15 December 2010

Voices and Soul

14 December 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

Race in America can sometimes be explained by the illusion of negative and positive space in art; where figure-ground reversal will show a vase in the positive space and the silhouetted profile of two faces in the negative. The Danish psychologist, Edgar Rubin, used this and many other examples to...

... state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as figure and the other as ground, the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.

Arguments abound whether Race is an issue in the post-Obama world; one is that the very fact a black man is President is example enough that America's sordid racial past has been refuted; sort of like seeing only the figure, or only the ground. A countervailing argument is that the sheer numbers of incarcerated people of color as opposed to population averages as example that Race is and will continue to be an issue; that would be perceiving the ground and the figure shifting back and forth.

In 1968, the short-fiction writer and poet, Henry Dumas, was shot and killed at the age of thirty-three by a white New York transit officer; in what was explained as a case of mistaken identity. Maybe not so mistaken, though; when the face in the negative space is black.

The Zebra Goes Wild Where the Sidewalk Ends


Neon stripes tighten my wall
where my crayon landlord hangs
from a bent nail.

My black father sits crooked
in the kitchen
drunk on Jesus’ blood turned
to cheap wine.

In his tremor he curses
the landlord who grins
from inside the rent book.

My father’s eyes are
bolls of cotton.

He sits upon the landlord’s
operating table,
the needle of the nation
sucking his soul.


Chains of light race over
my stricken city.
Glittering web spun by
the white widow spider.

I see this wild arena
where we are harnessed
by alien electric shadows.

Even when the sun washes
the debris
I will recall my landlord
hanging in my room
and my father moaning in
Jesus’ tomb.

In America all zebras
are in the zoo.

I hear the piston bark
and ibm spark:
let us program rabies.
the madness is foaming now.

No wild zebras roam the American plain.
The mad dogs are running.
The African zebra is gone into the dust.

I see the shadow thieves coming
and my father on the specimen table.

-- Henry Dumas
Voices and Soul

10 December 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

In the economic warfare that has been raging for decades, the divisions of the economic classes have widened. The rich, though a small number, hold the majority of the wealth, the middle class is shrinking, the poor are increasing in numbers and are being kicked in the gut for it.

But the Holidays are upon us and the bright twinkling lights on the 100 foot Douglas Fir in the town square draws us to the business district. Canned Holiday Music wafts from the warm interiors of department stores as shoppers look for that perfect gift. Not last year's model, of course; and certainly not some nostalgic, lead-painted toy from their youth. No, what everyone wants, what everyone seems to need, are some...

Brand New Products

A vigilant gun that always picks out
The right target—even if it’s you—
No matter who you’re aiming at.

A computer that listens and blows you,
As you blow it, to your favorite tune.

Meat that cleans your teeth
As you’re masticating it.

A truck so awesome, only the President
Of the United States of America’s allowed
To careen in it, to his own beat.

A dictionary with positive adjectives only.
A dictionary with no wet verbs.
A dictionary with negotiable definitions.
A dictionary that defines words by their antonyms.

All the greatest hits from the last millennium
Performed live, on stage, on the inside
Of your state of the art, acoustically-enhanced skull.

A complete set of nude photos
Of you, taken by you and sold
Back to you—at a discount.

A sex doll with a mirror for a face.
A sex doll with a Ph.D.
A sex doll with adjustable skin tone.

A sensitive sex doll that just wants
To be friends—a Platonic sex doll.

Rain water in a bottle, sunshine in a box
And ambience sounds from a bus stop
Down the street, recorded on a CD.

A 24-hour video of what you did yesterday.
A 24-hour video of what you’ll do tomorrow.

A super realistic photo of what’s outside
Your window, pasted to your window.

A baseball game that never ends,
To be played simultaneously with
A football game that never ends.

Cluster bombs that scatter copies of Leaves of Grass
Over a thousand mile radius, for a thousand years.

Landmines made with dough,
Topped with mozzarella and all
Your favorite toppings.

An airplane that never lands.

And, finally, your favorite fairy tale
Painted on your new plastic limbs.

-- Linh Dinh

09 December 2010

Voices and Soul

07 December 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

Both of my sisters were raped by the time they were sophomores in high school. The younger one was raped twice more by the time she graduated. They don't mind that I mention these facts. They have counseled young girls and women on rape; and we all worked at rape and suicide crisis call-in centers when we were in our teens and early twenties.

Zona, is a year younger than me and put in 25 years as an RN in intensive care pediatric oncology at Children's Hospital in Orange County. She thought she was retiring, then the economy went bad. She now teaches high school science and does some private nursing. Zreata, is four years younger and was a calendar model jetting around the world until she was almost thirty. She looks like a cross between Sophia Loren and Pam Grier, so she was scantily clad in photo shoots from Malibu to Madrid. Afterwards. she was a deputy sheriff for about 7 years and later started her own bounty hunter operation. She sold the business a few years ago and now takes care of our aging mother.

I would hold them and console them during convulsive sobbing nights in our youth, both apologizing and condemning men for their brutish actions; and all the injustices we perpetuate on women. Fearing that I was failing in convincing them they were not the ones in the wrong; the one litany they both lamented was,

"What about my rights?"

Yes, what about their rights? Why is it that my sisters, my nieces, or any woman must consider what she wears, or the time of day or night, before she goes to the store? Why are women treated as spoils of war, or objects of abuse in abusive relationships?

Though their right to merely go about their days without fear was denied, both of my sisters exercised what rights were left them, took their rapists to court and won convictions. Though, with my sister Zreata's stint in law enforcement, I couldn't help but think of her when June Jordon published the following in 2005:

Poem about My Rights

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear   
my head about this poem about why I can’t   
go out without changing my clothes my shoes   
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/   
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want   
to do with my own body because I am the wrong   
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and   
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/   
or far into the woods and I wanted to go   
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking   
about children or thinking about the world/all of it   
disclosed by the stars and the silence:   
I could not go and I could not think and I could not   
stay there   
as I need to be   
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own   
body and   
who in the hell set things up   
like this   
and in France they say if the guy penetrates   
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me   
and if after stabbing him if after screams if   
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing   
a hammer to his head if even after that if he   
and his buddies fuck me after that   
then I consented and there was   
no rape because finally you understand finally   
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was   
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am   
which is exactly like South Africa   
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that   
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that         
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems   
turn out to be   
I am the history of rape   
I am the history of the rejection of who I am   
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of   
I am the history of battery assault and limitless   
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind   
and my body and my soul and   
whether it’s about walking out at night   
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or   
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or   
the sanctity of my national boundaries   
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity   
of each and every desire   
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic   
and indisputably single and singular heart   
I have been raped   
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age   
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the   
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic   
the wrong sartorial I   
I have been the meaning of rape   
I have been the problem everyone seeks to   
eliminate by forced   
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/   
but let this be unmistakable this poem   
is not consent I do not consent   
to my mother to my father to the teachers to   
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy   
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon   
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in   
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own   
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance   
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination   
may very well cost you your life

-- June Jordan
Voices and Soul

03 December 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

Since I was a child, I have been both enamored and appalled at the increasing militancy of our nation. We glory the Soldier as a Hero, one whose pedestal is not to be sullied. Songs are sung and films are broadcast about yellow ribbons and Gold Stars and red sky at morning and Johnny come marching home and tears at Arlington on Memorial and Veteran's Day with 20 gun salutes and full metal jackets shredding jungles and deserts and seas and air.

Everywhere I look, supplicants genuflect and tithe at the Altar of the Military; politicians and preachers sky pilot high school football homecoming prom dances, while daddy works in a coal mine going down down down burning fossil microbes to steam a turbine while economies and marriages suffer from codified martial strategies of weapons procurement and international arms sales.

A pedestal not to be sullied; a Hero exalted. Semper Fidelis until Johnny needs a job and a shoulder to lean on when the slide show of dismembered limbs and dead babies scorched against the charred breasts of scattered skeletons scrolls behind closed eyelids on a lazy summer afternoon; an exalted Hero until stumbled on the cold winter night theater district broken sidewalk, hungry and lame and mumbling about the Newburgh Conspiracy and how he is just a festering scar on the nation and no amount of cleaning the wound will stop the seeping ooze of his forgotten service, no amount of slicing away the rotting flesh will justify the public amnesia.



Black men are oaks cut down.

Congressional Medal of Honor Society
United States of America chartered by
Congress, August 14, 1958; this certifies
that STAC John Henry Louis is a member
of this society.

“Don’t ask me anything about the
medal. I don’t even know how I won

Debridement: The cutting away of dead
or contaminated tissue from a wound
to prevent infection.

America: love it or give it back.


Groceries ring
in my intestines:
grits aint groceries   
eggs aint poultry
Mona Lisa was a man:
waltzing in sawdust   
I dream my cards
has five holes in it,   
up to twenty holes;   
five shots out of seven   
beneath the counter;   
surrounded by detectives   
pale ribbons of valor   
my necklace of bullets   
powdering the operating table.

Five impaled men loop their ribbons   
’round my neck
listening to whispers of valor:
“Honey, what you cryin’ ’bout?   
You made it back.”

Four M-48 tank platoons ambushed
near Dak To, two destroyed:   
the Ho Chi Minh Trail boils,   
half my platoon rockets   
into stars near Cambodia,
foot soldiers dance from highland woods
taxing our burning half:

there were no caves for them to hide.
We saw no action,
eleven months twenty-two days   
in our old tank
burning sixty feet away:
I watch them burn inside out:   
hoisting through heavy crossfire,   
hoisting over turret hatches,   
hoisting my last burning man   
alive to the ground,
our tank artillery shells explode   
killing all inside:
hoisting blown burned squad   
in tank’s bladder,
plug leaks with cave blood:

there were no caves for them to hide—

In the Projects
Slung basketballs at Jeffries   
House with some welfare kids   
weaving in their figure eight hunger.

Mama asked if I was taking anything?   
I rolled up my sleeves:
no tracks, mama:
“black-medal-man ain’t street-poisoned,”
militants called:
“he’s an electronic nigger!”

“Better keep electronic nigger 'way.”
Electronic Nigger?   
Mama, unplug me, please.

A White Friend Flies In from the Coast
Burned —black by birth,
burned —armed with .45,
burned —submachine gun,
burned—STAC hunted VC,
burned —killing 5-20,
burned —nobody know for sure;   
burned —out of ammo,
burned—killed one with gun-stock,   
burned —VC AK-47 jammed,   
burned —killed faceless VC,   
burned —over and over,
burned —STAC subdued by three men,   
burned —three shots: morphine,   
burned —tried killing prisoners,   
burned —taken to Pleiku,
burned —held down, straitjacket,
burned —whites owe him, hear?   
burned —I owe him, here.

Mama’s Report
“Don’t fight, honey,   
don’t let ’em catch you.”

Tour over, gear packed,   
hospital over, no job.

“Aw man, nothin' happened,”
explorer, altar boy—

Maybe it’s ’cause they killed people   
and don’t know why they did?

My boy had color slides of dead people,   
stacks of dead Vietnamese.

MP’s asked if he’d been arrested   
since discharge, what he’d been doin’:

“Lookin’ at slides,
looking’ at stacks of slides, mostly.”

Fifteen minutes later a colonel called
from the Defense Department, said he’d won the medal;

could he be in Washington with his family,   
maybe he’d get a job now; he qualified.

The Democrats had lost, the president said;   
there were signs of movement in Paris:

Fixing Certificates:   Dog Tags:   Letters Home
Our heliteam had mid-air blowout   
dropping flares—5 burned alive.

The children carry hand   
grenades to and from piss tubes.

Staring at tracer bullets
rice is the focal point of war.

On amphibious raid, our heliteam
found dead VC with maps of our compound.

On morning sick call you unzip;   
before you piss you get a smear.

“VC reamed that mustang a new asshole”—
even at movies: “no round-eye pussy no more”—

Tympanic membrane damage: high gone—
20-40 db loss mid-frequencies.

Scrub-typhus, malaria, dengue fever, cholera;   
rotting buffalo, maggoted dog, decapped children.

Bangkok: amber dust, watches, C-rations,   
elephanthide billfolds, cameras, smack.

Sand&tinroof bunkers, 81/120 mm:
“Health record terminated this date by reason of death.”

Vaculoated amoeba, bacillary dysentery, hookworm;
thorazine, tetracycline, darvon for diarrhea.

'Conitus’ : I wanna go home to mama;
Brown’s mixture, ETH with codeine, cortisone skin-creams.

Written on helipad fantail 600 bed Repose;
“no purple heart, hit by ’nother marine.”

“Vascular repair, dissection, debridement”:
sharp bone edges, mushy muscle, shrapnel: stainless bucket.

Bodies in polyethylene bag: transport:   
'Tan San Nhat Mortuary’

Blood, endotracheal tube, prep   
abdomen, mid-chest to scrotum—

“While you’re fixin' me doc,
can you fix them ingrown hairs on my face?”

“They didn’t get my balls, did they?”
50 mg thorazine—“Yes they did, marine!”

Swans loom on the playground   
swooning in the basket air,
the nod of their bills
in open flight, open formation.   
Street-poisoned, a gray mallard   
skims into our courtyard with a bag:

And he poisons them —

And he poisons them

my pass is a blade   
near the sternum
cutting in:
you can make this a career.

Patches itch on my chest and shoulders—
I powder them with phisohex
solution from an aerosol can:
you can make this a career.

Pickets of insulin dab the cloudy
hallways in a spray.
Circuits of change
march to an honor guard—
I am prancing:   
I am prancing:

you can make this a career.

Makin’ Jump Shots
He waltzes into the lane
’cross the free-throw line,   
fakes a drive, pivots,
floats from the asphalt turf   
in an arc of black light,
and sinks two into the chains.

One on one he fakes   
down the main, passes   
into the free lane
and hits the chains.

A sniff in the fallen air—
he stuffs it through the chains   
riding high:
“traveling” someone calls—
and he laughs, stepping
to a silent beat, gliding
as he sinks two into the chains.

Debridement:   Operation Harvest Moon:   On Repose
The sestina traces a circle in language and body.

Stab incision below nipple,
left side; insert large chest tube;   
sew to skin, right side;
catch blood from tube
in gallon drain bottle.
Wash abdomen with phisohex;   
shave; spray brown iodine prep.

Stab incision below sternum   
to symphis pubis
catch blood left side;
sever reddish brown spleen
cut in half; tie off blood supply;   
check retroperitoneal,
kidney, renal artery bleeding.

Dissect lateral wall
abdominal cavity; locate kidney;   
pack colon, small intestine;   
cut kidney; suture closely;   
inch by inch check bladder,   
liver, abdominal wall, stomach:   
25 units blood, pressure down.

Venous pressure: 8; lumbar
musculature, lower spinal column   
pulverized; ligate blood vessels,   
right forearm; trim meat, bone ends;   
tourniquet above fracture, left arm;   
urine, negative: 4 hours; pressure   
unstable; remove shrapnel flecks.

Roll on stomach; 35 units blood;
pressure zero; insert plastic blood
containers, pressure cuffs; pump chest   
drainage tube; wash wounds sterile   
saline; dress six-inch ace wraps;
wrap both legs, toe to groin; left arm   
plaster, finger to shoulder: 40 units blood.

Pressure, pulse, respiration up;
remove bloody gowns; scrub; redrape;
5 cc vitamin K; thorazine: sixth
laparotomy; check hyperventilation;
stab right side incision below nipple;
insert large chest tube; catch blood drain bottle ...

The Family of Debridement
Theory: Inconvenienced subject will return to hospital   
if loaned Thunderbird
Withdrawn. Hope: Subject returns,
Foreclosure for nine months unpaid mortgage;   
wife tells subject hospital wants deposit,
Diseased cyst removal:
'Ain’t you gonna give me a little kiss good-bye’
Subject-wife: To return with robe and curlers—
Subject tells friend he’ll pay $15 to F’s stepfather   
if he’ll drive him to pick up money owed him.

“This guy lives down the street,
I don’t want him to see me coming.”

“It looked odd for a car filled with blacks
to be parked in the dark in a white neighborhood,   
so we pulled the car out under a streetlight   
so everybody could see us.”

Store manager: “I first hit him with two bullets   
so I pulled the trigger until my gun was empty.”

“I’m going to kill you, you white MF,” store manager   
told police. Police took cardload, F and F’s parents for   
further questioning. Subject died on operating table: 5 hrs:

Subject buried on grass slope, 200 yards   
east of Kennedy Memorial,
overlooking Potomac and Pentagon,   
to the south,
Arlington National Cemetery.

Army honor guard
in dress blues,
carried out assignment   
with precision.

-- Michael S. Harper
Voices and Soul

30 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

I come from a strong Matriarchy; so strong in fact, one might say I come from a feminist extended-family. There was no division of labor by gender when doing chores, growing up; all of us mowed the lawn, washed dishes, cooked, cleaned. When we lived on the farm outside of Corvallis; all of us learned to sew and sow.

The great Matriarch of the Family, our Great Aunt Mabel, lived to be 102. Shortly after marriage in the late 1880's, she and her new husband provisioned a covered wagon and trekked across the plains on their way to California. Along the way, as she put it, "he wasn't up to snuff, so I had to kick him out." She took up with another fellow during the almost year long voyage; and he was "worse than the first", so he was sent packing as well. It took a special man to be with this special woman; as it has been, as it is and as it will be with all the women in my family.

I've heard the accusation, on more than one occasion, that the women in the family are "full of themselves."

"Yes," is their unabashed reply, resonating across the generations, "yes we are!"

Poem For A Lady Whose Voice I Like

so he said: you ain’t got no talent   
    if you didn’t have a face   
    you wouldn’t be nobody

and she said: god created heaven and earth   
    and all that’s Black within them

so he said: you ain’t really no hot shit   
    they tell me plenty sisters   
    take care better business than you

and she said: on the third day he made chitterlings   
    and all good things to eat   
    and said: “that’s good”

so he said: if the white folks hadn’t been under   
    yo skirt and been giving you the big play
    you’d a had to come on uptown like everybody else

and she replied: then he took a big Black greasy rib
    from adam and said we will call this woeman and her   
    name will be sapphire and she will divide into four parts   
    that simone may sing a song

and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu

so she replied: show me someone not full of herself   
    and i’ll show you a hungry person

-- Nikki Giovanni
Voices and Soul

23 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

One of the American Myths about Thanksgiving is how a bounty of riches was bestowed and shared; that God's goodness shone down from above and anointed all with an infinite Grace. It's nice to think so. It's nice to think that benevolence and friendship forged the bessemer of this Nation.

If only it were true.

The truth is that this nation was forged with the white-hot ingots of conquest, genocide and slavery; there is a reckoning and it will be discussed at...

The Powwow at the End of the World

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam   
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam   
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you   
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find   
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific   
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon   
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia   
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors   
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River   
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives   
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.   
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after   
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws   
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire   
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told   
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon   
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us   
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;   
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many   
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing   
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.

-- Sherman Alexie
Voices and Soul

Newt's Inaugural (c) BlueGal

19 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

I was involved in a rather spirited discussion recently, with some former classmates whose brains have been consumed by the ghastly TeaBircher walking dead; and have become mouth-gnawing-bone-breaking-mindless-shuffling-toward-any-loud-noise-or-smell-of-blood Zombies themselves.

It was sad to see once beautiful and sexy women reduced to spittle-flecked, red-eyed rage; and once lithe and athletic men now gray and bloody and mad; frantically tearing at corpses long void of any discernible nourishment.

These weren't Zombies from some Caribbean Mythic conjuring though; so I had no choice but to retreat to the high ground to gain some better bearings.

One would think, that if these Zombies looked in the mirror, they would know their mortal coil has been conquered, that their Souls have left the vessel; that their broken and flailing limbs, their skulls absent of brain tissue, the ganglia hanging loose and dripping a slimy green liquid; you would think that would give them a clue to their predicament. But they only respond to a bright flash, a jarring thud and the smell of raw meat. So they shuffle and grasp and mouth senseless words that are mere recitations embedded in a lizard-center of a forgotten hormonal gland activated by Fox News wireless electrical shocks.

Maybe it's cruel for me to say so, maybe it's inflammatory to call these folks the walking dead and use such ghastly, grade-b monster movie metaphor.

Maybe it's simplifying matters to call these folks mindless Zombies; when they know damn well what they are doing. Just as the Good Germans, they so mightily resemble, did before, during and after the fall of the Third Reich.

These TeaBirchers complain of brown people harrassing them with cupped hands begging for something not due them. These TeaBirchers complain of the jobless as losers who should be left to disappear in some other ether; just don't park on their street or ask for a job at their shop. These TeaBirchers consume the most and give back the least; and cheer when doctors are assassinated while advocating for a woman's right to choose.

The TeaBirchers say they harken to the Silent Majority from the time of Nixon and Reagan. Rather than silent, they are a cruel majority; a cruel majority that would rather see a child die of sickness than extend healthcare. A cruel majority that will kick a man or woman when they are down and then penalize them for complaining about it. A cruel majority that expects the unflinching fealty any bully demands, from any who comes between them and what they wish to possess.

A Poem for the Cruel Majority

The cruel majority emerges!

Hail to the cruel majority!

They will punish the poor for being poor.
They will punish the dead for having died.

Nothing can make the dark turn into light
for the cruel majority.
Nothing can make them feel hunger or terror.

If the cruel majority would only cup their ears
the sea would wash over them.
The sea would help them forget their wayward children.
It would weave a lullaby for young & old.

(See the cruel majority with hands cupped to their ears,
one foot is in the water, one foot is on the clouds.)

One man of them is large enough to hold a cloud
between his thumb & middle finger,
to squeeze a drop of sweat from it before he sleeps.

He is a little god but not a poet.
(See how his body heaves.)

The cruel majority love crowds & picnics.
The cruel majority fill up their parks with little flags.
The cruel majority celebrate their birthday.

Hail to the cruel majority again!

The cruel majority weep for their unborn children,
they weep for the children that they will never bear.
The cruel majority are overwhelmed by sorrow.

(Then why are the cruel majority always laughing?
Is it because night has covered up the city's walls?
Because the poor lie hidden in the darkness?
The maimed no longer come to show their wounds?)

Today the cruel majority vote to enlarge the darkness.

They vote for shadows to take the place of ponds
Whatever they vote for they can bring to pass.
The mountains skip like lambs for the cruel majority.

Hail to the cruel majority!
Hail! hail! to the cruel majority!

The mountains skip like lambs, the hills like rams.
The cruel majority tear up the earth for the cruel majority.
Then the cruel majority line up to be buried.

Those who love death will love the cruel majority.

Those who know themselves will know the fear
the cruel majority feel when they look in the mirror.

The cruel majority order the poor to stay poor.
They order the sun to shine only on weekdays.

The god of the cruel majority is hanging from a tree.
Their god's voice is the tree screaming as it bends.
The tree's voice is as quick as lightning as it streaks across the sky.

(If the cruel majority go to sleep inside their shadows,
they will wake to find their beds filled up with glass.)

Hail to the god of the cruel majority!
Hail to the eyes in the head of their screaming god!

Hail to his face in the mirror!

Hail to their faces as they float around him!

Hail to their blood & to his!

Hail to the blood of the poor they need to feed them!
Hail to their world & their god!

Hail & farewell!
Hail & farewell!
Hail & farewell!

-- Jerome Rothenberg

08 December 2010

Voices and Soul

11 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

As Haiti and her tragedies continue to fade from the collective memory of a Nation consumed with its own Exceptionalism, there remains a collective few who keep the memory alive. If we don't keep Haiti in the forefront of our concern, then we will have condemned the island and her people as we always have. Yet concern without action means we have condemned Haiti to an even greater tragedy.


What good are your tears?
They will not spare the dying their anguish.
What good is your concern
to a child sick of living, waiting to perish?

What good, the warm benevolence of tears
without action?
What help, the eloquence of prayers,
or a pleasant benediction?

Before this day is gone,
how many more will die
with bellies swollen, wasted limbs,
and eyes too parched to cry?

I fear for our souls
as I hear the faint lament
of their souls departing ...
mournful, and distant.

How pitiful our "effort,"
yet how fatal its effect.
If they died, then surely we killed them,
if only with neglect.

-- Michael R. Burch

22 November 2010

Voices and Soul

12 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

In the Dogon cosmology, the Andoumboulou are a failed, earlier form of Human Being, who live underground inhabiting holes in the Earth. The voice of the Andoumboulou is merely their breath; it is the music of the wind. Nathaniel Mackey takes this breath to the text; a reification of language to body, the ink on the page being as real as the skin that chatters for the Andoumboulou. He chronicles the journey of that voice, that music of the wind, as it courses over the land and time.

There is an explosion of stammers in the Andoumboulou's flawed world of abortive language. Though imperfect and flawed, meaning emerges in the errors. That meaning is beyond words; it is lost in human utterance; it is something to be determined as but a whisper from a human existence we can only speculate about, that we can only feel. A feeling like the wind on our cheeks; and grains of sand blown from our hands.

Song of the Andoumboulou: 55

Carnival morning they
were Greeks in Brazil,
Africans in Greek
disguise. Said of herself
was born in a house in
heaven. He said he was
born in the house next
door... They were in hell.
In Brazil they were
To abide by hearing was
what love was... To
love was to hear without
looking. Sound was the
 mummy cloth... All to say,
 said the exegete, love in
 hell was a voice, to be spoken
 to from behind, not be able
 to turn and look... It
wasn’t Greece where they
nor was it Benin... Carnival
morning in made-up hell, bodies
bathed in loquat light, would-be
 song’s all the more would-be
 title, “Sound and Cerement,”
wound in bandages

Up all night, slept well
past noon. Awoke restless
having dreamt she awoke on
Lone Coast, wondering
afterwards what it came
glimpsed interstice,
crack... Saw her
dead mother and brother
pull up in a car, her brother
at the wheel not having driven
while alive, newly taught
death it appeared. A fancy car,
than any her mother had had while
alive, she too better off it
appeared... A wishful read, “it
appeared” notwithstanding, the
exegete impossibly benign. Dreamt
a dream
of dream’s end, anxious, unannounced,
Eronel’s nevermore namesake, Monk’s
anagrammatic Lenore... That the
dead return in luxury cars made
weep, pathetic its tin elegance,
sweet read misread,

-- Nathaniel Mackey

09 November 2010

Voices and Soul

06 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

In July, I posted a little seen diary on dKos and also on my blog entitled, On Oscar Grant, Martyrdom and The Digital Age. I juxtaposed the self immolation in 1963 of the Buddhist Monk, Tich Quang Duc with that of the alternative musician in 2006, Malachi Ritscher; and the murders by police of supposed North Viet Namese sympathizer Nguyen Van Lem in 1968 and of Oscar Grant the morning of 1 January 2009.

In the early morning hours of 1 January 2009, Oscar Grant loosely fit the description of a young black man in America; a supposed sympathizer to the Thug Life and a threat to the community, the nation and the world; and so Oscar Grant was shot in the back by Police in those early morning hours, while laying face down on the Fruitvale BART station platform...

I wrote,

... Oscar Grant was murdered by long-held fear and animosity, murdered during a war on brown people domestic and abroad; by a policeman whose only defense is that he meant to torture Grant with 50,000 volts instead. There was no trial for Oscar Grant, only an apprehension and a gunshot in the back.

As I write this, the Judge in the murder trial of Grant is finalizing his sentencing decision for Johannes Mehserle; which will be handed down around 4pm Pacific Time. I am listening to KPFA interview activists at the Courthouse in Oakland, as they gather in solidarity. During the interview, a contingent of KKK and neo-Nazis stormed the area. They were quickly apprehended after they attacked a black kid who dared utter a protest against them. The thugs were taken inside the courthouse; where a holding cell is. I doubt Faux News will report that; but rest assured, plenty of images of black men in dark sunglasses and leather jackets will be portrayed, with commentary of the new hell that is America, what with a black man in the White House.

It is often stated that the US should be renamed, Prison America. I don't disagree with that assessment. It's almost as if we live a daily Stanford Experiment; some of us are guards, most of us are prisoners; but all of us, guards and prisoners alike, are housed within the confines of a concrete block-walled, razor-wired, guard-shack land.

There Are Black

                         There are black guards slamming cell gates
on black men,
                         And brown guards saying hello to brown men
with numbers on their backs,
                         And white guards laughing with white cons,
                         and red guards, few, say nothing
to red inmates as they walk by to chow and cells.

                         There you have it, the little antpile . . .
convicts marching in straight lines, guards flying
on badged wings, permits to sting, to glut themselves
at the cost of secluding themselves from their people . .
                         Turning off their minds like watertaps
wrapped in gunnysacks that insulate the pipes
carrying the pale weak water to their hearts.

                         It gets bad when you see these same guards
carrying buckets of blood out of cells,
see them puking at the smell, the people,
their own people slashing their wrists,
hanging themselves with belts from light outlets;
it gets bad to see them clean up the mess,
carry the blue cold body out under sheets,
and then retake their places in guard cages,
watching their people maul and mangle themselves,

                         And over this blood-rutted land,
the sun shines, the guards talk of horses and guns,
go to the store and buy new boots,
and the longer they work here the more powerful they become,
taking on the presence of some ancient mummy,
down in the dungeons of prison, a mummy
that will not listen, but has a strange power
in this dark world, to be so utterly disgusting in ignorance,
and yet so proudly command so many men. . . .

                         And the convicts themselves, at the mummy’s
feet, blood-splattered leather, at this one’s feet,
they become cobras sucking life out of their brothers,
they fight for rings and money and drugs,
in this pit of pain their teeth bare fangs,
to fight for what morsels they can. . . .

                         And the other convicts, guilty
of nothing but their born color, guilty of being innocent,
they slowly turn to dust in the nightly winds here,
flying in the wind back to their farms and cities.
From the gash in their hearts, sand flies up spraying
over houses and through trees,

                         look at the sand blow over this deserted place,
you are looking at them

-- Jimmy Santiago Baca

03 November 2010

Voices and Soul

02 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

On this Election Day, as we cast our votes in a declaration of independence and civic duty; as an affirmation of our heritage as Americans; I cannot help but consider that part of our Heritage that is like the crisp autumn leaves of dried blood on our hands; a heritage passed down by the spilled blood of brothers and sisters past; of the blood of grandfathers and grandmothers weeping from a round house; the blood of elk and bison spilled on sands and in forests; blood of eagles on a snow-capped precipice and blood of mallards on a Cascade valley lake; the blood of our Heritage carried by blood-vein rivers across this vast red earth. A heritage that preceded the landing at Plymouth Rock, even that of the landing of the Santa Maria. A heritage planted by a tribal people who also, nonetheless, in a vast and distant time, emigrated from the distant shores of another distant continent. Who, because of aeons of intimate connection with this landscape, believed that every thing is alive. So much so, that coastal tribes built their dugouts with hearts and lungs; because they believed the tree was still alive in the boat.

On this Election Day, as we make those important votes and then go about our daily routines, routines that takes us along the corridors of pavement or through the static of the air; let us consider a once powerful people. A people subjegated, marginalized and weakened. A people caught between two worlds not of their choosing. A people left with only...

A Declaration, Not of Independence

Apparently I’m Mom’s immaculately-conceived
Irish-American son, because,
Social-Security time come,
my Cherokee dad could not prove he’d been born.

He could pay taxes, though,
financing troops, who’d conquered our land,
and could go to jail,
the time he had to shoot or die,
by a Caucasian attacker’s knife.

Eluding recreational killers’ calendar’s
enforcers, while hunting my family’s food,
I thought what the hunted think,
so that I ate, not only meat
but the days of wild animals fed by the days
of seeds, themselves eating earth’s
aeons of lives, fed by the sun,
rising and falling, as quail,
hurtling through sky,

fell, from gun-powder, come—
as the First Americans came—
from Asia.

Explosions in cannon,
I have an English name,
a German-Chilean-American wife
and could live a white life,
but, with this hand,
with which I write, I dug,
my sixteenth summer, a winter’s supply of yams out
of hard, battlefield clay,
dug for my father’s mother, who—
abandoned by her husband—raised,
alone, a mixed-blood family
and raised—her tongue spading air—
ancestors, a winter’s supply or more.

-- Ralph Salisbury
Voices and Soul

26 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

The Prison Industrial Complex insists that it is a growth industry; and it's hard to argue with that assessment. With the building of ever more prisons, both by Government and Private Industry, with mandatory sentencing and inflexible drug laws; the resonant cadences of chain gangs past can be heard echoing from sea to shining sea.

It is presumed that Drug Prohibition began with the Harrison Act of 1914, but California enacted the Nation's first anti-narcotics law in 1875 in response to anti-chinese sentiment. Ostensibly enacted to crack down on opium dens, the law was used to incarcerate or banish Chinese nationals deemed as unfair competition with white workers. When several boatloads of Punjabi Sikhs landed in San Francisco in 1910, it sparked an uproar of protest from Asian exclusionists, who pronounced them to be even more unfit for American civilization than the Chinese. Immigration authorities capped the influx at little more than 2,000 in the state, mostly in agricultural areas of the Central Valley. Even so, the Sikhs remained a popular target by racists of the times; and were accused of many crimes, all while under the influence of hashish or marijuana. In the 1920's and 1940's, when Braceros and other workers from Mexico were no longer needed, even harsher laws were enacted to hasten their exodus. Anti-narcotics laws were also enacted in the South to intimidate the black population and used as an excuse to deny them the vote.

To ignore the racial animus that drives the Prison Industrial Complex, is to ignore the obvious; it is to ignore the history of our nation.

Divide and Conquer is a strategy used by military and political professionals alike. If people can be divided by culture and race, the job of the General or the Oligarch runs smoother. It runs smoother still, if the divisions extend within those very cultures and races, as well.

A Fable

Once upon a today and yesterday
and nevermore there were 7 men and women all locked
up in prison cells. Now these 7 men and women
were innocent of any crimes; they were in prison
because their skins were black.

Day after day, the prisoners paced their cells,
pining for their freedom.

And the non-black jailers would
laugh at the prisoners and beat them
with sticks and throw their food on the floor.

Finally, prisoner #1 said,
“I will educate myself and emulate
the non-colored people.
That is the way to freedom
c’mon, you guys, and follow me.”

“Hell, no,” said prisoner #2.
“The only way to get free is
to pray to my god and he will deliver you like
he delivered Daniel from the lion’s den,
so unite and follow me.”

“Bullshit,” said prisoner #3.
“The only way
out is thru this tunnel i’ve been
quietly digging, so c’mon, and follow me.”

“Uh-uh,” said prisoner #4,
“that’s too risky.
The only right
way is to follow all the rules
and don’t make the non-colored people angry,
so c’mon brothers and sisters and unite behind me.”  

 “Fuck you!” said prisoner #5,
“The only way
out is to shoot
our way out, if all of
you get together behind me.”

“No,” said prisoner #6,
“all of you are incorrect;
you have not analyzed the
political situation by my
scientific method and historical meemeejeebee.
All we have to do is wait long enough
and the bars will bend from their own inner rot.
That is the only way.”

“Are all of you crazy,” cried prisoner #7.
“I’ll get out by myself,
by ratting on the rest of you
to the non-colored people.
That is the way, that is the only way!”

“No-no,” they
all cried, “come and follow me.
I have the
way, the only way to freedom.”

And so they argued, and to this day
they are still arguing;
and to this day they are still
in their prison cells,
their stomachs
trembling with fear.

-- Etheridge Knight
Voices and Soul

22 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

I was thinking about Kurt Vonnegut the other day. I was thinking about the firebombing of Dresden and the burning of Beatles albums in the South. I was thinking about the destruction of the Library in Alexandria and dynamiting of the Buddhas of Bamyan. I was thinking of laws that prevented blacks from reading; and if there were no laws, the local Citizens Council made sure no reading occured.

Vonnegut was not the only one to call the bombing of Dresden an act of terror. Even British Air Commodore Colin McKay Grierson, a confidant of Churchill, admitted to AP war correspondent Howard Cowan, that the raid also helped destroy...

... what is left of German morale.

Cowan then filed a report that the allies had resorted to terror bombing.

The firebombing of Dresden, a center for Art and Literature, was a strategic act of terror. The burning of Beatles albums was a conscious act by white supremacists and one meant to intimidate. Laws to prevent the education of blacks and brown peoples are making a virulent resurgence. In fact, there are calls by the TeaBirchers to defund the Department of Education and to also limit funds for any education measure on the local level.

In the historic center of Baghdad, on a street named after the tenth century classical poet, Al-Mutannabi, a street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls, an area often referred to as the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community; a car bomb exploded and killed 26 people on 5 March 2007.

on the day Al-Mutanabbi street was bombed

did you notice
how quickly the open sky
folded in upon itself

the flaking burnt pages
like torn moth wings
flying up the fetid smoke
then drifting

the broken teacups
and coffee stained saucers
the splintered chairs
empty shoe
splattered blood

just before
that moment

did you hear the
euphony of the street
as men wrangled
and summoned
swore and cajoled
if not solved
if not created
the problems
and the promise
of their country's

did you even know
of the dreams imploded
inside the molten iron
across the narrow
book lined street
as debate turned
to barbed screeches
into choked smoke
and a thousand
years of history
was buried in the rubble

or was there

except an inexorable
deadly silence

-- devorah major
Voices and Soul

19 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

A late summer on the west coast, the occasional rain squall that cleans the air. A temperate mid-70's as the sun casts moving shadows of moving clouds pushed by a confluence of sea and desert winds. Ntozake Shange evokes this landscape of concrete, glass and chaparral, of date palms and ice plant, the freeway and the back yard; as she pays homage to the...

People of Watts

where we come from, sometimes, beauty
floats around us like clouds
the way leaves rustle in the breeze
and cornbread and barbecue swing out the backdoor
and tease all our senses as the sun goes down.

dreams and memories rest by fences
Texas accents rev up like our engines
customized sparkling powerful as the arms
that hold us tightly black n fragrant
reminding us that once we slept and loved
to the scents of magnolia and frangipani
once when we looked toward the skies
we could see something as lovely as our children's
smiles white n glistenin' clear of fear or shame
young girls in braids as precious as gold
find out that sex is not just bein' touched
but in the swing of their hips the light fallin cross
a softbrown cheek or the movement of a mere finger
to a lip many lips inviting kisses southern
and hip as any one lanky brother in the heat
of a laid back sunday rich as a big mama still
in love with the idea of love how we play at lovin'
even riskin' all common sense cause we are as fantastical
as any chimera or magical flowers where breasts entice
and disguise the racing pounding of our hearts
as the music that we are
hard core blues low bass voices crooning
straight outta Compton melodies so pretty
they nasty cruising the Harbor Freeway
blowin' kisses to strangers who won't be for long
singing ourselves to ourselves Mamie Khalid Sharita
Bessie Jock Tookie MaiMai Cosmic Man Mr. Man
Keemah and all the rest seriously courtin'
rappin' a English we make up as we go along
turnin' nouns into verbs braids into crowns
and always fetchin' dreams from a horizon
strewn with bones and flesh of those of us
who didn't make it whose smiles and deep
dark eyes help us to continue to see
there's so much life here.

-- Ntozake Shange

18 October 2010

Voices and Soul

15 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

When the Roberts Court handed down the decision in the Lilly Ledbetter case, the opinon proffered by Samuel Alito was there was no constitutional issue. Ledbetter was denied her back pay because of statutory limitations on her right to sue; she was deemed to have brought the charges beyond the 180 day limit set by law. Never mind that she didn't know she was being discriminated against; never mind that Goodyear made talk of pay among her and her fellow workers a firing offense. Never mind that Ledbetter followed the provisions has specified in her contract.

When it was discovered that the male managers (and only the male managers, mind you) at her Goodyear plant were privvy to each other's pay, Alito held that Ledbetter must have known as well; that she should have and could have sued for back pay, rather than waiting beyond the 180 limit.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration signed a bill into law that addresses the inequity of the Roberts Decision. The new law didn't recoup Ledbetter's back pay, but it did protect other women from the discrimination that Ledbetter suffered.

Therein lies the problem. From inequities in pay and promotions, to the uneven field of sexual politics; women have always been held to...

A Double Standard

Do you blame me that I loved him?
   If when standing all alone
I cried for bread a careless world
   Pressed to my lips a stone.

Do you blame me that I loved him,
   That my heart beat glad and free,
When he told me in the sweetest tones
   He loved but only me?

Can you blame me that I did not see
   Beneath his burning kiss
The serpent’s wiles, nor even hear
   The deadly adder hiss?

Can you blame me that my heart grew cold
   That the tempted, tempter turned;
When he was feted and caressed
   And I was coldly spurned?

Would you blame him, when you draw from me
   Your dainty robes aside,
If he with gilded baits should claim
   Your fairest as his bride?

Would you blame the world if it should press
   On him a civic crown;
And see me struggling in the depth
   Then harshly press me down?

Crime has no sex and yet to-day
   I wear the brand of shame;
Whilst he amid the gay and proud
   Still bears an honored name.

Can you blame me if I’ve learned to think
   Your hate of vice a sham,
When you so coldly crushed me down
   And then excused the man?

Would you blame me if to-morrow
   The coroner should say,
A wretched girl, outcast, forlorn,
   Has thrown her life away?

Yes, blame me for my downward course,
   But oh! remember well,
Within your homes you press the hand
   That led me down to hell.

I’m glad God’s ways are not our ways,
   He does not see as man,
Within His love I know there’s room
   For those whom others ban.

I think before His great white throne,
   His throne of spotless light,
That whited sepulchres shall wear
   The hue of endless night.

That I who fell, and he who sinned,
   Shall reap as we have sown;
That each the burden of his loss
   Must bear and bear alone.

No golden weights can turn the scale
   Of justice in His sight;
And what is wrong in woman’s life
   In man’s cannot be right.

-- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

13 October 2010

Voices and Soul

12 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

I came across a poll recently, showing that working class whites without four year college degrees, back Republican and TeaBircher policies with great majorities. Makes sense then, why we are hearing calls from Republicans and TeaBirchers to dismantle the Department of Education; if an educated voting public votes Democrat, then assure that the voting public is uneducated.

I have been harangued myself by this group, folks I went to high school with and have found me on the world wide web. I remember them as slackers and partiers, cheaters on tests who had no real expectation of a four year college education. They were very reminiscent of the characters in a parody of the movie, Saturday Night Fever on Saturday Night Live in the '70's, where Dan Akroyd happily proclaims in a disco club,

"To be young and stupid with no future, god I love this life!"

I have been accused by these "friends", because of my BA's in History and English, and an MA in American Literature, to have been brainwashed by the Liberal Educational system. They are of the belief that the more educated one is; excepting homeschooling, or attendance at Regent of Liberty Universities, but specifically, educated in public schools and "secular" colleges and universities; the more brainwashed that person. Never mind that I started Catholic School before Vatican II, never mind that one of my history professors at Portland State for example, Basil Dmytryshyn, could hardly be considered liberal.

The terrible ramifications of such an approach is obvious; from the problems of Science, whether it be Physics or Evolution, to the problems of historical revisionism and the..

Problems of Translation: Problems of Language


I turn to my Rand McNally Atlas.   
Europe appears right after the Map of the World.   
All of Italy can be seen page 9.   
Half of Chile page 29.   
I take out my ruler.   
In global perspective Italy   
amounts to less than half an inch.   
Chile measures more than an inch and a quarter   
of an inch.   
Chile is as long as China   
is wide:   
Back to the Atlas:   
Chunk of China page 17.   
All of France page 5: As we say in New York:
Who do France and Italy know   
at Rand McNally?


I see the four mountains in Chile higher   
than any mountain of North America.   
I see Ojos del Salado the highest.   
I see Chile unequivocal as crystal thread.   
I see the Atacama Desert dry in Chile more than the rest   
of the world is dry.   
I see Chile dissolving into water.   
I do not see what keeps the blue land of Chile   
out of blue water.   
I do not see the hand of Pablo Neruda on the blue land.


As the plane flies flat to the trees   
below Brazil   
below Bolivia   
below five thousand miles below   
my Brooklyn windows   
and beside the shifted Pacific waters   
welled away from the Atlantic at Cape Horn   
La Isla Negra that is not an island La   
Isla Negra   
that is not black   
is stone and stone of Chile   
feeding clouds to color   
scale and undertake terrestrial forms   
of everything unspeakable


In your country   
how do you say copper   
for my country?


Blood rising under the Andes and above   
the Andes blood   
spilling down the rock   
corrupted by the amorality   
of so much space   
that leaves such little trace of blood   
rising to the irritated skin the face   
of the confession far   
from home:

I confess I did not resist interrogation.   
I confess that by the next day I was no longer sure
of my identity.   
I confess I knew the hunger.   
I confess I saw the guns.   
I confess I was afraid.   
I confess I did not die.


What you Americans call a boycott   
of the junta?   
Who will that feed?


Not just the message but the sound.


Early morning now and I remember   
corriendo a la madrugada from a different   
English poem,   
I remember from the difficulties of the talk   
an argument   
athwart the wine the dinner and the dancing   
meant to welcome you

you did not understand the commonplace expression   
of my heart:

the truth is in the life

la verdad de la vida

Early morning:
do you say la mañanita?
But then we lose   
the idea of the sky uncurling to the light:

Early morning and I do not think we lose:   
the rose we left behind   
broken to a glass of water on the table   
at the restaurant stands   
even sweeter   
por la mañanita

-- June Jordan

06 October 2010

Voices and Soul

5 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

My ten year old grandson is as precocious as his father and his grandfather were at his age. He is a sponge for knowledge and is always reading. I found myself reprimanding him recently, the way I reprimanded his father; and I was reprimanded by mine,

"I don't care how late you read, and you really should get some rest, but if you're going to read at 10 at night, turn on more light!"

When I was his age, we had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to do farm/ranch chores before we went to school, so I had a 9:30 p.m. bedtime with a 10 p.m. curfew on reading. I was too often caught and scolded for using my official army green, right angle Boy Scout flashlight while reading under the covers of my bed after the "curfew," sometimes as late as midnight.

I never had the problem of my son reading at midnight, but I expect to with my grandson; especially since I am so involved with his reading list. I'll state here and now, I am not responsible for the Stephen King novels he has; a barely competent story teller, but a terrible writer; my ex is responsible for that. It makes sense to me now why she would expose him to such swill. Whereas during our younger and sexier married life, I would choose Barry Lopez or Durrell for beach reading; she would embarrass me with Stephen King, or that charlatan, Michael Crichton! There's only so much a person can take. Like I said, she is my ex.

My grandson has been showing an interest in the Civil Rights and Anti War movement of the 60's and early 70's. His father has regaled him with some stories of my family's involvement, so when I visited recently, I brought some photos and news clippings from marches, speeches, gatherings and events my family or I had participated in. I want him to know; and also my 6 year old and 8 month old granddaughters to know, when they get old enough; that the family reunions that include haitians and irish, latins and romas, chippewas and jews, czechs and cajuns, greeks and nigerians, and yes, gays and celibates as well, was peculiar to our family 50 years ago; and not the norm; as it seems to them now. I want them to know how much of a struggle it was to simply get a glass of water or use a bathroom if they were not of the correct hue. I want them to know that the simple act of holding hands might have jeopardized their lives in certain parts of this country. Each of us have the artifacts and history that records that struggle and change; from the stories we tell our children or grandchildren as they sit rapt at our knee, to the explanation behind a family photograph at the beach; our lives stand as a testament and a recurring...

History Lesson

I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side

of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,

forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

-- Natasha Trethewey

04 October 2010

Voices and Soul

1 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

On 2 October 1977, my Son Israel Putnam was born. I assisted in his birth and placed his wrinkled, writhing body on his mom's stomach. I let the others attend to the umbilical cord and such. I had already done so with several calves and foals on the farm and ranch growing up in Oregon, it was enough to stroke my wife's forehead and help clean his tiny hands. It was a momentous day, to be sure.

On 2 October 2010, thousands will march in Washington; a show of solidarity against the TeaBircher demonstrations that have taken place recently. A gathering of workers and mothers, small business owners and students, gays and atheists, catholics and lesbians, protestants and teachers, nurses and shias, housekeepers and lawyers. I expect it to be a momentous day.

I visited Israel and my three grandkids in Salem, Oregon a week ago. I love to take the train. It was a practice our family embraced when I was a toddler in the late 50's; and I've used it often since. I enjoy the trains in Europe much more of course, but the Amtrak Coast Starlight is a great way to see the West Coast of the United States. Sitting in the Salem rail station for my return back the the Bay Area, I engaged in a conversation with a young Army Ranger, dressed in desert camo and burdened with desert camo duffle bags, who was on his way to visit relatives in Portland. A pretty black-haired goth girl gave the perfunctory genuflection, uttering the requisite mantra of patriotic thanks. I was more curious when and where he was going back. I was more concerned he had to go at all.

He was closing a camp near the Euphrates and moving it to the Afghan-Pakistan border. He only had two days with his relatives in Portland; on 2 October 2010, he would be with his fellow Rangers in Iraq.

On the train, I was sat next to a young man who works for an NGO in Ecuador building schools. In the mid-80's, I worked for a contractor hired by UNICEF drilling water wells for schools in Honduras; so we talked of Latin America and how the problems of abject poverty complicate matters. He was on his way to the offices in the Mission District of San Francisco, California, before traveling back to Guayaquil. He was then due to be in the tiny village of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on 2 October 2010.

As I sat in the viewing car that night, watching the full moon as we rolled through the Cascades, I thought of the petty nature of bigotry; and how the actions of those two men, the actions of the marchers in DC stand against that pettiness. I thought how the struggle is long and hard; and how we cannot allow that pettiness to go unchallenged; lest we return to another 2 October, this time in 1937, when Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, ordered 20,000 blacks killed because they could not roll the letter “r” in perejil, the Spanish word for...


1. The Cane Fields

There is a parrot imitating spring
in the palace, its feathers parsley green.
Out of the swamp the cane appears

to haunt us, and we cut it down. El General
searches for a word; he is all the world
there is. Like a parrot imitating spring,

we lie down screaming as rain punches through
and we come up green. We cannot speak an R—
out of the swamp, the cane appears

and then the mountain we call in whispers Katalina.
The children gnaw their teeth to arrowheads.
There is a parrot imitating spring.

El General has found his word: perejil.
Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining
out of the swamp. The cane appears

in our dreams, lashed by wind and streaming.
And we lie down. For every drop of blood
there is a parrot imitating spring.
Out of the swamp the cane appears.

2. The Palace

The word the general’s chosen is parsley.
It is fall, when thoughts turn
to love and death; the general thinks
of his mother, how she died in the fall
and he planted her walking cane at the grave
and it flowered, each spring stolidly forming
four-star blossoms. The general

pulls on his boots, he stomps to
her room in the palace, the one without
curtains, the one with a parrot
in a brass ring. As he paces he wonders
Who can I kill today. And for a moment
the little knot of screams
is still. The parrot, who has traveled

all the way from Australia in an ivory
cage, is, coy as a widow, practicing
spring. Ever since the morning
his mother collapsed in the kitchen
while baking skull-shaped candies
for the Day of the Dead, the general
has hated sweets. He orders pastries
brought up for the bird; they arrive

dusted with sugar on a bed of lace.
The knot in his throat starts to twitch;
he sees his boots the first day in battle
splashed with mud and urine
as a soldier falls at his feet amazed—
how stupid he looked!— at the sound
of artillery. I never thought it would sing
the soldier said, and died. Now

the general sees the fields of sugar
cane, lashed by rain and streaming.
He sees his mother’s smile, the teeth
gnawed to arrowheads. He hears
the Haitians sing without R’s
as they swing the great machetes:
Katalina, they sing, Katalina,

mi madle, mi amol en muelte. God knows
his mother was no stupid woman; she
could roll an R like a queen. Even
a parrot can roll an R! In the bare room
the bright feathers arch in a parody
of greenery, as the last pale crumbs
disappear under the blackened tongue. Someone

calls out his name in a voice
so like his mother’s, a startled tear
splashes the tip of his right boot.
My mother, my love in death.
The general remembers the tiny green sprigs
men of his village wore in their capes
to honor the birth of a son. He will
order many, this time, to be killed

for a single, beautiful word.

-- Rita Dove

29 September 2010

Voices and Soul

28 September 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos, Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

Being the son of a professional Historian, having a degree in History myself; I am both, amazed and appalled, by the blatant historical revisions and ignorance that is on display by the TeaBirchers© and their fellow travelers. From outright editing and distribution of Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists as a whole document, so as to support their dubious claims of the Founders being against the existence of a Wall between Church and State; to Fox News editing Obama's public exchanges so his presidency is diminished and marginalized.

Surely, if one has to lie to support an argument, the argument must not be very sound. What if we "edit" the lie out these discourses? What do we get? How about an honest assessment of where we came from:

What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one's heroic ancestors. It's astounding to me, for example, that so many people really seem to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be free. That happens not to be true. What happened was that some people left Europe because they couldn't stay there any longer and had to go someplace else to make it. They were hungry, they were poor, they were convicts.
-- James Baldwin
"A Talk to Teachers," Oct. 16, 1963

It is true that a Dream arose out of the disaffection experienced by those hungry, and poor, and convicted. It is true that tragedies and dangerous compromises occurred to make that Dream of America a possibility. Just let us not lie about where it was we came from and how it is we came to be who we are; let us look honestly to where our present is and where our future could be; let us not lie to make the Dream true. It is said, Knowledge is Power; and that is a sad truism when taking account of the axiom's terrible permutations. Ignorance though, masking itself as Knowledge, is not real Power; but real Ruination.

The only real course to stem this ruination then, is to embrace Knowledge and not Ignorance; to arm our minds and soul and activism against those corporate armies of propaganda, against those mobs of malice and hate; who in either, ignorance or guile, or both, would go to any means necessary than...

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

-- Langston Hughes

14 September 2010

Voices and Soul

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile Poetry Editor

When I was a young father and husband in my mid-20's, attending Portland State University to finish out my undergrad degree, one of the many jobs to make ends meet, was as a life form model in several Art Schools in town.

It seemed curious to me at the time, why few of the student artists would draw the scars from my athletic injuries; tank track-like scars on my right shoulder and right knee, back in the day when they flailed you open to operate. I asked one of those student artists why that was so,

"Because," he sort of sniffed, "true Artists are only concerned with Beauty. By our efforts, we only want to immortalize that which is Beautiful."

And that summed up the dichotomy that presented itself, to me, in Art generally, but Poetry in particular; is Poetry of the detached observer or of the active participant? Is Poetry to concern itself with Beauty only? How then, is Beauty defined? To that question, I had already concluded with Balzac and Baudelaire, that Beauty is in and can be found in, all things. Regardless, Art and Poetry are records, Art and Poetry are History. As the French academic, Fernand Braudel wrote:

For the historian everything begins and ends with time, a mathematical, godlike time, a notion easily mocked, time external to men, 'exogenous,' as economists would say, pushing men, forcing them, and painting their own individual times the same color.

-- Fernand Braudel
On History

And Victor Hugo punctuated,

One cannot be a good historian of the outward, visible world without giving some thought to the hidden, private life of ordinary people; and on the other hand one cannot be a good historian of this inner life without taking into account outward events where these are relevant. They are two orders of fact which reflect each other, which are always linked and which sometimes provoke each other.

-- Victor Hugo
Les Misérables

The Beats, The Harlem Renaissance and especially The Black Arts movement incorporated in their Ethos, The Primacy of Experience; one's primary experience is what one recorded. It followed then, that one's primary experience was usually that of the active participant. When the neighborhood is burning and dad is shot by vigilantes and mom is cursing the helicopter lights and moving shadows as the windows shake from the prop wash, it's a little difficult to meditate on the petals of an orchid.

So it was for me in the days and weeks after 11 September. I had already flirted with the cynicism brought on by multiples of personal, national and world tragedies; from love lost by absence, incarceration or death; to stumbling upon,

"... the gutted remains of Honduran peasants desiccated next to red bougainvillea, as green hummingbirds darted and stopped at delicate petals and darted away again. I have seen the blasted remains of the last hospital in Sarajevo spilling stone and beds onto the street."

In spite of these experiences, I was still able to hold onto some child-like wonder at the world. I visited New York before the month of September 2001 ended. I didn't find any answers, but I had many questions, questions that revolved around Time, around the change in a person's Heart; questions revolving around the steady erosion of Innocence and how the graduations of that erosion is marked by...

The Dates of Demarcation


Justice Putnam

How many times
Can a Heart be broken
How many times
Can a resolve be tested

Is this the meaning
Of Life?

To be reminded
At the most unexpected
Time of
Pain and impermanence

How many times?

I hear the voices
Of those whose
Memories of
Lost innocence

Are etched with the
Precision of a Calendar
On the Stone of History:

Jack London remembered
The Boxer Rebellion
Jack Reed recalled more
Than Ten Days

Hemingway remembered
A Hospital in Italy
Vonnegut talked of
Dresden’s fiery face

Our Grandparents
Think of the Seventh
Of December

While others recall

A day in Dallas
A balcony in Memphis
A hotel in LA

How many more times
How many more generations

Will be born into this
Impending loss?

How many more
Incidents of horror
Before the last
Vestige of innocence
Is carried away?

These questions
May seem on the surface
To be a plea

How many more times

How many more images
Of a woman

Her dress blown
In a fall among


(New York September 2001)

from: The Nature of Poetics Collapsed Outside My Window

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen