Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts
A Revolution of Black Poets
Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology
From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets
Our Music Is No Accident /
What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self
My Story My Song (CD)
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I Am Ashamed of Myself: Post-Katrina New Orleans
By Kalamu ya Salaam
I woke up this morning. I was
I couldn't remember what I was doing in 1994. In April.
The rainy season. Even if my life depended on it, I
could not recall any specifics. I just couldn't
Over 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered then. I don't
remember what I did but not having anything that I
remember tells me that I did nothing memorable.
I don't even have a poem specifically about the
genocide. Did I write a letter, a petition, an article?
Did I do anything? It is depressingly banal how often
the reality registers: when the good do nothing, the bad
Why is goodness always cast as a coward? The truth is,
if we do nothing, we can not be good. Doing nothing is a
collaboration with the worst of ourselves.
Less than four hours earlier at three-something in the
morning when I should have been sleeping I had just
finished watching Sometimes In April, Raoul
Peck's movie about genocide in Rwanda a dozen years ago.
I staggered to bed emotionally drained.
I assume while I was asleep my subconscious was taking
inventory. When I awoke, a terrible truth appeared: if I
did nothing during Rwanda, I had no high ground from
which to expect others to do something for New Orleans.
All of the tasks I should be doing but for whatever
reasons I have not done, each of them stood at my
bedside and took turns whacking at my conscience.
My discomfort was not just Rwanda. Kysha, Robin and I
are working on a poetry anthology appropriately entitled
The End of Forever. Over the last couple of weeks
I have come up missing in action. I am mired in a swamp
of inaction, emotionally overwhelmed at times. The book
is in the last stages, just a little more effort and it
would be finished, but I lay in bed, dilly-dallying for
no good reason-I don't know what I'm waiting for and I'm
not sleepy, it's just . . .
But the book is not the only thing. More and more people
are calling me about
LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE. If I push
harder I could make more happen, faster. We should have
been up and online by now. There are specifics I can not
do, technical matters others have to address, but I
could put my shoulder to the wheel and make things turn
faster. I could, but . . .
My wife is patient with me, never once complaining as I
leave the house every evening and don't come back until
round midnight, going to spend hours with Doug who is
battling cancer and dueling with the after-affects of
chemotherapy. Nia and I have not gone to the movies at
all this year, and it has been some months since we have
gone out to dinner together.
There have been days when I freely gave my full
attention to visitors needing assistance with this, that
or the other. On more than one occasion I have spent
more time with someone I may never see again than I have
with my wife whom I see almost every day-you see, I can
not even say I see my wife everyday because some days .
Do you understand why I am ashamed? Yes, I know that I
do so many good things for the cause, but I do not
remember what I did in April of that killing season
occurring in a ten-thousand-square-mile country of
around eight million souls. Count off eight people you
know, if they had been Rwandan, most likely at least one
of them would be dead-and not just dead, but smashed
like an insect. Thus the marauders crowed, explaining
why they used machetes: we do not waste bullets on
I have not completed the book we planned to have ready
by the end of August. Our
LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE website
is not fully operational yet. My wife and I eat
separately. Do you understand how it feels to see
yourself like that?
I tell myself to get up. Get moving. It is another day.
We're alive. There's so much we can do. But . . . it's
raining outside, just like April in that breathtakingly
beautiful land of a thousand hills.
Most of us never know when our end will arrive. I stared
at my computer screen as actors under Peck's direction
portrayed people who knew they were about to die. At one
point I hit the space bar to pause the action. I reached
up, wiped my eyes, and then continued watching. If I had
been there, what would I have done?
Lying on my side, face to the wall, a hard answer severs
my sense of self half-in-two: Had I been in Kigali, I
may have done nothing but watch, that is, if I were
lucky enough not to be a Hutu hacking a Tutsi, or a
Tutsi being hacked, I probably would have been a
so-called innocent onlooker . . . after all that is
what I was as I sat in Houston in my brother-in-law's
living room watching on CNN as the Tutsis of my city
were abandoned at the Ernest Morial Convention Center.
When we evacuated, our car was full but I left a working
automobile behind. I can say: I did not expect the
levees to break, I thought I would be back in a few
days. I can say if I had stayed I would have been one of
the locals, like Malik and Jerome, rescuing people
before outside help arrived. But regardless of what I
say or want to believe I might have done, the hard
question remains. What did I do? When the deal went
down, there I sat, just watching.
Now, I realize: every day is April. Whether it's Rwanda
or New Orleans, the same question wakes me: what am I
doing about it today?
A dozen years from now will I have done anything worth
posted 14 August 2006
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music website >
writing website >
daily blog >
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Guarding the Flame of Life
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New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin
They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green
* * *
1. Congo Square (9:01)
2. My Story, My Song (20:50)
3. Danny Banjo (4:32)
4. Miles Davis (10:26)
5. Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6. Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7. Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8. Intro (3:59)
9. The Whole History (3:14)
10. Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11. Waving At Ra (1:40)
12. Landing (1:21)
13. Good Luck (:04)
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America
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updated 23 July 2010