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Monday
Oct062014

Zambian Men and Zambian Tea

I am writing my Master's Project on the work of Rudyard Kipling, and, as a part of my preparation, I was asked to write an imitation of his prose. Now, Kipling is one of the tightest, most exact, concrete prose stylists I know, so any imitation of mine is, by default, going to be full of fault. Still, I tried. As my setting, I chose an experience I had in Zambia, Africa when I was sixteen.

Just so you know what to look for, Kipling tends to write using odd, unfamiliar, specific words. He doesn't use many similes ("as a wet blanket", "like the wolf on the fold" . . . etc). Also, he tends to use "syndeton" in which the writer connects his phrases using quite a few ands and thens. For a sampling of Kipling's prose click here or here, but certainly not here.

So, without further ado, I present my imitation of Kipling's prose and dialogue . . .
 

The others lay curled with African food-pain in Kalmo. I sat in a concrete window seat, a bowl thrust at me steaming with heaped shema and rancid kapenta fish. Bare black feet padded toward me and ashy hands offered something in a carton to wash down the corn meal mush—a citrus milk-drink, lumpy on bottom and sour on top. I heard warbly Zambian larks, monkey’s scream, and the buzz of the fat bush fly.

Most of the boys spoke Tonga, but when they approached me they formed round, open English words smiling white.

“Do you like Fidy Cent? You like your food? It isn’t rice; we don’t bring rice here. Tomorrow we’ll swim.”

“Do you listen to Fifty Cent?”

“Yes! We do.”

“Do you understand what he’s saying?” I scraped a bite from the bowl. It was crawling with the silver kapenta, their tiny sides carved out by flies in the market that day. The boys didn’t answer this question, and I tried another. “What other American singers do you like?”

“Bob Marley.”

I forced the food down under their eager eyes, and drank the milk, curdles and all. Then the setting sun filtered through a tree and caught the dust suspended around us, and my hosts took away the scraped bowl and hollow carton to sluice my dish with leafy, luke-warm water from the creek. I lay my head on the concrete, and hoped my food-luck would hold. Though I wanted to try the bright green or blue Energade in the eight ounce, scratched-plastic, pliant, bottles, the accompanying symptoms did not warrant the risk. Next came the tea—English breakfast (far better in Zambia than in England) with one or two “good good”s from a bottle of warm milk. The kettle was community, but the visiting mukuwa (to that mukuwa’s embarrassment) had the first pour from it. I drank it piping with one spoonful of brown cane sugar; as I drank, the older boys around talked in rolling Tonga, while the smaller wrestled in the dust by the fire.

And then came the night and the wail of peacocks, and the bump of the boys’ cassette boombox in the next tent, the hum of insects, and the distant “hhh” of the breeze through the elephant trees, all at intervals between sleep. And the waking to a far off roar. And sleeping again. And the waking to boys’ muted laughs. And the sleeping again. Then the morning broke, hot and dusty in and out of my tent. There were stories of a boy—an orphan with a record—sneaking out that night smoking tumphy by the river. At this the missionary looked sad. “It is difficult for them to escape their old lives,” he said. 

The boy looked shame-faced and repentant in the morning light, so it wasn’t mentioned again.

When the sun rose hotter and hotter the boys swam—bare as their first day—in the sludge and water of the sometimes eddying, mostly sitting still, green-brown, vaporous creek. It smelled of lichen and rotting fish, and I imagined its other uses in the village farther up stream. They called the mukuwa down to swim with them, but being sixteen and white as cotton, he felt ashamed. So I asked, “Can I wear mukuwa swim trunks and then join you?” They only laughed and climbed a leaning, spare-lumber, rickety tower built by the river for a zip line platform and anchor. They yelled at their mukuwa to climb the tower with his soft white hands and “Drink no more tea!” Resolved, I worked my cup in the dirt so it would stay, donned trunks, and climbed the tower, which trembled coltishly.

The tumphy boy from the night before held the zip handle and laughed at the gangly mukuwa scaling the leaning tower. I splashed up pea-green moss like the rest, and after a try or two more, returned to my tea—I never needed to make my own—wedged in the dust. 

That night, when the other mukuwas arrived, we spoke of becoming men:

“Why, I took my son onto a dirt road and left him. I told him to walk and to trust me, I said, ‘you just meet me at the end of this road,’ I said. I did too.” This was the seasoned traveler among us, leaning back, sipping clean Energade and nibbling a saltine. The darkness sat very near the fire. “Well, when he walked long enough he found me by a fire, like this one. I told him he was a now a man, and would someday protect his wife like I protect his mother.”

“The men here see it as dishonor to be seen with their wives in public,” said the missionary, “though the church is making strides toward a better way. In Lusaka things are different.”

“Better?”

“Different.”

Then I remembered. I needed to ask where they bought their tea and if it sat on shelves at home. He told me, but the only word that has stayed in my mind is “rose,” and the red package, and yellowed bags—tea of the commonwealth to make Cecil Rhodes proud.

Then the time in the bush ended with a hot, joyful ride over potholes (and a few sections of road), a western meal in Livingston, a dry-season waterfall, a syrupy Coke with a slice of lemon, a canvas hotel, a woman screaming at a monkey for theft, a monkey screaming at a woman for pleasure, more tea, more raw cane, more “good good”s from milk jugs, more shema and over-ripe milk, thatch over our heads, wall spiders we weren’t allowed to squash with our shoes, icy showers from the downspout of a rain barrel, and, finally, Energade in the Johannesburg airport—tanzanite blue in its bottle. It was better than Gatorade but was not up to the rose tea, which I have not found the like of since, whether at home or abroad.

 

R. Eric Tippin
"The Wee Nook," Kansas State University
September 20, 2014 

Image:
"African Villiage"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Thomas J. Wani 

Thursday
Oct022014

A Shower in the Dark

A SHOWER IN THE DARK

Few things can relax a person quite like it—
the bathroom door cracked just enough
to let the outside glow through,
giving shape to the nozzle, the soap, the cloth.
There’s no need for anything more,
for colors, for words, only the shadows
cast on the wall, the warmth,
the steam and breath,
the ear attuned only to the sound of the spray,
like a page perpetually torn;
the eyes content to close, unstrained;
the skin against the fluid textures of water.
Or the smells—the oils, the fruits,
the olfactory meeting of sweat and clean.
It could be a way to inhabit Plato’s allegory,
after the business of the wash is finished,
when only your silhouette remains,
when there’s nothing to examine
but the mind’s corner of this makeshift cave.
This is time spent with the ideal,
as though you could turn and swipe curtain aside,
your own raw potential still hovering there, tangible
as fog on glass. Carry the memory of its nearness,
because when the flow stops, and the last drips
of solitude trickle down the drain, you’ll flip a switch
on the wall, soon searching for that same glimpse
of the self, and find that a mirror is not the same.  

Bryn Homuth
In a Drier Place than the Subject may Suggest 
September 30, 2014 

Image:
"A Cavern, Moonlight"
Oil on Canvas
Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) 

Tuesday
Sep302014

Ambler, No. 27 [On Railing at the Heavens]

Some think there were few Consumptions inn the Old World, when Men lived upon much Milk. -- Sir Thomas Browne

Ambler, No. 27

The modern trouble with Shakespeare is that, like everything else, he has been modernized. It is not that one can now view Romeo and Tybalt brandishing their guns; it is not even so much that iambic pentameter can sound more like Lil’ Romeo than Romeo, son of Montague; it is that the comedy of Romeo became the tragedy of Romeo which became the love story of Romeo. But anyone who knows even the smallest part of Romeo’s story knows that the last thing Romeo’s story is is a love story. But in order to see Romeo’s story as the comedy for what it is, one must first do away with the all-too serious notion that Romeo should be imitated as a lover. It is not until we can see Romeo as a tragic character--and a tragic lover--that we can see him as the comedic character that he is. If Romeo’s “come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!” is seen as his wish for death if he cannot have love, then it is far too serious even to be funny; if he is railing at the heavens--at the general fate of mankind--then he is tragic and possibly even comic.

I suffer from the unfortunate notion that most of Shakespeare’s lines were written not to be directedat characters and crowds but at the firmament. Why, just the other day, a group of friends and I attended a local Shakespeare festival. As we paid our small fee, we entered a new time period--one of blacksmiths and archers, axe throwing and ale drinking. We waltzed along the wooded area from booth to booth under lights that lit up like giant fireflies. The scene was rather serene: small town folk chatting and clambering, for everyone knew everyone, and random Catholic priests appeared in their robes as men bit off chunks of turkey legs or ate pizza made from brick ovens, while the children galloped in groups or gambled at games, and actors from the stage waltzed around in their costumes like demigods from the seventeenth century. I have wondered, more than once as of late, why modern man does not strut around more often as if he is a great player on this great stage of life--why does man content himself with railing not at his neighbor but at fate? Why is it more common for the modern garbage man to bemoan to his boss, instead of moralizing to the skies? The common notion is too often to want what one is not; the common notion is too often to seek advancement or enlightenment; it is too often that the banker chides the garbage man for not being a banker and then laments when his fellow bankers can’t count; but the truth is that more bankers should probably seek to be janitors than janitors seek to be bankers, for it is better to have a janitor who values cleanliness than a banker that can’t count.

The problem as I see it is not one of social advancement but one of social contentment. All men are but players on this great stage of life--each playing his part and doing it with a pomp and a zeal--a holy pride--that doesn't worry about what it isn't. But, on seeing the wild peculiarities of who he is, the player strolls around town as if he is--as if his occupation is--as serious as an academic’s. It’s all too likely that it is. The world could do without any academics, for janitors still read books; I’m not sure the world would be as beautiful without janitors, for academics do not empty the trash and create enough of their own.

*****

The players who waltzed around the Renaissance-like booths took the stage after intermission. The play was As You Like It, featuring one of my personal favorites, the melancholy Jaques. It is another all-too prevalent consequence of our all-too serious times that (1) we don’t have pointless jobs like attendants and (2) those who work those pointless jobs, or any jobs for that matter, are not very philosophical, if they’re spoken to at all. The wealthy classes among us should not be derided for their wealth--as if anyone should envy that. But they should be derided for not spreading that wealth by way of creating pointless jobs.* A wealthy businessman today buys a house and fills it with two children and maybe a nanny and a house cleaner. But would the house not be livelier if it was smaller? Would it not be more chaotic--and thus more poetic--if it included a butler and a cook as well as a personal attendant? The problem with America is not the disparity of wealth, for surely that will always be there; the problem with America is that there are far too few Pickwicks and even fewer Wellers.

Every wealthy man should hire an attendant of some sort who does nothing but follow him around. But it is not enough that he should be followed around; he should constantly be moralizing and philosophizing on both his state of affairs and--more importantly--the inevitable contradiction that is his boss. But then he should not be quarreling with his boss; he should be railing platitudes at the sun; he should be stating deeper truths to no one in particular--metaphysical asides, if you will. And though much of what he has to say will be melancholy, even very depressing, for whatever reason it will be humorous. I could not help when I was watching the melancholy Jaques that evening but be somewhat disappointed at the directors’ take on him. I must first state that the actor did a very nice job before stating that the entire conception of his character was off. For melancholy Jaques was not melancholy, he was angry, and unless angry people are throwing tantrums, they are not funny, usually. And so when Jaques stated the all-too famous lines about our world being a stage and everyone only merely a player in it, I found it to be somewhat lacking, and this was due to more than just his being angry; it was somewhat lacking because someone was listening. During the whole epic speech, the Duke and his merry attendants kept nodding and smiling and rubbing their chins as if what Jaques had to say was all very interesting. But it’s not so funny if what Jaques says is both interesting and heard; it’s funny if the Duke, having himself moralized, ignores his attendant as if his four lines are superior to Jaques’ twenty-eight; it’s even funnier if after these twenty-eight lines the Duke bats not an eye and attends to Adam who has just entered. All comedy rests on a serious, even melancholy, frivolity; it rests on the joker’s ability to say something he well knows is funny, something he is even willing to laugh at, but something said as serious as a fact; nay, more serious--said as serious as a joke, and said to no one in particular but said simply because it need be said. One may say that if a joke is said to no one in particular then it risks the possibility of never being heard. But then perhaps the greatest jokes are those that go unheard. Perhaps the most humorous essays are those that few men ever read--essays that do nothing but state philosophical platitudes and random railings at no one in particular, essays only laughed at by their narcissistic and overly self-conscious author.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in haste after fighting with a dip pen,
September 24th and 28th, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In the Kansas State English Building,
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Painting: "A Scene from 'As You Like It' by William Shakespeare"
By William Hamilton
Oil on canvas, 1790

____________________________

*Those brave souls who do read through to the end of these railings will observe that I have been practicing what I preach in recently hiring a transcribe, a job pointless for him but eternally valued by me.

Sunday
Sep282014

Correspondence with the Ambler

To the Ambler,

 Dear sir, I have come to read your many and varied dispatches with some relish of both the dill and sweet varieties made, as most people know, from the pickling of cucumbers, ones unnaturally aged, as it were. And, it is on that very theme I feel impelled to jot down a quick note to the Ambler himself as a way of pointing to a protrusive root on his path. 

 I fear bringing forth correction upon so esteemed a traveler carries with it the danger of a smashing rebuttal, but I will not make that my excuse. Rather, relying on your kindly eye, I will plunge forth bravely into the cold waters of trout, refreshment, and possible drowning.

 The contention I wish to sally is found throughout your entries in the form of this phrase: “My old bones.” I certainly do not wish to contradict your apparent sensation of age within your appendages (if it is illness I do sincerely hope for a brief convalescence). One cannot argue with feelings, but surely one is still able to argue upon facts. For to claim the entrustment of “old bones,” the Ambler himself is ignoring a fundamental prerequisite of oldness, that of age. For oldness cannot be claimed in a dirth of time, no matter the sensation. We simply do not now possess the adequate years among us for such a claim. Decrepitude, dilapidation, deterioration, or debilitation, maybe, but not aginess, not oldness.

 Now, please do not presume to assume that I assume to know your age. You may hold counsel in your spritely nineties or moribund teens; it makes no difference. I’m afraid a ripe old age does not exist anymore (in a worldly sense (even the trees seem to be dying younger these days)), and, I’m not sorry to say, only questionably exists in light of eternity. For that is an old age of discovery and not one of completed discovery; an old age of further expectations not one of the companionship with memories of many exuberant expeditions never to be attempted again. In this light, there are worlds to explore and old age’s veneration will be one of rest, wisdom, and expectation.

 For, those in Christ come from the "womb of the morning.” We follow Him who holds the dew of His Youth.* The Evening has passed, the dry bones have and will dance.

 No, my friend, this oldness, no matter the feeling, we cannot claim. Even if your bones do tremble they should not hinder the "the hope in our hearts, and wings on our heals." I’m afraid you have many an eon before attempting to throw off this youngishness of yours, and even then, you might struggle in the undertaking!

 

Sincerely,

Neleus of Iolcos 

 

*Psalm 110

Tuesday
Sep232014

Ambler, No. 26 [On Spinning in Circles]

Thus is man that great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live not only like other creatures in diverse elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds. -- Sir Thomas Browne

NT; (c) Greenway; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Two weeks ago I made mention in this series of essays that, though I have never considered myself lost, I often have little idea as to where I’m heading. The statement was made in regards to land travel: while it may be true that sundry landscapes appear very similar, causing modern house cats to quickly become bewildered; while it may be even more true that modern house cats are increasing in the population and that many of these modern house cats are so lost in the metaphysical sense of the word--that fewer men can distinguish east from north, let alone conclude what side of the stump moss grows on, it is still true that north, despite what modern metaphysics does to its symbolic meaning, will always and forever be north. Until California falls into the sea--and may that day come quickly--it will always be west of Kansas, and if a modern explorer only studies a map long enough, he will find it’s far easier these days to lose one’s soul than one’s body.

Nevertheless, I am very rarely ever in a boat, and when a man is accustomed to a particular landscape from the view of land, his perspective is certainly altered from water. So it was as the boat wobbled and my fellow explorer and I left the boat ramp in our canoe. Our guide, eyeing us suspiciously as he handed the paddles to us, asked if we had ever been in a canoe before. Answering him that we surely had though it had been some time, the man, still with a suspecting eye about him, explained to us that the back paddle was for steering. Easy enough, thought I. Whether it was due to my adventurous spirit or manly pride, I grabbed the steering paddle and awkwardly maneuvered my body into the back of the canoe. The suspecting eye of the guide turned into one of annoyance, and I was commanded to get out of the canoe so he could properly give us our push. Like Lewis and Clark we shot out from the shore as if we had been canoeing for years. It did, however, take us half a moment to get our sea legs accustomed to the wobbliness of the boat, and my companion recognizing that I was steering it astray, switched the side on which he was paddling. This caused the canoe to sway not a little, and after I thoroughly reprimanded him, we decided that as the one steering the vessel, I would call out “Switch!” when needed. We were not but fifty yards from the ramp, and though I did not see him, I felt the suspicious eyes of our guide bearing down on us from shore.

The following account must be taken with the full knowledge that I am a novice. For as we somehow managed to make our way into open waters, my ability to steer us properly was significantly hindered. An island worth exploring was due west, and we immediately made our way towards it. However, every time we had our boat aimed in the direction of the island and began paddling towards it, we would dart to the right. As navigator I would let out a “Switch!” and after switching the boat would either continue on its course to the right as unaffected as an elephant by a fly, or the boat would violently change directions. It happened that I had to call out “Switch!” so often and that we change course so frequently, that we zig-zagged our way through the waters heading in every direction but the island.

Life often has a way of sending a man in the last direction he would choose to go. To our south were two fishermen in a boat, and wanting to avoid the embarrassment and shame that was our paddling ability, my companion explained to me that he would rather we not bother those fishermen. He said this in a way that assumed confidence in my ability to steer us anywhere but in circles, yet it also hinted at a skepticism of that ability. Well, as fate would have it, we headed due south toward the fishermen. We still had high hopes of reaching the island, and after hearing the directions to stay away from the fishermen, I attempted to navigate the canoe westward. But it seemed that the more I wished to push the boat to the right the more it went south. I then decided to adopt the age-old philosophy that there is more than one way to skin a cat. (Some philosophers even proclaim there is no wrong way to skin a cat.) Navigating the canoe eastward, I then managed to do a complete three-hundred-and-sixty degree turn, pointing us straight toward that island. Like a good post-modern, I had spun us around in circles, working hard to arrive nowhere.

*****

Every weekend I seek to wander about through nature to escape the confines of my desk job. But it is not just to escape the desk and the cinder-block walls; it is to escape the waterfall of nonsense that pours over me throughout the week. In today’s world common sense is so uncommon that man must now create theories to explain truisms. We may take the modern and pointless field of gender studies as an example. I teach out of a textbook which explains that people who happen to be born biologically male and who happen to also identify with that gender are to be called cis-males. It may take me three-hundred-and-sixty degrees to arrive at the same place as an experienced canoe-man; it takes an expert gender studies academic a three-hundred-and-sixty degree turn to figure out what every five-year-old has known for two years.

Every age is defined by something; each has their blind spots and nonsense that only seems to come out after all those theorists have died off. I am beginning to feel that our age may be defined by the absurd insistence to apply every cracked theory to every facet of life. If truth and knowledge are constructed socially then so is gender--biology even. If biology is a construction then so are sunsets and avalanches. But something like an avalanche would only be socially constructed if it caused no damage. No two social constructionists would ever actually go tell their theory on a mountain for the mountain would overtake their stupidity. Perhaps then it would not be so bad if all of these social constructionists applied their theory to avalanches; their obnoxious wailing would surely construct something--be it a bear or an avalanche--that would rid the world of their nonsense for good.

*****

After roughly five or six three-hundred-and-sixty degree spins, we made it to the island and decided to switch navigators. Like an academic with truth on his side, we veered neither right nor left, flying across the waters like Hawkeye and his Indian friends. As it turned out we grew quite comfortable with my companion as navigator. So comfortable that I felt confident I could navigate us back to shore. The scenario is an analogy to mankind. Truth and common sense ideas often create relatively peaceful and prosperous societies; but with those societies, ignorant men have too much time on their hands, and with that time, they think up absurdities. So it was with us as I took the reins again, believing I could navigate us back to shore, for our canoe was due. As our guide watched from the ramp, he saw a young man in a position he should not have been in and a canoe making little progress but spinning in circles.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
With a new dip pen,
Sunday, September 14, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In the English Building, Kansas State University,
September 23, 2014

Painting: "Five Natives in a Traditional Canoe"
Unknown artist,
Tempera on board, n.d.