24 August 2010

Voices and Soul

24 August 2010

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

We are not born American, anymore than we are born Christian, Muslim or Jew. We are not born a Hindu or a Jain, a Sikh or an Atheist. We are not born French, Ugandan, Chinese or Uzbek. We may become those things in time, but at birth, we are from Dust. When we die, we become Dust. Can anyone really, with the naked eye, divide one particle of Dust from another? Can our differences be so great that those differences are easily made out in a maelstrom of particles dusted across the Universe? What does it mean then, to be American? To be French or Ugandan? To be Chinese or Uzbek? What does it mean to be a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew? A Hindu or a Jain? A Sikh or an Atheist? Human ego, small-minded bigotry or national identity might demand that we are special; the few among the many. But as it was in the Beginning, so it shall be in the End; we are nothing more than...

Common Dust

And who shall separate the dust
What later we shall be:
Whose keen discerning eye will scan
And solve the mystery?

The high, the low, the rich, the poor,
The black, the white, the red,
And all the chromatique between,
Of whom shall it be said:

Here lies the dust of Africa;
Here are the sons of Rome;
Here lies the one unlabelled,
The world at large his home!

Can one then separate the dust?
Will mankind lie apart,
When life has settled back again
The same as from the start?

-- Georgia Douglas Johnson

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

18 August 2010

The Truth Behind The Lie


Justice Putnam

I took another small sip of water as the next questioner rose, this time by the stacks of French novels. She was cute; red hair, tall, maybe 5'9" or 5'10", well proportioned. Had to be another doctoral student in Comparative Literature at Cal; so even at 24 or 25, was too young for my wandering eye.

"You stated," she stated determinedly, "and I quote; 'Comedy, Poetry and Fiction are only effective and only become Art if there is a Truth behind the humor, the verse and the lie.'"

"Yes," I uttered to fill the small silence.

"In your writing; in your humor, verse and lies, are you telling a Truth about yourself?" she asked, "or are you telling a Truth about the Culture and Society as a whole?"

"Yes," I answered.

--Justice Putnam
"Conversations With The Audience"

That Which Does Not Kill You


Justice Putnam

Gramps was an Immortal, right up to the moment he died.

--Jim Dodge

I am an Immortal; that’s why it’s so hard to admit my life has been a mistake. But if you’re living forever, you might as well get used to it.

The problem with being an Immortal is that early on, when you just start being an Immortal in your youth; you think all mistakes can be rectified. But that is just youthful Immortal folly. Being an Immortal is recognizing that you make the same mistakes over and over, always thinking that it will be different the next time. And you have the rest of your Immortal life to ponder that.

It is very tiresome, pondering that which cannot be changed. Even when your children tell you that they always know you’ve loved them, you know the truth. Because an Immortal means not being tied to time and space; loved ones are ultimately neglected. Of course you embrace them and provide when you can, and they profess appreciation that you care. But an Immortal knows the truth.

Like the time a photography gig took you to Honduras. An Immortal always knows the danger. That’s why you went. And when the military broke your camera and your arm, you knew it was no different than surfing over coral, or hang gliding off El Capitan.

Or the time your son was ten and you left to work on a tuna boat in the Gulf of Alaska. You figured the experience would round you as a writer. Plus, the danger was as good as the money. Too bad money isn’t as immortal as you are. But an Immortal can always make money.

At least that’s what you told both of your wives. An Immortal knows that no amount of money can justify the absences, not really. An Immortal knows about these mistakes.

In time, an Immortal will ponder these dangers of the past, these mistakes. None of them killed you, after all you’re an Immortal; but the scars are there, for the rest of your Immortal life.

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

Beauty, Truth and Bibliomania


Justice Putnam

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Why do you have four books by Bukowski?" she seemed disturbed as she closed The Most Beautiful Woman In Town."

I'd have more of his opus," I answered, "I'm slowly re-building my library."

"But I don't understand, you like Bukowski?"

"Sure," I responded, a little tentative, not quite understanding her question, "I've always been attracted to his writing style. He is very spare."

"But Bukowski is a misogynist and you have four of his books!" she pointed at my bookcase.

South Of No North, Factotum and Women, plus the one she was returning to the shelf indeed totaled four.

I thought of all the other books I used to have, lost now from bad love affairs and bad finances. I used to have all of Will and Ariel Durant's tomes, even a rare, Mansions Of Philosophy. I had all of Jack London's books and stories. I had all of Cooper's Leather Stocking Tales. I had most of McMurtry's work from the sixties and seventies; All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers prominent among them. I had Edna St. Vincent Millay's poems and stories. I had H.G. Well's Outline Of History.

I had everything by Virginia Woolfe and Janet Flanner. I had obscure poems and letters by Gertrude Stein. I had most of Phillip K. Dick, Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. I had most of Clifford D. Simak. I had a first printing of The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre by B. Traven. I had everything by Hemingway. I had everything by Orwell; including Down And Out In Paris And London. I had all the works of De Sade and Thackeray. I had a dozen volumes of Eugene Field. I had Dickens and Marlowe. I had Melville, Chaucer, Defoe, Voltaire, Swift, Virgil, Plutarch and Donne.

I had all the English translations of Mishima. I had Kobe Abe's Woman In The Dunes. I had volumes of Dryden, Pope, Shakespeare and Spencer. I had Balzac and Fante. I had Baudelaire and Fitzgerald. I had poems by St John Of The Cross and essays by Annie Dillard. I had all of Henry Miller. I had some of John Rechy.

I had volumes of Linda Paston and Marge Piercy. I had some of Sharon Olds and all of Jack Kerouac. I had all of Gary Snyder's work and volumes of Eric Hoffer. I had Kahil Gibran and Rilke. I had Ovid and Nietzsche. I had Berkeley, Hume, Kant and Ghandi. I had Autobiography Of A Yogi by Yogananda. I had the Kama Sutra and the Upanishads. I had The Analects and The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. I had Byron. I had Percy and Mary Shelley. I had Ten Days That Shook The World by Jack Reed and I had volumes of Emma Goldman. I had Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and volumes of Faulkner. I had God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley Jr. and I had The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey.

"I take Bukowski's work," I began, though I feared she was having none of it, "to be stories and characters that show us how not to be. He is taking a snapshot of life as it is, in all of its dirt and grime; in its violence, bigotry and selfishness. But I don't take his life of the gutter milieu to be a blueprint or affirmation of bad behavior."

"Oh," she said, pulling out a volume of the Alexandria Quartet, "you have Durrell. Now this is beautiful."

© 2004 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswessen

American Idol


Justice Putnam

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.

-- Daniel J. Boorstin

It’s not often that a member of the radical fringe gets a chance to revel with the High and Powerful. But chance and strategic sexual networking will get you into anywhere in this town; that’s how I got an opportunity to converse with Simon Cowell, the maker of American Idols.

Ok, I admit, I used the Aging Starlet for more than the fun and games, but one benign and totally unconscious benefit was to gain entry to THE year’s social event; "Bestowing Upon One, Simon Cowell, The Governor’s Crystal Medal of Humanitarian Achievement."

I had found out I was on a terrorist watch list for donating to Amnesty International back during Iran/Contra and I couldn’t fly from Oakland to Burbank. The agents who debriefed me after my chat with Simon told me that I was included on the list for, "aiding and abetting potential enemies of the State through the Socialist practice of Humanitarian concern." Since 9/11, I travel mostly by crewing on yachts that sail from the Bay Area to points beyond.

The Aging Starlet, who shall remain unnamed, because after all, I am a Gentleman, asked if I could help with her yacht she docked at the Encinal Yacht Club on Alameda.

"Sure," I said, "I know my way around a Hattaras."

After a few minutes of stowing her gear, she commented on my hands,

"Your hands," she cooed in her pouty-lipped, big-breasted Aging Starlet way, "are the hands of a sailor, you must know your way with ropes and tackle?”

"Yes," I replied. Though the Hatteras is a motor yacht, she had me grind up her main sail and set her block and tackle. We didn’t sail that night. The next morning though, we’re in her Maserati as she’s jetting down Coast Hwy to Pepperdine in Malibu. I was going to be her arm-candy at THE social event of the year.

After attending the event for an hour or so, I found a rest room. I didn’t notice Simon Cowell at the urinal next to me at first, but I felt his gaze.

"So you’re the arm-candy for the night," Simon said to me as I was zipping up, "I can see that you’re more than that."

"Thanks," I said, a bit self-conscious, though it’s still a little nice to hear; even from the flaccid, botox-injected-in-the-biceps Simon Cowell. "She owns a Hattaras and I’m helping her motor it to Cabo next week."

"Yes, she does like to motor," Cowell lasciviously said in his slithering English accent.

I chuckled in that way guys do who know a common secret, "Thank God!" I finally said.

Cowell couldn’t keep from laughing.

"You must not watch my show," Cowell accused.

"No, I don’t. Why?" I asked.

"Because you’re not damaged," Cowell whispered. It was then that I noticed he was a little drunk. "My show has been discovered by scientists to put holes in people’s brains! No, no! I’m tellin’ the truthhhh," he began to drawl. "That brain-dead girl that everybody said was alive, you know?"

Cowell sort of fell onto me; I helped him up and said, "Sure, Terri Schiavo."

"Right! Right!" Cowell said a little loud, Tarrieee Sheeeaaavvvvohhhhh, If you cracked my audience’s heads open, their brains would be mush, just like Sheeeeeeeaaaavvvohhhhh."

"Mr. Cowell" I said, trying to rouse him, "Mr. Cowell?

"And you knnnnnoooowww what?" Simon‘s head was wobbly and his eyes a milky blur, "the President knnnnnooooooowsssssssss."

Just then a loud bang came through the doors. Several men dressed in black and wearing radio ear-sets entered and scooped Cowell up. They escorted me to a holding cell for a few hours and then let me go.

The Aging Starlet later found out that I’m good with horses and I know my way around a saddle.

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

The Princess and the Frog


Justice Putnam

By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.


She said she chose me because I was the best behaved in the whole pond. I guess those etiquette lessons my frog aunts taught me when I was a tadpole really helped. All those Saturday night Brown Derby dinners dressed in my little tadpole-sized frog tuxedo, my frog aunts in their pearls and gloves, all seated in our special Brown Derby frog booth, somehow all that prepared me for the chance of a frog lifetime; to be kissed by the most beautiful Princess in the world.

I must tell you, everything we frogs heard was true. The sun back-lit her dark red curls, her full ruby lips touched mine. I remember she tasted of lavender and orange. The transformation was magical; I was no longer the ugly frog. I became her handsome Prince standing tall and strong and happy!

Oh, sure. She had to change my wardrobe and make it more diverse, as a Prince’s wardrobe must be. I was mostly into turtlenecks because I thought it would hide my frog throat more. But she liked the open collar look, she said, because she liked how manly a strong neck was. I always thought my best feature were my legs! Such is the mystery of the most beautiful Princess in the world.

She insisted I grow my hair longer. I took to sporting a goatee and wearing little round sunglasses. I grew accustomed to jet lag on royal visits to her ancestral homes in Europe.

I became her Prince, but she seemed unhappy.

We had just returned from a weekend at the home of my best bullfrog friend. His property included some of the best mud baths in all of Sonoma County.

“Your frog friends are ill mannered and uncouth,” she sobbed, “they smack their lips when they eat and use terrible grammar. You must choose them or me and if you choose them, you will not be my Prince!”

I didn’t know that the spell could be reversed. I thought, once kissed and transformed, a Prince forever you would be.

“Are you serious?” my Bullfrog friend spit at me later when I told him of the ultimatum. “You think you’re a Prince? She’s too good for you, man. She’s way out of your league. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You might be a Prince, but in your eyes, not hers! What made you think you could keep a woman like that happy? I hate to hurt your feelings, but at least you have feelings to hurt!”

All of my frog friends practice “tough truth,” but knowledge of that has never lessened the sting of their observations.

A note sat on the table when I came through the door that hot afternoon. She had gone and would not be back. I went to the bathroom and looked at the mirror there.

I knew which fork to use for the salad and how to swirl a vintage red to check its legs. But there was no mistaking it.

I had always been a frog.

But now I was one with a goatee and little round sunglasses.

© 2007 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

The Story of My Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated


Justice Putnam

“News organizations, including The Associated Press, routinely prepare obituaries on prominent figures so stories can be run quickly when they die.”

-- CBS News

~ West Coast Poet R. Justice Putnam ~

New Wreck Times
Senior Obituary Chief Editor
Gerry Bronco

California poet, author, singer/songwriter, chef and raconteur, R. Justice Putnam, died in a tragic church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama Saturday night. He was alone in the 16th Street Baptist Church’s rectory preparing for the commemoration ceremonies of the four black schoolgirls killed in a similar church bombing at the church in 1963.

Born Royal Justice Moody on 26 March 1955 in Eugene, Oregon, he attended various Catholic schools in the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountains before his mother, the be-bop jazz stylist, Patricia Harris remarried and the family moved to Southern California. Adopted by his stepfather, the historian, Jackson K. Putnam in 1964, Mr. Putnam cited the elder Putnam as having the most profound of influences on his life and written work.

“In my attempts to weave an archetypal story out of the American Landscape,” Mr. Putnam was quoted in an interview with Simon Dray on KUSF “Poet’s Corner” in San Francisco, “I have used elements of the 'good and bad father.' Nothing about the 'bad father' has anything do with my dad, Jack. If I have any redeeming qualities in my life, I acquired them from my him.”

Mr. Putnam published his first poem at the age of fifteen. He continued to publish poetry, short stories, plays, songs and lyrics, criticism and political essays. One day before his assassination, Mr. Putnam published an essay condemning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the rampant racism that perpetuates violence here and abroad. It is believed his assassins could be either Christian or Islamic fundamentalists; he was known to take both to task and offended them regularly. A fatwa was issued for his death by the Islamic cleric al-Akim after Mr. Putnam’s folk song, "Just Like Tom Paine’s Blues" was played in public last year. Christian Internet sites called for his death because of the same song. The song used the "f" word to condemn the use of God and Religion to achieve power and terror.

A world traveler, Mr. Putnam is survived by his father Jackson, his mother Patricia and her husband Tom Watanuki, siblings Mike, Zona and Zreata, his former wives, Carol and Flore, his son Israel, daughter-in-law Ola, his grandchildren Isaiah, Tahlia and Sicilia; and many lovers and friends.

At Mr. Putnam’s request, as specified in his living will, his ashes will be scattered around a tree on the family property in the Cascades east of Eugene. It is also his wish that friends and family remember him for his bad jokes and that they would dance as if dancing on his grave. He wished that an Irish Jig would be the most popular, but the Lindy Hop would suffice.

A plaque had been commissioned by Mr. Putnam, to be placed at the tree of his scattering. A quote from Czeslaw Milosz reads,

“Not that I want to be a god or hero.
But just to change into a tree
Grow for ages
Not hurt anyone.”

© 2009 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches Strophe-Verlagswesen

Sunlight and Water Pitcher, Oakland, California and Evergreen on Wolf Ridge, Blue River, Oregon / copyright Justice Putnam
Voices and Soul

17 August 2010

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

I had the great fortune to meet Abbey Lincoln backstage at Yoshi's in Oakland's Jack London Square in 2004. I was a little awe-struck, not so much by her fame as a jazz great, but more because of her actions and voice over all these years for civil rights. Though her albums were prominent on our turntable growing up, it was the poetry in her songs, the poetry that gave voice to the struggle of man and woman, that we spoke about in our family. It is the same poetry I give to my ten year old grandson and six year old granddaughter, as they embark on their own journey of life.

Abbey Lincoln's journey is done and she has gone home. May her rest be at ease.

Story Of My Father

Do we kill ourselves on purpose?
Is destruction all our own?
Are we dying for a reason?
Is our misery all our own?
Are the people suicidal?
Did we come this far to die?
Of ourselves are we to perish?
For this useless, worthless lie?

My father had a kingdom
My father wore a crown
They said he was an awful man
He tried to live it down
My father built us houses
And he kept his folks inside
His images were stolen
And his beauty was denied.

My brothers are unhappy
And my sisters they are too
And my mother cries for glory
And my father stands accused.

My father, yes my father
Was a brave and skillful man
And he led and served his people
With the magic of his hand.

My father, yes my father
His soul was sorely tried
‘Cause his images were stolen
And his beauty was denied.

Sometimes the river’s calling
And sometimes the shadows fall
That’s when he’s like a mountain
That is in master over all.

This story of my father
Is the one I tell and give
It’s the power and the glory
Of the life I make and live

My father has a kingdom
My father wears a crown
And he lives within the people
And the lives he handed down
My father has a kingdom
My father wears a crown
And through the spirit of my mother, Lord
The crown was handed down.

Well sometimes the rivers callin’
And sometimes the shadows fall
That’s when he’s like a mountain
That’s a master over all.

My father has a kingdom
My father wears a crown
And he lives within the people
And the lives he handed down

My father has a kingdom
My father wears a crown
Through the spirit of my mother, Lord
The crown was handed down
Through the spirit of my mother
The crown was handed down
Through the spirit of my mother, Lord
The crown was handed down!

-- Abbey Lincoln

11 August 2010

Voices and Soul

10 August 2010

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

She is a spectre, a ghostly presence that we can ignore until we can't. She is pushing a ragged shopping cart, she is stumbling with a cane, she is walking in the slow elegance of the elderly matron; yet we don't see her, even though we move out of her way. She lives next door, down the street, across the river and under a freeway overpass. She is our mother, sister, cousin, aunt and grandmother.

She might have been great once; but we don't see her, we don't hear her. We ignore her, until we can't.

American Sonnet (35)

boooooooo. spooky ripplings of icy waves. this
umpteenth time she returns--this invisible woman
long on haunting short on ectoplasm

"you're a good man, sistuh," a lover sighed solongago.
"keep your oil slick and your motor running."

wretched stained mirrors within mirrors of
fractured webbings like nests of manic spiders
reflect her ruined mien (rue wiggles remorse
squiggles woe jiggles bestride her). oozy Manes spill
out yonder spooling in night's lofty hour exudes
her gloom and spew in rankling odor of heady dour

as she strives to retrieve flesh to cloak her bones
again to thrive to keep her poisoned id alive

usta be young usta be gifted--still black

-- Wanda Coleman

03 August 2010

Voices and Soul

3 August 2010

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

A literary conceit was used in Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano", in which The Counsel carries an ever-increasing bundle of letters from his ex-wife. He tells others in the village of the letters' contents and his ex-wife's day to day itinerary of experiences; as each missive is delivered to the village post office. When asked when she will come to visit, his constant reply is, 'soon.' When his ex-wife does arrive unexpectedly, to reconcile their relationship, no less; it is revealed he has never opened any of the letters from her; years worth of letters unopened, yet each letter was enthusiastically awaited for.

"Hell," The Counsel would tell all within earshot, "Hell is my natural condition."

Pablo Neruda would walk the Promenade and watch from the window of his seaside villa as humanity strolled by on oppresively hot summer days and nights. His solitary observances evoked what some have described as a Hell, or at least a purgatory of human sin and degradation. It is all of that and more, but it is also a simple acknowledgement of the Beast that is in all of us; the Beast that conjures and transcends Angels. The Beast that is hidden until one finds themself as a...

Gentleman Alone

 The young maricones and the horny muchachas,
The big fat widows delirious from insomnia,
The young wives thirty hours' pregnant,
And the hoarse tomcats that cross my garden at night,
Like a collar of palpitating sexual oysters
Surround my solitary home,
Enemies of my soul,
Conspirators in pajamas
Who exchange deep kisses for passwords.
Radiant summer brings out the lovers
In melancholy regiments,
Fat and thin and happy and sad couples;
Under the elegant coconut palms, near the ocean and moon,
There is a continual life of pants and panties,
A hum from the fondling of silk stockings,
And women's breasts that glisten like eyes.
The salary man, after a while,
After the week's tedium, and the novels read in bed at night,
Has decisively fucked his neighbor,
And now takes her to the miserable movies,
Where the heroes are horses or passionate princes,
And he caresses her legs covered with sweet down
With his ardent and sweaty palms that smell like cigarettes.
The night of the hunter and the night of the husband
Come together like bed sheets and bury me,
And the hours after lunch, when the students and priests are masturbating,
And the animals mount each other openly,
And the bees smell of blood, and the flies buzz cholerically,
And cousins play strange games with cousins,
And doctors glower at the husband of the young patient,
And the early morning in which the professor, without a thought,
Pays his conjugal debt and eats breakfast,
And to top it all off, the adulterers, who love each other truly
On beds big and tall as ships:
So, eternally,
This twisted and breathing forest crushes me
With gigantic flowers like mouth and teeth
And black roots like fingernails and shoes

-- Pablo Neruda