photo by Alex Lear 




milton nascimento


in the scheme of things, as flows this river called life, our barges momentarily close to each other, because the currents are what they are, fast running & strong, with an undertow that will sweep you off into areas you don't want to go if you don't steer your craft with determination, because there are also so many lights and sights on the shore, so many distractions, so many invitations to dock and get lost in enjoying the landside diversions, because there is sometimes fog on the river and also because of our natural wariness—and that's really a wrong description, our wariness is not natural, our wariness is "nurtured," after being on the river awhile one learns that everybody who rides a barge is not necessarily a fellow traveler—because of all of that and more, especially this fog and just the speed we travel, a speed which discourages skipping around from boat to boat, a speed which sometimes does not allow us to fully grasp what is happening as someone whizzes by us and we are also moving real fast and here passes us somebody else moving faster, like amiri baraka says, somebody's fast is another body's slow, and who knows when you are on your boat alone or I on mine, alone, who knows, and we be trying to make our way, even those of us straining to push our barge up river, no matter the direction we all are struggling along, all of us once issued from the mouth waters of our mother's womb are actually headed downward toward that big sea wherein we will become part of the eternal dust/water & spirit of this universe, how long do we have on the river, who knows, where we dock, that is our choice, how long we sit there, and then again, sometimes it is not really our choice, sometimes, like our ancestors we are forced into spaces and not given choices, not given the space to decide how to maneuver and negotiate our time on the river, fortunately, for us, we have a bit more leeway than did our ancestors in this regard—and I give thanx and praise to them because their struggles on, or should I say "in" the river, swimming without aid of boat or oar, swimming sometimes without even driftwood to hold to, swimming with balls and chains shackled to their limbs, the ways in which they miraculously waded through and parted the waters to make a way for us, to create an opportunity for us to acquire barges and boats and other vessels, the navigational lessons they learned and passed down to us, learned on the sly, on the fly, anyway they could, and passed on, goodness, we must give thanx and praise -- so here float we, sometimes moving on our own steam, crisscrossing the river of life, sometimes out of fuel just drifting, some times shut down in despair, and sometimes we're just out there and we've got everything we need to keep going except the will to do the hard work of moving our boats along on the big muddy of this river whose waters are increasingly polluted and stinking and sometimes even on fire, rivers literally on fire burning oil slicks, or sometimes we are in serious disrepair, rudders broke, holes in the hull and the like, sometimes got everything we need to move except good common sense so we waste our resources and the richness of our legacies handed down to us from those who struggled to get to the water in the first place, who waged the herculean battle just to get down by the riverside, when I use this metaphor of floating on the river of life, I mean more than just you and i, more than just a line I toss out to make conversation, I mean something so deep, so deep, so when I call out to you in the lightless night or through the morning fog, when I holler out my identifying shout and momentarily maneuver close, close enough so that our barges bump gently against each other, touch and go, as we float on down the river, and it is morning, or just after noon in a crowded river, or late past midnight and we are the only vessels visible in the darkness, or whenever, when I shout and sing my request, ask your permission to board, it is in the fullest awareness that my request is not about a merger of companies but rather a momentary sharing, a temporal but not temporary alignment of spaces and personalities, temporal in that it is time bound, you've got places to go, people to meet, things to do, and so do i, and neither of us intends to leave our vessels unattended for long, nor either of us give up our vessel for life aboard the other's, and similarly, I understand should I hear you sing, unlike sailors mythisizing some madness about the sound of women singing on the water is a siren song that will lead them to ruin, I understand—i'm listening to milton nascimento at this moment and his music is so mystically beautiful, so ethereal, I mean his voice climbs like sunlight descending on a shaft through the clouds except that it reverses the flow and rises where the sunbeam comes down his voice ascends and the melodies he utters and the stories in his voice, I don't speak portuguese but I hear milton's meaningful beauty, and when I read the lyrics translated it helps or doesn't help, but all i've really got to do is open my ears and listen, and that is the beauty of great art, we don't have to know how it was done, in many cases don't even have to know the language, especially when it's music or visual, all we have to do is be open to beauty and it will take our hand and lead us there, it will kiss us full on the mouth, lips open with the surprise of the tongue moving lucidly in and out our mouths thrilling us to our toes, ah milton nascimento—I understand you are not asking for anything all the time even though this knowing is forever, the paradox of life on the river, nothing lasts, everything flows on, everything changes, but awareness and knowledge of the deepness and connections between soul mates stretches pass any fence that time can erect, breeches the dams built to hold us back and exploit the movement of our waters, so sometimes I will call to you, or you to me, and if we are close enough and if the time permits, I mean if we are not busy steering through some particular rough waters or on a mission that requires all our attention, if there is time we will tie up to each other and one board the other for a moment, and that's all I ask, permission to board, not to stay, nor to take anything with me, but to be in you, with you for whatever sharing time there is for us on this river called life, encircled in your embrace, and, of course, you in mine, for whatever time…


—kalamu ya salaam