Justin Su

Ask a Local with José Pinto de Sá: Maputo, Mozambique

With JOSÉ PINTO DE SÁ, translated by Jethro Soutar

José is a contributor to our Luso portfolio coming out in the fall issue.

maputo ask a local

Your name: José Pinto de Sá

Current city or town: Maputo, Mozambique

How long have you lived here: Seventy years, albeit with periods spent abroad as a political refugee or for family reasons

Three words to describe the climate: Tropical, hot and humid

Best time of year to visit? Between May and July, when the humidity and rainfall drops considerably and the average temperature is about 20 degrees Celsius, with a few daily fluctuations

1) The most striking physical features of this city/town are . . .

The light and the sea breeze. The city is built on a red sandstone headland that sticks out, at an average height of 80 meters, into Delagoa Bay, where five rivers from the savannah reach the sea. Up the coast to the east are beaches as far as the eye can see, while to the south the bay is home to an important port, one that is vital to southern Africa’s hinterland. Opposite the city, across the bay, are the Katembe lowlands, now connected to Maputo by the largest suspension bridge in Africa.

2) Historical context in broad strokes and the moments in which you feel this history . . .

Like hermit crabs, different inhabitants have occupied the conch shell of Maputo since the Portuguese first built the city in the late nineteenth century. Back then, the colonists lived in the Cement neighborhoods on the upper side overlooking the bay, in streets bordered by crimson acacias and jacarandas and with pretty houses surrounded by gardens. The black population, meanwhile, inhabited the Reeds,” living in huts made from reeds and sheet metal, with no roads, or electricity, or drinking water, or sewage, or garbage collection etc… After 45 years of independence, this shocking state of affairs has barely changed. A scandalously rich black elite now occupies the Cement, while ordinary Matupenses live in poverty in periphery neighborhoods that grow exponentially due to a rural exodus caused by war. The Maputo metropolitan area has a population of around three million people and the vast majority live in these periphery neighborhoods.

3) Local political debates frequently seem to center on . . . 

The most recent government corruption scandals. The degree of corruption is ridiculously high at every level of Mozambican society, from cabinet ministers to police patrols. The other hot topic is the worsening political-military situation in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. The region, home to the largest deposits of natural gas in the southern hemisphere, has suffered a number of terrorist attacks from alleged Islamist insurgents since 2017. The conflict, which has already caused over a thousand deaths and the displacement of 250,000 people, is well on its way to degenerating into a large-scale war and the government is clearly incapable of containing the situation.

4) Local/regional vocabulary or food?

The day-to-day lingo of Maputo is a mixture of Portuguese (the country’s official language), English (the language of business and a by-product of having a powerful neighbor in South Africa) and two Bantu languages, XiRonga and XiChangana, which are both spoken in the south of Mozambique. This linguistic variety, allied to the harmonious co-existence, in ethnic and religious terms, of Africans, Asians and Europeans, gives the city a heavy sense of Indian Ocean cosmopolitism.

5) The stereotype of the people who live here and what this stereotype misses . . .

Resilience is perhaps the easiest characteristic to attribute to Maputenses given the manifold difficulties they make do with and overcome simply to survive. Mozambique is 180th out of 189 on the United Nations Human Development Index. From precarious housing in shanty towns that flood whenever it rains to public transport that treats them like cattle, life is not easy for most citizens of Maputo. To keep on smiling after all the years of colonial oppression and the successive wars, droughts, floods and epidemics that have plagued the country since independence, shows that we Maputenses are possessed of immense stoicism and an undefeatable sense of humor.

 

José Pinto de Sá is a Mozambican writer, playwright and journalist. His short stories have been published in Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil, France, Belgium and, now, the United States.

Jethro Soutar is a translator of Spanish and Portuguese. He has a particular focus on works from Africa and has translated novels from Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde. He is also editor of Dedalus Africa and a co-founder of Ragpicker Press. Originally from Sheffield in the UK, he now lives in Lisbon, Portugal.

Photo by José Pinto de Sá.

Ask a Local with José Pinto de Sá: Maputo, Mozambique
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Dr. Hope

By EMILY CATANEO 

dr. hope 

Białystok, Poland

Nine hours to Białystok from Berlin, to a city teetering on the Polish border. The train noses through fields of yellow flowers, which to me are eternal reminders of Europe in spring, but which are actually new additions, planted in recent decades for the rapeseed harvest. On the way to Warsaw, we sit in a car with a classical musician, our age, with a confident nose and sculpted, striking eyebrows. “She looks like Anna Karenina,” we whisper. She tells us about witches in Podlachia, because we are going to Podlachia. Past Warsaw, on a hotter train, portly men in cheap suits flank the compartment, carrying the odor of polyester, sweat, spirits.

I’ve brought us east to find traces of that universal language, Esperanto, created by a man from Bialystok named L.L. Zamenhof, a Jewish man, born here when this land was Russian Empire. Legend says he went to the city market as a child, eavesdropped on Yiddish, Russian, German, concluded that division by language was the great tragedy of mankind. What if we all spoke the same tongue? Wouldn’t pogrom and war fall away? He gathered 28 Latin letters, prefixes and suffixes, and he tried to share this with the world, and they called him Dr. Hope.

In Białystok, we stay on the Kozłowa in a high-rise with an ample balcony that reminds me of apartment blocks in St. Petersburg. We are north of the city, past a roundabout sheltering a prewar house, blanched and boarded up. Downtown, buses and cars jostle through sweaty intersections and at the edge of a park, a war memorial tilts over the street, reminding us what happened here. The war, which ended decades ago on this day, was not kind to Bialystok (seventy percent gone) or to Zamenhof: he died of a broken heart during the first war, they say, and during the second, Treblinka came for his daughters. One other child survived by pretending at death in a cemetery.

My friend claims that speaking Esperanto must feel pleasantly empty, unburdened of colonial projects, but I do not think this can be true anymore: the language is too old and it has become freighted with some missed, misplaced promise, even though few have spoken it.

They are proud of Zamenhof, here, at the center that bears his name, a white building straining over a sidewalk, past a maze of inset canal and knotted trees. Here, historian Agnieszka, her hair nearly magenta, points crisp and efficient at the holograms they have arranged to tell the story of Zamenhof and his city (they have few artifacts left, for obvious reasons). Klezmer music floats after us, a cliché and yet it shivers me. This side of Europe, the eastern side, has always held sway over me, maybe because of my mother’s Ashkenazi forebears or just because I’m drawn to sad stories.

Białystok’s Esperantists—those who speak the language—are also proud. These last speakers gather in the basement of the city’s last synagogue. We find them behind a door marked with a green star, Esperantists from France and Holland and from Białystok too, some of them sleeping on the floor and cooking in the pocket of a kitchen, some of them learning the language the way I learned German at an adult education center years ago. The Esperantists cry out “Saluton!” and tell us to pull up a chair.

But not everyone is proud. I hear that some in the city government didn’t want to celebrate Zamenhof on the centennial of his death in 2017, because they said he wasn’t important enough, or because, so run the rumors, his promise-tinged, pre-war ideals were dangerous. And now, just the year before, skinheads had come to a church, a priest had shouted nationalism from his pulpit. These counterideals are seeping up everywhere in this continent, bubbling through the world.

When we leave the synagogue, the sky still holds light. At this time of year, this corner of Europe—Berlin, Stettin, Danzig, Białystok, Pomerania, forests and frozen coasts—keeps the sun late, ten o’clock dusk washing the platzes, the chestnuts, the black spray paint, the steeples, the umbrellas and the outdoor benches, shivering on the knife-edge of hopeful and sad. We settle in on the edge of Kosciuszko, where as a child Zamenhof hatched his idea, and we order beer. The waiter points at us. “Beginning of tourist season!” he declares. Tourists come here to find ghosts of their families, on the edge of nations. They come to find out what was once here, what is here now, and what will be here someday, a question that is hopeful and terrifying. There are skeletons in Poland’s closets, a journalist tells me, but no one will face them.

Esperanto here is both smaller and bigger than I expected. It’s just a hobby, says the president of the Esperanto club, just some statues and a handful of linguistic nerds, and yet he admits that after the centennial controversy more new Esperantists came to the center than ever before. Just a hobby, but pull on the thread and what will you find? And I wonder, what will our actions, our passions and enthusiasms, mean more than a century on? Who will imitate us? Why will people come to our houses, what might they know when they cross our lintels, what might they forget or what might they hope? We drink our beer and the sky cups the sun, refusing to let it set. 

 

Emily B. Cataneo is a writer and journalist from New England. Her fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Indiana Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Lightspeed, and she’s written nonfiction for Slate, NPR, the Baffler, Atlas Obscura, and more. She holds an MFA in fiction from North Carolina State University and she’s the cofounder of the Redbud Writing Project, a creative writing organization based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Find out more about her at emilycataneo.com or follow her on Twitter @emilycataneo.

Dr. Hope
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The Red Picture and the Blue

By JEHANNE DUBROW

dubrow essay

According to the story, my third word—after Mommy and Daddy—was picture.In Zagreb, where I spent the first two years of my life, my mother lifted me from my pram to see the pieces of art. “Look, Jehanne, look at the picture.” On sunny days, we took the funicular from our apartment in the old section of the city, downhill to the lower, newer portion, where we visited galleries or just toured the neighborhoods. Or, we wandered closer to home, through cobblestone streets to St. Mark’s Church—with its ecstasy of colorful roof tiles—only a few blocks away. Even if we stayed indoors, we could gaze down from the windows of our apartment into the courtyard of the Meštrović Atelier, a gallery dedicated to one of Yugoslavia’s most renowned artists. The rumor went that, years before, Meštrović himself had slept in the very rooms where we now slept, ate where we ate, regarded the same medieval views of Zagreb. Our dining room, which was punctuated with a series of rounded alcoves, once displayed the sculptor’s works-in-progress.

The Red Picture and the Blue
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Solidarity and Support

Dear friends,

We at The Common are ashamed by this country’s injustices and support the nationwide protests against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and police brutality. 

Our mission has always been to serve as a public gathering space for the exchange of observations and ideas. Now more than ever we apply ourselves to the work of soliciting and amplifying voices that illuminate.

Solidarity and Support
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Trill

By KRISTA J.H. LEAHY

leahy dispatch

 

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

To sing of what I fear,
shaking my body,
has an integrative power.

Sometimes something is
so funny even my legs laugh.

I do not know
the frequency of god,
but I adore
the frequency of laughter.

Not all frequencies are free.

I’ve learned this the hard way
from people who would profit
from what makes others shake.

Who teaches us to fear?
Who teaches us to laugh?

I would show you aspen
winnowing the wind
so that you would always
ken beauty from quake.

But it is not mine to always.

It is mine to some,
to often,
to rarely,
to mostly,

if I’m lucky,
to mostly   love

Trill
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May 2020 Poetry Feature

By PETER LaBERGE, ROSE McLARNEY, NATHANIEL PERRY, and KERRY JAMES EVANS


New poems by our contributors
:

Peter LaBerge | Reliquary (June)

Rose McLarney | Her Own

Nathaniel Perry | March (I’m far away from home today)

Kerry James Evans | Golgotha

 

Reliquary (June)
By Peter LaBerge

midnight & the dead boys introduce
themselves once more, not by name
but by what they’ve left behind—

            hello Unlicked Stamps.
            hello Blanched Almond
Moon.
            hello Board Games in the
Pantry.

another queer boy’s death in media
res

           the unblinking eye
           of a cavalry horse gone
belligerent…
           last monday it was the
moon.


           nobody asked the moon if it
was

           finished being the moon

           before god popped it from
its socket.

more queer boys in media res. the
queer boys, first their names left out
of the news—

           hello John Doe.
           hello John Doe.
           hello John Doe.

on TV, they sprout names. on TV,
we watch each as boys, falling
through the snow of grainy home
videos—

           i fear we’ve etched each
little face
           in smooth clay like memory,  
           one next to the other,

           then printed them with
ground charcoal

           then left them out in the late-
spring rain
           to de-face like history—

 

Her Own
By Rose McClarney

Sillage is the scent following after
the wearer of perfume moving through a room.

It comes from the French for a wake,
as in the trail left by a jet through the sky.

Once, she thought it was chopped corn stalks,
fermented and fed, in the winter, to pigs.

You can guess the kind of place she came from,
how much of anywhere she’d been. When wind

blew from the direction of the silos,
she didn’t move, would only

raise her own hand to her nose for cover,
for its soap smell, and continue whatever task

she was set to. Flight, that there was other air,
were not ideas she held then.

 
 

March
By Nathaniel Perry

I’m far away from home today
and everything is breaking.
The heat pump stopped, the well went out,
and the dog is still making

us worry with what she is and isn’t
doing. Kate’s been calling
me asking for help, and I
am, to be honest, failing

to be much help at all. I sent
a friend to fix the well,
which he did, but that is really the only
thing I managed. If a bell

rings and you’re not there to hear it
or attend to what it means,
what is your relationship
to the bell? I’ve never been

a monk, but if you don’t rise and pray,
the prayer goes on without you,
I know. When Merton asked his abbot
if he could travel, he flew

to Thailand and died, or maybe was killed,
but his prayers went on without him
either way: he left his things at home
and knew no more about them.

It is so easy to separate,
I forget the work of staying
whole, is maybe another way
of putting it, of paying

my respects to what I’ll leave behind.
Today, I’m going home,
but Merton never made it back,
to M, to the small stone

hermitage he’d barely lived in,
to his east-facing Jesus
or to the knobby hills that rise
like beautiful excuses

around Gethsemani. And it’s useful
to remember that that will be,
one day, my fate as well. My kids
will stand at the spring and see

a sunset I won’t see. The beech
and hickory will clack
indifferent branches above the field
beside them as they walk back

to the house without me, gravel thin,
not one stone on a stone,
the sky above them blue but weird,
bare and blank as bone.

 

Golgotha
By Kerry James Evans

I feel better about my peanut butter
and jelly sandwich, the pears
swelling behind the house,
where a chubby train appears each day
at 3:00pm, its diesel engines
rattling so loud, they scare squash
clear off the vine. Don’t worry.
Redemption lurks in the back pew
of a rural Baptist church—
or that’s what we tell ourselves
after raising our heads for the altar call
to watch Jethro Smith finally
get saved. Everyone’s so proud
of Jethro for seeing the light,
which he will truly see next Tuesday,
when he rolls his Ford F-150 over a guardrail
and into the Buttahatchee River,
where so many dead bodies
have been devoured, even the river
has lost count, cattle-thick
water churning like the preacher’s doubt
when he commits the unfound body
to the earth. He got right with God,
he’ll say, Bible in right hand,
shovel in left. He’ll fling dirt
onto an empty coffin, then walk away,
head slumped like a yoked mule—
like the rest of us bent under
the weight of our collective
disappointment. But how can I talk
about the future when the past,
virulent as the holy ghost, knocks
like an old friend peddling
fire extinguishers—who, like a
translucent Gecko, shimmies
through the door with a big red can
of what the hell happened?
and my God, how do I get him
out of my house? What I wouldn’t give
to pursue other conversation—
one about how proud I am
for all your success, or Damn
if these aren’t the sweetest pears,
and Can you believe we’ve been
getting so much of this good rain!
I know it’s foolish, but I listen
in those flickers between breaths
—when a dialect gives way to a presence
beyond reason, a place so holy
it can hardly be seen or heard
—like dew drops on a watermelon.
Call it Golgotha. The crown of a hillside
made quiet by a simple breeze, a song
of such exacting glory you leave
the body altogether, and, like Jethro,
are content to drift downriver.

 

Kerry James Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon). He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and his poems have appeared in Agni, New England Review, Ploughshares, and other journals. He will join the MFA in Creative Writing faculty at Georgia College & State University this fall. 

Peter LaBerge is the author of the chapbooks Makeshift Cathedral (YesYes Books) and Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press). His work received a 2020 Pushcart Prize for Poetry and has appeared in AGNI, Best New Poets, Crazyhorse, Kenyon Review Online, Pleiades, and Tin House, among others. Peter is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal, as well as an incoming MFA candidate and Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at New York University. For more, visit peterlaberge.com.

Rose McLarney’s collections of poems are Forage and Its Day Being Gone, both from Penguin Poets, as well as The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, published by Four Way Books. She is co-editor of A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, from University of Georgia Press, and the journal Southern Humanities Review. Rose has been awarded fellowships by the MacDowell Colony, and Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences; served as Dartmouth Poet in Residence at the Frost Place; and is winner of the National Poetry Series, the Chaffin Award for Achievement in Appalachian Writing, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ New Writing Award for Poetry, among other prizes. Her work has appeared in publications including The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Missouri Review, and The Oxford American. Rose earned her MFA from Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. Currently, she is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Auburn University.

Nathaniel Perry is the author of Nine Acres (Copper Canyon/APR, 2011). Recent poems and essays appear in Kenyon Review, Image, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. He is the editor of Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review and lives in rural Virginia.

May 2020 Poetry Feature
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 The Common Among 2020 Literary Magazine Fund Recipients  

The magazine to be awarded $8,000 via Amazon Literary Partnership grant  

Amherst, MA, May 282020 – The Common, the award-winning literary journal based at Amherst College, is one of 13 2020 Literary Magazine Fund Grant Recipients, awarded in alliance with the Amazon Literary Partnership. Since 2017, funding from the Amazon Literary Partnership has helped further The Common’s mission of publishing and promoting emerging and diverse authors who deepen our individual and collective sense of place.   

 The Common Among 2020 Literary Magazine Fund Recipients  
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Review: Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian

Book by AMIR AHMADI ARIAN

Reviewed by FEROZ RATHER

Review: Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian

Amir Ahmadi Arians Then the Fish Swallowed Him is an unswerving portrayal of an individuals tormenting journey to self-realization in a totalitarian theocracy. By reproducing the minutiae of one mans stolen solitude, Arian has created a powerful critique not only of the Mullah-dominated politics of Iran, but also of the very nature of political life in this society. Arian, an Iranian novelist, translator, and journalist who currently lives in New York City, has in the past translated novels by E.L. Doctorow, Paul Aster, P.D. James, and Cormac McCarthy to Farsi, as well as written two novels and a book of nonfiction in his native language. Released in March of 2020 in the U.S., Then the Fish Swallowed Him is Arians debut novel in English.

The book begins amidst a raucous union strike near the Jannatabad Bus Terminal in the northwestern part of Tehran, when middle-aged bus driver Yunus Turabi watches Mahmoud Ahmadinejads plainclothes militiathe Basijis, a zealous bunch of young Revolutionary Armed Guardsviolently beat a woman. As the wife of an imprisoned activist is kicked in the ribs and flung on the ground, Yunuss fellow bus drivers scream and shout. During the ensuing clash with the police, who are shielding the Basijis, Yunus is jolted out of his humdrum existence and is spurred to action by his colleagues protests. But his punches, ecstatic and involuntary, are warded off with the blows of an electric baton. Numbed, he tears away from the crowd and hides on the roof of an empty bus.

Review: Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian
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On Empathy & Time, Re: Wildness

By MELISSA MATTHEWSON

matthewson dispatch

Applegate, Oregon

I killed a turkey with my car while thinking about empathy and the Brewer’s Spruce. I hit it with such force the bird flew across the highway landing in the ditch with the thistle and grass. I killed a turkey and didn’t turn back, but the light from the passing afternoon was like honey, and with the traffic steady at four p.m. on the two-lane road and the storm having just moved east, I considered the death of the animal a possible inconvenience to my daily commute. A temporary delay. But no—that’s not what it made me feel. In fact, I’d wished I reversed my car—I did not feel indifference for killing and thought perhaps my duty was to bury the animal, collect the feathers from the highway and gully (strewn there like a child’s game of marbles or rice, flowers across graves, split metal framework, diamonds) and string them through my yard on lines and sticks, decorate the children’s fort, or at the very least, light a candle for its soul. Perhaps strip its body of organs and skin and keep it for dinner. But I didn’t do any of those things. I kept driving, alert to the lingering startle of both bumper and bird. How does a turkey die? What part of its body stops working first? The heart? Did it break its backbone, its sympathetic trunk? Had it only been out foraging for spring buds and last year’s acorns? And what had I been thinking of empathy? —of certain identification with the mountains, of home, of wishing for political forces to cultivate a sense of care for this place I live, a kind of fellowship maybe, something meaningful, close to love. I was sad about the turkey, and the government too, until upon arriving home, I forgot entirely of the bird and death and Republicans when my daughter met me in our driveway, “Hi, Mama!,” half embracing me with a toothy smile and a bowl of crackers in her small hand.

On Empathy & Time, Re: Wildness
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