ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Punishment Must Be Accepted, But All Sentences Have Limits
Gargles in the Rat Race Choir
A fragment by Dennis Leroy Moore
Katrin’s head was backed up against the wall.
You. You. You did this!
The guts of her dog created a bloody reservoir that seemed to spill out in several directions the more she looked at it.
It was more like an explosion etched in crimson, forever sealed in the gloomy, unforgiving, and disloyal sidewalk of the rich and rainy American metropolis.
Come out of there! The voices demanded with gritted teeth, clenched fists, and coiled tongues.
Where are you from? Where are your papers?
Katrin remained frozen as if sealed in glass, emerging slowly from a thousand year thaw. She really felt as if she dreaming. It couldn’t be real…cause…nothing was, anymore…She swallowed hard and called out for Douglas.
Quiet, you bitch! The older and ugly man with a wooden face barked.
Shut up! Why did you do this?
Katrin could not continue. She began to cry and then punished herself secretly for showing all those tears. She had been warned by Douglas about crying in public.
“If you cry in public, they’ll know. They’ll know you’re human. They don’t want to be reminded of that. Ever.”
She was nervous and the tiny crowd of three had become a mob of thirty in less than a minute. Katrin would be forced to walk back in their direction – it was a dead end where she tried to hide.
A dead end.
A dead end that had enough to live.
Come out, you little bitch!
Katrin walked out of the shadows and into the dazzling moon-lit street. The blood of her dog now streamed all the way into the passing traffic like a snake in heat.
Who are you? The Wooden Face growled. And how could you do this to a dog?
Katrin’s tears had vanished and nestled deep in her cheeks. She was hot and light headed, despite the fact that it was nearly zero degrees outside – so cold the snow could not fall…She gazed at Rudy, her beautiful dead dog. His brown glistening coat never shimmered so gallantly before, his breathing had never been so soft.
Rudy looked at Katrin, licked his lips, tried to yawn, and died.
Now she knew she was in big trouble.
The Wooden Face and three other men surrounded her and bound her arms behind her back. You’re going to jail, cunt, you’re going to jail for a long time!
Under normal circumstances the violent words and tones would have destroyed her. Not this time. The curses were cliches and she was simply exhausted with the entire scenario. Why did she have to be human she wondered?
You’ll be in jail a long time, you…demon! An old woman who looked like a bald eagle cried.
Good, thought Katrin, at least they feed you in jail. I won’t have to worry about eating.
The four men grabbed a hold of Katrin’s slim lithe body and shook her until her bracelets, keys, and toiletries emptied out into the street.
Where are the kids? Get those fucking kids in here! The men cried.
Some of the girls and women in the crowd wrestled each other to get a piece of Katrin’s belongings: handmade jewelry, poems written on napkins, love songs from Douglas, addresses for job interviews, a receipt from the drugstore, three dollars, eight pennies, and a Metro card that featured an image of the burning World Trade Center of 2001. However…there was no passport
Yep, they all suspected, this pretty bitch is going to jail.
Who do you think you are? The Bald Woman asked her.
Silence. Katrin took a deep breath. The men softened their grip.
“My name is Katrin. This is my dog.”
Your dog? said the Wooden Man. How do you like this? This cunt killed her own dog! (A chorus of laughter.) Haven’t you any decency? Why would you kill a poor defenseless animal? Maybe that’s how they do things where you’re from, but this is the New York and unless you’re being attacked or bitten – why would you hurt an animal? Don’t you believe in life?
What? You what?
I don’t understand what happened. I just –
What? What?? You what? Don’t you believe in God you Satanist!?
I…I don’t understand what happened. I just –
Let her speak! cried a voice from the mob.
“I tried to save someone,” was all Katrin could utter.
Her mind then shut off and on and displayed a jarring procession of images on the screen of her mind:
Minutes before she was crossing the street with Rudy and an elderly man with a bad knee was having trouble walking through the strange and hostile automobile traffic. The black ice from the night before had completely covered the massive street. He was afraid to move.
Katrin eyed the Old Man who seemed to have the older grace and charm of a distinguished poet or artist. His thick gray hair reminded her of her Grandfather before he had passed away.
She couldn’t resist.
He was there for a reason. Her guardian angel, perhaps, and she had to touch him, to feel him, obviously, since no one else would. She did not understand the strange looks pedestrians gave her or the nasty leers that the women in their high heels flashed as she went to the aid of this older man.
Rudy had remained in the middle of the street, beckoning Katrin and the old man. He was trying to clear the traffic so that she could safely harbor her guardian angel.
She could hear Douglas in her head:
“Whatever you do, don’t stop. Don’t look, don’t stop!” She could never actually take his warnings serious, nor could she comprehend that people weren’t people in this Metropolis country.
“They’re people,” Douglas would assure her, “they’re just not human beings. These are people who elect the same President they swear they hate and yet punish their kids for failing Logic in school. These are the type of people who have waitresses fired because they mistook their order.”
Earlier that year, Katrin remembered a most disturbing incident underground on the subway train. At the Financial District stop, several passengers boarded the train heading North outside the city; a handful of teenagers boarded the train and these children – yes children – that’s exactly what they were and Katrin was so happy that they were children – were arrested on charges of disrupting the public peace because they had been singing songs.
Not vulgar songs. Not violent litanies about cocks, and bitches, and niggas, and hos and all sorts of ugly bizarre words she frequently heard throughout the gotham on any given day. No. These beautiful children were no older than thirteen years old and were singing rhythm and blues songs. Folk songs of long ago. When people still had a culture.
Yes…the haunting, misunderstood, often disregarded, and under appreciated contribution of the great Black American south. The heartbeat of the American country…or what had been left of the American country. Yes, Katrin remembered some of these songs – these songs that were no longer played or listened to. She remembered how Douglas would stay up all night with her playing the old recordings and telling the stories behind each song.
Douglas himself had been a musician in his youth, but had gotten his guitar hand cut off when he was caught stealing cigarettes and an overcoat during the cold winter of 2004. It actually had been on Christmas eve.
Christmas Eve. With no hands to kill, give to, take in, or pray with. The biblical overtones were overwhelming. In fact, it spooked Douglas for a full seventy two hours in which he did not speak – just simply sat with wide eyes staring at his guitar which bled from its sound hole. On Christmas morning, the musical orifice had spilled so much blood the body and shape of the actual guitar withered and grew thin and gaunt, its strings dismantled itself and burst.
When the doctors asked Katrin about what he had done to the guitar, Katrin tried to explain to them that he had not done anything to guitar. They told her that “guitars don’t bleed, young lady,” and that “Douglas was obviously in an overstressed state of mind.” She explained to them what had happened the night before on Christmas eve. Both doctors eyed Katrin suspiciously and said “You probably make more money than the both of us combined. Sorry, you seem like a very nice woman. But we’re not stupid. And if you don’t have money and you have to actually steal a coat, well, have some belief in the state of The New York and this Holy Gotham we live in. This is the most economically inspired country in the world. If you need money, all you have to do is ask. There are credit agencies, loans, Church dinners and Food drives. Hell, I just heard that the Entertainment Complex are giving away all their used clothes and costumes from their last big movie with – what’s her name?”
The younger doctor’s eyes lit up as if he had seen the Virgin Mother herself. He said: “Jen.”
“Yeah, the actress Jen – that one. Yeah. She’s good.”
“Yeah. She’s rich. She knows how to handle her money. You should learn from her.”
Katrin wanted to choke and beat what was left of these two mens lives but remained cool. She simply just couldn’t believe her ears… Her ears…Yes, she couldn’t believe them.
But ears have no motives and they do not lie. The train that evening, the sweat, filth, and haggard wear of the day to day breath of survival. And the sounds that day on the train made the actual endurance of the market worth it. For the sweet singing of children – true joyful crooning – is always worth the trip to the slaughter-house…
They weren’t angels, cause they were real people. Kids. Humans. They lied to their parents, stole candy and money, forged report cards, broke into cars, slashed tires, made fun of each other, and imitated their teachers. They were healthy, vigorous children. And they sang. They didn’t curse. No, cursing was passe’ and accepted by everyone. Why would a child want to curse if it was accepted by everyone?
No, these kids were rebels of a new sort: they didn’t sport leather jackets or baggy jeans. They wore dress shoes, played Robert Johnson records, and read Shakespeare. These kids were interested in the older and more vibrant language of the old…And for that they were immediately removed and arrested at the next stop.
But even as the police removed them from the train, they crooned in such an honest and eager way that an experienced listener would have to tune their ears to the tone, mood, and pitch of what these amateurs were relaying. The alien cadences. They would have to re-learn how to experience real live music again. Granted, these teenagers were horsing around. There was little pain in their voices, but great zeal and excitement.
This is what made it beautiful to Katrin. How little they knew of life, yet one had to wonder: maybe they did know what they were doing. Maybe it was some sort of communal suicide. After all, there was a time people killed themselves to protest war and injustice. Perhaps these young revolutionaries were protesting the lack of sentiment in the world.
Katrin wondered about this and shuddered.
“Alright, what’s the situation?” asked a short, young police officer. He was pretty and had dazzling green eyes. Katrin thought he reminded her of an old boyfriend in her hometown. Perhaps he would be kind and understand her.
This crooked bitch killed this beautiful dog! The Bald Woman was foaming at the mouth.
For a split second Katrin was reminded of the black and white photographs she saw on exhibit at the Old World Museum. The images on display were photographs from America in the twentieth century. The image that quickly came to mind was that of a rather young white woman (who appeared older than she was) screaming violentl yat a young black couple as they walked by her and a huge crowd – into what appeared to be a building of some sort. Katrin thought the lecturer said it was a school, but couldn’t remember. The photo and the exhibit in general bothered Katrin for the next several weeks. She simply couldn’t understand the logic of it: hating someone because they looked different? That’s insane, she thought. Douglas tried his best to explain: “It’s insane, yes, but that was a reality.
It was called racism. Today, most people don’t bring it up cause they want us all to think we’re the same. Except for those who have money – but that’s another story. Basically, everyone has abandoned anthropology and the culture of different races. They choose to ignore similarities and refuse to celebrate differences. Refuse to acknowledge the past, the turmoil, the damage done. You see, princess, America no longer has a past before this year. America is just one long…day.“
Douglas then tried delicately to explain a great deal of what has occurred at that point in history, but it was so convoluted, complex, and fragmented that all Katrin got out of it was a headache. Douglas said he always felt stupid explaining or trying to explain the early twenty-first century history. He always got tongue tied and felt inebriated when he discussed American history they were studying or talking about since everything always seemed to repeat itself.
Katrin wondered if there was a Buddhist principle inherent in the experience of life itself: No past, no future, just a strange present that the people in power would always tinker with. Late at night, unable to sleep and breathe clearly, Douglas once cryptically warned her:
“Don’t believe anybody when they tell you that’s how it must be. Or that’s how it is. Rules don’t exist and neither do commanders. No one is actually in charge of anything, we just let things happen to us constantly. The trick is to figure out how to live within this mysterious equation. Find a way to breathe, a way to live. There is nothing to overcome or change unless we change ourselves. Or blow ourselves up.”
With that, Douglas died. He had been in the Gotham Green hospital for three days before making that statement and had lost most of his blood due to his severed hand. (His fake hand slipped off several times before falling off completely – but more about that later)
The Police officers questioned everyone in sight. Everyone, of course, except Katrin. In fact, not even talked to Katrin. No one except a female officer who asked her for her phone number.
Finally, Officer Green Eyes approached her:
“Miss. Is this your dog?”
“It was my dog.”
“Uh-huh.” He wrote on a large black silly looking notepad. “And why did you kill the dog?”
“I didn’t kill my dog. Someone else did.”
“I don’t know. He was driving a car.”
“He was driving a car.”
“You don’t know who killed your dog. But you know that it was a man driving a car. What did he look like?”
“What? No, you don’t understand. It was a hitter-run.”
“Hitterun? What is that? European or something? Hitterun?“
“No, I mean…hit or run. Hit…or…run. And run.”
“Oh, hit and run. It was a hit and run?”
“Yes, sort of. Um…the driver didn’t stop.”
“It could have been a man or a woman. It’s very dark, I couldn’t tell.”
“So it was a dark man or woman. A man in a Turban, perhaps. Or maybe – “
“No, stop. Please.”
“Excuse me, Miss. Miss. Miss, you’re going to have to relax.”
“I will not relax. Listen to me: an older man, a very old man was walking across the street. He couldn’t walk, he was very old – he had a cane. I thought he was the most amazing looking, he had the most compelling energy…I went to him, to help him across the street. The cars were moving quick and no one would help him cross the street. I thought this man was like an angel or something and I went to help him. My dog was with me. He kept walking ahead and waiting for us. At one point the old man stumbled and his cane went flying to the side. It hit the side of a parked car, I rushed over to pick it up. Rudy started barking at the old man to warn him – a car was headed right his way. I panicked and pushed him out of the way, the car swerved and hit Rudy. The driver kept on driving and never stopped. Rudy was smashed and I swear officer, I never saw so much blood in my life.”
It was here that Katrin started to cry. “In a flash, I looked and the old man was gone.”
After getting up from the ground and laughing hysterically, the police officer went to his partner, the female officer who tried hitting on Katrin earlier. “You gotta see this,” he told her.
“I know, ” she said, “she’s so cute.”
Katrin calmed down a bit and thanked the officer for not hurting her or handcuffing her arms behind her back. She then took a deep breath and recounted the entire story again. This time round, Officer Green Eyes burst into laughter when Katrin said she thought the old man was an angel.
“This bitch watched too much TV,” he belched and he quickly turned on his heels and sat in the driver’s seat of his police cruiser, gasping for air and calming down.
The female officer had the honors of handcuffing and escorting Katrin into the police car, then fingerprinting her at the station. The officer kept asking Katrin what perfume she was wearing. Katrin insisted that it was her sweat
The paper work and booking took about thirty minutes, all the while Katrin hummed the adagio from Mahler’s Symphony Number 5. When she was imprisoned, the homeless woman in her cell joined her and provided the lower notes. The woman asked Katrin if she was famous. Katrin said no she was not. The homeless woman smirked and said “Not yet.”
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“I must accept the punishment, but all sentences have their terms. Their limits. Those limits are not negotiated – “he paused and licked his lips – “They are endured. Like beatings from an authority other than your ten-year-old’s perception of Mom and Dad. The truth is that I must have something in my life which is not right – otherwise I’d have no reason to complain. And I need that reason, God, I need that reason. I need to feel useful somehow, cause I’ve got nothing else holding me together except the frustration with my life’s circumstances, my frightening scenarios, and my excessive and constant guilt – which brings forth nothing and only fosters self loathing and deterioration. You may do something but it never clinches the awe that hangs over you and gnaws at your brain.
Guilt is the mysterious painful lining along the corner of your periphery; hanging itself, doing a balancing act on the razor’s edge. The clean side of everything you tried to keep fresh. Anything sterile will soon be eaten up. Even Hamlet’s mousetrap – it vomits before it unfolds…but neatly nestled within its unsavory corners: tiny pieces of me.”
Katrin was mesmerized by Douglas’ speech, which was more of an epitaph, a contorted confession. This made her nervous. Douglas sat up in the long narrow hospital bed. “I’m so tired, Kat, I’m so tired…”
She stood by him and put her hand on his high forehead and slowly massages his temples.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” he muttered.
“Rest is important,” Katrin said.
“Don’t believe that. Remember what those kids kept telling us? Young folks aren’t supposed to sleep. It’ simply…well, it’s not – it’s not right.”
“Not right?” Doctor Silver remarked, stepping into the small gray room. He began to write on a clipboard. His hands were large and his face was sharp like a newly awaiting pencil one uses for an exam. He peered out over tiny glasses. “What makes you think sleeping is not right?”
“I said nothing about sleeping,” Katrin protested, “I said rest.”
“Yes. You’re right. You did,” Douglas apologized.
“But what if she had said sleep. Don’t you think you need to sleep?” inquired the Doctor.
“It depends,” replied Douglas.
“Depends? On what?”
“Where I’m at and what I am sleeping on. And the circumstances around me.”
“The life around you, things that are occurring.”
Katrin sighed. “Is this necessary?”
Doctor Silver ignored her and Douglas gave her an ulterior wink.
“Well,” Douglas spoke, dreamily, “if little boys and girls were being raped, and if people were going without food, and if bombs were destroying people’s homes and if people couldn’t enjoy – “
“Wait. Let’s take this one at a time. What do those terms have to do with you sleeping or not?”
“Well, I can’t sleep if those things are going on.”
The Doctor froze. He stood a whiter shade of pale. His eyes rolled up slowly.
“Then…,” He sighed, “You never will.”
* * * * *
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
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#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.
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By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.
Gil uses Lennon’s violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King’s assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.
Jamie Byng, Guardian
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 21 June 2012