26 July 2010

Voices and Soul

Friday 23 July 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

For those of the Black Community who have been incarcerated, Due Process was really a Dual Process; and Equal Protection was really Unequal. It is an old tale, as old as America, sadly; and one that seems to be unchanged now or in the future. Etheridge Knight spent eight years in Indiana State Prison. He chronicled his time there; and later, after his release in 1968, became an important part of the Black Arts Movement. Though many of his poems speak of redemption, many more also speak of hope lost; and of the mind-numbing passage of time, locked in a warren of oppressive authority.

Hard Rock Returns To Prison From The Hospital For The Criminal Insane

Hard Rock/ was/ "known not to take no shit
From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it:
Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above
His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut
Across his temple and plowed through a thick
Canopy of kinky hair.

The WORD/ was/ that Hard Rock wasn't a mean nigger
Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head,
Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity
Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back,
Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose,
Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.
and we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep,
To see if the WORD was true.

As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak
Of his exploits: "Man, the last time, it took eight
Screws to put him in the Hole." "Yeah, remember when he
Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?" "he set
The record for time in the Hole-67 straight days!"
"Ol Hard Rock! man, that's one crazy nigger."
And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit
A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

The testing came to see if Hard Rock was really tame.
A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch
And didn't lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock
>From before shook him down and barked in his face
And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and look silly.
His empty eyes like knot holes in a fence.

And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock
Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his name,
we told ourselves that he had just wised up,
Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long.
And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed.
He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things
We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do.
The fears of years like a biting whip,
Had cut deep bloody grooves
Across our backs.

-- Etheridge Knight

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