Yasuke

They call me Yasuke here in this foreign land of short, almond-eyed people.  Being a slave, I dare not contradict them.  By the grace of Allah, these people find some novelty in me, and so esteem me better than my Jesuit master, Alessando Valignano.  Perhaps they will buy me from the Jesuit.  I would be far from home, but I would be far from home regardless. And the mule prefers the bug bites in Spring to the bug bites in Summer.

 My new tongue has not improved much.  I doubt they would think better of me were I so fluent in their tongue; no more than the Jesuits think better of me for my mastery of their tongue.  And yet I speak with more tongues than they, and not so falteringly as others so split between tongues.  Valignano does not suspect how many tongues with which I may speak.  If he did, he might well beat me for presumed insolence.  The gnat whines at the ear of greater creatures, thinking the ear insolent in its size.  And my back stings with the bites of this Jesuit gnat.

 By the strength lent by Allah, I endure.

 Lord Nobunaga must think well of me, however, for he gifted me generously a chest of copper coins, and all for the sake of the novelty of my dark skin.  He thought it some sort of trickery at first.  He bid me doff my clothes, head to waist, and his servants scrubbed at my chest.  In vain, it was, and so Nobunaga was pleased.  The Jesuits were pleased, too, and commandeered the coins for the works of their God.  I was not sad to see the coins go.  It was a trifling amount compared to the riches of the Caliphate.  Moreover, no amount of wealth might buy me my freedom from these infidels.  But as Allah sees fit, I abide.

 Presently, we ride to Kyoto on a long road.  Valignano is a fool, as are his followers, but they have about them an escort of samurai.  This is a pretty land, as unique of feature as its people, and I admire its beauty.  The plum trees are especially pretty.  Yet, I feel misplaced among this infidel splendor.  Though much honored, I am still a foreigner among these small people.  More so than even the Jesuits, despite their idiotic faux pas and petty squabbles of conversion.

 Even among the Jesuits I am an outsider.

 We camp for the night beneath a copse of maples, around a fire.  I sleep apart from my Jesuit travelers.  We have been warned of bandits, and so I keep my hand ready upon the sword which Lord Nobunaga gifted me.  I sleep lightly, dappled by the pale light of the moon as it peers between the branches like the face of a houri.  My Jesuit brothers sleep well, for I hear them snoring.  The samurai, too, sleep well.  I cannot sleep.  This land entices me to prayer, for Allah made this land too, though I know not why its people are infidels.  The wellspring from which they sprang conceals its truths with its lovely mists, or perhaps their land reveals other truths of Allah which are not known to us in Istanbul.

 I pray in the direction of Mecca.  I hope Allah does not begrudge me the late hour.  I can never pray when Valignano is awake, for he admonishes me severely for the practice.  He berates the people here, too, and despises their religion of the Buddha.  Why Nobunaga has offered him samurai for protection, I know not.  Perhaps he wishes to protect me.  But I need no earthly protection, for I have Allah.  And Allah restrains my hands from choking the life from Valignano.

 Prayer often offers me comfort, and reawakens my faith, instilling strength for my daily suffering.  It is the light guiding me through this unending darkness.  The shadows fly at the words exulting Allah.

 Yet, when I rise again I realize that the moon no longer shines on my face.  Rather, a giant shadow looms over me, the moon at its back.

 “Hello, brother,” a voice growls.  It is like the bones of a thousand sinful men grinding beneath the millstone.  “Why do you share fire with these tasty creatures?   Let us make a feast of them beneath the moon.”

 The crackling of the campfire flares at the suggestion, and I see a three-eyed man with dark black skin and horns such as a bull on his broad head. He is taller than even I and reminds of a demon or djinn.  I believe such a creature is called an “oni” in this land.

 “Speak, little brother,” he growls.  “Or do you claim them all for yourself?”

 His breath stinks of rotten meat, and his voice is edged like a scimitar with challenge.

 “I am not of your kin,” I confess, still clutching the sword at my side and ready to draw it against this infernal creature.  I stand up, slowly, and find that I am two heads shorter than the oni.  “I am a man.  But I will fight like a demon if you attempt to harm me.”

 The oni squinted his three eyes, the third eye in the center of his forehead.  “Yes,” he says.  “I see my mistake now.  Far too small to be my kin.  And already cooked, by the look of your flesh.”

 “I am a Moor,” I say.  “From faraway.”

 “A rare meat, then,” the oni says.  “I shall savor you.”

 He reaches for me with clawed fingers.  I unsheathe my sword, clumsily.  I have not had the practice of its uses yet, though I The oni pauses, and withdraws his hand.  But not because of my blade.  He sniffs and frowns.

 “You have the stink of a foreign god about you,” he says.

 “Allah—may he ever have mercy—claims my soul,” I say, or as well as I might in the foreign tongue.  “If I die here, or anywhere else, it is by his will.”

 The oni grimaced, his large white fangs grinding within his mouth.

 “A foul stench,” he says.  “I do not care for it.  It fouls your soul, little black man.  A foreign god in my lands, and a foreign god in your heart.”

 I nearly struck out at him for the blasphemy.  “Allah is no foreigner in any land or heart,” I say.  “For he made all, including you, demon.”

 The oni laughs, insolently scratching his loins beneath a skirt of flayed skin.

 “But he smells of other winds and other waters.  I do not like his smell.  It is arid.  Stagnant.  It reeks of death, but not such as there is pleasure in it.  Only a wild, exultant zealotry which I care not for.”  He pointed to the Jesuits.  “No different, I suppose, than the smell of the god on those hairy little men.”  He sniffed some more, leaning closer to me, his foul breath enveloping me.  “But there is a more interesting scent beyond the gods that claim the lot of you.  A smell of many other gods.  Faint, but spicy, and not so lost as you would wish them to be.  Gods grown in more interesting lands.  Lands more honest to their gods than whatever place you now call home.  Better gods.  Truer gods.  Gods displaced by this foul being that claims you like a spider a butterfly.”

 “You speak blasphemies!” I say, readying my blade.

 The oni turns away, indifferently.  He chuckles, lumbering toward the edge of the copse.

 “I will not partake of this feast,” he says.  “There is already a feast taking place: a feast of fools, and your soul is being shared among them.  What will be left of you when they have finished gnawing your soul with their many petty little mouths?”

 Laughing, the oni fades into the gathering mist, vanishing like a shadow beneath the awakening day.  His voice growls faintly one last time.

 “All that will be left will be your dark black skin, and by this will you be known.  By nothing else…”

 I stand in the ensuing silence, shaken.  After a long moment, I sheathe my sword—fumbling a little, and, so, loudly.  The sibilance wakes Alessando Valignano.

 “Yasufe?” he says, scowling at me.  “Make no more noise, for the sake of God!  Or I will thrash you for your stupidity.”

 “My apologies,” I say, bowing my head.

 Valignano grumbles, then adjusts his robe and turns over, sleeping on his side.  “Dim-witted animal…” he mutters.

 My rage finds me but a moment, as a djinn unleashed from a bottle, and I wish to draw my sword again and drink blood as any demon would.  But I let the spark extinguish.  Left alone once again to the silence of the forest, I think about gods and demons, of man and meaning, of tongues and truths.

By This Color Divided

The one color that divides
America into “sides”
is not Black or Brown or White,
Red or Yellow, dark or light,
but the color that is Green—
that is the color between
the one side and the other,
between sister and brother;
it is what gives some more rights
while most squawk in petty fights
that accomplish no more than
idle talk, or prayer, can;
it is the power of wealth
that divides all from oneself;
the othering of the bank
and thus the false social rank.
Similarly, it was gold
that was the demon of old—
it was greed that took the lands
from the Native tribal bands
and it was greed that enthralled
peoples from Africa, hauled
to America to build
the dreams of men who so willed
without care of soul or heart
or the lives they tore apart;
nor the migrants near the turn
of the century, yet to learn
that the green of one’s greed
did not care about their need—
though they were just as White
as whom deemed them “parasite”
and used them all as prey
for cheapened labor, and pay,
as like those of modern times:
Latinos from Southern climes,
for Race is just an excuse
to divide us so we lose
the real war of the classes
as one percent amasses
more money, more power,
everyday, hour by hour,
while we raise a wayward fuss
about tribal “them” and “us.”
Divide and conquer, they say,
and it does work, day to day—
the poor so obsessed with hue
while shortchanged for their due.

Depths Of Delusion

You are a racist,
as am I,
for it is a consequence of
being alive,
an evolutionary survival mechanism
biased against that which is
outwardly different;
do not deny it
or you deny the self,
the self being a
long-columned wellspring of
unconscious forces,
epiphenomenal currents
that extend so deeply and darkly
into the subconscious
that we cannot fathom it;
and do not pretend to know your depths
unless you happen to be quite
shallow,
for every human is a bottomless
trench
while the mind struggles to navigate itself,
reading the waves on the surface
with a charlatan’s eye for
scrying,
a rationalizing fraud
who confuses ebb with flow,
cause with effect,
and, consequently,
sees the push-and-pull of our
cognition
without the finer nuances and
prejudices
until a tempest comes along
and suddenly we find, within the
maelstrom,
shipwrecks of faux pas and
racial baggage,
stereotypes, tokenisms,
assumptions which churn
like Charybdis
to swallow the delusion
that we were ever pellucid
within our own murky waters.
The cauldron boils and brims
and nothing but
racism
runneth over.
Acknowledge the
storm;
it is the only way to
navigate the waters
and paddle against the undertow.

Uncomfortable Truths

Priorities
A racial slur has never
killed a single person,
but one must wonder
how many Third-World people we have all
curbstomped
with our carbon footprint.

“Pocahontas”
Just one word and the Wall Street
iconoclast
crumbles, the kitschy tomahawk falling
from her pale hand.
Meanwhile the false gold idol
remains, leering as he slouches
atop the idolater’s pulpit,
untouchable beneath so much
praise
and pigeon shit.

Tax Write-Off
It is as sad as it is
true
that only wealthy middle class Whites
can afford the
guilt
of White Privilege,
whereas for the working poor
it is just another luxury item
cut from the budget
until good times come again
to broaden their purchasing power
and their
overtaxed sympathies.

Pocket Change
The feminist theory book was
closed upon itself,
thick with sermons against ancient
wrongs
in a cobwebbed corner of the room
while the pink pocketbook
changed the world
one purchase at a time
to a more
feminine shape.

Cardinal Rule, Cardinal Hill

There is no carnival thrill
on Cardinal Hill,
not for boys like me, us river-rats
who live in the shadows of fat cats,
and while I may be a white cisgender male
which, nowadays, seems a hard-sell,
I am also a blue-collar scholar
that doesn’t like Rush Limbaugh or the Daily Caller.
When you tell me
so snappishly
that I should feel “White Guilt”
you lose someone with whom you could have built
a better America, a better nation,
and so discord becomes your sole occupation.
Let me tell you something about sex and race:
Cardinal Hill is an actual place,
it is a place that always looked down
with a condescending frown
in our waterlogged holler
for we were river-rats, and they were White Collar,
and so when you, bourgeoisie, tell me
I am to blame for previous history
you might as well blame me for the shape of the earth
because it, too, was decided long before my birth.
Poor is poor
as we drift to sift
through every thrift store
to find this year’s school uniform
while name brands, for other kids, are the norm—
we wear military fatigues, hand-me-down coats,
yard sale socks and dig through throwaway totes.
No one’s suffering should be tallied and spent
by race or sex or creed or accent.
And it is true: you have to have privilege to complain
about privilege, otherwise this thought-train
derails and explodes, blowing up in everyone’s face
the third-degree burns subsuming everyone’s race.
Listen: have you ever had to shudder in a winter storm
since there was no central heat to keep you warm?
You can’t let a log stove burn all night
while you sleep in a trailer, awaiting sunlight.
Have you ever worked on your 13th Birthday, in the snow,
taking off a roof while the cold winds blow?
Your gloves are eaten through by crumbling shingles
and the rich kids are inside, warm and enjoying jingles.
Have you ever ridden a bike where you weren’t wanted
while rich kids laughed at you and taunted?
Or else they shunned you as a hillbilly bumpkin,
saying you belonged in a back alley dump bin?
They said we were rednecks, poor, and “weird folks”,
treating us like creatures born of inhuman yolks,
and yet they hired us to work on their porches and roofs
which taught me, young, about Life’s hard truths.
You see, there are Cardinal hills all over the earth
so before you start criticizing anyone’s worth
perhaps you should look in a polished mirror
and see things as they are, a little bit clearer,
because shit always runs downhill from the very top
and we know that prejudices never really stop,
whether from racists or classists or complacent cityfolk
who assume so much with a keyboard poke—
because my kin grew up in the shadow of a Hill
near a river, in a holler that was used like a landfill
for junk cars and appliances and whatever other thing
that was discarded from the wealthy hilltop ring;
we grew up not unlike mushrooms from a bog
so spare us your White Guilt articles on your blog—
please earn your clicks some other way,
or maybe get a real job, right now, without delay.
There’s one more thing you need to read,
even if it isn’t something you wish to heed:
once upon a time poor people of every color
interbred in America, and were none the duller
in this fine interplay of diversity, thereby reconciled
in the happy complexion of a “mixed race” child,
but then rich people realized that the desperate poor
could be controlled with pseudohistorical lore
about racism and purity and knowing one’s place—
knowing a divided people were easier to keep apace,
and while SJW’s have good intentions (some do)
some are dividing us all for a paycheck, too.
Look: those who do not live by scepter or saber
must live by the bounties of their labor,
so look to your hands and see what they grip—
is it a dividing blade, a ruling rod, or someone else’s lip?