Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Random Musings + Poem: Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

You can't base an entire baseball season on just three games, but so far the New York Mets have looked like the National League's team to beat, reprising their strong start of last season, and the defending champion Cardinals have looked really punchless, much like the dreadful team that limped through last season's second half. The Mets have power, speed, and so far their pitching looks decent; the Cardinals' best starter is out with a sore elbow, their outfield is a mess, and their bats are silent. Overall, the Mets will probably face the stiffest competition from Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, and, it pains me to say, the Chicago Cubs. I haven't figured out who the strongest teams in the AL are yet, though Detroit, the Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the over-hyped Boston Red Sox have very strong squads. I'll be watching Texas from time to time primarily because Sammy Sosa, so readily reviled (as a doper) by the sports media and fans and exiled, is back and playing for the Rangers, and I also want to see how the sports media respond if and when Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. Will they all go into cardiac arrest?

On more than one blog and news site I saw the remarkable news that Senator Barack Obama (the composite photo at right is from the had attracted more than 100,000 donors, more than any of the other candidates, and more than his two main rivals combined. (I would caution readers about giving out his Obama08 campaign your phone number, however; I was besieged at odd hours until I finally had to demand that they communicate with me via mail and email.) His campaign raised a total of around $23.5 million, exceeding the $20 million quarterly take of the presumptive leading Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, who has so far bankrolled $26 million total, putting them both far ahead the other Democrats, as well as most of the sorry lot of Republicans who are vying for the job. While I always wish that the presidential campaign season were shorter (as in Britain and much of Europe) and publicly funded, and while I also recognize that money raised is no guarantee of victory, Obama's ability to generate funds and small donors, particularly online, is an excellent sign. I also know that it'll probably will lead to even more vicious attacks, coded messages, and so on against him, from his Democratic rivals, the Republicans, and the mainstream media. I've spoken to a number of people who're convinced that Obama "cannot" win, that American "will not vote for a Black man," and so on; some of these folks are Black themselves and they very well could be right, though I hope they are very wrong.

Eddie Robinson, one of the greatest football coaches of all time, died Tuesday in Ruston, Louisiana, at the age of 88. He began his legendary coaching career at what would become Grambling University in 1941, and finished with a 408-165-15 record, breaking University of Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's win total and sending hundreds of players to the National Football league, as well as to a host of other professions. One of his former players, Doug Williams, became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, in 1988 (God, but doesn't that just seem like yesterday!), with Washington, and Grambling, despite its comparatively small size and location, has become one of the best known historically Black universities in the country. Several reports I heard on the radio or came across online noted that over the years, some critics expressed criticism of Robinson's failure to be more vocal about racism, but what I also picked up was that his players championed his profound preparation of them not only for the gridiron, but for life itself.

Robert Mugabe's criminal misrule hangs on by a thread, but the support for that thread, it strikes me, has not yet vanished, and comes from several of the major neighboring states in Africa, such as South Africa, and to a lesser extent, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Uganda, Botswana, and Namibia. Although South Africa is the only state that could force Mugabe's hand, all of these countries should be decrying his brutal, chimerical, corrosive reign, which has left Zimbabwe's economy in shambles, causing masses of his fellow countrypeople to starve or to flee to neighboring nations for food and peace. Despite the other nations' own problematic political records, they should also condemn the unfettered violence against the fractured opposition, led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and in particular, Morgan Tsangvirai; this man and the opposition have been the target of repeated attacks by Mugabe's military, paramilitary and police forces, courts and popular supporters for several years, and just a day ago, before today's feebly sustained general strike, which the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called, nine members of the MDC were badly beaten after being taken into custody. Mugabe also recently issued threats against Britain's ambassador to his country, and is daring outside and internal opponents to topple him. I understand the historical, ideological and political reasons why South Africa's post-apartheid leadership would almost as a default take his side against a former colonial master like the UK, or a neocolonial entity like the US, but at the same time, it must now be as clear as Cape Town's bay to Thabo Mbeki and others that the socioeconomic toll, by which I mean the human toll, of Mugabe's corrupt tenure, requires the strongest diplomatic and economic measures possible. He can no longer tinker behind the screen.

Earlier this week, as I was driving up to the university, I heard that Charles Burnett's 1977 masterpiece, Killer of Sheep, was going to be given its first theatrical release ever, which clarified a mysterious sidebar I saw in last week's New Yorker. (Reggie H. was kind enough to send Manohla Dargis's New York Times commentary on the film to the CC list.) I saw this movie when I took a Black film course as an undergraduate, and what I recall is that it's one of the most poetic and moving fictional portraits of Black American life ever to be captured on celluloid, with exceptional naturalistic acting, lyrical cinematographer, and some of the most appropriate uses of music one could experience in cinema. Although Killer of Sheep was Burnett's student thesis film at UCLA, it ranks as a major work, perhaps his magnum opus, and deserves the highest praise possible. Burnett has gone on to direct a number of important works, such To Sleep with Anger (1990), Nightjohn (1996), and The Glass Shield (1994), which is one of the most chilling essays on police corruption (and one of Michael Boatman's best acting performances bar none) in the American cinematic roster, but neither he nor his work have ever received the wider popular acclaim they deserve. With this theatrical release, perhaps Burnett will finally draw in more of the viewers his works merit, and perhaps renewed interest among funders so that he can continue to advance one of the finest aesthetics in contemporary American filmmaking.


The poem for the day is by one of my favorite poets, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, whose poetry is as beautiful and gracefula and unforgettable as she is, and who has the "bop" form down cold:


In the evening she comes, her same unsatisfied self,
with the hard, smug look of salvation. Mama,
stop bothering me. When we argue, she says
what you’re saying is not scriptural.
You need to get back in your Bible.

In one dream, I slap her. I’m tired of her mouth.

I hate to see the evening
Sun go down

Yesterday, I dreamed a vampire
held my wrist, dared me to wake
to her, corporeal, stolid. Mama,
was that you? I refused to touch
her body in the casket.
At the gravesite I refused everything
but dry-eyed silence,
her picture in my hand.

I hate to see the evening
Sun go down

This is what I get for conjuring—
Mama, after me all night,
fussing about the holy ghost
when what I need is sleep.
But last night I lay dreamless.
I didn’t sleep sound.

I hate to see the evening

Sun go down

Bop: Haunting, Copyright © 2002 by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. Reprinted from Black Swan by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. (This book won the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and was published by University of Pittsburgh Press.)


  1. Mugabe: in my violent fantasies, I imagine shipping the entire generation of nationalist-era politicians to a deserted island. There, nothing would happen to them. They would live in a void. Well, perhaps my fantasies are not as violent as I think.

    I just--and very late--ordered my copy of Seismosis. When I can take a break from writing, I'll try to post some kind of review. I'm looking forward to it. My current sojourn in fiction, criticism, and theory is tiring, if invigorating. I need poetry.

  2. Keguro, I agree with you about shipping them off, though putting them on trial in the Hague (or a similar entity established in an African capital, like Gabarone) might not be a bad idea either.

    Thanks for reading the blog and *S*!