31 March 2010

Voices and Soul

30 March 2010

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

A picture may indeed, be worth a thousand words; but if done with precision, a poem wouldn't nearly require that much verbiage for an image to occur. This week's poet, Tracy K. Smith, sets the camera focused on a crowded yet expansive vista. She adjusts the timer on the camera, moves and stands before it. She is determined as she raises her hands high and wide above her head, a moment before the time-trapping whirr and click of the shutter:

Self Portrait as the Letter Y


I waved a gun last night
In a city like some ancient Los Angeles.
It was dusk. There were two girls
I wanted to make apologize,
But the gun was uselessly heavy.
They looked sideways at each other
And tried to flatter me. I was angry.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to bury the pistol,
But I would've had to walk miles.
I would've had to learn to run.


I have finally become that girl
In the photo you keep among your things,
Steadying myself at the prow of a small boat.
It is always summer here, and I am
Always staring into the lens of your camera,
Which has not yet been stolen. Always
With this same expression. Meaning
I see your eye behind the camera's eye.
Meaning that in the time it takes
For the tiny guillotine
To open and fall shut, I will have decided
I am just about ready to love you.


Sun cuts sharp angles
Across the airshaft adjacent.
They kiss. They kiss again.
Faint clouds pass, disband.
Someone left a mirror
At the foot of the fire escape.
They look down. They kiss.
She will never be free
Because she is afraid. He
Will never be free
Because he has always
Been free.


Was kind of a rebel then.
Took two cars. Took
Bad advice. Watched people's
Asses. Sniffed their heads.
Just left, so it looked
Like those half sad cookouts,
Meats never meant to be
Flayed, meant nothing.
Made promises. Kept going.
Prayed for signs. Stooped
For coins. Needed them.
Had two definitions of family.
Had two families. Snooped.
Forgot easily. Well, didn't
Forget, but knew when it was safe
To remember. Woke some nights
Against a wet pillow, other nights
With the lights on, whispering
The truest things
Into the receiver.


A small dog scuttles past, like a wig
Drawn by an invisible cord. It is spring.
The pirates out selling fakes are finally
Able to draw a crowd. College girls,
Inspired by the possibility of sex,
Show bare skin in good faith. They crouch
Over heaps of bright purses, smiling,
Willing to pay. Their arms
Swing forward as they walk away, balancing
That new weight on naked shoulders.
The pirates smile, too, watching
Pair after pair of thighs carved in shadow
As girl after girl glides into the sun.


You are pure appetite. I am pure
Appetite. You are a phantom
In that far-off city where daylight
Climbs cathedral walls, stone by stolen stone.
I am invisible here, like I like it.
The language you taught me rolls
From your mouth into mine
The way kids will pass smoke
Between them. You feed it to me
Until my heart grows fat. I feed you
Tiny black eggs. I feed you
My very own soft truth. We believe.
We stay up talking all kinds of shit.

-- Tracy K. Smith

24 March 2010

Voices and Soul

23 March 2010

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

If poets and writers are lucky enough to get a note in the many rejections of their work, they are advised both to "write what they know" and also avoid writing from too much personal experience. It would seem one would cancel the other. Sharon Olds takes these suggestions and turns them into an exercise of literary rebellion. She embraces the personal and in so doing, gives voice to history, family and community. Her argument of the personal arises when the manuscript is returned and "red-penned" to...

Take the I Out

But I love the I, steel I-beam
that my father sold. They poured the pig iron
into the mold, and it fed out slowly,
a bending jelly in the bath, and it hardened,
Bessemer, blister, crucible, alloy, and he
marketed it, and bought bourbon, and Cream
of Wheat, its curl of butter right
in the middle of its forehead, he paid for our dresses
with his metal sweat, sweet in the morning
and sour in the evening. I love the I,
frail between its flitches, its hard ground
and hard sky, it soars between them
like the soul that rushes, back and forth,
between the mother and father. What if they had loved each other,
how would it have felt to be the strut
joining the floor and roof of the truss?
I have seen, on his shirt-cardboard, years
in her desk, the night they made me, the penciled
slope of her temperature rising, and on
the peak of the hill, first soldier to reach
the crest, the Roman numeral I--
I, I, I, I,
girders of identity, head on,
embedded in the poem. I love the I
for its premise of existence--our I--when I was
born, part gelid, I lay with you
on the cooling table, we were all there, a
forest of felled iron. The I is a pine,
resinous, flammable root to crown,
which throws its cones as far as it can in a fire.

-- Sharon Olds

22 March 2010

From: Black Kos Week in Review 19 March 2010

Justice Putnam
Black Kos Contributing Poetry Editor

"As much as things change, things remain the same." "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

How many times have we heard those refrains? Yet, are they any less true if we had heard them but once? Or a lifetime's worth? It may be human nature that requires us to be constantly reminded of that which went before; or it may be the affliction Gore Vidal coined, "American Amnesia".

Langston Hughes wrote the following that has the eerie echo of events just happening. But he wrote it when jackboots were beginning a goosestep across the Polish plains; when an American Corporatocracy consolidated wealth in the hands of a distinct few, while tens of millions toiled for pennies a day; when a respected journal published an...

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sleepers in charity's flop-houses where God pulls a
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They serve swell board at the Waldorf-Astoria. Look at the menu, will


Have luncheon there this afternoon, all you jobless.
Why not?
Dine with some of the men and women who got rich off of
your labor, who clip coupons with clean white fingers
because your hands dug coal, drilled stone, sewed gar-
ments, poured steel to let other people draw dividends
and live easy.
(Or haven't you had enough yet of the soup-lines and the bit-
ter bread of charity?)
Walk through Peacock Alley tonight before dinner, and get
warm, anyway. You've got nothing else to do.

-- Langston Hughes

19 March 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise a Racist, It Takes a Train to Cry

It Takes a Village to Raise a Racist, It Takes a Train to Cry


Justice Putnam

"Overall, there's not a lot of evidence that, at least in the long term, kids get their prejudice from their parents," said Charles Stangor, who runs the Laboratory for the Study of Social Stereotyping and Prejudice at the University of Maryland. "I would call it more of a community effect than a parental effect. The community fosters tolerance or prejudice."

-- SPLC Intelligence Report
Sonia Scherr

She has that razor sadness
That only gets worse
With the clang and thunder of the
Southern Pacific going by
As the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet
Till you're full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
And you spill out
Over the side to anyone who'll listen
And I've seen it
All through the yellow windows
Of the evening train.

-- Tom Waits
9th & Hennepin

Eenie meenie miney moe
Catch a nigger by the toe

-- Child's Nursery Rhyme

A Jap's a Jap. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen or not. I don't want any of them. Racial affiliations are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second - and third-generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become 'Americanized,' the racial strains are undiluted.

Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt

Many factors kept Chicanos in a marginal status. The geographical isolation of employment sites, particularly in railroading, agriculture, and agriculturally related industry, often reduced opportunities for Chicanos to gain familiarity with U.S. society through personal contact. Chicanos also encountered various forms of segregation. These included maintenance of separate Anglo and Mexican public schools, restrictive covenants on residential property, segregated restaurants, separate "white" and "colored" sections in theaters, and special "colored" days in segregated swimming pools.

-- Jose Pitti, Ph.D., Professor of History and Ethnic Studies California State University, Sacramento
Antonia Castaneda, Ph.D. Stanford University
Carlos Cortes, Professor of History University of California, Riverside
A History of Mexican Americans in California

I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

-- George Wallace

A witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On 8th October, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.

-- About the 1963 Birmingham Bombing

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

-- Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol (1937)
Strange Fruit

- I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.

-- Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Petitioners demanded of an employer that it hire Negroes at one of its grocery stores, as white clerks quit or were transferred, until the proportion of Negro clerks to white clerks approximated the proportion of Negro to white customers, which was then about 50%. A California state court enjoined petitioners from picketing the employer's stores to enforce this specific demand for selective hiring on a racial basis. For violation of the injunction, petitioners were found guilty of contempt and were sentenced to fine and imprisonment. The policy of California is against discrimination on the basis of color.

Held: the injunction did not violate petitioners' right of freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 339 U. S. 461-469.

1. The Constitution does not demand that the element of communication in picketing prevail over the mischief furthered by its use to compel employment on the basis of racial discrimination contrary to the State's policy. Pp. 339 U. S. 463-464.

2. Industrial picketing is something more than free speech, since it involves patrol of a particular locality and since the very presence of a picket line may induce action of one kind or another, quite irrespective of the nature of the ideas which are being disseminated. Pp. 339 U. S. 464-465.

3. The Due Process Clause cannot be construed as precluding California from securing respect for its policy against involuntary employment on racial lines by prohibiting systematic picketing that would subvert such policy. Pp. 339 U. S. 465-466.

4. The fact that the policy of the State is expressed by its courts, rather than by its legislature, is immaterial so far as the Fourteenth Amendment is concerned. Pp. 339 U. S. 466-469.

5. A State may direct its law against what it deems the evil as it actually exists without covering the whole field of possible abuses, and it may do so though the forbidden act does not differ in kind from those that are allowed. P. 339 U. S. 468.

-- U.S. Supreme Court
Hughes v. Superior Court, 339 U.S. 460 (1950)
Hughes v. Superior Court of California
for Contra Costa County

"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

I used to be a discipline problem, which caused me embarrassment until I realized that being a discipline problem in a racist society is sometimes an honor.

Ishmael Reed

We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.

-- Cesar Chavez

It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago. People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce man and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us? Can there be any doubt where wars come from and where peace comes from, when the children of this world, excluding God from their peace conferences, only manage to bring about greater and greater wars the more they talk about peace?"

— Thomas Merton
The Seven Storey Mountain

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

-- Nelson Mandela
Long Walk To Freedom

Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood
memory. I was cycling with a male friend,
through a small midwestern town. We came to a 4-way
stop and stopped, chatting. As we started again,
a rusty old pick-up truck, ignoring the stop sign,
hurricaned past scant inches from our front wheels.
My partner called, "Hey, that was a 4-way stop!"
The truck driver, stringy blond hair a long fringe
under his brand-name beer cap, looked back and yelled,
               "You fucking niggers!"
And sped off.
My friend and I looked at each other and shook our heads.
We remounted our bikes and headed out of town.
We were pedaling through a clear blue afternoon
between two fields of almost-ripened wheat
bordered by cornflowers and Queen Anne's lace
when we heard an unmuffled motor, a honk-honking.
We stopped, closed ranks, made fists.
It was the same truck. It pulled over.
A tall, very much in shape young white guy slid out:
greasy jeans, homemade finger tattoos, probably
a Marine Corps boot-camp footlockerful
of martial arts techniques.

"What did you say back there!" he shouted.
My friend said, "I said it was a 4-way stop.
You went through it."
"And what did I say?" the white guy asked.
"You said: 'You fucking niggers.'"
The afternoon froze.

"Well," said the white guy,
shoving his hands into his pockets
and pushing dirt around with the pointed toe of his boot,
"I just want to say I'm sorry."
He climbed back into his truck
and drove away.

-- Marilyn Nelson
Minor Miracle

If it's gonna rain
And I wish that it would
Just go ahead and rain
Get it over for good
If there's really a hole in that big blue sky
Then move it on over and let me by

Constantinople is a mighty long word
Got three more letters than mockingbird
You put me on a morning train

You put me on a morning train
Ain't no need to explain
You put me on a morning train

-- John Prine
Morning Train

© 2010 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

(Man, Girl and Broken Window, Klamath Falls Oregon; Pacific Stock Exchange, San Francisco California; Sunlight and Water Pitcher; Farm Road and Running Fence, Olema California; Rail Road Crossing, Sonoma California © by Justice Putnam)

17 March 2010

Voices and Soul

16 March 2010

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

The Landscape that Thylias Moss observed from the upstairs window of her childhood homes; and later, painfully felt in school, was of a particular kind of Suffering. An "exceptional" kind of Suffering, found peculiarly within the borders of an expanding American exaltation. She interiorized and walked about on that Landscape; feeling the sting of an icy winter blowing across the crowded hilly streets and the lonely flat plains of this Suffering Life. Yet as harsh as that Landscape and its populace proved, it did not defeat her or bend her to the false idol of capitulation.

In this week's poem, she contemplates a forgotten Divinity manifested in that Landscape of extinction and meditates upon...

The Rapture Of Dry Ice Burning Off Skin As The Moment Of The Soul's Apotheosis

How will we get used to joy
if we won't hold onto it?

Not even extinction stops me; when
I've sufficient craving, I follow the buffalo,
their hair hanging below their stomachs like
fringes on Tiffany lampshades; they can be turned on
so can I by a stampede, footsteps whose sound
is my heart souped up, doctored, ninety pounds
running off a semi's invincible engine. Buffalo
heaven is Niagara Falls. There their spirit
gushes. There they still stampede and power
the generators that operate the Tiffany lamps
that let us see in some of the dark. Snow
inundates the city bearing their name; buffalo
spirit chips later melt to feed the underground,
the politically dredlocked tendrils of roots. And this
has no place in reality, is trivial juxtaposed with

the faces of addicts, their eyes practically as sunken
as extinction, gray ripples like hurdlers' track lanes
under them, pupils like just more needle sites.
And their arms: flesh trying for a moon apprenticeship,
a celestial antibody. Every time I use it
the umbrella is turned inside out,
metal veins, totally hardened arteries and survival
without anything flowing within, nothing saying
life came from the sea, from anywhere but coincidence
or God's ulcer, revealed. Yet also, inside out
the umbrella tries to be a bouquet, or at least
the rugged wrapping for one that must endure much,
without dispensing coherent parcels of scent,
before the refuge of vase in a room already accustomed
to withering mind and retreating skin. But the smell
of the flowers lifts the corners of the mouth as if
the man at the center of this remorse has lifted her
in a waltz. This is as true as sickness. The Jehovah's

Witness will come to my door any minute with tracts, an
inflexible agenda and I won't let him in because
I'm painting a rosy picture with only blue and
yellow (sadness and cowardice).
I'm something of an alchemist. Extinct.
He would tell me time is running out.
I would correct him: time ran out; that's why
history repeats itself, why we can't advance.
What joy will come has to be here right now: Cheer
to wash the dirt away, Twenty Mule Team Borax and
Arm & Hammer to magnify Cheer's power, lemon-scented
bleach and ammonia to trick the nose, improved--changed--
Tide, almost all-purpose starch that cures any limpness
except impotence. Celebrate that there's Mastercard
to rule us, bring us to our knees, the protocol we follow
in the presence of the head of our state of ruin, the
official with us all the time, not inaccessible in
palaces or White Houses or Kremlins. Besides every
ritual is stylized, has patterns and repetitions
suitable for adaptation to dance. Here come toe shoes,
brushstrokes, oxymorons. Joy

is at our tongue tips: let the great thirsts and hungers
of the world be the marvelous thirsts, glorious hungers.
Let hearbreak be alternative to coffeebreak, five
midmorning minutes devoted to emotion.

-- Thylias Moss

10 March 2010

Voices and Soul

9 March 2010

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

It seems everywhere we look, another devastation has dropped it's heavy hand on the Earth; wars, global warming typhoons, earthquakes, pandemics, the greed that would level mountaintops, that would pollute air and water and the very blood that courses through our veins.

Jayne Cortez has determined that we shouldn't just take it, we shouldn't just cower at these devastations; instead, we should...

Push Back The Catastrophes

I don't want a drought to feed on itself
through the tattooed holes in my belly
I don't want a spectacular desert of
charred stems & rabbit hairs
in my throat of accumulated matter
I don t want to burn and cut through the forest
like a greedy mercenary drilling into
sugar cane of the bones

Push back the advancing sands
the polluted sewage
the dust demons the dying timber
the upper atmosphere of nitrogen
push back the catastrophes

Enough of the missiles
the submarines
the aircraft carriers
the biological weapons
No more sickness sadness poverty
exploitation destabilization
illiteracy and bombing
Let's move toward peace
toward equality and justice
that's what I want

To breathe clean air
to drink pure water to plant new crops
to soak up the rain to wash off the stink
to hold this body and soul together in peace
that's it
Push back the catastrophes

-- Jayne Cortez

03 March 2010

Voices and Soul

2 March 2010

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

I was saddened to hear of the death of the great poet, Lucille Clifton in last week's Tuesday's Chile. I have featured her work in this series earlier; but two poems that exemplify Clifton's Poetics are found in the following.

The first is her childhood memory of bigotry and how a mother's joy conquers all. The second is what set Clifton on her own path to poetry; her mother had written poems secretly and was offered a collection of such to be published. Clifton's abusive father forbid it. Clifton chronicles her mother's reaction and her own resolve to honor her.

ask me to tell how it feels
remembering your mother's face
turned to water under the white words
of the man at the shoe store. ask me,
though she tells it better than i do,
not because of her charm
but because it never happened
she says,
no bully salesman swaggering,
no rage, no shame, none of it
ever happened.
i only remember buying you
your first grown up shoes
she smiles. ask me
how it feels.


(for mama)

remember this.
she is standing by
the furnace.
the coals
glisten like rubies.
her hand is crying.
her hand is clutching
a sheaf of papers.
she gives them up.
they burn
jewels into jewels.
her eyes are animals.
each shank of her hair
is a serpent's obedient
she will never recover.
remember. there is nothing
you will not bear
for this woman's sake.

-- Lucille Clifton