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.
57 The Paris-American
Dorianne Laux’s most recent collections are The Book of Men and Facts About the Moon,both available from W.W. Norton. She and her husband, poet Joseph Millar, moved to Raleigh in 2008 where she teaches in and directs the MFA program at North Carolina State University. A National Book Critics' Circle Award and Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize Finalist, Laux's other honors include a Pushcart Prize, two Best American Poetry selections, two NEA Fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Recent poems appear in APR, Cimarron Review, Tin House, and The Valparaiso Review.