18 October 2010

Voices and Soul

15 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

When the Roberts Court handed down the decision in the Lilly Ledbetter case, the opinon proffered by Samuel Alito was there was no constitutional issue. Ledbetter was denied her back pay because of statutory limitations on her right to sue; she was deemed to have brought the charges beyond the 180 day limit set by law. Never mind that she didn't know she was being discriminated against; never mind that Goodyear made talk of pay among her and her fellow workers a firing offense. Never mind that Ledbetter followed the provisions has specified in her contract.

When it was discovered that the male managers (and only the male managers, mind you) at her Goodyear plant were privvy to each other's pay, Alito held that Ledbetter must have known as well; that she should have and could have sued for back pay, rather than waiting beyond the 180 limit.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration signed a bill into law that addresses the inequity of the Roberts Decision. The new law didn't recoup Ledbetter's back pay, but it did protect other women from the discrimination that Ledbetter suffered.

Therein lies the problem. From inequities in pay and promotions, to the uneven field of sexual politics; women have always been held to...

A Double Standard

Do you blame me that I loved him?
   If when standing all alone
I cried for bread a careless world
   Pressed to my lips a stone.

Do you blame me that I loved him,
   That my heart beat glad and free,
When he told me in the sweetest tones
   He loved but only me?

Can you blame me that I did not see
   Beneath his burning kiss
The serpent’s wiles, nor even hear
   The deadly adder hiss?

Can you blame me that my heart grew cold
   That the tempted, tempter turned;
When he was feted and caressed
   And I was coldly spurned?

Would you blame him, when you draw from me
   Your dainty robes aside,
If he with gilded baits should claim
   Your fairest as his bride?

Would you blame the world if it should press
   On him a civic crown;
And see me struggling in the depth
   Then harshly press me down?

Crime has no sex and yet to-day
   I wear the brand of shame;
Whilst he amid the gay and proud
   Still bears an honored name.

Can you blame me if I’ve learned to think
   Your hate of vice a sham,
When you so coldly crushed me down
   And then excused the man?

Would you blame me if to-morrow
   The coroner should say,
A wretched girl, outcast, forlorn,
   Has thrown her life away?

Yes, blame me for my downward course,
   But oh! remember well,
Within your homes you press the hand
   That led me down to hell.

I’m glad God’s ways are not our ways,
   He does not see as man,
Within His love I know there’s room
   For those whom others ban.

I think before His great white throne,
   His throne of spotless light,
That whited sepulchres shall wear
   The hue of endless night.

That I who fell, and he who sinned,
   Shall reap as we have sown;
That each the burden of his loss
   Must bear and bear alone.

No golden weights can turn the scale
   Of justice in His sight;
And what is wrong in woman’s life
   In man’s cannot be right.

-- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

13 October 2010

Voices and Soul

12 October 2010

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

I came across a poll recently, showing that working class whites without four year college degrees, back Republican and TeaBircher policies with great majorities. Makes sense then, why we are hearing calls from Republicans and TeaBirchers to dismantle the Department of Education; if an educated voting public votes Democrat, then assure that the voting public is uneducated.

I have been harangued myself by this group, folks I went to high school with and have found me on the world wide web. I remember them as slackers and partiers, cheaters on tests who had no real expectation of a four year college education. They were very reminiscent of the characters in a parody of the movie, Saturday Night Fever on Saturday Night Live in the '70's, where Dan Akroyd happily proclaims in a disco club,

"To be young and stupid with no future, god I love this life!"

I have been accused by these "friends", because of my BA's in History and English, and an MA in American Literature, to have been brainwashed by the Liberal Educational system. They are of the belief that the more educated one is; excepting homeschooling, or attendance at Regent of Liberty Universities, but specifically, educated in public schools and "secular" colleges and universities; the more brainwashed that person. Never mind that I started Catholic School before Vatican II, never mind that one of my history professors at Portland State for example, Basil Dmytryshyn, could hardly be considered liberal.

The terrible ramifications of such an approach is obvious; from the problems of Science, whether it be Physics or Evolution, to the problems of historical revisionism and the..

Problems of Translation: Problems of Language


I turn to my Rand McNally Atlas.   
Europe appears right after the Map of the World.   
All of Italy can be seen page 9.   
Half of Chile page 29.   
I take out my ruler.   
In global perspective Italy   
amounts to less than half an inch.   
Chile measures more than an inch and a quarter   
of an inch.   
Chile is as long as China   
is wide:   
Back to the Atlas:   
Chunk of China page 17.   
All of France page 5: As we say in New York:
Who do France and Italy know   
at Rand McNally?


I see the four mountains in Chile higher   
than any mountain of North America.   
I see Ojos del Salado the highest.   
I see Chile unequivocal as crystal thread.   
I see the Atacama Desert dry in Chile more than the rest   
of the world is dry.   
I see Chile dissolving into water.   
I do not see what keeps the blue land of Chile   
out of blue water.   
I do not see the hand of Pablo Neruda on the blue land.


As the plane flies flat to the trees   
below Brazil   
below Bolivia   
below five thousand miles below   
my Brooklyn windows   
and beside the shifted Pacific waters   
welled away from the Atlantic at Cape Horn   
La Isla Negra that is not an island La   
Isla Negra   
that is not black   
is stone and stone of Chile   
feeding clouds to color   
scale and undertake terrestrial forms   
of everything unspeakable


In your country   
how do you say copper   
for my country?


Blood rising under the Andes and above   
the Andes blood   
spilling down the rock   
corrupted by the amorality   
of so much space   
that leaves such little trace of blood   
rising to the irritated skin the face   
of the confession far   
from home:

I confess I did not resist interrogation.   
I confess that by the next day I was no longer sure
of my identity.   
I confess I knew the hunger.   
I confess I saw the guns.   
I confess I was afraid.   
I confess I did not die.


What you Americans call a boycott   
of the junta?   
Who will that feed?


Not just the message but the sound.


Early morning now and I remember   
corriendo a la madrugada from a different   
English poem,   
I remember from the difficulties of the talk   
an argument   
athwart the wine the dinner and the dancing   
meant to welcome you

you did not understand the commonplace expression   
of my heart:

the truth is in the life

la verdad de la vida

Early morning:
do you say la maƱanita?
But then we lose   
the idea of the sky uncurling to the light:

Early morning and I do not think we lose:   
the rose we left behind   
broken to a glass of water on the table   
at the restaurant stands   
even sweeter   
por la maƱanita

-- June Jordan

06 October 2010

Voices and Soul

5 October 2010

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

My ten year old grandson is as precocious as his father and his grandfather were at his age. He is a sponge for knowledge and is always reading. I found myself reprimanding him recently, the way I reprimanded his father; and I was reprimanded by mine,

"I don't care how late you read, and you really should get some rest, but if you're going to read at 10 at night, turn on more light!"

When I was his age, we had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to do farm/ranch chores before we went to school, so I had a 9:30 p.m. bedtime with a 10 p.m. curfew on reading. I was too often caught and scolded for using my official army green, right angle Boy Scout flashlight while reading under the covers of my bed after the "curfew," sometimes as late as midnight.

I never had the problem of my son reading at midnight, but I expect to with my grandson; especially since I am so involved with his reading list. I'll state here and now, I am not responsible for the Stephen King novels he has; a barely competent story teller, but a terrible writer; my ex is responsible for that. It makes sense to me now why she would expose him to such swill. Whereas during our younger and sexier married life, I would choose Barry Lopez or Durrell for beach reading; she would embarrass me with Stephen King, or that charlatan, Michael Crichton! There's only so much a person can take. Like I said, she is my ex.

My grandson has been showing an interest in the Civil Rights and Anti War movement of the 60's and early 70's. His father has regaled him with some stories of my family's involvement, so when I visited recently, I brought some photos and news clippings from marches, speeches, gatherings and events my family or I had participated in. I want him to know; and also my 6 year old and 8 month old granddaughters to know, when they get old enough; that the family reunions that include haitians and irish, latins and romas, chippewas and jews, czechs and cajuns, greeks and nigerians, and yes, gays and celibates as well, was peculiar to our family 50 years ago; and not the norm; as it seems to them now. I want them to know how much of a struggle it was to simply get a glass of water or use a bathroom if they were not of the correct hue. I want them to know that the simple act of holding hands might have jeopardized their lives in certain parts of this country. Each of us have the artifacts and history that records that struggle and change; from the stories we tell our children or grandchildren as they sit rapt at our knee, to the explanation behind a family photograph at the beach; our lives stand as a testament and a recurring...

History Lesson

I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side

of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,

forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

-- Natasha Trethewey

04 October 2010

Voices and Soul

1 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

On 2 October 1977, my Son Israel Putnam was born. I assisted in his birth and placed his wrinkled, writhing body on his mom's stomach. I let the others attend to the umbilical cord and such. I had already done so with several calves and foals on the farm and ranch growing up in Oregon, it was enough to stroke my wife's forehead and help clean his tiny hands. It was a momentous day, to be sure.

On 2 October 2010, thousands will march in Washington; a show of solidarity against the TeaBircher demonstrations that have taken place recently. A gathering of workers and mothers, small business owners and students, gays and atheists, catholics and lesbians, protestants and teachers, nurses and shias, housekeepers and lawyers. I expect it to be a momentous day.

I visited Israel and my three grandkids in Salem, Oregon a week ago. I love to take the train. It was a practice our family embraced when I was a toddler in the late 50's; and I've used it often since. I enjoy the trains in Europe much more of course, but the Amtrak Coast Starlight is a great way to see the West Coast of the United States. Sitting in the Salem rail station for my return back the the Bay Area, I engaged in a conversation with a young Army Ranger, dressed in desert camo and burdened with desert camo duffle bags, who was on his way to visit relatives in Portland. A pretty black-haired goth girl gave the perfunctory genuflection, uttering the requisite mantra of patriotic thanks. I was more curious when and where he was going back. I was more concerned he had to go at all.

He was closing a camp near the Euphrates and moving it to the Afghan-Pakistan border. He only had two days with his relatives in Portland; on 2 October 2010, he would be with his fellow Rangers in Iraq.

On the train, I was sat next to a young man who works for an NGO in Ecuador building schools. In the mid-80's, I worked for a contractor hired by UNICEF drilling water wells for schools in Honduras; so we talked of Latin America and how the problems of abject poverty complicate matters. He was on his way to the offices in the Mission District of San Francisco, California, before traveling back to Guayaquil. He was then due to be in the tiny village of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on 2 October 2010.

As I sat in the viewing car that night, watching the full moon as we rolled through the Cascades, I thought of the petty nature of bigotry; and how the actions of those two men, the actions of the marchers in DC stand against that pettiness. I thought how the struggle is long and hard; and how we cannot allow that pettiness to go unchallenged; lest we return to another 2 October, this time in 1937, when Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, ordered 20,000 blacks killed because they could not roll the letter “r” in perejil, the Spanish word for...


1. The Cane Fields

There is a parrot imitating spring
in the palace, its feathers parsley green.
Out of the swamp the cane appears

to haunt us, and we cut it down. El General
searches for a word; he is all the world
there is. Like a parrot imitating spring,

we lie down screaming as rain punches through
and we come up green. We cannot speak an R—
out of the swamp, the cane appears

and then the mountain we call in whispers Katalina.
The children gnaw their teeth to arrowheads.
There is a parrot imitating spring.

El General has found his word: perejil.
Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining
out of the swamp. The cane appears

in our dreams, lashed by wind and streaming.
And we lie down. For every drop of blood
there is a parrot imitating spring.
Out of the swamp the cane appears.

2. The Palace

The word the general’s chosen is parsley.
It is fall, when thoughts turn
to love and death; the general thinks
of his mother, how she died in the fall
and he planted her walking cane at the grave
and it flowered, each spring stolidly forming
four-star blossoms. The general

pulls on his boots, he stomps to
her room in the palace, the one without
curtains, the one with a parrot
in a brass ring. As he paces he wonders
Who can I kill today. And for a moment
the little knot of screams
is still. The parrot, who has traveled

all the way from Australia in an ivory
cage, is, coy as a widow, practicing
spring. Ever since the morning
his mother collapsed in the kitchen
while baking skull-shaped candies
for the Day of the Dead, the general
has hated sweets. He orders pastries
brought up for the bird; they arrive

dusted with sugar on a bed of lace.
The knot in his throat starts to twitch;
he sees his boots the first day in battle
splashed with mud and urine
as a soldier falls at his feet amazed—
how stupid he looked!— at the sound
of artillery. I never thought it would sing
the soldier said, and died. Now

the general sees the fields of sugar
cane, lashed by rain and streaming.
He sees his mother’s smile, the teeth
gnawed to arrowheads. He hears
the Haitians sing without R’s
as they swing the great machetes:
Katalina, they sing, Katalina,

mi madle, mi amol en muelte. God knows
his mother was no stupid woman; she
could roll an R like a queen. Even
a parrot can roll an R! In the bare room
the bright feathers arch in a parody
of greenery, as the last pale crumbs
disappear under the blackened tongue. Someone

calls out his name in a voice
so like his mother’s, a startled tear
splashes the tip of his right boot.
My mother, my love in death.
The general remembers the tiny green sprigs
men of his village wore in their capes
to honor the birth of a son. He will
order many, this time, to be killed

for a single, beautiful word.

-- Rita Dove