Body of Land; this novel begins…

…. as a blog. I’m going to blog at least part of this novel A BODY OF LAND from here in Los Angeles, after attending a conference at LA EcoVillage last weekend where some of the issues I address are being lived out in real time, on real soil with water…

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Feel free to leave a comment or question about this work in the dialogue box below.   And so it begins:


Call it a protracted war or you can call it peace.  Most likely you won’t speak of it at all.  You wouldn’t think of it probably if I hadn’t brought it up just now.  It wouldn’t otherwise be noticed.  I’m not exempting myself from this not noticing tendency.  These things happen, keep happening, and I wound up here in this little intentional community with some chickens in the middle of Los Angeles, and it all feels rather random.  Oh yeah, there’s a postage stamp featuring one of the buildings mentioned in the novel; truth’s stranger than fiction.

To put this in historical perspective, though, even if none of the people in the story here are historical figures – I’ve made it all up – they found the bodies of some people dead there at the end of the revolution in Grenada in US body bags.  I know that was many years ago, several wars ago.  I’m just telling you, I read about it in the newspaper, not the same newspaper I was working for when I did the story about the murder trials.  I had a hell of a time getting them to let me do that story at all.  No one was interested, they said.  The rescue mission, or U.S. invasion as it was called depending on who you were talking to, was over and now the Middle-East is the news again.  But here in Los Angeles someone is still following that old war and this should be noted.  Jot it down in your notebook just to satisfy me:  Some bodies were found in an unmarked grave, in U.S. body bags.  I’m just saying…

But this story here isn’t about the Grenadians:  From the get-go, I said it:  let them tell their own story.  They have, in fact, done so.  Several different accounts.  You might want to read their accounts.  All I’m saying is that all these years after the revolution they finally found some bodies and the body bags were U.S. army issue.

I was there at the trial of the accused, and the Americans were all over the place.  At one point the judge called for a recess because the testimony could not be heard above the racket of U.S. helicopters overhead, right above the courtroom.  It was a practice maneuver.  What the hell were they practicing for?  All that’s happened since?  Maybe they learned a lot on that little field trip, about how to control the story.  Okay, but about the bodies.  During the trial the accused wouldn’t answer because they were, in turn, accusing the Americans of orchestrating the whole thing, including the trial (and in retrospect that doesn’t seem far from the truth. )  Here, in a court of law they were accused of murder and also of burning the bodies.  No one said anything different, no one said that this isn’t what happened, couldn’t have been what happened, not if these bodies were finding eternal rest (or whatever) in U.S. body bags.  Someone could have said something, even if the accused had in fact murdered these people and had just left the bodies for the Americans to find, left them there in the sun – I’m sorry but it could have happened – or left them in the morgue, then someone in the U.S. Department of NMWCSJ (Not Messing With Another Country’s System of Justice).  Someone could have come forward during the trial of the accused and said, “Look, these guys might have done the murdering – that’s for your jury here to decide – but for the record, we disposed of the bodies and you’ll find them here.”  It would have given the families some peace.  It would have been setting the record straight.  No one said any such thing.

No one came forward to speak the simple truth.  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  No.  No one is wondering, well, except a few people, the families involved, families and friends of the accused and of the dead.  The latter wanted to claim the bodies when they were eventually found, even after all this time.  Okay, that’s another story, another element for another record.

Okay.  Did you know that this most American of words, ‘okay’, is probably derived from an African word used in the markets in the south of what is now the U.S., a mercantile expression that is passed on from mother to infant.  It involves continental shifts, the most simple expressions, as in:  Let’s just finish these biscuits, okay?

I’m just saying okay: so it goes.  So it goes and they all live happily ever after or not, meaning they do or don’t live and they are or aren’t happy, and their stories lead to this story I’m finally putting out there years after the fact.  Decades now.  After friends and family put up with this.  The Toronto Star paid to do the reportage, the Canada Council gave me a grant to write the first draft and the Ontario Arts Council gave me a grant to finish the book, thank you all very much.  We’ll start again now, here, we’ll start with Vida and her children and we’ll get to the rest eventually, and I wind up here to this nice little place we’ve got here in LA with some chickens but mostly people.  Some dreams come true, but you have to dream them first, and then you have to wake up.

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Body of Land

There is a cautionary tale behind this blog:  a night spent long ago with the poet Mazisi Kunene.  This part of the story I’d forgotten until just now.  The poets were droning on and I was appalled at the pretentiousness, but my publisher was the organizer of this reading and I was sitting at her table.  It seemed there was no escape.  He offered me an escape.

He told me how this lapse into inauthenticity, this extravagant display of inauthenticity we’d just witnessed, was a problem for North American artists.  As soon as you achieve any fame or notoriety you begin creating for and through that persona.  I told him I have totally escaped the trap by achieving absolutely no fame nor notoriety, but he shook his finger at me, warning, “It’s always a danger.  Always!”

The manuscript begins with another insight he shared in one of his epic poems:

“Death is an illusion, a transformation,

Whose truth is revealed to those who keep alive their bonds.

Through sacrifice the living continue to commune with the dead,

Yet how lucky we are they do not break through the gates of silence;

We could go insane from the challenge of two uncertain worlds.”

Mazisi Kunene, Emperor Shaka the Great

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