you go to be alone with your thoughts?

*

The art of healing is only useful for the broken. How many times have you watched as they continued to tell stories? How many times have you heard revised histories erase the very truths that define the present?

If I plucked a flower from the tree at the arboretum and ran halfway across town with it, would it die? What about if I made sure to store it safely in my clenched fist, holding it tight to ensure it doesn’t get lost? What about if, as I ran, I became more paranoid about losing the flower, so I held it tighter?

Have you ever performed CPR on a gold flower? It’s a very delicate procedure that involves gently holding the calyx between your forefingers and using your thumbs to separate the style from the stigma.

But stigma, once attached, is almost impossible to get rid of, isn’t it?

*

A poet sits under a tree reading a book, trying to find themselves in redacted histories.

A flower falls on their head.

Do they run? Or do they open their eyes, as another fragment holds space for pieces that are out holding space for someone else?

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

for a Mad Kenyan Woman

But bodies

are just bodies

and words

are just words

and love

is just love

and time

only moves backward

when words of love

remember bodies.

What’s it like to learn how to read bodies? Kureishi reminds me that bodies are often misread, misunderstood, misused, misplaced, misaligned. Bodies do funny things, so again I ask, how do you crack the code? Let’s assume that there was one mourning lamentation a few metres away from the site of a terrorist attack, would the bodies that gathered to participate in the grief carry the right language? Or maybe, for the purposes of this discussion, there is no right language. But there must be a right, something. A right way, a rightness of sorts, what language do bodies speak when they are speaking right?

Simple ideas of right and wrong are archaic – binaries are unwinnable.

But unwinnable might continue to be a function of the battle’s framing than an actual fact.

How was your battle framed?

Did they trace sketches of the structure in the sand with a pointed stick, showing you where to go? Or was it perhaps that you found your way here by no other means than touch, time and memory? How many surfaces burnt the tip of your fingers? How many thorns did you pick? Did you time the periods between one prick and the other – or was it simply a matter of chance? An existence that you have had to steel yourself to, destroying yourself whenever necessary? I ask because I don’t know how not to ask, just like those who don’t ask, might not know how to.

Jacarandas remind us

that weary feet

sometimes need tread

a carpet of silk.

Make sure your feet

are clean.

 

Let’s assume there were three trees in the garden. These three trees were arranged in a triangle. Each tree would represent a part of time i.e the past, the present, the future. Which tree’s fruit would taste sweetest? Now, let’s assume that you were in charge of this garden and, thus, were under responsibility to keep all the trees growing and healthy – which tree would be healthiest? Would you find a way to scatter the fertilizer equally?

If you needed to travel, who would you let tend the garden? Whose hands would be trusted to keep the roots of time firmly grounded?

What about if a battle ensued, and your orders came through, a sketch on the ground outside your door. An arrow points away – who would watch the garden then?

 

And when the mother

of the mother

let’s her grief escape,

catch her tears.

They are a story

that cannot be told.

There is a garden on the edge of the battlefield. The trees in the garden grow larger and stronger everyday. A top one tree a gardener watches the dust rise from the battlefield. Soon the soldiers will make their way to cut down the trees for their fires. Until then the gardener tends to the garden muttering “they will not take my trees, they will not take my trees.”

But love

continues to be a function

of time, memory and struggle.

 

But they have not learned the language of love yet. Instead, they chose to continue to forget, to continue to forget. The time spent remembering struggle instead, is seen as malady. But generals, like gardeners, are all known to be slightly mad. Especially when an army begins to form outside the garden. They will not take our trees.

They will not take our trees.

Signed,

A dependent observer

To the one who learned to speak in silences

I don’t know how to write your letter.

I’d like to imagine that I have the right words to translate these abstractions into letters on the page but Florence reminds the machine that the heart is hard to translate. But you don’t listen to music often, do you?

Perhaps it is important to know what it looks like to watch from the outside as the body that you have seen walk unflinching into flames show its scars.

Do you ever sit and trade stories of how it was to walk down the streets of some alley overwhelmed by all the love in the world coursing through your veins?

How does it feel to contain an elixir so pure?

That is the wrong question.

I don’t know how to write your letter.

*

We are all just versions of ourselves. To unbecome is to become.

Were you there when they first started peeling the layers from the first fable? Did you witness it? Did it slowly unravel and fall to the ground like a ball of wool, dislodged from an empty seat by a bored cat? Or did it oppose its unravelling? How did you fight it, how did you make it listen? Was it a long and bloody fight? Or were you cunning? Thrusting a spear into its shadow at the last minute?

Did you look into its eyes as it lay there, the first layer of a vastness that is yet to be understood but has definitely been seen?

Let’s make a simple assumption. This battle happened somewhere in the universe. Given, this might not be the case but for the purpose of this discussion let’s assume it did. Do you think NASA will ever stumble upon this battleground in their never ending search for life? And, in finding nothing but death, how will they react to this?

Many questions because I do not know how to write your letter.

Last night I sat in my living room contemplating how many insects would be fornicating for every moment I spent sitting in my living room contemplating. I realized that the more I thought about the question the more complicated it became. Time, as it has been notorious for doing, refused to stop. And, in not stopping, the question would never be answered. Unless, of course, I stopped thinking about the question. But what good are answers if they can’t be felt? And how would I know if I was working towards the answer, or further into creating different forms of the same question?

If there were seven different types of kale planted in a farm whose soil was perfect for mangoes – how would we have the grapes that we so desperately need to make wine?

(insects that fornicate don’t know how to stay sober, but they do find themselves swarming around dead skin)

Is it then, that, if we follow the swarming insects, we will find ourselves standing in the battlefield where it all began? Or do we have to wait until the light hits the Hubble telescope at the right angle for NASA to read it, like the poetry that we once understood but only now long to write? Like I long to write this letter, but find myself lost inside the vortex between hope and longing.

But, like all letters that are written, I can only communicate where I am now, let alone where I’ll be when the letter is complete. Still, at least there’s comfort in knowing that this letter is written, beyond the knowledge of how, where and when. It has been written now. Here, I give you the present and hope that by the time it is past it will point to the future, a space when I (will) know how to write this letter.

Signed,

A dependent observer.

She who spoke

It’s interesting how difficult it has been to begin this letter. So maybe a question. Do you often sit and wonder how many times you have had to say the same thing to the same people who continue to do the same thing? A silly question, I know, but one that I thought I’d ask none the less.

Let’s say there were six different paths. On each path set levels of resistance, ranging from 1 to 6, with one being the least resistance and six the highest, which path would you take?

Plot twist: there is no reward, each path only leads to the same place that every other path leads to.

Except maybe it doesn’t.

What do you think of more, the journey or the destination? Do these thoughts pick you up when inevitably, you are in a situation that was designed to interrupt? I ask these questions with awe. Having stood at the crossroads for a long time I now know nothing more than that there are cars that drive right by, speeding away, and there are those that stop asking people if they need a lift, if only to the next junction.

Does your car get full?

Do you roll down the windows letting the wind move through all the pathways that your hair has created for your mind? How do you keep all the backseat drivers at bay? Is there a secret potion that we are yet to discover?

I often wonder about the moon. There’s something about how it sits silently in the sky, giving us second hand energy from the sun to help us navigate the darkness. It’s like it knows that there was no way we could find our way through the dark without help. And, in knowing this it also knows that it will have to sit and watch us stumble, every once in a while sending the waves to remind us to breath.

Is the reminder to breathe something that you’ve set on your phone? Perhaps somewhere between time and memory. Time and memory.  Is memory anything more than a shard of time torn from its source and hidden in the pockets of the boyfriend jacket that cost a lot more than it should have but lasted longer than expected? Do the pockets of your boyfriend jacket get heavy?

Perhaps you transfer all the little pieces of time that you have gathered to the boot of your car. Perhaps this is why you drive slow, stopping at every corner. Here, you say, have this piece. It is special it came from the Cindi galaxy right off Mayweather road. It is known for its special healing powers and was made with you in mind.

Do you see the smiles on their faces as you drive off, windows down and wind tugging at your brain?

Let’s say there were six different paths. On each path set levels of resistance, ranging from 1 to 6 with one being the least resistance and six the highest. How much fuel would you need?

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

Mothertongue Blues

To the unremembering tongue the search for a history is often measured by two clocks ticking in different cities and two hearts beating to different rhythms. When here is there, and there is nothing more than a speck of soil, crushed under the feet of an excited conductor; then everything might seem to follow a path that would one day be as significant as a fleeting sentence.

In the beginning was the word.

Before that were letters,

Before that the coherence to create an alphabet

Before that an idea

Before that a question

Before that a point,

Kusema kweli, kama ningekuwa msanii ningeweza kueleza mambo yote kutoka mwanza mpaka mwisho. Lakini kwa sasa nimejipata katika harakati za kutafuta mazoezi na mashairi. Mazoezi na mashairi, ni kama kusema ni kutenda au kusema yanayotendwa na wale vijana wawili kutoka huko mbali.

You remember them don’t you? They came hand in hand, one with an evil smile and one whose face knew not the image of itself but the memory of a past violence. The other had a voice that could convince the world to stand still, if only for a second. Still, you let them in, maybe because your world needed to stand still, maybe because your tongue needed to remember – and their tongues needed to forget. No one really knows why, but you did.

(Question: If you were given two clocks, one facing north and one facing south then asked to determine which one was right would you break the first or the second? Would you break the one that was right or the one that was wrong? Does this paradox have meaning? Perhaps not, but let’s say that one of these clocks was set in a language that we have since remembered but, at the time, was not on your mind. The other was set in a language that was on your mind at the time but you have now forgotten. Would that influence your choice? I’m asking because I want to know what the forwards backwards passage of time could possibly mean if not maybe that there is now, and then there isn’t)

I’ve seen time stop still.

I was there that night, when the jazz sounds of a mother’s blue tongue were brought to life, punctuated by the sighs of the moon to stay. I was there when the words made the present seem like nothing more than a connection between the past and the future. When the caravan settled down to have a glass of water  and imagine passage through spacetime like a ride at a carnival with no end in sight.

Did they teach you how to do that? Are they the ones who whisper in your ear “this is the time now, this is the time, tick, tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock ticktockticktocktcitccktikatokatikatokatikatoka….” Or are they subtle? Like the passing of a gentle cloud that needs to be watched for or it might be mistaken for another chunk of water wandering across the universe? Is the universe made from a premix bought off the shelf of some intergalactic supermarket? Universe in a box! The sign says, get your today!

Do you like shopping?

Or would you rather stay indoors, watching the skies just in case the cloud floats silently by?

Signed,

A Dependent Observer

To the Time Traveler

They say music, as a malady, is incurable. I wonder if you ever watch yourself, seeing the moment happen as boom goes the drum, clack clack goes the hat, the bass comes in between. I wonder if you dream. Of penniless thoughts that have wandered the streets for so long that they have peaked interest. I wonder if you see them seeing you.

Does it hurt?

When you sit down to excavate yourself, reaching into places that many people don’t know exist to find traces of long forgotten questions, does it hurt? I’m asking because I need to know before I lose myself too far in this space of questioning. Or maybe I already have. Maybe, once started, it is impossible to stop. Like a journey that started on a huge highway that has slowly morphed into a footpath. Do you now find yourself hacking at vines trying to clear a way to trudge forward?

Is that what makes you stronger?

Or is this a tale that we have told ourselves, hoping that somehow stories will create a space for their tellers? So now that you’re searching, have your palms found the answer? Do they drum in memory of past that has been pounded through time on the hides of last night’s dinner? Do you see images of yourself, 7000 years ago, pounding on a drum talking about the town under the sun?

They say that by 3005 there will be nothing left on the planet but time and nature. Do you think Mother Nature will miss the sound of our drums, beating stories across the earth? Or will they be memories of a species that overstayed their welcome and only left when there was nothing left for them?

Maria Salaam, je utakumbukwa?

Love and memory continue to walk down a similar path, have you found the key to memories of love? Is that where the energy that you give them comes from? When they come to hear you be, are you there? Or do you leave and let the gods of love and memory take over, controlling the palms that somehow communicate a past that is so far that it is indistguishable but so close that it is crystal.

I was once told that the difference between knowing and not knowing is a question.

Years later I was asked “what does knowing look like?”

Have you found the question? Or do you keep asking, hoping one day to stumble upon the right one? Still, the palms of the drummer have been known to hide secrets that were held imprisoned in particles of organic matter that have been used and reused by the universe for decades. As if little capsules of time were wrapped and placed there just in case all havoc breaks lose. Which, if you think about it, is a good plan given that it did.

Does the process of releasing time tire you? Do you ever want to give up? I’ve been told that music holds you when nothing else will – does it? Is that why it is incurable?

Still, there is only art, and there is only trust. Somewhere in the background as I write this a bee is buzzing, a friend is humming, a parrot is whistling, a building is being constructed, a car a reversing, another is revving and my fingers are typing. Do you capture time as you travel, trapping it for later just in case?

Or does time naturally attach itself to your body, like oxygen that comes across excited molecules of carbon, looking to get laid?

Signed

A Dependent Observer

To the wandering artist

How many paths did you have to cross before you finally sat down to take a breath? Do you remember all your journeys? Or is that why you stay connected, putting everything around you into your poems, hoping to not leave a trace of anything behind?

I must admit, when I wrote the first of these letters I always thought I’d get to you at the end. But you insisted on being the fourth letter I write. The presence you had demanded that you find yourself in this space. Which is fine, but now I find myself with nothing more than simple questions.

Does your lens tell you stories? Does it twitch every time you walk past something that would offer a glimpse into your past? Or is it your senses that have been heightened, like a super hero you scan the skies searching for home. Is home anything more than a few messages in an email inbox, or a misplaced passport? Or is it a memory, seven boats in the past and locked away right outside the door to freedom?

Freedom.

My mum tells me often that humanity is born free but everywhere we go we are in chains. So it makes sense that you walk around with a hammer and a chisel, the muscles in your arms rippling every time you strike at another chain. Maybe, if we set everyone free, we will set ourselves free. What is freedom but another form of bondage? What is it to be free but to be bound to the work of freeing?

You’re tired, it continues not to end.

So you walk the streets, camera in hand, ready to find signs of freedom. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a ball sailing over a fence.  Other times it is a homeless person, searching. But even these signs, even these signs, even these signs continue to rob something. Continue to romanticise an other’s existence. Even these signs are misinterpreted and now there’s a roomful of people who came to see the movie and have only found life.

These people continue to ask you what time the movie begins. After all, you do carry a camera.

But real life is not shot in CGI with special after effects to be viewed on iMax 3D. Real life is a hug and a cup of tea. Real life is the silence of stillness as the world continues to hurtle around the sun. Real life is a detention centre and a plea “kill me before you send me back.” Real life is a pair of strained biceps pounding again and again at chains that refuse to break.

You don’t tell them this.

You know if you begin to tell them this they will just reach for the popcorn  and assume that the movie has started. Instead you tell them “soon, the movie will begin soon.” And continue to look for signs of freedom. Now you have searched and your feet are weary, you cannot even remember how many paths you have crossed to get to where you are. But you are there, and you want to sit down and breathe, but the work of freedom waits for no royalty. And you are but a wanderer, the purple of your robe has long since been overrun by the dust of the journey.

But there is nothing in being unable to breath except a lack of breath. And broken bodies can no more carry broken bodies than whispers can hide secrets. There will be further healing to be done, and the struggle will continue. But, for now, sit, have a cup of tea and read poetry. Breath, rest, recover, repeat.

The world will be here when you get back.

Signed,

A Dependent Observer