23 September 2007

Born with Sin

Justice Putnam
When was the first thought?
The first inkling of cognition?

Can I reach back
Find the original light?

Or was it a sound?

A drum beat
Heart beat
Moving feet and souls?

I heard a crying
A low moan
Quivering breath
And then a scream

And piercing.

Did I clench my fist
Lick and then bite my lower lip?
Did I pray to a god
That did not exist?

When would my scream begin?
And for what reason?

Would I scream for the woman
Who gave me life

Lying in the corner
With blackened eyes
And scattered dreams?

Or for the man
Whose sperm
Made up half
Of my emotional outlook?

Whose hands would caress
Upon one moment
And pummel
Through many others?

Or would my cries and screams
Be for myself?
Helpless under
The blankets of despair

Pleading to the Saints
Of battered children and wives
Never getting an answer
Only delays.

Cries and screams
For my bare feet
Running on the gravel
Of Camp Creek

The McKenzie
Nineteen fifty-eight
The United States.

But I was born into
A sonic boom of recognition
And a silent fear of remorse.

A mushroom crowd
Walking in atomic heels
Crying hydro-electric tears
Pumping Bourbon blood
With bias plied hearts.

There were Catholics
There were Atheists

There were Protestant politicians
Burning black flesh
On Southern barbecues

While a quiet
But effective
Northern bigotry
Butchered more lions
Dressed in African velvet.

And women
Were subservient
In sexual boredom

Stepping out
And applying
Lipstick and polish
Mascara and perfume.

Walking with a sway
Along a jazz bebop
Saxophone avenue.

Escaping the file cabinet bedrooms
And dish soap romance

Meeting lovers for
Back seat hand jobs
And cashmere petting

And they all temporized guilt
With motel showers
And a street sign excuse.

And the children were asleep
In station wagons
Parked at cocktail lounges

And fathers were doing time
For involuntary manslaughter

Drunk in a car.

Penitentiary phallus
And penetrating denial

Barred-window shadows
On concrete block walls

Absent and jealous

Fermenting hot-white revenge
In the testes
Of another born
In a suffering Nativity.

© 1978 and 2007 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen
(Born With Sin was performed as part of KCET's New Poets Series in 1983, produced by Luis Campos and filmed in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Sun Valley. It has also recently appeared in "Art in a Liberal Frame: Selected Writings and Images of the Daily Kos Community.")

19 September 2007

The Princess and the Frog


Justice Putnam
By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.

-- Socrates


She said she chose me because I was the best behaved in the whole pond. I guess those etiquette lessons my frog aunts taught me when I was a tadpole really helped. All those Saturday night Brown Derby dinners dressed in my little tadpole-sized frog tuxedo, my frog aunts in their pearls and gloves, all seated in our special Brown Derby frog booth, somehow all that prepared me for the chance of a frog lifetime; to be kissed by the most beautiful Princess in the world.

I must tell you, everything we frogs heard was true. The sun back-lit her dark red curls, her full ruby lips touched mine. I remember she tasted of lavender and orange. The transformation was magical; I was no longer the ugly frog. I became her handsome Prince standing tall and strong and happy!

Oh, sure. She had to change my wardrobe and make it more diverse, as a Prince’s wardrobe must be. I was mostly into turtlenecks because I thought it would hide my frog throat more. But she liked the open collar look, she said, because she liked how manly a strong neck was. I always thought my best feature were my legs! Such is the mystery of the most beautiful Princess in the world.

She insisted I grow my hair longer. I took to sporting a goatee and wearing little round sunglasses. I grew accustomed to jet lag on royal visits to her ancestral homes in Europe.

I became her Prince, but she seemed unhappy.

We had just returned from a weekend at the home of my best bullfrog friend. His property included some of the best mud baths in all of Sonoma County.

“Your frog friends are ill mannered and uncouth,” she sobbed, “they smack their lips when they eat and use terrible grammar. You must choose them or me and if you choose them, you will not be my Prince!”

I didn’t know that the spell could be reversed. I thought, once kissed and transformed, a Prince forever you would be.

“Are you serious?” my Bullfrog friend spit at me later when I told him of the ultimatum. “You think you’re a Prince? She’s too good for you, man. She’s way out of your league. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You might be a Prince, but in your eyes, not hers! What made you think you could keep a woman like that happy? I hate to hurt your feelings, but at least you have feelings to hurt!”

All of my frog friends practice “tough truth,” but knowledge of that has never lessened the sting of their observations.

A note sat on the table when I came through the door that hot afternoon. She had gone and would not be back. I went to the bathroom and looked at the mirror there.

I knew which fork to use for the salad and how to swirl a vintage red to check its legs. But there was no mistaking it.

I had always been a frog.

But now I was one with a goatee and little round sunglasses.

© 2007 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen