22 November 2010

Voices and Soul

12 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

In the Dogon cosmology, the Andoumboulou are a failed, earlier form of Human Being, who live underground inhabiting holes in the Earth. The voice of the Andoumboulou is merely their breath; it is the music of the wind. Nathaniel Mackey takes this breath to the text; a reification of language to body, the ink on the page being as real as the skin that chatters for the Andoumboulou. He chronicles the journey of that voice, that music of the wind, as it courses over the land and time.

There is an explosion of stammers in the Andoumboulou's flawed world of abortive language. Though imperfect and flawed, meaning emerges in the errors. That meaning is beyond words; it is lost in human utterance; it is something to be determined as but a whisper from a human existence we can only speculate about, that we can only feel. A feeling like the wind on our cheeks; and grains of sand blown from our hands.

Song of the Andoumboulou: 55

Carnival morning they
were Greeks in Brazil,
Africans in Greek
disguise. Said of herself
was born in a house in
heaven. He said he was
born in the house next
door... They were in hell.
In Brazil they were
To abide by hearing was
what love was... To
love was to hear without
looking. Sound was the
 mummy cloth... All to say,
 said the exegete, love in
 hell was a voice, to be spoken
 to from behind, not be able
 to turn and look... It
wasn’t Greece where they
nor was it Benin... Carnival
morning in made-up hell, bodies
bathed in loquat light, would-be
 song’s all the more would-be
 title, “Sound and Cerement,”
wound in bandages

Up all night, slept well
past noon. Awoke restless
having dreamt she awoke on
Lone Coast, wondering
afterwards what it came
glimpsed interstice,
crack... Saw her
dead mother and brother
pull up in a car, her brother
at the wheel not having driven
while alive, newly taught
death it appeared. A fancy car,
than any her mother had had while
alive, she too better off it
appeared... A wishful read, “it
appeared” notwithstanding, the
exegete impossibly benign. Dreamt
a dream
of dream’s end, anxious, unannounced,
Eronel’s nevermore namesake, Monk’s
anagrammatic Lenore... That the
dead return in luxury cars made
weep, pathetic its tin elegance,
sweet read misread,

-- Nathaniel Mackey

09 November 2010

Voices and Soul

06 November 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

In July, I posted a little seen diary on dKos and also on my blog entitled, On Oscar Grant, Martyrdom and The Digital Age. I juxtaposed the self immolation in 1963 of the Buddhist Monk, Tich Quang Duc with that of the alternative musician in 2006, Malachi Ritscher; and the murders by police of supposed North Viet Namese sympathizer Nguyen Van Lem in 1968 and of Oscar Grant the morning of 1 January 2009.

In the early morning hours of 1 January 2009, Oscar Grant loosely fit the description of a young black man in America; a supposed sympathizer to the Thug Life and a threat to the community, the nation and the world; and so Oscar Grant was shot in the back by Police in those early morning hours, while laying face down on the Fruitvale BART station platform...

I wrote,

... Oscar Grant was murdered by long-held fear and animosity, murdered during a war on brown people domestic and abroad; by a policeman whose only defense is that he meant to torture Grant with 50,000 volts instead. There was no trial for Oscar Grant, only an apprehension and a gunshot in the back.

As I write this, the Judge in the murder trial of Grant is finalizing his sentencing decision for Johannes Mehserle; which will be handed down around 4pm Pacific Time. I am listening to KPFA interview activists at the Courthouse in Oakland, as they gather in solidarity. During the interview, a contingent of KKK and neo-Nazis stormed the area. They were quickly apprehended after they attacked a black kid who dared utter a protest against them. The thugs were taken inside the courthouse; where a holding cell is. I doubt Faux News will report that; but rest assured, plenty of images of black men in dark sunglasses and leather jackets will be portrayed, with commentary of the new hell that is America, what with a black man in the White House.

It is often stated that the US should be renamed, Prison America. I don't disagree with that assessment. It's almost as if we live a daily Stanford Experiment; some of us are guards, most of us are prisoners; but all of us, guards and prisoners alike, are housed within the confines of a concrete block-walled, razor-wired, guard-shack land.

There Are Black

                         There are black guards slamming cell gates
on black men,
                         And brown guards saying hello to brown men
with numbers on their backs,
                         And white guards laughing with white cons,
                         and red guards, few, say nothing
to red inmates as they walk by to chow and cells.

                         There you have it, the little antpile . . .
convicts marching in straight lines, guards flying
on badged wings, permits to sting, to glut themselves
at the cost of secluding themselves from their people . .
                         Turning off their minds like watertaps
wrapped in gunnysacks that insulate the pipes
carrying the pale weak water to their hearts.

                         It gets bad when you see these same guards
carrying buckets of blood out of cells,
see them puking at the smell, the people,
their own people slashing their wrists,
hanging themselves with belts from light outlets;
it gets bad to see them clean up the mess,
carry the blue cold body out under sheets,
and then retake their places in guard cages,
watching their people maul and mangle themselves,

                         And over this blood-rutted land,
the sun shines, the guards talk of horses and guns,
go to the store and buy new boots,
and the longer they work here the more powerful they become,
taking on the presence of some ancient mummy,
down in the dungeons of prison, a mummy
that will not listen, but has a strange power
in this dark world, to be so utterly disgusting in ignorance,
and yet so proudly command so many men. . . .

                         And the convicts themselves, at the mummy’s
feet, blood-splattered leather, at this one’s feet,
they become cobras sucking life out of their brothers,
they fight for rings and money and drugs,
in this pit of pain their teeth bare fangs,
to fight for what morsels they can. . . .

                         And the other convicts, guilty
of nothing but their born color, guilty of being innocent,
they slowly turn to dust in the nightly winds here,
flying in the wind back to their farms and cities.
From the gash in their hearts, sand flies up spraying
over houses and through trees,

                         look at the sand blow over this deserted place,
you are looking at them

-- Jimmy Santiago Baca

03 November 2010

Voices and Soul

02 November 2010

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

On this Election Day, as we cast our votes in a declaration of independence and civic duty; as an affirmation of our heritage as Americans; I cannot help but consider that part of our Heritage that is like the crisp autumn leaves of dried blood on our hands; a heritage passed down by the spilled blood of brothers and sisters past; of the blood of grandfathers and grandmothers weeping from a round house; the blood of elk and bison spilled on sands and in forests; blood of eagles on a snow-capped precipice and blood of mallards on a Cascade valley lake; the blood of our Heritage carried by blood-vein rivers across this vast red earth. A heritage that preceded the landing at Plymouth Rock, even that of the landing of the Santa Maria. A heritage planted by a tribal people who also, nonetheless, in a vast and distant time, emigrated from the distant shores of another distant continent. Who, because of aeons of intimate connection with this landscape, believed that every thing is alive. So much so, that coastal tribes built their dugouts with hearts and lungs; because they believed the tree was still alive in the boat.

On this Election Day, as we make those important votes and then go about our daily routines, routines that takes us along the corridors of pavement or through the static of the air; let us consider a once powerful people. A people subjegated, marginalized and weakened. A people caught between two worlds not of their choosing. A people left with only...

A Declaration, Not of Independence

Apparently I’m Mom’s immaculately-conceived
Irish-American son, because,
Social-Security time come,
my Cherokee dad could not prove he’d been born.

He could pay taxes, though,
financing troops, who’d conquered our land,
and could go to jail,
the time he had to shoot or die,
by a Caucasian attacker’s knife.

Eluding recreational killers’ calendar’s
enforcers, while hunting my family’s food,
I thought what the hunted think,
so that I ate, not only meat
but the days of wild animals fed by the days
of seeds, themselves eating earth’s
aeons of lives, fed by the sun,
rising and falling, as quail,
hurtling through sky,

fell, from gun-powder, come—
as the First Americans came—
from Asia.

Explosions in cannon,
I have an English name,
a German-Chilean-American wife
and could live a white life,
but, with this hand,
with which I write, I dug,
my sixteenth summer, a winter’s supply of yams out
of hard, battlefield clay,
dug for my father’s mother, who—
abandoned by her husband—raised,
alone, a mixed-blood family
and raised—her tongue spading air—
ancestors, a winter’s supply or more.

-- Ralph Salisbury
Voices and Soul

26 October 2010

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

The Prison Industrial Complex insists that it is a growth industry; and it's hard to argue with that assessment. With the building of ever more prisons, both by Government and Private Industry, with mandatory sentencing and inflexible drug laws; the resonant cadences of chain gangs past can be heard echoing from sea to shining sea.

It is presumed that Drug Prohibition began with the Harrison Act of 1914, but California enacted the Nation's first anti-narcotics law in 1875 in response to anti-chinese sentiment. Ostensibly enacted to crack down on opium dens, the law was used to incarcerate or banish Chinese nationals deemed as unfair competition with white workers. When several boatloads of Punjabi Sikhs landed in San Francisco in 1910, it sparked an uproar of protest from Asian exclusionists, who pronounced them to be even more unfit for American civilization than the Chinese. Immigration authorities capped the influx at little more than 2,000 in the state, mostly in agricultural areas of the Central Valley. Even so, the Sikhs remained a popular target by racists of the times; and were accused of many crimes, all while under the influence of hashish or marijuana. In the 1920's and 1940's, when Braceros and other workers from Mexico were no longer needed, even harsher laws were enacted to hasten their exodus. Anti-narcotics laws were also enacted in the South to intimidate the black population and used as an excuse to deny them the vote.

To ignore the racial animus that drives the Prison Industrial Complex, is to ignore the obvious; it is to ignore the history of our nation.

Divide and Conquer is a strategy used by military and political professionals alike. If people can be divided by culture and race, the job of the General or the Oligarch runs smoother. It runs smoother still, if the divisions extend within those very cultures and races, as well.

A Fable

Once upon a today and yesterday
and nevermore there were 7 men and women all locked
up in prison cells. Now these 7 men and women
were innocent of any crimes; they were in prison
because their skins were black.

Day after day, the prisoners paced their cells,
pining for their freedom.

And the non-black jailers would
laugh at the prisoners and beat them
with sticks and throw their food on the floor.

Finally, prisoner #1 said,
“I will educate myself and emulate
the non-colored people.
That is the way to freedom
c’mon, you guys, and follow me.”

“Hell, no,” said prisoner #2.
“The only way to get free is
to pray to my god and he will deliver you like
he delivered Daniel from the lion’s den,
so unite and follow me.”

“Bullshit,” said prisoner #3.
“The only way
out is thru this tunnel i’ve been
quietly digging, so c’mon, and follow me.”

“Uh-uh,” said prisoner #4,
“that’s too risky.
The only right
way is to follow all the rules
and don’t make the non-colored people angry,
so c’mon brothers and sisters and unite behind me.”  

 “Fuck you!” said prisoner #5,
“The only way
out is to shoot
our way out, if all of
you get together behind me.”

“No,” said prisoner #6,
“all of you are incorrect;
you have not analyzed the
political situation by my
scientific method and historical meemeejeebee.
All we have to do is wait long enough
and the bars will bend from their own inner rot.
That is the only way.”

“Are all of you crazy,” cried prisoner #7.
“I’ll get out by myself,
by ratting on the rest of you
to the non-colored people.
That is the way, that is the only way!”

“No-no,” they
all cried, “come and follow me.
I have the
way, the only way to freedom.”

And so they argued, and to this day
they are still arguing;
and to this day they are still
in their prison cells,
their stomachs
trembling with fear.

-- Etheridge Knight
Voices and Soul

22 October 2010

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

I was thinking about Kurt Vonnegut the other day. I was thinking about the firebombing of Dresden and the burning of Beatles albums in the South. I was thinking about the destruction of the Library in Alexandria and dynamiting of the Buddhas of Bamyan. I was thinking of laws that prevented blacks from reading; and if there were no laws, the local Citizens Council made sure no reading occured.

Vonnegut was not the only one to call the bombing of Dresden an act of terror. Even British Air Commodore Colin McKay Grierson, a confidant of Churchill, admitted to AP war correspondent Howard Cowan, that the raid also helped destroy...

... what is left of German morale.

Cowan then filed a report that the allies had resorted to terror bombing.

The firebombing of Dresden, a center for Art and Literature, was a strategic act of terror. The burning of Beatles albums was a conscious act by white supremacists and one meant to intimidate. Laws to prevent the education of blacks and brown peoples are making a virulent resurgence. In fact, there are calls by the TeaBirchers to defund the Department of Education and to also limit funds for any education measure on the local level.

In the historic center of Baghdad, on a street named after the tenth century classical poet, Al-Mutannabi, a street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls, an area often referred to as the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community; a car bomb exploded and killed 26 people on 5 March 2007.

on the day Al-Mutanabbi street was bombed

did you notice
how quickly the open sky
folded in upon itself

the flaking burnt pages
like torn moth wings
flying up the fetid smoke
then drifting

the broken teacups
and coffee stained saucers
the splintered chairs
empty shoe
splattered blood

just before
that moment

did you hear the
euphony of the street
as men wrangled
and summoned
swore and cajoled
if not solved
if not created
the problems
and the promise
of their country's

did you even know
of the dreams imploded
inside the molten iron
across the narrow
book lined street
as debate turned
to barbed screeches
into choked smoke
and a thousand
years of history
was buried in the rubble

or was there

except an inexorable
deadly silence

-- devorah major
Voices and Soul

19 October 2010

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

A late summer on the west coast, the occasional rain squall that cleans the air. A temperate mid-70's as the sun casts moving shadows of moving clouds pushed by a confluence of sea and desert winds. Ntozake Shange evokes this landscape of concrete, glass and chaparral, of date palms and ice plant, the freeway and the back yard; as she pays homage to the...

People of Watts

where we come from, sometimes, beauty
floats around us like clouds
the way leaves rustle in the breeze
and cornbread and barbecue swing out the backdoor
and tease all our senses as the sun goes down.

dreams and memories rest by fences
Texas accents rev up like our engines
customized sparkling powerful as the arms
that hold us tightly black n fragrant
reminding us that once we slept and loved
to the scents of magnolia and frangipani
once when we looked toward the skies
we could see something as lovely as our children's
smiles white n glistenin' clear of fear or shame
young girls in braids as precious as gold
find out that sex is not just bein' touched
but in the swing of their hips the light fallin cross
a softbrown cheek or the movement of a mere finger
to a lip many lips inviting kisses southern
and hip as any one lanky brother in the heat
of a laid back sunday rich as a big mama still
in love with the idea of love how we play at lovin'
even riskin' all common sense cause we are as fantastical
as any chimera or magical flowers where breasts entice
and disguise the racing pounding of our hearts
as the music that we are
hard core blues low bass voices crooning
straight outta Compton melodies so pretty
they nasty cruising the Harbor Freeway
blowin' kisses to strangers who won't be for long
singing ourselves to ourselves Mamie Khalid Sharita
Bessie Jock Tookie MaiMai Cosmic Man Mr. Man
Keemah and all the rest seriously courtin'
rappin' a English we make up as we go along
turnin' nouns into verbs braids into crowns
and always fetchin' dreams from a horizon
strewn with bones and flesh of those of us
who didn't make it whose smiles and deep
dark eyes help us to continue to see
there's so much life here.

-- Ntozake Shange