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Earth People

by James Graham 

Posted: 12 June 2005
Word Count: 1317
Related Works: Homo dissimilis contemplates the natural world • 

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Earth People

Selected Writings from the Book of Hujusmodi and the Pirate Manuscripts

Preface to The Book of Hujusmodi

Some time ago I was standing alone in a country place, when I saw beside every tree a ghost tree moving slowly sideways-up. The gate I leaned upon, the hogsback field, the rutted track into the field, and every head of buttercup, like images in a double pane, passed by me or through me, and away. I looked to see if my own ghost would part from me, and sure enough there it was, an image of myself as if in a receding mirror. But I was left behind. I remained here with this body and did not go away with the other one. I suppose I must have both gone away and stayed; but the 'I' who speaks now is not the one who has gone away.

It was sad for me to see the departure because I am one who, when this other Earth slipped anchor and sailed away to begin a new history, wished like the lame boy of Hamelin that I too had been taken. It is as if I am not a native of this world. I have fancied, almost to the point of belief, that I am one of the Hujusmodians, a descendant of migrants. I do believe it. All beliefs are vulnerable; the best we can expect is that our belief should survive doubt.

Our homeworld and its history survive for us only in shards of legends. We have seen the growth of this people who call themselves homo sapiens sapiens, repeating the word of wisdom as if to make it doubly true. We also have given ourselves Earth-names: homo (for we are human too) dissimilis - the different people - and Hujusmodian, the people of Hujusmodi, 'such a kind' of world. Our ancient language survives only in words and sayings, and does not run together as a whole language any more; and so, as Earth-people have done, we borrowed these names from that older language of Earth, a dialect of ghosts in which many aspects of life and death are so well expressed.

Over our many generations we have seen the knowing, knowing people change and grow. We have seen what wonderful and terrible things they have done with such materials as hard metal or the softest invisible waves. We have seen, too, the old street market and the journeys of journeymen traders grow into a market that is everywhere, like an atmosphere, especially in the weeks of the Great Market in midwinter, when so much waste is sold and bought. We have seen the most terrible waste of all, the withering of so many, the tearing apart of so many others, all sapiens, sapiens no less than those who destroy them.

In our generation, now so remote from the homeworld, we find our adopted world growing darker. We have seen the old empires, that burned living people over fires and threw babies to hungry dogs, finally pass away. But now again, now over the whole world as never before, there is the terrible waste, the people are not fed, they are given no remedy for their sickness, they cannot go where they please. This seems to me so grotesque that sometimes as I walk in the woods I expect to see basilisks, and return to the familiar town almost sure that the signs will be written in a strange alphabet and passers-by will speak a strange singing language.

After the departure at first we sadly wished ourselves away. We have asked ourselves again and again who we are. Either we are different because we are from elsewhere, or we have our myth of elsewhere only to explain why we are different. And if it is only a myth, and we are not from elsewhere, why are we so different? We asked ourselves about the departure itself, whether it was merely an illusion, though it was seen by more than one of us.

Our answers are unclear but out of these doubts we have become more knowing, much more knowing. Until the departure, we were like a flock of small birds that had flown into a strange room. Now, this room is becoming our universe. Whimsically, as if the name would crystallise the being, we are toying with homo sapiens dissimilis.

But since to play with names can never be enough, so we must adopt identities; in order to feel less alien, we must have cousins. There is a people who made their own departure, who for want of another Earth made their home upon the sea. Of all the strangers among humanity, we have looked most longingly to the pirates. And now we have approached them with flags of truce. They seem to welcome us. In spite of their misdeeds we admire them, and aspire to citizenship in their nation. And this is how we accommodate ourselves to this world.

From The Pirate Manuscripts

Our ancestors

Our ancestors were those folks who were always
seaborne, even on the land. We walk and ply
the asphalt crusts, we drive our wheelieboats,

we fetch our necessaries from the Super Market,
but we are always mariners, out of sight of nations.
Tree-branches carried out to sea by angry rivers

pass by on port and starboard. Other flotsam also,
paper, plastic, warn us we're too near the land.
And bottles with messages on the outside:

signals in the lingua franca of the land, lingo
of the wheedle and the common eulogy.
But whether we are sailing close enough

to touch and say sorry, or too far to see, we see
among the nations things going forward, inputs
producing outcomes, life robust and vibrant.


1. The Colours of the Earth

They abandoned the earth-chart with all its
shadings and colours, and mixings of shadings and colours.
Listen: we draw in sometimes close to Africa,

hard by the Horn or the Guinea Coast, and remember
the grand ambition of the House of Manowar
to dot-dash-dot and paint from sea to sea, from the tall

stout baobab on the highest part of the bank, at Number Five,
to the smaller baobab by the river, and on to the baobab
at Number Six, at the confluence of two rivers; dot-dash-dot

in heavy bold, and to every point the matt flat colours:
away to the south wild forest green, and to the west
pale sunkissed gold, and ancient terracotta in the north.

And the southern elephants were painted British
and the western camels French. And the good old
charts were lost, with their shadings and mixings of shadings.

2. The Real Thing

At nightfall too we venture sometimes close
to the harbours of America and Europe: close enough to see
the landfolk circumnavigating one another's courses, tacking

and heaving to, and saying 'Sorry'; we are near
but far, yet close enough to hear the thumping
from the streets, the steady thunk from windows

open to the dark, the strident incoherent song.
But soon we hoist glad sails and turn away
from these real things, into the loud Atlantic.


Ash-mountains blaze. Small boys
in dusty shirts that fill like sails
wait by the winding access-road.

They grasp at handholds, scale
the bulwarks, overrun the decks.

They yell and dig for tins,
one dollar for two hundred;

repulsed, they hunt instead
among unladen cargo. Every hour
come three new merchantmen.

To a pirate they seem kindred, and we wish
them keen-edged weapons and a brisk
lateener with the skull and bones. But no,
they have the élan of pirates and -
what goes with it - the bravery of hunters;
but they are gatherers. Like those before

what we call history,
like people of the golden
centuries between the ice
and the weary drought, they

gather acorns, wild wheat,
cranesbill roots. They mine
obsidian. There is abundance.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 15:42 on 12 June 2005  Report this post
Here I go, breaking the rules again. We're supposed to upload only one poem at a time, but here are five. But they do go together as a series. The 'Preface' has been on WW before, but it's somewhat revised and has grown a little at the end, to introduce the pirates.

There are actually eight poems in all (so far) but I've left out for now the three that make up the so-called 'Poems from the Book of Hujusmodi' and posted only the 'Pirate' ones meantime.

Feel free to express bemusement (the likeliest reaction), antipathy or any other feeling, positive or negative. Has the pirates idea much going for it?


Tina at 10:32 on 13 June 2005  Report this post
Such profusion a real cornucopia !!

I am not sure I fully understand the prose or why you wrote this as a starter to your poems?? Or am I being thick?

I enjoyed the mix of images in the poems - references to the everyday that we know - supermarkets et al and the contrast of the reality of 'their worlds'. There is much in these poems that makes me think and then think again about what has been read - which is always a real plus sign for me.

In all of the poems there is a rather yearning tone (particularly Ancestors and Gatherers) - which contain almost post holocaust images - of a culture which has arisen from the remains - there seems a lot about survival- which I suppose you could apply to our historical understandings of pirates as they lived so much on the edge of the society that prevailed at that time.

I particularly liked Our Ancestors as it is a strong opening poem but if you had posted this alone it might have produed quite a variety of differing subjective remarks. For me there are some great lines such as:

Tree-branches carried out to sea by angry rivers

pass by on port and starboard. Other flotsam also,
paper, plastic, warn us we're too near the land.
And bottles with messages on the outside:

I also really enjoyed The Gatherers - the opening lines are so evocative;

Small boys
in dusty shirts that fill like sails
wait by the winding access-road.

and the closing lines so hopeful.

I think to some extent I feel overwhelmed by all these poems at once. One downer of posting with so much is that it is hard to focus on specifics - so much to say etc but yes, I do think there is milage in pursing these themes further as ther is so much of interest here already.

So, just an intial stab which only really comments on that which really 'spoke' loudest to me.I wonder what stimulated you to write these in the first place?

I really enjoyed these - more soon??


Ticonderoga at 15:47 on 13 June 2005  Report this post
This is extraordinary. What is it going to become? Reading it feels like being present at the birth of some great new Mythos. Many elements are recognisable from sci-fi and history and extant mythologies and legends, but there is a sense of something new being forged in the great smithy of the universal imagination. This is all far too rich, wise, ironic, profound and generally stimulating to attempt any sort of detailed analysis here, but, it gars ma hairt loup! More, soon, please.
By the way, there's a lovely story by Ray Bradbury, set in Dublin in the fifties, in which a strange family of people mysteriously appear at a pub and enchant everybody, then seem to take flight like a flock of small birds and disappear. I wonder if you've read it? I'll try to find the name, as the strangers could almost be realated to your Hujusmodians!



engldolph at 20:21 on 14 June 2005  Report this post
Hi James,

I remember the start of this theme from poems posted last year and am happy to see this creative line continue.

All the poems are full of quirky, suprising, appealing thoughts and language. It is both full and spare.

The leap to pirates as kindred spirits works -- but was helped by the line ..in spite of their misdeeds... so these become rather more like Boys Own pirates..full of adventure, rejection of society, loveable rogues (which is not eactly the truth, but..)

it gives it all quite a political/alternative activist edge..in that the everyday world is seen as pretty corrupt and material..so they kind of deserve the pirates, and the thieving gatherers... as this is poetic adventure, rather than precise social analysis, I agree with the sentiments..although I am a bit tired of having my car window broken for nothing...

with that prologue, I will continue.. as I am captivated by the theme and the poems.

Ancestors ..

liked the word "Mariner" rather than sailor...adds nostalgia and longing and dignity..

loved the image of navigating the flotsam and jetsam of the city and the "vibrant" material society..

I always like going back into your poems to figure out how they flow so well... and find the musical aliteration in

lingua ...land, lingo
and /
say sorry, or too far to see, we see

the lilt with the edge in.. inputs
producing outcomes ...


1. The Colours of the Earth

The idea I come away with is that of the freedom of sailing without charts..that the maps with mixing and shadings were those of a time when the great powers were carving up the world and coloring thier pieces...

Got slightly stuck on the Number 5 / 6 and the baobabs... but concluded that it was a suburban scene of house numbers...which worked for me...this miwing of contemporary city and sea sailing..

2. The Real Thing

This came across to me as America/Europe as the metaphor for "coca-cola, the real thing" materialism..and crowded malls where everyone is always bumping into each other and saying sorry (really liked that way of describing polite society)

we hoist glad sails and turn away
from these real things, into the loud Atlantic...what a wonderful line to capture the feeling of freedom.


Liked very much the way you capture the feeling off the petty poor vagabonds and thieves that ply their trade in our cities..

in dusty shirts that fill like sails (beautiful image and a very clever way to tie in the sailing theme)..
wait by the winding access-road.

They grasp at handholds, scale
the bulwarks, overrun the decks (of your car as they ask you if they can clean your windshield)

I also liked the way you see them as kindred but set them apart as gatherers... intriguing

and I liked the magic in the use of Obsidian..in the last line... it combines the image of breaking glass, with a mineral that has an ancient history...


So, lots here to intrigue as always.

I had a couple of questions --

* What was the origin of the Pirate Manuscripts..as a reader I asked myself this...a couple of words in your intro might help..

* In Our ancestors...why do you change tense in the opening line..

Our ancestors ARE those folks who WERE always...

Why not:Our ancestors were those folks always
seaborne, even on the land. (I'm sure there is a good reason!)

* In ...We walk and drive
the asphalt crusts, we drive our wheelieboats (why repeat "drive" ?)

A unique read..very enjoyable..more to be mined I think..will go back to it..


James Graham at 15:38 on 15 June 2005  Report this post
Thanks everyone, your responses are greatly appreciated. I'd like to reply in kind, i.e. in detail, so I'll take a day or two to give your comments a think.


James Graham at 14:24 on 16 June 2005  Report this post
This will probably turn out a bit of a screed, but I’d like to answer most of the points you’ve made.

Tina - it’s prose for no better reason than that I tried versifying it and didn’t like the result. Too many turns of phrase and whole sentences seemed better left alone. It wanted to be prose, and refused to be verse. There may be more prose to come, interspersed with poems. Partly this is because prose passages can create a framework for the poems, especially as the idea the poems are based on is quite complex, not to say eccentric. I posted the ‘Preface’ again because now it contains, at the end, the paragraph about the pirates that helps (?) introduce the pirate poems.

I’m glad you liked ‘Gatherers’ which I think is the one I’m most satisfied with. Yes, the ending is hopeful - well, on one level. We talk about ‘levels of meaning’ and sometimes there seem to be more levels than a multi-storey car park. ‘There is abundance’, the way I tease it out, means: 1. The earth has enough resources for everybody. (The hopeful bit.) 2. The distribution of resources being what it is, there may be abundance for some but not for these children. 3. There is such an ‘abundance’ of waste.

Mike - First, the source of the pirates. A long interest in pirates, I suppose, since childhood. But the idea of using pirates in these poems came after reading The Pirate Wars by Peter Earle (Methuen 2004) which brings historical pirates to life and to some extent sees the world from their point of view. One of the aspects that struck me was the crude democracy that was practised - by no means universally, but commonly enough - meetings before the mast, votes on what was to be done next, decisions by the whole crew as to what proportion of booty the captain and other officers should have. (A well-respected captain might be allowed five times the ordinary seaman’s share; but another captain, or a less respected first mate, would be lucky to get one and a half times.) As far as they go, in the poems so far, my pirates probably do still have a kind of Boys Own element, i.e. they’re idealised, though not in quite that way I hope. More in the sense of having an idealised freedom, an independence from the ways and politics of the land - of ‘nations’.

On ‘The Colours of the Earth’, the ‘earth-chart’ that has been abandoned is an imaginary map of the world showing the homelands of peoples instead of the boundaries of nation states. This would be a more subtly shaded map, because homelands overlap and shade into one another.

The baobabs etc. - Surveyors/cartographers actually walked the walk. I don’t know how general this practice was, but when the boundary - an entirely specious boundary - was being drawn between German East Africa and British East Africa, its line was determined by teams of surveyors on the ground, e.g. their report stated that the line goes from point No. 5 on the map by way of a couple of baobab trees to Point No. 6, and so on. Though this is information that comes from books and so may not be very accessible in the poem, I hope the poem doesn’t make it too puzzling: the ‘House of Manowar’ (generic term for European empires) sets out to ‘dot-dash-dot’ the frontiers ‘from sea to sea’. The quirky suggestion is there too that the dotted lines are actually being painted on the ground, and the land ‘belonging’ to the various empires - and even the animals! - is actually painted green, gold or terracotta to show who it ‘belongs' to.

On ‘Gatherers’ - I realise the clues in this poem aren’t too obvious. The children wait at the access road to a garbage dump, and climb on to the trucks as they slow down and stop. They collect tins which they can sell at $1 for 200. When they’re thrown off the trucks they take to foraging among the already dumped rubbish. Maybe the only big clue to the location is the burning ‘ash-mountains’.

Other Mike - As you surely know yourself, there's no way to tell what it might become! But many thanks for your enthusiastic response. I remember something that came out of one of your poems - Indians or Native Americans? Or First Nations? Or The People? Linking that with the 'good old charts' - just as there might be a true map of Africa marked only with the homelands of Yoruba, Ogoni, Xhosa etc, so there might be a true map of North America marked with the nuanced boundaries of the First Nations.


engldolph at 18:06 on 16 June 2005  Report this post
Hi James,

I'll look up the Pirate book..sounds intreresting. And the sense you were aiming at of idealised freedom is what comes through clearly. In Colours of the Earth", I think it may remain a bit obscure for some readers...again the idea of a time free from our restrictive boundaries does come through for me, which is priobably enough, this is poetry, not history, but the specific references did not.
But then, I don't have a lot of surveyer/cartographer genes.


Ticonderoga at 14:25 on 17 June 2005  Report this post
James - all they eventually wanted was one State, to be called Sequoyah, but even that was denied them. As to nomenclature, the debate still rages. Apparently 'rez' people prefer to be American Indians and urban types prefer Native American, but, of course, as with our country, there's no such thing; there's really Cherokee, Cheyenne, Sioux, Innuit, Blackfoot, Arapaho, Flathead, Sauk etc., etc.....................................
Am currently reading a book which I think you would enjoy, called Glencoe And The Indians, about the Scots diaspora to America from Culloden onwards and the centuries of intermingling with the First Nations (!), which quite soon produced Scots/Indian tribal chiefs like John Ross, who led the Cherokee Nation on The Trail of Tears......................and raised money in the 1840s to send as relief to those suffering in the Highland Potato Famine. Fascinating!



James Graham at 21:19 on 17 June 2005  Report this post
Mike (engl), your two suggestions on word changes make sense. 'Our ancestors were those folks...' though I've kept 'who were' just after that, to let the rhythm trot along. And it's now 'We walk and ply/ the asphalt crusts, we drive our wheelieboats' Ply in the same sense as ships - pirate or legal - ply the seven seas.

The baobab lines really are a bit obscure. But it's one of those things - sometimes if the illustration needed at a certain point in a poem, the one that seems best suited, happens also to be rather obscure (shrug) it can't be helped.

Mike (Ticond), I don't know enough about that history of Scots and Indians, and must put that book (is that by Jim Hunter?) on my list. I didn't know about John Ross having raised money for 1840s famine relief - great solidarity.


Ticonderoga at 15:01 on 24 June 2005  Report this post
James Hunter it is - I take it you know him, from the 'Jim'? It's the first book of his I've read, but his others sound extremely interesting too; have you read any? Highly recommend this one.


James Graham at 15:52 on 26 June 2005  Report this post
Must be just the 'Rabbie Burns' syndrome, referring to all Scots by familiar names. Big Tam Connery the milkman. I don't actually know James Hunter - but found his book in the house, unread (by me). Now reading it. The story of John Ross, and of course the 'Trail of Tears', is heartbreaking. Talk about a 'no-win' situation. Try to kill as many white men as you can - they'll punish you. Try to live in peace and assimilate - they'll punish you just the same. John Ross is of course a Famous Man in Hujusmodian history - much more important than any president, even Lincoln.

Two other Great People I'm writing about just now are Mary Broad and William Bryant. Mary Broad, who belonged to Fowey in Cornwall, was transported to New South Wales for stealing a cloak. She was pregnant, and gave birth to a daughter during the voyage. In NSW she married Bryant, a Cornishman too, who had been transported for smuggling. Bryant talked a Dutch captain into giving him charts, a compass and other supplies, and then one night when there was no moon, the couple, along with a dozen or so other convicts, took the Governor's boat and sailed out of Sydney Harbour. They made it to Timor, and Mary eventually made it back to Cornwall! (Bryant, and Mary's little daughter, died of cholera.) These are the protagonists of Hujusmodian history. George III, Pitt the Elder, Pitt the Younger? Who they?

The Governor's boat!


Ticonderoga at 14:09 on 27 June 2005  Report this post
Fabulous!! These are the real makers of history and humanity. The more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that the sapient and witty Kurt Vonnegut would be hugely approving of the Hujusmodian concept of history! More power to your pen.



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