Winter-Spring 2006-7 Vol. 22, No. 3 and Vol. 23, No. 1
No "November revolution," No withdrawal from Iraq -- only a shift in oppressor tactics
The recent Congressional mid-term elections resulted in the Democrats replacing the Republicans as the dominant party in Congress. According to the capitalist press, this was a "November Revolution." Supposedly the Bush nightmare of reaction and oppression was over. Motion to end the war in Iraq was predicted. "Farewell to fascism!" a Detroit liberal columnist cried. "Let the investigations begin!" crowed others. But this was just a fairy-tale, told for the gullible. The election was a referendum in which the masses voted against the war, but now, only months later, Bush is massively escalating it, and the Democrats, while screaming loudly, refuse to cut off the main funds for the conflict. Their anti-war stand is all talk - as always.
On January 10 Bush
announced his plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq for an open-ended commitment
to suppress the sectarian violence and get his accomplice Iraqi government on
its feet. Bush claims to have a firm commitment from Iraqi Shiite Prime Minister
Maliki to suppress the Shiite militias in Baghdad, an improbable claim as these
militias are loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr , a powerful Shia force who would end
his current support for Maliki. Completing this unbelievable scenario is supposed
to allow a U.S. withdrawal two or three years down the road. What this strategy
really means is a murderous assault on the Iraqi masses, Shiite and Sunni alike,
largely in Baghdad, conducted by Iraqi and American forces jointly. The U.S.
military campaigns, while allegedly targeting terrorists, have always meant
death and destruction for the Iraqi masses as a whole. This is to be stepped
up now. This assault will further fan the flames of sectarian conflict, since
whatever action the Maliki government itself takes against the Shiite militias
will be conducted by an army brigade made up of Kurdish soldiers from the north,
as the Shiite members of the Iraqi military are not regarded as reliable. These
Shiite forces are themselves infiltrated by sectarian Shiite militias which,
like their Sunni militia enemies, slaughter innocent people. Essentially, Bush's
response to the anti-war vote by American voters in November is a maelstrom
of suppression of the workers and the poor of Iraq, more hellish, if possible,
than what goes on at present.
Bush links the success
of his escalation to the Iraqi government meeting a series of "benchmarks."
One of these is the suppression already described. Bush is also demanding the
passage, in the Iraqi parliament, of a bill distributing the oil wealth of the
country. It is impossible to see how a government that cannot apportion power
equitably among its power blocs can apportion such wealth peacefully. But the
bill also opens the door to large-scale foreign investment and control of the
huge oil wealth of Iraq. Western capitalist monopolies like Exxon, Mobil and
BP will be guaranteed 70% profits until their drilling costs are repaid and
20%, double the international average, after that. So much for the statements
of British Prime Minister Blair and former American Secretary of State Colin
Powell that the war was "not about oil!" The Iraqi masses are to be
slaughtered and their national resources plundered. Such is the aim of the Bush
This is Bush's answer
to the American masses' vote against the war. Do the Democrats have a powerful
reply to this outrage to the voters? Hardly! The Democratic leaders in Congress,
Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid, protested loudly, threatening a quick
vote -- to what? Merely to state opposition, not to cut the purse strings for
the war, and this symbolic has already fizzled. Pelosi has stated, "we
will not cut off funding." Sen. Joseph R. Biden declared that it would
be un-Constitutional for Congress to cut off funds to the military during a
war, even though this has been done many times before. Sen. Carl Levin even
stated that he would support Bush's "surge" of troops if it were accompanied
by proper goals. Rep. John Murtha and Sen.Ted Kennedy are preparing bills to
deny funds - to what? Not to the war as a whole, but only to Bush's planned
increase in troops, a measure that any creative Pentagon financial planner could
surely evade. With his escalation, Bush has essentially spat in the face of
the anti-war masses in the U.S. The Democrats protest: "Not so much spit!
We simply won't allow it!"
Why do the Democrats
flout the desires of the masses? A major part of the U.S. bourgeoisie, the main
Democrats and also some Republicans, see that the occupation of Iraq, at least
in its current form, is failing. But they still want to impose U.S. domination
on the region. They want to slowly withdraw some troops, maintain tens of thousands
of American "trainers" in the Iraqi military, and re-deploy to Kurdistan
or some other safe havens from which they can quickly re-intervene. True, Bush
also talks about withdrawing troops, but only after victory for the occupation
regime. This is a serious difference, and there are differences within the Democrat/moderate
Republican camp over whether or how to fight for their position. But neither
of these positions envisions immediate or complete withdrawal, which is the
demand increasingly desired by the masses in the U.S. The Democrats cling to
their imperialist aims because they are financed by the same class of rich capitalists
that fund the Republicans, and the economic and political nature of this class
demands an imperialist drive for world domination, the source of the highest
profits. Democratic Rep. John Murtha, for example, wants to hold back funds
for Bush's escalation in order to strengthen U.S. military forces for imperialist
activities elsewhere in the world. The Democrats' tactics represent liberal
imperialism, is just as violent as the conservative imperialism of the Republicans
but reinforced with alliances and sugar-coated with pretty words.
The Democrats' capitulation
on the war is closely linked to their capitulation on the impeachment issue.
For years the left-wing Democrats have tried to channel the mass movements into
centering on impeachment, and replacing Bush with a Democrat, instead of organizing
a struggle for their demands. But as soon as the Democrats won, what happened
to the impeachment talk? Liberal Rep. John Conyers, on orders from Pelosi, dropped
it like a hot potato! Bush had provided Conyers with material for a lengthy
dossier of impeachable offenses, including the lying justifications of the war
itself. But the great impeachment warrior hastily announced that it was "off
In the elections
the voters also repudiated the moral hypocrisy of the ruling politicians. However,
an indication of how non-seriously both ruling parties take this repudiation
may have been provided by the House Ethics Committee. This committee, composed
equally of Republicans and Democrats, took no action against the bipartisan
House leadership, which had ignored the harassment of young pages by (now-resigned)
Rep. Mark Foley since at least 1995. To add to the irony, Foley was the leading
Congressional spokesman against pedophilia! Hearings, rather than action, have
been promised on other issues. The Democrats promised ethics action to restrict
gifts to politicians, but such problems are dwarfed next to the truly massive
fraud and mis-management conducted by such corporations as Halliburton and enabled
by the Bushites and politicians of both parties, especially in connection with
the Katrina debacle and the Iraq war itself. It's as if, when confronted by
elephants, the Dems choose to slap mosquitoes and swat flies.
On such fundamental
democratic issues as the Patriot Act, torture, the writ of habeas corpus and
the continuing police murders of African Americans, the Democrats have made
no promises of change and are apparently doing next to nothing. They have already
arrived at a sordid compromise with the Republicans which allows torture to
continue, contrary to the Geneva Conventions. There are two bills, being sponsored
by Sens. Leahy and Dodd, which would reverse parts of Bush's anti-democratic
Military Commissions Act of 2006, which removed the right of American citizens
to challenge their arrest (the right of habeas corpus). But if the Dems' "fight"
against the war is an indicator of their seriousness, not much will be done
about this crucial issue. The Bush administration intends to retain the ability
to declare an American citizen a terrorist and deprive him or her of the right
to liberty and the right to see the evidence against them. The police intend
to continue killing blacks. It will take mass mobilization to turn these policies
around, something to which the Democrats are generally allergic. But if these
tyrannical measures continue, then farewell to "farewell to fascism!"
On the economic front,
the Democrats have no solutions for the working-class masses. The workers are
facing growing insecurity of employment, speed-up on the job, destruction of
worker rights and the smashing of unions and unionization drives, spreading
impoverishment, privatization of social services, energy deregulation, the rising
prices of education, insurance, transportation and many other burdens. Though
the Democrats have some differences with the Republicans over "free"
or "fair" trade, they are a party of market-place solutions as much
as the Republicans. Both parties represent the bourgeoisie, which is the target
of worker struggles and unionization. So in their economic program the Dems
propose only the minimum they hope will get them votes in future elections.
With regard to the minimum wage, any raise will be welcome to the nearly starving
working poor, but the bill that is likely to be passed will be half-hearted
and too small. It may raise the minimum wage from the microscopic $5.15 to $7.25
(in two years), but any worker knows that this is still far below what it takes
to feed, clothe, shelter and transport a single individual. And even this crumb
is being delayed until it is linked with tax cuts for small capitalists! With
regard to the deficit, since Clinton's administration the Democrats have pursued
deficit reduction by cutting social programs for the masses. Now Pelosi is saying
that any spending increases (which would include any reinstatement of needed
social programs) will have to be "offset" by spending cuts elsewhere
(no doubt of other social programs).
One front where there
likely will be motion is immigration, though the motion will not be very good.
Despite the massive immigrant worker demonstrations of last spring, the capitalist
establishment defeated any new moves towards immigrant citizenship and settled
on a policy of repression and fences on the Mexico border. Since the election
this policy is being enforced even more brutally, with raids and deportations
of immigrant workers in many states. The election of the Democrats may revive
some version of the McCain-Kennedy Act, which would have created a guest worker
program and a tortuous road to citizenship for a very few immigrants of the
millions presently illegal. This bill, while preferable to the policy of blanket
repression, was so bad that even many major immigrant groups that are close
to the Democrats were turning against before it failed in the past Congress.
The new Congress is unlikely to come up with anything much better.
There you have the "November Revolution." At most it means a mere shift in ruling class tactics - and continued war! The working masses need a mass action program to fight back. First of all, they should come out forcefully against the war - against Bush's escalation and against the Democrats' feeble opposition. For serious change, for a reversal of the tyrannical Bush policies and any other major improvements, the working class and the poor need to raise such demands as immediate withdrawal from Iraq, a reversal of all Bush's anti-democratic laws, an end to police brutality and murders, full rights for immigrants, the elimination of anti-worker and anti-union laws, and the need for action on the environment. The workers and poor need their own movement, with their own demands and their own organizations. The anti-war movement should emphasize appealing to the working class, while activist workers should play a vigorous role in anti-war protests. The Republicans are our obvious enemies; we must learn that the Democrats are our enemies to an equal degree. We must fight for every improvement possible, but ultimately the entire capitalist class must be driven from power in a working-class revolution.
By Tim Hall
money, money, money
donald trump while that poor
is building another guys is sleepin
casino on the fucking
with all the
money he's his boss just
got gave him the
By Ed Galing
Report of a Court Martial
When the sand storms
come in Iraq, the wind comes out of the south and it has that feel to it, like
static electricity, the feel that something's gonna happen. The fronds on the
palms trees tremble at first, then start rattling. The wind blows sand in from
the desert. The sky turns yellow, then copper, then rust. The grit gets in your
clothes, in your ears, in your mouth, in your nose, even when you're inside
the compound, and you get that antsy feeling. And it's hot. I can tell when
a storm's coming, even in here, in this room, this cell in the middle of the
This jail smells
like fresh paint. The walls are concrete blocks, painted cream colored. The
cell is eight feet by eight feet. There are two bunks bolted to the wall, like
big biscuit pans, each with a thin pad for a mattress with a mattress cover
and an army blanket. There are two air vents high on the wall. The air comes
in one and out the other, whispering like someone telling secrets. Somewhere,
somebody's yelling, screaming, crazy. I don't know why.
My name is Lassiter,
Kelsie S. Private First Class, US Army, 208 68 2141. I'm 20 years old, five
feet, three inches tall, 105 pounds. Too much butt, not enough boobs. Dirty
blond hair, blue eyes, little white spots on my fingernails. Back home they
used to say people have white spots on their fingernails from telling lies.
But I have told no lies, and I will tell none now.
I'm from Mineral
Springs , West Virginia. I've been in the West Virginia National Guard over
a year. I couldn't find a job back home. The recruiter in Franklin said serve
your country and see the world at the same time.
Back home, Mama has pictures she took when I was a baby, sitting on somebody's lap in front of the trailer where Mama still lives. Mama said that it was my daddy and I believe her. I used to play checkers with Granddaddy. I had long hair and curls then. Blonde, lighter than now. They said I was a cute baby. There's another picture with Granny, before she died. When she was alive, she used to twist a rag up and soak it in sugar water and give it to me. I guess that's why I've always liked sweets. Which wasn't good for my teeth. That is one of the good things about the army, the dentist.
When I was 10, I
started getting boobs. I walked hunched over to hide them. All that changed
when I met Randy. I was 14. Randy liked to play the pinball machine, fish, drink,
smoke dope; a pretty normal type of guy.
There's a dirt road lead back to this place on Shawnee Creek. The water's usually brown and muddy, 'cause there's mine tailings in it. But it's pretty, and it's peaceful, not too many people coming through. Close to the creek it's sweet smelling and fresh. Next to the creek, the branches of the willows hang down sad-like, like they're grieving over something. There's a gully there leading down to the creek where people threw things they didn't want anymore. Like you might find a kid's wagon that you could still use. All sorts of garbage. Plenty of rats.
There was an old
car seat on the edge of the gully. Randy and me dragged it to the creek bank,
laughing and talking the whole time. We'd sit on it and fish. We never caught
any fish. And we didn't care. We'd smoke a little dope when we could get it,
but mostly was lucky to get a few of beers. That's the first time I ever did
it, the wild thing, there with Randy. I'd come in late, so sure enough, Mama
said I couldn't go out with Randy any more.
I went right out the window. Stayed all night. Mama got the preacher to talk to me. A skinny, rawboned old man, his hair like a spider web stirring in the breeze, tall, his forehead huge and bald, like a beetle's head. Loved to talk about sin, about hell, which is where he said teens living in sin would go if they died without repenting. That happened to my cousin up on the Charleston Highway when I was four. Drunk, died in a wreck. I just sat there in front of the preacher saying unhuh, unhuh.
You think you can't
love somebody when you're 15? 16? You can love somebody then more than you ever
will again, so much you want to live in the same skin, die in the same skin,
so much it aches like a rising, so much you'll do whatever they want; die for
them and die smiling though you know you're going to hell but it don't matter.
White hot love, I guess you could call it.
Finally I just wore
Mama out. She didn't have much to say anymore. Right before the end of senior
year, Randy and me got married. I graduated anyway. He didn't. He got a job.
Pole man on a survey crew. Then he lost that from going coon hunting all night
with his buddies, drinking, not showing up the next day at work. I got pregnant.
Randy said he wasn't ready for that kind of re-spon-sib-il-it-y, he said it
careful, sounding out each part to make it official. Then I lost the baby. Then
he said I know you been sneaking around, drinking and smoking, and that's why
things went wrong. That's why my baby is dead. My baby. Him working as the flag
man on a construction crew, then that job was gone so he started delivering
pizzas, but the car broke down. Then working at Shop 'n Save groceries, just
at night putting stock on the shelves. Him getting meaner. Us fighting more
He hit me. Then he promised he wouldn't, said he was sorry. I took him back. Then it happened again. Worse. I took him back. Then he blacked both my eyes. I went back to Mama's. Mama had the preacher come by again. The preacher said marriage is a sacrament, ordained of God. It is till death do us part. Well, I may be dead if I go back, I said, me or Randy one. I got a divorce. That's when I joined the army.
I went to recruit
training at Fort Jackson , which is next to Columbia, South Carolina. I mostly
did good, except I couldn't do pushups very well. The cadre, Sgt. LeFeu, helped,
pushed, me, actually, I mean, when I had to do the physical training qualifications,
like to get over the wall, he put his hand under my ass, just to help, I mean,
and pushed. I passed. He was black, black as midnight, from Louisiana, but I
liked him anyway.
When I finished boot
camp the band played the "Star Spangled Banner." They played "I'm
Proud to be an American." I was in the back of the platoon, 'cause I was
the shortest. But I could see the sergeant marching along. We passed the reviewing
stand, we did eyes right. They were playing the caisson song as we marched by.
I was crying so hard my nose was snotty. Anybody in the reviewing stand could
see I was crying. But then I was happy. Then I was proud.
It's hard to sleep
where I am now. But when I sleep, sometimes Randy is here. We go fishing. But
in the end there's always the baby that dies. Or I'm at Fort Jackson , and Sgt.
LeFeu is there. I'm graduating from boot camp and I'm proud to be there, then
I realize I'm naked. And I think everybody's going to notice. Or I'm on the
tower you rappel off of, but I'm falling off, and I know I'm gonna be hurt.
I used to think of
ways I'd become a hero. Of how I'd make some prisoner confess about a plan by
the terrs, to blow up something big, like the entire Coalition Provisional Authority
Headquarters and everything inside using the nukes they had. I'd wring it out
of him. And I'd get a medal, and it was always Sgt. LeFeu pinning it on, saluting,
saying well done, Lassiter.
The lieutenant gave
us a lecture about terrorists when we got here, and about WMDs. He talked about
how and why people blow themselves up. I think about that now, how people blow
themselves up. Like the terrs who flew the planes into the World Trade Center,
which is also a big part of the reason we're in Iraq. Sometimes now I think
about how easy it'd be, to do that, to put plastic explosives under my clothes,
or maybe in a back pack, to go out and blow something up myself.
When my lawyer comes,
he says, tell me what happened in Abu Ghraib. I tell him, trying to soften it
up a little, make it sound a little better, but I tell him. Sometimes they dropped
mortar shells in the prison itself, like they didn't care who got hit, us or
some of them. They all hate us, you know. Which is odd because we liberated
them. At Abu Ghraib they'd sweep up suspects and bring them in. MI, that's military
intelligence, was there, like in the cellblocks, checking them out as they came
in. We called the prisoners rag heads, sand niggers, towel heads. MI said to
soften them up, meaning to get the ready to confess to being terrorists, to
talk about what they knew. Sometimes if MI thought somebody knew something and
they wouldn't talk, they'd put them in solitary. No clothes, them all pushed
into the cells with their puny dicks hanging out which was kind of funny. No
lights, no nothing. We were ordered to leave them in there until they talked.
Some of the cells were set up with air conditioning so they became refrigerators.
Sometimes we wouldn't feed them for just a few days. Some of them could speak
English, some couldn't. We'd yell at them. Say move out you fucking bunch of
faggots, or we'd call them Hindus, or just plain assholes. They seem to especially
not like being called queers. Which is understandable. Everybody hates a queer.
We'd take them into the showers, 'cause that was a convenient place to soften
them up for interrogation and if things get messy, you can rinse it right down
I used to ask prisoners, when I first came to Abu Ghraib, where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction? Finally Specialist Lovegood said cut that shit out. I said why? He said, because he's a fucking Baghdad cab driver. He doesn't know shit about WMDs. I looked at him funny, and he continued, and because I fucking said so, Lassiter.
I tell him all that.
About what Sergeant Kimbrell did, what he said, about, dragging the prisoners
around by their handcuffs, or by their shackles. Punching them. Kicking them.
Making them crawl on broken glass. Or you tie them on to a board so they can't
move, then dunk them into a barrel of water. Then they get hit or get a little
electric shock. Allah, Allah, they'd say, which is their word for God. The chaplain
told us that they don't worship the same God that we do. I told my lawyer about
putting their food in the toilet and making them get it out and eat it. Making
them drink a little beer. Make them say Jesus is Lord. My lawyer says, did you
fondle a prisoner? Only as a joke, I say.
questions go on. I tell him everything we did, how we made them jack off, all
together. If they wouldn't do it, we'd cut off their air using a nightstick
for a choker hold. We'd make one them one get down like he was going to suck
the other's dick, or make them get in a pile like they were cornholing. Why
did you take pictures, Lambert said? I said it's like guys back home would make
a picture of an eight-point buck they'd killed. We didn't think it mattered.
Also, the spooks or CIA, they said that the pictures would help, that the pictures
could be used to help make them talk. We told them we'd send the pictures to
their wives and children if they didn't talk. Because that is what we thought
we were supposed to do. We figured if the OGOs were doing that to help soften
them up, we should, too. Again and again Captain Lambert comes.
It is the middle
of the night. I hear footsteps coming down the hall. I know it is Captain Lambert.
He unlocks the door and comes into my cell. Captain Lambert tells me it's all
OK, it's over, it's all a mistake. I'm going back to my unit. We get undressed
and get it on. But I wake up and it's all just a dream.
My lawyer asks how
many died? Not many, I tell him, which is the honest-to-God truth. The first
one that died, a captain came in and looked at the body lying there on the shower
floor and said I haven't seen this. Get rid of him. I heard some of the guys
took his body out in a truck and threw it off the back of the truck on the outskirts
My lawyer asks about
the prisoner on ice, the one in the picture that everybody saw. He was an officer
in the Iraqi army. He had a hood over his head. He was mouthy. Somebody pulled
the hood up and stuffed a rag in his mouth. He was laid out on the shower floor,
maybe 'cause somebody hit him a little. When we took the hood off, he was dead.
He had already been hurt, he'd been beaten around his face, his head, but we
didn't know it. But he was an old guy anyway, and it was an accident.
What sort of things,
Captain Lambert says, did the detainees tell you? Sometimes, they'd just say
whatever you wanted to hear. One said he was Osama bin Laden. I said you fucking
queer, you can't be, you're not more than fourteen. He said, I'm in disguise.
Sergeant Kimbrell came over and slapped the living shit out of him.
A major stood up
and read to the court:
In that Private First
Class Kelsie S. Lassiter, U.S. Army, did, at or near the Central Correctional
Facility, Abu Ghraib, Iraq, on or about 28 January, 2004, conspire with Sergeant
Leone L. Moses, Specialist Timothy C. Westerfield and others yet to be determined
to commit offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice
He kept on reading
for a long time.
My lawyer told the
court martial board that detainees were held outside the Geneva Conventions
pursuant to policy promulgated by the President of the United States and the
Secretary of Defense. He mentioned how the general who was the expert from Guantanamo
was transferred to Abu Ghraib to help get more information quicker. Captain
Lambert read from some papers from the Justice Department and the White House
lawyers that said what we were doing wasn't torture. He said he would like to
call the woman general in charge of Abu Ghraib and a bunch of others and the
Secretary of Defense as witnesses to this case. The colonel in charge says denied.
My lawyer looked discouraged. Then he said, if it please the court, I'd like
to submit these materials that document this allegation into evidence. Denied,
the colonel says, frowning, not looking up. But sir, Captain Lambert begins,
these materials clearly show that the defendant did not act purely of her own
volition, that there were both direct and indirect orders from the very highest
levels that saturated the entire chain
Denied, Captain Lambert, the colonel says again, looking meaner this time. Captain Lambert started again, sir if it please the court, we mean to summon witnesses from the senior officer and civilian ranks to substantiate what is clearly stated in these documents. The Officer in Charge who is the judge said, Captain Lambert, I would like to point out that the Pentagon has consistently denied the allegations you are making. My lawyer wasn't giving up. He produced something called the KUBARK Counter-Intelligence Interrogation Manual and the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. He said that they documented the techniques we used at Abu Ghraib, like the one called The Vietnam, where you put a hood, which is really a sandbag, over the prisoner's head, and stand him up on a table or a chair or something, and wrap electric wires around his dick and arms and legs and tell him he's going to be electrocuted if he moves.
The Colonel turned
red, stood up, started shouting for Captain Lambert to quit talking. Captain
Lambert, the president and the secretary of defense are not on trial. Only PFC
Lassiter is, and no one else.
Yes, I said, when they asked me, actually, I did fool around with some of the guys in front of the prisoners. They said it would help soften the prisoners up. The officers on the court martial panel seemed really more worried about this fooling around than anything else. I sort of understand this now. Fooling around is prejudicial to good order and discipline. And I am responsible for what I did. I wanted to be something bigger, better, I guess, than I was meant to be. I have disregarded His decrees. I am repentant. I am justly humbled.
By John R. Guthrie
Shock and Awe
It's not the wind
that howls upon the plain
amid the shards where once the garden stood,
it is the cries of whose death appeased
a Pharaoh's thirst for oil: a crone, her skin
like crepe, caught
by the dawning's falling bombs.
Nearby a girl; what dreams and passions did
her lightless eyes once see? The man who sat
beside the gate, toothless, weathered, now still.
Didn't they rejoice
and weep as we? Their
blood now overflows the chalice cup,
an unmoving choir that sings a silent requiem.
The hawk's perceptive
eye peers from above.
While vultures circle and dust devils whirl.
By John R. Guthrie
He put down his college
books and picked up an M-16,
traded in the J-Craw for camouflage green,
did a few months in basic,
and kissed his family good-bye,
now he's fighting for his life over a political lie.
He thought he had an obligation as an amerikan man,
but now he's fighting a war that he doesn't understand.
waging a self interest war,
"Democracy" is an oil stain beneath the blood and gore.
Too late, there's no escape from this murderous illusion.
It's Master Bush's mass abuse and mass confusion.
After two short months
he's returning home,
and the penalty is great;
with the stars and stripes draped over his coffin,
he's flown back to the States.
His mother cries and his father's silent
during the twenty-one gun salute.
Now all that remains
of a 20-year-old boy
is a medal
and spit-shined boots.
Operation Iraqi Liberation
I don't use gasoline
to fuel my V8 SUV
that navigates the blackened
trails through this canyon,
composed of skyscrapers, and ascends
to the peak of the parking
garage at 12 miles
to the gallon.
I don't use gasoline,
my SUV runs on the
liquid red scattered
across an insurgent landscape
from my older brother and your
By Andrew McCown
Saadiyah found the
letter between a package of the American's cigarettes and fragments from his
shattered skull. The bullet had carved a hunk from the side of his head and
sent the soft tissue within spiraling through the air. When his compatriots
moved him, the broken pieces were left behind; the cigarettes and envelope tumbled
from his person. Saadiyah saw this through the kitchen window. Her Akil had
died outside someone else's window two weeks earlier. The American was taller,
huskier, but only a few years older. Had God seen things a different way, she
thought, they could have been brothers.
Saadiyah waited until
the road emptied; she picked up the discarded items. A pink, wet chunk clung
to the back of the letter. She brushed it off, as one might a fleck of dirt,
an errant insect, and turned the envelope over in her hands. The paper was slightly
crumpled, yellowed by its former proximity to its former owner. Between her
chafed and blistered fingers, she thought it might still be warm. Down the street,
other women peered from behind other curtains. Watching.
laid the letter and cigarettes on her scarred tabletop. Right after Akil died,
the house had been searched for weaponry. Herding them with guns as one might
cattle, the Americans ordered her family into different rooms while they opened
bureaus, overturned furniture.
The guns were as
smooth and black as oil; one had ended Akil, another the American. Saadiyah
was old -- too old to make babies, too young for her daughters to. Old enough
not to fear the guns. They made pain and blood but she accepted their presence.
She wished sometimes that Akil had feared them more.
Children had learned
to be weapons in wars before this and she imagined that they would for wars
after. Akil was not a weapon on the day he died but he might have been. Anyone
might be in Afghanistan and the Americans feared this. They learned to suspect
the children and the mothers; they learned to shoot. Some shot with their eyes
closed, some prayed. Maybe the American outside her window had done such a thing;
maybe he had wept, or walked with haunted, bloodied eyes until the bullets came
back to him. Maybe he had not.
Saadiyah drew a cigarette from the package and twisted it. Her hands were as thick as a man's from age and use; the knuckles were shiny raw. She plucked the brown, dry insides from the cigarette, peeled back the sterile paper. She opened the envelope. The letter it contained lay prone on her table. Dear mother, she pretended to read. Dear father. I killed a man today. Or, we have recovered more arms from within the residences. Or, I miss you. Maybe it was not a letter at all. She traced the nonsensical symbols with her broken nails.
Akil would have told
her to get rid of these things but she took them to her room. In a drawer, she
kept a picture of him, the broken thong of his left sandal, the beads he wore
around his wrist. She placed the American's forgotten possessions with her son's.
Had God seen things a different way, they could have been brothers.
By Julia Katherine Patt
I am a conductor
in a symphony of bullets. I listen as the shells screech through the air like
notes off the strings of a violin. I answer with a burst of fire from my rifle
instead of the wave of my baton. I wish the performance would end, the applause
come, and I could go home. Go back to my music.
One bullet did end;
right in the chest of a soldier a few yards from me. I see his body arch backwards
and fall into the sand like it was a feather bed. "Medic,'' I yell.
I fire a few random
shots in the direction the bullet came from and then crawl over to the soldier.
He layed there motionless, vacant eyes pointing north at the sky. I knew the
soldier, and recalled a conversation we shared the day before. "I like
to race cars. It's the one thing I really like to do,'' he told me.
"I like the
symphony. I want my life filled with music,'' I answered.
He continued to lie
motionless, barely breathing, blood spreading across his uniform like a growing
puddle. In the warm, dry air of the desert I heard very well what he said. "The
sound of hot tires, a fine tuned V8,'' he said. "That's my music.''
A medic and a sergeant
arrived to attend to him. "Back to your post soldier,'' the sergeant said.
"We'll take care of him.''
The dead no longer
need anyone to care for them, I am thinking as I return to my foxhole.
Once again I listen
to the bullets rip and chew the desert sky. I respond with my rifle. And I wonder
why those who want this war are not here in the trenches with me.
By JD Vincent
Marine Going to Court Martial
Chest bright with medals.
Trim and neat in his greens.
His lawyer strides along on his left.
In their combat boots,
pistols and night sticks at their side,
"chasers" -- prison guards --
parade him into
the crucible of retribution.
But wait, someone said,
that Corporal killed
an innocent Iraqi.
How can you grieve for him?
What of the preachers who preached for this war
The pols who called opposition treason?
The pundits who derided all who said no?
What of the other 650 thousand dead Iraqis?
What of he who killed them?
By John R. Guthrie
I pledge allegiance
to the flag,
to murder your fathers and sons.
Rape your mothers and daughters.
Steal your land and resources.
Spread disease, famine and disorder,
with disdain and injustice for all.
By Terrence Sanders
After The Fog Clears
After the fog clears,
nowhere to hide,
lies resonate truth,
indicted for crimes against humanity,
your family will disown you,
your friends will abandon you,
you'll never know peaceful sleep,
demons will haunt you to madness,
you will be found guilty and sentenced to hang,
you will be buried alive.
After the fog clears,
I'll be waiting for you in Hell.
By Terrence Sanders
ya hear yo momma callin you, boy?"
Chester Sledge lumbered
across the weed-choked front yard, favoring his left foot with a dip in his
step, his bottom lip and paunchy belly sagging loosely.
"Ya better get
a move on it. Ain't nobody got no time for no foolishness."
Wesley was careful
not to let the screen door clap shut behind himself when he stepped out onto
the porch. He yawned and gaped inquiringly at his daddy, his big brown eyes
still swollen with sleep.
"Yo ma wants
ya to take the washin back to Ma'am Kent. I heard her callin you bout half hour
ago. And I want ya to stop at the store and pick up some salt on yo way back."
"I was comin,
Daddy," Wesley mumbled, dropping his gaze and stuffing his hands into the
pockets of his faded overalls.
"Gits so it's
hard as hell for you to move in the mornins, boy. Maybe you need some good leatha
on yo backside."
Wesley's lips quivered
as a hot surge of unpleasantness shot through him, making his bladder tingle.
He didn't want to displease his daddy. He dreaded one of those whippings where
the old man would hold him up by his arms while he tore up his bottom with that
heavy black strap.
standin there like a damned dummy, Wesley. Go on and see what all yo momma got
for ya to do."
Wesley bolted down
the stairs and dashed around to the rear of the old frame house where Holly
Sledge was standing over the big cast-iron pot, stirring a batch of clothes
with a long pole. The flames underneath lapped up around the bottom sides of
the black bowl while a mixture of smoke from the coals and steam from the cleansing
brew dissipated into the air.
"Where ya been,
Wesley? I knows ya heard me callin ya." Frowning at him, his mother set
the pole aside and wiped her face and hands on her apron. She was a frail woman
with gangling arms and knobby elbows. Her reddish-brown hair, pinned back and
slick with pomade, glistened under the morning sun. Her hands were callused
and crusty. A deep, hook-like scar made a gash through her left eyebrow and
tapered off across her nose.
"Git yo wagon
and take them clothes there back to the Kents." She pointed to the bundles
on the table by the back door. "Ma'am Paula's supposed to give ya a dollar-and-a-half.
oughta be payin at least two dollars by now," his mother went on. "I
know they got money cause old man Kent owns the town newspaper. They always
got a bunch of clothes. And he's so damned particular bout the starch in his
Wesley made no reply.
She was fussing more to herself than to him. He shuffled over and pulled the
wagon out from its space under the back porch. The axles squeaked and something
rattled underneath. It was a vehicle he had put together using pieces of wood
and the wobbly wheels off a discarded baby carriage.
Just then, his father
hobbled around the corner of the house, carrying a couple of planks under his
"You watch yoself
round them white folks, son. Just take in the clothes, git what they owes ya
and git on way from em. Ma'am Paula'll make ya wait fore she gives ya the money.
And all the time she'll have it in her pocket. But she likes to do that. Make
ya have to wait for her. But don't say nothin. She'll think ya bein sassy."
He stood the wood against the side of the house then rubbed his hands together.
"I hates them damned crackers. I hates their fuckin guts."
"Hush that kinda
talk round this boy," his wife interjected. "He don't need to be hearin
nothin bout no hate."
Chester fired a resentful
glare at her, then chuckled and showed the empty space in the middle of his
top row of teeth.
this boy what he needs to know in order to survive in this man's world, in this
here year of nineteen-thirty. These peckers is out to see us dead. Don't ya
realize that, woman?"
"Maybe the world
ain't like this everywhere," Holly said. "This is Georgia. Everywhere
ain't like Georgia. It ain't like this up north."
"Like hell it
ain't. It's like this wherever there's white folks." Chester turned and
fixed a stare directly on Wesley.
The boy became still,
except for the tremor in his limbs. Again the hot feeling rushed through him,
stirring his bladder. His stomach felt hollow. His father's threatening talks
always upset him. It was all a part of life he didn't exactly understand. But
he understood there was a certain way he was expected to behave around the whites
who in all instances had more of everything than the blacks and could tell them
what to do.
"I just don't
want no trouble with none of these damned peckerwoods," Chester grumbled
on. "I wants Wesley to be sure he knows how to act when he's gotta be round
em. We done had enough trouble."
mercy," Holly proclaimed, raising her hands in reverent surrender to the
high blue sky.
Wesley's joints suddenly
felt stiff as he pulled the wagon over to the table. A hot tightness seemed
to be binding his brain while sweat seeped from his armpits, soaking his tattered
shirt. He knew why his father talked the mean way he did. A group of white men
had come to their house one night several years before and accused Wesley's
older brother, Nathaniel, of stealing some whiskey and talking fresh to a white
woman on the street in town. They barged in the front door, led by Mr. George,
the brawny owner of the general store down by the railroad tracks, and ordered
Holly to leave the room while they interrogated Nathaniel, then proceeded to
beat him unmercifully with rubber hoses and pieces of stove wood.
Having been barely
four years old at the time, Wesley had hidden under his parents' bed, too afraid
to cry, cringing and pissing while the heavy boots stomped and the angry white
men's voices called for murder. The worst happened when Chester protested the
beating of Nathaniel, thereby sending Mr. George flying into a rage wherein
he ordered the men to tear off Chester's pants and hold him down on the bed
to be whipped across the ass with a section of bridle harness. His struggles
were easily vanquished by the brutal men, and for the finale, he got knocked
numb by a big fist in the jaw. Wesley could never forget the way his daddy had
whooped and hollered and how the bed shook every time Mr. George laid on one
of his lashes.
"You lucky I
don't hang yo black asses," the store owner had ranted. "You niggas
better start knowin yo place. And you better always have respect for a white
woman. That's the one thing you better never forget as long as you live."
Holly had cried for
a long time after the intruders left their home, and she got down on her knees
and prayed out loud to the Lord.
Chester roared. "Stop that daydreamin and git the lead out."
Wesley snapped back
at the sound of his father's voice and yanked the rope handle on the wagon.
He parked it alongside the table and proceeded to load the clothes into wicker
"I know what
I'm tellin the boy is right," his daddy lectured on. "He don't need
to be like his brother, bringin trouble up in here then havin to run off to
live in Atlanta. White folks ain't nobody to be messin with."
Wesley felt weak in the knees as a curdled taste filled his mouth. He hoped his father would stop talking about the white people and his brother.
"Ya don't give
them damned Kents no sass. Ya hear me, Wesley? And always keep yo eyes off them
white gals. Don't ya look at em no kinda way. Keep yo little eyes on the ground.
One of the quickest ways for ya to git in trouble is to git caught lookin at
a white gal. That thang tween their legs ain't for you."
"Stop it, Chester,"
Holly chimed in again. "Wesley's just made eleven years old. He ain't thinkin
bout no gals. No kinda gals." Her mouth wrenched into a scowl and her chin
matter with you, woman?" Chester limped over to the steaming pot. Holly
picked up some soiled linen and tossed it into the water. He grabbed her arm,
but she jerked away.
talk ain't no good in front of the child, Chester. You'll make him scared to
death of white folks. He's already fearful enough as it is. He's still wettin
the bed at his age. And ya see how he's afraid of the dark."
"It ain't a matter of him just bein scared." Chester hawked and spit out his words, making the veins bulge in his sweaty, brown neck. "I wants him to know just how mean them suckers can git. My leg ain't never gonna be right again behind them crates fallin on me at that old damned Meacham's Lumber Mill. That old foreman, Mr. Harry, won't let me work no mo. And it was all his fault them crates fell in the first place. I can't help our boy no mo if he gets in trouble. I can't even run fast. He gotta know what he can and can't do here in Calhoun County. I learnt and my daddy learnt. Now Wesley gotta learn. And you know the worst he can do is say somethin outa the way to one of them cracker gals. He better not even look." Chester started gritting his teeth and frothing at the corners of his mouth. "Naw, he can't even look. He's guilty just for lookin. Mr. George coulda took Nathaniel out and hung him for speakin and winkin at Miss Ford that time. Ya know that, Holly. I know you ain't no damned fool. And ya know that little sway-back hussy was leadin the boy on."
Holly didn't reply
as she picked up her pole and churned the clothes around in the pot, her long
arms working furiously as she summoned all her strength. The water was starting
to bubble more vigorously and the steam continued to rise.
"Yeah, ya better
listen to me good, Wesley," Chester began again, turning back toward the
boy. "I'm tellin ya these things for yo own good. Ain't nothin you can
do gainst no white folks. Not in these parts. So don't be gittin no kinda funny
ideas in yo head or listenin to none of them crazy folks round here, them Communists
and things. Ya hear me? And you don't be lookin at Ma'am Paula too hard when
ya take them clothes over there. Everybody figures she's a good looker. She
thinks so herself."
Wesley replied, meekly, without looking up from his loading chore.
"Leave him be
Chester," Holly wailed. "Please leave him be. Things is bad enough
out here in the world. Can't we at least have some peace amongst ourselves?"
Chester leveled his finger at his wife and slowly advanced on her, his face
contorted into a monstrous expression of distemper. He hiked his belt up on
his puffy belly and kicked at the dirt.
Wesley finished loading
the basketsful of clothes into the wagon and picked up the rope handle. He wanted
to get away before some awful calamity happened, but his legs felt weak and
he felt like he wanted to pee again.
His father stopped
beside his mother as she stirred the boiling laundry with all the force in her
worked-out body. He muttered something Wesley couldn't hear, then suddenly he
snatched the pole away from her.
"You's the biggest
fool I ever seen," Holly stormed at him. "That mess with that Mr.
George happened over seven years ago. That man ain't even in this county no
mo. Lord, have mercy."
"Hush yo mouth,
woman. All you ever do is cry to the Lord and read that damned Bible."
watch yo mouth, old damned nigga, or you gonna git struck down. You's blaphemin
Wesley cringed and
almost started to cry when it appeared as though his father might hit his mother,
but the man stopped short, looming over her with the pole in one hand and his
other fist drawn back.
Wesley ran around
the side of the house, pulling the rumbling wagon behind him over the bumpy
ground. He crossed the front yard and headed up the road, his heart beating
fast, tears swelling in his eyes. A car was coming toward him, stirring up a
cloud of dust. He veered off into the weeds so that the bundles wouldn't get
dirty. A white man with a long neck sat hunched over the steering wheel and
paid him no mind as he rolled by. Wesley took time to relieve his bladder while
standing in the brush.
He paused when he
came to the crossroads on the hill a little ways from his house. He turned to
look back at the row of shabby shacks where he had lived all his life. His shanty
was the one with the roof that dipped in the middle. He wondered whether his
father had hit his mother by now. Were they fighting and tearing up the house?
Or was his mother lying across the bed sobbing while his father continued with
his tirade about the white folks? Wesley had witnessed many such scenes, especially
since the old man's accident at the lumber mill. His father now seemed all-consumed
by hot blood and rage devouring him from within.
Wesley looked both
ways along the newly paved road, the first to be covered in his part of Calhoun
County. Pulling the wagon was going to be faster across the smooth black turf.
The late-morning sun was starting to come on strong. Sheets of heat reflected
off the asphalt, shimmering before his eyes.
called out a voice from behind him. "Where ya goin?"
He looked around.
Terrell Cooper, a boy his own age who lived in the shack across the road from
his, was trudging toward him, kicking up the red Georgia dust.
Wesley twisted the
rope handle tightly around his fingers and waited to greet his neighbor.
"You sure is
walkin fast," Terrell said when he caught up. "Where you on yo way
Wesley looked back
at the loaded wagon and shrugged.
"Oh, you takin
stuff to the Kent folks. Gonna git yoself some money."
"That's my momma
and daddy's money."
"Can't you spend
none of it?"
"Naw. My daddy'll
whup me if I do."
Terrell looked down
at the clothes and sneered. He was taller than Wesley, and wider in the shoulders.
A challenging look rankled in his eyes. Wesley disliked him intensely, but he
didn't want to say anything that might rub him the wrong way and start trouble.
"Well, you better
git on along to yo folks," the boy taunted with a grin. "They probably
waitin on you and lookin at their watches. My daddy don't work for no white
folks no mo. He works for hisself, like I'm gonna do when I gits grown. My daddy
sells whiskey. Even Sheriff Busby buy his whiskey from my daddy. And we got
a car, too."
Wesley lowered his head and remained silent while the feverish sensation started building again. He could feel that Terrell wanted to do something mean to him.
Wesley turned away
from the boy and stepped onto the paved road that felt hot enough to burn through
the thin soles of his shoes. He didn't look back as he skipped away with the
wagon wheels rolling squeakily behind him. An occasional car or truck whizzed
by. A horse-drawn cart loaded with watermelons creaked past him, headed in the
opposite direction. The sunburned driver smiled and waved to him with the red
handkerchief he used to mop his sweaty brow.
Soon, Wesley came
to the railroad tracks and stopped. The earth rumbled beneath his feet as the
express train roared by, the driving rods on the wheels of the great locomotive
churning furiously while the puffs of steam belched from its stack. Someday
he intended to be riding in one of the dark green coaches bound for Chicago
or maybe Detroit.
When the train had
passed and the dust and cinders had settled, he continued on, turning off after
a while onto a gravelly side road at the top of a hill, within sight of the
church steeple and the courthouse in the main section of town. He scurried along,
pulling the wagon again with more effort than he had across the smooth asphalt.
The leaves on the branches of the great willows and magnolias shielded him occasionally
from the searing rays of the sun.
White people were
all around him now, relaxing in the shade on their front porches and going about
their daily chores, moving sluggishly as though they commanded all the time
in the world. But he moved with great haste, knowing the Kents were expecting
their laundry before the morning had gone.
A queasy feeling
sloshed in his belly. He had to be extra careful and do nothing to raise the
ire of the people around him. Hopefully, Ma'am Paula wouldn't stall about giving
him the dollar-and-a-half, the way his father had predicted.
The Kents' home sat
on the right side of the road about a quarter-of-a-mile from the main thoroughfare.
It was a sprawling frame house, recently painted white, with a porch that wrapped
around both sides. The grass smelled freshly cut, and the neat rows of snapdragons
and petunias along the fence showed meticulous care; fancy lamps stood on each
side of the stone-laden walkway leading to the front door. There was a distinct
aristocratic air about the place.
He approached cautiously.
The little girl, Gertrude Kent, wearing a pink dress and ribbons in her hair,
was playing with her dolls in the front yard under a fig tree.
she said, pleasantly.
He forced a smile and cast only a quick glance in her direction.
Nelson Kent stood
at the door, seemingly staring right through Wesley. He was a hulking man with
an extruding lower jaw and a bristly moustache that obscured his top lip. His
blue eyes projected something cold and sinister. Wesley stepped up his pace
so that he could hurry up and get away from him.
A breeze came, making
the trees swing and sway as he scampered around to the rear of the house. He
stopped suddenly when one of the Kents' dogs, a husky shepherd with blazing
eyes, ran toward him, barking and snapping. The animal came in close and began
circling Wesley, holding its head low and showing its teeth. Wesley stood very
still, not at all sure what he should do if the real attack came. He had always
been afraid of dogs.
Butch," shouted a young male voice. "Leave that boy alone. Get on
away from him."
Wesley looked around
just as Donald Kent, the oldest boy, ambled up and drew the dog's attention
by clapping his hands.
nobody but little Wesley," Donald drawled as the dog jumped up and nipped
playfully at his master's fingertips. "Leave him alone. He's just a fraidy
cat like his ol cripple pa."
The remark made Wesley
wince. He started to move away, but something in the white boy's eyes forced
him to keep still. The quivering started in his limbs. What had he done wrong?
What did Donald Kent want?
Then suddenly it
dawned on him. "Thank you, Master Donald. Thank you, thank you," he
said, nodding the way he had seen his father and the other black men do.
But you be sure you don't mess with old Butch again." Donald Kent rubbed
the dog's head and grinned. "Now you better scat. My momma's waitin for
them clean clothes."
Wesley hurried around
to the rear of the house and parked his wagon, then stepped up to knock timidly
on the kitchen door. Music was playing on the radio somewhere inside; something
sweet was cooking on the stove. But no one answered. Again he rapped softly
on the wood.
Kent came to the door. A tall, busty woman with copper-colored hair and keen
features, she carried herself in a haughty manner, head held high, her pinched
nose turned up as though she detected an odd aroma. Patches of freckles dotted
her cheeks. Wesley always felt tense and awkward in her presence.
"It's about time you got here, boy." She flicked the hook on the screen door and pushed it open. "Bring the clothes in and put them over there." She stood aside and pointed to a long table. "And hurry up now."
Wesley didn't dare look into her eyes as he stepped into the kitchen.
"Git the clothes
first, boy," she snapped. "Where's your mind today?"
"Oh, yes, Ma'am,"
he said, feeling foolish for having rushed in empty handed.
"And don't you
let any flies in this house."
He stumbled clumsily
over his own feet, but managed to keep from falling as he hurried back to the
wagon. Moving quickly, he made three trips back and forth carrying the bundles
into the kitchen and stacking them neatly on the table. He looked around for
Paula Kent when he was done, but she had gone.
he went outside and flopped down in his wagon. His father had told him right.
He was going to have to wait for her to give him the money. Hopefully, she wouldn't
hold him up for long.
A dull, throbbing
ache started around his temples while his stomach groaned and twisted. His mother
would most likely have some lunch ready when he got back home. He hadn't eaten
any breakfast. A couple of crows were perched on the picket fence separating
the Kents' domain from their neighbors'. He imagined that the birds were laughing
at him when they started their raucous chatter.
He felt small sitting
in the shadow of the grand house where Nelson and Paula Kent carried on with
their charmed lives, far removed from underlings like himself. Had circumstances
always been this way between people? he wondered. Would they always be this
way? The things his father said about the white people always turned out to
be true. Frighteningly true. But why didn't his mother want him to hear his
father's words? Why did they argue so much? It was all too confusing.
His thoughts drifted
away to grape jelly and bread. That was what he wanted when he got back home.
And a tall, cold glass of milk, or maybe some iced tea. He looked at his wagon.
It was time for a new one. He would start working on it right away. Maybe he
could find some wheels near the dump on the east side of town.
In a little while Paula Kent came to the door again. He stood up, but still kept his eyes down as the tingly feeling returned to his limbs.
"Come and get
your money, Wesley." She cracked the screen a bit and held out a paper
dollar and a coin for him.
He went and received
the cash and slipped it into his pocket. "Thank you, Ma'am."
she said, as she was about to turn away.
"Want to make
yourself a quarter?"
An upsweep of jubilation
made him raise his head.
"There's a pile
of old clothes and things I want cleaned up in the cellar. They've started to
mildew. The whole cellar flooded last week when we got all that rain. You can
move the stuff off the floor and put it in the barrels you'll find down there."
Wesley nodded and
grimaced when his empty belly groused again. His gaze focused on Paula Kent's
smooth, pink hands and the glittering diamond ring she wore on her finger.
"Now come on
and I'll show you the cellar and what needs to be done."
He followed her across
the kitchen and into a cluttered pantry where the shelves were lined with jars
and cans of fruits and vegetables. She moved with a lilting spring in her step,
her flowing blue dress showing off the curves of her hips. He caught a whiff
of her perfume. She opened a door inside the pantry and reached in to turn on
Wesley." She stood back, pointing to the broken staircase descending into
the cellar. "You'll find a bunch of stuff piled in a corner down there.
Just take it and put it in the barrels like I told you. There's a shovel down
there you can use. And you be careful going up and down. I don't know when Mr.
Kent's going to be finished fixing the steps. He's been working on them for
the longest. At least he ran a wire down there so there's some light."
Wesley paused at
the top of the stairs and peered down into the gloom. A musty, rotten odor came
forth. The staircase was rickety and a couple of the steps near the top were
missing, enabling him to see through to the floor.
"Don't be afraid,
Wesley. There's nothing down there but maybe a squirrel or some field mice that
might've got in. But they'll be long gone once you start making a little noise."
He cleared his throat
and sighed, "Okay," then started down, holding onto the rail, which
was still loose from the wall. When he was a step away from the cellar floor,
he turned to look back. Paula Kent had gone. Hopefully, he wouldn't have to
wait long for his money after he finished the job.
The air felt damp
and chilly. Bitchballs and cobwebs obscured the holes and cracks. Tools and
sections of pipe were scattered about. A riding saddle, decorated with rhinestones
and fancy straps, was resting on a stack of old newspapers and magazines.
A low groan seeped
from between his teeth as he surveyed the unpleasantness of his new job. He
could've refused the work, but that might've implied sassiness on his part,
and his father and mother had warned him about the consequences of such expressions.
he turned and reached for the shovel leaning against the wall. For a moment
he thought he might drop into a heap when a nauseous sensation ignited somewhere
deep inside him. He didn't want to be stuck in the Kents' cellar working with
filth while a glorious summer day raged above him.
He let the heavy
shovel clank across the floor as he dragged it over to the pile. Old clothes,
newspapers, and numerous other discards were packed and held together by the
muck. He worked slowly but steadily, scooping up the smelly debris and tossing
it into the barrel.
After a while, he
decided to take a rest and wipe away the sweat. He assessed the work remaining
to be done. There wasn't much. Soon he would be finished and on his way to buy
something he wanted with his own money.
He went and sat down under the stairs on an old steamer trunk that was rusted around the latches and hinges. Something bumped across the floor overhead, then the dog barked outside. Wesley slumped his shoulders and stretched his legs. The solitude of the cellar seemed to be creeping over him and settling in his bones. And he appreciated the seclusion he had inadvertently stumbled upon. The antagonists in his world were busy with other things, freeing him for a short time from their wrathful badgering and scrutiny. His thoughts wandered from place to place in his life, lingering now and then on his father and mother, the house, the characters, the Georgia sun and the red clay. He used the toe of his shoe to make an aimless design in the dust. Maybe he should buy a new pack of marbles. Terrell had beaten him a few days before and captured his best cat's eyes.
The clopping of footsteps
startled him out of his repose. He looked up. Miss Paula's dress made a rustling
sound as she started down the stairs. Then she stopped and turned around to
speak to someone. "Take the seeds and put them in the shed, Joe."
Wesley's eyes opened
wide as he stared up through the space where the plank was missing in the staircase.
Miss Paula was standing directly above him, straddling the opening and presenting
him a clear view of what was underneath her dress and petticoat.
She was wearing split
drawers, which left the cleft between her thighs uncovered. A tuft of auburn
hair bristled over the apex of her gap and blended out to a ring of fuzz around
the cheeks of her rump. The flesh just inside the lips of her opening looked
moist and pink, resembling a huge eye that stared down accusingly at him.
A scalding sensation
erupted somewhere inside his brain and flowed down into his eyes. He dared not
move. He was looking at something ominous and terrible; something he had no
business seeing. But he didn't want to see. He hadn't asked to see. Suddenly,
he couldn't breathe, and he was thrown into an inner frenzy as surging emotions
he didn't' comprehend upset the fragile balance in his fretful world.
boxes down here," Miss Paula ordered, continuing her descent. At the same
time, Wesley let out a blood-curdling scream as the fire flared up in his eyes
and cut off his sight, sending him first into brilliance, then into darkness.
He started crying and blundering around, bumping into the stairs and the wall,
hoping somehow to blink the right way and bring back his vision. But nothingness
matter with you, boy?" Miss Paula stood on the bottom step, her scrunching
brow expressing her befuddlement.
Wesley moved away
from the sound of her voice. Were there others with her? Did she know what he
had seen? He trembled and quaked, and his knees gave way as he sagged to the
floor. His thinking went blank while in his mind's eye he saw angry white faces
swirling around him. His father's mauling, punitive voice rumbled in the background,
accusing him of a gross impropriety.
Wesley?" Miss Paula questioned, impatiently. "Did you fall? I told
you to be careful. Don't you hear me talking to you?"
But he didn't hear
her. Couldn't hear her. He was too wrapped up in the wrathful ball of fire.
He had been struck blind, and he was now about to be set upon by the powerful
villains that ruled his world.
my daddy," he whimpered. "Please don't beat my daddy. I didn't mean
Paula Kent and a
scruffy-looking white man wearing patched work clothes stood over Wesley.
"What's he talking
about?" she asked, more to some invisible fourth party than to the scruffy
havin some kinda fit," the man replied, churning a wad of tobacco around
in his mouth, his drawling words sounding like mush.
Wesley recoiled and
gasped when firm hands finally lifted him and carried him upstairs. Was he being
taken out to be whipped? Or were they going to hang him? His eyes were open,
but still unseeing. The sounds and voices around him became incoherent and disconnected.
What was this thing he had seen between Miss Paula's legs?
Not knowing anything
else to do for the child, Paula Kent spread a cold towel across his forehead
as he lay sobbing on the seat in the foyer. Nelson Kent looked in on him, but
was too occupied with newspaper business to become involved. "Those damned
people are always having some kind of spell or seizure," he said, scornfully,
while glaring down at the quivering child. "You better send for his folks
so they can come and get his ass out of here."
What seemed like
several hours to Wesley passed while he shielded his face with his arms and
languished in a state of numbing fear where the slightest noise made him think
of impending calamity. He felt sick to his stomach a couple of times, and broke
out into a sweat. Paula Kent called him a "sickly little black rascal"
when he peed on himself and the urine soaked through his pants and made a spot
on the seat.
He started crying
again when he finally heard his daddy's grumbling voice. "Where is he,
Ma'am Paula? What's done happened to our son?"
Wesley knew his mother
was there, too. He reached out for her, and sure enough she was there to embrace
him and rub his head.
"I can't see,
Momma," he sobbed again and again, hoping she would hurry up and get him
out of there before someone found out the truth about what he had seen.
"I don't know
what happened to him," Paula Kent declared. "We found him stumbling
around in the cellar talking about how he couldn't see."
"We thanks ya
for sendin for us, Ma'am Paula," Chester said. "We's gonna git Wesley
on home so Doc Hayes can take a look at him."
"My seat is
ruined," Paula Kent said, disgustedly, after Holly had coaxed Wesley to
it for ya, Ma'am," Holly told her, most sincerely. "I'll come first
thing in the mornin and scrub it real good. Don't you worry none. I'll git all
that weewee off of there."
Chester paid a man
he knew named Walter to drive them home in an old blue pickup truck. They all
sat cramped in the front cab, Wesley on his mother's lap leaning his head against
her shoulder. No one said a word during the short, bumpy ride.
Wesley's sudden blindness
baffled everyone. He claimed he couldn't remember what happened to him in the
cellar. Both his grandmothers came to see him, and they talked in whispers with
Chester and Holly.
Dr. Hayes, a bony,
stooped-over man, stopped by the house later that same evening and looked him
over, but contended that he couldn't find anything wrong, especially with his
eyes. He speculated that Wesley may have fallen down the Kents' staircase and
banged his head. But the doctor couldn't wholeheartedly support his own theory
since he could find no cuts or bruises anywhere on the boy.
"My baby done
been struck blind!" Holly shrieked as she and Chester sat in the kitchen
listening to the puny country doctor deliver his vague diagnosis, and suggesting
finally that Wesley be taken to a specialist in Atlanta, whenever they could
raise the money, and advising that in the meantime the boy should get plenty
of rest and drink hot tea.
A morbid cloud fell
upon the Sledge home after Wesley came down with his affliction. Over the next
few days, he spent most of his time sitting on the porch listening to the familiar
sounds he had always taken for granted. Neighbors came bringing fruits and candies,
but unbeknownst to them, their approaching footsteps and voices always caused
him dreadful attacks of anguish and terror. He still believed that somehow it
would become known how he had seen under Miss Paula's dress, thereby inciting
the white men to inflict suffering on him and his daddy as they had done a few
Chester blamed the
Kents for Wesley's sudden handicap, maintaining that they had knowingly sent
the boy down into an unsafe situation. He started spending more time away from
home, and would stumble in late at night, reeking of moonshine, grumbling and
mumbling to Holly about the bleakness of their situation in the world, cursing
the Kents and all the other white people in the county. Wesley would be lying
awake in bed, listening and trembling, sometimes crying softly while squeezing
his fists against his eyes. Holly made sure that Chester didn't find out the
boy was wetting the bed almost every other night.
Wesley felt safest
when he and his mother were at home alone. She would cuddle him and tell him
silly fables about the small animals that resided in the woods, carrying on
their lives in human fashion. He loved these stories wherein his mother would
affect different voices for the possums, raccoons, ducks and hounds. Then she
might sing to him while keeping the beat with her tapping foot and thumping
I stay blind forever?" he asked one evening while a gentle rain pattered
against the windows.
Holly stroked his
head and sighed. "Only the good Lord knows, Wesley. We just have to put
our trust in Him to see us through this ordeal."
A terrible ache built
up in his chest. He wanted to confess his crime, or sin, to the only person
in the world he could trust. It wouldn't hurt him and his daddy if she were
the only one who knew.
He sat close to her
on the bed with his head lying against her breast, inhaling the fragrance of
the talcum powder she dusted on every morning.
gonna git that money we needs to take ya to that special doctor in Atlanta,"
she said. "I'm startin to do some sewin for the Killebrews tomorrow. We'll
git ya there, son. We'll git ya there."
He kept silent for
a long time. The rain started coming down harder and the wind shook the whole
house. No one was going to knock on the door for a while. His father was most
likely getting drunk at the liquor house and wouldn't be home for a long time.
Wesley wanted to tell his mother what he had seen. Surely, she wouldn't scorn
he mumbled finally.
I gotta tell ya bout Ma'am Kent and what happened in the cellar."
Holly tried to make
him sit up, but he buried his face deeper between her breasts, almost smothering
his voice, and she allowed him to remain there while caressing him behind the
for ya to be scared of. Ain't nobody here but you and me."
His heart was starting
to beat fast. He opened his eyes and strained to see beyond the blackness, but
there was still no sign of light.
"Come on and
tell me," she urged. "What happened in that cellar? It's been two
weeks since it happened. Ya can talk about it now."
"I seen somethin
bad." The tears were building again. "Somethin real, real bad."
"It was Ma'am
Paula," he moaned, his teeth chattering. "I didn't mean to see. I
didn't mean to look, Momma."
"What did ya
see, son? Tell me. What did ya see?"
I was sittin under the steps in that cellar and I could see straight up to the
ceilin. There wasn't no boards in the steps. Then Ma'am Paula come and stand
right over where I was and I seen straight up under her dress. I seen what daddy
and everybody say I shouldn't see. I seen her thang, Momma. I seen it."
It's awright. Ya hear? It's awright. Don't be scared."
come and beat me and daddy," he cried. "They gonna hang us, Momma.
God struck me cause I done bad and seen it."
Holly held him close so that his tears soaked the front of her dress. "Ain't
nobody comin here and doin nothin to us. Not a thang. Ya hear?"
I seen it. I seen it."
"What did ya
see, Wesley? What did ya really see? You ain't seen nothin but some old white
He sat on the side
of the bed, shoulders squeezed in his mother's tight grasp, his gaze vacant
and seemingly fixed upon some abstract symbol very far away. His thoughts linked
up with his vocal centers and tried to come up with an answer to his mother's
inquiry. What, indeed, had he seen? What was that patch of hairy, perforated
flesh? All women and girls had one of them, as he understood the way the Lord
He never answered
his mother. Instead, he drifted off to sleep and remained in a state of peaceful
slumber throughout the night.
A clamorous rattling
of pots and pans in the kitchen startled him awake the next morning. He sat
up in bed and gasped as the sunlight blazed through the windows, making him
squint as he opened his eyes in wonder.
he shouted, leaping up and running into the kitchen. "I can see again,
Momma. I can see."
By Paris Smith
another black motorist
shot by a white cop - a young man
looks at the color of his hands.
By Michael Ketchek
Mfana Umbeki watched his wife, bent over the fire to stir the pot of mealie-meal that would be their only supper. He was not a big man, but he was strong. His skin was deep black, partly because of pigment, and partly from the sun that had made it even blacker. His hands were rough, made that way from an eternity in the fields planting seedlings for the Baas.
His wife caught him
looking at her, and smiled mysteriously. She was a proud woman, formed that
way by a lifetime of hardship that to him seemed like a tableau ripped from
the pages of the bible. Her face was smooth and lighter than his was; she came
from the Southern Sotho tribes near Lesotho. He was a Zulu and they had struggled
to communicate for the first years of their marriage. Now they spoke in pidgin,
but this being a predominantly Zulu area, he would do most of the talking when
they were in public.
When she was just
fourteen, she had watched her parents murdered by the South African Police Force,
made up of mostly White Afrikaners who treated the Blacks the same way they
treated their animals. She had cowered in the doorway of their little township
house as her father, and then her mother, were executed at point blank range.
The murderers had never given a reason, not had they been tried in the courts.
She represented to
him the magnificence of god; the way a flower could push up through the dry
dirt and somehow still manage to blossom.
"Come here my
little Sotho," Mfana said quietly.
not ready," she replied.
"I don't care
about that. I just want to sit next to you," he said.
"And why do
you want to do that?"
"I don't need
a reason. You are my wife."
she covered the pot and plopped down next to him on the ground. The flames danced
on the walls of their hut.
"I love you,
my little chicken," he said.
crazy, man," she said, a smile lighting up her face.
"A man should
be crazy for the mother of his child," he said. His hand fell to her belly,
swelled by the first three months of pregnancy.
Most of the men he
knew grew restless when their wives were pregnant. Pregnancy for them was a
long expanse of work, sunburn, and mealie-meal. There wasn't even the comfort
of their women when they came back from the fields exhausted and parched to
lie down on the hard floors of their huts. Most of them couldn't wait the nine
full moons it took for the baby to be born. They would sneak off to the shebeens
to drink and chase after girls barely into their twenties. The shebeens were
small bars that operated wherever they could, and below the radar of the provincial
authorities. In these parts, they were usually run out of the servants' quarters
of neighboring farms -- a series of tiny concrete rooms connected by metal doors.
On any given night,
you could find thirty farmhands cramped into such a place, the air thick with
the smell of beer and dagga. The farmers usually looked the other way; in many
cases they were the ones who trucked the alcohol in, to sell at a marginal profit.
Many times Mfana
had sat on the back of the Bass's baakie with the men who frequented the shebeens.
The sun would be an orange horizontal line at the edge of the world, and these
men still reeked of alcohol and screwing. They would jump onto the baakie still
giggling from their moonlight jaunts. They would point at him and call him Oupa,
the Afrikaans word for grandfather. Mfana didn't care what they thought of him.
He had no desire to drink with them. He never set foot inside of those places.
To him, they represented the further enslavement of his people; a clever device
used by the Whites to weaken the hearts of all Africans.
And these men who
left their wives, and smoked dagga, were the same men who would get into knife-fights
over a girl or a lousy Rand. They would boast loudly to their friends that they
weren't afraid of the Baas, and then would cower in his presence like whipped
They had no idea
that the Blacks outnumbered the Whites in the country by six-to-one. When you
took the entire population of Africa into consideration, the White's representative
fraction grew even smaller. They were a mere blight on the landscape; a small
city as viewed from above via satellite. They were here at Africa's behest,
but none of them seemed to know it.
Mfana knew it, and
many other things, and it gave him a quiet strength. He did not hate the Whites.
There were many that were kind and spoke to him with respect. This was mostly
in the town where he had visited as a young boy. But there were also many Whites
who stopped to give him rides in the back of their baakies when the sun beat
down like a clenched fist. As a child, many White women had stuffed his pockets
with koeksisters and cinnamon buns, and called him darling.
If he had hated them,
he would have hung around the radicals, the younger Blacks who refused to work,
and carried guns. These men were fearless, and spoke aggressively of overthrow
and Revolution. They didn't live on the farms, but cultivated the hills, and
grew dagga for mass consumption. Sometimes, they would engage in gun-battles
with the Police, and the surrounding countryside would take cover for hours.
Mfana knew that change
was imminent, but that this change would have to be legitimate. He could see
it in the eyes of his fellow Africans, and in the worried gait of the Whites;
they now scuttled instead of strutting, and they were wary to stay out after
dark. But these Angola Rebels in the hills were as bad as the Conservative Whites.
They proposed to exchange one system of racism with another. Africa had suffered
Mfana was a spiritual
man, and his experiences had molded his worldview into a much larger vision
of his own life, and its role in a United Africa -- both White and Black. He
realized that the two countries were not separate, but integral. You could not
superimpose one will over the other and expect it to go peacefully.
Nightly, Mfana would
huddle around his transistor radio and listen to the newscasts beaming out of
Durban. The broadcasts were actually broadcast from Johannesburg, and then rebroadcast
by the affiliates, but it was all the same to him. The radio was a small piece
of junk, but he loved it dearly. It was his lifeline to the changing world around
him. He would sit for hours, his head bowed like some Buddhist Monk, listening
The stories were mainly about arguments among the Whites; many of them believed that the Blacks should have the right to vote, but there was strong opposition from men like his Baas -- the National Party constituency, and conservative Whites. They were powerful and numerous, and had grown accustomed to their endless supply of power and cheap labor. Their families had grown fat on the suffering of others. They were not accountable for their actions, and the farmhands that did speak up were oftentimes discovered dead, or severely beaten. If they lived, they never looked the same. The light was gone from their eyes, and they worked silently and were unable to laugh.
There was even talk
that Nelson Mandela might soon be released. This possibility enraged the men
like his Baas more than anything, because his release would signal the end of
their tenure. Mandela was the implied threat of the closed fist of Africa.
Mfana had other worries
though than politics. He had a child on the way, a proud African baby that would
not suffer as he had. He knew it would be impossible to raise the child on his
current salary: fifty Rand per month, and a sack of mealie-meal. He could barely
support his wife, and some nights they went hungry. He would have to find another
source of income, but from where? He had no skills other than planting. He had
been doing it for more than fifteen years. He couldn't take a job in the town.
Nobody would hire him, not even as a cook or dishwasher. The handful of Blacks
who owned businesses there and those who worked in the factories looked down
their noses at him and his kind. They were too busy trying to prove themselves
to worry about solidarity.
If his child was to go to school, he would need more money. Schools were expensive; there were uniforms and books to buy, and you had to pay the district for bussing your child in from the country. This meant that only the wealthier Blacks could afford to send their children. He did not give up though. He knew there had to be a way.
These worries kept
him awake long after his wife had fallen asleep. This was not the Africa of
yesterday, it was the Africa of tomorrow, and his children would have a place
in it and hold their heads high. They would be the embodiment of the great dream
of Nelson Mandela.
you?" his wife asked him.
She knew what was
troubling him, and she knew he needed to get it off his chest. A quiet man is
a dangerous man. There is no way to comfort him. Mfana shoved his plate of mealie-meal
aside. It had congealed into a dry consistency, and formed a yellowy crust.
The fire burned low. They had been sitting there for over an hour, and it was
getting late. In the distance, the voices from the shebeens carried on the wind.
"Is it possible
to feel hope and fear at the same time?"
Mfana fixed his wife
with a grave stare as he said this.
"Yes. I think
it is," she replied. "But you must allow the hope to come in, or else
the fear will break you like an old man."
the same. We plan for our lives, but the lives we plan have no way of coming
true," he said. "We do what we're supposed to, but nothing eases this
talk like that," she hissed.
A sad little smile
surfaced on his face, then disappeared. He would not argue with her. Some men
beat their woman when they felt chided, but she only grew more beautiful when
she was upset.
more money," he said.
a way, then," she replied.
will not become a part of this," he said.
"They will live
in houses, and have radios from America. They will eat meat. Maybe not steaks
like the Baases eat, but meat for Gods sake!"
His wife pulled him
to her chest. She stroked his head with her rough hands, and he was surprised
to feel the sting of tears in his eyes.
"That would be nice, my Zulu Prince," she said. "They will have a nice little garden with poppies and sunflowers.
They will go to school
and become great leaders of Africa. When they are very rich, and we very old,
they will buy us our own house in the city, and come for Sunday luncheon in
Mfana pulled his
head away from her bosom, and looked at her. Her face had taken on a strange
quality. Her eyes had a glazed look in them, and her mouth was open slightly
to give her the appearance of an idiot. He felt suddenly such a deep sadness
that he was certain his heart would break. He could see that her hope was a
vision of the future she did not believe in; it was a daydream, a place where
she could escape to, but never possess. She did not believe that such things
were possible, and it stung him at the very center of his being.
He did not feel hatred then, only emptiness so terrifying, he thought he would do anything to make it go away.
He pulled her to
him, and planted kisses on her face.
he whispered fiercely. "It will come to pass. Our children will someday
be rulers and businessmen, and all of Africa will be free."
He did not sleep
that night. The need for money pounded in his belly. He felt cold and small,
an insignificant being beneath the Universe. His thoughts turned to his child.
If it was a boy, he would name it Peter. If it was a girl -- Beauty. He hoped
it would have its mother's features. His own were hard and narrow and not very
handsome. He forced himself to think of the child, because he was perched on
an internal precipice that was deep and filled with things that could only live
in the dark.
Mfana's life had
taught him patience. It had taught him compassion. His people were like the
Israelites, and their suffering was infinite. But a man must be able to have
a family; it is the thing that makes him a man the most. A man's family is his
kingdom, and without it, he becomes a beast of one sort or the other.
Mfana would not allow
himself to become broken. He would not run off and join those Angola bastards.
He would not sell dagga on the streets of Durban. If he were to be arrested,
who would look after his wife and children? The money he needed would have to
come from legitimate sources, but from where? Tears coursed down his cheeks
now, as he thought of all of the Fatherless sons of Africa. How many millions
had grown up in the dirty slums, or on farms like this one? How many men had
brought the mystery of life into this world, only to leave it to die in slavery
and filth? He would not become such a man. He would not do it if it meant that
he did not eat himself.
The roosters crowed
in the darkness. In a few minutes, the Baas's baakie would rumble by to pick
him up. He dressed hurriedly, being careful not to wake his wife. He had not
slept during the night, and he felt lightheaded, the way he had felt when he
had taken his first and last drink of alcohol as a teen. But there were other
emotions he felt as well: hope, anger, fear, and courage -- they had become
some dangerous animal in his breast, and he was not certain how much longer
he could contain it.
It was later in the
day when the Baas drove into the fields to check their progress. The sun beat
down so hotly that the air around Mfana shimmered. He turned when he heard the
far-away roar of a baakie. The vehicle raced towards them, kicking up trails
of dirt along the road.
somebody cried. "The Baas is coming!"
Mfana and the other
farmhands, about twelve of them, had been taking a smoke break. These breaks
were long and luxurious, especially on days like this when intelligence indicated
that the Baas had driven into town for supplies.
During these breaks,
they would pass huge handmade cigarettes around a circle. They were nothing
more than newspaper filled with Schwag tobacco. They tasted terrible, but they
were a communal way to kill time, and nobody could afford the manufactured ones.
Mfana and the others
broke quickly and scattered across the field. They moved so fast, that by the
time the Baas had pulled up perpendicular to them, they had all been busily
at work. Apparently somebody had gotten it wrong. The Baas hadn't gone to town.
And they had been caught in a lie.
Mfana became acutely
aware of the men around him. He couldn't see any of them; he was bent over and
filling the shallow holes he had dug with seed, but he could sense them. His
wife had once pinched a book from the Baas's house. It had been a book with
paintings in it, and her one transgression from God. One of the paintings had
been by a man named Edward Munch. In the painting, figures had been connected
by ghostly threads that ran from each person to the next. Mfana felt those same
threads running between himself and the other men now. Only it was a single
thread. It was fear.
The sound of the
Baas's boots crunched in the dirt behind them. His shadow fell over Mfana's
shoulder but didn't stop. Sweat dripped from Mfana's downward face, and his
whole body trembled.
the Baas shouted at someone Mfana could not see.
Everyone turned around
briefly to see who the Baas wanted. Mfana had time to see his own terror reflected
in the faces of the men around him, before the Baas had roared:
"Not you, you
bloody bastards! Samuel!"
The Baas pointed
at a tiny African with an almost boyish face. He was the youngest of the lot,
and by far the weakest. The Baas had made him the manager of the crew though
because he was tireless, and quick, and put the rest of them to shame. It was
evident that he had betrayed the Baas, and would now pay the price.
"You come right
now, boy!" the Baas screamed. He was furious. His fists were doubled at
his sides, and his eyes were bloodshot. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and his bulbous
gut hung over the edge of his khaki pants. It was the worst possible day to
be caught, because the Baas had been drinking.
The boy Samuel turned
white. It is a frightening thing to see an African turn white; it is an indication
of bad things. Mfana felt sick to his stomach.
"I said now,
the Baas the way a child approaches an abusive parent. His back was bent and
he held his hands out in front of him.
"Get back to
work, or I'll beat your black asses as well!"
Mfana swung back
around and stared mutely at the dirt.
Samuel had started
over and over again in his broken voice.
"Shut the fuck
up, man!" the Baas roared.
Again, Mfana could
sense the men around him. They were waiting for the beating to begin, for the
beating to be over. Any minute now it would start, and it would go on for what
seemed like forever.
Finally, Mfana could
take it no longer.
"You will not
hurt this boy," he said.
He had turned around,
and was facing the Baas. His voice felt thick and alien, the way it did whenever
he spoke in Afrikaans. His hands had balled into fists, but he was only now
aware of this.
The Baas blinked.
A moment of confusion rippled across his face. No, not confusion. Fear. Mfana
felt quite certain now that the Baas had always known this moment would come.
The Blacks were not the only ones who felt the shifting of the paradigm. This
confidence quickly abandoned him, when the Baas's face flushed bright red, and
Mfana saw the depth and extent of his hatred.
"What did you
say, Kaffir?" he said in a hushed tone.
The Baas pushed Samuel
to the ground, but his anger was now directed squarely at Mfana.
"I asked you
a question, you fucking Kaffir!"
He walked briskly towards Mfana, and there was murder in his face. Instead of fear, a coldness seeped through
Mfana's blood. He
saw now that he could take this man in a fight. Whereas the Bass's muscle was
layered beneath a band of fat, Mfana's body was lean and hard. It would be tough,
and it would be bloody, but he could beat this man. Instead of looking down,
Mfana locked eyes with the Baas.
"I am not a
Kaffir, Baas. I am an African. My name is Mfana."
The Baas didn't know
he was beaten, not yet, but he had a suspicion. He reached the spot where Mfana
stood and got right in his face. But he made no other move.
"Are you out
of your mind?" The Baas's breath smelled like alcohol and shit, but as
much as it repulsed him, Mfana stood his ground. Spittle flew from the man's
mouth as he shrieked.
"You won't hurt
me," Mfana said. "You will not hurt the boy, either. If you do, I
will come to your house in the night, and you will wish you hadn't. If you kill
me, others will come in my place."
The look on the Bass's
face changed from rage to fear, and Mfana knew he had won without exchanging
a single blow.
The Baas stumbled
backward. Now it was he who was pale.
we'll kill you! We'll end you, Kaffir!"
His voice was now
a whisper. The alcohol had now caught up with him and he looked old and defeated.
All of his demons caught up to him in an instant, and it was more than he could
"Then why don't
you do it now?" Mfana said.
All around him, Mfana
could sense that the men were no longer bound by the thread of fear; they were
bound by the thread of a solidarity. He had never felt such joy in all of his
life. He took a little step forward and pointed his finger at the Baas. He would
never again have the power that was in him now.
"You will pay
us more money," Mfana said. "Twenty Rand more each month, per worker."
A bitter laugh erupted
from the Baas.
the day, Kaffir," he said and marched back to his truck. He slammed the
door and drove off quickly, weaving recklessly on the little dirt road.
Chaos erupted around
Mfana. The other farmhands clamored around him, patting him on the back, on
the head, anywhere they could touch him.
"Do you think
he will pay?" somebody asked.
"He will pay,"
It seemed an eternity
to Mfana, before payday arrived. He had spent more sleepless nights than he
could remember, waiting for it to come. The Baas had stopped picking them up
in the mornings as was customary. Instead, another farmhand who knew how to
drive would carry them to the fields in the baakie. In the night he waited expectantly
for the sound of an engine; for the footsteps of White men to intrude upon his
home. He hoped there would be a lot of them to make it go quicker. He had sent
his wife to stay with her sister in a little Dorp down the road. He smoothed
her anxieties by telling her she would eat better there, and that the baby needed
better nutrition, at least until it was born. But he kept on living, thinking
each day his last.
On payday, when the
door had opened, it wasn't the Baas, but the Baas's son who stepped into the
sunlit farmyard. All of the farmhands stood quietly in it. There was not a single
sound that day other than the crickets in the veldt.
Mfana watched very
closely as the first of the farmhands opened his envelope. The farmhand reached
into the envelope and pulled the cash from inside. There were three bills inside:
a red fifty, a brown twenty, and a green ten. The farmhand let fly a triumphant
whoop, and held the notes in the air for all to see. The Baas had not given
them a raise of twenty Rand; he had given them thirty.
When Mfana's name was called, everyone applauded loudly as he took his pay from the Baas's son.
By Joshua Batterson
When the edges of
the horizon glow with summers first light, and the streetlights begin shutting
down one by one, you can hear the chirping of the crickets in the veldt at the
edge of the township. Beyond this lies the freeway. The occasional cars, headlights
turned on, drift soundlessly at this distance like candles on a river.
Predawn Soweto belongs to two kinds of people. There are the older gents, looped arm-in-arm with ladies wrapped in blankets smelling of campfire. They stumble through the streets, looking for doorways to sleep in after a night of drinking. Joining them in much greater numbers, are the workers, already beginning their days trek to the Northern Suburbs. The fronts of stores are boarded up, and you can read the signs beneath the bright stoop lights advertising OMO Washing Powder and Stony Ginger Beer and Simba Potato Crisps.
In the darkness they wait at the stands in numbers, waiting for the first taxis that will take them to them to the neighborhoods of Sandton, Rivonia, Bryanston, and Randburg. There are other neighborhoods too, but their names are too innumerous to mention. Here they will spend their days in the White Enclaves, washing and ironing and tending to the roses in long, manicured gardens.
By the time the first
kombi crests the hill to gather them, the first angles of daylight have fallen
upon their Black faces. It is a warm light; golden, and it moves across the
roofs of the matchbox housing, and the Hospital, lighting the whole of Soweto
as if it were some alternate Valhalla on the edge of some alternate world; it
makes these Africans fiercely radiant and angelic somehow. Some of them chatter,
while others crouch in the dirt and throw dice for money while they wait. Some
stand rigid and don't say a word.
was one such person. A white canvas bag dangled from one hand, and her wide
homely features were pulled tight, as they were every day, with disapproval.
She wore a maroon beret on her head. Straight but very short strands of hair
spilled out from underneath it, causing her to fuss with it a great deal, until
she realized it was no use, and gave up. She had very low cheekbones that formed
a great plane of skin between her eyes and the rest of her face. If they had
been a little higher, she would have been more attractive, but as it was, they
gave her a very stern look. Even though the sun was upon her, Elizabeth was
still very dark.
A line of kombis rolled slowly towards the taxi stands and stopped. There was a mad rush, as everybody scrambled into one, or tried to anyway. Everybody wanted a seat, even if they weren't at the front of the lines. After a struggle to make it to one of the kombis, Elizabeth pulled herself aboard. She pulled the sliding door of the kombi closed, only to have it held open by a young male worker. His work shirt was open at the chest, and his face was very handsome.
"Let me in,
mother," he said.
Elizabeth shouted. "There's no room."
It was true. The
others in the kombi with her were packed tight like sardines, so that the kombi
was pushed low to the ground, and when it moved, its whole frame would groan
and sway about. Elizabeth was not about to add to her discomfort by letting
him in, and her face said as much in not so many words.
The worker continued
holding the door, resisting Elizabeth's will. She was getting mad, trying to
close the kombi door in his face, but was unable to. The driver cocked his head
over his shoulder to see what the holdup was.
the driver shouted too.
The worker clucked
under his breath like a chicken, and let go of the kombi door. It was the leverage
Elizabeth needed. She closed it with a loud keraaaaang! She stared triumphantly
at the worker through the window. Her eyes were haughty, and she wanted him
to acknowledge her victory. She locked eyes with him as the kombi slid past.
The worker grinned, and made a little bow in the street as it left him behind.
The kombi would drop
people off, and pick people up as it winded along the freeways towards the Northern
Suburbs, but Elizabeth kept mostly to herself. She gave a few unfriendly nods
of the head, and the mandatory hellos where necessary, but other than that she
was very quiet.
During the ride,
she had shifted to the window opposite the door. It was her favorite seat, because
she could look out of the window, and she didn't have to move the way she did
when she sat directly by the door. She didn't like to move for anyone. It annoyed
her when she had to constantly make room, as others scrambled aboard and over
her into the backseat.
As she looked out
of the window at the houses that approached with the Sandton off ramp, built
so that their backs were to the freeway, Elizabeth was hit with that familiar
feeling of revulsion that she had every time she came here.
She thought of her
daughter, Eunice, a big boned girl with legs like a man, and unlike herself,
had high cheekbones that pinched her large face, and gave her eyes a sunken
look. Eunice did not have it easy; she wasn't like the fairer skinned Zulu girls,
with their beautiful bodies so that even White men wanted them. She had been
doing poorly in school as well, and she didn't have many friends. She had had
a boyfriend for a while, but Elizabeth had not approved. He had been several
years older, and Elizabeth knew him to be a sleep-around guy. He stayed with
girls only long enough to get what he wanted, and what he wanted was always
the same thing.
It didn't matter
if the girls were beautiful or homely; he was just after one thing. Eunice had
been such an idiot when they were together, mooning all the time, and talking
about marriage. She would sit at the kitchen table leafing through White magazines,
talking about living in a house with a garden; of having children. Apparently
he had filled her head with the kinds of rubbish he told all of his girls. She
would ask Elizabeth all sorts of ridiculous questions, that Elizabeth refused
to answer as she cooked supper.
What an idiot Eunice
had been. Elizabeth wondered how she would ever make it, but had not said anything
to discourage Eunice from making an ass of herself. South Africa is a hard place,
and if you don't learn early on, you're going to get eaten. The sooner Eunice
gave up on ridiculous notions, the sooner she would take a job, and start helping
with expenses. Elizabeth knew that Eunice needed to take a fall before this
could happen, and so she had not intervened.
The taxi deposited
Elizabeth on the west side of the Bryanston Shopping Center -- an older collection
of stores whose northern front faced Bryanston High School. She paid her fare
to the driver, and then trudged up the tree lined street that ran perpendicular
to the north face of the center.
She walked until
she reached a remodeled Colonial. It was a beautiful home with a great big wooden
gate, and surrounded like the others on the block with red-brick walls.
low at the intercom, and pressed the call button.
is that you?" said a woman inside via the intercom.
Elizabeth heard the
woman choking with frustration, but said nothing else. Very slowly the gate
swung open on a pneumatic arm. Elizabeth resumed her slow gait down the driveway
that was long and freshly paved.
The house lay at
the foot, surrounded by grass on either side that was smooth and manicured as
a bowling green. In the middle of the lawn rested an antique wagon from the
Voortrekker era. The master taught history at WITS, and was very proud of his
antiques. A large Mulberry tree stood in one corner of the garden, and where
its branches hung over the driveway, the asphalt had become stained red by the
The garage door was
open, and Elizabeth could see that the madam's silver BMW was idling inside.
Behind the house, she could see the deep end of the swimming pool, impossibly
blue, and Edgar the gardener, in green overalls, stooped over it with a bottle
Elizabeth let herself
in through the front door. The house smelt like toast and porridge, and these
smells grew stronger as she made her way down the narrow passage to the kitchen
-- a sunlit orifice in the otherwise dim house. The sun had not yet penetrated
here, and as she passed the living room, she noticed that the curtains were
She could hear the
madam moving around in the kitchen.
madam," Elizabeth said as brightly as she could, and entered the kitchen.
"Sorry to be late."
The madam stood staring
through the windows in a distracted way, and turned the minute she heard Elizabeth
behind her. She was White, and her face was geometrically proportioned and very
pretty. Her blond hair was meticulously straight, and she had very dazzling
blue eyes that were a little cold as they moved across Elizabeth's less beautiful
I told you I had a meeting this morning!" whined the madam.
"Madam, I am
use in bickering about it now. I'm late as it is."
The madam picked
up her handbag from the counter and slung it over her shoulder.
"Emily is home
today. She's got a tummy ache. I left her meds on the bathroom sink. Please
make sure she takes it every four hours."
iron the master's shirts. He was very upset this morning when he couldn't find
an ironed one."
And then the madam
was gone, and Elizabeth was left alone with the child still sleeping down the
She began the day by checking the bathrooms. The porcelain fixtures were still immaculate from yesterday's scrubbing. She would not have to clean them again for several days. She tidied up the sinks, and that was it, she was done.
She had just shaved
an hour from her schedule. She intended to take an extra long break today. She
would make herself a ham sandwich and sit by the pool. She was looking forward
to it. Maybe she would pinch some of the master's brandy too. She'd have to
be careful. If he suspected her, it could lead to termination. She had already
been questioned once; when the master had grown suspicious that his liquor had
been diminishing a little too quickly, his suspicions had turned on her. That
had been over a year ago when Elizabeth had started working for them. She had
been very careful ever since.
As she vacuumed the
living room, Elizabeth's thoughts wandered to the world outside, but unlike
the warm light that streaked through the opened curtains, they brought little
warmth to her soul. The living room was large, and there was a lot of bulky
furniture to get around, so she had a lot of time to think.
She knew that the
country was changing. You could not be South African and not know. The Referendum
was a month away now. She knew that the madam and master would vote for the
Blacks, but she found that it still did not make her like them. They considered
themselves liberals, but saw no contradiction in paying her a pathetic wage
that kept her in poverty so that she could barely keep the lights turned on
The vacuum had hit
something particularly hard for it to suck up. Elizabeth turned it off, and
got down on her knees. She dipped her head beneath the couch and inspected the
carpet. Lying in that darkness, she saw something silver and round. She reached
to it, feeling the cold round circumference of a coin. She pulled her hand from
the darkness and inspected the five Rand coin in her cupped palm.
She felt a moment
of excitement as she pocketed the coin, and turned the vacuum cleaner back on.
Its noise drowned out her own lack of guilt. Her eyes glowed with secrets.
Many years ago, when
she had pinched from her first master, she had had guilt. Over the years though,
Elizabeth had realized that it wasn't she who was the thief. Her whole life
had been robbed from her, and stealing a couple of Rand, or a shot of brandy
now and again, didn't even begin to make amends for what she had lost. The Whites
loved to whine about their maids and gardeners, complaining about their lack
It was a conversation
that was as common as the weather, and she had heard it in so many places, that
she had stopped letting it anger her. Anger would get you in trouble, and so
she had learned to bury these feelings deep. You had no individuality as a Black.
Anger was an emotion that broke with those that you were allowed to feel as
a Black. If the Whites saw anger in you, they would beat it from you, perhaps
killing you in the process.
Only when she was at home, lying in the darkness on her bed, did she let her feelings loose. In the darkness, they became shapes that were almost discernable, and they swirled about the room, and made it small, and her whole body would go limp from setting them free.
When she had finished
vacuuming, she had stuck her head into Emily's bedroom. She was a little girl
of seven. Her hair was blond like her mother's, and now it lay tousled on her
pillow. The child was fast asleep, and Elizabeth had no intention of waking
her. She looked like an angel now, but Elizabeth knew what a terror she really
was. Only seven, and already filled with such a sense of self!
It was going on eleven,
when she heard a knock on the veranda door. She was polishing the tea kettle
with a chamois cloth. She walked down the passage to the dining room, and saw
Edgar the gardener grinning in at her from the stoop.
Behind Edgar, the
garden stretched on forever and was spotless. Elizabeth could see that Edgar
had bagged the apricots that had fallen from the apricot trees into clear plastic
bags. The bags lay around the base of the trees, but Elizabeth knew that the
fruit inside of them was worm-ridden and not worth much.
Elizabeth felt that
inward revulsion as she saw Edgar's bright smile. His teeth were whiter than
any she had ever seen. She was a little jealous about those teeth. Her own were
stained dark yellow, and two in the back of her mouth had holes in them. God,
he was such an idiot, Elizabeth thought, but she couldn't help wondering how
he managed to get his teeth so white.
She raked open the
door. The sweet smell of summer came into the house. It was a good smell; of
mown grass, and ripening fruit, and mixed in with this, the smell of petrol
particulates in the atmosphere. The sound of mowers buzzing in yards adjacent
filled the sky.
"How are you,
mother?" said Edgar brightly.
"I'm fine. You
be careful now. I've just cleaned," Elizabeth said sharply.
"Nice to see
you too," Edgar said.
He was still smiling,
though Elizabeth wondered what he had to smile about.
you your tea. Go wait by the pool. I'll come and sit with you."
"What a treat!"
Edgar joked, and pulled his fingers backwards as Elizabeth closed the door on
Looking at him, Elizabeth
let out a little sigh and shook her head at him. He was pointing at her and
laughing through the door. Edgar may have been a complete idiot, but at least
she would have somebody to talk to. It always the same and Elizabeth was baffled
by her sudden need for human contact. These pangs usually came in the afternoon
when she was stuck here, with no better option than Edgar. It meant that she
had come to an intimate understanding of the man, even though she was certain,
he knew nothing of her. Most days they would spend their breaks together, except
on those days that he had said something to annoy her. On those days, she spent
her breaks alone.
"Go away. I'll
bring you your tea!"
A few minutes later,
she emerged from the house. She carried a serving tray in her hands. On it were
balanced the accoutrements of a South African tea. Tin cups filled with Rooibos,
yellow brown and steaming, jostled as she crossed the lawn. Sandwiches that
she had cut into triangles and piled high slid about on the tray but did not
fall from their plate. The bread was cut especially thick, and was smothered
with fish-paste, and butter, and Bovril.
"How have you
been, mother?" Edgar asked, as Elizabeth set the tray onto the poolside
you not to call me that," she said.
Edgar reached onto
the tray and grabbed a mug of tea in one hand, and a thick triangular sandwich
in the other.
I love fish paste," he said inspecting the sandwich.
as she sat down, immediately retreating into silence. She fixed her eyes on
the distant garden wall, and ignored him altogether. Her eyes knitted together,
and her mouth became a hard little line. She was worried about her Eunice. Her
boyfriend, the sleep-around guy had broken it off with her, and she had become
very depressed. Elizabeth suspected he had robbed her of that thing he had wanted,
but she didn't ask. Eunice's eyes had taken on a haunted look, a look she knew
all too well. It was the look of somebody who has been jolted from foolish daydreams.
Eunice had taken to hiding in her room, and when she did come out, it was only
these concerns from her head. Her daughter had brought this on herself. What
kind of idiot girl who knew in the first place that she wasn't pretty would
believe that a man could want her? She could feel sorry for her daughter that
she had come into this world with such a face, but she could not feel sorry
for her daughter's stupidity. She was old enough to know how the world worked.
As Elizabeth was
thinking this, she must have shaken her head, because Edgar suddenly looked
"What kind of
worries can you have on a day like this, mother?" Edgar asked.
He was already into
his third sandwich.
to win," he said. "A friend of mine said that they're going to pass
the referendum by a sixty-forty margin."
"What is it
that you think we're going to win?" she asked.
"How can you
Edgar's face had
become exasperated, a look that was altogether alien to his features. He wore
it as if he was both embarrassed and resentful that he should have to.
"This is such
a step forward," he argued. "Soon we will vote in big numbers. Mandela
is to be released as well, and in just a few short years, we will elect him.
There is no way the Conservatives can stop that from happening."
Elizabeth saw that
she had insulted him. She knew then what an idiot he really was. What would
Nelson Mandela do for the average Black? Nothing. That is exactly what he would
do. He would emerge from Robbins Island, a celebrity. He would speak eloquently,
and wave at the crowds of Blacks who would come to hear him speak, but in the
end, their lives would remain unchanged. A handful would benefit. The educated
Blacks and the ones from families who had, as if by divine miracle, scraped
together enough money for their own businesses would profit. But for people
like her and Edgar, nothing would change. Edgar would still be wearing green
overalls ten years from now, and she would still be taking the kombis into the
Elizabeth said at length. "It will be wonderful. What a great man. Mandela,
Edgar seemed to relax
a little, and the tension left his face. Elizabeth had told him what he wanted
to hear, because even though he was an ass, she didn't want to completely alienate
him. She still needed someone to talk to when her pangs struck, and it wouldn't
do if she couldn't pass the time with him every so often.
Both of them turned as the veranda door opened from the inside. Emily, looking sleep-tousled, stepped out onto the grass and approached them. She was wearing a little sun dress, and he eyes were still crusted over.
"What are you
doing?" Emily asked through a yawn.
tea, little one," Edgar said.
Emily smiled at Edgar,
but when her eyes lighted on Elizabeth, the corners of her mouth turned down.
"Not you, Edgar.
Silly. I mean you," Emily said, and pointed a tiny finger at Elizabeth.
"I am drinking
the tea," Elizabeth said tersely.
You're supposed to be ironing Daddy's shirts. He was very angry this morning."
"I am not naughty,"
you're naughty. He says you're very naughty."
Edgar laughed into
his tea so that it slurped over the side of the mug.
is right! She is naughty! Naughty old Elizabeth!" Edgar said this, knowing
how riled Elizabeth must be, and enjoying every minute of it.
Emily's eyes flickered
to Edgar, and they were lit again by a blue softness. But by the time they had
switched back to Elizabeth, they were cold and small and the softness had faded
Elizabeth was overcome
by a sudden urge to slap Emily's face. How dare a child of seven speak to her,
a woman of forty, with such arrogance? Her insides twisted into knots, and her
heart stabbed with shooting pain, but she made absolutely certain that none
of this showed on her face. Anger could get you in trouble, this she knew too
well. She could not let this child see her fury. It would be the end of her
employment if she saw even a hint of it.
"I am sorry,
madam Emily," Elizabeth said, and got to her feet.
"I'm not the
one who is cross with you," Emily said. "But I can't say that Mommy
and Daddy care for you much."
Elizabeth left the
tray on the table, and walked back to the house without saying another word.
Her whole being was filled with shame that she was so powerless to change her
lot. She heard Edgar and Emily giggling behind her back, and she was not sure
she could make it to the house, before the urge to slap the insolence out of
the child overwhelmed her, and she could no longer stop.
It was Emily. Her
voice had become very sweet suddenly. It was the voice of a child who knows
it has some power over adults.
"Will you stop
being naughty? I won't tell Daddy if you promise."
"Say: 'I won't
"I won't be
naughty," said Elizabeth.
Tiny spots of light
danced in front of her eyes as she said this.
"Oh yes you
are... you are naughty!" laughed Edgar, and he and the Emily broke into
a fresh chorus of laughter.
"She is... she
is naughty!" she heard Emily saying over and over again to Edgar, as if
it were the funniest thing in the world.
The blood pounded
in Elizabeth's ears for the rest of the day. When she had reached Emily's room
with the vacuum, it was three o'clock. The little brat had been playing all
day outside, hanging around Edgar like a puppy. Some tummy ache. She could see
them through Emily's bedroom window -- Edgar with a rake in hand, and Emily
running beneath the sprinklers with arms spread out like a jumbo jet.
Nelson Mandela, she
fumed as she made Emily's bed. His supporters made all sorts of outlandish claims.
They would tell you that he could raise the dead, if they thought it would guarantee
your support. He was just a man, and no matter what he said, he couldn't make
her not-Black, just as he was powerless to make the Whites not-White. What could
he do to end the ignorance of the Blacks like Edgar, who believed that all of
their troubles would end the moment he stepped from that prison? How could Mandela
abolish the attitudes of the Whites; of little girl's like Emily, who barely
seven, believed herself superior to adult women like herself?
These were not issues
that would simply disappear the minute Mandela was free. No change could come
fast enough for people like herself; Africans who had been subjected to years
of abuse and humiliation; people who had been kept at a constant disadvantage
while the Whites lived in houses like this one, and ruled the land as they saw
Even as a child she
had felt her difference from the Whites. Her mother had taken her to work with
her when she was young. Her mother had worked, as Elizabeth did now, in a White
home. Even though she could not exactly remember when she had first felt this
difference, it had become so deeply ingrained in her that she no longer noticed
it. Whites moved differently, with a self assurance no Black dared to exhibit.
They smelled different, and wore better clothing, and when you spoke with them,
you were not supposed to be yourself. She had learned very early on that you
were not their equals, and you had to wait until they had left your presence,
before you could start breathing again.
She had been thinking
these thoughts, and vacuuming under the bed, when something on the desk had
caught her eye. It was a shoe box, with the lid slightly off. Next to it was
a small glass jar in which small spools of yellow gauze, no bigger than a thimble,
were stacked neatly, one on top of the other. Making sure that Emily was not
watching her from the garden Elizabeth approached the shoebox and lifted the
lid off of it. Inside, handfuls of Mulberry leaves were carefully laid along
the base. Crawling on top of these, were small gray silkworms, no longer than
half an inch. They had spun some more of the same yellow-gauze-silk, and these
lay at the bottom of the shoebox.
Elizabeth knew that
Emily had been keeping them, she had only forgotten why. She must have been
taking them to school, or else Elizabeth would have remembered that by now.
Maybe she had, she wasn't sure. She was in such a state.
Regardless, she found
the silkworms distasteful. They had the same sick color she felt every time
she was forced to think about things she'd rather not.
Then she remembered.
She had overheard Emily a few days prior, telling the madam that her and her
friends were having a competition to see whose silkworms could weave the most
Overcome by her earlier
feelings of violence, Elizabeth crept down into the kitchen. She was determined
not to fight them any more. She had had enough. If she was careful, she could
get away with it too.
She couldn't see
Edgar or Emily, but she could hear the child's incessant giggling outdoors.
me with the hose!" Emily screamed, and then burst into delighted shrieks
as Edgar did exactly that.
Elizabeth knew that
she had to be quick. Opening the cabinet below the sink, she shuffled through
the bottles and cans of cleaning substances. She pulled out an especially long
can with the word: DOOM written across it in convex lettering.
Racing back to Emily's
room, she closed the door and locked it behind her. She could not be caught
doing this. She would get in serious trouble if anybody saw her.
She approached the
shoebox once more and lifted the lid. Aiming the nozzle of the can down at the
silkworms, she sprayed them lightly with its contents. There was a soft foosh!
As the spray coated the silkworms, they began to writhe about on the leaves,
wriggling about in an agony that was soundless.
had a cold sheen to them, as she replaced the lid, and left the silkworms to
their dying. Before she left the bedroom, she cracked the window a breadth,
so that the smell of the poison would not stay behind.
As she was ironing the master's shirts, Emily had come into the house looking cranky, and marched herself straight to her room. Elizabeth kept expecting to hear her devastation at finding the murdered silkworms, but it didn't come. She had checked on her about half an hour later, and discovered her asleep again on the bed.
The madam came home at five, right on the dot. She handed Elizabeth her day's pay -- fifteen Rand that she handed to her in coins.
Elizabeth," the madam had said as Elizabeth was on her way out the door.
"The master's shirts look wonderful. He's going to be very happy."
"My pleasure, madam," Elizabeth said, and then disappeared up the driveway clutching her white bag.
By Joshua Batterson
Miscegenation for Swallows
I am a hybrid like
transforming myself as I fly:
black and white blue, black, black, black.
My passport is a
page torn from the sky.
I sleep with my head under my wing,
dreaming of a homeland
where chameleon people walk through the sugar
cane of sunlight, their tongues long enough to
Their children are
swallows in cradles.
My parents were migrant labourers, attending
the orchards of each other's hearts. Colours
flowed through them as they held hands, lost
in the pollen, their bed an equator, their tails
entwined: black and white blue, black, black,
They cling to the
twig of their love.
I cling to their love of the twig.
I dream of having a homeland,
and my navigation point:
the latitude of starlight.
By Linda Ann Strang, South Africa
Many times Slaves
By Kent Greer
Amerikka The Beautiful
in dusty hide
country- cowboy brims,
faded denim overalls
heavy cotton plaid-pendletons
prowled past in a rusty
confederate kites billowing
hate talk pasted
cab doors & rear bumper.
Second pass escorted
Apricot wigged passenger
half raised out the cockpit hollerin'
"Die Naggers, Die!'
Threw an empty fifth
Sage Grass Kentucky Whiskey
at this shade complexioned dude
Sunday-strolling M.L.K. Boulevard
as if a dart board of driftwood
Truck dissolved sideways
like multiple felons
riding dirty --
running from the law
like Dukes of Hazzard.
Left. rubber tread signatures
the intersection asphalt.
Bruddah man stood
several-seconds punch drunk
gently examining his dusky pigmentation,
rubbed at his forearms
as if cuticles could peel away
murky violet hue.
After breaking silence,
coiled him granite paws
flaring dragon nostrils,
body began to jerk
& twitch in tiny seizures,
eyes sketched -- six degrees Hades
before the scolding gaze
shifted my direction far other
side the street.
With sad resolve
bruddahs dispirited glance forfeit
colored folks never safe,
still can't contentedly indulge
By Ariono'-jovan Labu
There Is a Prejudice
There is a prejudice
in this world,
There is a hate
a hate of color,
a sadness of dislike,
a pain in the heart that kills.
Limitations of love,
Fear of this monster.
In the hole of someone's
The walls have collapsed,
There is a rugged edge to the life,
A dead end street,
Wondering into the darkness,
The stone hearts of the people
I might well have known.
Wrestling with the
In this world there is a wrong,
From somewhere to nowhere,
There is always fear of this beast,
From dawn until dusk,
A journey to kill,
In which the soul dies.
There is a soul in
I have felt it,
And can feel it,
In spite of this
The stolen lives of the people,
And the caverns of hate,
Filled to the brim,
There is such a thing as life,
And it should not be wasted hating.
During my life of
And being loved by others,
No matter what race or color.
By Jamie Lee Clark
Patrolling the perimeter of borders long ago rearranged
To change the constitution of these United States
The gates of freedom closed to those rightfully born on its southwestern soil
The spoils of war slamming the door on give us your tired
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
Mi casa no es su casa and go back to where you came from echo down city blocks
And yet that Pilgrim does not stop to think that the original citizens of this America were brown
So dear Pilgrim who is the immigrant now?
Who is the immigrant now?
By Stephanie L. Kemp
La Trece 13
My father's house
se fue, they say
Mi padre y mi patria
I find the yellow clippings
in a smuggled keepsake box
with milk teeth and a carved white shell
UN CUERPO MUTILADO
a mutilated body
under my mother's bed
in our L.A. barrio.
13 seconds -- brass
knuckles, steeltoedboots, chains
spittoothblood and I
am in -- gracias por Dios --
the home of my mother
an army of ants
My father fought
for his tierra
in the Red Zone Morazán: my turf
se llama the War Zone
and it ain't no Hollywood movie.
I etch on one shoulder
an Angel, on the other
our Savior. Over my heart:
Salvador signs peace accords:
the streets of L.A. burn.
I run into fire
a fish slithenng
upstream amidst debris
my mother cries -- 9
months in her belly 9
months on her back
through the selva
over the sands
across el Río
she carried me.
Para que? she asks
but turns away
her face divided
by a long scar -- straight
as a machete blade:
here and there, allá y aquí,
then and now.
I lie writhing --
a drying fish
retching in a river of crushed
cans and cracked
on my hands, red
bloom on my brain, bur-
Time. Then a chartered
Wednesday flight south,
Just taking out the trash.
Now donch- y'all come back! hear?
The eyes of the INS.
I cover my Angel
I cover my Savior
but I can't cover the tears - 3
down one cheek
I find the campo
and my father the comunista
I kick over his cross mid carry it with me.
El new Presidente lags
the dead terronstas now
trapping new ants
as fast as he can.
I swim with other fish
upriver and down
red waters, anthills strewn
with trash, corpses, and
still fat from body dumps.
I teach my new broderos -- that's
hood for brothers -- how to hunt.
The old guerrilleros,
viejos in the shade,
shake their heads -- ask
what our war is for.
I swim close to the
with viscera, sleek as a gun MADE
IN THE U.S.A. and donated
to a dirty war
RETURN TO SENDER
packed with snow that
melts to diesel on the tongue.
We jump rivals and
their campesina girls.
We jump borders as coyotes
with new Toyotas from the suburbs.
We run Guate, San Pedro Sula, Salvador, and
border towns in Mexico.
We own California.
A short glory before
and faulty wires.
flames our bodies
fusing to the bars
so we won't run to the cool lead spray.
The tin roof curls
back like the thatch
of my father' s house
The Angel and the Savior burn
to black; 3
one dissolving cheek.
By Molly Beer
(For Luis and Ramiro Rodriguez)
I pray for you this
That your carnales watch your back
That the guards don't find
Your shiv or your dope
That you never end up
A snitch or a bitch
But that you never end up
Too hard to care.
I pray for you this
That your parole board believes you
That your social worker has nice legs
That you never run out of cigarettes
And the warden gives you a job in the kitchen
I pray for you this
To have gentle dreams weekdays
And sexy dreams on weekends
Until your twenty years are done
And you make your return trip
To the barrio,
An anonymous ex-con --
As muscled and solitary
As a rooster trained to fight to the death
From 7,300 days in the weight room,
Through sunlight unbroken
By chainlink fences and
The menacing shadows
Of the guard tower guns.
By Sara Littlecrow-Russell
A memory of running
through rusty water, fine-
sprayed from a leaky garden
hose, his father's thumb
for pressure on the free end
in the summer's hottest oven,
keeps Paquito almost cool
tonight, but the trash mountain
behind la colonia is on fire
as usual: waves of heat, bright
flicker like the blue light
from the tv that feeds on
stolen juice atop a busted chair
in front of Tina's tent;
and while he watches tales
of lives he knows already
he will never get to lead,
smothered in white snow
from Hollywood or bad reception,
he can feel a spark somewhere
inside him deep, as flames
nothing can douse begin to burn.
By Allan Douglass Coleman
I Am the Rubber Band
I am the rubber band
stretched and pulled
in the ways of the world.
I feel tight with strain,
I fly when released.
I am the shooting dart
to slam against the walls
of life and limb.
I'm rarely not used.
Never allowed to simply
lay upon the desk, to rest.
I am the rubber band.
And the office is busy.
By D'Arcy Pryciak
From a Clerk, of Her Supervisor
but her mouth is full of false.
Teeth white with cowardice.
She gums words,
this witless manager
of mushrooms, growing under her stinking mulch.
Like a parrot, she echoes herself
and thinks herself wise, witty.
Blame is another man's shame.
She is as white as her cowardice.
A false leader.
Her soft kindness
is like chill water, thick with stones
upon my shoulders.
She bears none.
To her, we are as clay children, raw,
to carve, or to jab at,
with a sickly knife coated with souring honey.
I crave more than this
unsatisfying hollow leadership,
this foolish general presiding over
this room of paper wielding desk-soldiers
who march at the whip of her yapping voice
and despise her.
Give me work,
but do not speak to me.
By D'Arcy Pryciak
Losing my Mind on Drill Station Nine
You have no mind on the assembly line.
You're not a name or a man --
just a place on drill station nine.
You don't think; drill as fast as you cam
You're not a name
or a man.
You pick up a hard piece of steel.
You don't think; drill as fast as you can.
Clamp it tight and make sure that it's sealed.
You pick up a hard
piece of steel.
You have a quota to meet.
Clamp it tight and make sure that it's sealed.
And try not to think of the heat.
You have a quota
Push the red button to start
and try not to think of the heat.
Count to five and then take out the part.
Push the red button
Keep your body parts clear of the drill.
Count to five and take out the part.
Keep up with the flow of the mill.
Keep your body parts
clear of the drill.
Three hundred pieces an hour.
Keep up with the flow of the mill.
The bosses watch from their tower.
Three hundred pieces
You drill for twelve hours a day.
The bosses watch from their tower
to make sure you're earning your pay.
You drill for twelve
hours a day
from your place on drill station nine.
They make sure you're earning your pay.
You have no mind on the assembly line.
By James Arthur Anderson
When talk turns to slaved-over shirts
that keep them alive but only just
the uneven brown circle erupts
in shouts. Arms and faces
raise to sky
when told the U.S. cost of garments
Soaked in Haitian sweat.
Their teeth are white
as sunned chrome, yet bared only in laughter,
surprised and genuine, these, the good-natured,
who know evil
but do not practice it.
Far away, star-spangled
gurgle into brandy, and underneath, handshakes restate
the agreement to remain most powerful.
the hungry baby's weak cry, like pencil scratch.
Unseen, the disappearing moon, the hundred
who hang onto a truck bouncing over rock and dust
to unending work
in the period between the last of night and dawn.
By Anne Trisler
The corporate morning
has already drowned
out my adjectives
Living off the Earnings
Was a cold and windy winter's night
on the comer of William and Bourke.
And it hurt like hell to see her there
through Sydney's sleety murk.
baring breast and thigh;
tugging at the lust of man -
oh life -- I ask you -- why?
Standing in the doorway
she's not what she appears.
The youthful pretty face belies
a courage beyond her years.
Necessity and loathing
she's never turned a trick before -
the mother of our child.
prop how much, love?
It's forty french and sex.
A nod or a wink'll seal the deal
cash only -- no cheques.
That's how it works", said Cindy -
who'd noticed she was new:
"More than that I cannot help --
the rest is up to you."
She signaled in accordance
with a plan we had prepared.
Her safety guaranteed,
the humiliation shared.
Crouching in the wardrobe
of the dingy rented room
I awaited their arrival
in a fearful, chilly tomb.
l listened to the
up the stairs and down the hall.
Heard them enter through the doorway
'tween the wardrobe and the wall.
"This better be worth it, love", he said,
as he handed the money across;
and instantly I knew the voice
of the man I know as the Boss.
* * *
He owns the wretched
where I labour cramped and bent.
We went on strike six weeks ago
for a rise of five per cent,
unable to live on his lousy wage.
He'd rejected our claim overnight.
Us workers then met and decided
that the time to strike was right.
All of us stuck together
the men, the women, the young and the old.
Our picket line held firm
and the timid learned to be bold
Not one worker weakened
not one worker veered
And with victory clearly in our sight
our union leader appeared.
With the Boss on
and near capitulation
Our union leader proposed
the dispute be taken to Arbitration.
"The nation cannot afford such claim,"
the Arbitrator foresaw
Our union leaders had sold us out
as they'd done to us before.
The rent's already
a month behind --
the Notice To Quit's on the way
The finance company's taken the car
and they came for the fridge today
I'll never forget the Boss, when he told us,
"Wages are far too high"
When -- all wages have ever bought me -
is scarcely the means to get by.
At home tonight,
'bout dinner time
there was nothing left to eat
She moved to the floor beside me,
a hungry child at our feet
"Dearest I know you love me," she said,
"as I surely care for you
It's not your fault -- you've done your best -
now there's something that I can do."
She took my hand, with endearing concern,
and held it, tight, to her breast
And somehow I could feel in her touch
that our trust would he put to the test.
With truth of word, and honour of eye
she informed me of her plan
And -- as faith slowly displaced the fear --
a boy grew into a man.
* * *
Silent and still -- I saw it all -
through a crack in the wardrobe door
A naked light globe burning bright
and a pile of clothes on the floor
On a shabby bed, in a King's Cross room,
cobwebs hanging above;
the wanton leching of a man I hate -
on the body -- of the woman -- I love.
I watched the ravishing
hands and mouth
take all she was paid to give
The unctuous sounds of flesh to flesh --
the price of the will to live.
And I pondered the harsh reality
of the extermination of choice -
as I watched with hate and anger
the employing class rejoice.
As he reached the
his excitement began to release;
But then I heard an almighty crash --
and -- "You're under arrest - police!"
"My business, my children, my wife," begged the Boss,
"Christ -- I'll really be in the stew."
"It's the harlot we're after," the copper said --
"you can get dressed and shoot through."
I just couldn't comprehend
how it's gone so very wrong;
first the strike and then the Boss
and now the cops have come along.
I left the darkened wardrobe
with my fears and my concernings
and a copper said "We'll have you too
for Living Off Immoral Earnings."
As I wrapped a sheet
the Boss's eyes met mine;
the fearful guilt of "caught"
filled the body of a swine.
"Was it worth it Boss?"
I yelled, "ya filthy, mangy dog -
was it worth it ya scurried mongrel -
half-full of a publican's grog."
* * *
In the dock at Darlinghurst
we were charged as arrested;
then led away to separate cells,
Those wedding vows mean nothing, now -
according to the law;
No longer a husband, no longer a wife -
just simply the hoon and the whore.
The following day
in the Magistrate's Court
we were both listless and tired
A sleepless night in the filthy cells
and feeling less than inspired
On a charge of public soliciting,
she was convicted by Magistrate May --
a fine of two thousand dollars
imposed with seven days to pay.
My turn now -- and
up I went,
as the Constable gave me the nod;
with a bible firmly in my hand
I swore, "so help me, god".
"How do you plead?" the Magistrate asked
"to Living Off Immoral Earnings?"
"Not guilty, your Worship," I answered
ignoring my stomach's churnings.
"Well I accept
your plea," said his Worship,
"which in law I'm duty bound
indeed -- innocence is presumed
'til a judgment of guilt be found.
But I trust your plea has a basis in fact
as the case against you is strong;
and the conviction of your wife
can only help it along."
evidence," I said,
"with which I don't disagree;
and the earnings on which
I'm suppose to 'ave lived
remain intact -- exhibit B.
In spite of ail this your Worship," I said
"my plea is cemented in fact -- not whim;
that before your Court today
stands the victim -- not the crim.
"You see I thought
a bit about it,
in the cells overnight;
'bout the essence of this charge I'm on --
the wrongs of it -- and the right.
But if living off the earnings
the basis of it be --
then charge my employer, your Worship
with living off the earnings of me.
"Charge my honourable
employer, your Worship,
bring him before your Court;
let justice convict a common thief
as a true justice ought.
If he paid me for all the hours I worked
I wouldn't be here today
twenty six hours of unpaid labour
each week he burgles away
"You see --
I worked it out, your Worship -
from his company's annual profit;
just how much my labour earns
and how much he lives off it.
In fourteen hours I reproduce
the amount of my weekly wage
and the rest of the week I work for nothing
like a slave from a previous age."
"Mmmm - I take
it you've finished," said his Worship,
in a studied and thoughtful way;
"Yes I have, for the moment," I told him,
"that's all I have to say."
"I've listened to your argument,"
he said rather matter-of-factly;
"and I understand the point you make --
I understand exactly.
"You may see
it as your Boss's fault
that you face this Court today;
and for the reasons you described -
insufficient in your pay
But the simple fact remains
that you've contravened the law;
that's why you're here today -
nothing less and nothing more.
"You see --
it's a question of morality
with which the law's concerned;
just where the dollar comes from -
just how the dollar's earned.
According to the facts,
and you've said you have no quarrel -
your earnings derive from soliciting -
which the law proscribes as immoral.
"Now your employer
- as you astutely perceive --
lives off the earnings too.
A most successful businessman
living off the earnings of you.
But his earnings are totally lawful --
a factory, you say;
young man that's freedom of enterprise -
and moral in every way."
"Well I'm glad
you see it like that, your Worship
and all that such infers;
if his earnings are moral in every way -
then so are the earnings of hers.
At the time of the alleged offence --
and witnessed by Constable Fife
my highly moral employer --
was the man on the bed with my wife.
"Now if the
earnings received by my wife
derived from the labour of me
then her earnings are totally moral
born of enterprise -- lawful and free
If you find this offence to be proved, your Worship
then the Law stands convicted as well -
the embodiment of injustice -
let its corpse be buried in hell"
young man," said the magistrate
you've blamed all except yourself;
circumstance -- your employer -
you've almost cleared the shelf.
Even if it was your Boss --
or the Pope or Father Time
Whoever was with your wife
does not commit a crime.
"Your case is
you've avoided the matter at hand -
your argument's run aground.
I find the offence to be proved
and in a satisfactory way -
you're fined one thousand dollars
with seven days to pay."
Jesus Christ, I thought
driven deeper into hock,
as I watched my wife cross the Court
and join me in the dock.
"Mister Magistrate," she said
"Mister Magistrate", she repeated,
"Just one thing before we go.
something here, today", she said,
"they never taught at school.
Ya know what I learned, your worship --
I learned the golden rule.
Them that's got the gold, Sir --
is them that's made the law.
And they pay the likes of you, Sir --
but it's me they call the whore."
By Geoffrey Lennie, Australia
is where a dollar is every
thing (food, clothing, shelter, health, in-
-fluence, justice, power) and every
thing (that being a dollar as
already noted) is
accountable while the un-
-accountable (impoverished, poor,
worthless) life is expendable
and discarded as soon as they (the capitalists)
have sucked (acquired, bought
off, purchased, plundered, exploited, bribed, fore-
-closed, ravaged, stolen, swindled) every thing (reprise
if this part is unclear) there is to suck
from it and where there is
for any dreams that can't be sold for
a dollar which (as already noted) is every
By Otmar Fischbach
(To my former colleagues at the New York Observer)
Perhaps it is born in the hands,
that ache in the knuckles, the pain
in the fingertips after your long day
of working so hard, a hurt
so bone-deep you can no longer bear
to touch and hold on to whatever you love
Some feel it first
in the shoulders,
the sense that you've carried the world
by yourself for too long and must
stoop down to hoist it again
the next day, and the next and the next,
with too little rest in between
For others it strikes
at the feet,
turns agonizing this walking erect
which tells us from dumb beasts,
so they think only of soft chairs
and long soaks, not of daring
to stand up for themselves
Then again, it can
afflict the eyes,
leave them dry like ball-bearings
unoiled, grinding down in sockets
of grit, so what you want most
in the world is your lids to close fast,
shut out the world that you're in
You may notice it
squeezing your heart
till it feels like a fist, till it
tightens so much you can no longer look
at the face of a child, your own
or another's, and, smiling, tell a true tale
of the world their children will know.
I found it seizing
my mind, toxins
screaming, "Look out for yourself,"
making it hard to think the way
one must, and I knew myself sick,
so I called to ask for your help,
your help. which did not come.
These are the symptoms
of this plague
which needs a name, and I name it now,
calling it something we all can remember,
naming it the way it makes us feel: alone
and at their mercy. And I tell you
it will only end, we will only begin to heal
whenever one of us
-- child, woman or man -
eyes open wide and shoulders back, hand
raised, heart beating fast and mind on fire,
steps out of line to say, "Enough
is enough," and another strides
forward to stand alongside.
By Alan Douglass Coleman
Annual income needed to buy a median-priced home in Miami-Dade County: $103,080 Median wage in Miami-Dade County: $27,476. Miami Herald 2-26-06
What will you rich
In the Magic City
When we all split
And there's no one left in town to
Do the dirty work for you?
Will you cook your
Cut your own grass? Teach your kids at school?
Will you put on your Bruce Wayne Batman suit
And fight crime in your spare time?
I wonder if you'll
put out your own fires,
Pick up your own trash,
And clean up your own mess (for once)
Or if you'll learn to live in filth
Like the rest of us.
Maybe you'll just
import your own working poor
From another third-world place
And tell them how much better off they are
Being slaves of your rat-race.
You want us to work
Then you price us from our homes
Raise our rent
Make us sell things we can't afford to buy.
You tax us, charge us, raise our interest rates.
At Exxon: record
At Ford: unemployment lines (but not for the CEO).
The working class earns too little to get by
And too much to qualify.
So tell us, you rich
fuck, what are we supposed to do to get some class?
Buy tickets to the ballet at a hundred bucks a pop
And then eat canned soup and pasta for a week
To pay the bill?
(Culture has its price)
I think the time
When we should move our cl(ass)
And let you do the dirty work
Then what will you rich people do?
By James Arthur Anderson
I was walking down the street,
When I heard a man repeat
A phrase I heard somewhere before;
So I stopped to hear much more.
And he told me of a time
When the world would realign
And the barriers that break us
Would not exist inside our make-up.
And the Government existing
Would implode as its persisting
To divide us into classes
Of succession by the masses.
Then the world would all be One
Under working people's trust;
Enforcing our equality
To every measure and degree.
And I said, "Oh
God that's great!
But if you look at just your fate,
You are hungry and alone,
You are poor without a home,
And there are men richer than gods
Living life high on the hog
As they labor you to death,
So their quota can be met.
Don't you feel some kind of rage?"
But he said, "There
will be change.
Oh no, not when I'm alive;
But when all of us align.
One for all and all for One.
Equality will rise among.
The poorest will defeat
When the rich have been extinct.
Every resource will be shared
And the wages will be spared."
Then I said, "I
love this thought.
But are you aware of all the costs
That comes with wanting execution
To economic institutions?
And how will I be viewed
As someone who finds this true?
Do you know how you'll be criticized?
Your name will be so bastardized;
Those evil men will take this thought
To gain power at any costs.
And then abuse a power gained
With actions cruel and inhumane."
"But if you
see," (he said to me)
"A society of perfecting
The way we can live at our best;
Equal and living uncompressed.
Evil men can not speak of
Our vision of Utopia."
By Renee Zambo
They smeared his
with honey, staked him
spreadeagled over an anthill
on the desert floor.
Insects ate out his eyeballs,
buzzards picked his brains
clean to the skullbone
police made a paperweight of
for their scribbled blotter.
They sent his skeleton
to a medical school
to be studied by doctors
of various philosophies.
Even with his mummified lips
and eyelids stitched shut
he spoke in a body language
of the anatomy of injustice
more eloquently than the combined
tongues o£ all the politicos in power.
That skinny string of vertebrae
had the spine to dance
into the next generation
of saints who noted his every
word and wrote it down,
Given wings like wild fires
by the witnessing wind
his sayings survived the burial
of his killers.
And now the sun constructs cathedrals
with the beams of his bones.
By Arthur Gottlieb
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