04 January 2023

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Scroll down for previous articles]

‘I am because we are’ is to me a far more wholesome proposition than ‘I think, therefore I am.’ This is why I am perplexed when the ‘collective’ is championed by certain individuals and groups only and only if the relevant actions keep intact political and economic systems that are all about individuals.

I am surprised when people swear by roundly discredited theories about competition always being healthy and that when people pursue individual self-interest the aggregate outcome is the best available or indeed possible. They do on occasion throw in another discredited lie, ‘trickle down,’ even though history has shown that nothing trickles down except blood, sweat and tears and if anything is subjected to gravitational pull it’s only crumbs tossed around and this only if it is remembered that the labour of the starving cannot be extracted as profit.  

I have discussed struggles and cooperation, arguing that the latter is more wholesome, but I wasn’t thinking of any of this. My friend from another continent and another century in whose veins run rivers of Native American history, Maceo Martinet, had posted an observation by the late inimitable Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, taken from the Facebook page of the Zapatista Organización which I assume is run by the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional or ‘Zapatista Army of National Liberation’).

He titled it ‘Another World Already Exists’ or maybe that’s the title the EZLN chose or, who knows, Galeano himself. It said ‘Nests United’ at the bottom and I really don’t know if that’s the title of a poem, an essay or book! What’s between is interesting. Get ready to fly, friends.

"Perhaps mutual help
and community consciousness
they are not human inventions.
Perhaps the housing cooperatives,
let's just in case, have been
inspired by the birds.
In South Africa and elsewhere,
hundreds of bird pairs join together,
from forever, to build their nests
sharing, for all, everyone's work.
They start by creating a large straw roof and,
under that roof, every couple knits their nest,
that unites others in a big block
of apartments rising to the most
tall branches of the trees."

So I did some cursory research and found that indeed there are certain bird species that not only have communal housing, if you will, but raise the young collectively.

I was reading about birds, nests, cooperatives and cooperation. I remembered futures dreamt of and talked about with Maceo. I was wandering in that long ago when the unplanned narratives unfolded in layers of blue in and out of ‘shadows of tender fury,’ the title of a collection of missives written by Subcommandante Marcos, the poetic voice of the Zapatistas at the time.’ And then a familiar song made its way through conversations in a coffee shop.

I had first heard ‘Over the Rainbow’ in a production by the Wendy Whatmore Academy (late 1970s). I didn’t know back then that it was a ballad composed by Harold Arlen to lyrics written by Yip Harburg for the 1939 film, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ which was adapted from Frank Baum’s novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,’ published in 1900. I would read of arguments that Baum was, in the novel, describing the political economy of that time.

The line that caught my attention and stayed and stayed was this:

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh, why can't I?

Blue is the colour I associated with Maceo for he once described a romantic encounter thus: ‘everything was blue.’ But in this instance, it was not colour that caught my attention but flight. And it had to do with Maceo, the Zapatistas and Galeano. And of course the ideas of the collective and cooperation that have inspired all of us.

Another world. That’s what we dreamed of. Another world already exists, I had just read that claim. I cannot fly and I became conscious of this disability. ‘Birds can,’ I told myself.

And the first few lines of the song that I heard a girl called Dilhara Perera (playing Dorothy Gale) sing in that other innocent century kept coming back time after time:

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

Who knows how many bluebirds have flown about how many rainbows since 1900? Who knows how many birds in how many species have laid eggs in a single nest and participated in collective incubation, defence and food delivery?

I thought of Maceo and I decided to send him blueness drawn from ancient waters and ribboned with pieces of rare sky on rain-heavy days, more than six years after we last shared words with each other: ‘we are, brother, we were and we will be, and therefore I am and you are too.’

Other articles in this series:

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road