Here is a stone I pound into grain
In the Prison Notebooks Gramsci says: “The starting-point of critical elaborations is the consciousness of what one really is, and is knowing thyself as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.” The only available English translation inexplicably leaves Gramsci’s comment at that, whereas in fact Gramsci’s Italian text concludes by adding, “therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory."
Edward Said, in Orientalism
Uncle arrives for his daily visit, sleeping as soon as he sits, chin collapsed into neck, turban slipping down his forehead. Sport matches cycle on the telly, glowing on papaji and grandma, also snoozing. In the deep back garden, I sit on the ground, waiting for a pulse, close to stillness. Branches from down here are raw and knobby and naked—rose, daffodil. Uncle soon nods awake, takes cha and departs by the time I notice these gentle movements from inside grandma and papaji’s Hounslow row house: around four in the afternoon, a pan knocking against ceramic, hands rustling aluminum tins together, searching for heating spices. Steel-brown black against cream and sea-white.
The story of my grandmother’s entry into England by way of Kenya by way of freshly-partitioned Punjab is a process without details. Arrival being immanent.
Hounslow East: In some cases, those who saved money to leave saved only enough to land, and they kept close to the airport, their aunties already come, and to the trains rocking toward metropolis. This pattern tumbles on, salvaged and woven by a new cast, by threads they carry with them, another meaning of east. A district contoured by migrant economies also anticipates the rain inside friendly conversation. Plant, beast, the hairs from our heads. Some families who worked for the colonial administration received sponsorship, and they too kept close to the entry port, this commercial field of sprawl. To claim our love, and the given that we survived, without welcoming in the cruelties, however, feels like a wound itself.
The good ol’ Punjabi boys——my pop and his brother——tease about sweatpants and vinyl, about odd names for “shop,” brackish when inside, shake their heads in scorn at untidy streets when outside. This partition is of course blurred. Finally able to refract the hypervisibility and neglect of their almosthuman childhood. Oppression olympics. So who am I, bearing witness, with no authority but to listen? And who are you?
A. High Street chai Wallas in platform shoes hocking scalding milk tea and cherimoya
B. To prepare for ú diyaargarow Somali heard in the market——your neighbors remind you of your placentas and stillbirths, buried in Africa
C. The boys say new trash, renters everywhere, and the Polski skleps
In a geometric apparition, women approach, whispering the names of their abandoners, turn, thread back. Feeling around for fingers to grasp, a waist, a shoulder, your hands come away blistered in a fog of their curses. Meanwhile I am hunted: my aunt, stumbles in her unspooling, garden knife plied between me and the nightmare. A habit of transmissions from the borderlands of mourning and birth, a trick mirror.
Where sterility is insinuated, note scraps passed in assimilation rooms. Punjabi, English, Swahili, chorus of stone shards scattered in the soil——
To live and die by the timed use of three tongues. You feel instead a coterie of snags in translation.
To protest against the operational space, its flexible growth. To enact a fleeting parallel world some scholars write about us. I am a glut of some scholars.
I find myself in a garden again. Clouds cutting, crash water——with a finger, trace them: to ascend a fold. Why represent density this way, on the map, another artist of the South Asian diaspora asks. Where blood builds up. Is it so dangerous that I feel longing for the clarity of violence that she draws from her mother’s memory, carried in her own body: the image of one nailed to a tree with her womb slit, a tender abdominal impression witnessed while fleeing——where? Just east.
It is an act of violence to consider violence, in essence, manifests clarity.
An expanse lit by lichen opens, urging toward a mellow haze, where our gradient is allowed, if I am empty enough here, without essay.
It is late-winter. We taste without swallowing witness report language, object strategies, operation clarity as code, carried out without domestic or international acquiescence, the largest bomb outside atomic standards detonated on a Syrian airbase. And fifty-nine tomahawk long-range missiles in Al Shayrat, Syria; the Massive Attack Ordinance Blast detonated in Afghanistan’s Spin Ghar mountains. They say it was in the east of the country. A sadness blooms.
Detonations, cells, death counts, dips in waves——the BBC, English Jeopardy with captions under Scottish participants’ responses, snooker and golf on Sky Sports. No new analysis or thoughts in the news cycle, even in England. No new imaginaries. Why do I hope the English journalists will be more diligent? I’m always writing about it——war recreating a constellation of distances among invisible spirits. Atmosphere of unsaying. Not from nowhere, but engaging with.
That war on the Continent, yet another genocide, and jumbled American participation, is simply a noise, like the surprising sunshower nibbling on the roof. My refrain. Instead, the elders quibble over details of their travels to the plantation in Kisumu, Lake Victoria, (and only when I ask) their departure——during the bloodier end days of the Mau Mau uprisings——as accomplices to the English Imperial project.
How much is propaganda, recycling appropriated and consequently assimilated names, serving as defense for claiming home in an already occupied land, retribution’s contagion? At what point can we claim anything? The isolation is working, new numb.
In Mombasa and Kibos, words design neighboring villagers, originals and tribals, as servant-workers. In your barn you called their family names, and today you have forgotten them. Grandma is a country woman from a landlocked village in a continent to the north who, now, cries ghostwater floods to wash off and drown the beatings she received and repeated. Measures of agency and control, meaning something stagnant in each language they permeated. What else is remembered, elements shared, matrilineal assemblages: picking up a stone at will, and obeying intuition, and setting it down again. Remainders of shards shot through.
In the English language canon, (South) Asians do not dream. Their dreams are not recorded except in the materials they touch. The needle our palms thread kneading music into lunettes of bread. Some insects, the sweaters and lunghis and combs, the dishes, the knot, the rain. White pill, daffodil pill, blue pill, beige pill, claret pill, Tuesday? Under the bed, sixteen pairs of pristine Adidas, Nikes, Vans to sell. But doing so will make the dream both real and unrealized. Yogurt, vegetable, chicken, take the phone hallo ye’is we’re ahl fine Serena, Kisumu, the Hammers, oyster, washing, unopened boxes of q-tips from 1995. A freefall braided with knots. Freefalling to Aldi for plastic-wrapped fruits, to hospital, knot at Gurdwara langar, to the toilet room and back, to Royal for papaji’s favorite pale sweet milk treats, knot to an ethic seeking grace, while we blister, for each unit a resignation outlined in repetition, toward hollowing. Woven from sheared parts which will tumble and emerge ornamented with various burdens, with a disavowing, with an amnesia initiative, an absence—as with impressions left by fine things in the silt of your gut. To droop, to lilt, to dab ointment, to rotate with attention to brittle sockets, to plummet with the intention to feel the drop——
This bitterness, at being in plain sight.
Is it true, we trap them inside the way we tell their stories?
And then grandma begins to ask us about lives she encountered in a reality we do not remember sharing, constructed of dream memories, which are, for her, somatic truths. Maybe for her, a lifeworld of sleep or filtered light becomes more palatable as waking life increasingly disorientates——that also she senses the burden of these interlacing passages. Watery being disturbs us toward interfering frequencies. A new village of music.
Grandma in drift comforts me. I do not feel guilty about this.
We are all in ways made ugly, accountably disparaged, if we make space for accounting. Who do we harm when we call out a lack, and how can we ask what remains to perform legibility? Are these experiments in justice, in ethics? Will I remember the gesture, its feeling? Will all the labors I’ve left out?
It is a beautiful animal future.
Our entangled care and suffering crash into being, in painting this is called bleeding and I read in this impermanent emergence of what is made and shared among you, us. Sometimes I hear in threes.
JFK Randhawa lives in los angeles. most recently, j's work has appeared in bæst, a journal of queer forms & affects. you can find more of j's work and contact information at jfkrandhawa.com