28 May 2010

Memorial Day: "Sacrifice, Death and Divorce"


Justice Putnam

My second wife and I would spend Memorial Day in France. She is a French National and the bulk of our work was there; well, the bulk of HER work. At the time, I could work anywhere; but that is another story. We would leave the Bay Area around late March or early April and return before the end of September. Sometimes we would celebrate the New Year at a family retreat near the Belgium frontier; and then the next two weeks of Jaunary at another family chateau in Nice. On the 50th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, I took this photo that I entitled, National Cemetery in Vanishing Point Perspective, Normandy, France, above the cliffs of the beaches that were once crowded with men, blood, lead and the windy, cold salt air.

I also wrote the following that finally became a song five years ago that goes with the photo:


words and music by
Justice Putnam

I’m pleading
With Josephine

(m/8) Taking the steps
Down to the sea
Somewhere along
The coast of Normandy

Where the white
Fossil sands
Churned turbulently

Where men rushed
Into battle
And died violently

Whose last
Dying breath
Was to plead with

I’m pleading
With Josephine

(m/8) Could be
The grasslands
Of the Sioux

No matter
Which side
They were on
They were all
Thinking of you

Could be in
In the South Pacific
Or the Persian Gulf
An Indonesian jungle
Or an Arctic hut

Could be in a
Manhattan penthouse
Or a cold water den

(coda) We’ll all grasp
At that last
Bit of hope
In the end with

I’m pleading
With Josephine

(tacet) Josephine
Take me

© 2005 Justice Putnam
Fleur du Sel Musique
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

The film role was left undeveloped for almost eight years; I had thrown it in a box of to-do creative endeavors that I would attend to eventually.

When my wife, the French actress, Flore De Valicourt

and I decided to end our marriage; I went into a deep funk and could not bring myself to look over those artifacts of our time together. That and many other roles of film, notes and such sat until I was strong enough to remember why I took those photos and made my notes.

Call me a wimp, but I really did love her. One time, we were driving from Paris to La Tranche Sur Mer out on the Atlantic coast and passed through Reims, headquarters of the National Front run by Le Pen.

"Do you smell that?" she asked.

I took a whiff of air and said, "I don't know, what is it?"

"It smells like," she paused momentarily, scrunching her nose in a disgusted expression before continuing, "it smells like, fascism."

I don't know about you; but it made me love her even more fiercely.

Flore told me a story on the way to her mother's family home in Brittany; I took this photo on the way there that is entitled, Tournesol in the Fields of Normandy, France:

and also this one I entitled, House Ruins of Poet St Pol Roux at Brittany France:

Her story became a poem that is emblematic of, for me, the solemnity of Memorial Day:

A Windy Day In Normandy


Justice Putnam

Your floral-print dress
A breeze across fields
Of Sunflower and Lavender

You told me the story
Of the tragedy of
Your family

Your grandfather on
His mailman bicycle
The delivery of
Resistance correspondence

The fear of discovery

(The inevitable retaliation
Against the village

An Uncle hung
In the Square
A few weeks short
Of the liberation)

I watched your tears
As you prayed near
The soldier multitude of
White crosses and
The occasional
Star of David

Here and there even
An alabaster Crescent Moon

You wept for them all
As the tournesol
Faced West

Your dress clung in folds

And your red hair
Framed the History
Of your familial grief

(Saint Ceneri, France, 1994)

© 2005 Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches Strophe-Verlagswesen

Though it didn't work out for Flore and myself; she taught me truly what it is to feel reverence for the sacrifice of those in our pasts, our presents and it is sad to say so; in our futures as well.

If that is all I learned; then simply knowing her made me a better man.

© 2010 Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches Strophe-Verlagswesen

(Cut Stone and Arch, St Cenari, France; National Cemetary in Vanishing Point Perspective, Normandy France; Woman on Bicycle, Paris, France; Tournesol in the Fields of Normandy, France; House Ruins of St Pol Roux at Brittany, France; Farm Road and Running Fence. Olema, California / copyright Justice Putnam)

update: this was Rescued on Daily Kos

27 May 2010

Voices and Soul

25 May 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos, Tuesdays Chile Poetry Editor

Jorge Mateus de Lima was considered by many to be the most complicated of the artists who took part in the Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art) in São Paulo in 1922; that has come to mark the independence of Brazilian literature and art from its European models. Inspired by an iconoclastic insurrection against the Parnassian ideals of the past, with their limiting views of national reality, modernist writers initiated a poetic rediscovery of Brazil and sought a new identity through popular language set in regional and folkloric detail; rich in music and magic, dance and myth. The movement aimed to produce a literature for export to replace the dominant imported literature. Characteristic of Brazilian Modernism as a whole is the promotion of a critical consciousness of national reality, accompanied by an incorporation of its most diverse elements; the Indian and the Portuguese, the piano and the berimbau, the jungle and the school, the religions of the descendents of African slaves and the Landowner Elite.

Though few of de Lima's critics were as enthusiastic about his so-called Christian Phase; when he converted to Catholicism and used its many icons and images in his poetry; he remained true to the ideals of the Semana de Arte Moderna; where myth and reality are not two opposites; but an intermingling that is emblematic of the Brazilian Soul.

Poem To A Sister

(translated by Mariza Góes)

O sister
now that the nights come early
and an immense sadness
hovers above everything
and the silence lingers for so long
turning the dogs insane on the streets,
sister, come to remind me
that we grew up together
when the days were long and different.
Sister, if you know the signs
to change the time, come.
Come because I want to leave
to other places
where seagulls are less useless
and where a heart can be found at each harbour;
and the seabirds
so cleansed and white
and so slow and aware of journeys
come to flap
above my pipe
where the comets of the sky faded.
Sister, on my rhythms
are friends who shout:
Daubler, Ehrenstein, Stramm, suicides,
vagabonds, lepers and prostitutes who
still remember their family prayers. 
There are, somewhere, other air, other hills,
other limits...farewell sister.
O, what a long night,
o what such a long night!
What cries outside?
The humanity, or some fountain?

-- Jorge Mateus de Lima

19 May 2010

Voices and Soul

18 May 2010

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

João da Cruz e Sousa was the son of freed slaves, born on the island side of what is now Florianopolis, in Southern Brazil. A pioneer of Symbolism in Afro-Brazilian literature, he was nonetheless shunned by his late 19th century peers. Fluent in French, Greek and Latin; and also a graduate of Math and Science taught by Fritz Mueller; Cruz e Sousa's intellectual contemporaries did not understand him and he held their work with contempt and disdain.

A racist mediocrity and the Parnassian Criticism that was currently en vogue, elicited the following anonymous "poetic review" of two collections he released in 1893, "Missal" and "Shields":

"A spiritualizing,
half-wit dunce
brought up
in distant Mozambique
has picked at true Art
with his beak

Swaying sickly,
with sonorous grunts.

And all the blacks from Senegal
do a buck-and-wing
as they caterwaul

and hail him
with rockets exploding in the air."

It's not hard to wonder why then, this little-studied Modern Renaissance Man, this Abolitionist Man of Letters harbored a...

Sacred Hate

I bore,
like corpses lashed
lashed to my back
and incessantly
and interminably rotting,
all the empiricisms of prejudice,
the unknown layers
of long-dead strata,
of curious
and desolate
African races
that Physiology
had doomed forever

to nullify with the mocking papal
laughter of Haeckel!

All the doors and passage-ways
along the road of life are closed to me,
a poor Aryan artist-yes,
because I acquired,
by systematic study,
all the qualities of that great race.
To what end?
A sad black man,
detested by those with culture,
beaten down by society,
always humiliated,
cast out of every bed,
spat upon in every household
like some evil leper!

But how?
To be an artist and black?

O my hatred,
my majestic malice
my sacred,
pure and benign
anoint my forehead
with your pure kiss
so that I may be both
proud and humble

Humble and generous

to the meek
but haughty to those lacking Desire,
lacking in Goodness and faith,
who know not the lamp of the gentle,
fecund sun.

O my hatred,
my blessed emblem
which flaps in the wind
of my soul's infinity
while the others' banners
droop Hearty,

benign hatred be my shield!
against those villains of love,
whose infamy resounds from the
Seven Towers of Mortal Sin.

-- João da Cruz e Sousa

12 May 2010

Voices and Soul

11 May 2010

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

One of the many benefits of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is being able to listen to the flagship Pacifica radio station, KPFA. Hard Knock Radio is a show on KPFA that interviews Hip Hop and Rap artists weekdays at 4pm. This week's poet, Rocky Rivera was interviewed recently on Hard Knock Radio. My son, Israel Putnam/IzzyMaq has had some regional success in the Northwest with his Hip Hop/ R&B stylings, so I like to think that I have developed an "ear" for Hip Hop that belies my generational Punk origins.

Rocky Rivera is the Hip Hop persona of a young Filipina who spends her time between Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area. Some statements from her Hard Knock Radio interview resonated with me. One in particular, about the origins and direction of Hip Hop/ Rap, stood out more prominently,

"It's not about being a gangster, it's about being a guerrilla. It's not about bling, it's about survival."

This week's poem; and yes, Hip Hop/ Rap is certainly poetry, pays homage to the Filipina revolutionary, Gabriela Silang, who was executed in 1763 after leading insurrectionists against the Spanish Crown when her husband, Diego Silang was executed earlier that year; Black Panther, Angela Davis and the four school girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing; and United Farm Worker activist, Delores Huerte.

Along the way, Rocky Rivera packs a lot of history, with a strong back-beat, into this poem/ song about strong women who changed the world, with power and...


Left him on a Tuesday
Found him on a Sunday
Cried when I saw my
Hankerchief in his suitcase
Letter folded neatly in his pocket
With my perfume
Knew that he was lying when he
Told me he’d be back soon…
I couldn’t sleep the night
He left me with a promise
That he’d always keep me close
When the struggle got the hardest
So I…wiped the tears
Tied the hankerchief around me
Rallied up the troops
So we could
Find the Spanish army
It was time to stop the cryin’
Time to start the fightin’
Love was the beginning
But my people steady dyin’

And so I promised him the same thing
Gabriela blast in the name of the Philippines

I could hear em in the back of my mind
They said “Please don’t break my heart”
It could only be a matter of time…

Studying overseas
When I heard about the blast
And I knew the little girls
Who were killed in Alabama
It was Carole, Addie Mae
Cynthia & Denise
The Klan got away
In cahoots with the police
Knew that it was coming
When the Panthers started forming
So I booked the first flight to the states
In the morning
To show them my solidarity
Tightened up my afro
Books in my hand
Revolution in my heart
So I used my education
To combat the injustice
It was more
Than Malcolm X and Martin Luther
In the trenches

Sistah soldiers put ya rifles up
Angela Davis ride when the Klan try to light us up

I could hear ‘em in the back of my mind
They said
“Please don’t break my heart”
It could only be a matter of time they said

It was modern day slavery
Livin’ in the Valley
Stockton, California
Pickin’ grapes with my family
And my people broke they backs
Just to make a couple bucks
While the whiteys in the town
Ridiculed us in they trucks
So I
Picked up the megaphone
Shouted to my people, El
Pueblo Unido
Jama Sera Vencido
…Told em to stick together
Demand to be treated equal
These fucking crackas
Will continue to abuse us
Threw me in the slammer
20 times and some change
Yeah they broke a couple ribs
But the spirit remains

Do it again in a heartbeat
Para mi gente
Dolores what they call me

-- Rocky Rivera

(used with permission of the author)

(On Starlight and Fire, Keck Observatory Mauna Kea, Hawai’i / copyright Justice Putnam)

05 May 2010

Voices and Soul

4 May 2010

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

Percy Shelley's sonnet, Ozymandias, was published in England in 1818. Earlier that year, Percy, with Mary Shelley and their children; and along with his sister-in-law Claire Clairmont, mother of Byron's child, expatriated to Bagni di Lucca, Italy. In the late summer, they moved to Este, near Venice to be closer to Byron's villa. At a time when the "Exceptionalism" of British colonial reach was unquestioned; in fact, exalted in verse, theatre and the academy, Shelly acknowledged the erosion Time has on all leaders and empires:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Jamaican-born Claude McKay certainly channeled Shelley, when in 1922, he questioned the "Exceptionalism" of an America that held the "hand that mocked them and the heart that fed." McKay saw also, though few will admit the obvious erosion of Time, that even for America, there will be a future where the "lone and level sands stretch far away."


Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

-- Claude McKay

(House Ruins of Poet St Pol Roux, Brittany, France / copyright Justice Putnam)

01 May 2010

A Bad Day At Work


Justice Putnam

I've had quite a few diverse jobs over the years. Making money was always secondary to playing music and writing poetry. That is not to say I only chose low-paying jobs, far from it. But I didn’t judge myself from my jobs. Working was only a way to make money to make Art. Several of those jobs proved to be fairly lucrative but very dangerous. One in particular caused a woman I was going out with to silk screen a T-shirt that I wore for years.

I was working for Gulf Oil Corporation in Production and Exploration. I held the position of Production Operator "A," which meant I was on a rung a little higher up the ladder. My responsibilities included taking care of the "Tank Farm" and administering to the leases up in the Yorba Linda Hills and out Carbon Canyon way.

A combination of events occurred, that if they happened alone, or just a couple of them happened at the same time, there would have been no problem. As it was, a dangerous situation could have been worse. I could have died.

Gulf Oil had been drilling those leases for years, so they had in place a Steam Injection technique that "softened" the hard deposits in the formation enough to liquefy and pump the crude out. Once piped to the Tank Farm, the oil was so emulsified, that the only way to separate the water and oil molecules was to "drop" the water out with a silicate. That took quite a while. Once the water was out we pumped to the 76 Refinery and they made plastics out of the oil. Hydrogen Sulfide, otherwise known as H2S, is a dangerous by-product of oil production. A bacteria grows, eating the proteins in the oils and the "waste-products" from that bacteria, the gasses, form H2S. If you smell rotten eggs, the concentration is such that you can walk away and live. It's when you don't smell H2S that you die. It takes only a fraction of a second, and your respiration is "cut-off."

Vapor Recovery Systems to "burn-off" the H2S were situated throughout the "field," with one large and final one at the Tank Farm.

My schedule was a bit different. I worked 3 days during day-light hours in which my responsibilities were mostly in the Field, and 2 nights alone in mostly the Tank Farm with an occasional quick tour of the leases to check for leaks or equipment failures. Tuesday through Thursday I worked from 7am to 4pm. Saturday and Sunday, my shift was from 7pm to 4am.

I arrived at work early one Tuesday morning and read the log for that night and previous day.

The log failed to mention that the Vapor Recovery Systems were down to maintenance the Steam Injectors. It also failed to mention that the Wells I was to take fluid levels from were "shut-in," thus concentrating H2S.

As it was, a cold morning in the hills meant any gasses would be close to the ground. The very first Well I came to take a “fluid level” just so happened to have the "fitting" in the "cellar." The "cellar" is a pit dug fairly deep to catch spills.

All these "events" conspired to almost kill me.

I "opened the casing" and attached my "echometer."

I didn't smell a thing. But I felt weird.

One thing I learned from the experience was, those who die are the ones who argue the most with themselves about what is really happening. I began to have those same arguments; but I thought of one thing.

I had experimented with many illegal substances in many different circumstances in many different parts of the world, but none of them made me feel the way I did at that Well. It suddenly occurred to me that I was being poisoned; I was dying.

I stumbled from the Well and got into my truck, I thought if I could just get a blast of fresh air, things would be better. I somehow made it back to the Tank Farm. An ambulance took me to St. Jude's in Fullerton. I was ok, but as a precaution, I was on a respirator for 3 days.

When I got out of the Hospital, my girlfriend presented me with a T-shirt that read,

"Illegal Drugs Saved My Life."

© 2005 and 2010 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

(Oil Refinery, Martinez, California / copyright Justice Putnam)