in the lull

no liberated psychic zone offers me sanctuary
—Frank Wilderson III

What happens “in the lull between well-publicized crises”? Learning from professor Christina Sharpe, one might answer, the sadomasochism of everyday life. One might also answer, after the killing comes the dying. Wars, after all, whether termed “incursions” or “offensives” or “skirmishes,” have long afterlives. The time of “rebuilding” is also the time of dying and fading, the time of disease and famine. A time of gendered precarity, of labor insecurity, of psychic stretching and breaking. The “after” or the “lull” is a time of slow violence, of living in toxic environments, trying to survive unnamable losses. If it is a time of “recovery,” as we sometimes want to believe, we might ask what is being recovered and how.

The “lull” is not an ending, merely a suspension of hostilities or, more likely, a suspension of attention-grabbing hostilities. The “lull,” with its indefinite temporality, is still a death-making time:space. A time when the practices of killability become habits of disposability: when the certainty of death is replaced by the uncertainty of death. When the “will happen” becomes more capricious, but never less cruel or damaging.

(a too-familiar story hovers over this: a woman raped during war says she can never love the child of her rapist)

#kasaraniconcentrationcamp was never a “well-publicized crisis,” at least not in Kenya. It was:is a crisis for the many Somalis profiled and harassed in Kenya, recognized as such by many in the Somali diaspora, but, with the exception of a handful of articles in the mainstream newspapers, it was never framed as a “crisis,” that is, as something requiring attention, care, thought. It was a “legal exercise.” And if its legality was questioned, it was part of the long and quotidian unhumaning of Somalis in Kenya’s history, another link in the chain of massacres and forced encampments.

The “lull” between the “well-publicized” is the home of unrelenting killability and killing. It is the place of unimagining futures. In Wilderson’s terms, “a life constituted by disorientation rather than a life interrupted by disorientation.”

I still have not yet learned how to mourn for those around me, for those in Kenya: for the many whose names my tongue caresses so easily, so familiarly; for the many whose names remain hidden, made invisible by practices of disposability; for the many whose deaths enable my own precarious stability; for the many I have needed to learn to unsee, to unhear. This, too, is a lull.

The lull is not a zone of non-happening. The arbitrary violence that defines disposability observes no schedules. It is the quotidianness of unpublicized, but not unmourned, deaths.

This wakefulness is dogged by bits of brick
from the old wall
And pieces of broken armour that hurt my feet
—Phyllis Muthoni

In the grave-digging lull, the elegy-writing lull, the dirge-singing lull, the sackcloth-donning lull, the life-valuing lull, the death-surviving lull.

How might the unhumaned speak of damage?

2 thoughts on “in the lull

  1. If the lull is the space in which we’re dying, in death or mourning, there is a rhythm to the lull. Listen. There’s the break of the hoe, the catch of breath before that earth wrenching scream and another and another. In the meantime, birds fly and perch. The sadomaschoism of the everyday — damn, Gukira without predicates. Damn.

    • Thank you for reminding me about that “rhythm to the lull,” that listening we do, which is also part of the lull. That image, “the break of the hoe,” the lifting, that slight suspension in the air–and the nearby birds. You honor this post in so many ways. Thank you.

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