30 June 2010

Voices and Soul

29 June 2010

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

Much has been written about Gwendolyn Brooks' poem, The Ballad of Rudolph Reed. It has been speculated that Brooks was condemning the reaction Reed took to the injury of his daughter by racists in his new neighborhood; that he was at fault for moving into a white enclave he should have been wise enough to avoid. Others have speculated that she was advocating his reaction and that he was justified in spite of the tragedies that followed.

Still others state that she was simply recording the facts.

I say it is none of these. I say that Brooks is showing that all reactions don't arise out of a vacuum; that for every action, there is indeed, a reaction. Whether the actions and/ or reactions are justified, is up for the reader to conclude.

What is certain is that a man and woman have a breaking point, no matter how oaken they may be; that a man and woman can only be pushed so far.

What is certain is that tragedy upon tragedy has been perpetuated on the Black in America; and any reaction, whether rioting in the streets or taking vengeance on the perpetuators of hate, arises not out of one instance that set the world ablaze; but many instances. What is certain is that few will remember or care what caused the reaction, save for those who reacted; and no bandage after the fact will lessen the pain of the tragedies that occurred; and are bound to occur later.

The Ballad of Rudolph Reed

Rudolph Reed was oaken.
His wife was oaken too.
And his two good girls and his good little man
Oakened as they grew.

"I am not hungry for berries.
I am not hungry for bread.
But hungry hungry for a house
Where at night a man in bed

"May never hear the plaster
Stir as if in pain.
May never hear the roaches
Falling like fat rain.

"Where never wife and children need
Go blinking through the gloom.
Where every room of many rooms
Will be full of room.

"Oh my home may have its east or west
Or north or south behind it.
All I know is I shall know it,
And fight for it when I find it."

The agent's steep and steady stare
Corroded to a grin.
Why you black old, tough old hell of a man,
Move your family in!

Nary a grin grinned Rudolph Reed,
Nary a curse cursed he,
But moved in his House. With his dark little wife,
And his dark little children three.

A neighbor would look, with a yawning eye
That squeezed into a slit.
But the Rudolph Reeds and children three
Were too joyous to notice it.

For were they not firm in a home of their own
With windows everywhere
And a beautiful banistered stair
And a front yard for flowers and a back for grass?

The first night, a rock, big as two fists.
The second, a rock big as three.
But nary a curse cursed Rudolph Reed.
(Though oaken as man could be.)

The third night, a silvery ring of glass.
Patience arched to endure,
But he looked, and lo! small Mabel's blood
Was staining her gaze so pure.

Then up did rise our Rudolph Reed
And pressed the hand of his wife,
And went to the door with a thirty-four
And a beastly butcher knife.

He ran like a mad thing into the night
And the words in his mouth were stinking.
By the time he had hurt his first white man
He was no longer thinking.

By the time he had hurt his fourth white man
Rudolph Reed was dead.
His neighbors gathered and kicked his corpse.
"Nigger--" his neighbors said.

Small Mabel whimpered all night long,
For calling herself the cause.
Her oak-eyed mother did no thing
But change the bloody gauze.

-- Gwendolyn Brooks

22 June 2010

Voices and Soul

22 June 2010

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

With Father's Day just past, I want to pay homage to fathers old, current and new; I want to pay homage to the fathers who are there every day and the fathers who can't be.

I asked my dad, in a more maudlin time just after the birth of my own son almost thirty-three years ago, how I could be a better son?

"By being a good father," he said simply.

When my grandson was four, I wrote the following that has been published a few times in the intervening years. A simple suggestion from a father to a son. Because a father will always wonder if he's done enough; he will always wonder if his mark was for good or ill; and if he is truly the contemplative sort, he will also wonder if there is ever a balance...

On Poetry and Fathers


Justice Putnam

The one thing
That always amazed me

Even from the
Earliest moment
Of your life

Was the utter trust
You had in me

And I was struck
At the time
By the amount
Of doubt

I had in myself.

Even though
Your mother and I
Had half a year
To practice breathing

I doubted that
I could remember
Properly when to
Encourage the right

And when the doctor
Said I could assist
And I finally held

Gray and small

I thought to that
Distant day
When you would

Hold your own son
In the same way

And I thought of
The resolve you would

Just as I had

To love
Like no other
Father has loved.

So the years pass

And I doubt
You felt the
Prayer of love

Over that distance
And separation
You grew in.

A correspondence
Is a poor substitute
For a kiss

Yet each word
Was a universe
Of touch

I doubt it
Was enough.

I cannot now

For all that you
Went through

I wish it were

But mere words
And sentiment

Are hollow.

You are now
A father

Kiss your son
While you can


Has a way
Of intruding
Upon the best
Of plans

And apologies

Become terrible

© 2004 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

(Avocado Orchard, Irvine California / copyright Justice Putnam)

15 June 2010

Voices and Soul

15 June 2010

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

Returning with a drug habit he acquired while serving in Korea, Etheridge Knight was arrested for robbery and sentenced in 1960 to eight years in Indiana State Prison. While serving time, he began to write poetry and corresponded with members of the burgeoning Black Arts Movement; Gwendolyn Brooks was one and enthusiastically championed him and his prison poetry. His first volume "Poems From Prison" was published in 1968 while he was still incarcerated. It was an immediate success and he continued to write while out of prison, receiving grants and honoraria from The Guggenheim Foundation and The National Endowment of the Arts, among others. In 1990, at the age of 49, Knight earned a Bachelor's degree in American Poetry and Criminal Justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis. He died the next year of lung cancer.

The Idea of Ancestry

Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.I know
their dark eyes, they know mine.I know their style,
they know mine.I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins.I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say).He's discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space.My father's mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him.There is no
place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown."

-- Etheridge Knight

09 June 2010

Voices and Soul

08 June 2010

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

Two quotes by Malcolm X resonated with me during my early childhood in Oregon; and resonate still.

"We didn't land on Plymouth Rock, my brothers and sisters, Plymouth Rock landed on us!"


"I have no mercy or compassion for a society that crushes people, and then penalizes them for not being able to stand up under the weight."

Many things have been written and speculated about the Rap Artist, Tupak Shakur. He was certainly a child and man of his times; and he died far too early. His social commentary and poetry of the human condition; particularily, the conditon of black men and women, is certainly informed by the two quotes I cited. His poetry addresses the plain facts of what it is to live under a dual system of Due Process and Equal Protection. It might be argued that the "apartheid" Jim Crow laws were overturned in the public and private arenas; but Shakur saw how that Jim Crow mentality is alive and well in the most cherished of our "Ideals." Because when millions of black men and women are incarcerated and war criminals walk free, one would think that...

Liberty Needs Glasses

Liberty Needs Glasses
excuse me but lady liberty needs glasses
and so does mrs justice by her side
both the broads r blind as bats
stumbling thru the system
justice bumped into mutulu and
trippin on geronimo pratt
but stepped right over oliver
and his crooked partner ronnie

justice stubbed her big toe on mandela
and liberty was misquoted by the indians
slavery was a learning phase
forgotten with out a verdict
while justice is on a rampage
4 endangered surviving black males
i mean really if anyone really valued life
and cared about the masses
theyd take em both 2 pen optical
and get 2 pair of glasses

-- Tupak Shakur

02 June 2010

Voices and Soul

01 June 2010

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

In the middle of August 1936, soldiers loyal to Franco arrested Federico García Lorca. Considered by many to be the premier poet of the early 20th century, Lorca wrote the following poem in 1929 while a student at Columbia University. It was published posthumously. The Gacela (gazelle) of the poem is a symbol for a young black man who was lynched in the state of South Carolina early in 1929; though it might have been a prescience of Lorca's own death. A few days after his arrest, he was executed and his books burned in Granada's Plaza del Carmen. To this day, even after 35 years since Franco's death, the grave of Federico García Lorca remains a mystery.

Gacela of the Dark Death

(translated by Robert Bly)

I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

I don't want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
I'd rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
with its snakelike nose.

I want to sleep for half a second,
a second, a minute, a century,
but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
because I want to live with that shadowy child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

-- Federico García Lorca