Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the ruler of…(12)

the ruler of ...
for marc edmund jones & his sabian symbols

the ruler of the nation...

the tortoise made hermes exclaim “u are a joy to me,”
steal its pretty tortoise shell & turn it into a lyre.
the four-eyed goat made eşu declare “u will not see
what i do!” he made ebo & exposed the goat a liar.

a christmas tree decorated…

the heathen vainly cuts a forest tree, adorns it
with silver & gold, & fastens it with nails to appease the
gods! eşu scoffs at the christian who knows not that to
live free of privation, one must please the gods.

a finger pointing to a line in an open book…

fingerpointing is prerequisite to reading words when
vision is weak or distracted; one cannot scan a line
of text without losing his place. eşu needs not fingerpoint
to impute blame or make one lose his place or face.

frost-covered trees against winter skies…

frosty trees, dark, gloomy skies, the freezing cold &
snowfall, repeating patterns all & specific to winter. eşu,
like the human mind, is often cold & repeats tiresome
patterns; punishes us today for misdoings done tomorrow!

through bankruptcy, society gives to an overburdened
individual the opportunity to begin again

tis not society, but eşu, who finds the line delineating this
& that; blurs it. finds the divinely pure & clean; sullies it.
finds the lowly & abandoned; lifts them up; rewards &
confounds the foolish & the good.

a hen scratching the ground to find nourishment for
her progeny...

the scratching of hens not only finds seeds & the
occasional worm to feed their young, but cleans off the
magics laid down on the ground by enemies. those who
befriend eşu are seldom troubled (or for long) by enemies.

a formally dressed elderly man stands near trophies
he brought back from a hunting expedition…

the old man longs for the jungle, to humble himself again
in the arms of the wild. he looks upon his trophies as
emblems of a deep, terrifying vision of love. eşu reveals
unfathomable levels of soul knowing.

a human soul seeking opportunities for outward
manifestation ...

every incarnate soul should be grateful for the gift
given it, thankful that eşu has opened the way for it to
come again; thankful to ọlọrun who has given it a new
body, breath & destiny!

in a circus the bareback rider displays her dangerous skill ...

this rider has iwá-pẹlẹ, has balance & coordination & can
ride the steeds of change without equipment to compensate
for errors, has made ebo to eşu; has developed good character.
all good things come to those with good character.

a powerful statesman overcomes a state of political hysteria...

he fed his ifá a ram & a he-goat as his awos, the sons of
wind, thicket, trees & ropes, advised. he knew that he
would prevail in any crisis so long as he fed his ifa & eşu,
& listened to the advice of his awos.

a man revealing to his students the foundation of an inner
knowledge upon which a "new world" could be built…

“learn u the efficacy of patience for such is as constant
as heaven & earth. patience requires forbearance & resistance
to the temptation of vengeance. leave vengeance to the
divinities who will intervene on the side of righteousness!

having passed through narrow rapids, a canoe reaches
calm waters...

what human suffering may come is but the dark before
dawn. forbear & be patient, child of earth, temptations reveal
yr weaknesses, but to resist them makes u strong. eşu tests
& tempers yr mettle.

a dentist at work...

eşu works the permanent parts of our lives, the bony sub-
stances & soft inner pulp -- parts under threat like decaying
relationships -- filling holes, straightening or repairing that
which is broken or taking them out.

a path through woods rich in autumn coloring...

from too old to work & too young to die to reaping
entitlements given a life lived well & the stories,traditions
& knowledge borne & told, eşu, the crotchety old time
tester, rewards those who make sacrifices.

pelicans menaced by the behavior & refuse of men
seek safer areas for bringing up their young...

my errant thoughts have abandon their nests, leaving their
eggs to be trampled or exposed to predators. where will
they find new nesting grounds & solemn sancturary?
iba eşu, please open that road.

a hindu yogi demonstrates his healing powers…

"arise... approach the great beings & know the truth!"
eşu demands we know the truth within existence, the
reality beneath appearance & the immortal which gives
meaning to our mortality. In this way shall we be healed!

© Joseph McNair;2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

effeuiller la marguerite (11)

effeuiller la marguerite
for the oxeye daisy

o perennial prostrate herb
arrayed in white ray or yellow
disc flowers, growing pertly
on stem’s end, unbranched
& sprouted laterally from a
creeping root.

what turn of fate brought u
to these intricate, prehensile
juvenile hands, which one day
may fashion clay creator-like,
or wield a knife assassin-like,
but today

attached to a wistful, moonstruck
african boy sitting close-eyed &
alone in a narrow, pedestrian lane,
behind a graying urban building,
plucking yr petals one by one,
needing to be cocksure

of love.

©Joseph McNair;2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

pomba gira (10)

pomba gira
beneath yr sway i have fallen, not once but
many times,
drawn to u like a shark to blood
in the water, yr comeliness,
a solicitation,
a knowing brush of a playful hand against my

tumescent need; u who are spouse to the
first among òrìşà,

the one who goes whither he pleases, is bound
by neither
law nor rule, who flows against
destiny through the cracks
& crevices of fate,
along the seams separating parallel worlds

multiple realities, over the precipice of human
folly; who
tests us at every crossroad & punishes
us today for what we
may do tomorrow – do u
really exist apart from him or are
u just one of
his many paths?

i invoke yr aid, pomba gira, because i cynically
know u will
help the truly desperate. when no
other òrìşà will answer
the plea, yr patronage is
always for sale & u always get paid
in advance.

u have led me to wives & lovers convinced that
was the magical piece missing from their lives;
that i could
& would complete them. they would
dazzle me with incompar
able enticements to keep

me from leaving; to keep me from
seeing what
they were hiding – those potent secrets best
away from prying eyes:

a father’s salacious abuse piled on an innocent
who kept
the faith & family secret – the serial
violations visited on
an innocent so very
desperate to belong;

or the innocent tricked into fellating a trusted
family friend
while in his care; who with fearful
infirm purpose received
a perverse prize for
good behavior.

or yet again the innocent, abandoned on a refuse
beneath a blanket of flies; who seeks self
worth in real life
pulchritudinous jackpots &
episodic debauchery.

or lastly, the innocent exploratory body play
among siblings that
turned terribly serious &
sexual; underscored by the death of one
& the
overwhelming neurotic guilt of the love-addicted

& of course i saw them, these secrets; learned
about them. these
wives & lovers had a salubrious
need to tell their secrets to me &
i heard over
their whispered confidences eşu’s raucous
had i just listened

to them, they
might have healed on their own,
might have purged themselves in nonjudgmental
ears; drained the
poison of the past from their
deep emotional wounds. might have
those who caused them pain;

might have forgiven themselves
. but i couldn’t
leave any of it alone; i had to help. i had to dress
need to control in therapeutic whites & tell
them what to do. i had
to be right at their expense
& play upon their guilt. some I drove
into the night; drove all of them all away.

how many times have i come back to u, pomba
gira, with my thirty
pieces of tribute & the same
supplications that hope for a different
are u truly a sacred harlot or merely the hand of
eşu squeezing
my scrotum?

can u translate my sexual indiscretions into a
series of
great mystical rites or do u expose me
for the fool i am?
are yr breasts, so round, so
plump & firm, the enticing,passion fruit
of love
or merely eşu’s prurient tools to plunge me into

murky depths. can those lips of yrs
that so glibly lie, mouth the sacred
mysteries i
crave i? is yr well of delight a redemptive revelation
or a
cauldron of concupiscence?

are u a divine sexual road in disguise or
just a
metaphor for human hubris at best?

©Joseph McNair;2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

panthera pardus (9)

panthera pardus

the sleek black form, a killing need
to prey on the hapless, slay & feed.
feminine & feline, it stalks the night
keeping to shadows, out of sight,
quick demise promised, guaranteed.

its body long & built for speed.
a sanguine & solitary breed
that snares with strangling bite;
a melanistic morph of death indeed.

panthera pardus will greedily bleed
a buck with vampire fang, proceed
to strip the carcass clean & delight
in the blood feast on a starless night;
to feed as kali herself mught feed –
a melanistic morph of death indeed

©Joseph McNair;2009

panthera leo krugeri (8)

panthera leo krugeri

a sanguine sunrise.
a queen stalks the savannah;
sekhmet stalks her prey.

tracks the wildebeest;
tasty banquet on the hoof;
an ungulate feast.

to a hundred feet
she closes – then she charges,
fifty miles per hour.

the 30 ft leap,
the slap & grab, the take down.
her long fangs drink deep.

a bloody sun sets;
sekhmet sleeps; her belly full.
& hungry pride … fed!

© Joseph McNair; 2009

ouija (7)


they were a steadfast five,
who'd meet from house to house
& divine what they would
from the ouija.

two couples & a wife
(her husband deigned to meet)
did seek astral guidance
from the ouija.

& guidance came to them
from spirits wild & tame
who'd use the alphabet
on the ouija.

they formed a pentagram
although they knew it not
with one ordained to lead
by the ouija.

amien they called him,
the spirit guides who used him
to speak to the others
through the ouija.

& so for months they met
& thus they were exposed;
no secrets can be kept
from the ouija.

they saw themselves anew
& saw each other "true";
an exacting mirror held
by the ouija.

for work they deigned to do,
daunting work upon themselves,
to walk the path described
by the ouija.

amien himself, who was
supposed to know did cringe
from the vision
of the ouija.

one feared he was possessed
though once he was a priest
his "devils" were exposed
by the ouija.

another saw her "curse"
in unrequited love;
her wantonness betrayed
by the ouija.

another saw the causes
of her bewildering barreness,
reliving her past lives
through the ouija.

still another sought to claim
perennial abuse;
her abandonment foretold
by the ouija.

even amien himself
was all too sorely flawed
& flinched in the judgement
of the ouija.

none of them could see
that their fear brought to the fore
distortions of the truth
through the ouija.

one by one they dropped away
'til only one remained
& even he was forced to
quit the ouija.

their sordid fears confirmed,
t'was more than they could bear.
three marriages were sundered,
six lives were sore distressed;

five futures dearly mortgaged
by the ouija.

©Joseph McNair; 1984-2009

the wheel (6)

the wheel

power comes in flashes,
in tantalizing glimpses
& small satisfactions;
extends my senses, select
different blends of stimuli
from my environs. the
concrete becomes symbolic
& heavy with meaning.
events reveal their
significance, their recurrent
patterns & causes; faces yield
their secrets – flashing or
vacant eyes, nervous laughter,
ticks, furrowed brows, jutting
chins, the showing of teeth –
the language of the body is
eloquently revealed. i hear
much in the silence
masquerading what is not being
said. i probe my own body's
feeling centers, identify the throat-
blocking lump, the involuntary
swallow of sadness, the chest-
filling balloon of fear, the
radiating plexus coil, the stiff
neck & throbbing temple of
anger, the chest & groin pains
of jealousy, the blinding red-out
of rage, the narcotic whole body
lethargy of depression. i learn
that the feelings of others
resonate in my own centers, that
i sometimes mistake theirs for
mine. i study the stars, learn their
symbol systems, the math, logic
& absolutism. i chart the planets.
their effects in signs & houses;
in angled relations to each other.
i commit to memory their
rulerships over people, objects,
places & events. i study my dreams,
write them down on waking. i sort
through the voices in my head,
identify mine own among
them, pick others – ones who
through trial & error have been
judged reliable – to listen to. i close
my eyes & let the images come.
i conjure the faces & bodies of those
i know on the backs of my eyelids i
look at & around them, behind them;
observe the materializing scenes if
images are chaotic, make no linear
sense, the planets rush in bringing
their own peculiar insight, fitting
those icons into perceptible
patterns, making them coherent
i learn the tarot; add seventy-eight
new truths to my growing arcane
capital. i practice my new skills on
family & friends. my ego inflates in
wisdom & stature.

© Joseph McNair; 1988-2009

awakening (5)

“nearly all men can stand adversity,
but if you want to test a man’s character,
give him power.”
abraham lincoln

what has taken the savor
from the taste of political power?
was it the brief reality of jail?
the mad memories of masturbatory
stratagem for revolt – the impotent
fires set that burned themselves out
in anonymity? the marches on the
police station, the imaginary wall of cars
across the freeway or walking down
riverside avenue in formation with
carbines in full view. was it the
ego clashes of man-child leaders?
the endless posturing of potency?
the autoeroticism of weaponry?
was it the alarming echo of my
own demagoguery?
maybe it was the chagrin of challenge –
the old black wraith who dared me
to show him what i had, what the revolution
gave me, compelling enough to make him
risk his meager mite to get.
how can i liberate my people
if i can't liberate myself?
who appointed me liberator
in the first place? the truth?
"political" is merely an adjective,
a sound/symbol that cannot stand
by itself it must be adjacent, connected to
power. a flavor, a blend of taste & smell
peculiar to defining terms, creating reality,
changing things & making others do what u
want them to do. like water. i want power.
pure. hinted at by fluency in arcane symbols;
demonstrated by auguries, foretellings &
psychokinetic virtuosity. i want to see in
astral light, hear disembodied voices, feel the
vibrations of events. i want to cavort with spirit
guides & give my body up to mediumship.
i would trade the vision of revolution for a
clear & unobstructed view, beforehand,
of the next moment in time.

©Joseph McNair; 1988-2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

crossing the niger (4)

crossing the niger

the taxi, its nature true of all beasts of burden &
conveyance however long of leg & wind requires a break in
a protracted journey. the carburetor cough, the ragged
revving of acceleration, like the belabored breathing of an
exhausted runner, telltales the need for rest. its driver &
passengers (me among them) too are travelweary; show the
collective strain of an unrelenting sprint, a random obstacle
course of gaping pot-holes, figure-eighting oncoming
maniac-driven vehicles which thread needle-eye openings
between to & fro traffic; have held for hours the unison
leftward oblique of anxious body posture, bodies leaning,
eyes straining to see around go-slowing lorries, rightward
leftward curves to see over the hills & through every
manner of blindspot. seven psychic pairs of hands to aid
the steering; seven extra pairs of eyes for the driver who
seems compelled by some demon to overtake anything
ahead on faith, to devour vast stretches of road at the speed
of light. we pull into the rest stop at lokoja, at the foot of
the bridge across the niger. my travel companions
disembark, & disappear into the raggedly rugged array of
scrap wood & zinc-roofed restaurants; settle heavily in
front of plate of rice & beans, eba & egusi soup, pounded
yam & bush meat. the air is pungent with palm oil. i
override my urge for food & drink & cast my eyes upon the
river. i am drawn by its languid motion & am compelled
down a footpath around & behind the restaurant…

“oga wetin? eat, now!” the driver, watching me, calls.
“i’m coming,” i say,
“kilonşe e? were oyinbo!”

i walk with vague purpose along the banks of this ancient
river thinking of all the rivers i’ve crossed in the blur of a
lifetime. there is always one more river, no matter how
deep or wide the last. i respect all rivers; become involved
on planes personal with those i touch physically. each
private mountain scaled has had its companion river. &
rivers, like oceans seem to suck all of my personal water
out of me, leaving me vampire-drained. obversely
inebriated, psychically disoriented, & hopelessly addicted
to large bodies of water. knowing the consequences i seek
out a place to sit, & find one on a mossy finger of rock,
bent at the knuckle, exploring the sensuous wet riverine
depths. removing my shoes, & rolling up my trousers, i sit
myself down, my feet submerged in the swirling eddies of
red & gold. giving myself over to its wet, noisy kisses,
oblivious to the sinister suck at my toes, ankles, & calves,
the steady seepage of feeling out through the walls of my
skin at points of contact, i am reeling…

wet dreams. selfwaters merge with godwaters dissolves
time dissolve the walls door & windows between one
hundred & thirty one days seven thousand eight hundred &
sixty hours four hundred seventy one thousand six hundred
seconds such a swift temporal blink so complete a
transformation the boy the youth the man merely
characters encountered when i dream there is no one
outside to confirm their existence make flesh their
reflections breathe into them ... there was one once (who
was she?)… naked as a man with a few clothes can be
…skills/talents/abilities without reference less revered
applies to uses not intended (by whom? by me/i/) … living
an unctuous obsequious poem singing rhyming clowning
for rapt audiences of children laughing bose querulous
olukemi precocious wale sullen mansa stubborn yewande
& others (where are their names?) amusing them/myself
while mothers market fathers work me earning a now &
then meal & a bottle of beer a lift into town or a word to a
friend who knows someone who has a brother in the
ministry at the television house whose legs are long who is
family firm sure things relax take it easy… lectures in the
beer parlors (is that me talking?) pounding home the
vagaries of america's many-headed hydra of racism
reaganomics realpolitik ruthless rushream of cashflow
dirty collared hucksters porkbarrel perverts haute haughty
heterophobes…masking desperation in beer life of the
parlor big joe (small joe?) must be a professor from who
knows where university truth wrapped in fraud…playing
postman carrying my curriculum vitae twenty-five copies
for unilag thirty copies for unibadan forty for unife
traveling to iwo ilesa ijebu ode ekpoma clerk loses fifty
copies of c.v. at ilesa finds it for five naria dash to ile ife
dean keeps me waiting three hours queries my credentials
degrees never heard of my secondary school, it’s not in
nigeria sir oh i see why did u come to nigeria u weren’t
recruited aren’t u too young to be a principal perfect for
ibadan but well u see we want a ph.d although there aren’t
many if any on the faculty with yr experience or yr
specialized training my hand’s are tied iwo loses my
twenty-five c.v. copies five naria is not enough to find them
asuu goes on strike moratorium on hiring shoes worn out
business suit frayed unsuited for tropical heat ten kobo is
all that remains of settling stake sell my camera fade from
social contacts hide in a half life of three months move to
the boy’s quarters in bashorun cook with kerosene make a
fable out of abjectivity a shelter in which to live move now
like an
elephant in tight shoes… down but not out destiny
here in
the bosom of nigeria am made of strong stuff will
not quit
runaway be deflected owe it to myself-friends
real friends
found in the salt of nigerian soil shelter in the
time of
trouble rocks in a weary land ajax & linda poured
over & bandaged my broken heart watched over me
angel eyes frank oyenuga fountain of encouragement
zenobia soft severity looking glass clear chief bessie taiwo
sister intimate motherwarm held my hand shoveled food in
my stomach starch in my backbone john nwankwo gave
help when there was no help steadfast staunch regenerative
force olu akinkoye brother lost & found hundredfold giving
bola & lolita gave me shelter taught me a lesson in trust
& yemi sympathetic soothing caring a welcome place
to hide
to share chris chidebe provided cover from
a place to anonymously plan muyiwa ogunaike
companion helped me trace ibadan’s underbelly yaya
abubakar gave hope to hold on to lent powerful influence
with interest secured the future…debts too great to ever
repay except in kind & by an infinite number of cheerful
installments to nigeria my cross my crown

“oga, oga, chei! oga! wake –o…! why u do dis t’ing?”

the driver’s face forms from many droplets of a dream;
focuses into a mask of annoyance. “oh! sorry-o; must have
dozed off. is it time to go?”the driver hissed in that way that
only africans can, lips open, teeth clenched; sucking in air
mixed with bubbles of spit back across the cuspids forcing a
passage between the teeth & the soft inner tissue of the
cheeks. the sound & the meaning is unmistakable. he turns
angrily & runwalks up the footpath towards the taxi. fully
awake now i hurriedly pick myself up, grab my shoes &
follow – the fool might leave me if i dawdle. the engine is
running when i reach the cab. the other passengers look at
me strangely but say nothing. my stomach growls in
english, the price of indulging a turbulent spirit. on the road
again, we are quickly semi-airborne, flying across the niger
without ceremony. but for me a personal ritual is complete,
& with that inner calm & glow that follows yet’ another
initiation i allow myself to be carried north to kaduna &
then, perhaps to zaria & employment without a backward
glance. i feel, really feel for the first time on this continent
like a prodigal, bereft, bruised, but undaunted, coming

© Joseph McNair; 1984-2009

murtala muhammad airport (3)

murtala muhammad airport
september 4, 1981,
ikeja nigeria

i am stiff with apprehension. how different four
interminable days ago when apprehensive amble
now was gallivanting gait; giant steps naive &
exuberant. today i wary walk through this echoing
corridor, my eyes scouting ahead, my stomach
writhing with warning. so much noise; so many people.
immigrations, like four stations of the cross, is besieged
by arriving passengers; a mob of pressed pushing flesh
with a thousand arms, waving in the air like reeds in
the wind, waving passports & papers, beckoning,
beseeching the harried, but unhurried officers who
randomly select documents to process. no line, no
pretense of order, i stand rearward of the mob &
prepare for a long wait.
suddenly, i see my name flash, misspelled, on a makeshift
sign held by a plump, deferential black man. i wave to
him. he comes forward, introduces himself as o–-;
says everything is arranged. he takes my passport
& papers & melts into the mob. sudden anxiety
inflates a balloon in my chest when he disappears;
expands to panic in the passing moments. despairing,
desperate, i search for him among the faces clustered
near, berating myself for again being so gullible; a
stranger's affliction. but, as i mind-made-up move
to report my loss, he reappears like a sorcerer, with
an apprentice, & writing magical runes in the steaming
air, points me & the boy to the baggage claim.the balloon
in my chest deflates with a whoosh; my head swoons with
relief & i deliriously divulge to my new & trusted friend
the number of bags i have; my experience in liberia; my
apprehension of customs. he nods gravely, looks concerned,
& says nothing, except a few harsh barks in yoruba to send
the boy to get the luggage trolley and my bags.we wait for
him to return in silence. i stay the again mounting anxiety
by turning my attention to the airport throng ...

focus on that blur of chocolate & caramel faces,
with a white one or two or three marbling the mixture;
focus on the parade of lace, dutchwax & hollandaise.
the melodious strains of yoruba swell & cascade around
me in tones derivative of or acting upon a loud, lusty life
pulse.an incomprehensible english breaks in the air & is
hastily put back together again in a tonal mosaic. there
is urgency here...can be heard in the swish of expensive
cloth; in frantic calls for stewards; in the rush of shabbily
clad porters chasing down tips.there is convergence here...
people greeting each other caricature their joy in seeing
one another. some fall to the ground in abrupt, ritual
respect. dark seeming sullen faces nova into dazzling
smiles when recognized; high pitched ejaculations of
laughter waft above anonymous noise. there is sensuality
here... in the long graceful necks of slim yellow-brown girls;
in plump purple-black matrons whose george-cloth bottoms
rise & fall to prurient polyrhythms; in the eyes of comely
women of all shades of black who with a glance can assess,
entice or dismiss. & there is wealth & power... subtle
in the confident clusters of white folk, cardin casual,
smelling of st laurent & lanvin; ostentatious in the floppy
or conical-capped, gown-garbed black men with bulging
attaches,who are surrounded by sycophantic attendants
who fawn,who flutter, who fuss. i am swept up in the
fast-changing scene...

the boy returns with the baggage trolley. as he loads the
four suitcases & the large 3x5 foot locker, i tightly grip my
camera bag; can no longer contain my anxiety. it oozes
out of my pores with sweat. luggage loaded, we follow, o–-
& i, that trolley to the customs checkpoint; to the waiting
inquisition. there is no line. the boy pushes the trolley past
the customs station. i almost call out to him, but am silenced
by a throat-throttling glance from o–-. the customs man on
duty turns to speak to a policeman standing by; doesn't
acknowledge our infraction or our presence. shocked, i
looked to o–- for an explanation. he only smiles & winks.
outside, in the airport foyer, he magnanimously tips the boy
ten naira, in two five naira bills; one, he says, is for
the boy, the other is for the... mosquitoes... & he laughs
a loud belly-shaking laugh. welcome to nigeria, he says!

© Joseph McNair; 1984-2009

robert’s field (2)

robert’s field

monrovia highway
september 1, 1981.

i swallow back the bile in my throat,
suppress the body’s compulsion to
spew forth my resenting anger, to soak
the tattered back seat of this overpriced
taxi; to spray the unwashed back, neck
& ears of the driver with venomous

i need to hit somebody.

george, my liberian host & inadvertent
tour guide, sensing my mood, prattles
nervously about the scenery. i only see
red, & remember:

wanting to press my lips against african
soil; feeling the tingle of one who has
passed through the looking glass. wanting
to shout “i am here! i am home!”

passing through immigrations, getting my
passport stamped, collecting my baggage
(no skycaps; no conveyor belts or revolving
luggage islands), i approach customs.

my eyes dart with exaggerated interest,
a dark young man waves, comes forward.
he is tentative. “are u mr. mcnair?”
“ i am,” i say. “the car is waiting, sir.”

“let me clear my luggage.” i am anxious to
see the world outside.
“my name is george,” he says. “my
pleasure,” i reply.

we stand exchanging pleasantries as the line
shortens. i note that the three uniformed
officers are indifferent to the arriving
passengers (it’s six a.m.). waving most of
them through.

it’s my turn. a tallish officer, thin &
phlegmatic, asks for my ticket, passport &
baggage check. asks if i have anything to

i say no & reach for my ticket.

in freeing my ticket from my breast pocket,
i dislodge three one hundred dollars bills,
& watch them, with sinking heart, float in
slow motion to the floor. i quickly retrieve
them, but everyone has seen.

george whispers, “this is not good.”

the other two customs men join the tallish
one. i can see their preceptors, a seasoned
team, now, move into well practiced
formations, execute complex sensory plays
with precision, as one.

i see myself being seen through eyes that
register images differently:

through myopic little tribal lenses that
distort, bend, break true images apart for
retinal membranes to put back together
again, upside down, & often with pieces
left out.

eyes that see me white when i
am black; that see me strange,
alien rather than familiar; that
see me rich,

& brush against me like pickpockets.
their ears, twitching with alertness,
listen but do not hear;

do not hear the universal
voice of my uncertainty
at being in an unfamiliar place;
do not hear my frustration
when i raise my voice to
make myself understood.

their ears listen, but for something else.

some trumped up tonal larceny
in the different rhythms, the
unfamiliar phrases of the
english i speak. some
imagined, inflectional
self-betrayal in my accent

giving them good cause to painstakingly
search my bags.

& their nostrils flare:

sniffing for guiltfear as
their practiced hands rummage
through my shirts, socks, &
underwear; my suits, trousers &
shoes; through my books &
mementos of a past life; through
my camera bags…

where they find cause to detain me.

“are u a reporter?” their hard mouths

“why do u have so much equipment?”

“i am an amateur photographer,” i reply.
“where i go, these go with me.”

& they nod knowingly to one another.

“where is yr receipt for this equipment?”

i am ready for that question, having been
warned about my camera before i left
home. i show them. their faces fall rigid.
they consult, they confer, they conclude.
they circle me like predators.

“u are in violation of our nation’s
custom’s law, “they say, watching me like
jackals watch a tired prey.” u must pay
an import tax of twenty-five hundred u.s.
dollars only,” a formality, they say, “or
leave yr camera in our baggage room,
it will be safe, until u leave the country.”

they smile & lick their lips.

though bourgeois born, i am ghetto bred.
same rules, different jungle. i am
wounded. my naïve, idyllic pictures of the
african, of africa bleed, a stigmata.

i show my fangs & press the attack. my
mouth a beserker:

tearing into their pretense
of legality; ripping away the
dirty veil of feigned probity;
exposing their bribable greed,
their culpable corruption…

they don’t get all the words, but they get
my tone & intent. i sink my teeth into
their invidious comparing of me to them
& know their uncertainty. they withdraw
& i see another image of myself in their

“there ain’t shit in this stinking
country worth twenty-five
hundred dollars,” i shout loud
enough for everyone to hear,
“nothing i want to see, anyway!
i’ll sit my butt in this airport
all day & all night or as long
as it takes to get the next plane
to nigeria, a country big
enough to treat a black man
with respect.”

i collect my bags & move in the direction
of the departure lobby. the red
clears. george follows but says nothing. he
looks as if he wants to run away.

i am hit suddenly with the awareness of
what i have said, what i’ve done, where i
am. the next plane to nigeria leaves in
three days. i tighten my jaws, stiffen my
spine. i’ll wait!

“excuse me, sir,” says an obsequious voice
at my back, “ please, don’t be annoyed.” i
turn, snarling, to face the smallish black
man with the look of authority.

“who the hell are u?”

“i am mr. benson, the senior customs
officer. perhaps i can be of some

i am told that this road to monrovia is
thirty miles long. my eyes are not yet
clear. all i have seen is the vague
graygreen of the jungle merging into the
red of my anger & the clayish soil.

the morning air is warm & tense – a
tension outside of myself & made more so
as i realize that the only people i have seen
on this road are the gaunt boy soldiers
dwarfed by man-sized ak-47’s.

& i begin to have doubts that i’ll ever use
my camera here; that the negotiated one
hundred dollar import tax was too much to
pay in a place too mean,
too fearful to film.

©Joseph McNair; 1984-2009

the circumnavigation is complete (1)

the circumnavigation is complete

the circumnavigation is complete for some
of us

the lost children finding passage
home …

dim is the memory of our leaving
save the violence of our taking.

& the pain …

the brutal tearing of birthcord,
mother & child gushing blood

she? left to bleed to death.

the child? the child taken away to have
his wound cauterized by a slaver’s brand

his scars singed upon his soul!

taken westward away; to mix sweat
& blood with mortar, to turn flesh to

to later in another place raise on his broad
back bountiful harvests;

raise on his broad back beautiful soulless
cities, conqueringarmies & armadas,

leviathan productspawns as prodigious
as they are monstrous…for others.

yet often unable to raise his monthly rent
raise his social position, raise his children.

the circumnavigation is complete for some
of us

we have to look upon the terrible
reaping, in the land of our origins

of the fruits of our labor born of seeds
sown elsewhere.

© Joseph McNair; 1990-2009