photo by Alex Lear






W.E.B. DuBois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was one of the most prescient American intellectuals of the 20thcentury. We know, honor and respect his achievements and are often awed by the depth, breadth and sheer volume of his work as a scholar, editor, man-of-letters and activist. Certainly his Souls of Black Folk is one of, if not indeed, the most frequently cited book published in America.


DuBois' Souls of Black Folk gave us two definitive and classic concepts: 1. double consciousness and 2. that the problem of the 20th century would be the color line.

There is no other intellectual who can match DuBois in addressing the issues and concerns germane to Black folk in modern America. Indeed, the very weight and wonder of DuBois' work contributes to a romanticizing, and often a misunderstanding, of DuBois the man. The general picture many of us hold of DuBois' personality is that of a proper, indeed almost puritanical, highly educated egg-head who was a bit aloof and even contemptuous of the common, working class African American. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, and partially because of a skewed appreciation of DuBois' talented tenth formulation, we often think of DuBois as a bit of an elitist snob. Nevertheless, a close reading of DuBois reveals a man who enjoyed life and was surprisingly down to earth as well as radical in his personal views. This is the DuBois I respect and admire.

Here are a few aspects of DuBois that offer a fuller view of both the man and his views on life. Debates around sexism and gender politics continue to rage among our people today. How many of us are aware of DuBois' progressive and insightful stance on women's rights.

In his book Darkwater published in 1920, the year before women's sufferage became the law in America, DuBois' essay "The Damnation of Women" offered this radical reading of gender politics:

All womanhood is hampered today because the world on which it is emerging is a world that tries to worship both virgins and mothers and in the end despises motherhood and despoils virgins.

The future woman must have a life work and economic independence. She must have knowledge. She must have the right of motherhood at her own discretion. The present mincing horror at free womanhood must pass if we are ever to be rid of the bestiality of free manhood; not by guarding the weak in weakness do we gain strength, but by making weakness free and strong. [page 953]

Even in the 21st century these remain progressive positions; imagine how radical they were 80 years ago! But then DuBois was always clear that we are engaged in a social struggle and not simply an intellectual quest; education is necessary but not sufficient, we must have action.

We have all heard or read DuBois' famous propaganda quote taken from the October 1926 issue of The Crisis:

Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent. [page 1000]

I would add that DuBois understood that while all art is propaganda, not all propaganda is art. All art carries and proposes ideas and ideals, an ideology and worldview, thus, whether explicit or implicit, overt or covert, there is a propaganda aspect to all art. DuBois was a man who had been educated at Harvard and in Berlin, a refined and well bred intellectual, but he was no advocate of art for art's sake. While it is no surprise that DuBois believed in the power of art and that he favored a partisan art, what we sometimes forget is that this great educator and intellectual was above all an activist who dedicated his life's work to the cause of freedom, justice and equality.

While some choose to emphasis the propaganda element of DuBois' work as a critique, I think DuBois' emphasis on the artist as activist gives us a deeper understanding of the man—for he was no mere mouthpiece for someone else's ideology, here was a man who committed himself to creating the world his words envisioned. DuBois was then a man of praxis and not simply an intellectual who stood apart from the fray of social struggle commenting from the safety and security of the ivory tower.

A third aspect of DuBois that is fascinating is DuBois' views on sex. Listen to DuBois in his February 1924 Crisis review of Jean Toomer's book Cane—and we should remember that when Cane first appeared it was barely noticed and shortly went out of print. Cane's status as a classic required a long gestation period, and yet, DuBois early on understood the gender significance of this innovative work.

The world of black folk will some day arise and point to Jean Toomer as a writer who first dared to emancipate the coloed world form the conventions of sex. It is quite impossible for most Americans to realize how straightlaced and conventional thought is within the Negro World, despite the very unconventional acts of the group. Yet this contradiction is true. And Jean Toomer is the first of our writers to hurl his pen across the very face of our sex conventionality. [page 1209]

But wasn't DuBois "straightlaced and conventional" in his views on sex? There has been a misreading of DuBois. His views on sex when examined closely suggest a serious reevaluation of DuBois and offer us clues to reinterpret and better understand some of DuBois' reactions and positions, specifically with respect to the publication of Fire by the young writers of the Harlem Renaissance and DuBois' often ad hominem quarrels with Marcus Garvey.

Writing in his 1968 autobiography, DuBois candidly notes:

In the midst of my career there burst on me a new and undreamed of aspect of sex. A young man, long my disciple and student, then my co-helper and successor to part of my work, was suddenly arrested for molesting men in public places. I had before that time no conception of homosexuality. I had never understood the tragedy of an Oscar Wilde. I dismissed my co-worker forthwith, and spent heavy days regretting my act. [1122]

Evaluating his own sexuality, DuBois writes:

Indeed the chief blame which I lay on my New England schooling was the inexcusable ignorance of sex which I had when I went south to Fisk at 17. I was precipitated into a region, with loose sex morals among black and white, while I actually did not know the physical difference between men and women. At first my fellows jeered in disbelief and then became sorry and made many offers to guide my abysmal ignorance. This built for me inexcusable and startling temptations. It began to turn one of the most beautiful of earth's experiences into a thing of temptation and horror. I fought and feared amid what should have been a climax of true living. I avoided women about whom anybody gossiped and as I tried to solve the contradiction of virginity and motherhood, I was inevitably faced with the other contradiction of prostitution and adultery. In my hometown sex was deliberately excluded from talk and if possible from thought. In public school there were no sexual indulgences of which I ever heard. We talked of girls, looked at their legs, and there was rare kissing of a most unsatisfactory sort. We teased about sweethearts, but quite innocently. When I went South, my fellow students being much older and reared in a region of loose sexual customs regarded me as liar or freak when I asserted my innocence. I liked girls and sought their company, but my wildest exploits were kissing them.

Then, as teacher in the rural districts of East Tennessee, I was literally raped by the unhappy wife who was my landlady. From that time through my college course at Harvard and my study in Europe, I went through a desperately recurring fight to keep the sex instinct in control. A brief trial with prostitution in Paris affronted my sense of decency. I lived more or less regularly with a shop girl in Berlin, but was ashamed. Then when I returned home to teach, I was faced with the connivance of certain fellow teachers at adultery with their wives. I was literally frightened into marriage before I was able to support a family. I married a girl whose rare beauty and excellent household training from her dead mother attracted and held me. [pages 1119-1120]

Here I find the clue to DuBois' disgust with Wallace Thurman and with the journal Fire. DuBois was no prude about heterosexuality, but instead was, in his early years, intolerant of homosexuality. Furthermore, DuBois' arguments with Garvey were probably colored by the fact that DuBois had engaged in an interracial romance and thus was surely at odds with the Garvey racial essentialist position, much in the same way forty-odd years later, a number of critics were at odds with the Black Arts Movement, their opposition fueled in part by their advocacy and practice of interracial relationships clashing inevitably with the strident rejection of White women that was a sine qua non in the Black Arts Movement.

None of the above noted attributes of DuBois the man are quite as radical, however, as DuBois' stand on religion.

My religious development has been slow and uncertain. I grew up in a liberal Congregational Sunday School and listened once a week to a sermon on doing good as a reasonable duty. Theology played a minor part and our teachers had to face some searching questions. At 17 I was in a missionary college where religious orthodoxy was stressed; but I was more developed to meet it with argument, which I did. My "morals" were sound, even a bit puritanic, but when a hidebound old deacon inveighed against dancing I rebelled. By the time of graduation I was still a "believer" in orthodox religion, but had strong questions which were encouraged at Harvard. In Germany I became a freethinker and when I came to teach at an orthodox Methodist Negro school I was soon regarded with suspicion, especially when I refused to lead the students in public prayer. When I became head of a department at Atlanta, the engagement was held up because again I balked at leading in prayer, but the liberal president let me substitute the Episcopal prayer book on most occasions. Later I improvised prayers on my own. Finally I faced a crisis: I was using Crapsey's Religion and Politics as a Sunday School text. When Crapsey was hauled up for heresy, I refused further to teach Sunday School. When Archdeacon Henry Phillips, my last rector, died, I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church screed. From my 30thyear on I have increasingly regarded the church as an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor and war. I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools.

Religion helped and hindered my artistic sense. I know the old English and German hymns by heart. I loved their music but ignored their silly words with studied inattention. [pages 1124-1125] 

This short passage contains so many iconoclastic concepts that one is forced to completely reassess DuBois' character. Clearly his scholarly stint in Germany (1892-93) was critical to the development of DuBois as an intellectual "free thinker." The Germany connection helps clarify what seems to be a major contradiction. In the Souls of Black Folk, DuBois starts each chapter with a quotation of music. The book also contains the magnificent essay, "The Sorrow Songs." Souls would seem to indicate that DuBois was an ardent Christian, but perhaps it was not Christianity that DuBois was extolling but rather cultural theories exemplified by the German philosopher Herder who asserted that national cultures are based on folk culture. DuBois was celebrating the cultural mores of the folk rather than focusing on the religious specifics of Christianity.

In any case, DuBois the man was not a Christian moralist and haughty social snob. DuBois was a complex and challenging Black man who advocated and struggled for radical change on behalf of his people. DuBois was far more than generally meets the eye when we think of this great intellectual and activist.



*All quotes are from DuBois Writings (The Library of America, 1986).


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear









(something like how nia feels to me, xcept, this one is not really abt her)


god sent me / here / she said / & smiled / when we first met


glowing / & unblinking / she looked me / brown eye to brown eye / which wasn't easy / seeing as how she was only five-three / maybe / sneaking up on five-four / one of them no make-up / womens / wearing a mixture of clothes / tie dyes / silks / colored cottons / whatever gave the impression / the vibe of red / yellow / gold / green / & a couple of blues / nobody has a name for yet


i wanted to say / well / god / must have been / mistaken / cause i ain't sent for nobody


well, not really sent / it's more like / i was called


oh shit / i thinks / to myself / she's one of them / touched people


later / when she reads / some of her poems / honey nectar tart sweet aromas / explore the air / around us / fill my ears / & it is i / who am touched / by this woman


this woman / i'm with / this woman / i will always be with / no matter / what happens / whether we separate / or stay together / there are people / places / experiences / that become you / contribute to / making you be you / people you can never unfeel / un-be / leave behind / even when they are gone / they are there in your particulars / the rush of your breathing in the dead of sleep / the timbre of your sound / singing to yourself / speaking to another / they are there / anyone who has been truly intimate / remains / impressed inside


later i learn / how this woman / has a way / of appearing before me / with every vision i get / like, i wake / in the middle of the night / to play a dream tune / & she is already up / waiting for me / with the lyrics for our next song / fresh ink on soft paper / she knows where i'm going / before i get there


what i mean / is not simply / her physically being there / because sometimes her body / still be in bed / but her inspiration / in my head / be tongue licking my imagination / how else could i conceive / except impregnated / by some emotion seed / she dropped / into my soul / when i was busy / not consciously paying attention / to how she was subconsciously / moving me


so what / could i do / but submit / to the beauty / touch / spirit intellegience / of this hip / bundled laughter / looking up / at me / one soft autumn day / in the late years / of my life / ? / you dig?


& that's how / i met / my second / wife


—kalamu ya salaam




Music: "Misterioso" by Thelonious Monk 

Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



photo by Alex Lear





when you said you loved me


what did you do with it

after you didn't anymore

after the rain of love dried

after laughs

after baths

after toast & watermelon

after cups of water in the night

after morning smiles & phone calls


i know what i did with mine

i have a wall of pain painted

  nigerian indigo,

  created lyrics for a howlin' wolf,

  fashioned a mask of brown sadness,

  & in a midnight hour

  buried love's corpse quietly

  watching dry eyed

  as the heart-red crypt slipped

  peacefully deep into

  the sea of my experiences

  where the brackish-green, obsidian

  sealed sepulcher shall sleep

  untroubled by resurrection attempts


when you said you loved me

i never thought of it in the past tense


what did you do with it

after you didn't anymore






Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear










I Look But What Is There To See?



ing for

you is like


on the track

staring at the space




by a slow train

what done long



around the bend



the whistle sound


in the air


and the ground’s


felt down

to your toes






—kalamu ya salaam



Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



photo by Cfreedom 








(you get used to it)


they used to call me brownie—clifford brown. i don’t have a name now, at least none that any of you can translate. i guess you can call me the spirit of brownie, except that’s so limiting and in the spirit world there are no limits. can you understand be everywhere all the time at the same time? never mind. this is about to get too out for you to dig.

when the accident happened, i had nodded off. i mean the ’56 pennsylvania crackup, not the one in ’50 that had me hung up in the hospital for a year. dizzy came and visited me, encouraged me to resume my career when i was released. not that one. instead i mean the big one where i woke up dead.

max and newk, they were in the other car, which had gone on ahead. so when they heard we had died, well, maxwell really took it hard. i guess because he knew richie’s wife shouldn’t have been driving because richie had only recently taught her how to drive—recently like a matter of weeks.

but when max, who was six years my senior and had seven on richie, tried to intervene, richie sounded on him. you know how we young cats asserting our manhood can run guilt trips, “max. max. why you always treating me like bud’s baby brother? i play as much box as earl does, more, ‘cause bud is so inconsistent, and me, i’m always there.”

which was true. he was on time, all the time. “plus i arrange and compose.” and he would touch his thick glasses in a disarming gesture that belied the stern words he was declaiming. “i’m a grown man, max. a grown, married man. i got a wife, a woman, a life, a man. why are you second guessing me on who can drive and who can’t drive? why you treat me like a boy?”

it was such a drag, such a drag seeing youngsters straining to act so old. but you know, like richie was carrying a gorilla on his back. what with richie tickling the ivories and being the younger brother of earl bud powell, the reigning rachmaninoff of jazz piano. i bet you if my older brother played trumpet and was named dizzy, i would play bass or drums. but then again, being who i was, what choice did i have but to play what i played or else not play at all? no one chooses to be born who they are.

but anyway, max, max starts drinking to get drunk. and drinking and drinking. no even tasting the liquor, just pouring it in trying to kill the pain. richie’s gone. his wife was gone. i was gone. max is whipping himself like a cymbal on an uptempo “cherokee”—ta-tah, ta-tah, ta-tah-tah, tat tah! and newk, newk just disappeared, was up in his room, standing in the middle of the floor, going deep inside himself trying not to feel nothing.

max was in his room drinking and crying, crying and drinking. and newk, in a room above max, was silent as a mountain. i had to do something, so i played duets with newk all that night. all night. we played and we played. and we played. all night. i was willing to play as long as newk was willing and newk stayed willing all night. it was like he was a spirit too, but that comes from being a musician. when you’re really into the music you get used to going into the spirit world all the time and bringing the peoples with you. that’s the real joy of playing, leaving this plane and entering the spirit world.

as much as me and newk played that night, that’s how much max drank and cried. finally, i couldn’t take it no more and i had to appear to max. i stepped in the seam between worlds. i was like translucent. that was as close as i could come to having a body but i was solid enough for max to peep me, and i spoke… well not really spoke, kind of sounded inside max’s head while i was shimmering in the shadows of that gloomy hotel room. 

“max, it wasn’t your fault, man. you can’t live other people’s lives. you’ve got to sound your own life.”

i couldn’t find the words to tell max how it was. we all live. we all die. the force that people on earth call god, gives us all breath but also, sooner or later, takes that breath away. in time, god gets round to killing each of us. whatever we do in between, we do or don’t do.

and max starts bawling even louder, talking about how i was too good for this world, how my example helped all of them clean up their particular indisciples. he was moaning, you know, crying and talking all out his head at the same time. crying pain like a man cries when he’s really broke down.

if i had still been alive i would have hugged him but i was dead and that’s why he was crying. so finally, all i could do was tell him the truth. “hey, max, it’s alright, max. it’s alright. get yourself together and keep playing. i’m cool where i’m at. it’s alright!

the next morning, when they left, max and newk got in the car and didn’t say a word. for the rest of their lives they never talked to each other about that scene. we all have different ways of dealing with death, even those of us who are dead.

and there it is. life is always about decisions and consequences made within a given set of circumstances. you can’t change the past. you can’t foresee the future. all you have is the clay of today to shape your existence. no matter what particular condition you are in, you can only do what you can do. you can only go with the flow of where you are at, and work hard to blow the prettiest song you can conceive. that’s all any of us can do in however many choruses we get the chance to take while we’re alive.

besides, believe me, death ain’t no big thing. you get used to it, after a while.


—kalamu ya salaam



Musical composition: "I Remember Clifford" by Benny Golson

Short Story by Kalamu ya Salaam 


Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – tenor

Frank Bruckner – guitar


Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany



photo by Alex Lear








1.—The mountain village


     It was raining by the bucket-fulls. The door to Soulville, which is what we called our collectively rented hooch, was open and it was early afternoon. Rain softened daylight streaming in. And warm, a typical summer monsoon day.


     Em, which was the only name I knew her by, was near me. She was reading the paper. I had a Korean bootleg Motown record spinning on the cheap portable player plugged into the extension cord that snaked out the window to some generator source that supplied this small village with a modicum of juice. Did I say village? The place was erected for one reason, and one reason only, to service the service men stationed on the other side of the road, to supply the base with cheap labor and even cheaper pussy. I know it sounds crude, but that's the way occupying armies work.


     I had never fucked Em, and, as it turned out, never would. I remember one wrinkled old sergeant, a hold over from World War II, talking on the base one day about Em sucking his dick, but that was not the Em I knew. Somehow, the Em I knew, the woman reading the paper I couldn't read because I couldn't read as many languages as she could, somehow, the lady who put down the paper and, as the rain fell, calmly carried on a conversation with me, clearly that Em was not the same Em that the sergeant knew.


     It would be many, many years later before I realized that sarge never knew Em. How can one ever really know a person, if one buys that person?  If you buy someone, the very act of the sale cuts you off from thinking of that someone as a human equal. Sarge simply consumed the pleasure given by a female body to whom he paid money, a body which kneaded his flesh and opened her flesh to him, made him shudder as her thighs pulled him in or as she sucked him. A business transaction. Nobody buys pleasure in order to get to know the prostitute. In fact, the whole purpose of the deal is to remove the need for a human connection while satisfying a desire.


     I didn't think like that at that time, laying in the hooch with my boots off, day dreaming as I gazed out into the rain, my chin on my arm. In Soulville, just like in all the other hooches, which were usually little more than a large room that doubled as both a living room and a bedroom, we took our boots off upon entering. Even now I like to take my shoes off inside. At the time it was a new thing to me, a difficult thing to get used to, especially with combat boots rather than the slip-ons which most of the Koreans wore. But that's the good thing about going to a foreign country: learning something that you don't already know, something that you can use for the rest of your life.


     It's funny how stuff can catch up with you years later, and only after rounding a bunch of corners does the full impact of an experience become clear. I mean more than a delayed reaction, more like a delayed enlightenment. I remember one of the cats we used to hang out with. He was a real deep dude and sometimes he would sit on his bunk holding court while we played an all night game of tonk on a make shift card table constructed of two wooden footlockers stacked one atop the other and a big bath towel (to keep the cards from sliding when we slammed our winners down) serving as playing surface. Some argument or the other would come up and we'd all look to Unk to settle it — his name was Samuel, which naturally got shortened to Sam, and since we were in the army, Uncle Sam was almost inevitable, which in turn got transformed into "Unk” by one of them country dudes out of Alabama with a molasses slow drawl — early one morning when we was mustering up for roll call, Hezakiah came strolling up in a lean back amble, his fatigue cap rolled up in his back pocket (which he knew he should have had on his head the minute he stepped out doors), Hezakiah (whose named didn't get shortened) fell in next to Sam and, with a glee-filled slap on the back, greeted Sam with a loud, long, hearty, albeit southern-slow "what's happening Unk?" It was just the way Hezakiah said it, cracked everybody up and from that day ‘til Sam went back states-side, everybody called Sam by his new handle: "Unk."


     Anyway, I don't even remember what the particulars was that we were arguing about, but I do remember, just like it happened yesterday, that when we turned to Unk for his Solomonic judgment, he pulled a draw on his pipe and casually dropped a gem.


     "Don't neither one of you ignant motherfuckers know what the fuck you talking about.”  Unk looked to his left, "Billy, you just plain dumb‚ and country, and cause the only schooling you ever had was how to hitch up a mule and how to pick cotton, I wouldn't expect you to have no real learning.”  Unk looked over to the other combatant, "And, Jones, you from the big metropolis of southside Chicago, but you dumb‚ too.”  Then Unk inhaled a long draw on his pipe, took the pipe out of his mouth, studied his cards with feigned seriousness, casually blew the smoke through his nose, and continued just like he had never stopped talking.


     "Billy, he ain't never had the advantage of schooling but he got brains.”  Then Unk turned his full attention to Jones, who was sitting to his right, "You had the advantage of schooling but you ain't got no brains, which is why you just dissed that deuce and let me go on out. Read um and weep gentlemen. Tonk!”


     As he collected his pot, Unk continued the lecture. "Let that be a lesson to all yalls. If you got to choose between an ignorant motherfucker and a stupid motherfucker, choose ignorance. Cause stupidity, just like ugliness and diamonds, is forever. Whose deal is it?”


     Billy picked up the cards and started shuffling. Unk was on a roll and, with a two beat paused punctuated by his cackling laughter, Unk just kept on talking right through Billy's fast shuffle which ended with the deck sitting in front of me for my cut. "You know what I mean,” Unk turns to me, "cause at least you can enlighten an ignorant dude, but a stupid motherfucker, huh, you wasting your goddamn time. Cut the cards, man.”


     Except I never could figure out how it was that Unk fell in love with Jenny, what with her being a prostitute and all. I mean like on the serious side. Got so, he paid her a $100 a month, and she wouldn't even much look at nobody else. I could understand her, cause Unk was her ticket to ride. Anybody in her position would want to get to the states.  But why would somebody like Unk want to bring Jenny back with him to the states?  It was deep, too deep for me to figure. I wasn't sure whether my inability to comprehend where Unk was coming from was cause I was ignorant or cause I was stupid, so I never did say no more to Unk about it.


     When Unk's time was up, the money was on him leaving Jenny behind, just like did ninety-nine percent of the GI's who fell in love in Korea. To no one's surprise, although there was some awfully sentimental moments, Unk went back and Jenny stayed behind.


     My reminiscence was broken by Em's hand on my arm. I looked over at her. This wasn't no sexual thing. We both knew and observed the one rule of Soulville, i.e. no fucking in Soulville. Soulville was a place to hang out and cool out. We put our money together and rented Soulville so as anytime day or night when you didn't feel like being around the white boys, if you was off you could come over to Soulville and just lay. And you didn't have to worry about interrupting nothing. It didn't take long for all the girls in the village to know Soulville was like that. So a lot of time was spent in here with Black GIs and Korean women just talking or listening to music. It was the place where we could relate to each other outside of the flesh connection.


     From time to time we had parties at Soulville. And of course, some one of us was always hitting on whoever we wanted for the night. But when it came to getting down to business, you had to vacate the premises. We had had some deep conversations in Soulville. One or two of the girls might cook up some rice or something, and we'd bring some beer or Jim Beam — although I personally liked Jack Daniels Black, Jim Beam was the big thing cause it was cheap, cheap, cheap — and, of course, we brought our most prized possessions, i.e. our personal collections of favorite music, and we'd eat, drink, dance and argue about whether the Impressions or the Temptations was the baddest group. As I remember it, there wasn't much to argue about among the girl groups, cause none of the others was anywhere near Martha and The Vandellas. Soulville, man, we had some good times there.


     Em was getting old. She had been talking about her childhood and stuff. And when she touched my arm and I looked over at her, I could see a bunch of lines showing up in her face. Most of the time, when you saw the girls it was at night or they had all kinds of make up on their face. But it was not unusual for some of us to sleep over at Soulville and if we were off duty we'd just loll around there all day. Early in the morning we would hear the village waking up and watch the day unfold. Invariably, one of the girls would stop by to chat for ten or fifteen minutes. Or sometimes, two or three of them would hang out for awhile.


     On days like this one, you'd get to see them as people. Talking and doing whatever they do, which is different from seeing them sitting around a table, dolled up with powder and lipstick, acting — or should I say, "trying to act” — coy or sexy, sipping watered down drinks through a straw and almost reeking of the cheap perfume they doused on themselves in an almost futile attempt to cover the pungent fragrance associated with the women of the night.


     Just like when we was in Soulville we was off duty, well it was the same way for them. And I guess without the stain and

strain of a cash transaction clouding the picture, we all got a chance to see a different side of each other.


     I started wondering what it must have felt like to be a prostitute, a middle aged prostitute getting old and knowing you ain't had much of a future. A prostitute watching soldiers come and go, year after year. What it must have been like to have sex with all them different men, day in and day out and shit. Especially for somebody like Em who spoke Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese, and could read in Korean, English and Chinese. I mean, from the standpoint of knowing her part of the world, she was more intelligent than damn near all of us put together.


     Her touch was soft on my arm. I looked down at her small hand, the unpainted fingernails, the sort of dark cream color of her skin. I looked up into her face. Her eyes were somber but she was half smiling.


     "Same-o, same-o.”  She said, rubbing first my bare arm and then her bare arm. "Same-o, same-o.”




     2.—The border town.


     There was no Soulville in Juarez, Mexico, which was the service town at my next duty station at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Tay-has, as the Mexicans say it, actually North Mexico.

The stolen land. Well, actually, all this land is stolen land, but that's another story, right now, I'm just telling you why I ain't going back in there no more.


     As clear as it was that the relationships between the indigenous women and us Black men was a business, the exchange of sex for cash, still, in Korea, there had been a human side to it, a side which had some of us falling in love, and most of us, to one degree or another, made aware that there was only a very thin line between us. But Juarez was different.


     Different in that it was brutal and inhuman. I remember my first and last trip to get laid. It was such a downer that I came close to making up my mind then and there, that I wasn't going back anymore. At first I thought my problem simply was that I wanted more than a quick fuck.


     Life is so funny. We be changing and growing up, but because it's us, and because it happens day to day, we don't notice it much. I hadn't noticed how Korea had helped me grow.


     I immediately noticed the obvious changes in some of the other guys who I had shipped out with to Korea. They had been assigned to different bases up and down the peninsula, and now it was like a whole year later. We was running into each other and swapping lies about our tour in the land of the rising sun.


     The growth process was most noticeable in the guys who came from the small southern towns. By the time we hooked back up, everybody was slick in their mannerisms and modes of dress.

Shit, if Korea didn't do nothing else, it had us all dressing like hep cats. Even Roger, who I never saw hanging out much, had brought back a silver-gray, sharkskin, tailor-made suit from Korea.


     Within a year we were all either actual or aspirant pool sharks. We all drank like crazy and acted like today was our second to last day on earth. I saw it clearly in them. I don't know if they saw the same thing in me.


     I don't know how much I had changed or what I looked like, but I do know that there was some things I just couldn't deal with and at the top of the list was Juarez pussy.


     When you find yourself doing something you don't like doing even though you thought it was something you wanted to do, you get real philosophical. So standing in this dark, dimly lit room where the only light was shadows, an old hag, which is not an exaggeration, holding out her deformed hand for the money and then afterwards asking to see my dick to make sure it wasn't infected or something, and feeling it expertly for blemishes and sores, standing there under than short arm interrogation, Louis Jordan's song was beginning to sound in the back of my brain: "if I ever get out of here, I ain't never coming back no more.”  At least I think it was Louis Jordan who sang that, maybe it was me making it up and kind of attaching it to something that I half remembered Jordan singing. Whatever, the point was the same. This shit was awful.


     After I passed the test and made the requisite payment, I

was led into a smoke drenched haze that set my nostrils to flaring under the sharp assault of musky odors in the room which was an even darker room than the dark room of shadows I was just in, a room so dark that til this day I can't tell you what the woman I fucked looked like, or, for that matter, whether she was really a woman, or for that matter whether I really fucked her, or him, or whatever or whoever it was in that lightless hole.


     Memory is never accurate. Memory is colored by feelings and limited by awareness, especially when you are dealing with an emotionally charged situation. I guess you can tell I been spending more time in the library than across the border, more time reading a book than drinking in a bar. I'm not ashamed to say that I never went back even if it do mean that I wasn't a man like the other men who went over to Juarez all the time.


     I still went over there, but for the most part all I bought was cheap liquor. Boy, one time it was so funny. Between four of us, we collected about twenty dollars, made a quick run and came back with two shopping bags full of rum and brandy. We sat in the deserted, Sunday evening barracks and drank, and drank, and drank until we literally couldn't drink no more.


     I never will forget the feeling. I mean we were so stoned that if you had made a movie of us, it would have been the perfect thing to show to kids to scare them off drinking. At first we were just drinking and telling tall tales, lies and what not. Then we was drinking and thinking that we was talking — you know like in that routine Richard Pryor does when first he's talking mucho shit, then he's mumbling, and then his mouth is moving but he ain't saying nothing, then he's nodding, and then all of a sudden his head snaps back and his eyes buck-wild wide open and he shouts "was I finished?", well, we was like that.


     The "high point” of that particular session happened towards the end when one of us, I forget who, I know it wasn't me, at least I don't think it was me, but one of us was sitting with our legs crossed and then, boom, just keeled over and fell on the floor. I remember thinking that who ever it was was on the floor. He had fell out. And nobody laughed or nothing. Nobody moved. He had fell out on the floor, the rest of us had fell out sitting up. I mean at that point we was so cool and so stoned that literally the only move any of us could make was to keel over.


     Eventually, I gave up that kind of drinking after I got puking drunk on wine one night. But all of that was something I learned over time, this Juarez pussy thing was instant.


     I don't know why I even went through with it. I mean even after I had paid my money I could have left. It wasn't nothing but five or six dollars or so, but you know, the thing about being a man is that once you start something you supposed to see it through. No, I'm lying, what the deal was is that I kept thinking that somewhere in the process there had to be some pleasure. After all it was like the old joke between the two

privates who was arguing about whether fucking was fifty-fifty pleasure and work or whether it was more work than pleasure. A old master sergeant comes along and settles the argument by telling them, there wasn't no work involved in fucking, it was all pleasure, cause if there was any work involved in it, the officers would make the privates do it for them, and wasn't no officer asking no private to do his fucking for him.


     So, I believed that there had to be some pleasure somewhere and I was going to find it.


     But you can't find what ain't there. There was no pleasure, only a deeper and deeper disgust with myself. She said something. I don't remember whether it was in English, Spanish, Splanglish or what. I don't know what it was we did it on. It wasn't a bed.


     This wasn't anything but unadorned sex and the basic sex act itself. No petting. No caressing. No talking. Not even no real touching. I came as fast as I could to get it over with. And left in a hurry with my head down, truly ashamed of myself.


     I never went back.




     3.—The desert shack.


     Masturbating was better than Juarez. I saved money, it was cleaner and I didn't feel guilty afterwards. Still, being that I was what we used to call a "cock-strong” twenty years old, there was the undeniable desire, indeed, there was almost a driving compulsion, to fuck. I found myself wishing for Korea sometimes.


     At that point, I really wasn't opposed in principle to participating in prostitution, just opposed to what I perceived to be the degradation of Juarez compared to the "enlightened” prostitution of Korea. Sometimes it takes us a while to get our ethics straight. I was ready to do it as long as it didn't repulse me, and I wasn't really thinking about the women.


     The women who were the "same-o, same-o” as me. In fact, the Mexican women were darker and often looked more like sisters than did the Korean women. But I wasn't ready yet to see women in the same way I saw men. So even if we were the same color and suffered the same racism, when it came to the particulars of their situations, I didn't really see and understand the particulars of the suffering of women.


     I remember Yoko Ono saying — I believe it was Yoko, or somebody associated with the Beetles — that women were the niggers of the world. To me that seemed like an over simplification of a complex condition, meaning the complexity of racism rather than the complexity of being a woman. I never even thought of how complex it must be to be a woman. But, like the song say, if you live, your time will come.


     Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.


     We were at a party somewhere in New Mexico. I don't even remember how we got there. By then I had wheels and one of the three of us that hung together had heard about this party and suggested that we ought to go, said there was going to be some sisters there.


     Now, you have to be in the army, stationed in a place where Black women (who would associate with soldiers) are few and far between, to understand what it meant to go to a party where there was going to be Black women there. I mean you'd drive to another state for a party like that. Which is what we did.


     The party was a small, house party and there were some women there — two in particular. One was plump and one was tall. Skee-zazz, whom we sometimes called "Lil Man,” cause he was short, decided to pair up with the plump girl and I went after the tall one.


     The rap on soldiers was all we wanted to do was fuck and after that forget it. Of course that's an over generalization, but it's not too far from the truth. But on this night whether we finally fucked or not, we were having a good time. The liquor was flowing. There was some food there. And whoever was responsible for the music, had a bunch of good jams.


     We drank, we danced, got sweaty, talked, slowed dragged and belly rubbed. As the night wore on, this tall sister got to looking more and more outrageously fine to me.


     My rap was kind of on the weak side and I hadn't really developed no game. I mean I did my share of bullshitting with

the guys and stuff, but as far as talking a girl out of her drawers, you know like when you meet somebody cold at a party or dance or something, and then get them in bed four or five hours after you just met them, I had never done that.


     Skee-zaz˙ was in the corner laying down his line and giggling through his teeth, flashing his big dimples. Me and Tall Girl was talking about something, I don't know what. I think what was saving me was that I could dance. So, when a good jam came on, I would jump up and talk shit, clear out space on the floor, cut the fool and give everybody a good laugh. I think on that night nobody even came close to some of the moves I was laying down.


     There's something intoxicating about dancing when you get into the flow of the music. Everything I could think of, I was able to do with a panache that only, say, James Brown would have been able to match. I guess being in the army and being in good shape helped a whole lot. But I know the real deal was having this big, tall, fine, healthy Black woman smiling at me as I whirled and twirled, talked shit and popped my hips was the real spur to my confidence.


     That particular warm New Mexico night it was getting so I couldn't do no wrong. By about one a.m. when peoples started drifting off, I knew it was time to make a serious move. We was slow dragging on some number, my hands was crawling up and down Tall Girl's torso — I can't tell you her name cause I don't

remember her name, besides, names ain't important on one night stands — I gave Skee-zaz˙ the eye and he winked back at me.


     Skee-zaz˙ had his bottom lip tucked into his mouth and was squeezing his eyes shut with exaggerated concentration while he rocked his head from side to side. Tall Girl was saying something in the general vicinity of my ear. I nibbled a reply on her neck. She kind of moaned a little. My left hand was resting on the top of her butt, rotating in synch with her rocking from side to side.


     "How you getting home?”


     Tall Girl answered me. I didn't hear her answer. I really wasn't listening to a word she was saying. My radar was locked in on the target and I was close enough that my heat seeking missile was about to explode with a direct hit. It didn't matter to me what she thought.


     "Say man, let's go,” Skee-zaz˙ commanded with the terse finality of a general ordering troops forward into battle. Our foursome stumbled out into the star encrusted desert night way out in lost-found New Mexico. Shit, I didn't know where I was and didn't care. I had this fox on my arm and I was about to get laid.


     I don't remember what Skee-zaz˙ and Plump Girl was saying. Knowing Skee-zazz, he probably had a drink in his hand and was laughing into his fist, his characteristic gesture when he was having a good time, bent over slightly at the waist and then abruptly rearing back hollering, "Stop, stop, stop” as he laughed full out, holding his balled up hand to his lips like he was drinking an imaginary bottle.


     I was cooler than that. I had Tall Girl on my arm and probably was asking her to stand still a minute, stepping back and framing a shot with my "air camera” and then waving the make believe picture back and forth until it dried Polaroid style and then looking at it with intent interest and pronouncing, "Just like I thought, this proves it, your smile put the moon to shame.”  And then Tall Girl would blush with her mouth of twenty-five or so gold capped teeth — she was missing a few but that wasn't no big deal to me, and she obviously didn't feel uncomfortable about it cause she laughed with her mouth open and didn't hide her smile with her hand or turn her head away the way people who are self-conscious about their bed teeth do. I liked that she was comfortable with her self.


     There was no question about where we was going. Skee-zaz˙ and his pick-up was in the back seat, I was driving, and Tall Girl was sitting there beside me with that tight green dress riding up those long, luscious legs. Skee-zaz˙ leaned forward and touched my shoulder in pretentious imitation of what he though a rich man did with his chauffeur, "Aug Jeeeeee-veeeesssss, take us...” and then he turned to the girl, "where you live baby?  Is it alright if we go to your place?”


     "I stay with my sister. Yeah, I guess it'll be ok. But I

got to ask her when we get there, you know.”


     "Yeah, yeah. Yeah.”


     "Well,” I said.


     "Well what motherfucker,” Skee-zaz˙ said impatiently.


     "Well where the fuck am I going?”


     Skee-zaz˙ turned to the girl again, "Where we going baby, what's the address?”


     The plump girl said something. Skee-zaz˙ relayed the info, "yeah, that's where we going. Just drive motherfucker. We'll tell you where to go.”


     I pulled off.


     The plump girl said something. Skee-zaz˙ hollered a loud guffaw,  "Hey, Doc, you going the wrong way. You got to turn around.”


     After I dropped Skee-zaz˙ off and we had agreed that we would rendezvous in two hours or so, I turned to Tall Girl and just smiled.


     "What're you smiling at?”






     "Cause you make me feel like smiling,” and I put my hand on her thigh above her knee. She didn't move it. "Come on, tell me how to get to your place.”


     Tall Girl lived way out in the desert. I'm sure it wasn't really that far out, but it was at least two or three miles away from where I had dropped off Skee-zazz. Fortunately, these one horse towns don't have too many streets to get lost on. It was mostly straight shot highway.


     When I pulled up to what looked in the dark like an adobe style blockhouse, the first thing I noticed was there was no lights on nowhere and it was deathly quiet. As I rolled my window up and stepped out the car, I heard my footsteps and Tall Girls footsteps making a real loud crunching sound in the sand of the walkway leading up to her door.


     Like a friend pulling my coat, I had an eerie intimation that perhaps this wasn't going to turn out like I thought it was going to. For some reason I just got the impression that this house was a one room hut and there was some kind of faint, familiar odor which I couldn't identify.


     Although it wasn't as dark walking up to her front door as it had been in that room back in Juarez, and although Tall Girl's crib‚ was far more substantial then the hooches back in Korea, still I had this strange, but brief, deja vu premonition that I had been through this scene before. Just then a coyote howled from not too far away. Tall Girl paused briefly when she heard the canine's call. On cue, my arms flew around her waist and pulled her to me. We kissed. Then she stepped back to dig her keys out of her jacket pocket, which was when I noticed that she didn't have a pocketbook with her.


     I imagined by now that Skee-zaz˙ was humping and pumping, and I intended to be doing the same in a few minutes. Tall Girl started talking some talk about having a good time and thanking me for bringing her home and shit. The missile had left the launcher. I didn't want to hear no stalling and side walling.


     Inside her place was a musty aroma really different from the night air we had been breathing. The house really wasn't hardly nothing more than a front room with a open kitchen behind it and what must be her bed room off to the side. I didn't see where the bathroom was. Maybe it was out back.


     I was trying to follow Tall Girl without bumping into anything. She was bending over something and then I saw she had a child laying on a cot. I said to myself, "Goddamn girl, you left that child here all by herself.”  Child didn't look like it could have been no more than three or four years old. Fortunately the child was sleeping.


     After pulling the cover up around the child's shoulder and passing a kiss with her hand from her lips to the child's head, Tall Girl said "Thanks.”  Again.


     Fuck that I thought. We was going to fuck or fight. I put my hand on Tall Girl's butt. Just wanted to make sure she understood where I was coming from.


     She squirmed away.


     I followed her into her bedroom. There was this big bed and another child sleeping in a crib.


     I started to hit myself with the heel of my hand upside my head. Wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming.


     Tall Girl kicked her shoes off.


     She left her two kids sleeping to go partying. Goddamn what kind of mother was she?


     The sound of her zipper brought me back to my senses.


     She had on a black slip.


     What if the child woke up while we was doing it?


     She sat on the bed.


     I kissed her and felt up her right breast.


     She lay back on the bed. "I'm on my period.”


     Meaning what?, I started to ask. I was still thinking about those kids. How she could just leave them out here in the middle of nowhere. Then I thought, if that's bad, then how is it you can be here trying to fuck this woman, why you want to fuck her if you think she's so trifling?


     Ignoring both my question and her statement, I kissed her again. Maybe she was just saying she was on her period to get out of fucking. I reached my hand under her slip, up between her legs, and felt the lump of a sanitary pad sitting like a stop sign at the fork in the road.


     "Please...” and she just looked at me, didn't try to move my hand away from between her legs, didn't even try to turn away or nothing. She just looked at me.


     I was rubbing her thigh and at the same time I could see her eyes searching my face. Her brown pupils moving back and forth in the moonlight. Didn't say nothing else. Nothing more.


     I didn't know which of us was more pathetic.


     My eyes were growing accustomed to the surroundings. I couldn't help not see that baby in the crib. I couldn't help not think about it. I was close to getting some pussy. But at what cost?


     We stayed like that for almost a minute. It got so quiet I could hear the child's light snore of contented sleep. It was clear Tall Girl wasn't going to stop me if I really wanted to do it, yet the more I thought about it the madder I got with myself. What was I doing laying next to this menstruating woman, a woman whose name I couldn't remember, a woman I never wanted to see in life again. It was too much. I couldn't do it.


     I got up.


     Stood over her for a few awkward seconds.


     "Thanks.”  She sat up. I didn't say nothing. As I started to turn to leave, Tall Girl said, "I really did had a good time.”


     I realized just then that she was thanking me for not forcing myself on her. "I would offer you a drink or something, but I don't have nothing,” she said matter of factly without a trace of self pity. That's just the way it was.


     "Yeah, that's ok.”  Then there was another anguished pause. I didn't know what to say, "well, see you around.”  I took my keys out of my pocket. We both knew that we would never see each other again.


     I walked out, or rather, to tell the truth, I stumbled out. I don't even remember what else I said, or even if I said anything else to Tall Girl. When I got to the car, I realized that I had been almost holding my breath on the way out. The smell was the same smell I had smelled in Juarez, in Korea, the smell of poor women at the mercy of men, men like me, men like Skee-zazz, like old sarge, like any of us, no matter whether we was a private or a general, poor women at the mercy of men.


     Tall Girl, I thought to myself, you sure got a hard row to hoe, and you can't even afford to get your head bad and forget about it. There she was, lying on that bed, not wanting to fuck but resigned to the rules of the game. I wondered what I would be like if I had to let somebody fuck me every time I just wanted to have a good time.


     I turned around in the middle of the deserted street. I took my time driving back to retrieve Skee-zazz. A lot of thoughts was tying up in my head. Although I probably did the right thing, I felt bad because I had come so close to not doing the right thing.


     It looked like it took me twice as long to get back to where Skee-za˙ was at then I remembered it taking when I had dropped him off, and even so, I still had to wait outside til almost 5:30 before he came out.


     Although I had rolled the windows up, locked the door, let the seat back, slouched down deep and pulled my black leather lambskin cap over my eyes, I didn't really sleep. I kept hearing Tall Girl saying "Thanks” and seeing her large eyes looking at me.


     Later, on the ride back to the base, Skee-zaz˙ told me how he had "got them drawers. She kept saying, no, no, no. But I just pulled them drawers off her and got me some. I told her, I said, baby, if you didn't want to fuck, you shouldn't fucked with me. Them bitches know how the game go.”


     I told him about Tall Girl being on the rag.


     He said that wasn't nothing, I should have just pulled that rag out of there and gone ahead and got that pussy. "You should have got that pussy, man. That was your pussy. Yours for the taking. Betcha, if I would have been there, rag or no rag, she would have been fucked.”


     I was confused for a moment. Skee-zaz˙ was from Newark and could be cold blooded as a knife in the back. Sometimes he didn't have no respect for nothing or nobody.


     I kept vacillating between being satisfied with the decision I made not to fuck Tall Girl and the desire to be more like Skee-zazz. To young men there's something attractive about being a barbarian, something manly about being a ruthless hunter and a stone killer, just taking whatever you want regardless of what it is or who it belong to, which is why, I guess, "to Bogart” was a major verb in our everyday vocabulary. Skee-zaz˙ and Humphrey Bogart would have fucked Tall Girl, maybe I was being too southern, too soft. I don't know.


     When you're growing up, sometimes the hardest decision to make is the decision to be yourself, especially when being yourself causes you to have to put principle above pleasure.


     So here we are, driving through the New Mexico night back to El Paso discussing whether to fuck or not to fuck. I didn't say nothing about how the place looked. I didn't say nothing about the kids. I was just mad with myself cause I was in the middle of some trifling shit that I finally decided I had no business being mixed up in.


     That was it. As we crossed the state line I made a pact with myself. I wasn't going to buy no more pussy in Juarez, or no place else for that matter, for the rest of my life. And I wasn't going to be taking advantage of no women who were so poor they didn't have nothing but they bodies.


     For the rest of my natural born life, as much as I could help it, I wasn't never going to take advantage of a poor woman just for some pussy, and it wouldn't make no difference if she was yellow, black, brown or white.


     It would be over seven months later, not until I returned home and had been mustered out the army, before I made love to a woman, but that's a nother story, for another time.


     I guess I must have been thinking real hard to myself and ignoring Skee-zaz˙ cause the next thing I knew, Skee-zaz˙ was sitting with his head thrown back, snoring loudly as I drove back to the base.


     Directly in front of me, in the east, the sun was coming up. A new day was on the way.


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear 




milton nascimento


in the scheme of things, as flows this river called life, our barges momentarily close to each other, because the currents are what they are, fast running & strong, with an undertow that will sweep you off into areas you don't want to go if you don't steer your craft with determination, because there are also so many lights and sights on the shore, so many distractions, so many invitations to dock and get lost in enjoying the landside diversions, because there is sometimes fog on the river and also because of our natural wariness—and that's really a wrong description, our wariness is not natural, our wariness is "nurtured," after being on the river awhile one learns that everybody who rides a barge is not necessarily a fellow traveler—because of all of that and more, especially this fog and just the speed we travel, a speed which discourages skipping around from boat to boat, a speed which sometimes does not allow us to fully grasp what is happening as someone whizzes by us and we are also moving real fast and here passes us somebody else moving faster, like amiri baraka says, somebody's fast is another body's slow, and who knows when you are on your boat alone or I on mine, alone, who knows, and we be trying to make our way, even those of us straining to push our barge up river, no matter the direction we all are struggling along, all of us once issued from the mouth waters of our mother's womb are actually headed downward toward that big sea wherein we will become part of the eternal dust/water & spirit of this universe, how long do we have on the river, who knows, where we dock, that is our choice, how long we sit there, and then again, sometimes it is not really our choice, sometimes, like our ancestors we are forced into spaces and not given choices, not given the space to decide how to maneuver and negotiate our time on the river, fortunately, for us, we have a bit more leeway than did our ancestors in this regard—and I give thanx and praise to them because their struggles on, or should I say "in" the river, swimming without aid of boat or oar, swimming sometimes without even driftwood to hold to, swimming with balls and chains shackled to their limbs, the ways in which they miraculously waded through and parted the waters to make a way for us, to create an opportunity for us to acquire barges and boats and other vessels, the navigational lessons they learned and passed down to us, learned on the sly, on the fly, anyway they could, and passed on, goodness, we must give thanx and praise -- so here float we, sometimes moving on our own steam, crisscrossing the river of life, sometimes out of fuel just drifting, some times shut down in despair, and sometimes we're just out there and we've got everything we need to keep going except the will to do the hard work of moving our boats along on the big muddy of this river whose waters are increasingly polluted and stinking and sometimes even on fire, rivers literally on fire burning oil slicks, or sometimes we are in serious disrepair, rudders broke, holes in the hull and the like, sometimes got everything we need to move except good common sense so we waste our resources and the richness of our legacies handed down to us from those who struggled to get to the water in the first place, who waged the herculean battle just to get down by the riverside, when I use this metaphor of floating on the river of life, I mean more than just you and i, more than just a line I toss out to make conversation, I mean something so deep, so deep, so when I call out to you in the lightless night or through the morning fog, when I holler out my identifying shout and momentarily maneuver close, close enough so that our barges bump gently against each other, touch and go, as we float on down the river, and it is morning, or just after noon in a crowded river, or late past midnight and we are the only vessels visible in the darkness, or whenever, when I shout and sing my request, ask your permission to board, it is in the fullest awareness that my request is not about a merger of companies but rather a momentary sharing, a temporal but not temporary alignment of spaces and personalities, temporal in that it is time bound, you've got places to go, people to meet, things to do, and so do i, and neither of us intends to leave our vessels unattended for long, nor either of us give up our vessel for life aboard the other's, and similarly, I understand should I hear you sing, unlike sailors mythisizing some madness about the sound of women singing on the water is a siren song that will lead them to ruin, I understand—i'm listening to milton nascimento at this moment and his music is so mystically beautiful, so ethereal, I mean his voice climbs like sunlight descending on a shaft through the clouds except that it reverses the flow and rises where the sunbeam comes down his voice ascends and the melodies he utters and the stories in his voice, I don't speak portuguese but I hear milton's meaningful beauty, and when I read the lyrics translated it helps or doesn't help, but all i've really got to do is open my ears and listen, and that is the beauty of great art, we don't have to know how it was done, in many cases don't even have to know the language, especially when it's music or visual, all we have to do is be open to beauty and it will take our hand and lead us there, it will kiss us full on the mouth, lips open with the surprise of the tongue moving lucidly in and out our mouths thrilling us to our toes, ah milton nascimento—I understand you are not asking for anything all the time even though this knowing is forever, the paradox of life on the river, nothing lasts, everything flows on, everything changes, but awareness and knowledge of the deepness and connections between soul mates stretches pass any fence that time can erect, breeches the dams built to hold us back and exploit the movement of our waters, so sometimes I will call to you, or you to me, and if we are close enough and if the time permits, I mean if we are not busy steering through some particular rough waters or on a mission that requires all our attention, if there is time we will tie up to each other and one board the other for a moment, and that's all I ask, permission to board, not to stay, nor to take anything with me, but to be in you, with you for whatever sharing time there is for us on this river called life, encircled in your embrace, and, of course, you in mine, for whatever time…


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear












my fingers hesitate, but i must tell someone, and who better than you, even though, i’m sort of sure, I mean, i’m pretty sure, you’re not expecting to hear from me. you know, the way we left, or at least, the way i left. maybe one day before we make thirty you will forgive me... i hope you’re willing to read this ... anyway, stop distracting me. oops, i’m sorry. i didn’t mean to say that.


i’m blaming you again for my own in-discipline. remember, how once i jumped on you for sleeping to quietly? you woke up and asked me what i was doing, and when i realized i had spent 20 minutes just looking at you sleeping, i got angry at you... anyway, how are you?


sometime back i filed some photos for the christian science monitor. was supposed to have two shots but it got cut down to one (kalamu re-ran the article on, you can search the archives for “black diamond” and read it). i’ve attached the two photos.


i think i did a pretty good job even though no one photo can tell it all. plus, you know, i don’t know that photography (or anything else) is capable of telling the whole story over here. remember we talked about what photographs can do, about why i continue as a photographer, why i think i can make a contribution being a revolutionary photographer. yu said a picture of a gun can’t shoot shit. and my reply: but a picture of a woman with a gun can make a man shit. lol. rotglmao (that’s, rolling on the ground laughing my ass off). smile, that’s just my macabre humor at work.


what’s that blues line: laughing to keep from crying? except, i really felt like crying after that shoot. you’d have to be here, i guess, to feel me, except if my pictures are strong enough to make you feel... i’m talking in circles again, huh?


we were in this encampment at a village caught in the middle. d, there’s nothing left. the guerillas invited us in to report on what happened. the journalist i’m traveling with is interviewing guerilla women, including one named black diamond. she’s only average height, robust but not big. a plain, oval-shaped, dark face. could be any woman in this area. except she speaks with fierce intensity. not shouting or loud, but not soft either. and, like, everything she says sounds like a command that everyone follows without hesitation. of course, i took some shots of her, me kneeling and angling up, making her look like a giant.


while the interview continued i looked around for something else to shoot. there was nothing. devastation is not dramatic unless you can find a small something that will hit home to the viewer, but there’s nothing  we would recognize as a destroyed home. and... d. are you still reading? i hope so. i’ve got a whole half hour of internet access. it only took me about ten or twelve minutes to file photos. my batteries are charging now, and i have about fifteen minutes left, so that’s why i’m rambling...


i’ma be honest: i miss you. but i know you know that cause whenever we argued and I threatened to leave, you used to all the time say, you know how you drawl, dawg, you gonna miss this bone when i’m gone... “dawg!” d. was that your hip way of calling me a bitch without saying the word? did you think i was acting like a bitch cause i didn’t want to commit to a long term relationship? ... i didn’t mean to bring that up.


this girl was standing by a tall, slender tree, one arm around the trunk. ther was something, like, I had this feeling she had been watching me for a long, long time. she did not avert her gaze when i glanced at her. just stared back. instantly  i knew she had seen a lot of stuff, there was no innocence in those eyes. no curiosity. just witness. her eyes were like my camera.


i held my camera up and pointed it toward her to ask permission. she didn’t respond. just kept looking. my hand flew to my mouth covering my lips, you know the gesture i do when I’m embarrassed, you always used to point that gesture out to me. i thought about you at that moment and how you would always say: ask for what you want, don’t be embarrassed by your wants.


so, i said, “photo”? no response at first, then she raised her free arm and hugged the tree like it was a best friend. i started to try and quickly frame that shot but before i got the camera up all the way she said, “yes, mam.” her english was clear and her deference made me hesitate.


“what’s your name?” I asked.


she replied, “kuji.”


i told her my name and fired off two quick shots. i wanted to talk but couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say, so i asked her age?




“you live here?”


“no. i am with the freedom fighters.”


i took another shot, she was holding her hands clasped in front of her.


“how long?”


“for life.”


“no, i mean when did you join the freedom fighters?”


“when i saw captain diamond.”


d. i’m running outta time (you know how long it takes me to type, how I usually send postcards, but we have not had easy access to the mail, except the office email is working fine, thus, this email but no postcard, you unnerstand?), anyway, i will just tell you what kuji told me. kuji is a war orphan, her mama was beat to death, never met her father, her twin brother is missing and she dosn’t have anyone else. she said she used to go to school in the city and one day they all had to leave suddenly. their teachers put them in the back of a truck trying to escape, but the truck was attacked and all children jumped out running, except kuji climbed a tree and she saw one of the guerillas catch a teacher. kuji heard the woman screaming and saw the man grab her red hair, that’s what kuji said, “red hair.” the teacher tried to run but tripped. the man grabbed her by hr blouse. the cloth ripped. kuji said, “she had one of them white straps holding her breasts” and the gurilla he grabbed that and it broke. and then he kicked the woman and jerked her by her arm and dragged her into a hut. after a while, kuji said, black diamond came with some other women guerillas and then the man came out with his gun in his hand, saying something kuji could not hear. when diamond tried to go inside, the man stepped in front of her. dimond pushed the man aside and went in. she came out quickly and walked straight up to the man and before he could do anything, she hit him with her gun. twice again. and ordered one of her soldiers to take his gun.


d. it was extraordinary to hear the pride as this young girl described this. kuji’s eyes were shining while telling me what had happened. kuji says, the guy and black diamond started shouting. diamond turns to the other guerillas and they discuss what to do. that’s when kuji climbed down and told them what she saw. they asked her questions and the guy questions. the man said kuji was lying. she said, I’m scared but i’m not lying. and than the man tried to grab her and shouted, “this kid is lying.” and i said, i mean, kuji said, i no lie! that’s when diamond ordered, let me see your dick. show me your dick! we will see if you have been with a woman just now. the man grabbed himself and shouted no. long story short, black diamond shot him. and proclaimed, we are fighting so that men with guns can never hurt us women again. death to thugs!


d., i got to go. i wish i had got the picture when kuji repeated diamond’s words, holding her little fist fiercely above her head: death to thugs! if you saw all the mad violence i’ve seen here, you would understand a teenage girl being proud of helping to kill a rapist. or maybe not, but anyway, life’s truly tragic here and probably it will take more women killing a bunch a men in order to put an end to all the killing and raping women suffer.


those are hard facts, but what else can anyone do? war is hell and women are heaven.


let me know how you like the article. i’m thinking about doing a book about the women over here and maybe i will call it, death to thugs.


gotta run. ciao (mein). ;>)


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear





Anyone Who Has A Heart




On the ninth day Akim woke up before the sun. Today he was going home and his family would be there to greet him and to thank him. Akim was a hero.


Akim greatly enjoyed basking in the new day sunlight. He sat on a rough, stone bench and remembered when the bus had pulled away to bring him to this cold place that made him shiver—for the first time in his life he had slept under a blanket.


Unconsciously, Akim flashed a warm smile as he recalled the way Kuji had waved to him, her slender arm twisting like palm trees sashaying to and fro in the sea breeze. His sister and their mother had been standing side by side, each with one arm wrapped around the other’s waist. Mother hailing him with her right hand high above her head and Kuji rocking her small left hand back and forth at the height of her shoulder.


Mother had been sporting her best red skirt that was short enough that it would even be short if Kuji had been wearing it, even though, at fifteen, Kuji was half a head shorter than her mother and did not have long legs like her mother. Their mother also had on those black shoes with the pointy toes that she only wore when she went out at night. She did not have on much of a top, it was something black-colored, thin, and tight that stretched over her bulging breasts. But she did have on a red wrap artfully arrayed on her head covering her short hair. Akim was glad mother had not worn her wig, like she usually did in public. The wig made her look so different, made her look like a lot of other women. With that wig on, it was sometimes hard to tell she was their mother.


Kuji had on her plain red-and-white striped dress and rubber sandals, her hair tightly corn-rowed. Regardless of what she wore, Akim would always recognize Kuji’s circular face, round as the bread loaves the women sell in the market.


Early this morning when the nurse had handed him his small bundle and told him to get dressed, Akim put on the same clothes he had worn when he came to this place: a dingy but freshly-washed Nike t-shirt and long shorts that had once been some one’s jeans but had been cut off just below the knees so the leg bottoms could be used for patches.


Akim wondered if that man who brought him here would take him back home. That man, who had given his mother a brown envelope, had had on clean clothes and new shoes. Akim could tell the shoes were new when he saw the bottoms. At first Akim thought he was the bus driver, but when that man had walked up to them to talk to his mother, Akim realized his mistake. This man did not labor. He smelled like some kind of soap Akim had never smelled before. He had a sweet smell, too sweet for any man who worked hard and nothing like the sweat, or smoke, or liquor, that most men smelled like. But then, this man also spoke clean words. He talked with a clipped, flat sound obviously proud of how distinctly he could pronounce each part of every word he uttered. This man even made the short words sound long when he assured his mother, “Is going to be A-OK. You will see. A-OK.”


Akim had followed directions and found a seat next to a window near the rear of the bus. His mother had given him a small bag of peanuts and some smoked fish wrapped in a piece of paper. Once the bus had left the familiar neighborhood and lumbered away from the coast, Akim clutched the cloth pouch that secured his dinner, and anxiously pressed his face against the window while looking at all the sights he had never seen before.


Now it was time to return home and Akim tried to imagine what his family would look like when he got there. Akim could clearly envision Kuji waiting, tall, standing with her feet close together, looking like that pole in front the old barbershop while wearing her dress-up dress with the torn sleeve.


Akim flashed back to when they had decided one of them would do it. They had agreed to toss a beer cap for the honors. She got to choose, he got to flip the cap high into the air. He was so fearful of the outcome, he couldn’t bear to look. When Kuji stomped her bare foot on the hard-packed dirt floor and exclaimed, “haa,” then sucked her teeth before pouting, “you always win,” that’s when Akim opened his eyes and let out a long sigh—his prayers had been answered.


“The next time, it will be your turn to go.”


Kuji had not been listening to him, instead she had plopped down on her little stool, sulking, her face turned to stone as she stared at the paper-covered wall. “No fair. You would not even know if I had not told you.”


Akim had hesitated. Kuji was right. She had been the one to find out about the offer. She had been the one to tell him about her plan to help their mother. But he had been the one bold enough to go into the big building and ask questions. Kuji was brave but she was shy. Akim had almost said he would swap turns with her, but, no, a deal was a deal. He was to go first.


Who else would be there to welcome Akim home? Who else was there? No one really. There was no other real family that he knew of. He had never met his mother’s people. They lived so far away. In the north. They never came to the city.


Do pictures have family? Akim had always wondered, ever since his mother silently showed him the fading photograph that revealed One-Eye with a grim grin that made the man look hard, at least Akim thought the face was hard, maybe it was because you could not see his teeth, or maybe it was the way he was clutching Akim’s mother. One-Eye had a big python grip almost crushing her into his side, and she was not smiling, just looking straight at the camera. What kind of family would a huge arm have? Who would claim a man whose smile showed no teeth?


Akim recalled how once, when his mother was away, he had snuck into the basket to examine the little photo in detail—the stiff paper hadn’t even covered his tiny ten-year-old palm. When he put his finger atop the man’s face, the face disappeared.


The picture was not too clear, so you could not really make out One-Eye’s features. He had big ears—Akim had touched his own ears, they were not big like the man’s ears. And Kuji’s ears were the same size as his own ears, which was natural since they were twins and were alike in almost every way, except she stuck out at the top—her breast poked out like little ant hills, and he stuck out at the bottom, sometimes, almost big as the small orange bananas that he liked to eat.


Kuji had caught Akim just as he had lifted his finger off their father’s face. Akim had tried to wrap the picture up quickly, so she wouldn’t know what he was doing, but she saw. When he shoved the basket back into the corner, she darted over and grabbed the cloth and carefully re-wrapped the photograph. “You have to do it just like mother or else she will know you were trying to find out her secrets.”


Another time, when they were older, Kuji had asked, “do you think our father knows he is our father? I mean, do you think he knows we were born?” They were squatting together and Kuji was holding the picture with her thumb atop the man’s chest when she spoke so softly, almost like she was talking to herself, but since their heads were close together and it was so quiet that he could hear her breathing—they even breathed the same—he heard every word, every short pause between words, everything. “Do you think One-Eye has a picture of us and looks at it the way we look at him?”


“No, don’t you remember that day mother was crying. Remember she said, ‘Nobody cares about us. Nobody even knows we are alive’?”


“That was the day she was sick,” Kuji had made an excuse for their mother. And the saying stuck. Whenever their mother came home and they could see someone had beaten her, they would say she was “sick.” Akim wondered had their father ever made their mother sick. He looked like he might have.


In the picture, the man had his hat pulled so low and at such an angle that you could only see one of his eyes. That’s why Kuji called their father, One-Eye.


All their mother had ever told them was, “He is gone. His name was David.” Akim had wanted to ask where father-David had gone? But the sad way his mother said “was David,” Akim knew “was David” was not coming back. And when he had looked up from the photograph he was startled, frightened really, to see tears glistening on his mother’s cheek. Later he would learn, that’s always the way she cried: silently. The tears made no sound as they rolled over the cliff of their mother’s high cheek-bones, streaking her gaunt face like chalk marks scrawled on a blackboard by children who did not know how to write.


When Kuji told their mother how much money they could get, at first, their mother did not believe Kuji. “No more getting sick, mother. And we can get a house with everything inside—the water, the latrine…”


“They call it bathroom.”


Akim spoke up for the first time, “Why do they call it bathroom if the latrine is there?”


“Because, the room has a shower and a toilet…”


“What is to-let?” Akim innocently asked his mother.


“Akim, you are in school now. You must say it proper. ‘toy-let’.”


“Tar-let,” dutifully repeated Akim. “What is tar-let?”


“It’s a latrine that’s shaped like a stool.”


“Well, yes. We can get a room with one of those in it,” Kuji insisted.


“Kuji, I will have to find out more about this. I do not believe it is easy so to get plenty much money.”


“And they even pay you in dollars. Five hundred dollars,” Akim announced.


Ama had heard about this before. She had even gone to that man who knew about these things. He told her there was another man she had to go see. And she had gone. He stuck her arm and took some of her blood and told her he would let her know in a handful of days. When she had gone back to him, he said they did not want her. Her blood was wrong family or something like that. Other people she knew had tried, but the man did not want most of them either because either they were sick or they had the wrong family blood.


Ama was certain that if her blood was the wrong family, then most likely they would not want her children because they surely had the same family she had. When she went back to find out the twins’ test results, Ama saw the man smile for the first time. He said the twins had the right family blood and both of them were healthy. So, yes, they would buy a kidney—whatever that was. He had said everybody had two but you only needed one to live.


When the bus dropped off Akim back at the marketplace where all the busses came, only Kuji was waiting for him.


“Why is mother not here? Is she sick?”


“Yes.” Kuji’s eyes were puffy like she was getting over some man making her sick.


Akim looked away before he asked the question, “Kuji, have you been sick?”


“No. But we must do something. Mother is very sick.”


“Well, we have money now. So we can…”


Kuji cut off Akim before he could continue, “Someone took our money.”




“I came home from school one day while you were gone and mother was on the ground and she was very sick. Everything was broken and tossed about.”


They walked in silence for a while. Finally, Kuji resumed recounting what happened. “Akim, mother is hurt very, very bad and the money is gone. Mother had paid for my school and for your school too, but they took the rest.” Kuji took a deep breath, “Now, it is my turn to go and get us money.”


Akim’s side was beginning to hurt a little. “Kuji, please, I can not walk so fast right now.”


“Akim, I forgot, you are sick too.” Kuji slowed down and touched Akim lightly on the shoulder, “You must tell me what I need to do to prepare to make the money. Does it hurt when they cut you open?”


“I don’t know how it feels. I was not awake when they did it. They made me sleep through everything. Afterwards it feels like a goat hit you hard in the side. That’s why I can not walk so fast.”


They were not even half way home yet, but Akim had to stop to rest. He could tell Kuji was thinking something. “Kuji, what are you thinking? I will be alright. I’m just a little tired. Don’t worry about me. And I’m sure that mother…”


“I tried on mother’s red dress.” Akim looked at his sister and was afraid to ask her what she was thinking, but Kuji knew Akim wanted to know, and Kuji began talking before Akim could say anything. “I am too skinny. And too…” Kuji paused and then suddenly changed the subject. “Can I see where they cut you?”


“It is covered. When I change the bandage tonight, I will show you. Come on, I can walk now.”


It took them a long time to get home.


* * *


When Akim and Kuji got home their mother was dead.


* * *


“We nah need more kidney. Them need heart. You sell heart?”


Akim was surprised when Kuji spoke up, “How much heart be?”


The man thought about how much money he could skim off these kids and decided half, “Heart be plenty-oh. Two thousand dollars. American. You sell heart. Let me know.”


Akim swiftly grabbed Kuji’s hand and tenderly tugged her away from this man he did not trust. Outside as they walked slowly Akim struggled to figure out what he would do to save Kuji from wearing wigs too big for her head and dresses too short for her legs. Plus, school would be out soon and then they would not have any more food.  Their plan for Kuji to sell her kidney did not work and now, there was… well, there really was nothing else since Akim knew he did not have two hearts.


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear




Jevetta Steele


            "Don't look at me that way. I tried to warn you. I told you, 'don't love me.' You would not listen. I'm a cardinal, just a red flash through the dawn and then gone. Morning breeze disappeared at noon."

            I remember those words. The sound of the words. The way you spoke. The purse of your lips when you were thinking or silently asking for a kiss. Wide lips. Big lips. The taste of your breath. The aroma of your words. You were that close when you said them. I smelled each exhale of syllables.

            My sheetrocked wall remembers. The carpeted floor does too. My wristwatch could tell you the time. Sometimes you wouldn't wear your watch when we went out. When you were getting bored I could always tell because you would always want to know what time it was and then I would know what time it was.

            Like when we were sucking on those crawfish and you were telling me they tasted O.K. but they weren't worth the mess of cracking open those muddy red crustacean shells. I tried to tell you the trick was to suck them rather than rip them open.

            You opened your mouth and laughed. You opened me and laughed. I could see your teeth, your tongue, your gums. The palate of your mouth. The half chewed pieces of crawfish. Your laugh. Then you closed your mouth, smiled, leaned over and kissed me, the salty flavor of the shellfish still on your lips.

            I wonder how I tasted. Once you kissed my genitals. No, it was more than once, but I remember that specific "once". Just like that "once" when I hit a high fastball home run further then I had ever swung before. Although we had no fence and the ball was being chased down by Pop-pee with his strong right field arm, I still didn't even have to run. I trotted and clowned slowly around second base backing into third watching Pop-pee pick up the ball and knowing, no matter how strong he was, he couldn't get the ball all the way home before I shuffled across the plate. I'm not a fast runner but that's just how hard, how far I had hit that ball.

            You laughed in my groin, coloring my pubic hairs with the paint of your smile. I got hard like long ago when I was at the Golden Pheasant Lounge dancing close with Inez who told me, "if you don't hold me so tight I can move better."

            I didn't and she did. I don't remember what music we danced to but I remember her hips and the locomotion of the ocean. I was in way over my young head but didn't care.

            The closest I ever got to the red bird was fifteen feet or so, and then it was gone a streak of red ribbon in motion. I grabbed your arm once, not meaning to stop you or pin you down or anything, but just to momentarily delay you. As hard as I held you, tight like my bat, I still hit nothing but air. Even though I held you I completely missed you. You hissed like the swish of the bat fanning the air and the thick thud off the ball burrowing into the catcher's mitt. Or like a snake warning me you didn't stand holding.

            I think all I really wanted was for you to look at me, admiringly, just like I looked at that ball shooting off high into the atmosphere off my bat, which I still held in the tingle of my left hand, the wood's vibration massaging my palms. When I hit it I could feel it.

            Inez hardly seemed to be moving. I looked down as best I could at her pelvis, at her hips to see what she was doing but I could not see anything. No motion that suggested how she extracted the excruciating pleasure her subtle unseen motions were awakening in me. The warmness in my pants, the throb, and the absolute let down of the three minute record ending an hour too soon. The rest of the night sitting around the table talking, they drinking beer and me drinking a soft drink. All of us taking turns dancing, although Inez was not my girl she had rolled on me and taught me not to hold too tightly.

            I had seen the pitch coming in high and outside and I knew I could hit it, knew I could reach for it, knew I could. When I started swinging, even before I hit it, I knew it would be gone. It would be out of here.

            Sure enough, I call you three days later, or however many minutes later and the sound reverberates around in emptiness because there is no you to receive it. Your ear is not there to catch my call.

            The telephone wires don't care. The cardinal's red is so strong that even after it is gone I still see red. I once saw the dull red blotches on the edge of the sanitary napkin you had folded and thrown into the dark brown trash can in the bathroom. The blazing red of the lipstick you threaten to wear just to tease me knowing I don't like the taste and feel of lipstick on my lips or yours. The vermilion red of your blood the time you cut yourself. The emergency red of the pain of you almost doubled over suffering the cramps the same day I saw the leavings in the trash can. The succulent red of that watermelon and its translucent red juice dripping down your chin. The off-red of your gums, and of course the moist fleshy red of the inside of your vagina. The indistinct red of your eyes one night when you hadn't had much sleep in two days. The primary red colored ticket for William's party that neither of us went to even though we were both invited. This was before we got together, and before we broke up too like the way one pulls a round loaf of bread apart. The messy red of the pizza sauce with the sliced tomatoes and the brownish red of cooked bell peppers on it. Some of it stained your sleeve. Common red at the stoplight when you were in that borrowed car and took off with the wheels spinning and smoking I imagine, but because I was inside the car grinning at how you reveled in the power behind the wheel I didn't see the rear wheels raising up.

            What other red was there? I can't remember. The cardinal is gone. "Don't love me," you said even though you never directly said those words. What is this the twenty-eighth time I called you. I don't know. You don't know cause you're not there to answer, or if you're there, you are not answering.

            Red is such a different bird color, you always remember a red bird. You remember the way it flew. And fire. Van Gogh with his hand in the flame ready to settle for seeing her only as long as he could hold his hand in the flame. Gordon Liddy in prison scaring hard timers with his ability to hold a cigarette lighter to his arm and let it burn. The red of the flame burning hairs on Liddy's arm. And burning skin on Liddy's arm. And burning flesh on Liddy's arm. And burning up the blood on Liddy's arm. And the other hand, Liddy's other hand steady holding the flame steady. Not just standing the pain without a hint of what was going on reflected in his eyes, in fact holding a conversation about something he had read earlier in the day. Some of the hard timers dodging his eyes fascinated by that flame burning up that arm but more fascinated, and, if the truth be told, not only fascinated but also frightened by those eyes that were somehow disconnected from that arm. Any eyes that were not part of the body not only could not be trusted, but that body could not be trusted either. He probably could cut his hand off and throw it away with the other hand while steady talking about the weather or the cost of airline tickets going up. Liddy's other hand steady holding that flame, keeping the tab on the lighter depressed so the flame wouldn't go out, so the flame would burn his arm up.

            My hand was in your flame and I thought I could stand it. I could stand it. I could take your red and paint my life with it. But I couldn't hold it. I couldn't keep it. Your red had wings and my ability to stand pain only had feet.

            I got cocky and stood nearby home plate, waiting for them to relay the ball and try to throw me out. I knew they couldn't. They knew they couldn't. I had hit that ball. I thought I had hit you like that, high into the sky, but your red arm was faster than my feet.

             What is this, the thirty-ninth time? Really it's the last time even though I don't know it's the last time. I'm still thinking I'll see you. You never know when you'll stop looking for the red bird, but you do. Soon the memory is not red. Soon? No, not soon, but eventually.

            It was almost evening as I remember it and the sun was going down. The sky was rouged on the horizon like a cardinal streaking cross the edge of the world. I guess you're not going to answer me are you, even though I keep calling you long, long after the red is gone.


—kalamu ya salaam