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Dorianne Laux

Dorianne Laux

Dorianne Laux's most recent collections are The Book of Men and Facts about the Moon, both from W.W. Norton. Laux is also the author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions, as well as a fine press edition, Dark Charms from Red Dragonfly Press. Laux teaches in the M.F.A. Program at North Carolina State University.

Lake Havasu

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Highway 1

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Zulu, Indiana

is an unincorporated town on old U.S. 30, named
after the South African Tribe Paul Simon sang beside
on Graceland. Graceland, home of Elvis Presley,
far from Johannesburg where native Joseph Shabalala's
Ladysmith Black Mambazo gave Simon the Zulu nickname
Vulindlela - He who has opened the gate. Johannesburg,

sister city to New York where millions of people speak
800 languages and listen to Paul Simon, as they do in Zulu,
Indiana where there is only one person with the surname Zulu,
Andrew Zulu, Zulu meaning heaven, place of endless burial,
yellow, mirror less, the opposite of Graceland, which has
I don't know how many mirrors, and five graves: grandmother,

mother, father, Elvis and his still-born twin. Graceland,
a one family town with one white-columned mansion
which features an indoor jungle, complete with waterfall,
although according to Albert Goldman, "nothing in the house
is worth a dime." I like that. And that Paul Simon after seeing
Elvis perform Bridge Over Troubled Water in Vegas

(circa 1970), was reported to have said, "That's it,
we might as well all give up now." But Paul did not give up,
and went on to compose "African Skies" and Joseph Shabalala
who was born a herdboy in the township of Ladysmith has gone
on to outsell, in his country, the Beatles and Michael Jackson.
And one Andrew Zulu, who I found on Facebook, looks about 12

and loves Lil Wayne. Lil Wayne, born in New Orleans, son
of a 19 year old mother, a father who left for good two years later,
who wrote his first rap song at the age of eight and left it
on the record company's answering machine. Lil Wayne,
a man with a thousand tattoos: on his back a prayer
in cursive script, on his belly the name of a band

he once belonged to, one palm inscribed with the word gun,
a trigger finger that says trigger. Even his eyelids are tattooed,
the left says fear, the right, god. Lil Wayne, who before
he was ferried to Rikers on weapons charges
had 8 root canals, then paid to have 150,000 dollars worth
of diamonds embedded in his teeth. His dentist, Dr. Mongalo,

when asked about the price, quoted Don Quixote, saying
A tooth is worth more than a diamond. Diamonds, major export
of South Africa and the shimmer behind Grand Apartheid, the Sixties,
when Joseph had to have a pass to travel across his own city. By now,
many young people in Soweto don't much remember Apartheid
and have become part of the middle class called "Black Diamonds".

One Tana Sigasa, during the anti-Apartheid struggle, hid his AK-47
under his bed with his guitar, the case used to smuggle messages
and weapons between exiled South Africans in Botswana and Soweto.
Paul Simon wrote "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes," a song
whose triadic harmonies I can't get out of my head. Simon says
the song is a-political, even though critics swear it's hidden in the lyrics.

Sigasa has been to Soweto's Maponya Mall but says its glittering
new world has no appeal. "There were many who lined their pockets
after the victory over Apartheid. The poor were left behind."
He says he believes that the corruption charges against President Zuma,
(also referred to by his initials, JZ), who was once was arrested
for his anti-Apartheid beliefs, and is now accused of corruption,

racketeering, fraud and rape, is the work of malicious conspirators.
"Zuma's blood flows with the people," Sigasa says, and points
to the words in red on the back of his T-shirt: "The Struggle Continues."
I could not find the reason behind the naming of the town of Zulu,
and until this morning did not know that unincorporated means
a place outside the municipal council, remote areas

with low populations, the territory not formally incorporated
into the United States and therefore subject to being sold
or transferred to another power, or, conversely, being granted
independence. In other words, little kingdoms within the kingdom,
with their own ceremonies and frictions, their own ears of corn
or antelope horns, their homegrown wines of basement vintage.

Whatever we are afraid of, it will change. Whatever
mistakes we make, we will become what we are
in spite of our blunders. These are the syllables
I sing as I rummage through my purse at the end
of a long day, looking for something, then forgetting
what it is: Tan na na, ta na na na na.

Letter To My Dead Mother

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