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Vol. 26, Nos. 1 & 2

Struggle Begins 26th Year



Struggle begins 26th year of developing proletarian revolutionary literature

Struggle greets its 25th birthday in a world wracked by harsh economic and political crises. Everywhere the rich capitalists are on an onslaught against the livelihoods and the very lives of the working people. Everywhere opportunist misleaders try to hobble the fight-back of the masses. Yet still we see a certain rebirth of mass struggles against the oppressive domination of the rich. Greek workers and students are battling fiercely against the austerity measures with which the European capitalists hope to make the working people pay for their crisis. Mass rebellions have been underway in Thailand, Krygyzstan, India and in Latin America. The Afghan people wage a difficult fight against U.S. imperialism as well as Islamic fundamentalism and other local reactionaries. Recently the Iranian people rose up against the fundamentalist Islamic dictatorship. In Turkey and elsewhere workers mounted massive May Day protests. In the U.S., on March 21 and again on May Day, immigrant workers and their supporters held large rallies and marches. Struggle's birthday, shadowed by oppression, is yet greeted with struggle. There is a search for a way forward. We hope this search will be reflected in rebellious creative literature.

Launched in 1985, for 25 years Struggle has been bringing revolutionary and progressive literature to disgruntled workers, students, professionals and others. Struggle has condemned the racist oppression of African Americans and other people of color and campaigned against the brutal anti-immigrant hysteria. Struggle has opposed sexism and other forms of oppression. Struggle has consistently attacked the imperialism and imperialist wars of the U.S. ruling class. Struggle has pointed sharply at the class domination by the rich monopoly capitalists, represented by both the Republican and Democratic parties, that underlies this variety of evils and has continuously attacked the exploitation of the working class in the U.S. and worldwide which finances this system of domination. And Struggle has managed to fire off some salvoes at the sold-out union leaders who help the capitalists control the working class.

Through these oppressive decades Struggle has encouraged writers of all backgrounds and various levels of skill to create vibrant works that contend in different ways against the status quo. As Struggle's editor and an anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist, I have put forward my views in editorials and have featured works that reflect vigorous class-struggle stands, but I have always tried to recognize other strands of genuine opposition to the establishment and have given them a place in the magazine. I oppose both Trotskyism and Stalinist revisionism in the name of a genuine socialism, and I stand against both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as their sold-out union leaders. But writers who do not fully agree with me but who create vigorous rebellious works have found and will find a welcome home in this magazine. Struggle has featured numerous African-American and Latino writers, many women, numerous prisoner-writers over the years and even a number of writers from other countries. Special-feature issues in recent years have considered the Katrina debacle, the immigration issue, and opposition to war and torture. And over the past four or five years Struggle has managed to maintain a web site carrying its main published content plus extra features (go to

On questions of artistic style and technique, Struggle has attempted to be open to a wide variety of approaches. We do not believe that any one style or form can be declared, in and of itself, to be more positive, progressive or class-conscious than others. We have tried to recognize the emergence of artistic experiments or of new content or of both – in a wide variety of styles, but we have also welcomed use of traditional techniques. We regret that we have not been able to incorporate criticism very often into our content. The magazine is produced on a shoestring, in the free time of the editor who works a physical labor job, so it has been impossible to keep up with the various currents in writing today. We have just soldiered on, spreading and creating works that we hope open new ways of writing and inspire people to rebel.

Before 1993 Struggle was encouraged and partially subsidized by the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA, of which I was a supporter. After this party dissolved, I helped create the Communist Voice Organization, which has carried on and developed the MLP's trend. But since 1993 Struggle has had to support itself financially. This path has had many ups and downs, but each time that I sent a prophecy of doom out to the readers, writers and supporters, they have come through magnificently and the magazine has limped on. Most recently, our supporters responded wonderfully to the appeal that went out with the last issue and the magazine has enough in the bank to come out again and to have a big head start on a further issue. I want to thank all of our readers for this inspiring response. I hope the present issue justifies their efforts.

Struggle has attracted some wider attention lately. While we aim mainly at workers and activists, this new attention from scholars is a good thing as it may draw new readers and writers. Barbara Foley, one of the leading authorities on working-class (proletarian) literature writing today, has authored a very generous review of Struggle's efforts so far, focusing on three writers often featured in the magazine – Gregory Alan Norton, Paris Smith and myself. The review perceptively draws out many important and useful features of our work. It will appear in the online literary journal Reconstruction as part of its special issue on activism. (See Reconstruction at ). Barbara's review, Struggle, “Proletarian Literature Today,” is reprinted below, with the kind permission of its author and the editors of Reconstruction.

By Tim Hall


Proletarian Literature Today

Review of Struggle: A Magazine of Proletarian Revolutionary Literature; Gregory Alan Norton, An Infinity of Days in the Psychotic Atomik Empire (Austin, TX: Plain View Press, 2007); Paris Smith, “Two Stories from Paris Smith” (Struggle web site); Tim Hall, poetry (also at Struggle web site).

For many twenty-first century readers, the term “proletarian literature” conjures up the 1930s, when magazines like the New Masses and the various organs of the John Reed Clubs supported the creation of a working-class literature that would underpin the leftist project of preparing the proletariat for its world-historical task of abolishing capitalism and creating an egalitarian society. Even if revolution was not on the horizon, the task of the proletarian writer was, as Tillie Olsen poignantly put it, to depict “the not-yet in the now.” In the wake of the failure – or, let us say, the long-term deferral – of that project, proletarian literature might be supposed to have fallen by the historical wayside. Yet the impulse to create literary works embodying a class-conscious critique of the existing world and positing, by implication or declaration, that a better world is both possible and necessary has not died out – even if it has been relegated to the sidelines of literary production. I direct attention here to a small cluster of texts that – while hardly constituting the only significant leftist writing of our time – ably articulate this abiding impulse.

The hub of these texts is Struggle: A Magazine of Proletarian Revolutionary Literature, which has since 1985 appeared sporadically (and in recent years quite regularly) under the editorship of the poet Tim Hall. (The magazine is available online for past issues and via hard-copy purchase or subscription for current issues.) The Editorial Policy is straightforward: “Struggle is an anti-establishment, revolutionary literary journal oriented to the working-class struggle. We seek to reach ‘disgruntled’ workers, dissatisfied youth and all the oppressed and abused and inspire them to fight the rich capitalist rulers of the U.S. and the planet.” The titles of issues appearing in the past half-decade suggest the magazine’s thrust: “Wall Street: Capitalism Shaking” (Fall-Winter 2007-8); “Survival of the Richest” (Winter-Spring 2005-6 – focused on Hurricane Katrina); “Full Rights for Immigrants” (Spring-Summer 2006). Publishing poets and fiction writers possessing varying degrees of technical expertise – a few are sentimental and clichéd, though most are witty and imaginative – the magazine recalls Mike Gold’s editorial practice in the New Masses of the early 1930s, which pledged to involve worker-writers in the creation of a “proletarian realism” that would document the “mud-puddle” of working-class life with “revolutionary élan” rather than despair (“Notes of the Month,” NM September 1930).

Where Gold’s project entailed a degree of blue-collar white male workerism, however, Struggle acknowledges the crucial shifts in both the composition and location of the working class over the past several decades. In the Summer-Fall 2009 issue titled “Worker Anger Grows,” a number of poems and stories – Dawnell Harrison’s “The Coal Miner,” Joe LeBreck’s “Sweat Jobs” – remind the reader that numbing physical labor remains the lot of many workers. But the casualization of the labor force is an insistent theme, as in Judith L. Lundin’s near-haiku “(Story not published in company’s quarterly newsletter),” which simply reads, “Faithful employees / chewed up and spit out / without reason or warning.” The equal lengths of the poems’ title and text point to the utter dispensability of the work force. Downward mobility is stressed in Dennis James’s “Camilla and the Troll,” which describes the experience of a 26-year-old holder of a Ph.D. who – having been impregnated and abandoned by her faculty mentor, then subjected to the loss of her daughter – finds another life as an on-the-job activist among custodial workers. Several prison poems stress the systemic racism and dehumanization of the (in)justice system. Christian Weaver’s “Rehabilitation,” for instance, contrasts the inmate’s struggle for “stability amidst madness” and “self-sacrificing love” with the institution that would render him “Crushed. Shackled. Maimed.” “Mexican American Wall,” by Awilda I. Casto Suarez, limns the situation of a migrant couple who have picked mushrooms and mixed cement, only to lose their son in Iraq and be denied the “whole sacred greencard.” The situation of GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan – subject to high rates of PTSD and suicidal impulses – is treated in James Brubaker’s “Cluster Bomb” and Gregory Liffick’s “Whirlwind.” While this issue of Struggle, like others, ends with poems that issue a revolutionary call (R. Nat Turner’s “March, March, March”; Charles H. Renning’s “Taking Sides”), this call both echoes earlier summonses and resonates with conditions distinctive to the twenty-first century.

To note Struggle’s broadened conception of the working class and the dilemmas it faces is not to assert that the magazine has adopted a politics of “intersectionality” – in which gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality, etc., all signify comparable identity-based subject positions – or that it has dissolved the proletariat into the “multitude.” On the contrary: the awareness of fundamental class contradiction shapes the magazine’s contents, supplying not merely a class-based existential standpoint but the formative ground of critical consciousness. Where Struggle’s writers differ significantly from their Depression-era forebears is not so much in their proletarian-ness, or even their inclusion of more varied voices, as in their estimate of the possibilities for historical agency. The mass culture of video games and Walmart dissipates class consciousness. Imperialists wage wars against “enemies” whose ranks contain no genuinely oppositional heroes. Irony hangs heavy over the pages of Struggle; proletarian realism nowadays contains more of the mud-puddle than of revolutionary élan.

Much of the “struggle” of contemporary proletarian literature, indeed, is to get beyond irony without losing the satiric edge required when one contemplates the workings of power and ideology in our times. The works of Gregory Alan Norton constitute a serious – and largely successful attempt – to express this contradiction. A contributor to both Struggle and various less overtly political magazines, Norton has authored a 1999 novel about a South Chicago wildcat strike, titled There Ain’t No Justice, Just Us (a chapter of which is posted at the Struggle web site), as well as, more recently, a short story cycle titled An Infinity of Days in the Psychotic Atomik Empire. Featuring middle-aged, white male protagonists who are somewhat jaded veterans of what appears to have been an especially sectarian brand of 1960s radicalism, both books play at the boundary of self-reflexive despair. Yet both display traditional themes of proletarian literature – proletarian solidarity overcoming divisions of nation, race, and gender, the criminality of a system producing criminal individuals – with considerable persuasiveness. Notably, each text closes with a situation of worker-boss confrontation that lays bare contradictions unsolvable under the current division of labor. There are no confident forecasts of ultimate working-class victory, such as occur in 1930s strike novels like Robert Cantwell’s The Land of Plenty or Grace Lumpkin’s To Make My Bread; the bought-off union is more likely to betray us, it seems, than to make us strong. But neither is there a retreat to a separate peace. Norton manages to invest incremental victories with a hesitant lyricism, leaving his protagonist savoring new-found solidarity with his fellow workers and an expanded sense of his own humanity as he “walk[s] into the factory for another shift in an infinity of factory shifts in the Psychotic Atomik Empire”(193).

I have found that An Infinity of Days works well in the classroom. A number of the stories are linked by the characters’ commonly working at a call center named Pumping Sunshine, Inc. or a factory producing Imperial Dog Food – both of which are owned by a financial conglomerate named Blue Sky; the capitalist totality is at once cartoonish and menacing. A first-person authorial alter-ego, Peter MacNaughton, appears in most of the stories, loosely linking them without imposing narrative teleology. While my students find Norton’s treatment of African American characters a good deal less compelling than his representation of white and Latino/a rebels against the status quo, they respond readily to Norton’s humorous acknowledgment of the combination of paranoia, fragmentation, and depthlessness that – as the book’s title suggests – constitutes late capitalist everyday life. Yet Norton’s refusal to descend into the discursive abyss – he even titles one story “A Metafictional Mystery: or, The Bullshit Story” – points up the limits to fashionable postmodernist irony. His world is, after all, not really “post-”; steel mills may have shut down, but workers are exploited at work sites that are hardly post- the expropriation of surplus value. Various species of 1960s radicalism may have bit the dust, but the class struggle continues, and the need for revolutionary social transformation remains as urgent as ever. Particularly when juxtaposed with a proletarian text by Olsen or Gold, Norton’s short story cycle has much to teach our students about the enduring presence of classes and class struggles.

The short stories of Paris Smith capture the contradictions of lived experience; where Norton’s books take on the extensive totality of present-day social relations, Smith’s tales limn individual characters in situations that gesture toward the intensive totality of the structures that generate oppression. The author of a volume of short stories documenting African American urban life, Subterranean Tales (2000) as well as a Marxist thriller set in 1979 with an Ethiopian protagonist who works for the KGB, Shafi Doldi (2006) – which sports a hammer and sickle on its cover – Smith is no stranger to Marxist analysis of the deep structure of capitalist society. The short stories featured on the Struggle web site typify his approach of inviting the reader to infer the larger patterns of causality producing the protagonists’ dilemmas. “Hysteria” offers a deft blending of Marx and Freud; set in the Deep South in 1930, the tale recalls the raw violence of Richard Wright’s Uncle Tom’s Children or Black Boy. The protagonist, a pubescent black youth named Wesley Sledge, has witnessed his father’s descent into impotent rage under the pressures of living Jim Crow. Terrified when he inadvertently catches a glimpse of the private parts of his white female employer, Wesley is traumatized into a hysterical blindness which dissipates only when his mother induces him to talk about what he saw. Freud’s “Dora” is resituated in the Jim Crow South; the repressed sexual fears that deprived an upper-class Viennese girl of the use of her limbs are rewritten as a Depression-era young black male’s uncontrollable terror of interracial sexuality and lynching. But “Hysteria” does not simply recycle mid-twentieth-century black radicalism or posit the equivalence of raced and gendered subject positions. It portrays the historical specificity of psychosexual trauma, even as it suggests the ability of working-class African Americans to enact their own talking cures.

“Ghost of Yesterday,” a tale set in present-day Chicago, features Earl, an aging jazz saxophonist on the downturn. He is broke and alcoholic; his trendy young girlfriend, Lisa, is leaving him; a white-dominated rock sound is driving out what is left of bebop and swing. Earl peers at women’s behinds and legs and fancies himself a ladies’ man, but he is patently fragile. Nor has he any real understanding of the music marketplace beyond its destructive effect upon him. He directs his alienation toward the “mechanized” world at large and the social “herd,” subscribing to the individualist doctrine that “every man was traveling on his own course, bound only by his own destiny.” Yet despite his entrapment within multiple modes of false consciousness (this unfashionable conception of ideology remains alive and well in this tale), Earl possesses the power to create, with his solo saxophone, “a collage of phrases strung together with bits and pieces from all the old songs he knew.” The musical invocation of the “ghost of yesterday” that pours out of his window connects him with the people immediately around him, producing a knock on his door by a middle-aged woman more appropriate for his age and status than the fetishized Lisa. While the story testifies to the power of music to heal distressed souls, it offers a statement more about the need for collective consciousness than about the power of the aesthetic. As in “Hysteria,” oppressed people are shown to have within themselves the resources for a better world, waiting to be acknowledged and tapped.

Tim Hall, the presiding presence in Struggle, has over the years published his own work only infrequently in the magazine’s pages (although each issue contains an editorial commenting on current politics from a revolutionary standpoint). But a significant cluster of his poems is now posted on the Struggle web site. Hall’s poetry contains multitudes in its absorption and reworking of radical poetic traditions extending back some 200 years. Shelley’s defiant “Men of England” (1811) is echoed in “Working people, why still slave / For men who ride you to the grave? / Why still toil, drip sweat, shed blood, / For lords who tramp you in the mud?” Wobbly songs are invoked in “The Cabby’s Lament,” which plays upon the refrain, “O cabbies, cabbies, how can you stand / Being robbed by the cab boss-man?” Black freedom songs sound in the background of Hall’s searing account of his work with other SNCC organizers in “Yalobusha County”: “We have walked through the shadow of death / We have walked all by ourself / Keep your eyes o-on that prize / Hold on! Hold on!” “July 1967 Detroit Rebellion Blues”-- which was performed over public radio on the twentieth anniversary of the Detroit uprising – articulates the ironic assessment of reality that gives rise to the blues. Its last stanza reads, “Today we got a ‘Detroit Renaissance’, / but workin folk are even more poor! / Today we got black cops and a mayor, / but black kids are at death’s door! / There’s a new Detroit Rebellion / a-knockin at the door!” Since conditions in Motor City have if anything declined since 1987 – the “Renaissance” seems to have come and gone – the poem’s prophetic force remains, even if its predicted rebellion has not (yet) occurred.

Hall has been a leftist activist throughout his adult life, and many of his poems emerge from the crucible of specific political struggles, both domestic and global. At times they are bounded by their topicality. In “The Ice Cracks,” readers – especially younger readers – unfamiliar with Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca (“master of the lay-off, / Simon Degree of the speed-up”) will miss the force of Hall’s invective. “Persian Gulf War Curse” – which begins “Damn you liars / Damn every last one of you” – contains a portrait of George H.W. Bush that will be familiar to many (“collie-faced in cardigan sweater preppie pig / Eastern aristocrat”); but memories of Norman Schwartzkopf (“German for shithead”) have – perhaps unfortunately – faded. Most of Hall’s passionate denunciations remain remarkably fresh, however – not just because of their rhetorical force, but also because their targets abide. “Poem for China (On the Occasion of the Massacre at Tienanmen Square)” names three particular victims of the state violence enacted in 1989, but its condemnation of the “fake communists / who have betrayed the road of Marx and Engels” has if anything gained in historical relevance. “The Taliban Waltz,” written in 2001, is as germane now as it was a decade ago, even if some of the major roles have been assumed by other players: “Scion of Texas oil / Scion of Saudi construction / Throw airplanes / Bearing apocalyptic explosions / At each other / But only hit proles / Each explosion / Helps the other.”

Hall, Norton, and Smith would have had many a literary comrade had they lived in the “proletarian” 1930s and been members of the John Reed Clubs or the League of American Writers. It is greatly to their credit that they have kept alive the tradition of class-conscious cultural resistance. If I may indulge in an expression that runs the risk of leftist cliché: they are bearers of a precious flame, one that will sooner or later flare into a bonfire. I urge readers of this issue of Reconstruction, focused as it is on activism, to purchase these writers’ works, visit the Struggle web site, and – whether they are formally teachers or not – share what they learn, about both aesthetics and politics, with the people about whom they care.

By Barbara Foley



The Underground Railway

There is an underground railway
that becomes as invisible as a
cactus where the border is sand

People like us stand there in lines
in banks, chatting with our neighbors
in quiet conspiracy against spurious

gated communities what will not share
the land with The Landscapers! And it
is true they were once forced to leave...

In backyard cottages, low they lay
with their children wives new customs
languages and police sirens for dreams

They collected together like bees
in a hive and brought secret cities,
pueblos with streets the color of bulls

I would ask who is not a secret conductor
in this underground railway with a place
in heart and memory about “give us your poor”

For they would husband this land they flew
towards over a thousand fields and dangers –
to stand in a street throng of unskilled labor

By Michael S. Morris




Iranian woman


By law, your life is worth more than mine, 
and I am 1/2 your worth.

Do I have 1/2 an eye? Do I have 1/2 a mouth?
Is life to be determined by what I have down south?

But it seems like restrictions give me 1/2 your sight and voice.

Who says you have more to offer?
Wipe off your chilling smirk.

Will I be your worth? When we are rotting in the earth?

A soul is a hermaphrodite, 
so who determines a price?

And do I live life 1/2 as good, as you would live your life?

By law, your life is worth more than mine and I am 1/2 your worth,
Do you think I will be your price, 
before I am to lay under dirt?


By Ghazal Hajilzadeh




The blue wall

Drug dealers, Wife beaters, Thieves
Those, who started green, turned blue
To protect and to serve only each other

A wife dials 9-1-1
Code 24, dispatch calls over the radio
Her husband belongs to the force
Officer Jones, torn, responds
she is one of them
The victim trembles
Officer Jones is blue

Hands resting on her black gun belt,

She turns her back
and stands to protect
the brotherhood
Her navy uniform wrinkled
The brass star dull
She nervously chews Big Red
A penciled eyebrow raised,
mascara smeared under one wary eye

From behind the blue

the policeman looks at his wife

and smiles
She is defeated
against the wall
there is no protection
Her body shivers
his threats
echo in
her mind

The back of his tanned fist

strikes his palm
his diamond wedding ring
catching a curl of her brown hair
She stands
helpless trapped
between the wall
and the resisting kitchen counter

Fear running down her face her only shield


By JL Stapleton




Superficial wounds


The bruises on Chandra’s face faded. Even the heinous one under her eye could be concealed with makeup. How can that be, she wondered. Everything else feels so raw. She still expected to see livid colors marking her face.

You’re lucky. The emergency room doctor actually said those words to her. “You’re lucky. Your wounds are superficial.”

Lucky? Excuse me while I buy a lottery ticket. The now-familiar churning upset her stomach.

Chandra found her husband stretched out on the sofa with a book. The smell of popcorn -- Derrick’s favorite snack -- infused the air. Even without glancing at the title, she knew his book was about coping with trauma. Or something similar.

She observed him. Compassion momentarily eased her anger. I should let you go. The woman you love is gone. I’m just a version of her. Someday, I might become a better version of her. But how long will that take? Even then, I still won’t be her. That Chandra is gone forever. A hollow ache seeped into her chest.

Any of Derrick’s books would say she needed time. But how much time? When would she stop surviving her days and start living them? And how many years of therapy would that take. Shit! I wish I knew who to send the bill!

She perched on the armrest. “Did you leave me any popcorn?”

Derrick jostled the book to hide the title. She stifled a sigh. Why he felt the need to shield her from these things escaped her. It didn’t bother her that he surfed websites dedicated to victims’ rights. She didn’t mind if he sought help from an online support group. Frankly, any comfort they gave him was fine by her. She knew he hurt. Chandra reeled from her own suffering. She couldn’t shoulder his, too.

Derrick held out the bowl. “Help yourself.”

She grabbed a handful. She savored the buttery, salty taste. Thank God for small comforts.

She jumped at the sound of the phone. She willed her heartbeat to slow to normal. Derrick answered on the second ring. When he was at work, she screened the calls.

“Hi, Denise.”

His eyes clashed with hers. She held still while he listened. “She’s on the treadmill right now. I’ll have her call you when she gets out of the shower.”

Chandra breathed deeper.

“Yes, I know. I’ll tell her. I promise.” Again with the eyes. “I understand.” He broke eye contact. Her turned away and lowered his voice. She still caught what he said. “Be patient, okay?” Chandra frowned as he faced front again. “I’ll give her the message . . . Okay . . . You, too. Bye.”

Chandra hated the phone’s chirp when he pushed ‘end’. Derrick rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “She’s getting antsy, Aims. You need to call her.”


“Your parents, too.”

“I know.”

“They want to show their support.”

They can support me by staying away. Her parents and little sister knew what happened to her. Of course, she protected them from the grisly details. Even bare bones knowledge, though, devastated them. She loved her family. That’s what made this so hard.

This hurt them, too. Part of her felt guilty for their pain. They hurt because they loved her. And this fueled the ever-burning rage. She seethed over the guilt and shame she suffered over this. She hadn’t done anything wrong. All she wanted was to run a simple errand. All she wanted was to gas up her car . . .


Her husband’s voice dragged her from that dark place. She shuddered. “Yeah?”

He paused. She knew he wanted to be insistent. Before, he would’ve refused to lie for her. When he believed he was right, he was a force of nature. He argued more skillfully than any lawyer did. Now, he dealt with her more gingerly. He never pushed. He never fought.

Chandra wondered if he learned this from his books and the Internet. She appreciated the breathing room. She felt grateful for the understanding. Part of her, though, railed against it. It was just another thing that had changed.

“Just call them. Please.”

“I will. Soon.” And she would. As soon as she felt strong enough.

She didn’t want to worry about that now. She craved distraction. Chandra longed to forget. Just for five minutes. Perhaps forget was the wrong word. She wanted to not be aware of it. She wanted to relax. She wanted the painful tension in her muscles to ease. Christ, I’d settle for being able to unplug my shoulders from my ears.

“Do you mind if I turn on the TV?”

Derrick lobbed the remote to her. “I need another soda. Want something from the kitchen?”

“Orange juice, please.”

“Coming up.”

Chandra pressed the remote. A reality show about young people who liked to party appeared. Scantily clad girls gyrated for the attention of a handsome guy. No, she wanted to scream. Be the generation that stops this! Don’t participate in your own dehumanization. Stop this, now!

She watched in horror as girl after girl relinquished her basic human dignity. Am I hypersensitive? Am I going crazy? Or am I finally sane? Perhaps I’ve finally hit my limit. Most women went their entire lives without hitting it. We accept the crap we do because we’re taught not to make a fuss. Exploit us. Beat us. Rape us. Murder us. It’s okay. After all, we’re just women.

On television, a hip-hop song played in the background. Chandra caught snippets of the lyrics.

“All up in your hole . . .”

“Gonna make ya sore . . .”

“Bend ya over . . .”

Nausea drenched her. She wasn’t in her living room any more. The song triggered the memory. Suddenly she was back there. With them. To them, she wasn’t human. She had no heart, no mind, no soul. Therefore, she deserved no respect, no dignity. Her agony only amused them. She doubted they believed they did anything wrong. After all, things don’t feel cruelty.

And the things they said to her! It was almost as bad as the things they did to her. The queasiness overtook her. Hand over her mouth, she fled to the bathroom. She nearly collided with Derrick. “Chandra?”

She retched. Derrick moved to hold back her hair. Feeling him bent over her was too reminiscent of that dark place. She elbowed him away from her. Her stomach muscles spasmed. She didn’t fight it. She let go.

Afterwards, she slumped against the bathtub. Derrick offered her a cold cloth. She remembered the elbowing. Remorse stung her. He only wanted to help. And I rejected him. She loathed this.

Derrick squeezed toothpaste on her toothbrush. “It’s here when you’re ready.”

“Thank you.” He turned to go. “Derrick?”


She said the only thing she could. “I love you.”

A ghost of a smile haunted his lips. “I love you, too.”

“It will get better.”

Even as she said it, she realized it wasn’t true. Society wouldn’t soften. Pop culture wouldn’t stop objectifying women. The criminal justice system wouldn’t become kinder and gentler. If she had her day in court, she knew it wouldn’t be a pleasant one. A defense attorney would guarantee that. Chances were, it would be as bad as the actual crime. No, it won’t get better.

Chandra would have to get better. She would have to be the one to adapt and change. A tornado ripped through, forcing her to be her own Red Cross. She didn’t ask for this, but that’s how it had to be. Most importantly, she needed to release the acidic rage that seared her. But how?

It was possible. Millions of victims recreated lives for themselves. They figured taxes, raised kids, operated on patients, reported the news, just for starters. Sure, some go bonkers or commit suicide. But I can’t dwell on that.

They were . . . We, she corrected herself. Not they. We. Chandra groaned. That’s one sorority I would’ve paid monthly dues not to join.

Slowly, Chandra rose to her feet. She balanced on unsteady legs. She tottered to the sink and clutched the counter. Chandra glimpsed her reflection. “What do you think, kid? Can we do it?”

She traced the remains of her bruises and answered her question the only way she could. “I hope so.”


By Kimberly Silver



Keeping the casket open
 for Emmet Till

She sits
at the funeral home
of A.A. Raynor and Sons
rocking slowly,
a turnstile
admitting the mourners
one by one
to view the beaten and bloated
body of her boy,
pulled from the Tallahatchie River.
She doesn't want
to keep him hidden,
his voice, silent.
Sometimes even the dead
are a little shy.
Go on, baby,
whisper to each passing face,
look at who you are,
look at what you've done.


By Andy Macera




potato suicides

the beam of the barn is chafed
where the rope held tight
where the knot was tied

to support the weight of your body
in the void.

the wood is splintered there,
rubbed raw,
there is a groove
where once was smooth and solid thick-cut pine.

you, servant of the soil,
deacon of the earth,
steward of the land,
this weight is more than
pounds of flesh and bone,

it is the crush --
monstrous machines of corporate greed
the massive brutal force of profit sought
the heavy bodies of insatiable beasts --

this groove worn in the beam and in my soul
not by your rope but by their teeth and nails
another body hung on splintered wood.

Dedicated to the memory of Harlan Dornbush and the work of Vandana Shiva.


By Bobbi Dykema Katsanis




Dispossessed Motherland

I am from the land
Reduced to handful sand
Where is only mud
Left by devastating flood.
Here is no crop to reap
But only blood to creep
On our fate to weep
And feet not rise to leap.
Here is no food to eat
No room to express the wit
No place to peacefully sit
Good enough to cause the fit
As we are by poverty hit.
Here is no fuel to be lit
No milk in the mother’s teat
We have only dust to beat
Bleak and barren land and wit.
Here is no work to do
So we have earning few
And we have courage to muster
To gather the bread and butter.
Here is no life utility
Here is only killing by brutality
Which exposes administrative futility?
By their nature of duality.
Here is no feather in the cap
Only the news of kidnap
In the mean time you nap
Child is dispossessed from mother’s lap.
Here is no morality to be taught
If you do death to be bought
Don’t give the suggestion unsought
Which only misery to be brought.
Here is only the battle to be fought
One-year flood is another year drought
We are caught in the current of time
There is no difference
Between the age of old and prime
Here is no moment of auspicious, only ill omen
People are living in the devil’s domain
To earn livelihood, what can do the men?
Go miles and years away to deadly den
Lovelorn of their children and women.

Here is no magic wand
Men beat their own drum and band
Here are only foes, hardly any friend
Here is none for mistakes to amend
Here is no right for dignity to defend
This is a dispossessed motherland
This is nothing but a Waste Land.


By Vivekanand Jha, India




What democracy

I have got to be there.
I can’t stay away forever.
I have got to see.
what became of my country.
People once voted
and I took an oath.
Vouch to fight rigging of elections.
and processes there-of.
The people travelled miles to compete
in these elections.
Hunger, anger, poverty, asides.
Fellow citizens, all believing
that late March's spirit will free them
to pay homage to this democracy.
This word is alien!
It is a shadow that impresses decisions.
But has never been experienced.
Always victims to greedy vampires
my people have only smelled death
this is the democracy they know.


By Tendai Mwanaka, South Africa




January 15

I will embrace you, Harriet.
A century and decades more ago it was --
so long that I need have no fear --
I can embrace you now.
I’ll name a school uptown for you
and all the children there will listen as I sing
of deeds on freedom’s railroad you conducted well.
And if by chance they hear some other tell
how yesterday I tried to hunt you down
I’ll simply blame those evil bygone men.
As now we worship freedom too,
come, let me embrace you.

I will embrace you, Martin.
Sufficient time has passed and it is safe;
I can embrace you now.
Perhaps I’ll set aside a holiday for you.
Yes, that is what I’ll do.
You always preached forgiveness as the way
and so I have decided to forgive myself.
Thus every year we’ll mark this reverent day
with borrowed words of struggle and of sorrow.
I can return to making money tomorrow --
as now we worship freedom too.
Come, let me embrace you.

I will embrace you, Malcolm.
Yes, even you I can embrace.
I’ll sell those hats emblazoned with your sign
and make a movie of your life
so with our popcorn and our Coke
(perhaps it was intended as a joke?)
we’ll watch the children jumping up
to tell us they are you.
How can it harm me if it is not true?
Of course, the truth would be I had you killed
in that ballroom where we went for our last dance,
or else I stood aside and watched it done --
please raise no quibble where there isn’t one --
and I would have to do the honors
once again should duty call.
I know that you will understand
because it never was your style to turn the other cheek.
But time can cure all wounds I’ve heard it said;
especially since I still live while you are dead
as now we worship freedom too.
Come, let me embrace you.

I will embrace you, Nelson.
You didn’t even have to die like all the rest --
though some might think it happened anyway.
There’s business to be done; it’s for the best;
I can embrace you now.
Forget that from my distant shores I watched
as jailers kept you all those years.
You saw the light before it was too late
and ended up as head of state.
Yet rich and poor stayed mostly in their proper place,
and since to that eternal truth
our honor we have jointly pledged
(as now we worship freedom too)
come, let me embrace you.

Let me embrace you, whoever you may be,
as long as you don’t mind the way
we worship golden icons here—
like those who dwell in dope-filled dreams
imagining it must be freedom’s door.
It’s so much easier than when
I had to hold you dear
with iron chain and leather whip.
But if by chance you do resist
my soft seduction’s tawdry spell
I’ll simply have to weave my wand
to make you disappear as well,
and then some year when it is safe
denounce the deeds of evil bygone men
as now we worship freedom too.
Come, I will embrace you;
I can embrace you all.


By Steve Bloom





Obama I need some work
I'll stock them shelves or be a clerk.
Obama I'm in some need
the whole damn nation is sick with greed.
Billions of dollars that we gave the banks
they spit in our face saying 'many thanks'
But to the poor man hustling on the street
He just can't find any food to eat.
The rich man he just won't see the light
He'll never understand he's a parasite.
He shuffles papers and talks on the phone
while he dreams one day of a golden throne.
Obama, I need some aid
A job to do so I can get paid.
Obama, I need a hand
but there is one thing I don't understand.
You always find money for war no matter what
and all the rest of us are simply forgot.

By John Kaniecki




Letter to Jones about what he believes


Dear Calvin:

I have finished the massive missive
you sent entitled The God of C. David Jones,
D. Min. I read it three times to see if you had
answered my questions about why Christian dogma
seems reasonable to you. But all you did was quote
Scripture and ancient creeds. Pity. I know what
they have to say. I used to teach it. What interests
me is why you think any of it is logical and reasonable.
I want to know what you think, not what the writers
of creeds and scriptures thought. I want to understand
your experience. But instead of explaining your
thought process on these matters, you have quoted
the explanations of other people's experience. I want
to know why you think the explanations of their
experience are reasonable enough for you to believe
them. Why does it seem reasonable to you that an
omnipotent being should place two imperfect beings
into a perfect place, then blame and punish them for
their failure to be perfect? What to you is reasonable
about God's wrath being appeased by slitting the throat
of a harmless lamb and letting it bleed to death? In
what ways does the behavior of a celestial bully
drowning all living creatures except a single family of
humans and other animals seem okay with you?
Drowning is as painful and frightening to bear. as it is
to innocent children born in harm's way. Why does
it seem logical to you that once God grew tired of
allowing slain lambs to pay for bad human behavior
he decided to let humanity kill his son? We would
call that kind of behavior extreme child abuse today.
We imprison folks who conduct themselves like that
in this day and age. The Jews have owned the story
of Adam and Eve a lot longer than you Evangelicals.
How come they never came up with a concept like
original sin when it's been so lucrative for others?


By Fredrick Zydek





If, upon my death,
I discover that the myth
was correct after all,
and I face St. Peter,
and he does not call
my name to pass through the gates
because I merely lived
as well as I could,
failing to worship --
with proper piety – his deity,
I will simply turn away.

For after a lifetime fighting
the arrogance of the earthly almighty,
why, I ask, should I have any desire
to spend eternity
with a heavenly variety?


By Steve Bloom




My country

America the Murder
Let's kill all the Indians
America the Slaver
Put the Negroes in chains
America the Children
All day in the coal mines
America the Prison
Got convicts for sale.

America, my hate is as strong as my love
But I have never yet hated a person.


By Christian J. Weaver #27162
TCIX Unit 1802
1499 R.W. Moore Mem. Hwy.
Only, TN 37140




On the clock

Tiara Sipes used up all her time on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – the Welfare – and got all the extensions she could. Requirements made her resentful. She finessed the tiresome work/training program requirements, enrolled in programs but never completed them due to emergencies, appealed notification of termination, enrolled again but never attended, notified again of termination, begged for another chance, played the guilt card on her caseworker, pitched screaming fits, stretched it out as long as possible.

No matter what they told her, she could not believe she would be cut off because it never used to be that way; for sure, not when she was little. There could be no help from her mother; Aretha Sipes had gone straight from Aid to Families of Dependent Children to Social Security Disability. There could be no help from her baby daddy; Tyrone Hammer was doing life for cocaine and murder. She never thought about help from her own daddy; Oliver Sipes had been gone for years.

Never again, Tiara swore to herself, never again would she fail to look straight on at anything in life.

Tiara was twenty-one. She was darkest brown, with flaring lips, high cheekbones, and almond-shaped eyes. She’d let her hair go back to a soft medium natural; foxy lady hair cost time and money. She wore tight, faded Ralph Lauren jeans and a cell in a tooled holster on her belt. Her breasts and buttocks were big and jutted out proudly. As long as she could find her waist and had flat abs, she would never think she had a weight problem the way white girls did.

Tiara sat on the front porch of the Central Court Apartments, a dark red brick two-story building that had once been a fine private residence. These days, it was at the end of downtown Hot Springs with the pawn shops and bail bonds, before the art galleries and historic bathhouses began. She glanced down at Fantasia and smiled. Her four-year-old daughter was coloring a Little Mermaid color book and very serious about deciding which colors to use. Tiara had braided Fantasia’s hair into lacy loops all over her little head.
The Central Court was a step above an SRO because the new owners checked references and had a security lock on the front door. Tiara felt safe about having Fantasia there, as long as she kept an eye on her, more than at any other place she could almost afford to stay.

Marcus and Liz Owens, an older black couple, age indeterminate, came out the front door and sat on a bench. Two young black men and a white woman and her eighteen-year-old son followed them and crouched at their feet. All lit up cigarettes; then Marcus Owens read the Help Wanted ads to the others, who could not read well.

Tiara looked at the cigarettes hungrily. Marcus noticed and offered her a smoke from his pack. Tiara shook her head regretfully.

“I’m quitting. One smoke just sets up a craving for another.”

“Ain’t it the truth?” Marcus chuckled.

Tiara longed for the cigarette; but she could not accept it because she was afraid that if she smoked one, she would start again. Cigarettes were too expensive anymore. She needed to be sure she had money to get milk and fruit for Fantasia.

Marcus read the headline story and editorial about Vytrax. The giant business machine and computer corporation was opening an office in Hot Springs to do something called “information retrieval and cyber storage.” The main thing was that it would bring two or three hundred jobs to Hot Springs. Employees would get good pay and promotion opportunities, vacation, retirement, and medical, even dental. Medical was what registered first on Tiara.

She worked at Burger King, part time hoping for full time, on Central Avenue across from the empty building Vytrax was taking over. The others at Burger King talked about the jobs at Vytrax, the way those on the porch were doing. They must want a lot of qualifications. All the jobs can’t be computer geek stuff. They’ll need maintenance and clerks and security. Wonder will they let relatives work on the job site? What if you got a record? Don’t hurt to apply. Check it out. It would be so great….

Tiara gathered up Fantasia’s color book and Crayolas, then unlocked the sturdy front door. The new owners had placed a sofa, chairs and coffee table in the foyer, making a sitting area that might be nice in the winter when it got cold outside. Tiara’s furnished room, with kitchenette and bathinette, was on the second floor. Sofa bed, table, chairs, and dresser provided, her own child bed and TV. Everything was serviceable. Tyrone had rented a nice furnished apartment in a new apartment complex for her, which of course she could not keep after he got arrested. She wanted to have her own stuff someday. New things that never belonged to anyone else.

“How was Grandma feeling today?”

After her shift was over, Tiara ate the free cheeseburger value meal she got on her shift and then picked Fantasia up from her mother. There was nothing else she could do except leave Fantasia with her mother, but she always questioned Fantasia carefully about grandmother’s behavior. She remembered growing up when her mother argued with the voices, talked about things that weren’t there, got messages over the radio, temper fits and sleeping jags, demands and dependency. On maintenance prescription drugs after a stay in the state hospital, Aretha Sipes seemed much calmer, not exactly grounded but at least not hearing voices. It seemed safe enough to leave Fantasia with her. Tiara could not afford daycare or a regular babysitter.

Vytrax painted the empty, windowless building its company colors, sand and turquoise, and affixed its name in stainless steel letters across the front. The “V” was a big checkmark, the company symbol familiar around the world.

Hiring was handled for Vytrax by Select, an employment agency out of Little Rock. Tiara got an appointment to be in a group for tests and interviews. Select had set up twenty computers in a front room. The application and alpha, numeric, and proofreading tests were all done on computer. Tiara knew computers, though she’d had to pawn her own for a little ready cash; and the tests were not hard for her. A click of the mouse sent the tests off for grading. In a few minutes the applicants were sorted, some sent home, some kept for an interview.

An older white woman, who said her name was Faith, seemed very uncertain. She alone wore a suit and heels, the kind of interview clothes they talked about in job training classes. She had short, feathery gray hair and almost perfectly round blue eyes, sparklers on her left hand. “I haven’t worked since I got married,” she admitted shyly, as if she had to explain. “But this economy….”

Tiara knew that kind of life was never to be hers.

A dreadlocked woman said, “Hoooo! My daddy told me, ‘Always have your own money and your own place so you don’t have to take no shit off no man.’”

Faith blushed. Tiara had never received any counsel from her own daddy. She decided to remember that and teach it to Fantasia.

The Select employment counselor called Tiara into her office. Anita wore one of those business pants suits that Tiara thought were too tacky and colored her hair all the same pale blonde shade. Her face looked tense, as if she tried to diet; and she was along in her forties. Tiara thought whites showed their age more than blacks did.

“Your test scores are excellent,” Anita said. “I was surprised to see you didn’t finish high school. If you’d get your GED, maybe I could offer you something better than mail prep.”

Tiara only realized that she was being hired on at Vytrax. The hourly pay was more than she’d ever gotten. And those Vytrax benefits the paper reported! To say she worked at Vytrax was a whole other thing than saying she worked at Burger King. Anita even offered her a choice of job site. Vytrax would have the main building on Central Avenue and a branch building on Mill Creek Road near the Magic Springs Amusement Park. Her mother lived on a side road off the same main road as Magic Springs, so that would be convenient.
Tiara felt such a rush of gratefulness to Anita and Vytrax that it split her dark face open in a dazzling smile and lit up her eyes. She beamed at the others in reception and even smiled to herself while she drove to Health Park Hospital for a drug test.

Lucky for her, Tyrone gave Tiara a car before he got arrested. It was an Easter egg blue Volkswagen, not an ugly bug, but one of the new ones with big windows that looked as cute as puppies. When the DEA seized all his property and his skinny white wife’s, Tiara’s car escaped their attention. Please God, just don’t let it need repairs. When she was seventeen, Tiara ran away from her crazy mother to be with Tyrone Hammer. Tyrone had sleek corn rows that extended into multiple braids, cool threads and bling, and weightlifter arms. He was good to her; he could afford to be. He ran a cocaine gang in central Arkansas. Trouble came from a rival gang of Mexican illegals. Tyrone killed a spy in his organization that he thought was from the other gang but that turned out to be a DEA undercover agent. In the holding cell after sentencing, Tyrone shook his head with black humor and said to her, “Damn! If I knowed that muthuhfuckuh was DEA and not Los Machetes, I’d of paid him off.” She’d planned to take Fantasia to the federal maximum security pen in Beaumont, Texas, for regular visits. She did it once, but it was just too much hassle and expense.

After she passed the drug test, Tiara drove across town, about fifteen minutes, to the outskirts where her mother lived. She turned onto a side road that was not quite two lanes wide and did not have a stripe down the middle. The road sides were green with brush, tall grass, chinaberry and mimosa trees, and scrub evergreens. A spur turned off to three blocks of houses with yards; then the road continued to a dead end where a number of trailer houses clustered.

Down the road, Tiara saw a band of children playing with balls and a mutt puppy. She at once picked out Fantasia’s red overalls. Aretha Sipes and Melanie Noonan sat under the awning in front of Melanie’s doublewide and watched their grandchildren play. Aretha was a very thin black woman with stringently processed hair that was kinking up at the roots. Melanie shelled black-eyed peas into a pot on her lap; she had gone to fat comfortably and chopped her hair off close to her round pink face. Fantasia recognized her mother’s blue Volks. She ran over and hugged Tiara’s legs as soon as she got out of the car, then ran back to the game. Tiara pulled up one of Melanie’s wicker-look chairs. She grinned irrepressibly.

“Let me guess,” Aretha said. “You got hired.”

Tiara bobbed her head up and down. She related her impressions to Aretha and Melanie. “Then I went to HPH for the drug test,” she concluded. “They just kept my purse and turned my pockets inside out. They didn’t watch me pee.”

“I couldn’t accomplish a thing,” Melanie declared, “if I had witnesses.”

“Guess you’ll go shopping at Dillard’s now,” Aretha said, adding proudly, “And pay for it all your own self.”

“No, ma’am! I’m saving up for a down payment on a trailer house of my own. I’m getting out of the Central Court and moving up. Maybe even a doublewide.”

“Bobby emailed me from Iraq today,” Melanie said. “You know, with the video so we see each other. He don’t know what he’ll do when he gets back. I’ll tell him to go to Vytrax. The Army taught him all about computers.”

The three women beamed at each other. The children and the puppy ran around laughing and yipping.

On the drive back to the Central Court, Tiara questioned Fantasia about how Aretha had acted. Her mother loved her grandchildren, and they loved her. Surely she would do better with them than she did with her own.

The Vytrax building on Mill Creek Road was situated where houses thinned out and farms began. Once a feed store, it was painted company colors; “Vytrax,” with the big checkmark, was painted all across the front. Full of nervous anticipation, Tiara parked the Volks and fell in with others going to the job.

Anita, the Select blonde, stood in front of the door. She waved her hands around her head to catch attention. “Don’t clock in! You can go in to the break room, get coffee, but don’t clock in until I tell you to.”

Confused, Tiara went inside. Vending machines lined two walls, with a long table in the center.

“Get coffee!” she exclaimed. “Big deal.”

That was a vending machine, too.

Some people had taken the chairs around the table, some people stood. Other people stayed outside and smoked. Tiara’s nerves craved a smoke, even her fingers twitched for a cigarette; but vending machine packs were expensive.

Tiara leaned against a sandwich vending machine. “Probably got E. coli,” she muttered.

A pregnant girl with long, light brown hair, no ring on her left hand, twitched her lips, almost crying. Brenda said, “I don’t understand. They told me to be here at eight.”

Faith, the gray-haired lady from the interview group, recognized Tiara and came over. “What is this all about?”
“I never come across anything like this before.” Tiara looked at her watch.

“This can’t be legal!” Doyle declared loudly. He was a tall, thin, homely gay dude.

“Whatever,” Brenda said, “I got to pay my babysitter full time.”

“Where’s your baby daddy?” Tiara asked.

“Iraq. When he gets back, we’ll get married.”

After forty minutes, Anita came inside. She smiled with all her teeth, but there were deep lines between her eyes. “Line up. Y’all can clock in now. Then you’ll be assigned to teams.”

The new hires shuffled onto the floor resentfully. This was a long, windowless rectangle with a mail room on one end. Anita had a desk in the open at the other end, and there was a partitioned space for a Vytrax manager. There were rows of long tables. The tables on one side of the room had computers on them; the others were for mail prep. Tiara was assigned to a prep team. She opened envelopes, smoothed out the pages, pulled staples and clips, taped tears, and sorted by size. The mail was prepped for scanning into the computer, downloaded in India, sent back and proofread on computers in Hot Springs. Workers had been hired for specific shifts; yet they had to wait until the mail came to clock in, and they were sent home as soon as the last bit of mail was finished. Hours worked had nothing to do with shift hours.

Sent home early, as the workers considered it to be, Tiara was outraged. She had her hopes raised, and she had been betrayed. Her rage showed on her face. She was too proud to break down crying until she got to her mother’s place. “I’d of done better to stay on at Booger King. I went to see Harvey, you know, the manager. Now I can’t get back on, they’re full up.”

When she got her first check, Tiara saw the business name printed on the check even before she looked at the amount. She was paid by Select, not Vytrax. They learned that only team leaders and floor managers worked for Vytrax and got the great deal that was reported in the papers. All the rest were temps.

Tiara had to weigh one thing against another. She needed a job, there was not much in Hot Springs, she was trapped. She accepted defeat.

Waiting in the break room, the longest wait yet, Tiara griped. “Why the hell India? What are they doing over there that we can’t do here?”

“Work for twenty-five cents a day,” Doyle purred.

“Slave labor!” Roger, a big black man, snorted.

“My shackmates work in the Central office,” Doyle said. “They get sent home early, too. But there’s none of this shit about waiting to clock in. I’ve put in for a transfer. Hope! Hope!”

“Maybe I can get back on at Booger King,” Tiara said. “People quit all the time there.”

“I put in at Wal-Mart,” Roger said. “Y’all ever worked there?”

“I ain’t working in no sto’!” Tiara exclaimed. “I seen how customers act.”

“I ain’t having nothing to do with food,” Roger declared just as emphatically.

“For me, this is a necessary evil, I’m afraid.” Faith seemed truly distressed when she said, “This is not what I have always believed about American business. Free enterprise, opportunity for everyone, businessmen are the most responsible leaders, work is the foundation of community….” She trailed off.

Tiara had never thought about jobs in such abstract terms. “If they don’t need so many people, why hire them?”

Anita opened the door to the floor. Tiara scowled at her as she went by.

When they were sent home, Doyle got his Schwinn bicycle and walked with Tiara to her car.

“Can you get me some cocaine?” he whispered. “Good and cheap.”

“I never had anything to do with dope,” Tiara said indignantly. “If you do, you’re a bigger dope than I thought.”

“I’m only interested in powder,” Doyle said, himself indignant. “It’s not dope unless you inject it.”


Tiara got into the Volks and peeled out. After she cooled off, Tiara reflected that Doyle was too dopey to be even a DEA agent trying to set her up. Because of Tyrone, though, she would have to be careful for years. Damn!

“When can I ride up front with you, Mama?”

Tiara buckled Fantasia in. “When you’re a big girl, little girl. Riding in front is just something grownups do.”

Fantasia heaved an exaggerated sigh.

Tiara zipped past the Magic Springs Amusement Park – where Fantasia clamored to ride the upside down ride – and merged onto a main road.

“How was Grandma feeling today?”

“Real happy. One of her friends she hasn’t heard from in a while came back.”



Tiara didn’t know of her mother having friends outside of the trailer park. “Is this a lady or a man?”

“Dunno. I don’t see them. Grandma doesn’t see them either, she just hears them.”

The Volks almost veered out of its lane. Tiara got herself under control. She turned off into the Wash-A-Rama parking lot. Fantasia looked all right, not like she felt all the fear and confusion and guardedness Tiara had felt when Aretha argued with her voices.

Keeping her voice level, Tiara said, “Tell me all about Grandma’s friends. Are they nice?”

“Cool! They call her up and don’t even need a cell. I want friends like that.”

Tiara scratched her tension into the upholstery and kept her voice soft. “Does Grandma fight a lot with her friends?”

“No. They tell jokes, ‘cause she laughs a lot.”

Tiara closed her eyes and slumped. She had made herself believe it was safe to leave Fantasia with Aretha. How else could she manage?

“Mama, why we sitting here? I want ice cream.”

Tiara turned the Volks around and drove back to the trailer park. She told Fantasia to play with Melanie’s grandchildren and made herself go into her mother’s trailer. Aretha had bought the trailer used with her retroactive disability check. Some of the furniture came with it, some things were salvaged from Aretha’s haphazard life. The first owner’s black leatherette sofa was covered by Aretha with a daisy-printed sheet.

Tiara heard Aretha laughing in the bedroom at the other end of the trailer. She walked softly down the narrow hall. Aretha sat in a recliner with her feet up, a glass of ice tea in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

“Lord, Lord! Don’t you know it, girl….Tell me about it….”

It sounded like someone talking on the phone to her girlfriends, only Aretha wasn’t on the phone.

Tiara folded her arms across her chest and looked down at her mother.

“Gotta go,” Aretha said, as if she were hanging up the phone. “You got a bee up your butt, girl?”

“Damn! Mama, what’s happening with you?”

Aretha lowered the recliner. She faced Tiara indignantly. “I don’t have to explain nothing to you.”

“You do if you want to keep Fantasia.”

Aretha reacted to that as a threat. “Don’t take a attitude with me.”

Tiara remembered times when she just could not get through to her mother, as if they weren’t speaking the same language: She gave up, but learned to be very watchful. “Don’t try to sidetrack me. Fantasia just now told me about the friends who call you up and don’t even need a phone. She didn’t know what she was saying. So. What’s happening with you?”

“When did you get so biggity? Is that any way to talk to your mama?”

“Mama! Don’t think I don’t remember all those voices you fought with all the time.”

Aretha was deflated.

Tiara bored in on her. “When did they come back?”

“These ones are different. They’re more friendly like. I can live with them.”

Tiara folded up on the floor and leaned against the bed. To herself, not aloud, she said, What am I going to do?

Tiara lay awake with her mind chasing itself around. When she dropped off into exhaustion, the alarm rang. She turned it off; then fear snapped her awake. She was going to need money, so she had to get to work. For once, making them wait to clock in would not be so bad. She dragged herself up, left Fantasia with Aretha, and got to Vytrax feeling like she was walking around in a sleeping body. The break room was empty, the door to the floor open, people at their stations.


Going to her station, she made a joke to the team at large. “When you count on them making you wait to clock in, this is what happens.”
She was rewarded with knowing smiles and nods. However, a white man wearing creased slacks and a business shirt with a tie under his adam’s apple, in August, frowned at her, then went back to the partitioned space.

Tiara got some mail from the basket and sat down beside Faith.

“That’s someone from management on Central,” Faith whispered to her.

Tiara shrugged and reached for the staple puller.

The team leaders had phones for internal calls. Crystal, a chunky white woman with Hollywood makeup, listened to someone say something without any comment but, “OK.” She hung up and, showing no expression, said, “Tiara, honey, Anita needs to see you.”
Tiara walked down the room to Anita’s desk. She expected a reaming out for being late and told herself to keep her big mouth shut and suck it up.

Anita pressed her fingertips into her desktop. “Vytrax management wants me to terminate you for lateness.”

“What! It was just this time.”

“But Tom Henderson saw you.”

“And after all the times you been late – I mean, making me wait to clock in and costing me hours.” Tiara caught herself. Anita was not a boss, just a temp supplier. “Where is that muthuhfuckuh?”

Anita smiled tightly and flipped a hand at the partition wall.

Tiara went through the door without knocking. Tom Henderson looked up from the financial pages to see a big, angry, black black woman.

Keep cool, Tiara thought, reason with him. “Mr. Henson – “


“Whatever. Y’all tell us to be here at a certain time, but then y’all don’t let us clock in then. This is just my only time to be late, ‘cause I had problems. Do you think it’s fair – “

He lifted a thin hand. “This conversation does not exist.” There was nothing remarkable about his face except an arrogant expression engraved into the very skin.

Tiara screamed at him the way she screamed at her Welfare caseworker.

He reached for the phone. “Get out or I’m calling the police.”

Tiara hadn’t had a record since juvie, and she didn’t want one now.

She stormed out, eyes shooting hate at Anita.

The rage simmering underneath surprised even her.

Tiara learned she could not get the Unemployment because she was just a temp worker.

Her counselor at the Arkansas Work Force, a weary looking white man, said, “We’re hearing about Vytrax. They got a tax break to come here and all that whoop de doo in the media.”

“Whoop de damn doo.”

Robby Cahill smiled. “What I can do is refer you to job training. But you need to get your GED first.”

Tiara thought it over: If she had some kind of training, she’d be less likely to be in the power of people like Tom and Anita. The depression weighing heavy in her chest lightened a little.

She felt that Robby Cahill was reliable. “What kind of jobs should I aim for? Sometimes it seems like the only ones who can find jobs these days are the illegals.”

“It’s not quite that bad. Medical tech is the growing field, also nurses aide, care of the elderly.”

“Old folks. Once you had a baby, you can change diapers and put up with whining.”

“That’s the spirit!”

After leaving the Work Force, Tiara drove over to Burger King. Harvey said, “Word’s getting around about Vytrax.” He signed her up for a graveyard shift that had just come open.

Tiara, Fantasia, and Aretha strolled in the cool of the Hot Springs Mall. They licked ice cream cones and looked in windows. Tiara had moved back in with her mother, to save money and to keep an eye on Fantasia. It seemed safe enough because the new voices were friendly and discreet.

Faith from the Mill Creek office came out of Penney’s. Faith and Tiara saw each other at the same time and smiled recognition.
Faith composed her face regretfully. “Did you see the obituary for Anita?”

Tiara nodded without expression.

Faith continued, “A heart attack. And she was so young for something like that! It was all the stress – being the one to let people go.”
“Should of laid off that cocaine.”

Faith was shocked, then flustered. “I never heard anything like that.”

Tiara never heard anything about cocaine and Anita, or anything at all about Anita’s private life, wasn’t interested; but cocaine could cause heart attacks in young people with no heart problems. She had known of it to happen. It was the first thing she thought when Aretha showed her the obit. She’d thought no more about Anita’s death.


Harvey gave Tiara the first lunch shift that came open, which made it easier for her to go to her GED classes and study.

Doyle, the tall gay fellow from the Mill Creek office, came in with a list of orders. He recognized Tiara and kissed her over the counter. She was glad to see him.

“I got transferred,” he told her. “A mixed blessing. Anyway, there’s a corporate séance going on over there today, all the managers and some honchos from HQ. They sent me out to get a fast lunch for them so they won’t have to pause in their labors.” He rolled his eyes.

She scanned the list he gave her. “What’s this? Chopped onions and pickles, not sliced.”

“’We do it your way.’ Isn’t that the Burger King slogan? Remember that Tom turd? You know how he is?”

“Always trouble about every little thing?”

Doyle’s face was expressive.

Tiara went to the back to fill the order. She chopped onion and pickle slices for Tom. When no one was looking, she deposited a wad of spit in his burger.

Tiara got her GED on her first try. She was the only one in her class to do it; and everyone, even the teacher, seemed impressed.

“Damn! If I knowed I could do this, I’d of taken high school seriously!”

By Billie Louise Jones




Geisha Boy

Christopher was never Chris. His parents’ fundamentalist fervor demanded that their son’s name could only be shortened to Christ, not Chris. In the 7th grade he began leaving the i out of his name so people didn’t call him Christ, or Jesus H. Christ, or Jesus Christ Superstar, etc. Chrst looked close enough to Christ on his school papers so his parents didn’t punish him in the traditional Filipino way of making him lie face down on the ground with his arms out, like a supine crucifixion, while he mulled his transgressions.

Benjamin Tong couldn’t call Chrst anything any more. Any syllable stuck in his throat. Because Chrst died. Chrst got down off the Humvee in Iraq and moved a strand of barbed wire which had been strung across the road in the ten minutes since the last patrol. Moving the wire triggered the I.E.D. and Chrst was dead before the Black Hawk landed to take him out. Chrst had been wounded six months prior to his death, but he got sent back even though his right arm was in constant pain and his right hand couldn’t close all the way.

When Ben read Iraq War Claims First San Francisco Casualty all he could think was –- that’s not his name. The Chronicle got it wrong. His name wasn’t Christopher Flowers. There was obviously a mistake. Chrst was alive. Tong could go to Chinatown and Chrst would be lounging on the stairs of the brick church at California and Grant just like always, dressed in black like a badass, flying the Devil Tong haircut, two bleached white prongs which dangled over his eyes to the middle of his cheeks. Chrst was alive somewhere. Ben Tong just had to find him.


The Chinese tradition of burning paper money at funerals never made any sense to Ben. He imagined Chrst waking up in his dress blues and pulling all that bullshit money out of his pockets and thinking: What the hell am I supposed to do with this shit, buy a paper cell phone, a little paper car, a plastic house on Marvin Gardens? At the memorial, Tong didn’t acknowledge his Lincoln High friends lined up with all that paper nonsense: paper iPods, little paper people to be his servants, paper tricked-out cars to drive his ass around in the netherworld.

By the fourth shot of the twenty-one gun salute in the Golden Gate National Cemetery, Tong was pressing the gas pedal of his Mustang and making a roaring beeline for the gates. With each crack of the rifles, he vowed to return and set things right. At least he’d fix the name on the headstone. If they were going to bury him, they could bury the real him.


Chrst’s father, Buddy, had called Tong during the Super Bowl to tell him, “Christ Flowers was killed in action.” His father pronounced the words with nervous formality like he was speaking into a public address system, like he was speaking to a crowd of people he didn’t know.
The call from Buddy perplexed Tong. Since kindergarten, Buddy always wanted a better friend for his son than a fat Chinese kid whose father worked the fish market and whose mother was just off the boat. In high school, Buddy even forbade his son from hanging out with Ben, leveling stiff punishments if they were even caught texting each other. When that didn’t work, Buddy enrolled Chrst in the Higher Calling Academy, which was run out of some guy’s house, and where they whipped Chrst’s ass with a belt in an upstairs room when the praying didn’t sink in.

When Tong got the call that Chrst was dead, it felt like the day Buddy moved his entire family out of San Francisco. The kid who Ben played with every day since diapers had vanished one afternoon, gone, replaced by white people, who didn’t have kids, who looked like kids.

The day after telling him his best friend was dead, Buddy called Ben again and said that the mayor was honoring Chrst’s sacrifice. The way he said Mayor, Buddy sounded almost happy his son bought the paper iPod. The MAYOR was going to dedicate a bench to San Francisco’s only Iraq War casualty. A bench? At the foot of his grave? So everyone could look at the only fool stupid enough to sign up for the military three years after 9-11 when everyone knew Iraq was a quicksand shit-storm of epic proportions?

But the mayor dogged Buddy Flowers. Mr. Dad was sitting up there all proud, ready to be recognized for the ultimate sacrifice, and Mayor Gruesome Newsome never mentioned Iraq or Chrst Flowers once, like it had polled badly or something, like the mayor couldn’t utter the word Iraq without it being turned around in the press to make it seem like he supported the war. Buddy dragged all his relations out there; and the mayor jumped on and off the stage in less than ten seconds. That was Chrst’s funeral. A political slight-of-hand.


Tong returned to the graveside after sunset. He took the heavy silver C off his keychain. The Golden Gate Bridge was etched on the front. The back was engraved with little Gucci symbols, which felt like fish-scales against his fingertips. The inscription on the matching G said Hong Kong and had an unfamiliar skyline on the front. The clunky silver C and G looked ridiculous. He pushed the silver six-inch letters into the loose dirt.

“Hey Chrst,” Tong said casually like he was on the corner of Kearney and Broadway, “I got a Mustang . . . Shelby GT500 . . . I am not shitting ya . . . we can blow through the tolls like we used to, go anywhere.” Tong took the Mustang key off the keychain and drilled it into the dirt. “Here, Chrst take the car, take it. Drive to Manila, Baghdad, you can ride it on the Great Wall of China like in those Super Bowl commercials . . . man, you got to go . . . anywhere . . . but here . . . just go.”

Tong expected something to happen like a scene out of a horror flick: a rotting hand to push through the dirt; or for Chrst to appear in pancake makeup and quip humorously about death. Tong expected anything but the ghastly stillness that blanketed the rows of identical tombstones. Chrst was too much to just be gone, poof, evaporated. Chrst was too much to be reduced to that silence. Tong lit a Marlboro with his Chinatown engraved zippo. “Smoking it for ya,” he taunted to get Chrst to appear.

Tong turned around to read the inscription on the bench the mayor was supposed to dedicate to Chrst. For the Fallen Heroes of All Wars. “Ain’t that some bullshit?” he said like he was kicking it outside the strip clubs in North Beach, “Doesn’t even say Iraq or nothing.” Tong whipped out his butterfly knife with a snazzy wrist-flip he perfected in the eighth grade, a far too flashy spinning of the blade for any real gangster. First he carved the Gucci symbol into a plank by his knee. Then he pried off the plaque and carved CHINATOWN into the wood. How was that for benchmarks? That was going to piss Chrst’s dad off big time. Buddy didn’t even like to admit he was half-Chinese, and he was ashamed of his Filipino side too, so he wouldn’t call the papers and complain. Buddy had been in seven papers since Chrst bought this little plot of government dirt. That day’s Chronicle had a photo gallery of Buddy grieving, at home, by the bay, in the cemetery, etc.

“Chinatown Gang,” Tong cheered, “Holla.”

They’d lock him up for desecration of a military cemetery, but it was worth the risk. Earlier he felt like such a coward. And a douche bag. All those things his Drill Instructor called him: mamma’s-titty-sucking, butt-fucking, weak-ass fat-fuck, everybody-Ben-Chong-tonight, ching-chong commie; and yet he felt lucky too, damn lucky. Lucky that he ate that Big Chicken Dinner, the Bad Conduct Discharge; lucky he got popped sucking down weed in the ship’s engine room; lucky he was walking and breathing and grieving his best friend.
For a long time, all he felt was shame. He prayed that after the brig the Navy wouldn’t Dishonorably Discharge him and instead Stop-Loss his ass. But now that Chrst was dead, Ben felt alive for the first time since he got out. At least he got out of something. At least he got out alive. Chrst Flowers, American hero. Dead.

Ben held the plaque in his hands. Buddy called up all the papers and cried boo-freaking-hoo with his sob story: Chrst joined out of obligation to protect the United States after 9-11; Chrst joined for money for college.


Chrst joined because when he graduated high school, Buddy had the Marine enlistment forms on the kitchen table; because Buddy wanted Chrst to join the summer before his senior year; because Buddy drove him to the recruiter’s office on his 17th birthday; because Chrst joined JROTC to shut him up.

JROTC was a supreme humiliation when they all had to wear their uniforms to school once a month. Freakin’ Asian nerd brigade. Smart-asses snapped pictures with their phones as they goose-stepped behind them in the halls. The brains shook their heads in disgust as if only Neanderthals joined the military. The vegan-anarchists came after them, laying down graffiti stencils on the sidewalks calling them fascists. The stoner hippies walked around with petitions to ban military recruiting in public schools. They even got a referendum on the ballot, and after it passed, Junior ROTC had to do drills with broomsticks and not dummy rifles. The whole freakin’ city was against JROTC. When everyone in society rejected you, even the Goths, it didn’t matter where you landed.
Chrst landed in Chinatown. With Ben. And the rest of the gang.

Then he landed here. In the dirt.

Tong recalled playing Hi-Ho electric trains and Lincoln Logs in Chrst’s garage when, one rainy Friday afternoon, Buddy Flowers marched in like a general on parade. He said to his son, “Christ, do you know what the life expectancy is of a field lieutenant during a sea-to-land invasion?” Big dramatic pause while Buddy sucked on his cigarette like he was never going to exhale. “One point nine seconds.” Chrst said nothing. They were waiting for General Buddy to leave so they could mow down the Lincoln Log barricade with the speeding train and melt the Army men with contraband matches. Buddy stood over the train tracks like he was the setting sun. Buddy said, “I would never be so proud of you.” And with that, General Dad clicked his heels, spun around, and went to drink beer on the porch and dry fire at the kids on Big Wheels like they were the red Chinese invasion of the Sunset District. “Dude,” Tong had said, “your dad wants you dead.” Chrst revved his trains too fast and derailed them. “For Dad so loved his country,” Chrst said.

Day after Chrst died, Buddy Flowers was on the front page of the Chronicle with a whole lot of talk about Chrst’s patriotism, love of freedom, money for college. Bullshit, it was Buddy Flowers playing plastic Army men with his only begotten son. Fuck you, Buddy, Ben said in Chinese, “Dew nei.”

They buried Chrst beside his grandfather, who fought in World War II and the Korean War. Their house was a war memorial. Grandpa’s medals. Memorial plaques. Commemorative plates and coins from the History Channel. Statue of Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima. There was a sun-bleached, black-and-white photo of Buddy in his jungle fatigues hoisting a badass machine gun as he whacked through Vietnam jungle. There was another photo of Buddy, like a movie still, of him smiling in base camp, his arms around two white guys.
Buddy lived to blow away deer once a year. He had rifles mounted on the wall and pistols in the gun cabinet without trigger-locks like he was tempting them to go Columbine. He sat on the front porch chain-drinking beer, smoking, and cleaning his rifle in the afternoons until neighbors called the police to complain because he aiming at skateboarders. Had a sniper sight, not a scope. He eyeballed it and did the math. He considered himself a professional. Buddy was a rent-a-cop at the Stonestown mall: his immaculate polyester uniform had razor sharp creases; he rode the golf cart with an air of a Roman general.

From Chrst’s Memorial Bench, Tong looked over the ridge into the tangle of converging highways, below which sat a gully of neon, a mall: Borders, Applebees, Cinemark Theaters, and a Target. Like Chrst hadn’t been a big sitting-duck target already, but now he had to look at a red neon bulls-eye for all eternity like a cruel joke.

Ben stomped on the spot where he sank the Mustang’s key to push it farther into the loose dirt. Ain’t no tricked out Honda Civic, naw, it was a badass, sparkling white 2007 Mustang Shelby Coupe with the blue racing stripe down the middle and a pissed-off cobra on each door. A present to himself. His parents looked at his car and only saw a bad decision, a frivolous high-interest loan; but after he spent four months in the Navy Brig in South Carolina, Hell, U.S.A. and lived, not to tell about it, he wanted to reward himself for not killing himself. Suicide watch in the brig meant the guards watched you do it. Besides that, it really didn’t matter what kind of car he drove, his family and everyone else saw his whole life as an endless fountain of idiocy.


Tong’s job consisted of driving around in a Ford Escape with flashing yellow lights mounted on top to provide a visible deterrent to junior-varsity thugs like he and Chrst had been. Wakefield Security paid for the gas and the truck and his time. As far as jobs went, this one was choice for someone who needed to regroup. New guards were mostly Iraq vets. Older guards were Vietnam vets, like Buddy. The others were mostly immigrants or completely crazy.

If he hadn’t got popped smoking a fat blunt in the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s engine room, if he hadn’t eaten that Big Chicken Dinner, he’d be parked in the gulf outside of Afghanistan doing his small part to seize drug shipments, or he’d be a highway patrol man, a job the state was always so desperately seeking to fill that they advertised on billboards and the sides of buses. 80k to start and pork chops made a killing in overtime. His job didn’t even pay a third that. The good news, however, was that Ben liked to drive, and he got to do a lot of that.

San Bruno became Millbrae when franchises repeated: Walgreens, Valero, McDonalds, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Exxon, and throw in a tapioca yogurt shop. When they repeated again, it was Burlingame, and when they repeated again, it was San Mateo, then Foster City, then Menlo Park, then Palo Alto. The stores repeated through Silicon Valley like they were the chorus to the national anthem.

Three times a night, Ben Tong turned at the second McDonalds to patrol the parking garage of the 24 Hour Fitness which meant sleeping in the security truck for thirty minutes. For that half-hour, no jv thugs bashed in windows and lifted radios; that activity was reserved for ten minutes after he pulled out.

Nestled in the truck with the heater running full blast and the bass turned up on some Warren G on the stereo, Tong usually felt content, but a claustrophobic feeling tailed him from the cemetery. He decided to conduct a foot patrol for the first time in months, something he was supposed to do three times a night.

From ten yards away, Tong’s uniform looked like a cop’s because of the gold badge stitched over his chest. But, as always, he felt the respect draining away as the patrons of Subway and Brick Oven Pizza realized he was a rent-a-cop. Three shops down, everyone in the Nubi Yogurt shop was Asian. Whole gang of ’em smackin’ hands with their own brainy handshake, like they were all Tong, Chinese mafia. Their teenager chatter crackled in the air like spring-time birds. Tong remembered such blind optimism. Everyone was sure they were going to make the right choices, evolve into something important, and be sitting pretty in a few years. In the retro-soda-pop chairs on the porch, kids debated business school vs. computer science. One Chinese kid yelled, “Yo, can make 400k being a dentist first year out of college!” He reminded Tong of his China-born cousins, who didn’t speak English until they were twelve, thirteen; one year off the boat, they were on the dean’s list, honor roll, etc., clinging to grades like life-preservers. Ten years later, dudes were living in luxury condos and hiring people like Tong to pick up their laundry and walk their dogs.

In the fourth grade, Ben’s mom dragged him to mainland China to line up the bribe-induced paper-work escapes for their cousins, her parents, and everyone in the clan. In Liaoning, Ben cried for McDonalds. Literally cried. Ben was American, just like the Chinese in the yogurt shop. But how did he end up on this side of minimum wage and not their richy-rich side?

Oh there were slacker Chinese. Hard-working, pretend-thugs dressed in fresh hip-hop gear who served the pizza and yogurt to the rich Chinese who arrived in their hand-me-down Mercedes like in chariots from heaven. Rich Chinese didn’t even have to work for gas money because it would interfere with the SAT classes on Saturday mornings and the Chinese language classes on Saturday afternoons, and the family Dim Sum in the Sunset District on Sundays after church. Poor Chinamen drove tricked-out Honda Civics in which you could change the computer card in the engine and immediately have a performance street racer. But that was the gateway to addiction. Next came the rims and the tinted windows, a thumping bass like a brother man, neon under-lighting, and a fat muffler so the car sounded like one of those Hot Wheels revving too high on the little plastic track. Hondas became paycheck funnels. Somewhere along the line Ben realized that more you pimped a Honda Civic, the poorer you looked.

Three times a night Tong trudged up the stairs to sign the 24 Hour Fitness log, where the janitors signed in, where the clerks checked off if they did a bathroom check. The 24-Hour dudes with barbed-wire tats and trendy goatees jerked their heads towards the cuties on the elliptical machines while handing over the log book, but they were always transfixed by any kind of sports on any of the thirty televisions dangling from the ceiling and yelling Oh! and Agh! at the end of every play.

Tong signed his name and took the elevator to the basement. He dropped the seat back in the security truck and pulled the security parka over him like it was a sleeping bag. Ben hadn’t felt so stupid since nearly flunking out of Lincoln High, since getting sent to rehab, since stealing money from his mother in his get-rich-quick drug scheme. For some reason, he felt like the time when Chrst peed his pants in the second grade, and Ben cried for him. It was that mutual shame that Chrst and Ben shared, the bond of the ne’er-do-wells, the fuck ups, the treads, the Devil Tong, the Chinatown Gang, all that gangsta thug bullshit they pretended so they wouldn’t feel like the ne’er-do-wells, the fuck ups, the treads. But with Chrst gone, Tong couldn’t pretend any more.


Driving made the job tolerable. Tong lit his last Marlboro and leaned into the curves spiraling into the ocean. He didn’t realize he was so close to San Francisco until he crested a slope and saw the city splayed out under him like a backdrop for a romantic movie. On warm nights like this, they’d hit the liquor store and trudge up the stairs to Coit Tower and pass a wine bottle and do nothing but look at the bridges, Alcatraz, ships floating by, and the city, laid down below them perfect as one of those model train towns. It was like fishing, but your line wasn’t in the water, it was cast out into life, and you were just waiting for a bite, waiting for something to hit.

Some nights on the job, he’d stop by and eat sticky rice meatballs with his grandma or take a nap in the security truck by the ocean or visit Dat Pham who got his own apartment in the Tenderloin. Grandma used to be the first choice. She always made dumplings for him, or those pork steam buns, but his weight had been ballooning in the last few months, so she took to only making him salads, small salads at that, with a smack on his cheek and a stern admonishment about being too fat to find a wife.

Part of the job was popping up at a few sites to spot-check other guards. Most security guards had a combination of things wrong with them: socially inept, non-English-speaking, misanthropic, and, for the most part, completely freakin’ lazy as well as terminally stupid. Being a security guard was like sitting in detention for forty hours a week, and like the losers who got detention, most would just put their heads down at their desks and sack out. Or they walked off. Third most common offense was masturbating. Sitting behind the desk in some fancy bank or hotel or luxury condo, guards frequently whipped out their dicks and jerked it off while the wives, girlfriends, and daughters of millionaires walked by. It was Tong’s job to nip all that.

Tong picked the Blood Depository because he could predict what lay inside. Tong called the number taped to the door, which meant he had to wake the guard in order to evaluate him. “Dey all assholes,” Alex Ramos yelled as he bounced towards the doors and laughed heartily. He fell into the booth he was supposed to man constantly on his eight-hour shift. The four-foot-five Filipino worked construction during the daytime AND worked another security job after this one and sent all his money back to the Philippines, which he pronounced Pill-Peens, to support his wife and two children who were both in college, the son in Hong Kong, the girl in San Diego. The seams of the couch had dug into his doughy face. His eyes couldn’t adjust to the bright fluorescent lights. He squinted. “Dey all assholes!” His gold teeth flashed. He laughed, “Hahahahahahah.”

Against his better judgment, Ben prowled through Chinatown. He expected Chrst to be loitering in the foyer of a junk shop. In the smoky red light of the Buddha Bar, he thought he saw Chrst through the incense smoke from the altar.


Fishing made the job tolerable too. Tong said nothing as he dipped into the communal bait bucket for a tentacle of squid and got a hook in the water. Not talking was such a relief. Fishermen nodded sometimes. Most stared blankly into the horizon. They cast their emotions into the waters. That was the appeal. The just-off-the-boat Chinese dressed in their refugee clothes and cone-shaped straw hats and never smiled, even on good days. Toe the Samoan was the counterpart to all that residual grief. Dressed in super-extra-large hip-hop clothing, stewed in liquor or beer, and smoked with reefer, Toe tapped a funny dance of happiness when he saw Tong. “Lines in da water,” he crowed. He hit the weed pipe and passed it to Tong, who, against better judgment hit it. Three months sobriety, poof, up in smoke.

When Ben first got out of the brig, he fished by wading into the ocean by his house. Water so cold it was painful, then he’d go numb in his legs, and more, till he was chest high with the swell of the waves. He’d do that ten, fifteen hours a day until he got it together enough to find a job, which, as it just so happened was right by the Oyster Point pier, where he learned that he could go just as numb by throwing a line in the water.

The last time Tong saw Chrst was on that dock. After hours of not catching shit, Chrst said, “The reports said there was an explosion and kids were running away and I radioed for permission to fire. I don’t even know what happened. Not really sure, just, boom, I stared firing at everything, knocking kids down like bowling pins, they were ten years old maybe, reports said we found a cell phone, you know, 'a detonating device.'”

The glare of the setting sun blinded them. The fierce wind blew his voice away.

“I just don’t believe in it any more,” Chrst said. “But I can’t think like that because that will get you killed because I thought that and I got popped and you think, good, I’m out but they’re sending me back.”

Other questions rose out of the black waters, but Tong vowed never to talk about the brig. First thing the brothers said to him was, “We gonna shave your legs, Geisha Boy.” That was his name after that. Even the MPs called him Geisha Boy. They’d announce that when they walked him down the alley. They jibed, “Hey who ordered Chinese?” Pimply pukes from bumfuck wherever, Arkansas or Nebraska. Throw al’ Qaeda in the Navy brig see how much shit you get out of them then. Barking dogs and pysch ops ain’t shit compared to thug-ass Negroes in a jail cell. Tong watched his eyes go dead in the brig. Eyes like slate by August, no rain for months. Flinty when they need to be. Geisha Boy.

Never even had no pussy. Ever. Not once. Not in high school. Not when the ship docked in the Philippines or Thailand; not in the massage parlors when the Chinatown Gang was pulling down bank; not from drunk-ass, high school girls giving it away for free. Chrst would say, “Tong-ster, hold back, git some pussy man.” Girls on ecstasy givin’ it up. Tong had a problem with the booze right from the start like he was some homeless guy lying in the alleyway. Like seaman redneck said to him once portside, “Once you start that train rollin’ Seaman Tong, you can’t stop ‘till you derailed.”

“White girls always shave their pussies,” Chrst said once, like a man would say after a lifetime of experience. Dude was maybe seventeen.

Tong couldn’t look at Chrst on the docks. Chrst had nothing to say to Tong either. First-aid training gave you drowning, CPR, how to medi-vac someone out, code blue, code red, how to get air in their lungs, stop the gush of blood, insert the morphine syringe into the thigh like a dart, but they never taught you how to really save the guy right beside you.

The easy dips of the rods bobbing with the current soothed him. The taunt lines dropped into nothing. When he took another hit off the pipe, the plan hatched as if sprinkling down like sea mist under the star-speckled sky. Life was bearable if you had a plan. Toe pulled in a three-foot sand shark and danced his happy dance. The sad Chinese gathered round, hoping to eat it. Life almost made sense if you did the math right.


Balm-Tech in Foster City was a byzantine labyrinth of labs. AZT was invented there. They were tinkering with bone marrow transplants as a way to cure AIDS. Rogaine was invented there. And, oh, the FBI crime labs for the west coast were located on the seventh floor of their tallest building by the water. That just made the plan all that more exciting. He was actually looking forward to it. The worst they could do was fire him. Or prosecute him. San Quentin would be a knee-slapping Wednesday night sitcom compared to the brig.
Balm-Tech had stellar security for rent-a-cops. Employees’ names were recorded as they key-fobbed into any building or lab. Guest badges were inside the security office, a fishbowl where every inch of campus was closed-circuit-monitored with motion detection cameras. Plus there were three roving guards at all times doing visual rounds. Nothing could get by the security office. Unless the security office was also equipped with internet access, which it was, which meant, it didn’t matter how many of those motion detectors were going off, rent-a-cop ain’t doing nothing but chattin’ up honeys on Facebook.

Ben Tong talked the talk of field inspections: he needed to see the timesheets; management sucked, etc. Tong set the binder down by the card-keys. Alarms went off and the lead guard silenced them without looking at the closed-circuit images popping up. Rover guards called in their locations, their 10-20’s; the lead guard was supposed to write down where the rovers were at all times, but every night the lead guard took the previous night’s Security Report and changed the date, fudged a few times so it looked different, bingo, he was done. Eight hours of Facebook time. Wakefield security was based on the military, and the military was a cluster-fuck, top to bottom.

The lead guard’s name was Muhammad Javid. He had an old-school rockabilly pinup girl tattooed on his forearm. Tong was sure his mother who risked her life to get him out of Pakistan loved that.

Tong had always wanted to ask: when you bust up into the rockabilly dive and you got that wallet on your chain and the vintage Chevy or your old Triumph motorbike, do the b-girls and gear heads slap your hand? When you comb your ducktail, do the Betty Paige girls swoon? Or do they just see a fake-ass Arab playing dress-up on Halloween? Because, even though fifty percent of Chinese dressed like gangstas, the real thugs ain’t havin’ it no way no how. Chinese never be down. Like the dudes on the phone commercial; Asian people who like hiphop are funny. What were Arabs dressed like Elvis? Who was your girl, a Filipina Peggy Sue? Tong went up to a brother-man on his first assignment out of boot camp and offered-up the what-up handshake, and the brother-man stared him down and said, “Oh, you down? That what you are? Down with the brothers? Yo, fuck you, rice cracker.” Tong started wearing his Dixie cup sailor’s hat straight up after that.

Whatever was going on, Mr. Javid was hella glued to Facebook. Tong helped himself to an all-access-guest-badge, thank you very much.


The Peninsula was warm as a Caribbean night, then, wham, on the other side of 19th Avenue, Tong hit that icy cold fog bank of early morning. Ben’s mom sniffed the air when he walked in. She said, “You jus’ like your farther.” She always called him “farther.” Ben nodded, yes, farther was born here but he loaded dead fish onto trucks of ice right beside the Chinese just off the boat. Yes, his son was no better. “You did rehab for nothing,” she said. At first Tong thought she was talking about his hard work to kick booze and drugs, but then she added, “Thousands dollars for you to be jus’ like your farther, jus’ like! Waste of money!” She was ironing his work uniforms, making the creases razor sharp. When Ben got some rice and a pork bun from the steamer, she called him fat in Chinese.
She poured his tea. “I get you nice girl for wife in China.” She didn’t call him Ben, she called him by his Chinese name. He took a bite of the sweet white dough around the trace amount of pork and shrugged. “Very pretty, good friend of family.” Her stare made him cringe. “I show you internet, you see now? You old ‘nuff now.” The rice and pork bun and tea always went good together. He used to have hot chocolate when he was a kid. Small comforts. When he swallowed, he was trying to say something about Chrst, but words didn’t come so he shoved some more rice and bun into his mouth.

His mom exploded, “Always same, you need act before it too late. You too fat. Skin bad because of drugs. Pimples. You eat junk food, bad. Look at you cousin!”

Yes, Ben nodded, dudes not even born here were living in million dollar condos and driving Beamers and lining up good marriages with other immigrants who did likewise. Computer architects. Engineers. Dentists.

“You need wife set you straight. Make you strife.”

In Chinese he said, “Like you Mom? You left the fishmonger soon as you got the green card, before you even spoke English, you left your arranged marriage.”

He stood up, got another pork bun, and went to his room.

“He a drinker!” she yelled, “Like you, he drink, he no come home, I’m just maid, like I am for you!”

He heard her cry. The weed made it seem like it wasn’t only happening then, but always happening, continually.

Tong booted the computer to play a few hands of Texas Hold’em at the on-line casino before sleeping. The Hotrod Magazine centerfolds plastered across the walls of his room taunted him. Hoochies arched their backs and looked like they were turned on by 750 horsepower engines. Hoods open like legs spread. Engines greased up with all that synthetic clear lube like KY. They threw a few Latina gals in here and there, but the American Dream was all about the white girl, always would be.

Was true even for his mom who married a white guy before she could speak English. Peter had two kids nearly ready to go to college, he said, so money was tight. Ben was eleven. Pete was an Army guy who never dropped the military haircut. His first wife was Filipino and left his sorry ass soon as she got her green card and half her family over here. Army man decided to get some Chinese next.
Before he joined the Navy, Ben stayed with his dad two weekends a month in Oakland, a neighborhood of bombed-out streets. Dad lived in a one bedroom apartment that looked like a motel under construction; its metal staircase rattled when you ran up it. Residents there were sad people from all over the world who mostly stood around cars that didn’t run. “You go live with your farther,” his mom always threatened when Ben’s dismal report cards came in, “You jus’ like farther.”

The bad part about living at home was that Tong always felt like he was eleven, that his father had just left, that Peter had just moved in, that Chrst lived right next door, and Ben felt like he could go knock on Chrst’s garage door and play trains.


Dispatch booked him on a twelve-hour Citibank Route starting at seven p.m. on weekends. The idea was to ride from ATM to ATM to see if anyone plunked down a card-reading skim on any of their money machines. The FBI couldn’t stop a few geeks with a laptop and little camera from stealing millions, so why did anyone think a minimum wage security guard driving around with flashing lights on his truck was going to stop it? Dudes waited in their car until the dopey guard went by in the big flashy truck and then they knew they had an hour or two to drain bank accounts with their ingenious little devices. Besides that, the skimmers moved around: San Jose to Los Angeles to Phoenix, Arizona now.

As always, Tong did the first round and charted the columns and cells and tables with meaningless coded drivel which no one read until Monday, if anyone read them at all. An alternative could have been to order the doofus security guards posted inside each bank to step outside every now and again to see if there was any plastic doohickey on the ATM along with a little camera which transmitted the PIN. But it was pretty obvious that whoever was in charge of security at Citibank was about as competent as those who had run it into bankruptcy. But the Navy functioned like that; the Marines functioned like that; banks functioned like that; the whole U.S.A. functioned like that, a complete cluster fuck from top to bottom; and we were the most powerful nation in the world, once-upon-a-time.

After a loop of the city, Tong drove to Oyster Point and picked up his Mustang and drove another twenty miles south to Foster City.
When he placed the key-fob over the detector, the doors made a suction sound as they opened. Zoosh. The vacuum of the empty building was broken. A camera encased in a black plastic translucent half-dome peered down over the door. At that moment, Tong knew his image popped up on the screen over Muhammad’s Facebook page. Or his porn-site. If Muhammad even looked at Tong’s image before knocking his picture down with a click, what did he see? Chinese in a lab coat with a legit key-fob that opened doors --nothing suspicious.

Conference rooms had new Hewlett-Packard laptops on cable locks. Snip snip. Gone gone. One under each arm pit hidden by his lab coat. Tong walked across the parking lot out of the camera’s range. Two laptops, pop, pop. Tong drove over to the FBI crime-lab building and looked up at the seventh floor. Seemed fitting to steal some government shit, but he decided against it. No use getting popped for fucking with the Feds. He hit the other four lab buildings’ conference rooms.

Tong unloaded the laptops into the truck of his Mustang with each round. The sound of clunking plastic made him happy. Click, click, click, thump, scratch, clunk.

On the way back to get the security truck, Tong gassed up the Mustang on the company’s gas card. He smiled and waved at the cameras. “Geisha Boy,” he whispered. It was the first time he referred to himself as that, as Geisha Boy. He pulled a 32oz. Big Gulp cup out of the trash and squirted gas in it. “Geisha Boy,” he said, again.


“I love you, man,” Ben Tong said to nothing, to no one, to the ghosts, to the sea, as he cast in his line. Toe waddled a sumo’s dance which always made Tong smile. Toe fired up the weed pipe and handed it over to his brother, Tua. “I’m setting things right,” Ben said to no one. The Samoan joked about getting paid to fish. Ben nodded into the sea water which looked like a vast pool of oil. The moon was a faded aged neon sign on the horizon. “Chrst,” Tong said.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Tua said, holding in the weed smoke and offering the pipe to Tong.

Tong shook his head. “Naw, I think I’m going to be an E.M.T. --“

“Like ambulance driver?” Toe asked.

Tong nodded, yeah, ambulance driver.

“Good,” Tua said, “Good money.”

Tong reeled up his bait after a few hours and took the Citibank reports from last month, copied them, whited out the dates, and faxed the bogus bank documents to North Carolina and the bogus security reports to Wakefield HQ in Illinois.


It was just after sunrise when Tong took the laptops to Chrst’s memorial bench. Ten laptops, he piled them like a pyramid. Ten was a good luck number. Ben Tong doused them in gasoline and lit them. Orange flames licked the sky for a moment. Jet black smoke from each laptop twirled into an ethereal rope ladder. The smell was putrid, of melting plastic. The bench’s backrest charred but didn’t burn through like the slats on the seat burned through. Smoke still climbing, Ben Tong got out of there. He just knew the laptops got there somehow and he almost expected an email from Chrst when he got home.


By Dust Wells



          The Monster of Death should have towered eight feet high, but it stood with a strange slump and so appeared to be only six.  The creature was a myriad of ethnicities and colors and had a vaguely human body and shape.  This creature would never be mistaken as a human, however.  Created by race supremacists, the creature's original mission was to be a controlled killing machine. It was to play the role of exterminator to what the bigots felt was too large an influx of foreigners into their backwater community over the past four years.  The ruling elite was beginning to lose its grip around the throat of power; as the cultures mixed, prejudiced traditional values based in hatred and versed in fear slowly started to dissolve in the average citizen‘s heart.  This just could not be allowed to continue.

          The Big Shot Dictators of Backwaterville did not like it one bit.  Thus did the Major Power Players organize a secret, clandestine meeting.  Everyone assembled in Twyt’s cabin by the lake.  A covert operation.  Real first rate.  Members present included representatives of the local mob-rule majority government, as well as a few of the colony’s oldest standing citizens and influential families.  All in all, the meeting brought together some of the biggest names in bigotry this side of the Mississippi.  Organizational techniques: A+. 

          The neo conservative conversation lasted well into the early hours of morning, heating up, boiling, and then becoming red hot raw as reactionary comments were heaved back and forth like grenades.  With exhaustion came conclusion and a plan was reached that, at the time, seemed dead sure to turn the town back into the regressive, segregated, half-wit, incest laden monstrosity that it had always been.  The Marshall Law Leaders of Backwaterville decided to create an artificial life form that could enforce the mandate of their close-minded thinking and damning hatred of everyone who had any sugar, spice or sweetness in their soul.  Basically anyone with a heart was targeted. 

          The policy was immediately set into the agenda.  A victim from each hated race was chosen from out the general population of the town and “made to mysteriously disappear” in what the local paper headlined as, "a rash breakout of unlucky accidents."  DNA from each assassinated citizen was extracted and introduced into a dirty formula.  The few salvageable body parts were used in the manufacturing of the Thing That Should Not Be.  The murderers had been so giddy with excitement about their role in the mayhem that they had really done a nasty number on most of the brutalized bodies. 

          The mutilation matched the intensity of their hatred.

          The mangled death: A representation of extreme bigotry, racism, fascism and fundamentalist insanity. 

          The two who had been deemed the "scientists" of the endeavor were in way over their heads.  The largest experiment either of them had ever been a part of was when Junior threw cups of hot coffee into visiting Japanese men's faces at the big barnyard dance and recorded the volume of the screams on his tape player so he could determine the decibel levels of pain inflicted.  Senior was so proud of his son that day.

          "Now Junior," he had said, "you’ll always remember this as the day you truly became a man."

          "Aw shucks, Pa," Junior had replied.  "I ain't done nuthin but what felt like the natural thing to do.  Those men at the dance had funny lookin faces that were different than any I ever seen before."

          "Junior," Senior stated, after spitting out a wad of tar tobacco, "you done the right thing, you done God's will, and I do believe that our righteous and wrathful God has got plenty in store for you in this life."

          Apparently, Junior daydreamed as he absentmindedly worked over the very delicately calibrated calculations a final time, God had judged that the time was right for what Pa had been talking about all those years earlier.  Junior knew this Exterminator represented a part of God's mysterious plan. 

          It was just too bad that Pa had crashed his small fishing boat into that dock last summer.  Mr. Red, the owner of the dock, testified to the truth of a hellish blaze.  Pa died instantly in the fireball explosion.  Ironically, the only evidence that remained from the Big Bang was the empty beer cans floating around in the water.  Well, Junior thought, at least Pa got to leave life drunk just like he always ranted about wanting to do.

          The complex figures made Junior’s head hurt, but they seemed to be in order as he walked over to Billy Bob Twyt and showed him the papers.  Billy bobbed his head up and down in agreement like the obedient yes dog that he was, then gave a loud bark that sent the sound of fascist fanaticism flowing into the cool night air. 

          The two dimwit fools orchestrating the madness read their holy scripture and performed the necessary rites to produce a massive electrical storm.  When a bolt of lightning struck the attractor they had placed atop the roof, electricity would be carried through the wire system they had rigged that hooked into the outlets on the creature's brain and body, thus shocking it into life. 

          At least that was the plan.  Junior once saw it in a picture book and decided that this was as good a time as any to test it out.  If the process went smoothly, the creature would come alive, awaken and, due to the DNA strands that had been injected into its genes along with the messages of hatred that were laced into its mind, would immediately set out to perform its prime objective: To eliminate anyone without white skin, a southern drawl, and a wad of chewing tobacco between their rotting teeth and lower lip.  Certainly there were more criteria than this and, in fact, it was a finely detailed and sophisticated set of requirements that had to be met to stay off the death list.  Those three sure seemed to hold top priority though.

          Five days and four nights had cycled through with no sign of rain or lightning.  On the fifth night the local weather prognosticator, who just happened to be part of the secret cabal, was talking quickly and excitedly on the skewed and extreme news channel.  "Sixty-five degrees and holding through the night, my friends; and just what we've all been waiting for in Backwaterville: The storm from off the coast is heading our way.  So make preparations if you got preparations to make out there folks."  Dick gave a wink to the camera as he finished the forecast.

          Junior grabbed Billy Bob's leash and the two were off in a dead sprint toward the cabin.  It was ten o'clock and the rain was hammering down hard.  In the distance the thunder cried and Junior knew that lightning was not far behind.         

         Twenty minutes of anxiety later and the full intensity of the storm touched upon the cabin.  Thunder boomed and lightning lit up the open windows.  Thick damp air hung heavily on the whole sordid affair.  Junior flipped on all the switches; the panel board flared up, all systems go.  Terrified wild birds went nuts in the sky as ants scurried deep into the moist soil.  All the creatures of consciousness realized that dark matters were at hand. 

          A powerful shock of lightning struck, but not as was intended.  Instead, the bolt pierced a tree which cracked in the middle of the trunk and toppled into a power line, causing both tree and power line to crash into the cabin.  The power line was ripped downward, wrapped up in tree limbs and electricity.  The whole bundle collapsed in a heap, smashing into the control panel.  A large jagged branch knocked Junior on the head; he fell to the ground, bleeding profusely, as his body slumped unconscious.  The panel caught fire and the cabin began to go up in a flame eerily reminiscent of Senior's boat crash the previous summer.  Karma must sleep with the fish.

          Amidst the carnage, at the heart of the inferno, another bolt struck.  This time it hit the mark.  Electricity passed through the route designed and into the creature's mind.  But the power line’s collision with the control panel had an unexpected and unprepared for impact: the guidelines of the party policy that had been fed into the creature's brain were all scrambled and reversed.  Which is exactly the right formula to produce evolution.  The creature woke up in the fire with hatred on its mind.  Not, however, the hatred certain townsfolk of Backwaterville would have hoped for.  The message that drove and propelled this creature was an angry hatred for the awful fools responsible for its creation, the race supremacists and hooded cowards themselves. 

          And there was poor Junior lying on the floor.  The creature found its way to where the downed tree had fallen and broke off a splintered branch.  Charging forward at the unconscious man, the creature drove the stick into Junior's skull, killing him on impact.  This was the least considered contingent of all.  The architect of the strategy could probably use a critical review.

          The loyalist dog barked and attacked the creature in a last gasp effort to ward off the fact that the whole project was pitifully collapsing.  Trying in vain to protect its fallen master, the rabid animal bit into what looked to be an ankle where a kneecap would have been on a human.  The creature, annoyed but undamaged, picked up the dog by the collar and bit off its head.  Blood from Billy's very open wound splattered, quite messing up the décor of the cabin, as the creature dropped the decapitated body back to the wooden floor that sported a crisscrossed pattern.  The campaign was broken and the policy had failed.  Wretchedly.

          The fire was beyond control, the cabin was nearly engulfed, and the ideology of a scared, faulted Mob Republic was burning into ash.  A flame from the Resurrected Phoenix rose up and attached to the creature’s chest.   It bellowed a rare raucous singsong sound and ran out into the storm.  The rain doused the flame on the creature's chest, but the warm solar energy had already flowed into its heart.  The creature crafted in the bowels of fear and hatred was spreading its wings and catching an air of peace.  The Monster of Love broke into a sprint as it passed by a sign that read, "Welcome to Backwaterville, Pop. 2003."

          It was a shame Junior had never finished reading that book he got his plan from, or he would have known it all ended very badly.

          It’s even sadder that Junior can’t really read.

          Only a sadist would place him in any position of power.

          So much for that sequel.


By Scott Thomas Outlar



The tiger who should be shot

The tiger stretches in the warm sun
then rolls over in the soft grass.
He closes his eyes as peace flows
through his body like warm milk.

A man appears from behind a boulder.
He tiptoes up to the tiger
and punches the tiger's ear.
The tiger opens his eyes and growls.

A woman sneaks up behind the tiger
and pokes the tiger's shoulder
with a sharp stick. The tiger
leaps up and flashes his fangs.

The man pulls a sword
out of its scabbard and plunges
the blade into the tiger's eye.
The tiger roars and lunges at the man.

The man and woman run from the tiger
and hide behind the boulder.
The man says to the woman,
"That tiger is vicious. He should be shot."

By Rosalyn Becker





Driving while black

He could see the second cop
in the side-view mirror
with his right hand
on his hip holding onto his 38
and his left hand holding high
the long, black flashlight,
aimed right at him
in broad daylight.
His white friend Josh just sits there,
knowing better than to say something
now was not the time to be a wise guy,
while the first cop comes around the car
to see a license and the 5:
Who, What, How, When, Why
of where they were busy going
off to this time of day?

He could feel his sweat streaming
into the palms of his closed-fisted hands.
He knew, of course, he knew
they were waiting
for one wrong word;
like wolves waiting
to descend upon their prey,
waiting for one wrong move.
"Have a good day."
"Officer, why did you stop us?
"A courtesy call about your cracked windshield."

He sits shaking mad in the passenger's seat
waiting for them to pull away
far from the scene of this crime,
before slamming his tight-fisted right hand
hard against the red glove compartment.
"Damn, and I wasn't even driving;
just another day in the good-ole U.S.A."

By Charles Portolano



The worst enemy

I determine your actions but you're unaware that I exist
your ignorance provides me a target that I cant miss
for without knowledge of self I'm impossible to resist

Its me that reaches u a nigga cant tell u shit
I got u calling your sister a bitch
& though u know selling dope is a dead end... I'm the reason u just cant quit

They say beauty is on the inside
but this is where I reside
lost in the deepest recesses of your mind
so when things get difficult I teach u to whine
keeping u in a perpetual state of decline

Since I'm unconscious I easily turn those once shy rambunctious
determining their conscious functions
& if whites called for Black annihilation – I'll make sure Clarence Thomas
comes to the press conference

I'm like a boa constrictor that squeezes & squeezes & squeezes & takes your breath
resulting in your potentiality's death
so when I'm finished … only a shell of what u could be is left

I'm the reason why u seemingly dont care
shackled by misconceptions of “good” hair & skin that's “fair”
u move fast while going nowhere

I'm the natural result of a European cultural & historical indoctrination
turning your acts of rebellion into capitulation
& I keep u in search of white approval as if u were on the plantation

Its not that opposites attract, just that I kill like crack
I got brothers blue-black
only attracted to cave women like Jill with no back
saving them like Jack, while saying sisters dont know how to act

I influence those who are light, bright & damn near white
to keep their African heritage out of sight
& convince those who cant understand the poor's plight
to become neo-conservative negroes who support the right

I dont care about your faith
u can call on whomever u want – the Beneficent, the Great
but I determine your fate
who am I... the worst enemy... self-hate!!!


By Bakari Aluta Olugbala
a.k.a. Demetrius McCauley



Of goldfish and newborns

When we landed in Kenya that first time, we were at a loss for what to think. Had the Portuguese lied? Had those sailors merely conjured those accounts of cities brimming with infidels and cannibals, ripe for conversion to Christian civilization? What could explain what we saw before us?

To be certain, we did not find kingdoms of African Muslims on the Kenyan coast. Rather, we found a settlement – in the loosest sense of the word – of faceless, featureless men, who simply existed. These men, featureless though they were, were quite interesting, beautiful in the way that a child is: a clean slate, skin soft, smooth, and unwrinkled. They were innocent. The only other beings that resided in the temperate plain that was their home were enormous, golden fish, which, astonishingly, swam through the air, attempting, in a cumbersome manner, to hunt the humanoids. And when they were not evading the goldfish in a playful sort of matador dance, they were running to the beaches and onto the lavender sands, lavender in color and scent.

When we arrived, we first attempted to sneak up on these strange, new men. We had heard from the Portuguese that these people often captured and ate civilized white men, and we did not wish to meet such a fate, not when we’d already come this far from Her Majesty’s presence.

We observed their way of life, as previously described, and we were utterly shocked at the innocence of them all. There were females, but I’m not sure how we could tell; they bore not the features of our women, but were simply maternal, and they took care of the children that were birthed seemingly from the air.

We meant to approach them, but they came to us first. One day, while we were all preparing our morning meals, we suddenly noticed that they were there, all of them, in a large, but somehow-orderly crowd. They stood there, facing us without faces, watching us without eyes. We were as stone, unable to move for fear of them, and what they might possibly do.

One stepped forward to us, and we forced ourselves not to step back towards our camps in fear. I was the first of our men to move. I brought a cup of coffee to the one who stepped forward, and, somehow, he saw this, and held out his hands. He brought it to his face, and gave a sudden convulsion, nearly dropping the cup. A nose sprouted from his blank face, and he inhaled deeply through it, the smell of coffee burning his newfound sense. He collapsed, the cup rolling from his hand, its brown blood spilling and staining the Kenyan sands. He dragged his nose along the ground, deeply inhaling the earth. He came close to me, and brought his nose to my foot. My companions stumbled away from me in shock, but I stayed as he grabbed my crinkled hand with his creaseless one, and held it to his nose. He moved back in horror, and ran back to his people. He hid behind them, and, through the crowd, I saw him holding the hand that grabbed mine to his nose. He dropped it to his side, and I saw a single, arching line extending across the length of his palm.

We met several times after this first encounter with these people, and gave them gifts of sugar and more coffee, although they were not sure what to do with them, and had nothing to give us in return. They seemed to be a society without property, without greed, without vice. We weren’t even sure how they survived, as they did not seem to eat or drink; as I said before, they simply existed, both healthily and happily. Which bears another wonder: how did we know they were happy? The answer, I have concluded, is the same as the answer to how we distinguished females; they were, without question, content, even joyful. They greeted each other with loving embraces, and never seemed to come into conflict with one another.

In any case, we began to observe that the one who I first encountered had collected all of our gifts and hoarded them in a small bush, away from where his people slept under the stars. At first, he would go with all the members of the tribe to collect the gifts we gave to them each week; however, after a month, he began simply waiting on a throne he had constructed from the bags of sugar and coffee beans, while the others would bring him the gifts, and wait until he had smelled each bag, and then dismissed them. His evolution of a nose seemed to give him a sense of authority and power over the others.

However, he wasn’t the only one of them to gain human-like qualities. Soon, merely by handling the goods they obtained from us, the rest of “King Nose” (as we refer to him now)’s people gained creases, nails, and hairs on their hands, and small pores opened all over their bodies from the sweat that for the first time burst out of their bodies.

After this first month, we informed King Nose that we would no longer be able to give him supplies free of charge, especially seeing as he had not the slightest idea of how to use them. We went on to explain, with very slow speech and exaggerated hand gestures, that we required some sort of equal compensation, an exchange for the goods we brought. This puzzled King Nose; up to now, neither he nor any of his subjects knew of “property;” what could they trade? In the middle of his thoughts, he suddenly looked away, towards a nearby field, where children ran from the vicious-but-clumsy goldfish. Creases formed and bent inwards on his forehead. He pointed towards the brilliantly shining fish, and then to us. We understood that he wanted to trade these fish, and, this being prior to the revelation of the value of the fish, and at a time when our men were beginning to long for some sort of meat, we agreed to arm King Nose and his people, to hunt these fish. Although they were clumsy, the fish were fast, and held teeth that were terribly sharp, so much that we did not want to try our luck hunting them just yet. And so, we gave the “king” and five of his men rifles, and taught them how to use them, a truly frustrating endeavor throughout which we were unsure if they were listening to or understanding us at all. Finally, they were able to use the guns, and we let them loose, observing from a distance.

King Nose and his child-men were very adept with their guns, and soon displayed their talent. They allowed the goldfish to charge at them, and then dove away at the last moment, rolled, stood up, and shot at the backs of the brutal creatures. They felled six, one for each of them, and hauled them back to us. The monstrous fish were six feet in length, carrying a massive girth and extremely tough scales, except for on their tails, where the scales were soft, spread, and vulnerable. One of us, a mineralogist, stepped forward to examine the scales of the fish that were laid out before us. He had a suspicious look about him, and, after a few tests on the scales, he gasped, his eyes wide. I’ll never forget his words: “The crude fools! They hunt creatures made of gold!” This one discovery changed our relations with the Kenyans forever, our eyes forever after layered with the green glare of greed.

We immediately sent a messenger to the colonial outpost in Nairobi, and eagerly agreed to trade more of our coffee and sugar, as well as other goods, for the Kenyans’ goldfish. They hunted en masse, and evolved more and more human features as they did so. Hair grew throughout their bodies, and wrinkles and scars appeared on their faces. Meanwhile, some of our men had become very close with the child-people. One night, a certain one of us, unable to restrain himself from his vile desires and urges, convinced one of the Kenyan men to help him force one of the aforementioned woman-like people to perform sexual acts for them. She resisted, and my comrade slapped her, etching a cut on her new cheek. Soon after, the Kenyan man and woman involved had developed genitalia from the event, a trait which caused deep shame and shyness, but which rapidly spread to the rest of the people, who fashioned clothes from the coffee bags we gave them.

King Nose soon developed an efficient method of removing the valuable scales from the fish, on an assembly line of sorts, employing many of his people to clean the fish, tenderize it’s flesh, and pull the scales out, removing any residue. He worked them day in and out, with only short rests, and installed a bureaucracy of equally brutal foremen, who refused to allow unproductive employees breaks, even to use the newly-necessary restrooms. King Nose, meanwhile, continued to build upon his empire of our European goods, rationing them out only in small amounts.

He soon acquired a council of advisers below him, who engaged in animate hand motions to communicate what they thought would be best for his wealth, and, ultimately, their pay. They were paid very well, but not nearly as much as King Nose horded for himself.

The workers toiled and toiled, sweat pouring from their faces, which had become human except for the lack of mouths and eyes; the foremen continued to drive them to insanity through their mindless labor, coming up with new and inventive punishments for them; King Nose continued to sit atop his throne, casually ignoring the fact that he had enslaved his own people. And meanwhile, his council of advisers plotted against him.

One morning, a Kenyan boy ran up to our camp, motioning wildly for us to follow him. We did so, and came to a group staring intently at the dramatic event unfolding around the throne of King Nose. Nose held his rifle, his head darting back and forth, as his council closed in on him, their own rifles aloft. Nose seemed intent upon keeping them from his piles of coffee and sugar. Suddenly, one of the council members stepped forward, and let of a shot at the king. The bang ripped through the noises of the nervous, shuffling crowd, and pierced King Nose’s stomach. With a horrible, twisting motion, he fell, and the skin on his face erupted in twitches, until a mouth and eyes ripped through his flesh, and an unearthly scream tore open the air. Soon, all were yelping and crying in horror, their eyes and mouths issuing streams of unfamiliar substances and sounds, and all fell to their knees, including the council members. My men and I rushed forward to King Nose, and poured water on his wound. We felt his pulse. He was gone. We looked to where the bullet pierced him. There, on the exact spot, was a perfectly round hole; it was a navel.

We stood up, and looked around. A field of dead goldfish lay off to the side; humans, men, women, and children, lay, writhing, all around us. And we no longer had any reason to remain in Kenya.


By Patricio Yrarrázaval




We will live

Mountains are gray and valleys are green.
There are days and nights.
We will live.

Harsh suns burn the back of those on the fields.
Rocks cut the soles of our bare feet.
We will struggle.

The baked earth crumple into dust as we plough.
Sweats and dreams water the earth.
We will labor.

Our fathers die in their struggle to find peace.
Our mothers cry in pain of lost love.
We will stand.

Blood flows through our veins when we are injured.
Tears fall from our eyes when we ask ‘why’.
We will survive.

Stir down in our bruised hearts: we will not die.
Roam in our heads: we will not hate.
We will live.

We will!


By Olutayo K. Osunsan, Uganda



Transcend this: 
the shots heard 'round the campus


And Henry, Ralph and I got stoned together during fall break and attended a convocation and private film showing in the Fledge Town Historical Society building, a program about the infamous Fledgling U. Riot of Revolution.  Ralph had relatives involved in it and filled us in on his heritage yak yak yadda.  There was Civil Disobedience at Fledgling U in the autumn of ’67, when a riot raged on the campus common, an open park flanked by the library, student union and school of architecture building really a boring area where eggheads meet.  Looking at it now, you’d never know anything happened there.  But the ’67 vibe was different the students rallied and none were FOR and all were AGAINST if you know what I mean.  The student body cited preferential treatment for white college acceptance.  Mainly they were down on the war and tired of old people aren’t we all.  Any pro-war fuckers got out of F.U. and headed home to their mommies.  Bonfires blazed from trash cans library windows smashed out and the faculty phoned the police.  Now at this time four hundred peaceful protestors were marching back the same evening moving toward the Surrogate River heading back to campus over a hill just above the river valley.  They had been protesting the Ghandi way, had been bused to Cleveland sitting in the town square all day getting support and petitions signed.  The river separated the downtown side of Fledge from the campus, and a police squadron blocked the bridge, grown men in navy slicks with pistols propped in their fists behind cars.  The idea was to keep these four hundred other protestors from re-entering campus and inflaming the riot.  To sum up, the only way for the students to cross the Surrogate was via this narrow bridge about eight feet wide which was thoroughly blocked by threat of death.  Cresting the hill, the returning Ghandi kids saw the scene down in the valley, heavy man, a real drag, and looked back at the rising multitudes and waved their hands down and patted the air to signal for everyone to stop.  Next thing the four hundred huddled behind the hill spying over the top to see what the cops were about down in the river valley.  Ralph’s grandfather Edward Emerson was living by the bridge in the house campus side fifty yards away from the cop cars, but he wasn’t home.  In fact, he was one of the adult chaperones leading the march back east toward the river. And so the students crouched talked watched and waited. Some said the cops couldn’t even see them back over the hill, and they were probably right.  The four hundred would camp, and return to school in the morning.  Edward couldn’t get to his own house and he bitched that the damn cops what were they thinking these were just kids for Christ’s sake.   Some students pitched tents smoked weed cigarettes cigars and one had a guitar.  Back at the college, around ten o’ clock the drums were beating harder the bonfires really got going and rioters set the union building on fire in the common and the local militia had been ordered to fire an airshot to break up the mob.  An obvious gun CRACK echoed back over the river into the ears of the four hundred. 

Four hundred students had never in history been so quiet stopping to understand what they just heard.  From the hilltop, one young man’s arm glowed in the moonlight he was pointing to the trees across the river, LOOK!  And lo, there was red flame distant white smoke over treetops dreamcatchers dispersing in the din and there was distant shouting as if someone was hurt.  Another young voice said,

“They’re burning down our dorms!”

A young lady yelled,

“They’re shooting at them. They’re killing us.”

That’s when Richard Farnum, a Fledgling U senior and the editor of the college newspaper, faced them all and screamed,

“Are we going to let them burn down the campus!?”

Four hundred fists raised as one.


And with that they were running down to the river, dropping their banners and leaving their tents.  It was the fever of war, and damn the police and their weapons.  Some boys had pulled concealed guns of their own.  All were fast approaching the bridge pouring like four hundred stones down a mountain and the bridge lieutenant after a mild heart attack told his men to break out into street fighting positions.  The cops had been ordered not to shoot anyone, under any circumstances, so the first four officers were to aim low and fire into the water and then retreat to the back of the line, the second row were to fire high aiming above the student’s heads, and so on.  In this way, the students would skitter back into the darkness of fear.  But it wasn’t to be so simple, and Luke was to blame.

Luke was Edward Emerson’s dog, a cur that waxed angry whenever trespassers were on Emerson property.  This mutt was about to instigate the tragedy and light the dynamite that exploded in a thousand faces.  First the dog came out of his yard barking, galloping toward the police when he heard the shouting.

The police were nervous yelling across the river,

“Stand back!  Don’t come any further! Don’t…”

And the four hundred had become a mob and it was too late.  Five abreast came running ahead of the others, their sneakers pattering across the maple planks of the bridge.


The first round was fired into the water.  The students jerked back water splashed against them but they kept coming and now twenty of them were on the bridge.  This was when Luke leapt up from behind the next row of officers, biting the leg of one officer McKreiger.  The barrel of his gun, pointed as it was toward the clouds, came down as he fired and his bullet struck the skull of a student, Leon Sudsbury, a junior who lived in Dunnett hall, so the legend goes.  When the rest of the mob saw this, one of them yelled,

“Are you going to let them slaughter us!?”


And the boys who had pistols (after all how peaceful can young men be really) aimed and fired and three cops fell down dead.  Now the remaining policemen were fighting for their lives, ten men firing bullets into the crowd that trampled over them, sprinting toward campus, and every last policeman and militiaman was run off the campus in the next ten minutes, literally, with the fear of death striking their heels.  Five students and nine policemen died that night.  The rest of the film was about the trials and media reports, McKreiger testifying in court.  I noted in a whisper to Ralph that his grand-dog-in-law Luke should have been hung for inciting a deadly riot but that wasn’t really true.  If the Surrogate River was trapped in a bottle, and you pulled the cork off, it would gush out killing you and breaking the levees of reason because after all it never fit inside the bottle to begin with which is my point. 

As we sallied out of the presentation room onto the littered sidewalks of downtown Fledge, Ralph announced that he was going to write a poem, about “the shots heard around the campus.”  Rarely had I thought he was so full of it until I read the poem five years later and heard him read it out loud for 200th anniversary celebration of the town of Fledge . A pail of words which although pretty archaic wasn’t half bad and we all know it now we all know and love the famous King Ralph Waldo.  Moron that later.  Anyway we headed home discussing how limp things were now on campus no one wanted to protest or even raise their voices and in any case the ’67 riot ruined it all because now it was hard to even get approval for an outdoor meeting, the faculty was so paranoid they’d use a can of raid to get rid of one spider.  And all the zoned out students would fill their brains without ever asking questions what had gone wrong? 

On the way back to the hood, Henry said screw it all and we had to get back to nature I said what the fuck are you talking about.  He and Ralph had been talking so now I was out of the loop but I soon caught on.  He said he was going to show us what he was talking about and live in a shack on Smith’s Pond, Westside, and he was going to report on nature untainted.  I said there’s not a shack there we just walked there last week and there was no shack and he said there will be when he builds one.  I said man you couldn’t build suspense let alone a shack and Ralph had to calm us down.  I said but that stretch of land is all gutted and highway eleven runs right by there you aren’t going to be able to hear anything but SUVs zooming by twenty-four seven, you won’t see anything wild but beer cans and he shrugged.  But I got it.  We’d been talking about industry how it was tied to environmental decline and how that any time people grab nature and use it as playdoh to make chemicals and burn shit then it’s not a matter IF nature is going to bite our ass, but WHEN.  We all agreed nature left alone could be dangerous but beautiful and the lesser of all evils when the shoe drops.  I dived off the board again and said the environment was so bad that we basically have too many humans on the planet and the religious zombie moms should stop having kids who grow up burn coal drill gas and emit carbon dioxide because after all isn’t the whole planet more important than the stupid human species that’s killing it….and even Ralph and Henry told me I was going neg.  Way neg, man.  And they loved me anyway and I knew it.


By David Christopher Pleiss



Rich kids become writers,
poor kids die in slums

It's 10 p.m. at the Mill
in Iowa City
The revolutionaries will
not be performing tonight
No rappers from Detroit
No slammers from New York

Tonight the "good people"
from the writers' workshop
will be reading
"Good people,"
not the poet who's brother
died in a drive by
"Good people"
not the poet who's sister
died in Iraq, and father
rots in jail

Tonight the "good people,"
– rich people, you know,
people who can afford
to write "good poetry"
about "riding on dogs,"
and making love in bliss

The "good people" write
About the good things
The poor always miss

The "good people" fear
The "bad people," the ones
Who say capitalism's success
Is just one colossal myth
The "bad people" speak of revolution
And Detroit, Rock Island, and Flint --­
Places that are now graveyards
For the victims in the war against
This country's poor

While the "good people"
Write about their sex lives
Their careers, traveling the world
And more

The "bad people," the revolutionaries
Write about the barricades, and dismantling
The machinery that lets rich kids
Become writers, and poor kids
Die in slums


By Jason Cant





Third Saturday Reading

Tonight's reading featured poets from a summer retreat
who workshop their poetry with academic axioms
and sterile subjects until they perfect bland, teeming
of archaic vague allusions and or vapid diction; they
reach climax in institutional incest, then boast of
their superiority in stale critiques and stares maliciously
at street poets who hare their souls by lamenting
working-class themes during the open mic, they
suspect one of them is the anti-poet akin to
the Antichrist who views his poems as a practical
vehicle for communication and expression of
change, but all applause seemed equal.


By Jimmy Burns




Do you think you should just give up
your strong morality
to see your kids don’t go unclothed
or homeless and hungry?
Your love for all humanity
won’t trump the need to survive.
So, do you think you should take it light?
Put righteousness aside?
You join the heartless corporate struggle,
the kill or be killed game,
The government bureaucracy
never called itself tame.
The pigs who feed your kids' bellies
profits from foreclosures
and turn you into one of them:
de facto usurer.
Avoid the eyes of the victims.
Push papers down the hall.
You’ll hate yourself in the morning
but you’re backed against the wall
You pull the floor out from under
those middle class victim slobs
But you’re just a paper pusher,
not a power hungry snob
You go to your church on Sundays,
you pray do unto others
but you’re forced to play god yourself now,
your house or another’s?                                      
Your siblings sign for a promise,
a way out of this mess
they’re sucked in for what they’ll get later,
give up their small lives for less.
But their leaders fight for profit,
not freedom or a worthy cause.
If they weren’t so desperate
killing would give them pause.

They avoid the eyes of the victims.
Their hearts are filled with dread.
They beg each day for forgiveness
while shots ring through their heads.
No one respects them like granddad.
What he did was for right.
but these kids are mercenaries,
paid for their throw-away lives
Our tax money goes for bombs now.
Our youth are currency.
Where’s the productive source of work?
The right to be happy
Our leader told us he’d save them
They just took a detour
from Iraq to Afghanistan
They just found a new sewer
After three tours they stay home
With tales of gore to tell
to rival all of their street tales,
deeper levels of hell
Emotional scars they face now
Post-traumatic stress every day
Precludes those offers of college
Mirages get in the way
All concentration is sapped up.
The promises never came.
All they learned in the infantry
was to shoot to kill or maim
Their folks go to church on Sundays,
mourn their crimes unto others
They couldn’t stomach Nam either:
their fathers and their mothers
The underclass sinks even deeper
when the bottom drops down
The values we stood so long on
sink to a new zero ground.

By Lynn Ciesielski





New World

This is our land with moist French fry forests
and fallen oaks of red

This is our land with asphalt plains
stretchin’ far as the eye can see

This is our land with a dustbowl of images
trying to sell you the kitty litter of fat cats

This is our land with bloodstained clothes
selling on the market for $50 a stitch

This is our land with rotting corpses
and undertakers who are movie pop stars

This is our land with a Scottish clown president
and a big-eared talking rat for secretary of state

This is our land where we milk the tits of the poor
and use the milk in molten mocha lattes
for the families of old

This is our land of gorilla sized chimpanzees

This is our land of get rich quick Shantidevas

This is our land with assembly line pizzas
and automated slaughter machines

This is our land with pervert preachers
telling us to hate
when they should be overturning the tables
of Citibank moneylenders

This is our land where heroes
die out in the cold
with no place to call home

By Erik Schwerdtfeger




I don't understand

I wander the halls of the university
Listen and listen, but no one dare
No one with all the titles
Dare to say I don't understand
At the door of the philosopher
The land of Socrates, of questions, I stop
A place to make a home
The great thinker says
Son, we are sure of the problems
We take them as truths.
Reality, Knowledge, Values
Give us problems.
He smiles and I think
Not here and step outside
Sit on a bench across from
A homeless fellow caked against a tree
A worker dressed in cement dust
From the construction site up the block
Takes a spot beside me
Rips into his meat loaf sandwich
Glances at the sleeping figure
Shakes his head and mutters
I don't understand and I know
I can never leave this bench.


By Greg Moglia




Old miner speaks of unions: a trilogy

The 1907 Mesabi Strike


Part One

Don’t get me started, he warned
When it was already started

If you don’t know
The union is everything

Then you don’t know nothing worth knowing

Surrounded by forest
We did not know the names of the trees

Three pristine lakes in walking distance from our house
We did not fish

You young people say, “You never owned a boat?”
No one I knew owned a boat

We worked
Twelve hours a day, six days a week

If a guy got injured in the shaft
A bucket fell on his head, a finger got cut off with an axe

He was fired on the spot and got no pay
For days already worked

The company did not pay medicals
Many died for lack of care

It was murder but called something else

The new guys, fresh from the boat
They were something

They’d work damn hard, load up extra cars with ore
Earn an additional buck or two

Next day, Foreman would increase their quota

Didn’t bust their backs no more after that, I tell you.
Before they gave us our pay
They deducted expenses

Explosives, candles, fuses, you name it
We owed at least half to the company store

Weren’t no way to get ahead

When I been underground a few years
I paid the foreman $5 to move to the open pit where it was safer

This was how those bastards got rich
After a week he said I done good

But to keep my job
I’d have to let him alone with my girl

That was your grandma, Josephine
I told her I got canned on account of my bad English

Tell me she didn’t know the truth and I’ll call you a liar

Course we had to organize
What can one ant do?

In 1907, joined up with the Western Federation of Miners
Newspapers called us socialists and some of us were

Big Bill Haywood came, Mother Jones
But it was the stubborn Finns who fought the hardest, held out longest

Never associated much with the Finns back then, for obvious reasons
But I learned to respect them, and tell me, who could not?

Many a Finn ended up with bullets in their skulls, Slovenians too
Company owned papers called them “suicides”

We carried the red banner as a symbol of our blood
It poured out readily enough

If the bosses thought you joined the union
They’d roll big rocks down the shaft until half your crew was dead or maimed

In July 17,000 of us walked off the job
They fired into our parades every day but we kept going

They took our lives
We kept our dignity

When it was outlawed for men to gather
Punishable by death

The women, they took to the picket lines with the babies
The company men had no scruples and beat them too

Your Teta, Anna, she had her leg broke in two
By a strikebreaker hired by the Oliver Company

Dr. Branson fixed her up best he could for free
But that limp it never went away

Think how that made us men feel

When it was over, the people defeated
I got the blacklist and we were hungry

The Oliver recruited new miners from the old country
A family of Montenegrins moved into our house

We settled with other Slavs in the squatter’s location north of town
I made bootleg beer and sold it for ten cents a bottle

Your Grandma cooked at the boarding house
Her earnings bought me a rifle and I learned to shoot

Today, you can’t pay me to eat venison, even in stew
It tastes like desperation, poverty

Tell me it don’t and I’ll call you a liar.

I changed my name and got on at the St. James mine
Moved back to a company house

We had Sam then, and Jorvat, and the twins
Weren’t no other way

They cut the work day by two hours
But we still had the same quotas to meet

Some days I’d fall asleep at the dinner table,
Wake up with potatoes in my beard

I built your Grandma a smokehouse in the back yard
She sold her sausages for cheap, on the sly

Then the company store shut her down
Said Grandma was stealing their business

The company made 300 million that year
I made $2.50 a day and my wife is called a thief

Tell me there’s sense in that.


Part Two: The 1916 Mesabi Strike

I know what you young folks think
You think we were foolish

We even thought it ourselves
What did we get from the first strike?

Starvation. Blacklist. Death.
I tell you it was worth it

To be a man

With the Great War came labor shortage
No new immigrants to hire so they made us work harder

We didn’t care about that war and didn’t support it with our minds
But who dug the ore that built the steel, that built the war machines?

I did. Your Uncle Anton did. We all did.
Still, we foreign-borns were “unpatriotic”

The captains got gold watches
We got bloody knees, longer hours

It goes like that you know, when you speak two, sometimes three
Languages they think you got less sense than those who speak one

We had smarts enough to know the time was ripe
We took from them the only thing we had to withhold
Our bodies

In June 1916, forty of us walked off the job at the St. James
We didn’t go home neither

We kept walking, from mine to mine across The Mesabi Range
And everywhere we went, men put down their shovels and joined us

It was something, I tell you
As we passed by the location towns
Women and children, they came with too
An army of the poor

Each marcher remembering a killed miner
A blacklisted family member

Lashings for stealing wood from company land
Mealtimes taken away for missed quotas

The memory of an oppressed people
Runs deeper than any mine pit

Tell me there is a man who has suffered injustice and forgot it
And I’ll call you a liar

In two days, the blasting stopped
No more dynamite explosions, no more steam shovels carving tracks in the mud

Every miner was a striker
That’s what I’m talking about: solidarity!

We had completely shut them down
It was so quiet the birds came back

The robins sounded so sweet
This, in the height of war!

We were scared, but the company men were more so
They didn’t know how to live without money

We knew all too well

We didn’t see much use for the WFM this time so
We went with the Wobblies, who scared the shit out of the company men

Tough bunch the Wobblies were, and organized too
Set up Strike committees in every town, leaders speaking 30 tongues

Finns drew up a list of demands
Meager requests, I tell you

Thousands attended our rallies where we vowed to be non-violent
And shame the company

Wish I could say that worked
You know how things go

The company organized too, hired
1000 men from who knows where

Had them deputized as “Sheriffs” but they were really just
Mean-ass pieces of shit who brutalized the workers

How their own mothers could look at them I’ll never know
They’d go door to door, these hoodlums, abusing our women

Their shirts always stained with strikers’ blood
I tried to be the better man; most days I was

They shot dead one of our own, a Slovenian, John Alar
Big crowd of witnesses, all say John did nothing to provoke

Deputized thug shot him in the back three times before he went down
His wife’s sister ran to get the priest for last rites

There’s John, breathing his last breath
And the Father comes but sees the deputy and walks away

That priest refused to give old John the final prayer
Been bought out, see? Oliver even owned the damn Catholic Church

Tell me that ain’t the saddest thing you ever heard.

Suppose there been bigger funerals, but I never saw one
Upward of 3000 crammed into the Socialist Opera House to pay respect

Tresca, good IWW man, spoke at the service, made us all swear
“If any Oliver gunman shoot or wound any miner

We will take a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye
A life for a life”

Seemed fair to me and I swore it before God with no regrets

More waited outside
We walked in procession to the gravesite
Ahead of the casket, marchers carried the solemn banner:
“Murdered by Oliver Gunmen”

After that, we declared war against the steel trust
and all independent mining companies of Minnesota

Tell me that didn’t take courage

You young folks, you got it all don’t you?
You got your forty hour work week

You got vacations, paid even
When you get sick, you go to the doctor before it’s too late

How do you think you got that?
You think the big companies just gave you that?

They don’t give you nothing you don’t demand.

If you don’t know the union is everything
You don’t know nothing

We kept fighting until
They arrested our leaders, deported them

Conditions improved, although not right away
But the company learned what we knew all along

The common laborer is not common
Without us, their ideas and visions are only that:

Useless as a shovel to a barefoot iron ore miner.
Without the worker,

The greedy stand armless,
Above a chunk of gold lying six feet below them

The profiteer must fear the worker
The profiteer must respect the worker

Tell me otherwise and I’ll call you a liar.


Part Three: Final Thoughts

Who created America?
Who felled the trees and floated the lumber down the river?
Who laid the tracks?
Who dug the ore to build the freeways and to make the cars?
The laborer did
Who gets the profits?

When the common man has extra cash in his pocket
What does he do?

He puts it in someone else’s pocket
He puts it in the pocket of the grocer,
the glovemaker, the hardware store owner

I never wanted to be rich
I never wanted a handout

I just wanted to earn enough
To have a house and a wife

Who didn’t have to take in other people’s laundry
A boat to catch the walleye, that would be all right, too.

The worker gets nothing he does not demand.
You are in the middle class because union workers made demands for you

We never got all we deserved
Not even close

We fought for everything
You fight for nothing

One day, you’ll stand naked with an empty bowl
While they take away your medicals, your pension, your 8-hour work day

You say, “Thank you, at least I have a job”
It makes me sick, I tell you

If you don’t like your union
If your leaders have sold you out

Form a new one, I tell you
Let your goal be revolution

That will get their attention

Your generation, more educated and more stupid
Won’t acknowledge your immigrant past

Won’t stand with your brothers and sisters
If it means sacrificing anything you think you have 


By Megan Marsnik

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