Magic 50 of COVID-19 Poems by Sandile Ngidi and Yuri Kageyama(From Aug. 31, 2020 ~April 5, 2021. All rights reserved by the artists.)
us to these basal stems.
petals fresh & resilient.
breathes songs of roots strong.
a healthy leaf mass, fruits defying leaf scorch defining these heavy seasons.
words dancing in the winds.
flutter by the slowly swelling river.
of their wings play in the light.
songs of currents deep.
Grass bend soft with the seasons, shining dew recalling these tears of birth.
words dancing in the winds.
Far in the
somewhere of dazzling seas,
stops the seasons of fruitful friendships.
field to field feeding the imagination,
spring of delights, radished words.
gesturing towards well-shaped flower leaves, moistured mosaics of words.
words dancing in the winds,
sparrows warble, not in fun but fear,
like debris, dirt, weeds and words,
and deserts, swamps and streams,
The now of
Dreams connect the All of history, the eternity of Forgotten nightmares.
the rooster is red,
edge sinking Black lives.
The wind is
Eldorado Park, slain Nathaniel Julies is rising.
gardens strut their stuff,
skyline in full sun,
eversick landscape. Life.
whispers in tanka and haiku,
oceans, red, blue, yellow and black,
pain, repeating of life,
Hakamada just smiles and believes
is no flower.
beast-like on a darkened Mozambique road –
God of Black
women now rise,
She is duped
and gets easily used;
defiant and easily explodes;
She is vain,
obsessed with appearance;
herself go, looks fat and shabby;
She is too
quiet and can’t speak up;
psychotic and can’t shut up;
She is all these things, all at once,
Would you dance naked on your veranda
seeing madigras brass band
mad boots on grass,
killing your soul’s shongololo?
Beyond the gleam of your silverware, the sun still shines.
Shun the sun if drunk in the polemic of your vomit.
The palm tree is tall still,
translucent like briny waves
pagoda zooming to a giant moon
never come back
To an earth
that’s unjust, unequal, unfree;
never look back
At those who
have sought to capture her
We hello each other,
a morning ritual.
He walks into the dew,
whistling with the ancestors.
Mapholoba, a shepherd breathing poverty.
This dark mist, common as whites walking their dogs.
Seeing them pee with glee.
His dogged legs a plea.
Four an unlucky number,
sounding the same
as the word for “death,”
the 442 has two fours
and a two,
any even number unlucky,
inevitable separation coming,
and Go For Broke they did,
from desert Camps,
to win what they never had,
the right to be American,
not an enemy.
Casting a warm eye on this land
my line to kiss her forehead
give her gladness sandwiches
water my mother’s spinach
add black pepper to the seasons
good taste into the bowl
a poetry pot firing the broil
the slow dawn of a brighter day.
Taking a lazy walk next to this river
the gulls kiss the tips of the water
children laugh in floppy hats
I remember my father’s beatings
my mother’s Edamame
cooked in Salt, served with cold beer
a poetry pot firing the broil
the slow dawn of a brighter day.
Stratus clouds in the skies
Wishing blue skies smiled
Chuckled like Louis Armstrong
The air was friendly
Unbanning lazy solitude strolls
Poets oets perching in trees
Chickening every silly sunset
Dazzled by darkness
Her seductive light.
Dot the aging
skies of night
each window tells
face of every city,
smoothed only by time
His seductive weeps
Await that trickle of dawn
after a long trip is a place
where one returns
changes into fresh clothes
puts the heavy load down
drinks cold water
eats porridge and amasi
while the dog licks wounds back to health
where suicidal fantasies die
hopelessly lacking any poetic imagination.
exhaustion breathe through
the night, screams
of wind choked silent,
on rain-filled waters,
river, sea to sea, blood to blood,
is it dawn somewhere
do the birds
care enough to remember
the messages from that somewhere else?
He says hi
inkabi back from jail
straw grass world
can’t be licked for first milk.
He’s a local
no hate blues.
Do I offer my hand
to the killer-ox
Body seducing sleep
Swinging on her axis
Tell the night be tight.
Behind the sun sleep is light.
In dreams lovers kiss the ground in flight
Saliva no dread on Covid lane.
Children dance the morning dew into song.
That needed daily
fix of kimchee,
Rattles shoji screens,
Like gently shaking
Even in dementia
A ring that
Rainbow and diamond,
Promising a love
Like the immeasurable,
Of Truth and
In a deadly pandemic
greed so pathetic
muzzled jingle bells
Wakashio in Mauritius
kills marine life
even after Fukushima
drills invade the Okavango
Death nudges closer
The pandemic world we share,
Skin cracked of disinfectant,
Sweat dripping on masks,
Prayer and hope,
Winston Monwabisi “Mankunku” Ngozi
Pain pierces the heart like an assassin’s knife.
See the restless sea.
Shingled memories, the coffee blues.
Rumours of Christmas in the warming moist air.
Humming with the moon, its tears.
Pleading for the lost lotus flower seeds.
one pandemic year
into the next,
those who hate
blinded to truth and fact
but we recognize
more than ever
what is important,
America, poop fools climb walls in tantrums.
Haters copiously eat garlic.
Whiteness is no guesswork.
Hard stools on TV.
For COVID-19 deaths to be sweet & swift.
In my hood, the owl headlines death.
A cry for a strong midrip.
The stubborn heaviness in our shoulders.
The bloodshot eyes, now we know,
our lives are being irrevocably torn apart.
Those who are ill, dying and dead, are familiar names.
Death is no longer a metaphor.
The nightmare. The nightmare.
Since we are already here.
Poetry of faith at the full.
Kindly keep these sandwiches, too.
To be shared at the golden hour
That poets dream of,
Even as it madly thunders.
Our poem will end
When we overcome;
We will celebrate
As we always do
Laugh, belittle, ridicule,
Call me naive
Whatever is up
To silence stereotype enslave.
The dread of your dying wick.
A single lung blighting all joy.
Memories of your dead mother.
Your pus-filled body.
A cry for green stones of home. Hot springs.
Jail is sad.
Prisoners die at this cursed hour.
Now on my kneeling mat, milling the moon.
At the local dumpsite, I flinch
improvise a mind-soul spin.
Kids playing atop the site,
happy-hip outdoor crib with a view.
Good times rolling like Kamala Harris,
dogs fighting over smelly nappies.
Kids running away, stained condoms
They are doing it.
it used to be simple
getting on a plane
breathing without a mask
touching a doorknob
and not being afraid
it used to be simple
laughing on an elevator
just going out
Mqombothi plastic cups.
Lives dangling on the lion’s jaws.
Ease the storm beloved ancestors.
We miss the magic of hugging the clay pot.
The odd belch.
The tickling cold stir on lips.
The Khongisa spirit.
Songs against thunder and disease.
(Section 35 was written by Sandile Ngidi on the day of the death of legendary South African vocalist, and his friend, Sibongile Khumalo, evoking the spirit of one her great songs, a prayer to the gods of Africa. Let us mourn in prayer this collective loss as we face a world torn by the pandemic.)
Shivers of monster icebergs
Fevers of raging forest fires
Fuzzy spikes running amok
Vessels organs flesh and muscle
Dropping phlegm immunity bombs
More virus more virus more virus
Tentacles piercing nails red-blue
Hoping to wipe out Humanity
Weighing who gets to live
Which rich nations get vaccines first
The vaccine arrives in the rain,
I wave on TV,
frown lines of relief.
Puppy-happy, playing fetch
The bride is here, for
Waves crash onto shore,
a swash of stars
arresting the frozen hours.
Maize seedlings ready, hands to earth.
Yurikamome float like lotus
Heaven on earth
This river of fruit and birth,
A moment in this pandemic Hell
That enslaves, rapes, steals,
Infections of greed and envy
Humming leaves giving rhythm to the reticent day.
Mapholoba off to his cattle post.
Our morning ritual in flight.
Salutes to sunrise.
Laughter shared like bread.
A mbhubhudlo bond.
The heaven of village handshakes.
Hot pink buds are shaking dew,
Airplanes roar over clouds of spring
And the weeping of sirens,
Piercing the city smog;
We wonder if it’s COVID-19
Or some other emergency;
We pray for anshin anzen,
Safe and secure,
As elusive as those broken promises.
Sibiya’s laughs are boiled maize kernels we throw in the air,
Right into our mouths.
Sweet rain drops.
In the wasp-killing sun, we breathe dreams into the soil,
Muting the weeping sirens.
The soil’s ulnar verse spreads and breaks like seawaves.
We are silk songs.
We wake up today to the Earth shuddering,
Rumbling in fear of human evil,
Magnitude 7.3 almost midnight.
We wake up today to water levels sinking
In reactors that sank 10 years ago
Meltdowns in Fukushima,
Half-cracked containers spewing,
No one gets close without dying;
Remembering human greed,
Evacuating in fear of radioactive imperfection.
You ntanga yethu, David Sibisi.
Walking talking with stoic grace.
Smile bristles giving the day her delayed radiance.
Some milk cows perished in the recent hellish rains.
But you braving the forest,
giving the village her health.
It’s a year since that freezing wind struck,
left its bloodied knife on the floor.
The winding path of pain, indefinite tracks on a hill.
The dead can’t smell the flowers, and play with their dogs anymore.
Yet memory drapes each day with protean seeds.
Smell the soy sauce cooking
See the squints stab desert skies
Hear the heartbeat taiko vibration
Feel the texture of kimono silk
Taste the ocean sashimi brine
So Simple: Has it been a year?
We are alive we mourn filled with love
Can you remember how that love made you afraid?
where brutal spiderworlds
In the name of tradition,
the kikuyu loses her green heart.
Tribesmen betray justice.
Blowing their noses at a woman,
as she cries for justice.
When her speech is chilli hot,
her eyes a stubborn flame.
Vagina warm and snug,
Dark and tight Slant Eyes,
Shot at a Massage Spa;
Skin as smooth as China Silk,
Straight Black Hair a Tightrope,
Shot at a Massage Spa;
Serve your addiction
But Not racially motivated,
Shot at a Massage Spa;
He just had a bad day,
The women are dead.
Sunny days are darkening at load-shedding speed.
Seasons of foul stench.
Skunks squealing with careless glee.
Children too happy to play outside.
Far from the smell of the political millipede.
To wink at the transient sunrise.
Holding on to its warm scarlet scarf.
Oblivious to the pandemic,
Sakura buds fatten,
Burst in benevolent explosions,
Millions of screams
Crying out to Stop Hate,
Pink pompoms spilling Pink Periods
On a timeless Manuscript
Of pavement and dirt.
Bright skies and the sea full of grace, heroic balsamic kisses.
The world suddenly looks like a splendid and hopeful place when sakura starts to bloom, right about this time in Tokyo. It happens without fail every year. But it’s so dazzling it feels unexpected. This morning, an old man was gazing up at a tree, probably the first cherry blossom tree he saw on his walk. His eyes, behind the glasses, I knew had seen so much, and was seeing all of that, again, in the flowers.
3.11 ON OUR MINDS I’m going to share, if I may, some of my stories I did for The Associated Press, covering the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disasters that slammed Japan in 2011, and my followup stories over subsequent years. I am grateful to all the sources who spoke with AP, to The AP for this experience that has shaped me, and to journalism. Here goes:
My AP Story May 23, 2013 on this: “Keeping the meltdown-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in northeastern Japan in stable condition requires a cast of thousands. Increasingly the plant’s operator is struggling to find enough workers, a trend that many expect to worsen and hamper progress in the decades-long effort to safely decommission it.”
My AP Story March 10, 2010 on soy sauce’s miracle “comeback.” “RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan (AP) _ When the tsunami warning sounded, workers at the two-centuries-old soy sauce maker in northeastern Japan ran up a nearby hill to a shrine for safety, and watched in disbelief as towering waters swallowed their factory.”
I do stories and sometimes photos and video for The Associated Press, the world’s biggest and most trusted news organization. The link to all my stories in 2019 and 2018, and I’m starting anew here with all my AP Stories in 2020, the Year of the Mouse:
My AP Story July 3, 2020 on Japan formally filing the extradition request with the U.S. on two Americans arrested in Massachusetts and accused in his escape.
My AP Story June 11, 2020 as the saga of Carlos Ghosn returns as Japan seeks the extradition of two Americans, recently arrested in the U.S., and wanted in Japan on suspicion of having helped a criminal escape, meaning that extraordinary flight of Ghosn to Lebanon hiding in a box.
My AP Story June 12, 2020
on the high court upholding a lower court conviction on data
manipulation for Mark Karpeles, who headed a Tokyo bitcoin exchange that
My AP Story May 28, 2020 on how Nissan is closing auto plants, in Spain and in Indonesia, as it sinks into losses for the first time in 11 years.
A journal of my poetry, music and other thoughts that I kept from April through May 2020 about living in a post-pandemic world has now been published in the special issue of Ishmael Reed’s KONCH online literary magazine. And what great company I am in.
My AP Story Nov. 25, 2019 on Iwao Hakamada, a former boxer who spent 48 years in prison for murders he says he didn’t commit, taking part in Pope Francis’ Mass at the Tokyo Dome.
In this photo provided by Mario Marazziti, Iwao Hakamada sits in his seat at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo as he waits for Pope Frances’ Holy Mass on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Hakamada, a former Japanese professional boxer who spent 48 years in prison for murders he says he did not commit was among some 50,000 people greeting Pope Francis as he entered Tokyo Dome stadium to celebrate Mass on Monday. (Mario Marazziti/Giovanna Ayako via AP)
I am a contributor to this AP Story Feb. 8, 2019, with comments from Ghosn’s lawyer and spokeswoman about his Versailles wedding: Ghosn paid for all expenses, didn’t know the rental would be charged to Renault and offers to reimburse Renault.
Nissan CEO at the news conference in Yokohama headquarters. Photo by Shuji Kajiyama.
I met the former inmate behind this story a few years ago, in 2016, when I was putting together my story “The Very Special Day” with artwork by Munenori Tamagawa. I was thinking of just stapling together printouts, but the visual artist had other ideas. He wanted a real book, and he said he knew someone who knew how to design books, a skill, as it turned out, he had learned in a Japanese prison. I didn’t ask questions. I just assumed he had committed a serious crime because of the long time he had been incarcerated, but felt he deserved to be treated no different from anyone else as he had served his time. I did not even know until he told me his story that he was asserting his innocence. This is his story:
He spent 15 years behind bars for a murder he confessed to, but he says he didn’t commit. His father hanged himself in shame. While in prison, he bit off a piece of his arm in a suicide attempt. Placed on half a dozen tranquilizer pills, he was an addict by the time he finally got out, four years ago.
Fengshui Iwazaki, who has changed
his name to protect himself from the social backlash, is still trying to adjust
to being back in the real world.
“Fifteen years _ that’s a whole
generation in a lifetime,” he says, his eyes clear, child-like, much younger
than his 41 years.
His story underlines the treatment
convicts get in Japan, a society that’s so insular and crime-free most people
don’t know much about what it’s like to live the life of a criminal. The arrest
of Nissan’s former Chairman Carlos Ghosn, charged with financial misconduct, is
helping bring international scrutiny to this legal system, which human rights
groups have long criticized as harsh and unfair.
Iwazaki had never before spoken to
me about his experiences, how two decades ago, he had made headlines as a
was as though I was a monster,” Iwazaki recalled.
Iwazaki and others who went through
Japan’s criminal system say prosecutors and police come up with a story-line for
a confession. While interrogated, Iwazaki was taken to the mountains where the
body had been found and directed to point in the right spots, he said.
His girlfriend had been strangled
to death, and he instantly emerged the prime suspect.
He resisted at first but signed
the confession after three weeks of being interrogated daily without a lawyer
present, standard practice in Japan.
He says he was bullied, his hair
pulled, the table banged. After a while, it was easy to cave in.
He believes the real murderer might
be the man who had adopted his then-3-year-old daughter from a previous
relationship. He had planned to live near her someday, not ever telling her he
was the father, just to be close to her. She died in a car accident while he
was serving time.
Prosecutors say they are merely doing
their jobs and didn’t create the system.
Defense lawyers say suspects sign false
confessions and don’t realize it’s too late to assert innocence later in a
That’s why it is called “hostage
Judges tend to believe the
prosecutors’ story line: the conviction rate in Japan is higher than 99%.
Going against such a powerful
trend takes tremendous courage. Unlike the U.S., prosecutors can appeal, meaning
innocent verdicts can get overturned in a higher court.
The life of imprisonment Iwazaki describes
is austere, isolated and regulated. Each prisoner gets a tiny cell with a
toilet and bedding, unless the prison gets crowded and cells get shared, a
condition that’s increasingly rare.
Communication among inmates is limited
to the 30 minutes of outdoor exercise, or the evening hours, during which TV is
Whenever inmates are transported,
they wait in enclosed booths lined next to each other so prisoners won’t mingle,
called “bikkuri-bako,” or “jack-in-the-box.”
Every morning, the convict changes
into green prison garb and gets marched to a factory within the prison grounds.
Iwazaki did menial work like
placing wooden chopsticks into paper wrapping and packing them in boxes. He also
learned how to work the printing presses.
The toughest time was his
three-year solitary confinement doled out as punishment for being a
troublemaker, he said.
One time, out of frustration, he
smashed a window with his bare hand, which added half a year to his sentence.
He was always curious about why others
were locked up.
One inmate, he learned, had tried
to steal money from an ATM to send his son to college. When a guard found him,
he used a stun gun. The guard had a weak heart and died. And so the charge became
murder while committing grand larceny, a serious offense.
“There are no really bad people in
prison,” Iwazaki says with a conviction that is startling.
There is little in Japanese society
that helps people adjust to life after incarceration.
When Iwazaki was released, he only
had 1,000 yen ($9). He checked into a hospital, pleading insanity. He was running
out of the pills prescribed at the prison.
He finally made it to Eizo Yamagiwa,
a filmmaker who has devoted his life to supporting prisoners. Yamagiwa, who had
visited Iwazaki in prison, gave him money, and Iwazaki finally made it home to
Yamagiwa says only the
authorities’ side of the story gets relayed in Japan, influencing judges and
juries so that trials tend to merely work as rubber-stamps for the prosecutors.
The prison system, he said, is so
devastating most people come out sick and unable to continue with their lives.
He said Iwazaki was an exception
in working hard to live a normal life.
Iwazaki, who had originally
planned to become a schoolteacher, has had his life forever changed.
Retrials to try to overturn guilty
verdicts are rarely granted in Japan. Usually, totally new evidence such as a
DNA test is needed.
Iwazaki is hesitant even to try.
His case is tough because of the mounds of evidence submitted during his trial,
including his confession. His mother has asked he doesn’t pursue a retrial; she
doesn’t want to think about any of it ever again.
Iwazaki lives alone in a stark
room with a tiny drab kitchen and a bathroom. A desk and two chairs are the
On the walls are two drawings signed Masahiro, a man who died on death row. Done meticulously and entirely by pen and pencils, one depicts a bouquet of red roses, the other, Mary and baby Jesus. No one except for Iwazaki had claimed them.
Iwazaki also drew pictures while
in prison: A big close-up of his open mouth filled with pills, a bird’s eye
view of his cell, an inmate working so hard in the factory he is turning into a
The drawings were part of a show of “art by outsiders” in April 2019, in Tokyo, a milestone for Iwazaki. While in prison, authorities had forbidden such exhibits.
Iwazaki is also in a training program to counsel addicts. He already works as a counselor, having studied various therapy methods, which he says helps calm him. Completing the training means better pay.
He has also found a girlfriend, a carefree woman who works at a dot.com and is passionate about saving lions in Africa. They plan to get married and maybe have children.