Fall-Winter 2007-8 Vol. 23, Nos. 2 & 3

African Americans Fight Savage In-Justice System

The protests in Jena, Louisiana, show that a growing number of African Americans are willing to take action against the savage inequalities of the so-called justice system in the alleged land of the free. One of the most blatant examples of this inequality is the great preponderance of Black inmates in the prison system. The percentage of Blacks in prison in the U.S. today greatly exceeds the percentage of Blacks incarcerated in South Africa during the height of the racist apartheid system. This is shameful, a disgrace beyond words! And it harms the entire working class, of all ethnic backgrounds, as it provides the ruling capitalist class with an extra source of superprofits from unpaid labor and a scapegoat for the anger of the other oppressed, whose real need is to make common cause with the African American workers against the rich.

The African American masses (and large numbers of Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and white supporters) have fought courageously against racism in many manifestations, especially during the 1960s. This struggle is obviously not over. Today you have big-city Black mayors but they are dancing with the white capitalists while the Black (and other) workers can barely make it from check to check. Today you have Black police but they imitate their white colleagues in profiling and murdering Black and (again, other) poor people. Today all people supposedly have the right to vote, but many are actually disenfranchised, the elections are tampered with, and the candidates are selected by the wealthy owners of the big corporations, who demand that the winners viciously plunder the workers.

The struggle against the immediate effects of racism and exploitation must continue and be intensified. But the events of the past 50 years reinforce the Marxist conclusion that racism and the exploitation of the working class can only be eliminated by a revolution of the workers and the poor, of all backgrounds, a revolution which brings the working class to power and places as its foremost task the elimination of racist institutions and the destruction of racial prejudices. Only a socialist revolution is capable of this, because only it can bring out the creative initiative of the masses of the working people, who will learn through struggle that they cannot become free from the clutches of the rich unless they destroy racism altogether. The destruction of racism will not be the automatic result of such a revolution; it must be consciously organized and fought for. Any deviation from the anti-racist road will simply give the capitalists, who will not disappear overnight, a wedge to drive into the workers' ranks to defeat and enslave the poor once more.

The present issue of Struggle features a number of writings by African American prisoners. From its beginning in 1985 Struggle has supported and circulated among prisoners who oppose racism and the capitalist system and has published their writings. Several years ago we published a special "Prison Poets" issue. Today we present militant writings which illuminate the racist "justice" system from deep within the belly of the beast. We also wish to congratulate one of our past and present contributors (see page 23), Kenneth Foster, an inmate in Texas who has recently seen his death sentence overturned as a result of protests (he drove a car occupied by someone who later committed a murder, without Kenneth's foreknowledge). He is one of the eloquent Black Voices from Inside.

* * * * *

We must also comment that, with the recent UAW contracts with General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, the working class has suffered a new great betrayal at the hands of the sold-out union leaders. Not only has GM been allowed to escape its contractual obligation (where is the "sanctity of the contract" now, conservative free-marketeers?) to pay for the health care of retirees, but a new, second tier of workers has been created making half the wage and benefit package of the present UAW worker. These disgusting concessions are sure to spread throughout the economy, dragging down with them the working conditions and living standards of workers in every kind of workplace and (need it be said?) of every ethnic background. The workers must answer with collective mass struggle. The growth of opposition at Chrysler is a good sign. Priority must be placed on the exposure of the sold-out union bureaucrats.

* * * * *

Struggle is not a magazine of poems about the birds and the bees and contemplation of our navels; we are an implacable fighter against injustice. We call upon workers and oppressed people of all backgrounds to fight against racism and capitalist exploitation and for a socialist future. We call upon progressive writers and artists to throw their creative wit and imagination on the side of the vast majority, the working class.

By Tim Hall


That Word

When she used that word bullshit
you know the one people are just better
I wanted to jump at hiding
out of my chair their
and tear her head off dirt
we have come so far

By Cathy Porter




Understanding is a well-spring of life to him who has it. -- Proverbs 16:22


The tension, thick and palpable, that had made breathing a quickened, gasping effort, was finally fading. The men about the dormitory had gathered themselves into clusters of familiarity… and safety. With a lot of gesturing, tongues wagged in excited whispers about the skirmish of a few moments ago. To a man, they were all thinking and talking about one thing: it wasn't over.

I am an Old School, existing on the edge of an environment dominated by young prisoners... Gladiators. They were like wolves, moving about in packs, empowered by the sense of being greater than the sum of their parts.
Adrenalin had my own heart pounding in my breast, although I tried to look unaffected by the fracas. I was perched on the edge of my bunk, staring at, but not seeing, the pages of a novel I held in front of me. Within our dorm I was afforded a fair amount of respect from the young gang-bangers. They perceived in me a wisdom that can come only with having done some living, and that had been honed by a degree of academia. I readily shared with them all that I had come to understand about the vagaries of life. That is why I was not too surprised when Tony, aka Tee Knocker, made his way to my bunk. Tee Knocker had been one of the combatants. He was also a gang member. He'd abandoned his extremely agitated cohorts to join me.

"Say, School, was I wrong?" he asked, taking a seat on my bunk beside me. I closed the book I'd been clutching and sat it down behind me. I did not know what the scuffle had been about, but to my way of thinking just then, the right or wrong of the matter was inconsequential.

"Who cares?" I told him, and that got me a surprised and bewildered stare. "This is prison, youngster! When two men go at it, the man left standing is right." I relaxed my expression and smiled genially at him.

"The question you really want to ask is was the fight worth risking a war over? And, did it solve the problem -- whatever the problem might've been?" In every dorm at this prison, a tenuous truce kept the various gangs from killing each other. But from time to time, fragile egos and the need to lash out, or to measure up in the eyes of peers, brought about conflicts that ranged from a single blow, to death in gruesomely creative ways.

"I couldn't let that fool disrespect me in front of my brothers, School." This with his chest puffed out.

"So, you jumped on the guy, and your brothers had to break it up. What were you trying to prove, Tee Knocker? Is banging the solution to all your problems? You could've started a war over something that neither clique felt was worth it. And I can see that you've still got some bad feelings swelling your chest, young brother. If you want my advice, you need to step back, take a serious look at what's got you bugging, and ask yourself if it's just a Tee Knocker-trip." At his core, Tee Knocker was a simmering cauldron of rage. Around that core was a melange of anxieties that haunted him to no end.

The young man had been watching me. When I stopped talking and looked closer at Tee Knocker, it was then that I saw the core issue; the thing that couldn't be shrugged off. Obsession -- or, possession.
"I can't let him make it, School." In the depths of Tee Knocker's eyes was the over-bright, liquid, haunted look of being trapped. It was misery. And this young man was committed to it.

"Guess what?" I said.


"You don't have to do anything. Do you understand that? It's your choice, Tee Knocker. That's the power you've got over the situation." Judging from the way he looked at me, I had just proposed an option he had not considered. To do nothing; to treat the matter as a non-issue, and put it to rest right here, right now, was a truly novel idea.


"He's not going to drop it. If I don't do something, man, I'm going to look weak... or scared, and that will just pump him up. I don't need my brothers tripping, wondering if I've lost my heart and turned into a punk. Anyway, we're not worried about no war, School. We can handle ours! And, we're not going to let anybody handle us like suckers."

"That's your trip, son," I told him. I had heard and could not ignore his use of the inclusive "we" throughout his justification for indulging that gang-brand of insanity. "You're making this thing bigger than what it needs to be." I tapped the side of my head with a rigid finger. "Think, young brother! Think! If that guy, or any of his crew meant to do you harm, they would've done it while you two were tangled up. Didn't his partners help break up the fight? Nobody's looking for any more trouble, Tee Knocker."

"Or, they're just waiting for their shot at me. I was the one who set it off, School, when that fool pushed the dominoes off the table." Leaning, so as to glance surreptitiously around me, his gaze tracked to the loose huddle of his would-be adversary and buddies in a corner of the dorm. "He's got to try to do me something, just for the get back." Tee Knocker settled back so that he was propped up on his elbows. Dominoes...?

The dynamics revolving around issues of self-esteem and ego with these young gang-bangers was a psychological nightmare. The need to measure up in the eyes of fellow gang members seemed a pressure beyond comprehension. They validated each other. Sometimes it seemed to me that none of them had any identity outside of the gang. No sense of their own worth, or even of an individual existence. If a member could actually separate himself…

"Who else has your prison number, Tee Knocker?" I asked. I'd allowed myself to become challenged and psyched up by this conversation, and it took an effort now to maintain at least an impression of objective neutrality.

"My prison number...? Nobody." This confused and disconsolate young thug was looking at me as though I'd lost my mind.

"What other person did your judge sentence to do your time with you?"

"Nobody." Tee Knocker was trying hard to get a handle on where this all might be going.

"So, you're telling me that you… and only you… are responsible for doing your time?" The young man's expression suddenly became care-worn. He believed that he had figured out the track and purpose of my questions, and had heard it all before. He simply nodded his head distractedly. His gaze started to drift.

"Do you want to get out of prison? Do you want to go home?" His curiosity peaked anew, Tee Knocker swung his eyes back to meet my own.

"Yeah, I want to go home." He seemed mildly insulted. Good!

"Then act like it! That should be your number one priority! You need to look at everything you do as being either for you getting out of prison, or against it. You are the wise man, or the fool, making the decisions that affect your getting out of here. If you jam your time by doing something that puts you in lockup, young brother -- you go alone. None of your clique brothers can do a day of that seg time for you. All of them will go home when their time is done, leaving you right here trying to prove that you're tough and loyal." I reached out and lightly thumped his chest. "At some point, Tee, you've got to start thinking about and doing what's best for you."

I lowered my voice and looked steadily at the younger man, trying for a dynamic of kinship and compassion.
"The goal we all need to have, son, is to go home. Anything that gets in the way of that goal should be avoided. The one thing that I always… and I do mean always!… keep in mind is that me and my loyalty should be with my family… my true family. That's the filter I try to run all of my attitudes, thinking, and behaviors through. Nothing comes before my family. And, if I say that my place and loyalty is with my family, but I'm doing things that will keep me in prison, then I'm either a liar or a fool. Understand?" It was, frankly, beyond my perceptive, or intuitive, abilities to discern or define what settled into Tee Knocker's visage at that moment. It was a look, though, that brought a tightness to my chest, along with an aching sadness.

"Yeah, School... I do understand you." Tee Knocker's voice was hoarse with an emotion that I could only wonder at. Had I inadvertently said something that struck a cord of sanity within this young man? Please let it be so.


In prison you learn to react, even while sleeping, to unusual noises, or to anything that impacts your awareness. Angry voices and the sounds of frantic movement should not only bring a person fully awake, but also on point, ready to defend himself. It did me with a sphincter-clinching near panic.

A lot of guys were up and milling about in a kind of erratic frenzy. Quite a few were shouting mindless, disparaging epithets directed at no one in particular. The loudest voices belonged to the security officers who were roaming the dorm and yelling directives, while waving batons and threatening the use of pepper gas. The prime directive was for every inmate to retrn to his bunk. I could see a few guys wearing only their underwear, face-down on the floor of the dorm's common area, their hands cuffed behind their backs. A more concentrated and focused group of officers were gathered around a bunk where a solitary figure lay on the floor.

I was just gathering my wits and sitting up to better assess the situation, when suddenly a team of medical personnel, surrounded by more guards, charged through the open dorm door pushing a gurney. These med techs and officers made their way, never slowing, to the bunk where the other officers hovered over the person sprawled on the floor. I watched, fascinated and horrified, as the medical crew, with officers assisting, lifted an inert body, not from the floor, but from the bunk and placed it on the gurney. Then, the medical crew raced from the dorm. The person on the gurney appeared to me to be either dead or close to it. The body was blood-soaked.

As I said, a guy in prison comes pretty much fully alert when anything that even hints at calamity rattles his awareness. I knew that the bunk they had taken the unmoving figure from belonged to the gang-banger Tee Knocker had fought with earlier. My gaze tracked across to Tee Knocker's bunk. It was empty. I did not get out of my bunk (as I said, we Ol' Schools practiced passive observation from the relative safety of the fringes), but waited, and was not in the least surprised when the officers at the bunk hoisted Tee Knocker up from the floor. His hands and feet were in chains. Head bowed, he looked to be disoriented… lost. I could see that a sergeant had a bloodied shank in an evidence baggy. I continued to watch as Tee Knocker, surrounded by the officers, was prodded to a shuffling walk across the dorm's common area coming in my direction. Tee Knocker's face was expressionless, almost as though the features were painted on or glued into place. -- Strange.

The group was just passing me when Tee Knocker looked up suddenly, peering between the officers' bodies encircling him until his eyes found me. He raised his cuffed hands to where I could see them and his fingers awkwardly formed the sign of the gang he belonged to. The gesture caused a couple of officers to look my way. I did not really like that, but right then I could not muster any real concern about it, given the circumstances. There was life in his face... thank God. Tee Knocker was calling to me.

"Hey School, I thought about what you said -- you know, about being with my family and owing family my loyalty. My clique is the only family I've got, or dude, and I'll always have family here. Feel me? I just did what I had to do to be with my family, just like you said. I'm down for life!" Then, he was gone.

For an interminable moment, I was chilled and numb -- Dear God! What had I done?

It seems that Tee Knocker had understood me all right. It was my understanding that had been lacking. And it was not that I didn't know, but that I had not bothered to consider the possibility -- the probability -- that for a lot of these young soldiers, the gang is the closest thing to family they've ever had, or will ever have. There is even something that passes for a kind of love and acceptance shared between them. I've seen it. Their loyalty to the clique is often unshakable and unconditional. And yes, they are often willing to take a life or lay down their own to prove their loyalty, and to measure up in the eyes and esteem of their fellow gang members. Their family.
In Tee Knocker's case, I'd known that he was a young man who felt things deeply. I'd thought to exploit that aspect of his nature in order to focus him on where he truly needed to place his loyalty and affection: with his family.

I'd grown up in a loving, strongly bonded family. Family always came first. For me and mine, it was still like that. Even knowing as I do that not many of the inmates I've met in prison are as fortunate in matters of family as I am, I'd still wanted to believe that even the most dysfunctional family was still bonded by blood, and that it had to be better than any surrogate crowd a person might fall in with in prison.

I was wrong.

My reasoning, colored by my faulty understanding, had allowed me to inadvertently give Tee Knocker the only reason he needed to commit murder. I would be haunted by this understanding, or the lack thereof, for the rest of my days.


By Ernest M. Cumbess Jr.
# 1083015 Mark W. Stiles Unit 18U-018
3060 FM 3514
Beaumont, TX 77705-7635



Mr. Observer

While I look out the window of this hot 90 degree plus cell I see things that kick my brain into thinking of how our Black brothers and sisters are treated and continually disrespected. While gazing out the window one Sunday morning I see three correctional officers walking towards their building. Two white male officers and one Black female officer. When these officers reach their building the two male officers enter the building first leaving the Black female officer holding the door. My oh my how things remain the same. Don't call me racist because I see these things and you don't. Just call me Mr. OBSERVER.

While at the hospital a Black inmate and a white inmate get waited on at the same time. The Black inmate's blood pressure is very high after he had a minor stroke and the white inmate had a seizure and fell and needed stitches. Now there's two doctors (white) and instead of one of these doctors seeing one inmate and the other doctor one inmate, the female doctor told the other doctor, "He'll be O.K. (Black inmate)." And asked the white inmate, "Are you O.K.?" Call me racist but I was there. I hear and see this and you didn't. Just call me Mr. OBSERVER.

While I lay on my bed reading I hear thru the tier a Black inmate in the back of his cell tapping the beats to one of his raps. The tap is very respectful and if you're minding your business you'll never hear it, but the day goes on when the white inmates awake after being up all night, because that crazy medication that they take will not let them sleep at night. These white inmates get up at feeding time and after they eat they start to sing country songs as loud as their voices will go. Now there's four white inmates on the tier and twelve Blacks on the tier and he's beating and singing country songs at the top of his voice and nothing is said about it, but if the Black inmate who's tapping starts beating and rapping loudly, over half the tier would criticize him and tell him to shut up and get out of the door. You call me racist but I hear and see this and you don't. Just call me Mr. OBSERVER.

I see when the Black female officers come on the tier to count and/or to do whatever their business is that they come on the tier. I hear these white inmates call these officers hoes, bitches, d… s…., etc., and not only that, they masturbate on them and disrespect these females. And I see the Black inmates just sit back and applaud these deeds, claiming that "y'all got them bitches dead right." How lost our Black race of men are. And the women go as far as the men. And the Bible is right, our people is destroyed by a lack of knowledge. Call me racist but you don't hear and see. I do. So call me Mr. OBSERVER.

Now that it's all said and done, there's this ?uestion that I wish to ask my BLACK BROTHERS and SISTERS? When are we as a race of people going to take the veil off our eyes and the plugs out of our ears so that we can/will be able to grow? A lot of men and women have died in the struggle that we may live a life and live as equally as the white man and woman, but we're afraid to take that step forward. I once was misled and lost, knowing in my inner being that I'm more or better equipped to do a job than the white man say that I'm not, so he gives the job to his son, neighbor or anyone rather than that Black man of woman. That's when I read that the justice system is to serve and protect. But what we didn't see was "JUST-US." meaning only whites. I write about things that has cross my path. What I hear around me and what I see. But you call me racist but you don't see this, I do.

You can call me Mr. OBSERVER. I don't care!


By Johnny "Coltrain" Colton
# 71909 Unit 32 Bld. Cell 59
Parchman State Penitentiary
Parchman, MS 38738



Last Breath

You asked me to speak one last time, to ghost down and tell you how it was. You want to tell my story, to let everyone know how they electrocuted an innocent man, how it was to take my last walk ever. And I want you to tell it, burn my demise, the silent screams I uttered in the end, into their conscience like hot glowing iron in their soft brains; those who knew I wasn't the killer and did nothing but laugh, and those who labeled me the killer because they needed someone to blame.

So, anyway, that last day started like this: looking back that final time into my tiny claustrophobic cell, my home during the darkest period of my life. Rotting on my coffin-size bunk, fading away, both dreading and praying for the death I knew would come. At first I was relieved to be parting from that cage, with its ugly, green block walls that cause the human psyche to hate anything green. Unmovable green walls that were amazingly clean because I would scrub them vigorously with all my wrathful energy, my way of showing those walls who was superior. And the scent of the soapy water would mix with, but never overpower, the whiffs of grilled steaks and potatoes smothered in butter and sour cream, which would drift to my cell from the guards' hole down the stretch. People food I knew I'd never taste again. It was pitiful really, for I would actually salivate like some alley dog with rabies.

But the worst…. The worst was the light. Nagging on my mental. A blinding, fluorescent light that loomed above me all those creeping hours and days. It never quits, refuses to stop. A cruel, nasty brightness that'll sear into your retinas. It generates sticky heat, and a neverending hum that sucks away any fight or hope. The light would bounce a maddening glare off the stainless steel toilet, grinning at me in its mocking way. I'm not sure how I wasn't driven completely batty, enough so that I banged my head against the green walls until the light was no more. But I held onto my sanity, right?

So, yes, I was glad to be leaving that hell.

At first.

But then, after all that longing and praying to move on, as four guards drug me out in shackles, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a sickening desire to stay. For just one more day, ya know, a bit longer to stall what awaited me. I probably would've knelt down and hugged the toilet with its grinning glare. Wallowed on my hard, crippling bed. That cheery light I would've bathed in, soaked up its soothing rays. It all seemed so cozy and peaceful as I glanced over my shoulder, digesting it for the last time.

They dragged me away, toward my own murder that I knew I didn't deserve. This has to be one of the most frightening pieces of knowledge to dwell in a human mind. You know you're about to be killed for a crime you didn't commit. You're about to die, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

Somehow, I dug up the strength and guts to walk forward on my own, stumbling with short steps, in my leg irons. The guards - oh how they despised me - led me down the long corridor. Walls still ugly green, the graying linoleum floor shining, all nice and clean. I remember entertaining the disheartening wish that I was strolling along one of the million other corridors in the world (going to see a movie or headed for my comfortable office with its plush carpet) and thinking of how years before I'd have never been able to fathom walking this one.
As I passed their cells, I could feel the other prisoners' eyes on me, sense their dread of knowing they'd to take the walk one day. Some must deserve to be here, I was thinking, and perhaps some are innocent like me. Gloomy voices attempted at encouraging words, and out the corners of my eyes I saw some guys gripping the bars. I couldn't meet their stares, couldn't comprehend the living.

I was painfully aware of my unchangeable fate as I approached the chamber. I could not turn around and go back to my cell, no matter how bad I wanted to. My legs were weak and shaky, my chains jangling somewhere off in the distance. The cologne scent one of the guards had splashed on pushed a scary thought into my head: will I really smell my own hair and flesh burning just before I take my last breath?

My mind starts zooming. All these never-agains. I'll never hold my child again. Never feel the gentle laps of the ocean's baby waves against my ankles again. Never know the pleasures of making love to a woman again. Never laugh with you again. So many never-agains.

I'm wondering where I'd be at this very second if I'd never been accused of that heinous deed seven years before, in that other lifetime far, far away. That evil both you and I know I wasn't, I'm not, capable of. And refresh them of all the evidence on my side, the truths that weren't heard due to technical bullshit. That I even had an alibi for that night, a lowly chick with a shady past who wasn't taken seriously. How the pigs chiseled guilt into my brain until I unwillingly accepted the fault.

The big steel door which opens to the chamber draws near, so slow yet so fast. Two guards squeeze my arms, letting me know the only way to go is forward. Step step step, my fear thickens, outweighing my desire to flee from here. I'm lost as to how my end came to this. I'd always lived a normal, content existence, full of hopes, dreams. Then BAM! one day I'm staring up at that soul-draining light in a miserable cell, a hated outcast from that wonderful before world.

The steel door slides open with a groan, taunting me, rattling my nerves. In the threshold my head swivels on its neck. I'm struck with a flash of that serene corridor. It's magnificent with it pretty green walls, and the gleaming floor in all oft linoleum gorgeousness. Inside my head I scream frantically, I cry, dying to dash back in that direction. If given a chance I'd run up and down, jump with happiness throughout the corridor, then I'd spin around and around in my cell, where life still is.

But the guards, fierce animal keepers, eager to silence another crazed beast, hustle me onward.
Now, I can't possibly describe how it feels, the overdose of pure terror that floods your entire being, when you round the corner in the chamber and quick as that your eyes meet the chair. It's angry and unforgiving, an oak monster with its many straps like tentacles. There's a metal box on the chair's back side, black wires sprouting out of it every which way. The most intimidating sight of all is the metal cap designed to fit over your head. a thick black cable extends from it to the metal killbox on the back. Your eyes, your scrambled perception, take all this in as you bend the corner. You gasp inwardly, shudder. You want to hurl this certain truth from your vision, don't want to believe what squats before you. But the chair isn't going anywhere; you understand it's not going anywhere.

The chamber is winowless, and I understand I'll never gaze out a window again to see a pair of bickering birds or a star-clustered sky. There is a curtain in the chamber, but I'm aware that what's behind it is a sheet of plexiglas bordering the little room where people wait to watch me be electrocuted.

The guards push me toward the chair. I don't want to give in, to sit down. I start to at first but a vicious panic consumes me, the instinct to live making me rant and struggle in vain. I start to really trip as the realization of what's about to happen stabs into me. The guards tighten their grip, leaving me no doubt this has got to happen. Forcing me to sit in the chair, they cuss me and hold me down, applying the torso strap so I can hardly breathe. They snatch away my shackles and go to strapping the rest of me down. And although I'd heard they wouldn't draw the curtain until the prisoner was fully restrained, head and all so the prisoner was unable to turn his head and look the audience in their eyes, it didn't happen that way, as you know.

The curtain slides back to reveal the dozen or so spectators sitting in rows, on the other side of the plexiglas. I feel like a fool in my blue prison attire. I bore hard into each set of eyes, because I hope the truth manifests after I'm dead and gone, and my stare of innocence is forever embedded in their brains. I lock eyes with the woman with silky red hair like Hell's flames. The sister of the victim. I read her hate, her vengeance, anxiousness, too, as though she's desperate to have a malignant tumor cut out of her body.

And you're there. My heart literally aches when I see you, quietly frantic and helpless, doing all you can to avoid bursting into tears. You're not here to watch me die, but 'cause it's the last time you'll see me alive. I have to rip my eyes from yours.

The guards finish strapping me in. Feet, arms, chest, head, everything so I can't move, or look at the audience. I've never been so frightened. My nerves twist violently. The depths of my mind spew up a steam of forgotten memories: Angela, the first girl I ever kissed; that old bitch dog biting into my face when I reached down to pet her pups; you, me, and the rest of the bunch when the rain caved our tents down on us; that one Christmas when Scott actually scooted down the chimney dressed as a 150-pound Santa, everyone rolling and happy.

And now the end has come - I'm hearing Jim Morrison's rich voice say it's his only friend - sneaking up on me so quick, even after all this time. It has arrived. It's in front of me and I realize that everything that was before, my whole past life, was only a blink of an eye. I've made peace with God, yet still I'm scared and maybe ashamed because I'm unsure of where I'm headed.

For a few seconds I focus on a big brown spider crawling the wall across from me. I'm wishing, wishing more than I've ever wished for anything, that I was that spider. I could scurry through the cracks to daylight and precious freedom. The resentment I feel toward this insignificant critter is sad and too much to bear. I squirm but I'm stuck in place.

One of the guards wedges a rubber bit in my mouth. This is so I don't bite off my tongue when the charge surges through me and I start to convulse. Next, a black cloth mask is folded down over my face. This is to keep the watchers from witnessing the blood stream out of my orifices, and my eyes if they go to popping out of their sockets. Then the metal cap is fitted snugly over the crown of my shaved head. I hear a hand screwing the bolt, the one attached to the killbox cable, down on the cap. Metal twisting against metal. Screwing screwing screwing. It's an eerie scraping sound, like one a disturbed youth would make angrily swirling a fork over the surface of his plate. It echoes against the walls of my skull.. I only see darkness, and sweat starts oozing from my pores. I fight not to tremble but still I do. I clench my fists and my breathing sputters.

I'm waiting. You're waiting.

The following lapse of seconds drags, drags. One of the guards makes a joke about another guard's junky pickup. I'd rather spare you this, but you want to know. Yes it hurts. It burns, horribly when the flip the switch and the current rips through me. An unbelievable pain. I wept, or it could've been blood draining out of my eyes. I shake wildly. I want to yell, I didn't do it! to the world, but the bit's jammed against my tongue and my insides are rocking. It goes on for a while, forty seconds they say, the lights flickering throughout the place.
Then suddenly I'm floating up out of my ruined body, the pain gone, my spirit being drawn away from the prison.

What about now? you ask. Now?

Now I wait in some black abyss in time, not sure of where or what's next. I'm not at peace. Waiting for things to be resolved I guess. And now you can tell my part of the story, let them know how that last day was. And you can assure everyone that the real killer is still out there.

Out there somewhere, roaming the land.


By Matt Russ
# J10120
Hamilton Correctional Institution
Unit G21 31U
Jasper, FL 32052-1360


Ghetto Camouflage

barbiturate acid
plasma alert
clinical mind boggling
black at birth
seen nothin' but the black of the earth
from the black of my eyes
can't disguise the tears
of my black motha's crys
guilty by reason of blacknificence
9inety day letter statutory tax deficiency
captivatin' the masses
with every raise of her black fist
her words play alone
got these neo-capitalists doing back-flips
infrared beams chased by crack dreams
she got the enemy in her focus
in ah land where justice is blind
and white jesus pushin' us white
we still remain hopeless
from painful boat rides
to hotep children perishing
by way of senseless drive-bys
she done seen so many scrambling scared
because her comrades pointin' the finger;
rambling words
about those scrambling birds
you can feel the disgust in her voice
by the choice of verbs
oh motha earth of human nature
what twisted the tide that made the world hate'cha
beat'cha, rape ya, rob ya
and now they wanna checkmate'cha
I don't think so homie
the god can't see that
im just kickin' the fact that
some brothas won't react
when black is under attack
but I got her back son
I was made for the charge
so when the engagement start
I suggest you choose the left yard

By Khyta Bey
# 509018
Southeast Correctional Center
300 E. Pedro Simmons Dr.
Charleston, MO 63834


The Straw Man

Sharecropping was just slavery
But they just changed the name,
Indentured servant or a slave,
It really was the same!

The whole design was to oppress...
The Black man and make funds,
It always has and always will...
Be the way that it's run!

The prison system is the same
And we are bondable,
They have stock in every man
And they're negotiable!

Our signature's security
Because of the Straw Man,
The U.C.C -- that wretched code...
Is their great master plan.

Most men are completely blind
And do not have a clue...
As to how this plan now works
Or how it affects you.

Go and do some research friend,
There's ample evidence!
The Straw Man is not a myth,
Nor a coincidence.

Prisons are to make money
We are just common stock.
These are the new plantations...
Secured by bars and locks.

Men are not free with parole
Because they still get paid...
Whether you're in or whether out,
That's how their money's made!

By Sir A. Miles
# 22562 4533 Industrial Pk. Dr.
Kincheloe, MI. 49786


Jury Duty

Gassy judge guy
Both cops lying
Hard as I try
Justice dying.

By Sheila Macmanus


Da AmeriKKKan Way

They say that amerikkka is the land of opportunity
but its been slave much longer than its been "free."
Brother Malcolm long ago warned me --
that "the Republicans & Democrats are the wolf & the fox"
so we get played at the ballot box.
Forced to choose
between two ravenous beast looking for food
& no matter who wins the hunt -- we lose.
Study the past to illuminate the present; check the record & it will reflect it doesn't matter who u elect
your needs are met with neglect
& a "Negro has no rights a white man is bound to respect."
U claim Clinton is your friend
but his Crime Bill is still doing us in;
cut the govt. aid, unemployment benefits & welfare & we overcrowded the pens.
So what are your goals when u run to the polls?
Politicians are bought & sold
& a prisoner of war making a promise is called parole.
How u survive determines whether u see a democracy thru your eyes
but the bottom line cant be denied:
there's 4x as many Afrikans in chains than apartheid.
He who controls the image, controls the mind
& when crime is in decline
the public is bombarded with images designed
to scare them into demanding that prisoners do more time.
While those who invest in genocide get their pockets lined.
The way we live really makes me want to holler
delusional reality so we pop our collars
while earning 57 cent for their every dollar
A 2 cent raise since '68
insufficient crumbs off his plate so the light bill late.
No jobs, so many nigga's slanging weight.
U will only be accepted on a master/slave basis
but cowardice is often disguised as patience
& this is why you're unwilling to accept the reality of the situation we facing
Go ahead & admit it,
Afrikans were never intended
when the constitution was written.
From Dred Scott
to the police terrorism on the blocks.
tell me where has the inequalities stopped?
Almost a third of all Black children are poverty stricken
not to mention those whose fathers are missing
cause they're locked in the system.
For those who inherit that state
they're 70% more likely to someday inherit that fate;
a future slave of the state.
Things have changed is what they say
but a Black man in chains remains. & always will be -- the Amerikkkan Way!

By Bakari Aluta Olugbala

s/n Demetrics McCauley
Southest Correctional Center



If someone says:
"I don't see color,
I just see you,"
they have looked
right past you

By Cathy Porter


"Tent City"

From day to day
Life changes like the wind

Hell could be no more,
Then what we've experienced upon this shore.

Some days you're up and about,
Others you're down and out.

Heaven forbid
The fool who asks, "why?"

The way you live
is the way you die.

By Rozell Caldwell


U.S. Africans

All day
under the sun
and new Old Testament names,
they bent toward the earth -
as if in Christian prayer -
planting, hoeing, picking
crops not theirs

until the moon was black
enough for flight.

By Reid Bush


Truth is a Virus

Guerrilla plague
Brought from bastard tongues
Blood from a burst blister
Blood on the legs of a sister
We are the fever that heals as it burns
Our rage purifies
Harbingers of chaos and construction

Living virus running through your system
Resurrecting those you hit at but missed em
We are the war coming home
The second coming of Rome
Defected abroad and destroyed from within
Never to terrorize or rise again

Revolutionaries birthed and homegrown
Smeared on cheeks like ash
He smiles at all his grandchildren
He knows the inside of vaccination needles
And sterilization pills
His heart bursting with so much love
And so much fear
Hoping his strong arms
Can build a shelter
Against the coming epidemic

He smiles at his grandchildren, loving them so,
But still must send them where angels fear to go
Grossly unprepared because they haven't been trained
Their schools long ago razed, teachers routed and cadre maimed.

Eyes so wide
You can see the future in em
And deep as a new york sewer drain
This child has my eyes
And they are too old for this polished apple face.

A pug nose
And a wide grin mouth
Eyes searching the landmarks for 95 south
Think you can make it thru
That's easy to do.
Once, twice but how about the rest of your life?

You cannot hope to understand
But 33 years starts to stretch
Farther than forever
as the blood slows
in our collective veins
in stasis
mosquitos in amber
with the lifeblood
of ancestors
suspended inside us

By Sundiata Acoli
# 39794-066
(Squire) USP Allenwood
PO Box 3000 White Deer, PA 17887

and Walidah Imarisha


Dyin' Fo' Tha People
Tha Truth Part Two

To all the sista's and brotha's who died on the Mayflower's.
And to all those who jumped and drowned.
The one's who slaved hour after hour,
From sun up to sun down.
The Nat Turner's and Harriet Tubman's -
Slave revolts and forty-four colts.
Yall the real thuggs who's memory I'll forever hug.

Jonathan Jackson, Tha young brotha snapped into action.
Your story won't go untold - Losin' your life early,
Only seventeen years old.

George Jackson, I too have BLOOD IN MY EYES.
Your death a year later, how Georgia must have cried.
Knowin' the way those San Quentin guards lied.

Malcolm X, may you rest in peace.
You let it be known you wouldn't turn the other cheek.
Damn near start a riot, just by givin' a speech.
As Salamu Alaikum.
Martin Luther King, many knew it was only a matter of time before
they would take him.
You had a dream, and it seems that it came true.
However, there's still work left to do.

How about that strong Black brotha Cinque?
They tried to oppress him and he got mad.
Don't know he set it off on the Amistad?

John Huggins, Fred Hampton, and Bunchy Carter -
Black Panthers, Black Father's
Our very own Black Martyrs.

At this time, let's take a moment of quiet………..
That's to remember tha brotha's in the Attica riots.

I thought it was just a sayin' "that looks can kill."
But now I know it's true, thanks to Emmett Till

Yall gotta be in heaven, because yall had a life of hell.
But I'm goin' to hold it down for sista's like Maria Stewart and Ida B. Wells.

All my people used a set of different means to achieve improvement.
However, it was one fight, one body, one movement.

Not only civil, but human rights,
To be treated equal -
In lovin' memory to all of you -

By Michael Abdul Rashid Dixon
# 94-B-1473
Attica Correctional Facility, Box 149
Attica, NY 14011-0149


"on a move"

we everyday people

angry children of Africa
adopted through Shabazzatics
and traceable genetics found in old attics.

this political climate is heated
trying to choose
the lesser of 2 evils.
this empire's been striking back,
who needs a sequel
of the wars going on?
visions of chocolate cities
being turned into vanilla suburbs.

Urban to Suburban
Liberal vs. Conservative

but who's thinking about US?
the disease/despair/distrust
I'm tired of images being rejected
and political blacks neglecting

Socialist ideas
fearing power in the hands of the people.

we not waiting for your
so-called rehabilitation in these institutions
I'm on a battle field
w/ intellectual & philosophical bullets
and yeah I'm shooting at you;
how can we debate
the hate that produced the hate?

now you want me to charge it to the game.

I'm haunted & hunted
caught/confined &condemned
Historical knowledge has been stunted
our only roots are hanging from limbs.

but I refuse!
to accept His-story
or the movie Glory
just cause slaughters aint revealed in the ghettoes
you think this aint gore!?!

europes might became right
and power law
in amerika overnight.

and when I see brothers heads down
I say you watching dust collect on shoes
if nothing else
you still have the right to choose…

to not be a victim.

the revolutionaries' path is death, but so is boot licking.

so I ask US
can we pierce deadened nerves
and stimulate these racial reflexes
that have yet to come alive?

the 1st steps have been taken,
let's finish brothers & sisters

strive people strive!

By Kenneth Foster, Jr.
# 999232
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351


Fayette County, Tennessee

I can hear the Kodaks clicking,
mechanical crickets
on a summer afternoon, 1915,
the gleaming white shirts confessing cleanliness.

The tortured body hangs,
beaten and torn,
like the remains of a piñata
emptied of its candy and toys.

By early evening the crowd has become
less coherent,
returning to familiar habits,
reassured by the slow illumination of their halos.

The bankers and lawyers converge
to debate removal,
as if the corpse is an unexpected annoyance,
the aftermath of a sudden storm.

On an excursion train back to Memphis
a young girl is startled
by her reflection in the window:
a piece of bloodstained cloth - a souvenir
from her father - has somehow
gotten stuck in her hair.
Across the aisle her brother sleeps,
his blond hand dangling

over the edge of the seat, as if
suspended above an abyss, the gift
of a long, black finger defiantly hooked
into his fist, refusing to let go.

By Andy Macera




Through dirty water she treads,
as a body floats by bloated,
a sight she never thought seeing.

No water, too much water,
No food, no light, no help.

Shots heard.

Waist high in a soup bowl
of mud, gasoline and shit.

The convention center,
a Promised Land too far.

She is home in NOLA,

NOLA left behind.

No bus ride to freedom

No escape;
no pack up the family,
ride this one out
at a hotel, inland,
upstate somewhere.

Where's upstate?

She knows only NOLA.
NOLA only knows her
in her 9th Ward prison.

A slave again, a slave still.

Drowning in, don't look and
you won't see, don't look, no
apologies, giant non-melting pot.

A baseboard pulled away,
reveals a host of termites.

our Rwanda, our Uganda.
Had they oil:
our Iraq, our "Evacuees."


Flip the station;
the Katrina show,
fat we see, in her XL
red T-shirt, soaking sweat.

I ain't your fool, don't pity me,
Ain't no dignity treading
hurricane water. Don't see no
soccer moms flooded wet on TV.

Not going to happen,
they got an SUV.
Sitting warm and cozy
at the Holiday Inn,
channel surfing watching
the looting on FOX
and CNN.
Damn I'm hungry,
where a brick?
ain't no police,
ain't no army,
no Red Cross,
ain't nobody.



Ain't right I know.
Last ate, not 2 days ago.
Drugstore food
is rottin fast.
ain't no one,
ain't no one,
ain't no one,
I ain't gonna last.

By John David West


Hurricane Rain

They're some things people won't talk about.
They're some things words won't explain.
The wind's blowin' out of the delta, ma'ma,
Bringin' the hurricane rain.

The Dutch know how to build dikes.
Everything in America is constructed
By the lowest and/or best bidder.
When the levee breaks, got no place to go.

FEMA didn't get the big picture.
For days they didn't get any picture at all,
Except for the ones on TV.
When the levee breaks, got no place to go.

Pieces of the roof came off the Super Dome.
The hurricane had a name like a Russian figure skater,
But there was no ice; people didn't even have water.
When the levee breaks, got no place to go.

People who drown in a river,
After a few days,
Their bodies swell up, and float away.
When the levee breaks, got no place to go.

Other people
Drown in their attics
In the richest country in the world.
When the levee breaks, got no place to go.

There's always color in this country.
It's the color of poor.
It's the color of racism.
When the levee breaks, got no place to go.

They're some things people won't talk about.
They're some things words won't contain.
The wind's blowin' out of the bayou, ma'ma,
Bringin' the hurricane rain.

By Joseph Lampert


Poem of Loss

name it Katrina
high flow singing levee song
dirge and jazz
like that jazz house jazz
carried over the curb couch
fetid with dead family albums African
drum torn swollen
in the arena peeled open
like a bad eye
by a wind

poem of loss down
in the ninth ward Diaspora
of old life cold life block
of slaves singing like Dante's horn
breathe sick breath
painted X on home
and number of the dead
numbers of the dead
number number number

I found my mother under the couch
after they told me she was not there
it took four months to identify her by her teeth
here is a picture she
lifted me when I was four
I apologize for the crack of grief
in my speech she lifted me

this is where the stairway went
into the sky now
five gallon bucket to shit in
this is where the family of gorgeous midnight
tried to get out of an attic
after the wind stopped
and as the waters rose
and the sun cooked the shingles

poem of loss

By Bob Vance



Had a run-in with Emma last week at the band office, Louie says. You know Emma. Two hundred and fifty pounds, beat up her husband in the pool hall last month. She wanted us to hold out for a better price from the printers, and when I got off the phone after I'd closed the deal, she said, You're always trying to do a favor for the white man, aren't you? You fair-skinned people are all the same, you want to be like white men. I'd had enough. I said, Listen to me, I've lived every day of my life, 47 years, on the Res. When I was in school I was too light to be an Indian and too dark to be a white kid. My skin hasn't exempted me from anything. It hasn't exempted me from growing up in one room with eleven brothers and sisters. It hasn't exempted me from seeing my father passed out every other evening. It hasn't exempted me from sitting in the car for six hours on a freezing night waiting for my parents to come out of the hotel. It hasn't exempted me from seeing my uncles and aunts beating the piss out of one another. It hasn't exempted me from any of the shit of being an Indian in this country. Then I went in my office and shut the door. Well, ten minutes later there's a knock on the door, and she comes in, tears streaming down her face. I guess I owe you an apology, she says.

By David Pratt



under dark leather skin
eyes of almonds perch
old gray hair, line lips

ancestry of fallen forefathers,
so pompous and proud

my breasts hide the pain
as our own
lay in some
unmarked grave

they smile at the
tin cup now held to beg
for their own hands
have stolen
the clean clear grass
we once sat on

By Rachel Davis


wide open

we open our mouths
that stitched
for so long
has broken us

and like tidal
our mouths
scream at

the injustices
and we load
our mouths
like guns
and that scares you

the secret of
your torment unleashed
you thought
you trapped us

but we have words
and nothing
you can do
will stop us
from Speaking.

By Rachel Davis


What Will They Be Saying and Doing

To the people living on the small islands scattered across the more and more flooding globe
As the sea levels slowly continue to rise
Drowning their ancient villages and capital cities, wiping away their important tourist beaches and their productive agricultural lands
What will they be Saying and Doing
As they arrogantly proceed to poison the fragile protective Biosphere with their deadly soup of greenhouse gasses
Catastrophically undermining and inverting its original functioning and design
All the while claiming that it would damage their sacred northern standards of living and their wealthy fat economies
What will they be Saying and Doing
To the already very poor people living in Africa as droughts increase and deepen and drive them on the long march northwards towards a better life in North America and in Europe
What will they be Saying and Doing
As increasing warmth and diverging rain patterns worldwide cause food production to collapse and new diseases and new types of diseases to spread to places where they were unknown before
Creating growing conflicts about the remaining available productive lands and expensive food crops
Forcing more and more people to vote with their feet in order to save themselves and their families
What will they be Saying and Doing
As those who had little or nothing to do with this deepening Biosphere Crime of the Centuries infecting and contributing to other crimes start demanding much more aid or else
What will they be Saying and Doing
Will they really be standing by enthusiastic to hand out not a few thousand resident visas and green
Cards as New Zealand and Australia are already doing to endangered Islanders on disappearing Pacific Ocean Islands surrounding them
But millions and millions of green cards and resident visas to these already highly impoverished environmental victims and refugees of the North's genocidal Biosphere, ecological, cultural and geographical crimes
As masses of people are forced to leave the beloved places where they have lived for centuries
What will they be Saying and Doing
As nativism, racism and xenophobia continues to spread like wildfire in the North with just a few immigrants among them
Or will they be saying that these already highly excluded and marginalized victims of the widely celebrated and often imitated northern lifestyles should have built dikes and dams like they did
As they arrogantly sail around and around these drowning Islands in their threatening warships flying their flags
Because they could have and should have known that the increasing droughts, the endless rains, the never before seen hurricanes and monsoons and the rising sea waters were coming their way?????

By Gregory Gilbert Gumbs


Tin Cans

In Memory of Ray Charles

I was 15 or 16
when you were helped
from the stage in
Indianapolis, mumbling
incoherently and later
arrested for "narcotics possession",
partying at the Claypool Hotel.
On that night I was only a 100 miles away
in Vincennes,
playing "What'd I Say" at full volume
on my 45 RPM,
using 2 large empty potato chip cans
as conga drums.
Dazed, and a little messed up
from some Thunderbird wine I had
smuggled up to my room.
And more than a little bummed-out.
over having missed seeing you.
Half way through the song, my grandfather
flung the door open,
yelling at me to turn that nigger shit down.
The next day after I heard about your bust,
I came home from school
got out my cans and played you again,
at full volume, finishing off the wine.
No one was home and I played that song
at least 15 times.
That afternoon changed me forever, man.
But the wine, with just a little food on my stomach,
made me sleepy and I took a long nap.
I had a dream I'd made it to your concert,
that you played your full set fully conscious,
with 3 encores, and you were not arrested afterwards --
perish the thought.
And the next morning you were given the key to the city
and a lavish gala dinner
put on by the Indiana chapter of the KKK,
bowing and scraping at your feet.

By Doug Draime


The Work of the Hands

Fernando got up at dawn and pissed into the weeds around his shack. He'd heard coyotes kill something a few hours before sunrise; he'd listened, still and silent in his blanket, to their concentric circles closing and the yelping they used to communicate this tightening. Then he heard the panic of the animal as they killed it. They were in an ecstatic frenzy, the center of which had been the animal's convulsing, loud death. Fernando, in the thin daylight, rubbed his arms for warmth. He ran his fingers through his hair and over his teeth. He put his boots on and walked around the curved weed field which was wet and golden in the new sun and to the store, which had already opened. He saw the men across the street, leaning on a wooden fence in front of a house, waiting for work.

"Good morning to you, friend," a short man in a blue hat said to him. The man had a worn and serious face. Fernando didn't know him.

"Good morning." Fernando searched his pockets for change.

"My name is Juan," the man said. As he spoke he looked across the street at the waiting men.

Fernando went into the store and poured into a cup half milk and half coffee with six packets of sugar. He could hear the woman behind the counter yelling at a man in English. Fernando turned and watched. He could tell the man had been drinking all night, his eyes were blurred and muted and he held the counter with both of his hands. He smiled in his unruly, red beard. The woman behind the counter pointed at the door and yelled English, and finally the man left. Fernando took his cup of coffee to the counter.

"Every day you try to drink all of our milk," the woman said to him. There was a mist of perspiration on her upper lip and her eyes were big and hot.

"Thank you, Celia," Fernando said to her.

"Goodbye," she said.

He walked outside and past the man in the blue hat named Juan and across the street, to where the men waited. They spoke to each other and they spoke to him in greeting and he stood for awhile with his friend Mano. "We will work today," Mano said.


"We didn't yesterday and the day before."

"You did," Fernando said.

"My luck. But we both will today because we've waited and we'll be the first."

Mano put his empty coffee cup into the trashcan that had been left out by the white people who lived in the house the men waited by. The white people were construction workers and left every morning very early and came home in the heat of the afternoon with boxes of beer and food. They never took any of the men who waited for work with them. Fernando saw them walking by sometimes, in the dusk, dirty and red from work, calling at the men la migra, la migra. The gringos meant it as a joke, Mano said, and all the men would smile.
Mano pointed his chin at the man in the blue hat named Juan who still waited across the street near the store, drinking coffee.

"He's a drug addict," Mano said. "And he drinks. And he's a dirty criminal."

Fernando stared over at Juan.

"He knows not to come over here," Mano said.

When the sun was full in the blue-white sky the garage at the white people's house opened and a thick, middle-aged man came out. He wheeled a lawnmower in front of him. It was painted bright red and had black plastic fittings. Mano looked away and smiled and Fernando realized that the man's yard was enormous but consisted only of pale, powdered dust. The man ripped at the starter cord a few times, bending his back then jerking upright. He stopped and breathed into the heating day then lit a cigarette. He yelled to the men who waited by the fence.

"Work," he yelled. "Want work?"

The men stood still, except for Mano, who touched Fernando on the shoulder.

"Let's go," he said.

They walked together down the asphalt driveway to the white people's house. The man waited next to the lawnmower, blowing cigarette smoke up into the still air. He spoke to them in English, motioning as if he were starting the lawnmower. Mano was faster than Fernando and circled around the mower to the starting cord. He pulled it, each time hard, but the mower wouldn't start. Fernando leaned over the mower to show his interest, and tried to imagine something he could do to help. He heard a large truck pull up to where the other men were, and heard them climbing into it, but he didn't look back. He could see the truth of what he heard reflected in Mano's eyes as he looked out from under his worn, gray hat and over Fernando's bent shoulder at the leaving men. They were going to a construction site or to a house that was being remodeled. The man standing next to them said something in English. Mano kept pulling the ripcord, and large drops of sweat began to fall upon the red and black top of the lawnmower.

Fernando watched for a while then noticed a choke button on the side of the lawnmower. He reached past Mano's hand and pressed it and the lawnmower struggled to life. Mano let the cord go and stood straight, taking his hat off, straightening his hair, smiling at the white man. The man handed Mano a bill and nodded also to Fernando and both men walked away from the loud, smoky roar of the lawnmower, back to the fence. Fernando picked up an empty coffee cup that was sitting upturned and brilliantly white under the sun, left by the other workers, and put it in the trash. The man shut off the lawnmower and yelled in English to them. Mano listened, his head turned, the muscles in his neck illuminated by the angle.

"What?" Fernando asked.

"He says I'm supposed to keep the money. Because I did the work and you only pushed the button."

Fernando turned his back to Mano and looked up the empty street, then back the other way where the eucalyptus trees exploded out of the brown flanks of the scrub desert hills and swallowed the curve of the road.

"I'm joking," Mano said. He held up a ten dollar bill. "We'll divide it."

"What did he say, then?" Fernando asked.

"I don't think I understood what he said."

They waited, and finally noon came, and what wind there had been in the voluminous curls of the eucalyptus trees stopped, and the sun grew heavier, and workers climbed out of their trucks and crowded into the store.

"Will you use your money for food?" Mano asked.

"No," Fernando said. I don't want to go over to the store, he thought. I know that one man among the ones taken earlier has a misshapen ankle, and probably won't be able to work the whole day. The truck will come back for more men.

They waited and the store finally grew still after its lunch rush. Mano tore up a handful of grass and raised it to his mouth as if to eat it. Then he smiled.

"Go eat if you're hungry," Fernando said. "And bring me back my five dollars."

Mano stayed. Later, a drunk named Gato walked his laborious way by and stopped to tell them a story about a gringo who bought him bottles of tequila every night. He took his hat off and bunched his hair in one of his ancient, rawboned hands when he told Fernando and Mano that he thought the gringo was a murderer. When Gato moved on across the road to the store and the white construction workers passed them in their truck pulling into their driveway both of the men knew they were done for the day, but they waited until dusk came cool and quietly among the hills to leave so they could feel that they tried as hard as they could.

When they parted ways Fernando went to the store with the money and found a twelve pack of beer. When he got to the front of the line he picked up the lotion bottle that Celia kept next to the cash register and smelled it. It caused an unbearable welling in his chest and he tried to place the scent. There was a picture on the front of the bottle of a bird carrying some stylized kind of berry over snowcapped mountains. And still he couldn't place the scent.

"$8.66," she said. She took his ten dollar bill. "Why do you always smell my lotion." It wasn't a question but a reprimand.

He took the beer in his arms and left the store.

"See you," Mano yelled from down the street.

"I will wait," Fernando yelled back.

"Don't." Mano strode down the road, taking his hat off and looking into the setting sun then putting it back on.
Fernando walked back around the curve of the fading golden weed field, watching it fill with shade, feeling the beer bleed cold into his ribs.

At his shack he walked past the broken-down, tire-less truck that sat on wooden blocks, blocking his shack from sight of the back road. As he passed, a dog walked out from under the truck. It was a red dog, swollen and old, sprayed about its head with gray fur. He reached to touch it but it drew away from him, back under the truck. He sat against the edge of his shack on a disembodied engine. He took a can of beer out of the twelve pack. Before he opened it the dog came to him and licked the can. It licked it, making thumping noises with its big pink tongue against its black nose, until the can was warm.

"I will wait," Fernando said, and the dog looked at him. He put the can back into the box.

Fernando filled his bowl with water from the spigot next to the shack. He set the water next to the wooden block that replaced the back tire of the truck, and the dog lapped at it until it was gone, and kept frantically lapping even when there was no water. Fernando got more water for the dog then washed his face in the warm pipe water and wet his hair and rolled up his sleeves. The dog lay down in the black shadows under the truck and Fernando waited, watching it.

An hour later when his hair had dried and the dog had gone to sleep Fernando saw Mano coming towards his shack. He was carrying a plastic bag. The dog rose out of the black shadows and walked close to Fernando.

"Shit," Mano said when he saw the dog.

"It's my new dog," Fernando said.

"What's her name?" Mano came closer, watching the dog, handing the warm plastic bag to Fernando.

"Mano," Fernando said.

Mano smiled and cursed him and got them each a can of beer. Fernando looked into the bag of food. The dog came to attention in front of him, its eyes fat and hot with the wanting. Fernando held out a tortilla and it took it gently in one bite.

"Don't feed it," Mano said.

"It's my new dog."

"Will it eat instead of you?"

"We'll share, Manolita," Fernando said to the dog. Mano laughed and they both watched the dog eat two more tortillas. "How is your beloved?"

"She wonders why you just don't come over, if she's going to feed you."

"I will."

Fernando drank another beer. It was warm and matched the temperature of his empty stomach so it that was like a stomachful of blood and it calmed him.

"Mano is taking all of your food from you," Mano told him. Fernando looked down and saw the dog with her head gingerly above the warm bag of food, chewing furiously, trying to watch him at the same time.
"I'll sell this engine and buy some more," Fernando said, tapping his beer can against the engine he sat on.

"No one would buy that engine, crazy. Look at it. It's old and fused."

"Somebody will buy it," Fernando said, feeling the warm stillness of the metal underneath him, unable to comprehend its nothingness, knowing that someone somewhere must want it.

"You say that and you say that. If it was worth anything someone would've stolen it a long time ago." Mano took the rest of his six beers from the box and set them in front of him like a rank of soldiers. He began to tell Fernando about a woman he'd met at his fiance's house who let him grope her in a dark corner of a backyard party. Long hair, he said, black cherry, with fat hips and little eyes. Fernando stopped listening after awhile and watched the dog as she walked away from the empty bag and lay down. She gagged furiously for a second, relaxed, her eyes narrowed and she stared out into the weed field next to them. Fernando thought of her insides and stared at the shine of her nose and the alertness in her eyes. He could see her breathing slowly, and behind that, he imagined her heartbeat. He remembered an old man he'd met when he was a boy. The man had told him that once, when he was younger and his family was very poor, they'd run out of food completely. He was forced to lure the family dog away and tell the children it was lost then find it again, out in the scrub of a bare brown hill where it was trying to eat a sticker plant carefully with bloody lips, and kill it. It wasn't much more than bones, he'd said. There was very little meat and when I found its heart it was overcome with long, white worms. I sat there with blood pouring onto my forearms as the worms struggled. It seemed the heart was almost gone; it seemed the worms had kept the shreds of it pumping so they could live in the dark, thin blood of the dog's heart forever. I threw its heart away and stomped it. Still the worms struggled in the dust. Did you eat it? Fernando the boy had asked, because he hadn't known many of the things about hunger that the old man did.

The dog, under the truck, fell asleep as he watched.

Mano took the rest of his beer and stuffed it into his pockets. He got to his feet and said that he was going to return to the house that he lived in.

"Will I see you tomorrow?" Fernando asked.

"I don't know -- I have to go --"

"To the girl with the little eyes in the backyard? The cherry hair."

Mano smiled and shook his head.

"To your girlfriend's house," Fernando said.

Mano looked down at the dog then out over the dark, empty weed field.

"Be careful of coyotes," he said.

Fernando nodded.

Mano left, and Fernando picked up a tire iron and lay down in his shack with the door open.

He was awakened by coyotes once. He came out of the struggle of a dream about working -- as he had as a young man, in the jungle -- to the sound of the coyotes closing their hunting formations, low to the ground, around some whooping animal. He was up quickly, with the tire iron in his hand, but the coyotes weren't close. Their crying was amplified by the softness of the surrounding hills. He looked to the dog; she was calm, staring off in the direction of the sound. She doesn't even know about coyotes, Fernando thought, watching her breathe slowly and flex her big paws in the dirt. With the complete blank cold of the weed field filling with the screams of animal killing. She doesn't even know about coyotes.

The next morning Fernando woke up with dawn. He found the dog resting by the open door of the shack, and when he went to touch her, she shrank away back under the truck, where the thin light held her fat red body and blue eyes. He beckoned her to come with him but she wouldn't follow so he walked by himself around the arching of the lightening weed field. He stared into it to see if he could see where the coyotes had killed their animal, but he knew he would see nothing, because he had looked before on the mornings after he had heard animals die and had never found anything. The coyotes could move within the grass without marking their passage, it seemed, even when killing.

He found the store closed. Only two men waited by the fence. They told him it was an independence day, and no one would need men to work. Fernando stared down the road that glistened with morning, down into its quiet emptiness. One of the men handed him three tortillas to eat for breakfast. Fernando began to refuse but was too hungry so he offered to pay the man. The man shook his head when Fernando reached into his pocket, so Fernando ate the tortillas as he walked back past the quiet houses and around the arch of the weed field.
He found the dog still asleep, under the truck, in the reaching light. He sat down on the broken engine next to his shack. The story about the worm-infested dog heart came to him. He watched her under the truck, caught in the straits of a dream, flexing her paws and lapping her tongue. I should've saved a tortilla for her, he thought. He imagined finding this dog on a parched hill, eating a sticker bush, breathing under the weight of death.
Then he saw from around the truck, still far away, a man coming. Fernando waited and watched -- then he could see -- it was the man named Juan. He was walking next to a tall girl who had long black hair and a short dress on, printed with big green and blue flowers over the brown shine of her legs.

"Hello," Juan shouted to him. The dog woke up and looked at Fernando. He stood up and watched Juan coming towards him. He wondered what he wanted, and who the black-haired girl was. They got closer to him and he walked out to meet them.

"Hello," Fernando said to Juan.

"She's looking for her dog. Mano said you had one," Juan said.


The girl called a name loud and both Fernando and Juan looked back to where the dog was to see its head raise, and its body lift. It ran to the girl in lumbering strides and leapt up onto her chest. She began to cry, holding her hands to her face as if she were afraid it would split into pieces.

"Mano told you?" Fernando asked.

"I said he did." Juan took the dog by the collar and pulled it down from the girl's chest. Then he said something to her in English, and she looked to Fernando, staring, and after a second took a step back and opened her purse. She handed Juan a wad of money. He let the dog's collar go and the girl took it, and leaning half over, led the dog away. The two men watched her walk her way around the weed field.

"Here," Juan said. He gave Fernando twenty dollars. Fernando saw forty more in his hand. "She was grateful."

"You told her you wouldn't give it back?" Fernando asked.

"No. I told her you wouldn't."

Fernando rubbed the twenty-dollar bill against his leg inside his pocket, even through his sudden rage seeing the things he could buy. Whole loaves of bread. Sacks of tortillas. Steaks and cheese. Beans and fresh tomatoes and whole boxes of beer.

"Get away from me, you dirty motherfucker," Fernando said. He knew, suddenly, a rage he hadn't known since he was young; an incandescent consumption of self; a killing anger, destroying the worn and old feeling in his joints and lungs.

"You should be happy her boyfriend didn't come. She said he was looking too. You wouldn't have gotten twenty dollars from him." Juan stepped close; he smelled of fresh sweat breaking through an old body odor. "You're lucky I don't find her boyfriend and tell him you asked a sweet girl, a girl looking for her dog, for money. Or tell him how you wanted to pin that bitch in your mojado's shed and fuck her. You don't know a word of Ingles. I could hand you your obituary and you'd stand there like the mute faggot you are."

Fernando stared at Juan and finally the man walked away, back in the direction he had come with the girl. He watched his blue hat drift in the settling daytime sun. He watched his squat prison fighter's body. He watched him go around the weed field, and Fernando couldn't form any one thought that could express or define what had happened. He went back and sat down on the ruined engine.

Fernando spent much of the day wondering what he'd do with the twenty dollars he'd found. He'd never made twenty dollars in a day. He thought about the different foods he could buy, the tacos, the meats, the sandwiches, the broccoli, the apples, the beer. There was the smell of barbecuing meat in the air; his thoughts of food spread out long roots of need in him. He thought about Juan too, about catching him up in his arms outside the store near dawn and scalding him with his own coffee. The powerlessness, he thought. The girl looking at him and the dog running to her. But he knew he was older than Juan. Juan might be able to kill him. And if the police came, they'd be sent back to Mexico. He would kill Fernando for that.

As he felt the reality of Mexico -- so much more alive than this place, and starving, barefooted -- he clenched his teeth and gripped his hands. I don't allow myself these things, he thought, these dreams, these lying images. Things come regardless of whether your heart is soft or hard.

It was then that Fernando heard the truck tear around the road, past the weed field, and close to his shack. He stood up to see over the broken-down truck. Two white men were getting out of a parked truck, striding through the dust the braking of the truck had raised. One was pulling his shirt off so his undershirt was hot white in the quiet afternoon sun; the other was taller, he was raising his head to see over the broken-down truck. Fernando saw then, through the wet-looking light on the windshield of the white men's truck, the tall girl in the back seat. She held the dog in her lap, and they both stared at him, impassive. He could see the girl's hair moving in the air conditioning. Then Fernando met eyes with the tall white man, who said something to the other. Fernando could tell by the men's arms and hands and heads what they wanted so when their pace quickened he broke into a sprint straight into the rolling shine of the afternoon field of weeds. They chased him. He could hear them panting, speaking shards of English to each other, spreading out to his sides so he couldn't make a sudden turn for the road. He breathed hard and stared into the black eucalyptus trees ahead of him, imagining the road beyond them, the hills beyond that, the mansions atop the hills. He came down hard on uneven ground then lurched his way, finally, into the shade of the eucalyptus grove. And he watched the white men getting closer, silent in their dead sprint, narrowing to the point where they'd seen him enter the grove. He tried to climb a tree, but couldn't with his broken ankle, so he put his back up against the same tree and dried his palms on the thighs of his jeans and rubbed his face with them and watched the white men come.

And as he did he thought about the pattern the dog's dreaming convulsions left in the dust under the truck, the patterns that he had been watching the shadows spread across as the day passed, as he wondered how to spend his money. The etching, in transient dust, of a dog's dreams. Standing on one leg, he raised his hands to fight the white men.

By Michael Buckley



She sits alone
in her small hotel room
overlooking a back alley
Six months pregnant
One wash cloth
One Towel
One yellow stained wash basin
Her hope bled dry
An immigrant without
a visa or status
An illegal caught
in a legal trap

She gets up
Heads for the door
Ignores the night managers
ugly whisper

Suspended in silence
Floating face down
in the bowels of the American Dream

By A.D. Winans



For Amadou Diallo

How can
We be
So blind
As to
Not see
That they
Are as
aS we?

By Rozell Caldwell



The Ambassador's Luncheon

Thomas Mencken, a bald man with bright eyes and cheeks that hung like sausages, was the American Consul-General in Haiti in 1973. A career diplomat, he was proud of his post, and liked to feel he did his utmost to protect the interests of his United States. He lived at the consulate, a series of grand buildings built under the first Roosevelt, and commanded his staff from a spectacular room in the largest of these. His office had twenty-foot ceilings, panels made of the island's peculiarly dark palm wood, and three walls of bookcases, filled by Thomas over his five years on the island. The rest of his office was occupied by an impressive window, a single pane which overlooked the island's beach and the bay upon which its capitol was founded. It was through this window that Thomas was looking when his desk intercom buzzed on March 7th, 1973.

"Ambassador?" asked his secretary's voice.

Thomas moved to his desk, annoyed at the interruption, and pressed the white button. "Yes?"

"There's a package here from Washington. May I bring it in?"

"You know I don't like business before nine. Can't it wait for the noon mail?" Thomas asked.

"It says it's urgent, sir."

"All right, come on."

The door of his office opened, and through that massive frame stepped the slight figure of his secretary, Nicole Andrews. In her hand she had the package, a heavy manila envelope marked with the usual Washington rigmarole, which she placed it in front of him without a word and walked out. Thomas sliced open the package and spilled it onto his desk, a grand mahogany whose sparse contents did not seem to merit its size. Seeing the length of the document, assuredly ninety percent bureaucratic nonsense, he contented himself with a perusal of the front page's summary.

When finished, he checked the name of the sender. It had come from the top of the State Department. He pressed the white button and asked Nicole to get him on the phone with Harold Massey, the civil service equivalent to the Secretary of State. Thomas expressed his doubts about the project laid out in the package, but Massey was adamant.

"Harold," Thomas argued, "you know the Haitians won't take this. It is an unprecedented expansion of our role in their economy, and they won't accept it. Besides, their ministers of finance and foreign relations are friends of mine. I can't ask them to help with this."

"Listen. It doesn't matter what the Haitians think; it doesn't matter what their politicians say. You are a diplomat, and your duty is to the United States and her interests, not to Haiti." With that, the conversation was over, and Massey hung up the phone.

The ambassador had trouble enjoying his lunch. The consulate's chef was a genius -- Thomas had never regretted the seven months spent stealing him from Beirut -- but the conversation with Massey had unsettled him. He picked at his paté, the chef's specialty, as he considered the meeting Nicole had scheduled with Vincent Fignolé, the Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Not only was he wary about forcing such mindboggling development upon the Haitians, he was not even sure how he would go about it. He had known Fignolé since his first days there, and had always been fond of the gaunt islander. Fignolé was a regular at the city's casino, and had taken him often when they first met. Thomas didn't know how he could have gotten established without the contacts he'd made by losing poker hands to Fignolé's associates. Friends are hard to come by in diplomatic work, and Thomas did not like the thought of forcing one to betray his principles. Fondness aside, he knew Fignolé to be pigheaded, always ready to dig in and battle over anything that he felt might be against the interests of his country. Convincing the man was out of the question, but perhaps he could fool him? Thomas did not like the idea, but it was all he had by the time he finished his cheese paté and set off for the Ministry.

The consulate's car, a Mercedes, of course, ran beautifully, and always relaxed Thomas no matter what the destination. He was calm enough to breathe easily as he stepped out of the mammoth automobile and strode up the marble steps of the Ministry's building, unable to feel like he wasn't trying to betray the country that had adopted and always been good to him.

Fignolé's face was red before the meeting was six minutes old. "I just don't like it," he said quietly upon hearing the American's proposal. "This is a beautiful country. This is my country! I can't sit by and help your government to what amounts to strip mining our forests. I don't understand why you would even suggest such a thing."

Thomas repeated his pitch calmly, though his brain's alarms started wailing as soon as he saw that Vincent had not bought a word of it. "Please, understand the benefits that this series of operations, which in no way approximates 'strip mining,' will have for your country. Only Haitians will be employed, in management as well as labor, which will put money into your developing economy. Ancillary business will have to be opened to support the American presence here: a hotel, gas stations, warehousing facilities, all of which will be owned and operated by Haitians. These are only the short-term benefits. In the next ten or fifteen years --"

"Please, stop. You're repeating yourself, and I still can't see anything more than a shameless attempt by the American government to expand its economy into our Caribbean. The Monroe Doctrine is dead, and you no longer have full sway here. You're my friend, and I want to help you whenever I can, but never at the expense of my country."

Thomas sighed. "Say no more."

"Is there anything else?"

"No," Thomas said, and left.

The car ride back to the consulate was dour. Thomas did not know how to explain his failure to his boss, and feared for his job for the first time since he took his post. Of course, he had told Massey that it wouldn't work, but the State Department prides itself on executing the impossible, and Massey was of a particularly unsympathetic breed. Thomas didn't really think he would get fired, but if they ever needed to make a case against him it would start here. Was it really too late to get Fignolé's support? Well, the first rule of diplomacy was that if you can't convince someone with reason, try to convince them with their vice. Haitian politics paid badly, and Fignolé did not make enough to be as unlucky at blackjack as he had been that year. He had kept his losses private, but had not hesitated to confide in his friend at the American embassy. Thomas asked the driver to pull over.
He entered a small café, which was nearly full, and reminded Thomas of the fragrances and energy never found in government buildings. Beer, sweat and the bizarre smell of a local fish sauce mixed in his nostrils as Thomas asked the operator to connect him to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fignolé was on the line in a few moments.

"Yes, Thomas, what would you like to talk about? This isn't more of that lumber nonsense, is it? Because I'm completely decided."

Thomas paused; he had never done this kind of thing before. "I know that's what you said, but would it make any difference if I could promise all of the accounts staff on the project would Haitian?"

"What do you mean?"

"America and Haiti have such a strong relationship -- our company would surely trust the competency of your workers. In fact, your brother's company would be ideal for the job."

Vincent chuckled. "Why not? But who would monitor the accountants?"

"Perhaps we could let Jacques -- I mean, the Minister of Finance -- oversee the bookkeeping, as he is so much more familiar with the economy of this country than any American accountants. But it's not that important anyway. This is a multi-million dollar project; a few hundred thousand lost here or there would hardly make a difference."

"Indeed. I'm glad that you and I are going to be able to work together on this project. I think you're a very good man, Ambassador."

Thomas was back in the Mercedes a few minutes later, happy to have sealed the deal. He did feel a bit queasy, but decided it was probably the paté. For the specialty of the chef, it certainly was inconsistent. Well, he thought, we'll see how he does with the salmon tonight.

By William Akers


The Curse of Cortes

I watch them on the plane
moving down
the aisle,
swaggering and
sullen, as if they're going
to conquer a nation.
Though I figured
they were just like me,
flying out of the country,
getting out of Dodge,
for a week or so,
to the Puerto Vallarta beaches for some R&R,
sun and sea, tequila and
sex. But I see
them on the beaches,
still swaggering and
sullen, and I can't get the
image out of my head,
that if they had
weapons they would be slaughtering
the Mexicans (without a prayer)
just because
they are Mexicans, like
that old butcher Cortes did

By Doug Draime


Bay of Pigs

You could mistake him for an eagle,
the way he soars, the casual grace
as he hangs on the air, and circles,

forty-three years too late
to spy the men who charged ashore
dreaming of death and fornication
and staggered into swamps,
firelights, ambushes, prison cells.

He glides disconsolately down,
brakes, touches ground, folds wings,
stretches a scrawny neck,
shrugs iris black shoulders,
and shakes the ugly small red head.

How cruel, close-up,
is the curved white-pointed beak
that goes for the liver
when it has finished with the eyes,

One solitary vulture.

across the Straits of Florida
a million vultures wait.

By David Pratt



Abu Ghraib

No remorse
in the voices
of the prosecuted
young American
military guards.
No batting
of their eyes.
Just following orders.
Another day
on the job
torturing prisoners.
Where have we
heard that before?
At least the Nazis
had the nerve to be indignant
about being tried.
These desensitized,
empty faced soldiers
can't even muster that feeling.

By Gregory Liffick



The Order

There's dead people all around, and what used to be inside them is now just as likely to be outside of them.

"I'm hungry," Greenwood says.

While the rest of our platoon eats lunch, he and I got stuck performing a sweep of the village. We supposedly get officers' rations after a helicopter returns for us.

"We better get some fucking steaks and potatoes," Greenwood says.

"I'd like some applesauce," I say.

We walk down the middle of the dirt street, with our machine guns held in the ready position. Houses loom on each side of us, identical, except in paint color. Our duty is to locate the merely wounded and hasten them to
eternity. I don't know why they can't finish dying on their own, but it's standard procedure.

A woman lies in a heap directly in front of us. Greenwood shoves his boot under her chest, and flips her over. Her face is mostly gone, looks like it took two or maybe three bullets.

"That had to hurt," Greenwood says.

I suppose it's a good idea to do the sweep on an empty stomach.

Greenwood smiles, and points. A man and woman lie side-by-side, each have one spot of blood on their backs.

"The same bullet probably got those fuckers."

"Yeah, it did. I fired it."

"Nice shot," Greenwood says. "You helped save our country."

"I'm known for my marksmanship, I've got the patch to prove it.

I replay the scene in my mind, how the man and woman grabbed each other when the shooting began. How I calmly put them in my sights. Calmly squeezed the trigger. Calmly terminated their life force.

"I wonder," Greenwood says, laughs, "were they trying to have sex?"

He and I are both dressed head-to-toe, helmets included, in the military's newest camouflage pattern. It's called Urban Stealth and has a little more gray than the second newest pattern. On each of our chests is strapped one grenade, in case the need to blow someone up should arise.

In a blue house across the street, through a broken window, we hear the sound of crying. Greenwood pivots and pours thirty rounds into the home.

I rub my ear.

"A little heads up next time probably wouldn't kill you."

"Me so sorry." He kisses his trigger finger. "Let's go check it out."

He steps over the bloody legs of an old man.

This village is what's known as a Forced Living Facility, meaning our government relocated the inhabitants here -- to protect all of us from them, and them from us. But, that was before political and public pressure kept building against such communities, and my platoon was given the order to eradicate our second one this month. We did it the old-fashioned way -- stood on the outskirts and shot the shit out of the place. The inhabitants seemed surprised, probably assumed we were only executing a security check. Some of them waved, just before we opened fire.

Greenwood and I walk through somebody's garden. The government shipped most of the food here, but the inhabitants were allowed to tend gardens. Someone somewhere said the gardens gave these people a false sense of productivity.

Greenwood kicks open the door to the blue house. We're not worried about anyone popping out and shooting us, no weapons of any kind were allowed here. No televisions or telephones either.

It takes our eyes a moment to adjust to the lack of light. Then we see a woman on the couch. Judging by the location of the window in proximity to her position, she's probably the one we heard crying. She's dead now. Her blood soaks into the cushions.

"Score one for the good guys," Greenwood says.

There's bullet holes all over the living room, but not all of them came from Greenwood's gun. Not everyone aims as carefully as me. In the initial firestorm, I'd guess most guys fired between four and five hundred rounds.

The woman's mouth is open, as if there was one more thing she wanted to say.

"What's in her hand?" I say.

"Go see."

Greenwood crouches, and pretends like he's covering me, like there's danger all around.
I pry her fingers apart, and remove . . . a photograph. A photograph in a park. I think, maybe it was this woman when she was a girl. Her father's arm is around her shoulders. Her mother clutches a picnic basket. A thought invades my mind, one I've fought before -- that these people are people too. They had memories, and they had hopes. They had friends. They had family that loved them. They didn't want to be shot today. I think of this dead woman, in the park with her family, of her mom wiping jelly off her chin. I think of --

"What are you doing?" Greenwood asks. He straightens out of his crouch.

"Nothing. Thinking."

"Well, you better fucking stop that shit."

He pulls the picture out of my hand, and stuffs it into the woman's shirt.

"Thinking only gets you in trouble," he says. "You know they wouldn't be here if they were like us."


"Goddamn right I'm right. We weren't born like them."

I nod.

"Minorities are always wrong in a democracy."

He's on a roll now.

"Death is too good for these stupid motherfuckers."

Greenwood shoots the woman a couple more times. Again, he gives no
warning, leaves me rubbing my ear.

We search the rest of the house, and recon verge on the front porch.

"See anything else?" Greenwood asks.

"One more body, on the bed. Completely dead."

I wipe sweat from under my helmet, it's getting humid. Greenwood stares at his sleeves. We're all still getting used to the new camo pattern.

"Should we split up," I say, "to make this go faster?"

"What's the exact procedure here, anyway? I mean, are we supposed to hit every house and backyard, or can we just check out every whimper and moan? It's wasn't properly explained to me."

"I don't know, I just know we better not screw something up that's standard procedure. We'll get reprimanded if the medical examiners find more than one or two people still alive. They carry those pistols, but it distracts them from their jobs if they have to use them."

Greenwood laughs, and I do too.

"Those medical bastards," he says.

He lifts his machine gun above his head, and stretches. He's a big guy. In a fight, void of weapons, he'd probably beat my ass.

"Why don't you go that way," I say, with a jerk of my head, "I'll go this way, and we'll meet back here around oh-one-hundred hours. Cover as much ground as we can before the chopper picks us up."

"Yeah, and then we'll eat like fucking kings."

He takes one hand off his gun, and pretends to shovel caviar or some other
delicacy into his mouth.

Greenwood swallows and grins.

"If you get into any sort of trouble," I say, "fire a three-shot burst."

"Oh, right, trouble. Like if I slip in someone's blood."

Still grinning, both hands on his gun, Greenwood walks down the middle of the street.

I watch him go, then head in the opposite direction.

Of all the people in the street and in the front yards -- none move. Since they took the brunt of our firepower. Since they had nowhere to hide.

I notice a teenage boy slumped against a birdbath. He almost looks to be napping, except I can see through his neck. A few feet from him, a couple of other dead teenagers, probably his best friends.

I weave in and out of a few houses, but nothing spectacular. I find an oven that's still baking cinnamon bread, and turn it off. Some of the houses have bodies, some don't. None of them needs to be shot any further.

There's so many bullet holes in this village, it's a wonder anyone survived the order.

Last night, in camp, Captain Riley called the whole platoon together. With tears in his eyes, he told us he was proud of us, and he knew we'd make him even prouder. He said that the whole nation looked to us to do the right thing, so it was important to get a good night's sleep.

With the sun now shining on my face, I yawn. Then I freeze. Behind a brown house, on the other side of a fence, I hear someone cursing.

Someone is cursing God.

I click my rifle off safety, hold my breath. Listen.
It's a man's voice. It --

A three-shot burst rings out to me. From maybe a hundred yards away . . .
maybe a hundred and fifty. Shit.

Great timing.

I consider if it's best to deal with the cursing man now, or hurry towards the sound of Greenwood's gun. I wonder exactly how much trouble Greenwood is in.

Then he fires a second three-shot burst, and I run in his direction.

The bodies I fly past seem as if they'd like to tell me something. Their faces are contorted, or their arms outstretched. Some have soiled themselves. I remind myself to see them as things, not as former people. I notice one man, on his driveway, who appears to have died trying to stuff his guts back inside.

I pass green, blue, white, purple, and yellow houses. Someone painted theirs black and white polka-dotted.

Then I see Greenwood at the edge of a garden. He stands motionless, with his back towards me, his helmet crooked.


Without turning around, he uses his gun barrel to wave me forward.

I press my own gun to my shoulder, and creep to his side.

"What is it? What happened?"

"Look," he says, and points into the garden.

Amongst the tomato plants lies a dead woman in a summer dress. Beside her, a bullet-holed straw hat.

"Look at that, look at her hand."

The woman's severed hand rests on her lap.

"I found her this way. It looks like her hand got shot off and landed on her crotch. Weird, huh?"

"Yeah . . .you had me come over here for . . ."

I look at Greenwood's face. ". . . did you actually do that, you sick fuck? Did you put her hand on her crotch?"

His eyes stay on the dead woman. "It wasn't me. Bullets did it."

"I bet you cut her hand off, let me see your knife."

He bites at his bottom lip, then bursts into laughter.

"Okay, goddamn, I did it. I thought it'd be funny if you thought someone
died that way."

He doubles over in his laughter, almost drops his gun.

I should shoot him.

"I did it, I cut her hand off. Whoo-hoo."

The woman remains silent in the dirt of her garden.

"Don't fire a three-shot burst gun again unless you really need me," I say, and walk off.

"Don't be sore," he says after me, "it could have happened."

To guys like Greenwood, this is more a game than anything. They'd be pleased if we came up with some sort of an elaborate point system.

"Hey," he yells, "I've got my camera, could you take a picture of me with her?"

I keep walking until I'm back at the house with the cursing man. Now, there's only silence on the other side of the fence.

I step through the gate, and the man is still there. He stands with his hand resting on the back of a lawn chair, beside a charcoal grill. He stares at the sky. He's bearded, with a shaved head.

I determine that he, in fact, has no wounds, but a few feet from him, another man looks to have taken a half-dozen bullets before he tumbled over in his lawn chair.

There's a couple of empty beer bottles on the ground, which makes me think the two were drinking and chatting when we opened fire. Maybe they spoke of the beautiful day, or maybe they wondered over the meaning of life.

The man looks at my face.

"Why? Wasn't having us here good enough? Wasn't the --"

I shoot him through the eye and the back of his head explodes. For a full minute, he kicks and flops on the grass . . . and finally ends up with his legs draped over the other man.

I shut the gate, and go to the next house.

Greenwood and I stroll out of the village together. If there's anyone left alive, we don't know about it.

"The fucking chopper better hurry up," Greenwood says, at the edge of town. He rubs his stomach.

"I'm at very low food security."

That means he's very hungry.

"Salmon would be real nice of them, of the Captain" he says, and clears his
throat. "I have a small confession . . . I ate handfuls of crackers here and there. Is that against regulations?"

"I don't think it's encouraged. What if something was wrong with them and you get sick."

"Don't fucking say that."

We stop where we're supposed to get picked up.

I look back over the village, at its shimmering colors. There's no creatures to disturb the bodies, because, for whatever reason, no pets were allowed.

"Why didn't they leave us a radio?" Greenwood says. "Probably they didn't want to be bothered while they were eating."

"Why don't you quit thinking about food."

I wonder, when that woman was a girl, on a picnic with her family, if she had a cat or dog to go home to? I had a basset hound when I was a boy, but he ate rat poison and died in our garage.

"I'm sorry if you got mad about that hand, but I thought it was funny."

I scratch blood from my gun barrel. "Don't worry about it."

"Shit, I could have been a lot more crass with it."

"Yeah, I suppose so."

Greenwood takes off his helmet, and parts his hair with his fingernails.

"Would you take a picture of me with the houses in the background, please, for my mom?"

I shrug.

"Why not."

He removes a camera from his pants pocket, and hands it to me.

"Maybe you could get me with the village sign behind me."

He poses with his helmet under his arm, his gun across his shoulder,
and the grenade strapped to his chest.

"People don't kill people," I say, "people with guns kill people."


I lay my gun on the ground.

"Nothing. Smile."

I can't get all of the sign, so I have to take a couple of steps back until I can read it through the viewfinder.


The same message is printed on both sides of the sign, so the inhabitants
wouldn't get any crazy ideas.

"Wait, take another one. I think my eyes were closed."

"Your mom's never seen you with your eyes closed?"

"Guess what your mom's seen."

"Very funny."

I take another picture, and give back the camera.

"Do you want me to take one of you?"

"No thanks."

"Hey . . . I think I hear a fucking helicopter."

"Me too."

Greenwood cheers.

After the medical examiners come and do their job, the video chroniclers will arrive, and record the village being burned and bulldozed. Then it'll be broadcast on The Military Channel.

By Garin Williams



Two Men

Two men hold hands.
They laugh and cuddle
and I feel safe. I smile.
I breathe a little easier.
Here are two people
who won't
beat me to death.

By Nancy Deleau



Elegy for Alyssa

Alyssa took her life
by her own hands
"A non-hostile weapons discharge"
A military euphemism
to protect their image
To hide the reality
of what she had seen

Alyssa took her life
in her own hands
Sacrificing herself
so another could stay home
Thinking she could make a difference
a heart that spoke many languages

Alyssa took her life
by her own hands
Because she saw the world had become evil
evil deeds done by evil men
After just two nights of witnessing
inhumane torture
She knew even then that America
had lost its soul
And she could no longer live in a world
that permitted such injustice

Alyssa took her life
but her smile and spirit lives strong
She sacrificed herself for a noble cause
the moral high ground of common decency

Damn you, George Bush!
Alyssa took her own life
But you killed her.

for Army Translator Specialist Alyssa Peterson, 27, who shot herself after witnessing two nights of the torture of Iraqis by Americans at Tal-Afar

By Bill DeArmond


A Haiku You Can Read at the Barricades

Anne Frank's diary
would you hide an Arab
in your attic?

By Michael Ketchek




Reaching out --
A river choked with ice...
The past remains in the present.

By Judith L. Lundin


On the Assembly Line


every turn of the screw
tightens my stomach
another notch.

Machines i can work in my sleep
run me ragged in dreams.

Nose honed sharp as a scalpel
by the daily grind, i perform
one simple operation
every so many seconds.

Dead on my feet, still i can't
fall down on this job
even Job would quit. Make a
mistake and quality control
catches up with you somewhere
down the rocky road.

Call in sick or quit, other
robots made in Japan in man's
image will be propped up
like puppets to take your place.

Born on drawing boards,
the faithful faceless, stamped
in the same mold as their fathers,
plod on praying between paydays.

No book sandwiched in my lunch pail.
I can t read between the lines
eager electric eyes watch
for slackers. Others always stand
by thankful to fill an empty slot.

When it is time to cash in,
bodies spindled and spent
like paychecks are programmed
to self-destruct.

Kicked out of the computer at 65,
we wind the gold watches guaranteed
for a lifetime and fobbed off on us
after 40 years hard labor, but they
stop about the same time as our


By Arthur Gottlieb


*watermelons, carrots & crow: a cosmic clown's blue-collar stew*

the cabinet shop where my sinuses
were indentured to dust & fumes for 13 years
finally shut down -- all that time, pride labored mightily
to ennoble my less-than-lucrative trade; but omens prevailed,
& pride couldn't fork the black feathers out of its own air passage.

(i'm not desperate, yet).
north of the Hermit Kingdom's 39th parallel,
it's easy to have an army of l million strong
when military service is the only game in town,

so what, i'm conditioned to be anxious when idle.
yes, i'm resigned to lack of money dictating my standard of living.
but if any blue-collar deity had lightened my load with a spare pair of
happy hands, well, the wages of sin wouldn't have become so attractive,

(i'm not desperate, yet).
Argentina's economic collapse trashed the streets with bodies &
broken glass & banners protesting the job vacuum, as mounted police
threatened to trample the survivors on behalf of another administration unwilling to pay for its mistakes.

at the unemployment office,
we've settled for a throw-away definition of ourselves.
rage presupposes profanity blueing the path fists will follow:
the motto on the bylaws reads "...through no fault of their own...", but
the embittered matrons processing claims have sacrificed their own children, contentiously call our numbers, rub "…salt of the earth..." into our wounds,
on the planet of hoops cum yokes, Job was the only bastard issued steel-toed brogans heeled with wings sturdy enough.

(i'm not desperate, yet).
thanks to educational t.v., i heard one of Martin Luther King's aides
define "nigger" as any poor working man or woman in Amerika; as if I
could escape my place in the scheme of things -- Strong Back! Weak Mind! whistle your sorry selves to the auction block once again! who needs dignity
that dynamic capable of turning every menial task meaningful? don't count on fulfillment, that sublime spiritual state fluffing every pillow you've stuffed with dreams to cradle human heads,

"…he who does not work shall not eat…"
one more skeletal platitude chanting, ranting its rosary
of sweatbeads while smokestacks belch greasy ghosts,

enthusiasm literally translates as "... the gods within…"&
damned if my fellow wage slaves understand theirs have been
misadventured to death by carrots -- & mine are hanging on…

(I'm not desperate, yet)

…mine have given me the heart of a migrant peddling watermelons in Jackson County…
….mine send this soul packing for a commune where calluses are the only price of admission...

By roibeárd Uí-neíll



Poor in America

It's an ancient tradition derived
from the scapegoat of Leviticus
whereby the wrongs of others
are transferred to an innocent

who's then sent out alone to die
symbolically bearing others' sins,
absolving from greed, lust, pride and hate
the community that condemned him.

A corpse is laid out, sin eater employed
to eat bread and salt from its belly
thereby absorbing the corpse's sins
for the wages of just a few pennies.

Relegated to the wrong side of the tracks
in housing fallen to disrepair
destitute even of hope
a place one stumbles only in error.

The poor clean the toilets, wait the tables,
kill the meat and mow the lawns,
raise the children of the "upper" class,
walk their dogs and park their cars.

They assemble the latest electronics
sew our blue jeans and our wedding gowns.
When we buy cheap Chinese goods at Wal-Mart
they're the "associates" who check us out.

The poor care for other people's parents
left alone and sad in our nursing homes.
They're the receptionists at upscale spas,
the charming girls in nail salons.

They're dishwashers who scrape half-full plates
left by those who can afford to go out to eat.
They stock store shelves and work in warehouses
where corporations ship and receive.

They empty bed pans and wipe up vomit.
They're janitors and maintenance men.
And a lot of them help to build the jails
they're disproportionately incarcerated in.

The people they serve hardly speak to them
though they provide indispensable services
because they're living proof of a "lower" class,
which makes most Americans nervous.

The fact they exist at all is a slap
in the face of the American polity,
so they're treated like a shameful excrescence
on the ass of American society.

But like the ghetto homelands of South Africa,
America has embarrassing pockets of poverty.
And the economic apartheid we practice
makes the poor exiles in their own country.

And when the poor are all used up, having been
consumed by predatory corporations,
they're discarded like so much garbage
for being too old, too sick or disabled.

These castoffs through no fault of their own
are condemned by the corporate supremacists
who looted their pensions and 401Ks
to eke out a long and miserable existence.

It's gone on so long it seems normal,
and corporate-owned media report it that way.

It's as if poverty were invisible
and America's conscience had been mislaid.

So the sin eaters continue to scramble
for scraps from the corpse-porations' table,
bearing the burden of unpardonable sin,
our homegrown, American scapegoat.

And treating the poor as if this is their fault
hides the fact it is America's decision,
to absolve the criminal perpetrator
and condemn the sin-eating victim.

So you'll never see a T-shirt that says
"Poor and Proud in the U.S.A."
because in the United States of America
the P.I.A. are M.I.A.

By Vi Ransel



False Advertising

I feel like an ant sometimes.
My mind is daily filled with worries
about rent and bills and food and
car insurance and health care and court costs -
and then I turn on the TV and
I see this girl crying because her dog is sick.
So she makes herself feel better
by spending three grand on clothing.
I cannot even comprehend that.
I flick through channels looking for
shows about me but --
no cars getting broken into
no getting sued by your landlord
no working 50 hours a week with no overtime
no getting laid off
no threadbare clothing -
just pretty people
just happy people
just not real people.
I guess being poor doesn't have much resale value.

By Joey Chase


To All Who Work Shitty Jobs

Ever notice
all the people who tell you
you aren't trapped
in a shitty job
all have
a job they love
more money
a better house
a better car
their pets live better
than you

When I hear that
I just want to reach inside
their throats
and stuff my paycheck
and all my bills
down into their guts

See how they feel
when THAT comes out
the other end

By Cathy Porter


Tears in the wind;
Hunger grows in the darkness,
its arms opened wide!

By Judith L. Lundlin



Ed's Exit Interview

The guy who fired Ed gets up
three flights of stairs too fast
for Ed to say half of all he has
in mind, but he follows yelling
symbols -- such as "You Big
Fuck!" -- toward that back
of blue-serged bonelessness
gathering speed as it bolts
down a corridor and toward
a door Ed can't see yet, but
can hear being quickly shut
and locked.

By Reid Bush



Upon being fired,
eyes glisten with unshed tears;
the pain of a missing limb.

By Judith L. Lundin


After The Layoff

he says he's sorry

We want to know how much.

We don't believe him.

We don't in part just because
the way the world's shaped

and in part because --
at least at 3 am. --
we know better than we wish we did
how really far way we are
from that sorrow we try to make
our faces look
and voices sound
at the funeral of, say,
some neighbor's cousin's wife

By Reid Bush



Dear applicant,

Thank you for your interest in working for Dupont, but since the Vietnam war ended in the early seventies, the demands for our products, such as napalm, is down, and presently we are not hiring. However we will keep your application on file in the event of future wars and we're needed to produce weapons to incinerate people of color.

Presently our only openings are for applicants with creative bookkeeping experience



By David Ochs



Paper Tiger

She walked in right before
I turned off the open sign.

"Can I get a couple slices?"
"Yeah, four bucks. Long night?"
"My knees hurt -- don't even say it!"

Crumpled-up singles in a ball -
She peels them off one by one.

"Ten hour shift -- I made thirty-six dollars."
"Damn, I thought this job sucked."
"At least you get to keep your clothes on. Good night."

The faded flower leaves --
and the night doesn't seem so bright any more.

By Joey Chase


Mean Streets

Down here on these streets of lost dreams and rubbed senses
Every hooker was once her daddy's little princess
And down here in these alleys where deals are made and misery applied
Every outlaw boy was once his mother's joy and pride
But not down here
On these mean streets

Down here on these streets amongst bitter cups of daily dearth
Grocery cart jockeys vie amongst garbage, stalking dumpster turf
All the while,
Have you got some change men float down sidewalks questing
For drinks that quieten nerves to realms of peaceful resting
Daily life down here
On these right now streets

Down here on these streets of trash, hope and dreams lay on the ground
Empty bottles, crushed plastic vials, bought courage now thrown down
Leaving desperation and pursuit to walk hand in hand with need
Needs that carry weary bodies onward with hungry monkeys to feed
We keep monkeys asleep down here
On these lost and forgotten streets

Down here on these streets of impotent desires, pretty girls dress
In front of chipped mirrors sweet young faces reflecting stress
Applying make-up and heady perfume to enhance manly desires
Not for young knights in dreams, but rich Johns in new shiny cars
There are no knights down here
On these pay for streets

Down here in these flop house sleeping rooms lost men lay on sagging beds Sweating on dirty sheets with D.T.s, misery pounding their hurting heads
Lost jobs, last straw eazy pawn, scheming on drinks of alcohol blend
All the while hoping landlords stay away and if not then condescend
But landlords aren't friends
On these mean streets

Down here on these crazy streets night brings the carnival lights
Sideshows in alleys, dramas on concrete, barkers hawking heavenly delights Runaway kids trading barney smiles for sleep over with pimps
Power Rangers backpacks carried by handsome lads and sweet young nymphs
There are no heroes down here
On these mean streets

Down here no lost cars stop for directions or look behind
They just speed by never looking for missing street signs
They don't see the bustle and struggle that feed hungry monkeys
In a world owned by the strongest, ruling drunks, hookers and junkies
Don't get lost down here
On these nickel-plated streets

Many roads lead here to this harsh realm but few lead out
There are many pitfalls here on these streets of forgotten route
Hookers ain't princesses and junkies ain't knights on my street
Where time has no meaning, day and night flow on with yesterday in repeat Down here on my street I call
Mean streets

Dedicated to Big Danny Zupan from Seattle

By Harlan Whitamore



Retirement None

The old
at Arby's
is the lady
at McDonalds
is my grandmother
your mother

the lost
and forgotten
maiden of

life in

no net

medicaid reject
come to
my arms
tell me

By Steven Eggleton



The New Architects

in the valley
where I was born
the grapes grew like pomegranates
like peaches
like orchards at your feet

to return now
and remember
is almost
to forget

the trees glass plates
the peaches parking space
the new architects
have claimed them
like some bronze beams, some high ceilings
like these cobblestones
broken at my feet

so I sit here with my coffee
my mind dancing with the wolves

watching the cavalry coming up Tecumseh Valley

their cell phones like pomegranates, like peaches
like Custer falling

shattered on the street

By Bill Dorris



Emulating the Dinosaur

Here's a bright idea let's
emulate the dinosaur
they did so well for
such a long time
first we can be
huge and green
armed with depleted
uranium teeth and laser
eyes able to see a stolen
hubcap from a satellite
we'll strut around tearing
forests down and draining
wetlands as we go we'll
suck petroleum from
resurrected Cambrian bogs
like a giant predator
sucking seagull eggs we'll
shoot or imprison anyone
who gets in our way
maybe photograph them
nude and hooded
have a laugh at their
shriveled genitals
put them in a pile
like logs in a jungle clearing
we'll eat the best food
from the highest branches
live in the choicest
corners of the swamp
every night the crowded sky
will bend and ripple
from our fearsome
electronic cries.

By Michael Shorb




Yet today -- on my way home -- I've heard
Tingling, sweet chantings from either side of the road.
Blessing bells tolling, blessed fires burning,
With full-heart voices, harmonious peals
And clangs -- there in churches, synagogues, temples
And masjids -- prayers are carried out.
In scented, hazed incenses appease
There seated arranged are the pious-society in ritual
Accompanied holy books.

"God, give us love; give us strength, courage --
We have come; now take away our hardship,
Remove our sorrow -- God, you are almighty!"

How at ease are we with these words!
Words those do not relieve a starve from his hunger --
A deprived doesn't get washed off his grief --
Words you take in, I take in -- who remained rather sated,
Who are in shelters; secured three meals a day,
A roof over and warm beds sized to their back.
Those words pacify "unjust divider of resources" me
Where I had to be impatient ever more --
Those words make "fighter against class difference" me spineless --
Where seeing this injustice I could only be blazed like gunpowder,
Those words make me fall asleep.

How do they sleep who are with empty belly?
How do they keep sanctity who have no cloth on their body?
How can they hide the shame of taking birth as humans?
Where do they live who do not have a roof over?

Tossing away a puny fraction of profit
Humanity haggled, in the same world
There continues hurtful cry beside laughter --
How easily men conform delight out of illicit riches!
How humanity smile so flawless
How gleefully remain so content
How such effortlessly take in selfishness
Seeing yet its own a sea of howl alongside!

Why then do you not stop those blessing tolls?
Those dulcet chantings of masjids and temples?
The sounds that wrongly satisfy you and your God,
Report Him inaccurately of our condition?
Why don't you grieve to cry out -- "we are not well --
Not stayed on as humans --
To satisfy my lust for riches my neighbour is bare, destitute, starved!"

By Sreeman Barua


Reflections from an Ordinary Working Stiff

One day when I was a big, dumb twenty-one year old,
I went west, unraveling to places like Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma, California.
I went with nothing but a young man's acrobatics of imagination.
I knew right away I was building my coffin at minimum wage sweat of brow
The way of the world, do as you're told in submission to minimum life edicts
But I would not commit suicide by donning the obedience shirt,
I wouldn't carbon copy the world's admiration for the rich man
Imitate the rich man and you clone yourself in his image.
Buddy, with that in your craw you can never own your own soul
Back in New York I worked with callused hands,
eating my bread to the day I would be pushing up daises on a hill somewhere
Yeah, but the rich man with his pots of money never tranced me.
You've got to be a dumb-ass not to see the suffering the rich cause.
Sure, every war is just another investment of the rich man.
He sits on his ass ever ready to take my neighbor's life in war.
He pays propaganda advertisers to seduce human flesh to kill and be killed,
He markets war and killing as he markets products,
trumpets war as a time of nobility and glory, he makes war a celebration of death.
Sure, war offers certain intimacies peculiar only to war,
the intimacy of the rich man eating everyone for his profit.
His weapons grabbing intimate handfuls of human entrails,
handsomely spread out and gobbled up at his dinner table.
Buddy, there's nothing you can do for your neighbor who lets this happen.

By Stephen Grosso



Your Country

'Tis of thee I sing, land
of pilgrim's proud mythology, Ellis-Island
fairy tale of welcome-mat for all.

Overturn a stone or three
on which your palace has been built
and I'll show you ancestral skulls,
cracked and broken -- if not
ground, while still alive, into a dust
so fine that no forensic anthropologist
can name your victims now.

My grandmother was born millennia
before your human sea arrived, thrived
in harmony with the forests,
meadows, hillsides until one day
soldiers set her teepee blazing.

Grandfather did not enter through
a golden door, was flushed instead
from the putrid bowels of a ship -- one
link in the slave-chain which still
binds your world together, although
you find this hard to comprehend.

My mother, lured from Asia
with the promise of employment, was
undressed when she arrived, locked up
in a room, kept for your enjoyment --
until, bored one day, you sliced
what was left into tiny pieces, tossed
them away, imported my sister.

It was darkness, not your lady's lamp,
that guided my father from lands
where human beings of the wrong kinds
are born, so he might cower for more
than one lifetime in your fields and orchards.
My aunts and uncles appealed to you, but
were sent back to the death camps and, when
a few returned after the war, emaciated,
pleading now, you dispatched them again
to make your fight with the Arabs their fight
with the Arabs, proving thus that the Hebrew race
could learn the art of killing well enough to be
accepted into your polite society.

My cousins, nieces, nephews, children,
still enter by stealth, or not, work
wherever you choose to avert your eyes:
sewing clothes for you, harvesting
and preparing food for you , making sure
you do not choke on your own excrement -- and so,
"from sea to shining sea," the right kind of people
can spend time humming favorite tunes
of liberty and justice for the favored few -- one nation,
under whatever god might be deranged enough
to bless this America.

Meanwhile I will wait until, one day,
the angry eyes emerge from every
fruited plain and mountainside,
compelling you to look, for once -- I mean
really, really look (for once) -- at your nation's
contributions to the world. And if you are
in luck on this particular day they will
be extracting merely dreadful retributions.

No, do not glance over your shoulder. Watch
the face in the mirror, because, " 'tis of thee,
of thee I sing."

By Steve Bloom



A Child Named You

A child who answers to the name of You, sleeps now at the shelter,
everything brand new. Ain't no mama to raise the young boy,
herself a child could not enjoy a peaceful life, had to turn her
tricks, deserted the boy, must get her fix.
He cries MAMA constantly, his belly hurts, cause food is not free.
You, now cold, wet and sick, shivers asleep, death should be quick.
But mercy it seems You had found, at the hands of a wino, who made
his rounds. Hey you! over there, my god, child, your skin is bare.
He brought You to the haven place, long time since a caring face.
You at last has found a home, until questions make him roam.
Ten-years-old, now You is mad and there are no answers to be had.
They have this and I have that. a can he kicks at an alley cat.
YOU, YOU, where have you been, so much pain for the age of ten.
YOU leaves now, to the streets, the influence appears so neat….
Deliver this and this is yours, It's so easy little brother, just
open doors. You now in his early teens, to his gang is the kool
scene. A false glory it may be, but to YOU, he's finally free.
He plans it big, he wants it all he may be young, but he talks tall.
He steals a gun; he steals some cars, until he finds himself behind
steel bars. YOU now cold, wet, and sick, shivers asleep, death should
be quick….

By Bethany Young

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