Tsitsi Ella Jaji’s “Family Trees” is a series of poems based on the tradition of Zulu “praise songs.” These poems take the analogy of a family tree and pluralize it into “Family Trees” to suggest that we are not only members of a tree but also trees unto ourselves—how is this true? This piece is taken from a book titled Beating the Graves—this phrase might be referring to defeating death in some way but is more likely about knocking on the door of the grave to talk to the ancestors. Do we still believe this cross-generational communication to be possible?
The Nigerian author Ben Okri imagines a dimension in which souls wait to be born in “Spirit Children,” the first chapter from his novel The Famished Road. Why does Okri seem to believe that these spirits resist birth into human form and regard it as a curse and a punishment? Is this a purely negative view of moral existence or are there other dimensions to this tale?