Selected Pieces

 

Articles, reviews, poems, short stories and more from Love and War selected by the author.

Homeward Bound

(From The Soul of America)

My mother immigrated to the United States from Brazil by ship when she was sixteen years old. Her mother was from the small town of Gravata in the northeast, not far from where Lula, the autoworker who would be- come president of Brazil, was born. My father’s Dutch/English ancestors also came by sea, but in 1642. One of their descendants was a laborer in the small party of men who founded the city of Newark, New Jersey.

 

Growing up, I never felt like the son of immigrants. Maybe because the word “immigrant” didn’t carry the weight it does today. Maybe be- cause all I was interested in was sports, girls, and getting drunk. Where we lived in southern Indiana the Klan was very active. The dry cleaners we used while I was growing up was run by a Klansman who was later sent to prison for burning down an African-American bookstore...

Vietnam

(From War)

Twenty years ago when I moved to California

I went to Wells Fargo to open a bank account

The teller was young, beautiful... Vietnamese

 

My first thought was

"You know, I might have fucked your mama"

 

My second thought was

"You know, I might have killed your mama"

 

I took my receipt

Went outside

And threw up on the sidewalk...

Let's Play Two

(From Sports)

No one would argue that children don’t ever need to go to school because they were born with a brain which can develop on its own. But when it comes to the body that contains that brain, we act as if it can somehow just take care of itself.

 

We allow sports programs to be eliminated from our schools at all levels. We force parents and athletes to pay for the athletic programs which remain even though many cannot afford it. We also allow millions of children to go hungry and millions more to become obese. (In the fall of 2010, the high school football coach in the Los Angeles suburb of Temecula said that his biggest problem was that many of his players lived in homes where there wasn’t enough to eat...)

Downbound Train

(From Homeless)

Camera moves slowly down a street in suburban Los Angeles. At the end of the block, the camera stops and pushes in on a house with a wide driveway and a foreclosure sign out front.

 

Inside, the house is empty with wall to wall carpeting, wood paneling, and mood lighting.  The camera moves slowly through the house.

 

In the first bedroom there is a doll lying in the corner. We hear someone singing a lullaby: “Hush little baby, don’t you cry.”

 

In the next bedroom there is a poster of Tom Brady on the wall. We hear a teenager say: “Hey dad, I made the varsity!”

 

In the last bedroom, we hear the muted sounds of a couple who have just finished making love...

Hello Walls

(From Musicians)

In the early 1890s, coal miners began a war against the use of convict labor in the mines of eastern Tennessee. They burned down coal company buildings and fought the state militia. On several occasions they liberated convict laborers from stockades and sent them toward freedom on trains. The miners won the battle when the Tennessee legislature banned the use of convict labor in private industry. But they lost the war. Brushy Mountain State Prison was built with convict labor north of Knoxville in 1896 so coal could be mined on the premises by inmates.

 

In 2001, country singer Mark Collie played a concert at Brushy Mountain with an all-star band that included guitarist Dave Grissom, bassist Willie Weeks, multi-instrumentalist Sean Camp, singer Kelly Willis and bluesman Gatemouth Brown. The tape of that concert languished for years until it was finally released in 2012 by Wilbanks Entertainment as Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary...

Gideon's Trumpet

(From Musicians)

What I'll always remember about Miles Davis was his arrival at Arthur Baker's Shakedown Sound in New York for the "Sun City" recording sessions in the summer of 1985. There were a lot of musicians laying down tracks that day--Bonnie Raitt, Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, Steve Van Zandt, Kashif, Darlene Love. Everybody was feeling good because the cause was righteous and the "Sun City" project was bringing together artists who'd never had a chance to rub shoulders before.

 

But Miles Davis wasn't feeling good--his health was already deteriorating and, when he spoke, his words dripped with hatred for apartheid. He talked about South Africa, but maybe he was also thinking about how, several blocks from where he was standing, he's been beaten bloody by cops in 1959 while taking a smoke break between sets at Birdland. In any event, that day within ten minutes he'd recorded the mournful, angry notes that kick the record into gear...

No Queens in the Kingdom

(From Play That Beat)

Suppose

Just suppose

That all the rappers

All the rappers who ever used the words “bitch” or “ho” in a song

Controlled the United States government

 

Suppose

That this rapper government sent out police

Special units dressed in sweats and backwards baseball caps

Sent them into every neighborhood

To arrest any woman who wasn’t acting “properly...”

You Load Sixteen Tons and What Do You Get?

(From Warming the Globe)

I know what it’s like to depend upon coal to feed a family. Many years ago I worked at a steel mill in Ohio. My job was at the coke plant where West Virginia coal was turned into coking coal for the blast furnace. The top of the coke ovens was an area the size of a football field where monstrous machines funneled coal into the ovens. It was my job to put the heavy oven lids back on nice and tight.  It was literally as hot as hell up there. It felt like walking barefoot on hot coals. The air we breathed was truly foul but to us it was the sweet smell of something like success. We called it the smell of money because it paid the bills.

 

Yet as soon as I got a chance to escape the coke ovens, I took it. I got a job bid on a crew at the blast furnace. But I couldn’t escape the coal. Like the devil or a bad check, coal will find you. It followed me to the blast furnace...

One Border Don't Stop No Show

(From Mexico)

In 2003, Metallica performed in the prison yard at San Quentin. Frontman James Hetfield was uncharacteristically introspective at the mic: “If I didn’t have music in my life it’s quite possible I’d be in here or, not even here, be dead. I’d much rather be alive. Everyone is born good. Everyone’s got the same size soul. So we’re very proud to be in your house and play some music for you.”

 

Six years later, Metallica played in front of 50,000 people at Foro Sol stadium in Mexico City. Their pride in being in someone else’s house to play some music was as heartfelt there as it was at San Quentin, as can be seen on the DVD Orgullo, Pasion, Y Gloria. But this time Hetfield is anything but introspective. He begins the show by screaming “Mexico!” and then uses his limited Spanish at every opportunity (the crowd responds by singing the songs word-for-word in English)...

New World Symphony

(From The Future)

“I envision a world where water, electricity, food, and education would be for free in the next 25 years for everyone on this planet,” said Carlos Santana during an interview at the Latin Grammys.

 

The need for the essentials of life to be made freely available is obvious: Three billion people now live in poverty, half of them subsisting on less than a dollar a day. Yet everything is being privatized: education, health care, the very cells which make up our bodies.

 

The agent of privatization, the corporation, was once an organic part of our society. In 1949, U.S. corporations paid 49% of all taxes. They pay just 7% now...