November 2, 2005

do you curse where you come from


R.B. Kitaj, If Not, Not, 1975

[The artist stated that the painting related to T S Eliot’s poem 'The Waste Land'; the poet is depicted at the bottom left, wearing a hearing aid. The building in the top left corner is the gatehouse to Auschwitz. Below it lies a scene of cultural disintegration and moral collapse. The stagnant water, the dead and blackened trees, and the books scattered about the landscape, speak of death and destruction. A Matisse bust lies broken in the centre foreground. The small figure of the man in bed, holding a baby, is a self-portrait.]

From A History in Verse (1941 - 1960)
-- by Ed Sanders

On the 1st of December
a tired seamstress returning from work
at a downtown department store
was sitting in the front window
of the 'colored' section.

According to the rules
when the white section filled up
she was supposed to
give up her seat to whatever
white man or women should appear.

Rosa Parks was 43 &
a secretary of the local NAACP chapter
She'd once taken part in an interracial workshop
at the radical Highlander Folk School
in Tennessee

which had helped open her eyes as to
ways by which harmony might come
to the races

so when a white person wanted her seat
that evening
the great Rosa Parks refused.

The bus driver said he'd call the police
if she didn't rise

"You may do that" she replied
& she was arrested for violating the ghastly
Georgia bus segragation laws
and fined $14 on December 5

That was the day that Montgomery blacks
who made up 75% of the ridership
began a boycott of the buses

It was a moment for America

Dead of Winter
-- by William Corbett

Factories close, the harbor stinks
our bridges rot and roads decay
we sail farther and farther out
to take fewer fish,
we refuse to educate our children
and they are murderous and murdered,
our leaders tell us nothing
we do not want to hear.
Real estate robbed some of us
and illness bankrupts others.
Out of complicated laws
endless litigation.

The Drinker
-- by Robert Lowell

The man is killing time – there’s nothing else
No help from now from the fifth of bourbon
Chucked helter-skelter into the river,
Even its cork sucked under.

Stubbed before breakfast cigarettes
Burn bull’s-eyes on the bedside table;
A plastic tumbler of alka seltzer
Champagnes in the bathroom.

No help from his body, the whale’s
Warm-hearted blubber, foundering down
Leagues of ocean, gasping whiteness.
The barbed hooks fester. The lines snap tight.

When he looks for neighbors, their names blur in the window,
His distracted eye sees only glass sky.
His despair has the galvanized color
Of the mop and water in the galvanized bucket.

Once she was close to him
As water to the dead metal.

He looks at her engagements inked on her calendar.
A list of indictments.
At the numbers in her thumbed black telephone book.
A quiver full of arrows.

Her absence hisses like steam,
The pipes sing…
Even corroded metal somehow functions.
He snores in his iron lung,

And hears the voice of Eve,
Beseeching freedom from the Garden’s
Perfect and ponderous bubble. No voice
Outsings the serpent’s flawed, euphoric hiss

The cheese wilts in the rat-trap,
The milk turns to junket in the cornflake bowl,
Car keys and razor blades
Shine in an ashtray.

Is he killing time? Out on the street,
Two cops on horseback clop through the April rain
To check the parking meter violations –
Their oilskins yellow as forsythia.

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