In Nothing Matters many things actually do matter. I’ve had this manuscript for a few months, read it some months ago and recently came back to it. Some aspects of life just got in the way in between. As a West Indian national living in Trump’s America, I am riveted by this work because it takes me through the tragedy and despair of living and survival, a reminder that this is very difficult and damn near impossible for some of us wherever in the world we may be.
A collage of sorts, the writing shifts from prose to haiku and poems crossing a physical landscapes including Jamaica, the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago.
Afifa Aza traces the shape-shifting capacities of the work from the start: how it “was first a poem. / spit from frustration” and we’re at once confronted with death — the dead babies at the University Hospital in Jamaica. Aza asks hard questions about the flimsy premises we rely on as global citizens and nationals of the so-called developing world, dependent on models of IMF growth that do nothing to stem the tide of Jamaica’s homicide rate, stop the importation of plastic rice or save the dead babies: “i think about the babies. / their vulnerability. / i think about being a human being / with all that i know i could not / manage to do something.”
“What i am exploring” situates the reader inside the author’s worldview and reminds us that Aza is simultaneously exploring herself in this work, as “African” and “an artist” with “a phd” while touching on complexities of nationhood and history drenched with stolen African blood.
“Haikus have become my version of / a vocal riddim” — this line to me encapsulates some of the rhythms of this section, the repetition, the recurring images of dead babies and violence.
By no means strictly traditional Haiku, Aza takes liberties with the form, melds and reinscribes.
Aza’s observation that “we caan breathe”, comes from “the red sea”, a powerful, pain-laden poem. This is a Jamaican patois rendering of a Black Lives Matter rallying chant, “I can’t breathe”, which were last words tragically uttered by Eric Garner before he died at the hands of the NYPD. Aza’s description of violence, bridged by these words, links the circle of global anti-black violence from end to end. Even in black majority places, white supremacy festers in a multitude of ways and anti-blackness complicated by shade and class and in collusion with wider systems of oppression and inequity, play a role in whose lives are deemed worthless and who is more exposed to the worst kinds of violence and state negligence.
Furthermore, those overarching systems of inequity don’t want folks empowered and require communities to be mired in poverty. Aza knows this too and this is what the questions asked in “untitled” allude to:
do we applaud
poor people for their resilience?
don’t we make their lives easier?