Poetry

“Return” – Carolyn Forché

For Josephine Crum

Upon my return to America, Josephine:
the iced drinks and paper umbrellas, clean
toilets and Los Angeles palm trees moving
like lean women, I was afraid more than
I had been, even of motels so much so
that for months every tire blow-out
was final, every strange car near the house
kept watch and I strained even to remember
things impossible to forget. You took
my stories apart for hours, sitting
on your sofa with your legs under you
and fifty years in your face.
So you know
now, you said, what kind of money
is involved and that campesinos knife
one another and you know you should
not trust anyone and so you find a few
people you will trust. You know the mix
of machetes with whiskey, the slip of the tongue
that costs hundreds of deaths.
You’ve seen the pits where men and women
are kept the few days it takes without
food and water. You’ve heard the cocktail
conversation on which their release depends.
So you’ve come to understand why
men and women of food will read
torture reports with fascination.

Such things as water pumps
and co-op farms are of little importance
and take years.
It is not Che Guevara, this struggle.
Camillo Torres is dead. Victor Jara
was rounded up with the others, and José
Martí is a landing strip for planes
from Miami to Cuba. Go try on
Americans your long, dull story
of corruption, but better to give
them what they want: Lil Milagro Ramirez,
who after years of confinement did not
know what year it was, how she walked
with help and was forced to shit in public.
Tell them about the razor, the live wire,
dry ice and concrete, grey rats and above all
who fucked her, how many times and when.
Tell them about retaliation: José lying
on the flat bed truck, waving his stumps
in your face, his hands cut off by his
captors and thrown to the many acres
of cotton, lost, still, and holding
the last few lumps of leeched earth.
Tell them of José in his last few hours
and later how, many months later,
a labor leader was cut to pieces and buried.
Tell them how his friends found
the soldiers and made them dig him up
and ask forgiveness of the corpse, once
it was assembled again on the ground
like a man. As for the cars, of course
they watch you and for this don’t flatter
yourself. We are all watched. We are
all assembled.

Josephine, I tell you
I have not rested, not since I drove
those streets with a gun in my lap,
not since all manner of speaking has
failed and the remnant of my life
continues onward. I go mad, for example,
in the Safeway, at the many heads
of lettuce, papayas and sugar, pineapples
and coffee, especially the coffee.
And when I speak with American men,
there is some absence of recognition:
their constant Scotch and fine white
hands, many hours of business, penises,
hardened by motor inns and a faint
resemblance to their wives. I cannot
keep going. I remember the American
attaché in that country: his tanks
of fish, his clicking pen, his rapt
devotion to reports. His wife wrote
his reports. She said as much as she
gathered him each day from the embassy
compound, that she was tired of covering
up, sick of his drinking and the loss
of his last promotion. She was a woman
who flew her own plane, stalling out
after four martinis to taxi on an empty
field in the campo and to those men
and women announce she was there to help.
She flew where she pleased in that country
with her drunken kindness, while Marines
in white gloves were assigned to protect
her husband. It was difficult work, what
with the suspicion on the ride in smaller
countries that gringos die like other men.
I cannot, Josephine, talk to them.

And so, you say, you’ve learned a little
about starvation: a child like a supper scrap
filling with worms, many children strung
together, as if they were cut from paper
and all in a delicate chain. And that people
who rescue physicists, lawyers and poets
lie in their beds at night with reports
of mice introduced into women, of men
whose testicles are crushed like eggs.
That they cup their own parts
with their bedsheets and move themselves
slowly, imagining bracelets affixing
their wrists to a wall where the naked
are pinned, where the naked are tied open
and left to the hands of those who erase
what they touch. We are all erased
by them, and no longer resemble decent
men. We no longer have the hearts,
the strength, the lives of women.
Your problem is not your life as it is
in America, not that your hands, as you
tell me, are tied to do something. It is
that you were born to an island of greed
and grace where you have this sense
of yourself as apart from others. It is
not your right to feel powerless. Better
people than you were powerless.
You have not returned to your country,
but to a life you never left.
1980


(Written as published from The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché.)

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Commentary, Non-Fiction

Death Day – A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg

Celebrating the life of Allen Ginsberg – Easter Sunday

On April 5, 1997, Allen Ginsberg, esteemed American poet who spanned influence over multiple generations, died from a combination of liver cancer and hepatitis. At the eve of his death, close friends, family and old lovers spent the night with him at his apartment in the East Village in New York City. Once he passed, Buddhist chants filled the air for hours until his they believed his spirit fully left his body.

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Allen Ginsberg, a true activist, mentor and poet.

“Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.” – Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was paramount to the Beat movement as a voice against militarism and political oppression. He was part of the counterculture publicly speaking out for the sexually and politically oppressed.

He is most known for exercising his freedom of speech in his poem “Howl” that spoke on homosexual relationships and the times of the American generation.

He studied at Colombia University where he made friends that shared his “new vision” and embarked on the epic journey of the poetic, beatific, buddhist life that still influences generations of artists today.

Favorite Quotes:

“I really believe, or want to believe, really I am nuts, otherwise I’ll never be sane.”

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

Incomplete list of suggested reading:

  • Howl & Other Poems (1956)
  • Empty Mirror: Early Poems (1961)
  • The Yage Letters (1963)
  • The Fall of America: Poems of These States (1973)*
  • Illuminated Poems (1996)

*National Book Award for Poetry Winner

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“America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” – Ginsberg

Interesting Fact:

Ginsberg and Anne Waldman helped found the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, which was started by Ginsberg’s biggest spiritual mentor, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

 

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Fiction

Excerpt from On the Road – Jack Kerouac

That night in Harrisburg I had to sleep in the railroad station on a bench; at dawn the station masters threw me out. Isn’t it true that you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under your father’s roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life. I stumbled haggardly out of the station; I had no more control.

All I could see of the morning was a whiteness like the whiteness of the tomb. I was starving to death.

All I had left in the form of calories were the last of the cough drops I’d bought in Shelton, Nebraska, months ago; these I sucked for their sugar. I didn’t know how to panhandle. I stumbled out of town with barely enough strength to reach the city limits. I knew I’d be arrested if I spent another night in Harrisburg. Cursed city! The ride I proceeded to get was with a skinny, haggard man who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health. When I told him I was starving to death as we rolled east he said, “Fine, fine, there’s nothing better for you. I myself haven’t eaten for three days. I’m going to live to be a hundred and fifty years old.” He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac. I might have gotten a ride with an affluent fat man who’d say, “Let’s stop at this restaurant and have some pork chops and beans.”

No, I had to get a ride that morning with a maniac who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health.

After a hundred miles he grew lenient and took out bread-and-butter sandwiches from the back of the car. They were hidden among his salesman samples. He was selling plumbing fixtures around Pennsylvania. I devoured the bread and butter. Suddenly I began to laugh. I was all alone in the car, waiting for him as he made business calls in Allentown, and I laughed and laughed. Gad, I was sick and tired of life. But the madman drove me home to New York.

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