Category Archives: War

October 18, 2015 (for Mulu)

And you will die with the Star of David

Twisting before your eyes

Blood on a stretcher

In the middle of Beersheba’s

Final countdown

Of a night it not only owned,

But created in the 67th year

Of the century before

A century when all things came to a head

Like teeth

 

The fatal blow was not the sound

Of lost little shoes doing a jagged tap-dance

Along the gravel at Dachau

But hearing the words of its Nazi guard

Echo in the mouth of a Jewish spinster

Who achieved a crooked morning glory

By sending the final death blow

Into the body of a Brown Man

With a boot heel that had

More certainty than Meursault

An Arab, an African –

All the same

Israel’s arid assurance

As crooked and brisk

As von Verschuer’s scalpel

Rattling on the limbs

Of the bloody mantra

“You will die with the star of David

Burning in your eyes”

Mulu Habtom Zerhoma, a wounded Eritrean, is evacuated from the scene of an attack in Beersheba, Israel, on Oct. 18, 2015. [AP Photo/Dudu Grunshpan]

Mulu Habtom Zerhoma, a wounded Eritrean, is evacuated from the scene of an attack in Beersheba, Israel, on Oct. 18, 2015. [AP Photo/Dudu Grunshpan]

*

So this is how we live.  This is what goes on.  Everywhere, somewhere.  Israeli security officials said a 21-year-old Arab citizen of Israel, opened fire in a southern Israeli bus station, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding 10 people. Zerhoma died of his wounds after an Israeli security guard fired at him, apparently thinking he was the shooter!  CCTV revealed an Israeli security guard shooting this African man as he crawled on the ground and outraged Israeli news sites said the man was kicked by bystanders as he lay in a pool of blood. ‘We have sewed the seeds of Kitty Genovese’
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Israel, The New Nazi’s, & 21st Century Racism

A child on the train this morning said to his father, “Lived backwards is the Devil.”

The father took no notice and told his son to “shut up.” A shame he could not accept or engage his son’s brilliant, precocious insight. That’s a brilliant poet right there in diapers, I was thinking to myself. I smiled. Which is rare because normally I am cursing the world – as well as my own place in it.

Then I re-read Norman Pollack’s beautifully searing and questioning piece, published in CounterPunch: “Israel’s Goliath to Palestine’s David” and through the looking glass I went…to get another fragment of truth.

Although it is a personal reflection and analysis of the hate that directs Israel’s nasty assault on the Palestinians, it is loaded with such truth, such spiritual and literal fact — that it would be very difficult for one to not regard the present regime of Israel as some kind of “new Nazism” for the 21st Century. It is not as far-fetched or preposterous as it may seem…if we African Americans have saddled up with the racist White Establishment by doing their bidding for them (President Obama’s nonsense, blacks willingly killing each other–keeping the FBI’s gang violence alive, and titillating white Liberals by gladly referring to ourselves heinously as “niggers” and “my niggas,” after ALL THIS TIME, etc, etc.) than it is NOT any more bizarre than to see the Israeli State Power and its complicit World Jewry members, who want to see Palestinians erased, compared to their own recent oppressors: the International-European Nazi party.

Think about it.

Yes, the devil is alive and well.

Thank You, Norm for writing this wonderful piece in CounterPunch.

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Weaving Rugs and Building Floors: Some Pier Paolo Pasolini and Samuel Fuller, But Completely Alessandro

Afghan Hound
Written & Directed by Brian Alessandro

"Afghan Hound" (2010)

“Afghan Hound” (2010)

A New Director has made a powerful motion picture, which is now available to audiences on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Brian Alessandro’s 2010 Afghan Hound opens with a shot of garbage. An indication of the mess that slowly forms when a white American war veteran and an Afghani carpet weaver’s lives intersect. Although understandably perceived as a film about a PTSD and a Vet’s struggle to come to grips with the horror he inflicted in Afghanistan at the start of America’s invasion shortly after September 11, 2001 — the film is less a portrait of PTSD and more an illustration of the warped relationship America and historic white racism have with the Oppressed and colonized. It is set in the here and now, within the fray of the 21st century circus and the themes of white guilt, war crimes (an oxymoron if there ever was one), revenge, and punishment could be applied to just about any time period in modern man’s consciousness. Chris Leeds (Adam M. Griffith in an impressive performance) is a veteran trying to resolve and accept the horror he inflicted and experienced as a soldier in Afghanistan. He is reflective, introverted, and fragile when we meet him and yet at least he seems to be able to support himself – he’s a carpenter. And while he may not be Jewish, he is a Catholic and the suffering he must endure is rite of passage ritual into a state of grace. He is 33, like Christ was when he was crucified. Although it is not a primary aspect of the film, it is wholly un-subtle. Is Alessandro implying that Americans (i.e. “white people”) must suffer to the depths in order somehow be reborn, be cleansed, be…treated for their institutional philosophy of militancy and imperialism? Whether at home or abroad, white America has its nose in everything and dictates to everyone under the sun. Except to itself.

Enter: Zemar – spookily interpreted by Lavrenti Lopes. Zemar is the Afghanistan-American (he grew up in Flushing) who initially befriends Chris (they swap trades, Zemar teaches Chris about rug weaving, who in turn gets lessons in carpentry). Their exchange of energies and ideas is affirmative and creative as they both build things…and yet, as Zemar reminds us: “Everything begins with philosophy.” Which, of course, means that there is an inherent idea behind any organized act or decision. And how we render those actions is based on ones philosophy. It is quite clear that the director wanted it to be known that America’s treatment of “the other” and its own soldiers – is quite a conscious act.

I wrote earlier that Afghan Hound is not really about PTSD in my opinion – as that skirts the issue. It is about the recognition of guilt and admission of sin. And how a white man willingly accepts his punishment – even if only it allows him to feel something stable and “real.” This is no coincidence or something to be taken lightly. The white man – cut off from his own center, his own “soul” as it were must always go to the “natives” to feel something. He must always be led, taught, entertained, or forgiven by a person of color in order to be free of his burden, his shame. He has been going to the black man for his music for centuries now – because it enables him to feel. But what he can’t seem to do is actually forgive himself. People of color throughout the world do nothing but forgive. It’s not that the colonized don’t know who they are — it is perhaps that the colonizer doesn’t know or can’t admit who he is. And the Chris Leeds of the world wouldn’t know where or how to begin to forgive…themselves. Their world is too unstable.

In one of the film’s most genuinely moving scenes, Chris announces to his friends and family — after imploring them for their American nationalism in which he excoriates everything from the A Bomb to Britney Spears – “at least the sunset is trustworthy.” He knows it’s the only thing man can rely on, the one constant that may never change and it is an emotional sunset or sunrise that he needs, he needs something to lean against that he can rely on. Zemar becomes his sunset.

It is when Zemar begins pursuing revenge on Chris that the film takes a surrealistically absurd turn. Alessandro powerfully crafts elements of Sam Fuller and Pasolini into what emerges as a kind of delicate ‘Theater of Torture’ – all executed and inflicted by Zemar who shows himself to be quite the guerilla sadist. And this is the power of Alessandro’s directing – he expresses the terrifying fact that even the oppressed’s ability to enact a reasonable or rational act of revenge – has been corrupted!

Maya Angelou once wrote that she did not believe that blacks would treat whites the same if they were in positions of power and if their roles in western society had been reversed. She wrote this in reference to Jean Genet’s play “The Blacks” (which she appeared in originally) and while she may or may not be right, in the case of Afghan Hound – revenge is something Chris wants Zemar to have and, once again like a good sacrificial lamb – he offers himself and exposes himself to Zemar’s bizarre, yet benign, S&M fantasies (the scene where Zemar rubs his hands over Chris’ combat uniform as if to indicate the homo-eroticism of Fascist military fatigues is excellent). Zemar wants this white imperialist to suffer, to be punished, to be abused…and yet for all the debasing he does – it is Zemar who comes off appearing more warped than Chris, thereby endowing Chris with more sensitivity, almost in a strange way letting him (the white audience) off the hook, since the empathy is given more to him than to Zemar. If there is a criticism I have of Afghan Hound it is that.

Lopes bothered me half way into the film, he was too cocky and his cat like prancing was off-putting at first. I also was uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons. As an African-American, I was delighted to see another man of color play a role that was complex and off-kilter. However, the “bitchiness” of the character bothered me, and at times bordered on a strange shifty eyed Arab stereotype via Peter Lorre – and yet in the last 10 minutes of the film Lopes finds a way of redeeming Zemar – not as a person – but as a character in the film. Because no matter no matter how “true to life” some movies’ people seem – one must not forget we are watching characters. And behind every character…is a philosophy.

Griffith did well as Chris – it’s a role Viggo Mortensen would’ve craved had he been 25 years younger. Griffith is a better actor, but there were times I did not believe his brooding. It would have been even more powerful if Griffith was more like his delusional white friends and had still been PRO-America and then gradually lost himself in Zemar’s Velvet Underground revenge games – discovering his own status as a racist imperialist and as a ‘pawn in the game’ but these are minor points and only ones I speak of in order to be fair and honorable to the film. To not be tough on a tough movie would be to dishonor it. And all works of art are flawed. It’s just that there are times when the artist must speak to his fellow artist and tell him exactly how his work stirred him and what questions it prompted. That’s how we all grow. It took great courage and talent to make Afghan Hound. For all his absurd “spiritual suffering” ethos, Scorsese couldn’t do it (he lacks the courage – plus he’s too busy making sure DiCaprio is brushing his teeth or God knows what) and neither could Aronofsky or any other establishment director who supposed to be known for taking risks and being honest.

American cinema does mirror the American society in that it is a socio-pathic, self-aggrandizing world that does little to change, challenge, or reflect on our history, mores, and accepted values. For this alone, Alessandro must be commended.

Final Note: Brian Alessandro’s use of wide-angle masters and subtle shifts in acting styles (look at the white American family the movie with that of the Afghani family, even the styles – within the perceived Naturalism – is different!) is effective and bristle with tension and a strange un-reconciled understanding. I am not sure how he achieved some of the things he did (which I am grateful for) but I know his work beckons repeated viewings and I hope he is a director who will continue to make honest and penetrating films.

*

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Nina Fleck’s Latest Poetic Dagger Published in “CounterPunch”!

Nina Fleck’s Latest Poetic Dagger Published in “CounterPunch”!

CounterPunch newsletter’s Poet’s Basement section has published three new works by Fleck, Gaffney and Trowbridge. 

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All The Smart People I Know Don’t Have Children

villagedamned[1]

What would they do with them?

Happily murder and warp and pervert them into three legged jungle gym monsters, putrid little hyenas on hind legs with credit cards and shoot em up with knowledge of stocks and bonds and baseball averages and when to say which curse word & when not to?

Who has time for this?

Even scarier: Who wants time for this?

Can’t we fix the crooked sign above the altar first?  Clean up some shop a bit, kick a little ass & get the crooked rooked regogos out first??

Can’t we at least let all the children who are children be children first & let them grow up before we implore & ingratiate this planet with more fucking kids??

Can’t we give it a rest, just sterilize maybe two or three billion males for a generation or so.  Wouldn’t you want to be able to make love & not worry?  Don’t you miss sexual abandon?  Wouldn’t it be nice to not care?  You could feed the starving babies & we could all take time to get to know one another…That’s a lot of work, isn’t it?

Or are you that egotistical that you need to spill your own seed?

(“It’s not that I dislike children – it’s what they might become. If I had to bear witness to my child’s lack of success I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it. I barely handle my own.”)

*

My greatest fear would be to have to explain to my child how to lie.  I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it.  I mastered it early, by observing the sweltering pain & bile festering in my parents’ eyes.

And now children take to these masks like an inchworm making its way across the Last Leaf.

Birth.

Money.

Talk.

Money.

Family.

Money.

Walk.

Money.

School.

Pool.

Summer camp.

Satan, Santa

Blue Jean crews.

High School.

College.

MONEY.

MONEY.

MONEY.

Madness. Sheer madness. That’s all it is…I sometimes wake up from a deep-sleep & ask myself “Is this all worth it?” Then I ask “What the hell IS this?” And I can’t make sense of the sloppy eyes & dumb mouths carving out slings to wear upon their hearts

& all I think is “There were no slings for hearts when hearts beat & bled or bowed & stood” And I ask the College boy who just got home last summer–I ask him when I pass him and his girlfriend on the stoop: “You ready, College boy?” “For what?” “For all THIS.  You ready?” And he doesn’t answer. And my heart (which never had an aspirin nonetheless a sling) twists for this kid and his doe-eyed girlfriend tugs at him begging for an answer

& I try to send a message but my lashes aren’t long enough & she mistakes my popping sockets for some wild-eye battle cry

& now I have to break the cool & say straight out (cause no one knows how to READ anybody anymore): “He’s got time to answer.  And when he can’t–he’ll figure it out.  Just don’t beat him up about it.  Learn the word ‘Tragedy’ first, and understand that we’re just here to be abused. Walk in the direction of oncoming traffic & always be kind to a lame horse.  For if you’re as sensitive as he is–they’ll get rid of you, too…it just may not be as quick. If it is–they will not forgive the man who’s quick to dis-assemble.”

She shies me away, He doesn’t look in my eye–so he missed it when I rubbed out all the pennies declared and the sleep that will not go away.  “This is important,” she says, and she turns up the volume on their computer screen to watch the latest News Crawl…

“No need for drugs anymore. All you have to do is turn on the TV.   Although I doubt you’ll learn as much about yourself.”

In truth, I didn’t know what to say.  She was cute & reminded me of my first crush, he was lanky and awkward and prettier version of how I might have looked at eighteen with a Caesar and basketball hands.  He was being sent to Tennessee in two days.  From there, he’d go into Iraq.  He was old enough to be my son.  Once he even tried to act like one – he knocked on the door & asked my Lady if he could ask me some questions about Shakespeare since I “speak so good,” & could I help him with his term paper?

My Lady was right not to tear out his delusion from such watery eyes & she said of course I’d help & I’d be only a few minutes & she coerced me into spilling my guts to the kid about crying havoc & letting slip the dogs of war – without mentioning of course that I was unemployed, non-degreed, &  increasingly un-published.  “But you write a mean business letter,” she teased, “and it’s not that no one will publish you – it’s that no one knows what to do with you”.

She definitely knows how to get me moving, that’s for sure.

I helped the kid with his paper – it was on Lear, not ancient Rome, but it didn’t matter – his future was so far off & away from our water-damaged ceilings and tiny kitchen, it wouldn’t have made a difference how many fancy metaphors or how colorful my language was in expounding on Shakespeare’s tragedies.   This sorrow was much greater & deeper & stranger.

“Mr. Kangaleri,” he said – as if I was some Italian Indian who could not speak English – “Mr. Kangaleri, I want you to know I appreciate your help…You…you do a lot…for me.”  He paused more than Brando & for a moment I thought this kid’s got something.  He’s got something.  But whatever he had…he was going to spill out over Iraq.  I wondered about his parents.

His mother was a sexy thing – her black-gray hair reminded me of a vanilla-chocolate swirl on an ice cream cone & I always smiled dumbly when I saw her.  My Lady & her traded secrets & beauty tips & sometimes Astrology books.  She dated a lot and eventually settled on some jerk who told the kid he had two choices: “Eat or be eaten.”

I would have told him he had at least three: “You can be in the fight.  Watch the fight.  Or produce the fight.”     I was still trying to figure out which hole I was in, sometimes it was all three.  But at least it meant I was alive, no? Then it dawned on me: no, the only options are the ones you make for yourself.  You didn’t have to join or fight anyone’s battle – your life itself is a battle.  You don’t need to look for a ring to get into, you are a ring!

I assured the boy he could be whatever he wanted as long as he had some passion.  As long as he had a yearning to be free.

That word fell out of my mouth so many times that morning my Lady started to get suspicious.  “Stop it, “ I assured her.  “Freedom is all we got locked deep down inside of us,” I explained to him,” it’s right there next to love, hate, & fear. And you can get thrown out into the field with the scent of one of them and that will determine who follows you, which hellhound will be blazing your trail.”

This scared him.  Although I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that, in the end, freedom was an abstraction.  And none of us knew it cause none of us ever had it.   “Your grandparents understand freedom.   Cause they remember what it was like when they still had to fight for it.  The more aware you are of what you can’t do and the more outraged you become – the clearer freedom is.”

*

The next day his mother’s boyfriend stepped to me & he made it clear my “terrorism” was not appreciated.

He handed me back the books I gave to the boy for his graduation – a well thumbed 1983 edition of Brave New World – which he held out like a bug infested mattress – and the Encyclopaedia Africana – which he said was too heavy for a boy to lug around & anything he needed to know he could look up online & besides he was “Puerto Rican” and “not Black” & he didn’t want to confuse the kid any more than he was.    He leered at me sideways & then said, almost proudly, “that’s the book that kid read before he shot the Congresswoman in Arizona.  I don’t want my kid carryin’ that shit, you know I’m sayin?  That’s like Hitler or something right?”

I had no clue what this man was talking about.  And when I closed the door I realized how sad it was that all the smart people I know don’t have children.  But who could blame them?  How could you compete with these creatures taking over.  It was men like him you’d have to contend with at PTA meetings or baseball games or god forbid if your kids got into a fight.

*

Frederico died eighteen months later.  He was blown apart in Iraq.  Accidentally killed by his own unit.  His body was shipped back to Washington Heights where his mother used all his medals as icons to decorate her front door.  Stupid woman.

My Lady showed me a letter Frederico had written for my birthday, shortly before he was killed:

Dear Mr. Kangeleri,

Hope you & Mrs. Kangaleri are doing well.  Happy Birthday to you!  I took your advice and have begun laughing whenever I say Happy Birthday!  You’re right – it makes it easier to swallow, less silly if you just laugh it out and celebrate yourself or your friends by yelling “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” 

My birthday was last month and my two best friends, both pilots as well, agreed with me that we could do just about anything if we’d stop accepting and questioned the bigger picture.  But I’ll be honest, I have no regrets joining the Army but I do concede that it’s showed me that there’s more to life than picking up a gun or attaining a medal or getting promoted or defending a flag.  And the name itself “Armed Forces,” implies a shortsighted, almost limp explanation of what and who we are. 

I want to help.  Not be an armed force.

They keep reminding me that I’m not here to enhance my understanding of Ethics, but when you are flying over a holy city and all you hear are the sound of a million plus voices chanting & praying to their God, you know that there is something deeper.  You told me once you were a failed artist and that you could not give me sound advice cause you had no money and not attained much – but do you remember what you said before I left for basic training?  You said you were so far of the radar, that no critics would even review your work cause you had no demographics.  And you said you were a writer, not a Newsman, and that half your success as an individual was knowing this.  The other half was meeting a woman and falling in love with such a beautiful entity as your wife.   You said Mrs Kangaleri was your Pulitzer.  Well, for several days, even weeks – I mulled that over in my head, and I let your words wash over my brain. 

Flying over those souls as they lay in devotion to a God I’ll never see or understand made me realize what you meant when you first told me to read Shakespeare and Neruda and Langston Hughes or Kafka and then fall in love.  You told me a Man should have the experience of having the hairs on the back of his neck stand and a soft ache in his heart at the same time.  You said a man sees clearer when this happens, you mentioned freedom, and perception…You made me laugh cause you said these experiences were rare – like getting a woman to reach orgasm or making the perfect cup of coffee or creeping up behind cat without them noticing you or just observing the splendor and pride in the early morning sun.   I remembered all these things you said.  Well, I did not find my Mrs Kangeleri (yet!) but I am hoping I have time.  You told me I should not even think about marriage until I was at least 40.

But I did attain one portion of your assignment:

I felt the hairs on my neck stand…and I understood the promise and the pain of all that a writer struggles to express.  And I got that flying over Cairo.   In some way, it was like coming home. 

I am not sure where this war will lead or how it will end.  I am no longer angry for joining, yet I am ashamed at how ignorant I was before.  Is it wrong to feel that these people here or more my own people than my family or friends in New York or in the United States? 

I think I’m going to be a writer.   Aren’t there a bunch of writers who started off in the military? 

(Hey it could be worse: I could have become a police officer!)

Enjoy your birthday old man!

Frederico Luanta

I cried like a baby when I read this letter.  One night I came home late and ran into Frederico’s mother’s asshole-boyfriend.  He couldn’t look me in the eye and a part of me was waiting to see if he’d say anything cause I was looking for a fight.  The landlord fucked me on the heat, our bathroom still had molding and water leaking from the ceiling, the kitchen sink still overflowed when these spoiled brats upstairs decided to play Suburbs and use a washing machine IN THEIR KITCHEN.

Yeah, I was already on edge & looking for a fight, a razzled-dazzled gleaming bird of steel and blood was lurking in my chest, for several weeks my Lady was calling me “Jekyll AND Hyde” literally…I was on the move and I felt like the incredible Hulk when this sorry piece of human flesh slimed right by me.  I wanted to show the ingrate the letter his woman’s son wrote to me, I wanted to show him how beautiful and soulful this young warrior truly was, but I didn’t say a word.  “Lady Kangaleri” would have been proud, she told me later I had to stop wasting my energy on those types of people.  Frederico’s mother was not so hot anymore herself.

Her looks had left – I mean fled, and her capacity to talk and think and maneuver seemed greatly diminished.

*

When her boy died, she kicked out her Romeo and flew back to Puerto Rico.  Rumor had it that she had killed herself. I would have if I were her.  On second thought, I would have killed that jerk she was fucking for the past 5 years – that sorry sad demon who screwed up her son – and then I would have killed myself.

But she didn’t.  After 6 months in the Caribbean, she came back rested, warmer, 13 pounds lighter, and looked a day older.  She had a nine-year old brat with her who never ever once looked up to say hello when she passed.

When I asked her who the kid was, she said she was her “heart.”  (“she’s my heart, my new duende – isn’t she beautiful?  I told my brother let me bring her to New York for a minute and see if she could do some modelling.  She’s like Julia Roberts!”)

She then said she was going to open a Tarot Reading business.  She said she got a message from Frederico telling her to do this for America.

This is why all the smart people I know don’t have children.

Who would they play with?

 

 

A slightly different version was originally published in Lying Meat & Other Poems Beneath the Oil (2011)

 

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