15 December 2010

Voices and Soul

14 December 2010

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

Race in America can sometimes be explained by the illusion of negative and positive space in art; where figure-ground reversal will show a vase in the positive space and the silhouetted profile of two faces in the negative. The Danish psychologist, Edgar Rubin, used this and many other examples to...

... state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as figure and the other as ground, the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.

Arguments abound whether Race is an issue in the post-Obama world; one is that the very fact a black man is President is example enough that America's sordid racial past has been refuted; sort of like seeing only the figure, or only the ground. A countervailing argument is that the sheer numbers of incarcerated people of color as opposed to population averages as example that Race is and will continue to be an issue; that would be perceiving the ground and the figure shifting back and forth.

In 1968, the short-fiction writer and poet, Henry Dumas, was shot and killed at the age of thirty-three by a white New York transit officer; in what was explained as a case of mistaken identity. Maybe not so mistaken, though; when the face in the negative space is black.

The Zebra Goes Wild Where the Sidewalk Ends


Neon stripes tighten my wall
where my crayon landlord hangs
from a bent nail.

My black father sits crooked
in the kitchen
drunk on Jesus’ blood turned
to cheap wine.

In his tremor he curses
the landlord who grins
from inside the rent book.

My father’s eyes are
bolls of cotton.

He sits upon the landlord’s
operating table,
the needle of the nation
sucking his soul.


Chains of light race over
my stricken city.
Glittering web spun by
the white widow spider.

I see this wild arena
where we are harnessed
by alien electric shadows.

Even when the sun washes
the debris
I will recall my landlord
hanging in my room
and my father moaning in
Jesus’ tomb.

In America all zebras
are in the zoo.

I hear the piston bark
and ibm spark:
let us program rabies.
the madness is foaming now.

No wild zebras roam the American plain.
The mad dogs are running.
The African zebra is gone into the dust.

I see the shadow thieves coming
and my father on the specimen table.

-- Henry Dumas

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