I kept my eyes on the stars
With my foot on the ground
And sent letters above always
Even if no one answered.
The detritus of my letters piled
Up in a black pit of dead stars
The burial ground of the ignored
With no beauty to charm the readers.
I summoned my spirit in fetters
Fury bursting forth in fiery flame
Rising to the heavens in wails
Racing to the burial ground anon.
I said, “Set Fire” in a white fury
And a supernova followed,
Quivering the haughty sky
with brilliant rains of the diamond.
My cat sits in front of the door
Like an ancient statue of Basset
And looks at me with desire
To break the spell of the moment.
In the high night
When the only light
is iridescent emerald beams
from his large green eyes,
I open the door
He believes to be
The door of perceptions
When there is only darkness.
But he roams in eager eyes
With a lamp of his cat’s eyes
Searching for the wonder
With neverending hopes.
Alas, my elderly mother stops
His hopeful night’s adventure!
Still yearning, ever curious
My cat tries it always tomorrows!
The great writers are capable of metamorphosis and travel across a gulf of time and a hiatus of cultures and continents because their narratives speak to the sentiments and reason common to all humankind. Enter Abdulrazak Gurnah, this year’s Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, in this celestial constellation of great writers. The following is what I think about Gurnah based on reading his interview with today’s Reuter.
Gurnah, born in Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) in 1948, went to England in the 1960s as a refugee fleeing from the political turmoil and social unrest of his native country. Then began his migrant’s song composed of multiple strands of his experience, thoughts, and feelings that became polyphonic acapella in variant notes and rhythms. Unlike many other laureates of prestigious literary awards or esteemed recognition, Gurnah is a champion of underdogs who were not expensively educated in private institutions and, above all, who were not born into the surroundings of English as mother tongue. Working at the places where his privileged literary peers would not think of, Gurnah wrote in English as Second Language as his Lingua Franca literary tool. The result is his enchantment of readers to a fantastic maze of his inner world. His narratives become Ariadne’s thread that guides his readers to the world that seems so unfamiliar yet oddly universal.
Gurnah seems to be the kind of writer I sincerely respect and dare to emulate who have lived among ordinary people like a sun in evening declination with the soft but radiant scarlet hues covering the earth, reflecting its magnificent face in shining waters. I am delighted to confirm that you don’t have to be born into a culture that speaks English if you want to become a good English writer. It is not about the Perfect mastery of language but about articulating thoughts to become a great writer. Although the media emphasizes Gurnah’s being the second black African author to have won the award since Nigerian Wole Soyinka in 1986, I don’t think it’s about his race that draws attention to his books. His being a writer supersedes his race because writers are different kinds of the race with a unique eye to look at the world and show it to readers, standing together in the collegiality of human spirits.
Stars sundry and allwhither
Planets pompous and distant;
But the Moon is only always
Goddess excellently bright!
Fairy Queen rides in her chariot,
Ghosts rejoice in the moonlight
Nature basks in moonbeams;
I revel at sight wonderous
Goddess excellently bright!
The skies they are blue and boundless
The stars they are serene and sightless
The stars they are many and sightless;
It is the day that invades the brilliance of the night
With the glare of the fiery sun haughty downright;
It is dreary with no menagerie of heaven’s beasts,
Afloat in the abeyance of immemorial pasts
It is gloomy with no festivals of ancient legends,
Aglow in a heaven’s theater at their best acts.