Tag Archives: truth

Angela Davis & Jean Genet

The Protest Artist is like the ice upon a body of water; it’s the frozen lake – enabling the Activists (realizers of the vision) to carry themselves OVER the water to the other side, 

the artist is the bridge

the crossing is the activist, the arrival is the fight (revolution).  You can’t have one without the other.
The artist receives the prophecy, the activist must decide what to do with the prophecy.
The artist is the seer
the activist is the doer
(Somewhere in between…is the Actor)
—-preface to the poem “Coda for My Shadow”
image1
Angela Davis and Jean Genet in conversation, New York City 1969 at a​n Arts Festival. ​(Photo by Robert Cohen, circa 1969​ – ​ from page 69 of Art of Protest by TV Reed)
​The spring of 1969: as the Paris rebellions failed, a​ conference about the Black Panthers Theater took place in Oakland​,​ which ended in an argument about the direction the theater should take – ​ which by this point was in demise due to FBI infiltration...Angela Davis and Jean Genet confer before embarking on two separate routes to the same ultimate destination.
*

ANGELA DAVIS: If only I could only revolt as well as you create plays

JEAN GENET: No, if only I could write as elegantly as you revolt…if my words were as dangerous as your eyes I would not have the urge any longer to dream of a future. Instead I’d be living it.
AD: Yes but I was endgaming to the end of our imagination; I picked up a gun while you could still pick up a pen.
JG: The pen is not mightier than the sword.   It’s just more scary.
AD: If our words and actions were one we wouldn’t have to have this discussion. We could overturn society’s injustice with the swivel of a gun and the precision of a play and so…the world would not be a stage it would be our sun. And the sun is merely a star.
JG: But unfortunately for a star to exist one must be surrounded by darkness.
AD: “Let’s make new light out of love and erase all the darkness that comes with it.”  (I read that somewhere last year.  I think it was Bullins or Jackmon who wrote it; Huey had it painted on the back wall of one of Fred’s theater spaces in Chicago.)
JG: Is that act one or two?
AD: It’s the whole play
Or when the play
JG: ceases to to be a play.

Teeming Towards Triple Threats: Revolution in Radio Drama for a Podcast Age Vol. I 

Stay tuned for further information regarding transmission and production of the recorded podcast series: “Rebel Radio: Audio Works for a New Age” – coming this fall in conjugal with Speller Street Films LLC. 


 

 

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Coda for My Shadow

The world is becoming more acquainted with the names of dead Black Men as opposed to living ones

We’ve been tamed and perverted

into caring

when a Black Person gets murdered

uttering liberal platitudes and marching

instead of fighting for them – when they are alive. We’re all in collusion. Black men, in particular, like Christ or the Artist, are preferred dead. They’re easier to love and remember then. We prefer to mourn the dead rather than praise the living. While it is true most people on the planet — living or dead — don’t deserve an after-thought in the cosmos, there are still uniquely luminous individuals among us,

quite often they are loners or at the end of the line

or perhaps they startle when entering the café

or mesmerize when crossing the street,

sometimes it’s their words or voice we remember

or the scent of their clothes.

But it is safe to say that these people are never in positions of power. When they are — their murders sting, but they don’t surprise. Instead, we pretend we’re shocked when a harmless child or a struggling beaten down member of the Proletariat get killed. But all along we were just riding beside that Police Car, dispatching ourselves to the Fascists and believing in the sacrifice of our own

rather than the annihilation of a system

that seeks to destroy the Colored Man

with text, on screen, over radio, and in flesh.

Imagine a world where there will be no more funerals because there will be no more soil left to cover the bodies of the exterminated.

 

[The splendid painting “The Proud Father” above is by the South African painter, Gerard Sekoto, 1947. ]

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…of a Failed Artist

my tears are those of a failed artist

my heart beats like the muted hum 

of a speed bump 

on top of a hill

my aches are those of a body un-worn

and worn out

seeking to stretch its limbs and flesh

across the space of time

always searching for the right moment

to dance

or just take a nice walk

running has ceased to exist

the only mad-dash is in my head

thoughts reeling

like the uncleaned movies

i could not make

the dismal drips of paint

i could not splash

all brewed in some slight

retardation of a brain-soul

that simply may have been 

too smart for its own good

or too dull instead where it should

have glimmered, have spawned

at least a dozen bright memories to 

be shared and recalled

as opposed to a handful of ‘dusty almosts’

that face is the mask 

of a king forced to wear the mask

of a jester

no

the face of a man

unable to face himself

because although he may have been 

a foot ahead of the others

when they finally arrived

he was unable to move

and he stayed in their dust

when their feet 

peddled

up that barckled mountain

splinters heaving back

into his eyes

that’s why they’re red

it’s not from his passion

It’s from his pain

when angst has no outlet

it eats itself

like a stomach hovering

over a stone cold prison floor

empty

or a malnourished child

dead before noon

but the hunger in an unrequited man

lingers forever

with the nausea

of a failed artist

or the shadow of a man

whose cast 

has grown tired 

of its subject

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I Want to Hear the Sound of Capitalism Dying

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1599) by Caravaggio

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1599) by Caravaggio

I want to hear the sound of Capitalism

Dying

As it takes its last breath

I want to hear Angels – not singing

But flapping their wings

As they commemorate the end of a

Wicked carnival

A station-agent’s sunrise

As he tip-toes into a new orange glow

Of possibilities

I want to hear the death rattle

Of the Unconscious

And the shimmer

Of their warped souls

Taking leave of their lovely

But contorted bodies

Hands that could not help

Legs that could not jump

Mouths that could not

Utter words of love

Eyes that could not see

No matter where they looked

I want to hear

The beating

Of hearts

Instead of the vulgar

Clichés

And expected yarns

Of Self-Hatred

And all that makes

The Ghettoes

Glow

With ripe ideas

For a Television series

That will cash in

As it pushes out

All that I’ve sworn to fight against

I want to hear the shovel

Kiss and hug the dirt

Before malevolent coffins

Are lowered in

Just barely deep enough

To be covered

But close enough that the wild dogs

Will have something still

To find

When we have vacated this

Awful experiment

Called the 21st century

I want to hear my lover’s morning stretch

Her smooth sigh

That sends the only real vibrations

I am still able to feel

Straight up my spine

Between the yawling drone of

Ambulances at 1AM

And young women

Who should know better

Cursing

Not like drunken sailors

But the way a 17 year old boy

Might

Convinced

That his mother won’t hear him

I want to hear my darling’s wishes

Not her fears

But the gentle breathe of her desires

Still healthy and fertile

But beginning to show

Just a tiny bit of dust

I want to hear them released

And fulfilled

Instead of a motorcycle

That thinks

My city block

Is a suburban

Parking garage

Or Caribbean Island

I want to hear the sound of Hollywood

Dwindling

Not crashing down

But receding

Slipping into the earth

Like quicksand

Incurring the politicians

To realize that

Their days, too,

Are numbered

I want to hear my thoughts

In a language

Only I can claim

As my own

As the rage in my head

Calms down

And

Numbered like a lithograph

Takes stock of itself

I want to hear the sweet sound of demolition

So I can pray

That the next city

Built

Is one we can

Be proud of

Or one

We gladly

Wait

To rot

*

Originally published on Thomas Vaultonburg’s Outlaw Poetry blog, Zombie Logic.

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“Buddha said: ‘There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.’ The same could be said for Art. Cause it really doesn’t matter where you end up (although that is how you may be judged)…what matters is the journey. The process. Not if you win the battle, but how hard you fought. And what you learned from the fight. Some of us learn compassion, some of learn we weren’t as tough as we thought, some of us learn that all great thoughts and expression do not necessarily find an audience. But then we discover, we’ve been bamboozled! The aim is not for your work to find an audience…but for your audience to find you. No. It is not practical to think that way. But then again, if you were practical – would you be making art? Those who do are completely crazy and they are the last line of romantics on this earth. Cherish them. Because the music will dry up. And so will the thoughts. And then…what will you do on your way into the coffin? You will have no memories to call upon. Because contrary to what many believe – one does not see their life flash before their eyes in the instant of death. They see the poem that haunted them their entire life: a few lines of scribble that they could never understand until that final patch of dirt covered their shroud.”

                                                  – St. Claire Mulligan, Tremors

Because The Music Will End

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“I simply feel that the kids in their 20’s today try to model their lives on the surfaces of people and ideas that simply appeal to their basic desires and fashionable politics. They are flags in the wind. They have no real convictions or substance, and they are easily manipulated – but so is everyone else. Regardless of age. But if the youth are so innovative today — what have they given us besides social media and a ‘hip’ corporate culture that breeds apathy? It’s Orwellian. I mean, we’re all Boxers at the end of the day, really – or the best of us are. Some of us are Clovers. And a few of us are Benjamins. That’s me. I know for a fact that life will never improve or change. And I accept that. But I don’t have to accept my misery on the inevitable journey to the grave.”                                                                                                                                                                                                  — St. Claire Mulligan, Tremors

..On the Inevitable Journey to the Grave

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Black Film & The Underground Spirit: 3

It all boils down to what is your weapon. If the pen is mightier than the sword, and I do believe it is, directors must respect their talents and their tools…It is very easy and horrifying to kill a man. It is much difficult and courageous to supplant a perversion with a transcendence; the true act of destruction carries the desire to create within it… You can only make a sex, drugs, and rock and roll movie so many ways. Within this barrage of images assaulting you – TV, newspapers, films – the only way to compete and battle America’s freaky web of pop culture, blatant racism, not so blatant racism, and that beast called television is to align your own self behind a series of images, tie them to a missile, and set it off. And if constructed correctly, no matter how small, missiles will destroy.
— from “Towards a Black New Wave & Notes from the Underground,”
(Harlem, August 26, 2000)

The Author, DL Kangalee, NYC, 2004 [photo by Nina Fleck]

The Author, DL Kangalee, NYC, 2004 [photo by Nina Fleck]

([copyright 2000, 2014 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee)

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Gordon Parks: Reflecting, Connecting, Learning…

“I don’t make black exploitation films,” Parks stated to the The Village Voice, the very year I was born, in 1976.

Gordon Parks, Self Portrait

Gordon Parks, Self Portrait

After working at Vogue magazine, a 1948 photographic essay on a young Harlem gang leader won Parks a staff job as a photographer and writer with Life magazine.  For twenty years, Parks produced photographs on subjects including fashion, sports, Broadway,poverty, and racial segregation, as well as portraits of activists, artists, and athletes. He became “one of the most provocative and celebrated photojournalists in the United States.” (Lee D. Baker, 1992, Transforming Anthropology) 

***

One of the most underrated and rarely mentioned filmmakers is Gordon Parks – whose genius as a visual artist and photographer often hijacks the attention away from his dramatic works and his cinematic expeditions. His powerful photo-essays,his dignified pictures of urban and rural working class life, his career as a Life magazine photographer (the very first African-American on their staff!) alone has left an indelible mark on the 20th century and modern culture alone (find his haunting “Crisis in Latin America”/Poverty/Flavio series, “American Gothic,” or some of the Harlem photographs he took, or his iconic depiction of Ingrid Bergman in Italy, peering back out of the corner of her eye as three villagers admonish the affair she was having with Roberto Rossellini)

 

Ingrid Berman on Stromboli (Gordon Parks)

Ingrid Berman on Stromboli (Gordon Parks)

He is on my mind today because I overheard some moron in the Time Life Building (which still hosts Parks’ haunting portrait of Ingrid Bergman) – ignorantly yelp that he was the “Father of Blaxploitation cinema”. In my younger, meaner “old days” I’d have started to yell and promptly given it to this kid straight between the eyes.  But I’ve learned to ease into these situations, finesse it, try to charm the actual situation before…setting it on fire.

I had to explain to this young man that black filmmakers did not create “Blaxploitation” cinema and if they did they certainly would have come up with a better term.

I had to explain that because of the box-office success of Melvin Van Peebles powerful Sweet Sweetback’s Badasss Song and Gordon Parks own cop thriller Shaft, white Hollywood executives and producers took note of this, saw dollar signs, and instantly jumped on the “craze” that was emanating out of protest music and black consciousness in art, literature, and theater in the early 70’s – spilling over into film. It was only natural that film would be influenced.

Black Panther San Francisco Chapter Headquarters, 1969 (Gordon Parks)

Black Panther San Francisco Chapter Headquarters, 1969 (Gordon Parks)

But instead of truly honoring the intentions of such grave filmmakers and writers (Sam Greenlee, Ivan Dixon, Bill Gunn, etc) — many of these filmmakers were lucky if they made one personal film of their own that ever saw the light of day. And even when merely “hired,” they never resorted to exploitation or sided with the racism of the establishment by further peddling stereotypes and all kinds of bizarre images of African Americans that the seventies mainstream began to feverishly churn out (as if it were a return to the sickening images and propaganda published about blacks during the height of chattel slavery).

Not one black film writer or director or “artist” was involved in, promoted, or benefited from Hollywood’s exploitation of “black anger”, fashion, sexuality, or music. Instead white producers wrote garbage and “pimped” black men and women into portraying white fantasies and racist caricatures; often watering down the righteousness of the previous 1960’s visceral rage. And often – we allowed this to happen.

Some directors, like Michael Schultz, found ways to transcend Hollywood’s attempts at gross exploitation of the African American audience and community at large– check out his heartfelt, coming of age story Cooley High, and his hilarious Car Wash, — two films the bridge a universal satire/slapstick rooted with social commentary. Incidentally, Roger Ebert praised Car Wash comparing it to MASH. But despite the film having received a Golden Globe nomination and a nomination for Cannes 1977 Golden Palm — it was still considered a “bad” movie with mediocre reviews. What’s even stranger about the screenplay for Car Wash is that it is credited to Joel Schumacher (yes, the man who directed St. Elmo’s Fire and all the early 1990’s Michael Keaton-BATMAN movies. Don’t ask.) I have heard from at least four people that Schumacher’s simply plotted out the movie and all dialogue was improvised and rehearsed and honed by Schultz. (Schultz is a theater director and so this would not have been alarming for him to do as he came from a heavy ensemble and actor-oriented background. Look him up: he directed Waiting for Godot in 1966 at Princeton and directed for the Negro Ensemble Company. He is noted for having directed Lorraine Hansberry’s To be Young Gifted & Black, the most successful Off-Broadway play in 1968!)

Interesting to note – like one of our greatest playwrights – August Wilson – Schultz, too, was Black and German. I sometimes even wonder if this does not account for their conscientious and laborious way of working; taking two great work-ethic traditions and blending them into one to singularly express unique POV and varied experiences of the African American community. That’s what I expect from high-brow academic “cinema” magazines and essays to be writing. Not promoting salacious and atrocious lies depicting Gordon Parks as the “Father” of Blaxploitation Cinema, making him “easy” and “pat” for Movie academics and white kids in the suburbs. IMDB is so disrespectful and perverse – they attribute Parks’ Shaft to Blaxploitation while even acknowledging the quote that starts this very essay!

Women, Nation of Islam, Harlem 1963

Women, Nation of Islam, Harlem 1963

 

Getting back to Gordon: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once praised him as being a “black genius,” – he iterated Park’s race because the interviewer obviously had no clue who he was (can you imagine?)…For those of you who don’t know much about Parks either – treat yourself to one of his autobiographies “Fires in the Mirror”, “A Choice of Weapons”, borrow a book of his photos from the library, or at least watch the documentary on him Half Past Autumn (produced by Denzel Washington, in fact one of Denzel’s most sincere contributions to cinema).

“Gordon Parks was the first black director to make a major studio film, and his ‘The Learning Tree’ was a deeply felt, lyrically beautiful film that was, maybe, just too simple and honest to be commercial.”
– Roger Ebert

 

The Learning Tree poster (1969)

The Learning Tree poster (1969)

Parks’ films seem boring today to a lot of the film establishment and are unnoticed or shoved aside by the independents because they are not formally aggressive and – aside from the ‘sexy’ Shaft and his gun-cop-adventure movies – are rather slow moving. His personal movies are not loud or stylistically excessive – they capture moments, like his photographs.  You can feel his colors, his environments, etc. They are distinguished – as he was – and they reek of cigar smoke and well kept sweaters. And they build and have a slow, gentle impact. They are not provocative, but they resonate. They are not fast and extravagant, but they are deep and conscientious. The Learning Tree of course is a perfect example – powerful due to its lean and delicate nature and how it depicts more complicated aspects of racism and reveals that everything is not what it seems. And yet…regarded as a strange anomaly. At the height of the civil rights revolution, the movie seemed tame and in a certain sense was, understandably, disregarded by the more progressive African-American arts community that were re-establishing and re-assessing how best to move on and create in America.  Some believe it is because Parks was telling a story set in the 1920’s and the accepted racism of that area did not strike a chord with the revolutionaries and the activists of the time who, in 1969, wanted nothing to do with any memory of the 1920’s…they wanted to destroy all that had abused and humiliated the preceding generation and their very own.  The Learning Tree, although well done, seemed “conservative” and passe at the end of the tumultuous sixties.

The Learning Tree has supposedly had little impact upon later African American artists and is seldom discussed as a significant work of art, despite Congress’ inclusion of it in their national registry as an “American treasure.”

Parks’ Leadbelly is an excellent ‘biopic’ (and I hate biopics) and a film that meanders somewhat tracing the life of this blues legend in a confident and understated way. Parks was a director who used understatement and slow-pacing in his own way, sometimes his films feel like they are trying to find themselves as it were — but while Schultz was definitely a better craftsmen, Parks was a better artist.

Even his minor works reveal something about the painful side of life — his version of 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup’s Odyssey is under-cooked, but better than the overrated Steve McQueen version. But of course no one will mention this. Parks made his version for American Playhouse in 1984 with Avery Brooks. His version has more gravity and heart than McQueen’s. And yet he doesn’t push for it…McQueen pushed heavily for emotion and yet – I felt nothing after watching his film. There was a disturbing laissez faire quality the movie had and all I was left with was Chiwetel Ejiofor’s beautifully weeping eyes – with nothing behind them. At all. Those eyes should have given Rene Falconetti’s (see Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc!) a run for her money and they didn’t. And that’s why ultimately I was angry at McQueen: he pushed and choreographed so much melodrama – that all we were left with were soap suds.

Did you know that it was the great original movie maverick himself, John Cassavetes, who demanded that Warner Brothers give Parks money to make an adaption of his own book, “The Learning Tree” into a movie? Parks recounts this in his autobiography. I’m always amazed when biographers of Cassavetes never bring it up: it took a lot of guts to go to bat for an “unknown” Black director in Hollywood in 1968! This warrants serious rumination. Who would do this today?

Mavericks: Cassavetes & Parks

Mavericks: Cassavetes & Parks

Filmmakers are a selfish bunch, a part of us has to be cause we’re always nervous about financing our work, we often get derailed trying to organize our projects, we’re very competitive with other filmmakers (a good thing), etc. – but we seldom go to bat for other filmmakers.  And understand that Cassavetes was no Richard Burton or Marlon Brando, mind you – he never had that Hollywood power. Ever. And so he had a lot to lose – but he also had a reputation for being argumentative, righteous, intense, and “artistic.” This was a filmmaker who wrote and direct his own dramas at home, using his closest friends, and shooting films like a jazz musician.  Pure, unfettered feelings and emotions and thoughts – barely with a “story.”  It takes genius to recognize genius and this example proves it.  If there were two mavericks in Hollywood or American cinema at that time, it would be Parks and Cassavetes. Parks did not have the flair or showmanship that Van Peebles had and Cassavetes did not conform to genre or give audiences what they wanted the way some of his smarter contemporaries might have (Altman, for example) but they both created a very personal body of work. And a very important one.

1963 (Gordon Parks)

1963 (Gordon Parks)

A final interesting fact: Did you know that the great Gordon Parks — the pipe smoking, distinguished man of letters, music, civil rights, film, photography…was also Candace Bushnell’s boyfriend when she had fled Texas to live in NYC. He was 58. She was 18. According to Bushnell, she was too young to be in a real serious relationship with a genius, but declared Parks was “great” and that her mother thought Parks was the most charming man she’d ever met. Bushnell would, of course, go on to write and create Sex and The City. The only thing that disturbs me about all this is that Carrie Bradshaw always seemed too awkward and self consciously nervous to be around a man like Gordon Parks. It bothers me that Bushnell never tried to truthfully render a relationship between her characters and an African American man liked Parks. That would have been edgy. But her experience with Parks and Studio 54 was in the 1970’s. Her Sex & The City is like the 1970’s without the radicalism, intellectualism, politics, or danger. The 1990’s in NYC was interesting, yes – but if you remembered the show Sex & The City than you probably weren’t living it. And if you were – it wasn’t necessarily devoid of radical politics. When those incongruous worlds meet, it certainly makes for great drama. I’m mystified why it scares so many people.

Anyway, there you have it. Don’t ever say I didn’t give you any interesting gossip!

Lastly, please remember: it is this charming, elegant man — this High School dropout — named Gordon Parks, who lived life on his own terms, and tried hard to create a rich and varied artwork that would resonate with people who took just a little time to care and who were craving aspects of their own reflections..or society’s illness.

His films warrant a closer reading and “remastered” viewing.

Gordon Parks on the set of his hit film "Shaft" (1970)

Gordon Parks on the set of his hit film “Shaft” (1970)

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Black Film & The Underground Spirit: 1

Kangalee by Hallstrom

“…the new breed of American filmmakers need to turn a blind eye to the Reservoir Dogs of the American Beauties and express themselves. Black people will play Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” blast Wu-Tang’s most innovative tracks, and spout the poetry of Amiri Baraka or Sonia Sanchez and yet will still think that a film like “The Best Man” or “Shaft” is good enough for them. I know there are a lot of talented, radical, sensitive people out there. But where are they? Certainly not behind the cameras…”

— from “Towards a Black New Wave & Notes from the Underground,”  (Harlem, August 26, 2000)

 

(c) August 26, 2000; April 14, 2003; August 25, 2014 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee

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Anger

imgres

They’re shipping knock-offs to Haiti.
(They forgot to send me.)

Somewhere across the ankles of the Atlantic beneath a sign for second-floor SUVs and torn up pink-slips, un-housed and dispossessed eyes peer through the gates that protect the imposter goods.
Officials cringe
when the boys
eyeball
the sneakers
that fell from their boxes like frozen feet that had been cut off and tossed out the back of the truck, sprinkling the broken boulevard like raindrops on an ice cream cone.
A cop lobs fake Nikes at a pensive boy with a Veteran’s limp and oversized coat. He laughs as the boy hops home with two left shoes and the cluster of police cruisers split into a compass of blazing sirens
each car
thinking he was the
North Star.

A red scarf emerged from the dispersing crowd.

This crimson-caped man’s
mad-dog
hands
clutched the air around him in freak-spasm night.
He lost his shoulder and dropped his jaw foaming at the mouth:
And a sound fell like a flame that had been fanned from the deep well of an executioner’s oven.

Ship.
Me.
To.
Haiti.

And the
blisters on the balls
of his feet
cut through the thick rubbers he wore and eventually rooted him into an eternity far beyond slums or beaten down blocks or inner city apathy.

Ship.
Me.
Or.
Shoot.
Me.

His fingers crawled like worms sprouting over a dead soldier’s bayonet. His scarlet fever snapping in the breeze like a matador. He waited to rotate in the barrels of the city’s finest. He just hoped their bullets would be as bright as he was.
An old woman shook her head and said to her husband, “That boy is crazy. Too much anger. Ain’t gonna bring em nothing. Bad for the heart”, she said.
He blew a kiss as they whisked by into their steeple.
He’d never be this again: a tsunami in the drone of the limping ghetto night.

For blood
is less likely
to boil
as we
get older.

…So I ask you have we truly hit the end, the rusted sediments, the ancient depositories of whales long dead and barnacles who swamped and sucked to stay alive?
Just a school of fish trembling, tremoring, and trying maybe that’s all we are: A school of fish, doomed.

Maybe we’re all madmen in scarlet scarves
knowing that shadows don’t lurk or loom
they simply stop being,
cease to follow
when there is nothing but stagnant air and a muffled heartbeat that barely brushes against the skin.
Deep schadenfreude
high as the cotton of a Mississippi nightmare

Ever seen a house on fire in the distance?
You know what every man is thinking?

“How beautiful that fire burns.
I’m just glad it’s not my house.”

(c) 2009, 2010 – from “Lying Meat & other poems beneath the Oil” by Dennis Leroy Kangalee

 

 

 

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