NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 53

A compass, being a compass, is always pointing to another where. It never absolutely “arrives.” West Africa: an ancestral home written into the speaker’s body, the speaker’s blood and compass pulsing with both distance and closeness to that Africa. Because we are thinking of horizons, dimensions, earth and sky, doorways and passages, I will respectfully conjure Legba now. Now consider Legba’s tongue: multilingual, the bridge between the realms. I should also mention that Legba is known to use a cane and have a limp — we will call him iambic Legba, or swaggering Legba. A kind of shapeshifter and gatekeeper between the worlds. I suppose a limp or strut might be another way of thinking about what it might mean to be of two (or more) worlds (the living and the dead, the black and the white, the straight and the slanted) at once, a bilingual or differently accented walk, if you will. Lorca writes “that the duende loves the edge, the wound, and draws close to places where forms fuse in a yearning beyond visible expression.” Poet Nathaniel Mackay considers the limp a kind of mark of the wound. I would say that Legba knows duende very well, or that duende comes from Legba. In fact, it is said that blues guitarman, Robert Johnson, met the “devil” at the crossroads and sold his soul in exchange for his sound, the depth of his music. That devil is said to have been accompanied by a dog at the crossroads near a river. Many people say it wasn’t the devil at all, but, in fact, Papa Legba. Please stay here with me for a moment to really consider the implications of this god/loa who could cross worlds, shapeshift, move through doorways, speak to the living and the dead, exist in many times and worlds at once! In the context of captivity, dismemberment, terror, executions, racial and economic brutality, Legba would have been a X. As Komunyakaa writes in “Lost Wax” where he “remembers” the Middle Passage, “Legba mends hope.” X marks the mend, the stitch, the junction. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Horizon. A kind of marker or boundary that the compass implies we might always move toward (again, the work of reaching toward other worlds). Now consider Legba’s legs: one short, one long — limping, of two worlds. 51 Horizon: the line that separates earth and sky, Here and There. In West African Fon traditions and Haitian Vodún, Legba, or Ellegua (in Cuban and Brazilian traditions), is the intermediary between people and the spiritual pantheon. Legba is the messenger. Sometimes portrayed as an androgynous being, he is he facilitator of speech, communication, and understanding. Mostly father of the doorways, he is believed to speak all human languages. (Do you hear Horton underneath these lines? “And dart from world to world.”) Legba. Translated into Christian traditions as St. Peter or Lazrus, and often mistranslated into Christian traditions as a Yoruban equivalent to the devil. In Legba’s Crossing, Heather Russell posits that “it is in this domain of freedom that Legba, the god of the crossing sign, presides.” And that salvation, or freedom, is, perhaps, found in “the power to name, to define, to imagine, and to create, unrestricted and unbounded.” Komunyakaa discusses a similar idea in his own work in a conversation with Paul Muldoon and Suzan Sherman in BOMB, “I wanted a dialogue with the things around me, to understand them. Eels, mud puppies, cattails, Venus flytraps, fish-looking creatures with legs called Congo snakes, everything. I wanted to know the names of trees, plants, flowers. Naming became a type of inquiry.” Perhaps there are at least two types of naming to consider here. The practice of learning the names of trees, plants, flowers and, thusly, the act of calling them by their names or using their names. And the practice of writing poems — which can be the practice of naming an experience, a practice which is always, necessarily, steeped in a kind of inquiry.