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Empire of Language-What Shall We Do from China

Morning does not lie but can be mis-interpreted. For instance, I could say good morning on a day I had spent up all night. I used to do that shit all the time. The lie is innocent. A black lie we will call it, because we invert everything in the country I come from. How else would we survive in a place where we can be the thing that ruins the world?

It is too early to digress but I must. They told me as a little boy to believe in heaven, but then showed me in the book where I was cursed. Gave me the scripture that explained what could and could not be: This is your problem. The first tattoo. The first lesson. The first confusion.

But that's just story a thing made for that. I am more and less than that. I am singing now in a foreign land where I am illiterate except for what I write. Not for long in the same way my ancestors rode the long ride in a belly of a ship towards American shores. That type of magic. The thing that begins as a curse can easily turn to blessing.

I don't know how far it is to Senegal from here, but the way back to America is six thousand miles.

And there is not home. It never was. Never has been. It is a lie that is mixed so much with the truth when we go to tell there is mud in our mouth and we are making money, getting a job, making a way out of no way whatever.

But I do not mean to insist on revelation or revolution. We know what we know, but have not yet established a code. Or rather, the code is within us. We are more or less saying and not saying at the same time, a balance of opposites.


Now I miss my wife and children, my family and friends in a way that I could never at home, but I don't miss the country. It is too much like here, always somewhere else.


I will tell you a story because I know that is what you want.

My grandfather takes me fishing in a small town and on the way home let's me ride in the back of the truck. He is a serene, methodic man, and also a smoker who died of cancer. I remember once joking that he should receive a gift of tobacco. Nobody got the joke. It wasn't funny; but that day on the truck I don't remember him smoking. I remember his presence and him letting me ride in the back of the truck all the way home. The wind was everything then. It blew across my ears like loud horns and I sang with it in my heart. I was with him and not with him, for he was driving. Maybe the ancestors are like that. Driving because of what they have done. Always before us and in control. Close enough but also impossible to truly perceive. But maybe if we calm our mind.

I think now they want me to tell the story. After all that is the conversation with those who don't want to listen to you anyway, unless you entertain.

For instance again, the sun sometimes sets in the eyes of the woman I love because of me, though that is not what I want for her. A misunderstanding is one way to call it, though someone imagines twisted intent, the bang and clash of the family.

But don't get me wrong, Yes, I am a good man. Good enough to marry and keep blowing on fire until it becomes light and steady heat.  Work until work becomes something that can be seen as something else besides sweat and effort.

I don't exist though in narrative, like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. I am less and more than that. I am a code twisted to understanding, a bent spoon dipped in a river as a ladle though it is only a spoon. I am a conjurer who conjures, a man who hides within himself and his intelligence, a mask of sorts, a an odd ball, and b-boy, a I'll fuck you up/don't take no shit, and a I'll do whatever it takes to make sure my family is alright.

Were I born here under some other name or sign, I would be a patriot. But Nationalism died for black folks before it was born.


Most often I look into the night. Darkness is good for narrative. One can imagine that the dark is something else besides non-existence. We travelers love to imagine that we know, that we have somehow penetrated the unknown. Night helps with that, because somethings can obviously not be seen. Less cannot be seen. We can imagine the light we see to cast its beams towards the important. Yet, and then, I come from a country where the fool imagines I am some strange representation of the night in the flesh. Though it is just a cheap metaphor it has consumed many people, like the night. Yet, to focus on the fool is unworthy of the person who truly seeks knowledge. For too much focus on the fool brings harm. Fool is synonym for unteachable, but we imagine teaching fools as our duty where I come from. Should you choose to teach them know what you have signed up to. Teaching those who do not know is a matter of great importance. Teaching the fool demands one become expert on the ignorance in oneself.

That is why I tell stories. To entertain as I struggle for my survival. To create cipher and confuse, to redirect and avoid their strange conviction. It is a strange path. I see the darkness in the world and the path of the light. The fool carries a bag of night and when he arrives sprinkles it onto everything around them. They also carry a bag of light, which they cast cheap spells with. Then we see what they want us to see in the night.

It is not story. It is bigger than that. It is magic and spell.


Outside my window I see another building almost identical to mine, where the foreign students at Central China Normal University reside. It appears gray and weathered. There are many windows. Occassionally, I see figures over there moving in the rooms. I do not know who they are. I've just arrived from America over six thousand miles away and am functionally illiterate in one of the world's most populous countries with one of the longest histories.

Each unit has an air conditioning unit on a small stoop outside that looks like a tiny balcony made for a machine. Above them are the actual balconies where one can see clothes hung out to dry, bits of furniture, tiny socks over the rails.


My smoking habit seems to have increased though the Chinese cigarettes are much weaker than American tobacco. I remember that during my first trip. They said the Chinese craved American tobacco, though I am not sure if they meant like the British.

From what I know the great plant's promulgation began with the people who originally owned the land many of my family and generations have lived upon.

Considering the Native Americans brings many things into proportion. The four hundred years ago marks their destiny in similar ways to those of my kin. In that way we are kin. The senselessness of the conversations, the futility of rebellion, the clarification of knowledge, the strange and weird contortions of reality have become part of what we know is knowledge. Within the empire it is easily forgotten and glosed over until it can be turned to artifact.

For the empire mastery of ourself is not really a mastery, unless we forget our own blood.

Should we be chosen by the ancestors and gods of old times, the storms and weather, the moon we were born under, the blood in our veins to speak for what is not spoken we are limited to relative obscurity. If there is something of importance recognized by the larger society it is where it intersects with the existing codes of the nation. The codes like nets dipped into the sea that brought us into existence. They drip with water and lie about what a fish is, what a man is, what water was made for, and what the world spins into existence.

To confront that truth is not to write. I will leave the tired song of the empire about the true spirit of humans all over the world to others. I will not sample that shit here. For it is that sampling that confuses us all. To say we meet in a place of reality in a code that manages our negation is a lie. This is what it is. It is not blues. It is not entertainment. It is not the true history of the empire.

What it is, I do not know.


My tiny walk through the campus is overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people. They seem to drown out the vision and noise of the day, the many faces all speaking a language I do not know. Now I am the distant foreigner, though I come from a land where foreigner is constant. It is like a policeman's billy club or you can't when you want. I have settled into not wanting, which could be spiritual and transcendent. I know not to know. I am taught that by betrayal. Betrayal is constant and petty. Nature gives me what I do not deserve everyday: breath, water, a place to stand, and flesh that rises upon the earth like a post between heaven and earth-between heaven and earth.

Tomorrow who knows what I will be. I desire to enter this alternate empire of language. I see the writing on the walls. I cannot decipher the code. I strap my i-pod in and listen to the strange notes trying to decipher a pattern. I want to know a knowing that is unknowable. I want to learn what it is given. I want ...


I've lost the act of poetry and think of Baraka often, who in an interview I recently read said he did not travel to China. I wonder what this means. I count him among the greatest of writers I have known, odd and jazzlike, brilliant and intoxicating. I imagine him in a heaven with other sages talking as he liked to talk, great talk, so simple and profound, I wonder if he belongs to America. If he ever was a thing we could know or properly imagine.

Is he there with Li Po-speaking of the mountains my ancestors have known and the rivers?

I am jet lagged and my legs are sore from running up the stairs numerous times. Each time I wait for the elevator, I imagine I am a little boy scared to death of being lazy. I take the stairs to see if my lungs can still handle the cardio. I do Tai Chi every morning. There I breathe deep, but I do not imagine myself everlasting. I wonder as I wonder.


American tobacco is legendary. It was at the heart of the trade with America.provided for the mother country along with cotton. If we are playing a matching game tobacco and cotton become silk and tea in the East. It is the great trade in goods, the mechanics of industry that has led me to this country of over 1.6 billion people. I follow the path of those who went East. I am East of America. I am East in America without the label, without the designated goods. I am the goods.

I am a foreigner in a country with a past and history that literally stretches over millennia. I participate in the new twenty first century trade between the two nations as a teacher of English.

The same mouth I use to smoke is the one that knows the language. There's irony in the tongue. I am the son of those who were enslaved, and the slave ship was like a tower of babel. The dispersal of the tongues of the many is at the heart of our beginnings in the country I come from. It is a beginning that is hard to know as beginning or end. A tragic story, a memory loss, an amnesia. We woke out of the dispersal with the new one language known as English.

I know it well. All my forty six years I have spoken it. As a young man, I learned the Bible and the codes of the West through the great book. The journey was fueled by religion, the missionaries' conviction, and the audacity to suggest that we must know something about Jesus, who happens to be white, who was never white, who was designated white by those who were white, fed to other whites and then the scraps like the innards of a hog were given to us, succulent and doused with hot sauce, drenched in fat, and sprinkled with salt as Christmas. Oh, my God.


My ancestors and I have been taught the Ways of White Folks through a complex system that hinges itself on the conquerer's justification that more of us might one day see heaven.

We have learned them well. We are resident experts. Larger than life. We were enslaved and became a symbol of freedom. We are more or less.

Towards that end, we are given the tongue incapable of speaking the profanity of our true experience.  We are sat at the desk and given the giant book as a maze to work our way through towards peaceful co-existence on earth, while the world we are brought into shows a vast capability for war. First religion and then argument: the two together produce a rather profound confusion, a riddle of dynamic proportions that still perplexes our greatest thinkers.

We speak and refine in a foreign tongue with a stupidity that mirrors the sticks of smoke that burn in my mouth almost everyday for the past twenty years. We present arguments to the King that we are good slaves, that we are not slaves, that we will not be slaves, that we are something else, that we can do better, that we are just like you, that we are smart, that we have history, that we will one day be free. All this we do in the language taught to us via the big book, gunpowder, pain and manipulation.

Those arguments and the back and forth tire the slave. The matters seem endless. We like to think we are refining ourselves and headed towards some destination that is always like heaven, and then again almost like death. Within the empire of language, we know that we are less than what we are. It is as much our prison as our the way we speak. It is a set of bricks in our brain we can never use to build a home.

What then shall we do?

This post first appeared on Free Black Space, please read the originial post: here

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Empire of Language-What Shall We Do from China


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