Page 47

Harlem Transfer




Evan K. Walker lives and works in New York.  His

full-length play, East Jordan, was produced by the

Free Southern Theater. A one-act play, The Message,

was produced by the Freedom Theater of Philadelphia

and The Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles. 

Mr. Walker is currently working on a novel, a

Play, and an original screenplay with Larry Neal.


            He shot the Browning automatic rifle down into the crowded street, and the people did not move.  The bullet slammed into the hood of a new lavender Eldorado Cadillac dappled with snow, and not a soul moved. He shifted his position in the window and aimed the BAR at a hustler outlined against the dirty gray snow near the curb.  The rifle was aimed at the center of the man’s head, but before he fired, he raised it a click.  The bullet tore a large hole in an overstuffed garbage can out of which scurried two large rats—one white, one black—and ran into the deserted house across the street.  Then the people on the crowded street in the middle of Harlem moved, moved as if they had been jolted from a deep sleep, and found cover in the cellars, hallways, and stores.

            As he saw the hustler crawl into the Lucky Dollar Bar and Grill, he smiled and moved back from the window.  The smell of cordite stung the air in the small living room, and it made him think of the last time he had fired the BAR many years ago in a land he barely remembered.  It flashed across his mind in pieces and fragments, fragments and pieces, of snow, of valleys, and of mountains, always mountains, seemingly strung out across the face of the earth.  He looked at the BAR and rubbed his hand over the steel and wood, freshly oiled and cleaned, and it felt good.

            Down on the street he could see that a few people had come out of their hiding places.  He thought this strange but


Page 48

passed it off as curiosity; anyway, they had nothing to fear from his rifle; Dap was not among them.  But Dap would soon come out of the Lucky Dollar Bar and Grill.  Of this he was sure.  Several men had gathered around the lavender El D and were talking and pointing to the hole in the hood.  From his sixth-floor window he could not hear what they were saying, nor did he care.  He smiled.  They probably think one of them rats ate that hole in that caddy, he thought. And he waited by the window, calmly, quietly, quietly as he had been trained to do light years ago, to wait in the snow in a land that was now only disjointed pieces and fragments reforming themselves into meaning in his mind.

            He saw the Dapper Dude come out of the Lucky Dollar Bar and Grill, walk coolly over to his El D, and rub his hand over the wound in its hood. Dap took off his hat and scanned the buildings, his sleepy eyes bare slits against the blazing yellow sun. Then Dap kicked the dirty gray slush with his slick alligator shoes and bared his teeth toward some ungodly thing that he could not see and under his breath he said, “Some motherfucker done shot my El D.”

            Up on the sixth floor, he aimed carefully, breathing in and then breathing out as he squeezed the trigger, as he had been trained, and saw the top of Dap’s head fly through the air and land on the wound in the hood of his lavender El D. The red and white blob did a little shake dance and then was still. He switched the BAR to automatic and ripped off a burst of that plowed into Dap’s heart and turned his yellow coat into a bright orange. The sun caught Dap for a second, and then he fell into the gray streets.

            He left the smoking barrel of the BAR sticking out of the window until he was sure someone—it was, in fact, a junkie who had been strung out since Bird died—had seen where the shots came from. That ought to get a little action ‘round here, he thought. That ought to bring Bull runnin’. But maybe the bastard’s off threatenin’ somewhere over on 125th Street for some money. Yeah, that be just like Captain Bull. I be givin’ im a chance to be a hero, and he be off blackjackin’ some hustlin’ woman in the name of the law and the Christmas spirit. Well, one thing for damn sure, he got his last Christmas gift from Dap. Fact is, Dap ain’t gon lay nothin’ on nobody no more. Come on Bull, you bastard. Come on and see what a air-conditioned skull look like.

            A shroud of silence lay stiflingly across the street below. Never during the eleven years that he and his family lived


Page 49

there had he seen such stillness. Silence. Not a hustler wrote a number; not a junkie nodded; not even James Brown wailed from the record shop. Silence. And he never felt so good as when he looked down on the Dapper Dude, not so dap now, and saw a white rat scurry away from what was left of his head. Even the rats he though, don’t want his ass now. 

            He lit a cigarette and sat in his overstuffed chair and watched the silent, flickering images on the television set. A children’s chorus was singing Christmas carols, songs praising the young lord who had come to deliver the people from eternal bondage. Even with the sound turned down, he knew the song they were singing. He had learned it from his mother as a child in Georgia, and he had taught it to Bobby, his only son. He remembered that the song never failed to bring tears to his eyes. He rose from the chair and turned up the sound, and the children’s voices rang into the dark, close little room and seemed to shake the picture of the Christ child that hung behind the set. They sang about peace, love, and eternal deliverance from suffering. But this time no tears came to his eyes. He sat down in his chair and waited.

            There was noting to do but wait. The first part of his plan was completed. After seventeen years, the BAR worked perfectly; his eyesight, as he had feared, had not failed; his aim was good as the day he qualified as a master marksman in advanced infantry school. The clips of bullets lay neatly spread out on the coffee table. The gas mask was on the floor near the window. He had made his choice, the time had come, and now he walked the lonely passage that men must take when their grief turns to anger and that to solitary action; when they can no longer depend on man or God for redress of their grievances. And he neither wanted nor expected the help of either. But most important of all, he was not afraid.


            He had felt the absence of fear many times, especially when he was thousands of miles from home firing his BAR and taking the unending snow-capped mountains for reasons that he only vaguely understood. Once, it was after they had taken Mountain 999, he asked his young captain why they had taken the mountain, what was its strategic importance. The young veteran of more than two hundred campaigns around the globe—his white face was already beginning to wrinkle and was streaked with blue and red blotches, the result of, so the rumor went, locked bowels—


Page 50

took off his helmet and narrowed his pale eyes, hitched up his pants, and said, “We are taking these mountains, boy, to rid the world of our enemies!”

            Warming up to his subject, he went on. “In the course of human events, we and God have decreed that it is our moral right to make the world a fit place to live in.  And, boy, when you got moral right in your heart and a gun in your hand, anything is possible. Anything…..” The young captain would have undoubtedly told him more, the very secret of the universe, but the order came from the general to take Mountain 1000, and the young captain led the troops down the mountain exhorting them to their moral duty: “Charge! Charge! Ye defenders of decency, charge!”

            The young captain, a merciless commander, drove him up the next mountain, drove him to stalk the padded figures and silently slit their throats. “A slit for decency. Good show, my boy,” he said. One of the figures pleaded for mercy, shot through the eye, begged to be spared. The young captain leaned into his ear and said, “Do your moral duty, boy. Your country demands it.” And he laid down a heavy burst into the enemy’s good eye with his BAR. As they marched across the endless mountains, the young captain gave him a bright green gas mask; and he was indifferent to the stench of death even among the severed arms and head s and legs freezing in the falling snow, soon to be forgotten, not even remembered by God—who wearing his dark shades and squinting from behind the sun—watched as the young captain whispered to him that he was the true king of the world and God was on his side. With this, God split for lunch.


            Now, sitting in his thick overstuffed chair smoking a cigarette, he did not even feel the last traces of outrage; they had vanished after he and his wife Mae had gone, to no avail, to the police precinct for the tenth time and then finally, still hopeful, downtown to the hundredth-floor of offices of N.E.G.R.O.—The Negro Enigmatic Grievances Research Organization. He and Mae stood before the chief of N.E.G.R.O., Pimpleton, who seemed to listen patiently, benignly, as they explained their grievances but was secretly looking past them and out of the window, wondering if the low clouds meant more snow and his flight to Miami Beach would be canceled. His attention vaguely drifted back to the couple before him.

            “…..So you see that cop captain up there, he in on it, too,” Mae said.


Page 51

            “Won’t lift a finger. Talk to us like we ain’t in our right minds,” he added.

            Pimpleton smiled benignly and said, “What proof have you of these accusations?”

            “What more proof I need? Everybody in Harlem know it.”

            “But my dear sir, N.E.G.R.O. cannot, nor I as chief of N.E.G.R.O., move on such flimsy evidence.” Pimpleton sucked on his pipe as if it were a warm sugar tit and went on. “I mean, my dear sir and madam, things simply are not done that way. The gravity of your charges beg to be substantiated by facts. Facts, not hearsay, are the only means by which N.E.G.R.O.—and I am N.E.G.R.O., to state it bluntly—can move. By the way, do you belong to N.E.G.R.O.?”

            “I can’t afford to belong to N.E.G.R.O.”

            “A pity.”

            He clenched his fist and looked at the little old negro seated in his large leather chair behind his ten-foot mahogany desk. What kinda game this joker think he tryin’ to run on me, he asked himself. He wanted to strangle Pimpleton’s wrinkled little chicken-skin neck.

            But instead he said, “You got lawyers suppose to work for us; let ‘em check it out. I’ll show ‘em where to look for facts, evidence as you call it.”

            “My dear sir, you can’t expect N.E.G.R.O. to go off on a wild goose chase, as it were; we can’t unleash our lawyers on speculation. We must have reasonable faith that we will be successful. Heavens to Betsy, what would our board of directors say? That is the foundation of N.E.G.R.O., success in the mainstream!”


            “I beg your pardon.”

            “I said, bullshit!”

            “Oh, oh, yes. But we must remember that everything has its time and place. We must not become impatient. Justice is certainly not blind; she is sometimes tardy but never blind.”

            He smiled as he looked at the shrunken little man, his Brooks suit about three sizes too large for him. He bared his big white uneven teeth and blood-red gums and thundered into Pimpleton’s face, “Pimpleton, fuck justice. I think the bitch needs bifocals. Fuck her! Funny time dressin’ slut. Fuck her!”

            Pimpleton sprang up from his chair like a shot, his sunken little eyes jumped to attention and twitched in step,


Page 52

and he wiped the spit from his narrow little head with his spotless white handkerchief. He was shocked. Shocked! Shocked that there were still half-crazed niggers raving about their mythical grievances, niggers who were beyond redemption, beyond ever swimming in the mainstream to which he had devoted eighty years of his life. "Well, sir, Washington was not built in a day, neither was Calcutta for that matter. But we must persevere, mustn’t we? God-speed and goodday, sir."

            And with that, Pimpleton did a quick shuffle from behind his desk and ushered them past rows of pictures of him shaking hands with presidents and out of his office.

Pimpleton went back to his mahogany desk and with trembling hands poured himself his fifth shot of Chivas Regal that morning. He smacked his thin little lips and got back to plotting what he would say to the Concerned Citizens of Miami Beach in his everlasting quest for funds to research and eradicate grievances. He wondered about his accommodations; he would accept nothing but the best. The couple who had stood before him only seconds before were now faint shadows floating on the dark side of his mind.

            The next morning Mae sat stiffly at the kitchen table. She had not touched her breakfast, and it lay limp and cold on her plate. She sipped some water and was careful to

avoid looking at the empty chair to the right and her husband sitting opposite her. He lighted a cigarette, sipped his coffee, and watched the vein jump on the back of her small


            "I don't seem to have no appetite in the morning," she said, trying desperately to smile through the pain that seemed permanently engraved on her face.

            To look at her like this, to see her red-rimmed eyes pleading for answers he could not give her, lashed his soul. But he managed to smile and say, "You got to eat something, baby. You ain't get tin' tired of your own cookin', good as it is, are you?”

            She smiled weakly and picked at her food and noticed that he had eaten only half of his eggs. "There ain't," she said, calmly, evenly, "nothing we can do, is there?"

            "Don't say that, Mae."

            "It's like don't nobody care. Like we hangin' off on the

edge of the world and everybody stompin' on our fingers."

            "Don't say that, baby,"

            She forced herself to look at the empty chair and said,


Page 53

            “They took our hope away, and ain't nothin’ we can do."

            He held his right hand, hoping that she would not see it tremble.

            “I wouldn't bring no more into this world; same thing happen to 'em-just like Bobby."

            "Mac, Mae, baby...Don't say that."

            “It's all fixed. Nothin' we can do."

            “The hell there ain't."

            "What can I, you, anybody do?"

            “I'm gonna ..." He caught himself. It was better that she know nothing of his plans.

            "What we need," she said, her voice detached, seeming to come from outside her body, “is a god or somebody who got us in mind when he plannin' and plot tin' the way things suppose to go down."

            “Come on, baby. If I'm gonna drop you by Sara’s 'fore I go to work, we better be makin' it."

            She did not move, She just sat there looking through Him, beyond him, her eyes angrily riveted on the picture of the Christian savior hanging above the television set in

the living room.

            "It'll be better for you at your sister's today. She'll be good company for you."


            He took his wife down into the street. The wind, blasting from the west and across the river, blew the heavy snow into their faces; and for a moment they were blinded by it.

But they wiped the snow from their eyes, leaned into the west wind, and walked up the street. On the corner, through the driving snow, they could see the lavender El D parked,

its motor running, and through the windows they could see the two men seated inside: one a thin black blur dressed in yellow, a cigarette slanting from his thick lips; the other ,

a fat ghostly white dressed in dark blue. They walked on. They said nothing. She because she thought all hope was gone. For him words were no longer of any use.

            In front of Mae's sister's house he kissed her, holding her closely and tightly to him. Mae felt the tightness of his grip and wondered why it had such urgency. She looked

into his face, but it told her nothing. He gave her an envelope and told her not to open it until Christmas. She smiled, and he kissed her lovely face again. He watched her walk into the apartment house and to her sister. He turned and walked quickly home.


            He butted the cigarette and noticed that the sun had


Page 54

crossed the river and was dropping quickly behind the hills. He rose from the chair and slowly became aware of the noise coming from the street below. He was not surprised. It takes a little longer, he thought, when it ain’t nothin' but a dead, nigger laid in the street. He crossed to the window and saw that the street was filled with people, many crowded around Dap's body, now that the police and ambulance had come. Four Cops, wearing white riot helmets, bulletproof vests and carrying rifles and tear gas guns, had jammed a junkie up against the wall near the Lucky Dollar Bar and Grill. The junkie was talking slowly and pointing to a building near the end of the block.  Bull was not among the cops.  “Sonofabitch,” he muttered to himself.  Come on, let’s get it on.  Then he glanced down to the center of the block, in front of the record store, and saw a mobile television unit.  Its crew was busy shooting the scene.  One cameraman was moving in to shoot Dap’s body as it was being loaded on a stretcher by two attendants from Harlem Hospital.  Do it in color, man, do it in color.  Maybe some of these other bastards get to thinkin’ ‘bout how they messin’ with they own folks.  He spat out the window.

            And then he heard it.

            He heard it before he saw it.  And he felt in his bones knew beyond all doubt, that the siren signaled that his man was coming to him.  His head suddenly felt light and giddy.  And only when he picked up the BAR and watched the police car roar into the block and stop in front of the ambulance did his excitement leave him.

            Captain Bull stepped out of the car.  The brass buttons on his blue uniform pierced the gray twilight like rat’s eyes.  He, too, was dressed in flack jacket and helmet and carried a Thompson submachine gun at high port.

            From his window he zeroed in on the gold captain’s bars on the front of Bull’s helmet and was about to squeeze off a round when a black newscaster, that station’s roving black reporter in Harlem, stepped in front of Bull and began to interview him.  He lowered his rifle and cursed under his breath.  Time.  I got plenty of time, he thought.

            Bull, flanked by his sergeant, the newshawk, and his cameramen, walked to the ambulance.  Bull stopped the attendants just as they were sliding Dap’s body into the ambulance.  Bull pulled back the sheet and looked at what was left of the man called Dapper Dude.

            He had been watching the scene below so intently that


Page 55


at first he had not heard the voices.  Voices that were familiar to him.

            “Do you know this man, Captain?”

            “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”

            “Do you have any idea who killed him?”


            “Why would anyone want to kill him, any idea?”

            Then he turned around and saw that the scene below was being televised live and in color on the evening news.  Ain’t that a bitch, he thought.  Good.  Let the whole fuckin’ world see it.

            “The work of a madman, I’d say.”

            “Shit!” he said, “But you right; I’m mad as a bitch.”  He turned back to the window and saw Bull nod to the attendants, and they shoved Dap inside and slammed the door.

            He saw that Bull and his sergeant were now joined by four cops.  They pointed to the junkie.  The junkie nodded and still pointed to the building near the corner.  Bull led his men in that direction.  In the gray twilight he caught Bull’s white helmet in his sights.  He led him, one, two, three, fired.  He missed.  He missed Bull’s head by less than an inch.  Bull dived under Dap’s El D.  His men scurried into the dark hallways and cellars.  “Sonofabitch,” he said.  He switched the BAR to automatic and laid down a heavy field of fire at the El D.  Nothing moved.  Then he saw Bull rise on the street side of the El D and squeezed the trigger.  Click.  Click.  Click.  He moved to the table.  He threw a clip into the BAR and another into his pants belt.  When he returned to the window, he saw Bull and his men scurry into the apartment house directly across the street.

            Well, that’s that, he thought.  It gonna go down different than I figured.  Bull got to get him some high ground if he figure on takin’ me.  But he don’t know I know that.  Fool.  He think I’m just a crazy nigger.  Shit.  I got right in my heart, a gun in my hand, and I’m the king of the world.  Let’s get the shit on.

            He was sure the police knew exactly which window he had fired from.  There would be no doubt in their minds; the last shots would frame it there forever.  But he would not be in that window.  He walked to the kitchen and was looking to the rooftops across the street when he heard Mae’s voice.

            “Yes, that my apartment.”

            He turned around and saw Mae and the newshawk on


Page 56


the television set in the living room. She was being interviewed behind the mobile unit downstairs. "Baby, whatcha doin' down there? Goddamn"'

            "You're sure the shooting came from your apartment?" the newshawk asked.

            "I told you once, yeah."

            "You also said the gunman is your husband."

            "Yeah, he my man. My husband and my man."

            "Can you tell our audience why your husband...He has killed one man and is now engaged in a shoot-out with the police. Why?"

            "He doin' what he's got to do."

            "Er, er, I don't quite understand."

            "He has to do what he's doin'. Nobody would understand."

            "What kind of man is your husband? Hold he been distraught, upset about  something?"

            Mae drew her thin black coat around her shoulders and clutched the manila envelope to her breast. The snow fell into her hair and crowned it with a strange majesty in the gray twilight, and she seemed to grow taller than her five feet, two inches, and he knew she would be all right. Nothing could touch her now. Her eyes were no longer red.

She looked carefully, clearly, and directly into the newshawk's eyes and said, "He just a man. Just a man who had a son and lost him and didn't nobody care. He just a man,

my man."

            Mae looked lovely to him, a queen, and he loved her more than anything in this or any other world. He wished he had told her so more often. And tears came into his

eyes: not tears or sadness or regret but of a terrible completeness of the order or things, their rightness in the universe. He saw the envelope in her hand and knew its contents: his G.I. insurance of ten thousand dollars that he had kept after his discharge; his paid-up life insurance from the Georgia Life Assurance and Burial Association that his mother had taken out shortly after he was born; the money he had withdrawn-$252.43-two days ago from the small bank account he had opened for Bobby to give him the little stake in life which he had never had; and the broken halfs of his Combat Infantry Badge. Why he put the medal in the envelope he was not quite sure. It had been in the cigar box in the bottom of his trunk with his papers, the blue background peeling off, leaving the rifle a stark white against the silver. And without thinking he picked it up


Page 57


and broke it easily in his large hand and dropped it into the envelope.

            “Does your husband belong to any organization?” asked the newshawk.

            “He don’t belong to nobody but himself…..”

            The first volley of shots, coming through the living-room window, hit the television set, splitting the image of Mae’s head open, and the television was silent. The next volley hit the picture of the young Christ hanging above the television set and riveted it to the wall. “Ain’t that a bitch,” he said. “They done nailed J.C. to the wall with an overdose of America.”

            He crawled to the kitchen window and cautiously looked across to the rooftops. There were two of them, their funny little white helmets pinpricks against the gray sky. He stood to the side of the window and fixed them in his mind’s eye. The rifleman was on his left, the tear-gas man on his right. He estimated the range and elevation—kept in mind that Bull and the other cops would try to break out from their hiding place—and whipped into the window, caught the rifleman about to squeeze off again, and blasted him. He knew the cop was dead and did not bother to watch him fall from the roof; instead, he laid down a sheet of fire in front of the door and into the hallway to keep Bull at bay until he was ready for him. He turned and caught the last cop in his sights just as the cop was about to fire his tear-gas gun. As he saw the cop’s head explode, he smelled the acrid, pungent odor of tear gas in the living room.

            He plunged into the living room, his eyes quickly tearing and put on his gas mask. While he was doing this, he did not, could not, see Bull and his four remaining men dart quickly across the street and into his building, their gas masks already on. But he heard them. He heard their outraged, stampeding feet as they raced up the stairs. And he knew they could not wait to get him. So he decided to make it easy for them; he unlocked the door to the apartment; then, threw a fresh clip into his rifle and calmly knelt behind the overstuffed chair and aimed at the door.

            He was somewhat pleasantly surprised at Bull’s methods; even though the door was cracked, he found it necessary to shoot the lock with his sub Thompson. You anxious, fool. Well, blast on, man, he thought, blast on in.

            They rushed the apartment, firing at everything in sight, which was mostly smoke, and he caught them as they entered, and he fired steadily and evenly into their blue coats.


Page 58


He rose from behind the overstuffed chair and fired into the four limp bodies without thought of mercy. Then he looked at them sprawled on the floor, their faces hidden behind green gas masks. Bull's helmet had been blown off, and he moved through the gray smoke among the still arms and legs and blown-away faces and saw that Bull had worn a wig. He pulled the mask from Bull's face and thought that he looked curiously like a fat old woman.

            Then he heard the sirens and threw another clip into his Browning automatic rifle, and he waited as he had done many years ago in a land of unending mountains. Fuck 'em all. Fuck every goddamn one of 'em, he thought, and moved back to the window.




My Man Bovanne


Blind people got a hummin jones1 if you notice. Which is understandable completely once you been around one and notice what no eyes will force you into to see people, and you get past the first time, which seems to come out of nowhere,

and it's like you in church again with fat-chest ladies and old gents gruntin a hum low in the throat to whatever the preacher be saying. Shakey Bee bottom lip all swole up with Sweet Peach2 and me explaining how come the sweet-potato bread was a dollar-quarter this time stead of dollar regular and he say uh hunh he understand, then he break into this thizzin kind of hum which is quiet, but fiercesome just the same, if you ain't ready for it. Which I wasn't. But I got used to it and the onliest time I had to say somethin bout it was when he was playin checkers on the stoop one time and he commenst to hummin quite churchy seem to me. So I says, "Look here Shakey Bee, I can't beat you and Jesus too." He stop.

      So that's how come I asked My Man Bovanne to dance. He ain't my man mind you, just a nice ole gent from the block that we all know cause he fixes things and the kids like him. Or used to fore Black Power got hold their minds and mess em around till they can't be civil to ole folks. So we at this benefit for my niece's cousin who's runnin for somethin with this Black party somethin or other behind her. And I press up close to dance with Bovanne who blind and I'm hummin and he hummin, chest to chest like talkin. Not jammin my breasts into the man. Wasn't bout tits. Was bout vibrations. And he dug it and asked

me what color dress I had on and how my hair was fixed and how I was doin without a man, not nosy but nice-like, and who was at this affair and was the canapés dainty-stingy or healthy enough to get hold of proper. Comfy and cheery is what I'm tryin to get across. Touch talkin like the heel of the hand on the tambourine or on a drum.

      But right away Joe Lee come up on us and frown for dancin so close to the man. My own son who knows what kind of warm I am about; and don't grown men call me long distance and in the middle of the night for a little Mama comfort? But he frown. Which ain't right since Bovanne can't see and defend himself. Just a nice old man who fixes toasters and busted irons and bicycles and things and changes the lock on my door when my men friends get messy. Nice man. Which is not why they invited him. Grass roots you see. Me and Sister Taylor and the woman who does heads at Mammies and the man from the barber shop, we all there on account of we grass roots. And I ain't never been souther than Brooklyn Battery and no more country than the window box on my fire escape. And just yesterday my kids tellin me to take them countrified rags off my head and be cool. And now can't get Black enough to suit em. So everybody passin sayin My Man Bovanne. Big deal, keep steppin and don't even stop a minute to get the man a drink or one of them cute sandwiches or tell him what's




goin on. And him standin there with a smile ready case someone do speak he want to be ready. So that's how come I pull him on the dance floor and we dance squeezin past the tables and chairs and all them coats and people standin round up in each other face talkin bout this and that but got no use for this blind man who mostly fixed skates and skooters for all these folks when they was just kids. So I'm pressed up close and we touch talkin with the hum. And here come my daughter cuttin her eye at me like she do when she tell me about my "apolitical" self like I got hoof and mouf disease and there ain't no hope at all. And I don't pay her no mind and just look up in Bovanne shadow face and tell him his stomach like a drum and he laugh. Laugh real loud. And here come my youngest, Task, with a tap on my elbow like he the third grade monitor and I'm cuttin

up on the line to assembly.

      "I was just talkin on the drums," I explained when they hauled me into the kitchen. I figured drums was my best defense. They can get ready for drums what with all this heritage business. And Bovanne stomach just like that drum Task give me when he come back from Africa. You just touch it and it hum thizzm, thizzm. So I stuck to the drum story. "Just drummin that's all."

      "Mama, what are you talkin about?"

      "She had too much to drink," say Elo to Task cause she don't hardly say nuthin to me direct no more since that ugly argument about my wigs.

      "Look here Mama," say Task, the gentle one. "We just tryin to pull your coat. You were makin a spectacle of yourself out there dancing like that."

      "Dancin like what?"

      Task run a hand over his left ear like his father for the world and his father before that.

      "Like a bitch in heat," say Elo.

      "Well uhh, I was goin to say like one of them sex-starved ladies gettin on in years and not too discriminating. Know what I mean?"

I don't answer cause I'll cry. Terrible thing when your own children talk to you like that. Pullin me out the party and hustlin me into some stranger's kitchen in the back of a bar just like the damn police. And ain't like I'm old old. I can still wear me some sleeveless dresses without the meat hangin off my arm. And I keep up with some thangs through my kids. Who ain't kids no more. To hear them tell it. So I don't say nuthin.

"Dancin with that tom," say Elo to Joe Lee, who leanin on the folks' freezer. "His feet can smell a cracker a mile away and go into their shuffle number post haste. And them eyes. He could be a little considerate and put on some shades. Who wants to look into them blown-out fuses that--"

"Is this what they call the generation gap?" I say.

"Generation gap," spits Elo, like I suggested castor oil and fricassee possum in the milk-shakes or somethin. “That's a white concept for a white phenomenon. There's no generation gap among Black people. We are a col-“

"Yeh, well never mind," says Joe Lee. "The point is Mama...well, it's pride. You embarrass yourself and us too dancin like that."

"I wasn't shame. " Tnen nobody say nuthin. Them standin there in they"




pretty clothes with drinks in they hands and gangin up on me, and me in the third-degree chair and nary a olive to my name. Felt just like the police got hold to me.

      "First of all," Task say, holdin up his hand and tickin off the offenses, "the dress. Now that dress is too short, Mama, and too low-cut for a woman your age. And Tamu's going to make a speech tonight to kick off the campaign and will be introducin you and expecting you to organize the council of elders-"

      “Me? Didn nobody ask me nuthin. You mean Nisi? She change her name?"

      “Well, Norton was supposed to tell you about it. Nisi wants to introduce you and then encourage the older folks to form a Council of the Elders to act as an advisory--"

      “And you going to be standing there with your boobs out and that wig on your head and that hem up to your ass. And people'll say, 'Ain't that the horny bitch that was grindin with the blind dude?' "

      "Elo, be cool a minute," say Task, gettin to the next finger. "And then there's the drinkin. Mama, you know you can't drink cause next thing you know you be laughin loud and carryin on," and he grab another finger for the loudness. “And then there's the dancin. You been tattooed on the man for four records straight and slow draggin even on the fast numbers. How you think that look for a woman your age?"

"What's my age?"


“I'm axin you all a simple question. You keep talkin bout what's proper for a woman my age. How old am I anyhow?" And Joe Lee slams his eyes shut and squinches up his face to figure. And Task run a hand over his ear and stare into

his glass like the ice cubes goin calculate for him. And Elo just starin at the top of my head like she goin rip the wig off any minute now.

"Is your hair braided up under that thing? If so, why don't you take it off? You always did do a neat cornroll."

"Uh huh," cause I'm thinkin how she couldn't undo her hair fast enough talking bout corn roll so countrified. None of which was the subject. "How old, I say?"

"Sixtee-one or--"

"You a damn lie Joe Lee Peoples."

"And that's another thing," say Task on the fingers.

"You know what you all can kiss," I say, gettin up and brushin the wrinkles out my lap.

"Oh, Mama," Elo say, puttin a hand on my shoulder like she hasn’t done since she left home and the hand landin light and not sure it supposed to be there. Which hurt me to my heart. Cause this was the child in our happiness fore Mr. Peoples die. And I carried that child strapped to my chest till she was nearly two. We was close is what I'm tryin to tell you. Cause it was more me in the child than the others. And even after Task it was the girlchild I covered in the night and wept over for no reason at all less it was she was a chub-chub like




me and not very pretty, but a warm child. And how did things get to this, that she can't put a sure hand on me and say Mama we love you and care about you and you entitled to enjoy yourself cause you a good woman?

      "And then there's Reverend Trent," say Task, glancin from left to right like they hatchin a plot and just now lettin me in on it. "You were suppose to be talking with him tonight, Mama, about giving us his basement for campaign headquarters and-"

      "Didn nobody tell me nuthin. If grass roots mean you kept in the dark I can't use it. I really can't. And Reven Trent a fool anyway the way he tore into the widow man Up there on Edgecomb cause he wouldn't take in three of them foster children and the woman not even comfy in the ground yet and the man's mind messed up and-"

      "Look here," say Task. "What we need is a family conference so we can get all this stuff cleared up and laid out on the table. In the meantime I think we better get back into the other room and tend to business. And in the meantime, Mama, see if you can't get to Reverend Trent and--"

      "You want me to belly rub with the Reven, that it?"

      "Oh damn," Elo say and go through the swingin door.

      "We'll talk about all this at dinner. How's tomorrow night, Joe Lee?" While Joe Lee being self-important I'm wonderin who's doin the cookin and how come no body ax me if I'm free and do I get a corsage and things like that. Then Joe nod that it's O.K. and he go through the swingin door and just a little hubbub come through from the other room. Then Task smile his smile, lookin just like his daddy and he leave. And it just me in this stranger's kitchen, which was a mess I wouldn't never let my kitchen look like. Poison you just to look at the pots. Then the door swing the other way and it's My Man Bovanne standin there sayin Miss Hazel but lookin at the deep fry and then at the steam table, and most suprised when I come up on him from the other direction and take him on out of there. Pass the folks pushin up towards the stage where Nisi and some other people settin and ready to talk, and folks gettin to the last of the sandwiches and the booze fore they settle down in one spot and listen serious. And I'm thinkin bout tellin Bovanne what a lovely long dress Nisi got on and the carrings and her hair piled up in a cone and the people bout to hear how we all getting screwed and gotta form our own party and everybody there listenin and lookin. But instead I just haul the man on out of there, and Joe Lee and his wife look at me like I'm terrible, but they ain't said boo to the man yet. Cause he blind and old and don't nobody there need him since they grown up and don't need they skates fixed no more.

"Where we gain, Miss Hazel?" Him knowin all the time,

"First we gonna buy you some dark sunglasses. Then you comin with me to the supermarket so I can pick up tomorrow's dinner, which is goin to be a grand thing proper and you invited. Then we goin to my house.”

“That be fine. I surely would like to rest my feet. " Bein cute, but you got to let men play out they little show, blind or not. So he chat on bout how tired he is and how he appreciate me takin him in hand this way, And I'm thinkin I’ll have him change the lock on my door first thing. Then I'll give the man a nice



warm bath with jasmine leaves in the water and a little Epsom salt on the sponge to do his back. And then a good rubdown with rose water and olive oil. Then a cup of lemon tea with a taste in it. And a little talcum, some of that fancy stuff

Nisi mother sent over last Christmas. And then a massage, a good face massage round the forehead which is the worryin part. Cause you gots to take care of the older folks. And let them know they still needed to run the mimeo machine and keep the spark plugs clean and fix the mailboxes for folks who might help us get the breakfast program goin, and the school for the little kids and the campaign and all. Cause old folks is the nation. That what Nisi was sayin and I mean to do my part.

      “I imagine you are a very pretty woman, Miss Hazel.”

      “I surely am," I say just like the hussy my daughter always say I was.




From Campfires of the Resistance


BY: Christopher Z. Hobson


Martin Luther King


Praise from the politicians for this man

praise in the newspapers concerned for their sales

praise from the college Deans on their land expanding

clearing the jungles where his people lived

pushing them ever into the darker forest. Praise

from all directions like a flight of locusts but truth 

in these storewindows vying to cover their nakedness of glass

with the largest possible portrait--not the banner

of pride but the talisman, token of fear.


No praise at all for this man

who led thousands and left them standing

telling them Wait, for the maker of deals

no one thought would be honored: need we say

he left nothing behind but his honor, no instrument

for his people, taught them no way to fight

but by following, left them no way but by burning?

He was shot as any black man may be, casually

maybe with an assist from the cops: no different

from any of his people except in massiveness

in publicness of insult; except that someone

will be caught and put to death, an unusual thing

in the shooting of black man.


Chicago burned: from the start no hope

that praise would lead to a single program

burning bring a program, troops

withdraw from Chicago and be replaced by programs.


Chicago burned: we were supposed to bless

the troops who came to preserve the city

McCormick Place the showplace of machinery

West Madison Street the showplace of despair.


Chicago burned: I could not bless who brought

preservation of Chicago no one brought

a new Chicago there was nothing to say Yes to

but it seemed necessary to choose sides


Silence is what the politicians wanted so I spoke

marching to the Armory to tell the troops to leave

knowing no way to fight but by marching

forging no instrument, gaining nothing

but my honor, which was scarcely of value

busted and let out quickly like any white man

returning to a week of meetings, to white kids

already forgetting their fear, to my bed

guarded by realtors guarded by troops:

indeed there was nothing to say Yes to.

From Appalachia from closing coal mines

from bankers shaking their heads in Mississippi

soft-voiced and blue-eyed   from the Greyhound bus

from steel workers who had to fight for thirty years

for a home with a lawn  from the Welfare Office

from the Projects towering over lawns of broken glass

from the building of McCormick Place

from Continental Bank and its maps of America and the world

Chicago came.

              Chicago rose Chicago burned Chicago remained

rising from its ashes with blood dripping from its wings

and I could say Yes only by saying no

Appalachia closing coal mines Mississippi bankers

the bus straining North along rain-swept highways

the Continental Bank hovering like an eagle

over America and Africa

the unending fight of the steel workers

must come to an end.





Picketing Supermarkets


Because all this food is grown in the store

do not take the leaflet.

Cabbages, broccoli and tomatoes

are raised at night in the aisles.

Milk is brewed in the rear storage areas.

Beef produced in vats in the basement.

Do not take the leaflet,

Peanut butter and soft drinks

are made fresh each morning by store employees.

Our oranges and grapes

are so fine and round

that when held up to the lights they cast no shadow.

Do not take the leaflet.


And should you take one

do not believe it.

This chain of stores has no connection

with anyone growing food someplace else.

How could we have an effect on local farmers?

Do not believe it.


The sound here is Muzak, for your enjoyment.

It is not the sound of children crying.

There is a lady offering samples

to mark Canada Cheese Month.

There is no dark-skinned man with black hair beside her

wanting to show you the inside of a coffin.

You would not have to look if there was.

And there are no Nicaraguan heroes

in any way connected with the bananas.


Pay no attention to these people,

The manager is a citizen.

All this food is grown in the store.



Revolutionary Letter #8


Every time you pick the spot for a be-in,

a demonstration, a march, a rally, you are choosing the


for a potential battle.

You are still calling these shots.

Pick your terrain with that in mind.

Remember the old gang rules:

stick to your neighborhood, don't let them lure you

to Central Park, every time. I would hate

to stumble bloody out of that park to find help:

Central Park West, or Fifth Avenue, which would you



go to love-ins

with incense, flowers, food, and a plastic bag

with a damp cloth in it, £or tear gas, wear no jewelry

wear clothes you can move in easily, wear no glasses

contact lenses,

earrings for pierced ears are especially hazardous


try to be clear

in front, what you will do if it comes

to trouble

if you're going to try to split stay out of the center

don't stampede or panic others

don't waver between active and passive resistance

know your limitations, bear contempt

neither for yourself, nor and of your brothers

NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us

shoving at the thing from all sides

to bring it down.


Page 31


From Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement. Robin Morgan, ed. NY: Random House, 1970





The glory of a man is knowledge, but the glory of a woman

is to renounce knowledge. -Chinese proverb


Do not trust a good woman, and keep away from a bad one.

            -Portuguese proverb


Women are sisters nowhere. -West African proverb


Whenever a woman dies there is one quarrel less on earth.

            -German proverb


Never trust a woman, even though she has given you ten

sons.       -Chinese proverb


In childhood a woman must be subject to her father; in

youth, to her husband; when her husband is dead, to her

sons. A woman must never be free of subjugation.

      -The Hindu Code of Manu, V


I thank thee, O Lord, that thou hast not created me a

Woman, -Daily Orthodox Jewish Prayer (for a male)


There is a good principle which created order, light, and


Page 32


man, and an evil principle which created chaos, darkness,

and woman. –Pythagoras


We may thus conclude that it is a general law that there

should be naturally ruling elements and elements naturally

ruled...the rule of the freeman over the slave is one kind

of rule; that of the male over the female another...the slave

is entirely without the faculty of deliberation; the female

indeed possesses it, but in a form which remains inconclu-

sive… -Aristotle {Politics)


If thy wife does not obey thee at a signal and a glance,

separate from her. -Sirach 25:26


When a woman thinks...she thinks evil. –Seneca


Creator of the heavens and the earth, He has given you

wives from among yourselves to multiply you, and cattle

male and female. Nothing can be compared with Him.

            -Holy Koran of Islam


And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man,

made he a woman and brought her unto the man. And

Adam said, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my

flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out

of Man. -Genesis 2:22-23


How can he be clean that is born of a woman?

            -Job, 4:4


Suffer women once to arrive at an equality with you, and

they will from that moment become your superiors.

            -Cato the Elder, 195 B.C.


Let the women learn in silence with all subjection...I

suffer not a woman to usurp authority over men, but to be

in silence. -St. Paul


Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands...for the

husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head

of the church. -Ephesians 5:23-24


Page 33


The five worst infirmities that afflict the female are in-

docility, discontent, slander, jealousy, and silliness…Such

is the stupidity of woman’s character, that it is incumbent

upon her, in every particular, to distrust herself and to obey

her husband.      -Confucian Marriage Manual


God created Adam lord of all living creatures, but Eve

spoiled it all.  -Martin Luther


All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women

insatiable.      -Kramer and Sprenger, Inquisitors (Malleus Maleficrum, c. 1486)


A man in general is better pleased when he has a good

dinner than when his wife talks Greek. –Samuel Johnson


The whole education of women ought to be relative to men.

To please them, to be useful to them, to make themselves

loved and honored by them, to educate them when young,

to care for them when grown, to counsel them, to console

them, and to make life sweet and agreeable to them—these

are the duties of women at all times and what should be

taught them from their infancy.      -Jean Jacgues Rousseau


Women have no moral sense; they rely for their behavior

upon the men they love.  – La Bruyere


Most women have no characters at all.       -Alexander Pope


I never knew a tolerable women to be fond of her own sex.      -Jonathan Swift


Man for the field and women for the hearth:

Man for the sword and for the needle she:

Man with the head and women with the heart:

Man to command and woman to obey;

All else confusion.      -Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Page 34


Men are men, but Man is a woman.

      -G. K. Chesterton


Nature intended women to be our slaves...they are our

property; we are not theirs. They belong to us, just as a tree

that bears fruit belongs to a gardener. What a mad idea to

demand equality for women!...Women are nothing but

machines for producing children.

-Napoleon Bonaparte


To men a man is but a mind. Who cares what face he carries

or what he wears? But woman's body is the woman.

-Ambrose Bierce


Regard the society of women as a necessary unpleasantness

of social life, and avoid it as much as possible.

-Count Leo Tolstoy


A woman who is guided by the head and not the heart is

a social pestilence: she has all the defects of the passionate

and affectionate woman, with none of her compensations;

she is without pity, without love, without virtue, without

sex. -Honore de Balzac


And a woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke.

-Rudyard Kipling


Women have great talent, but no genius, for they always

remain subjective. -Arthur Schopenhauer


One must have loved a woman of genius to comprehend the

happiness of loving a fool. -Talleyrand


If the feminine abilities were developed to the same degree

as those of the male, her (woman's) maternal organs would

suffer and we should have a repulsive and useless hybrid.

-P.J. Moebius (German scientist, 1907)


The great question that has never been answered, and

which I have not yet been able to answer despite my thirty I

years of research into the feminine soul, is: What does a

woman want? -Sigmund Freud


Page 35

The woman 's fundamental status is that of her husband's

wife, the mother of his children. -Talcott Parsons


Man's superiority will be shown, not in the fact that he has

enslaved his wife, but that he has made her free.

      -Eugene V. Debs


Women should receive a higher education, not in order to

become doctors, lawyers, or professors, but to rear their

offspring to be valuable human beings.

      -Alexis Carrel, Man, the Unknown


Woman as a person enjoys a dignity equal with men, but she

was given different tasks by God and by Nature which

perfect and complete the work entrusted to men.

      -Pope John XXIII


The only position for women in SNCC is prone.

      -Stokeley Carmichael, 1966


It would be preposterously naive to suggest that a B.A. can

be made as attractive to girls as a marriage license.

      -Dr. Grayson Kirk (former President, Columbia University)


Women, in general, want to be loved for what they are and

men for what they accomplish. The first for their looks and

charm, the latter for their actions. -Theodor Reik


My secretary is a lovable slave.

      -Morris Ernst, attorney, on the 50th Anniversary

            of his having hired Paula Gross, secretary.


The only alliance I would make with the Women's Libera-

tion Movement is in bed.-Abbie Hoffman


Women are usually more patient in working at unexciting,

repetitive tasks...Women on the average have more passiv-

ity in the inborn core of their personality...I believe

Women are designed in their deeper instincts to get more

pleasure out of life-not only sexually but socially, occupa-


Page 36


tionally, maternally-when they are not aggressive. To put

it another way I think that when women are encouraged to

be competitive too many of them become disagreeable.

      -Dr. Benjamin M. Spock, Decent and Indecent


Women? I guess they ought to exercise Pussy Power.

      -Eldridge Cleaver, 1968



A woman's place is in the home/Housewives are such dull

people/Women's talk is all chatter/Intelligent women are

emasculating/If you're so smart why aren't you married/-

Can you type?/lf you want to make decisions in this family.

go out and earn a paycheck yourself/Working women are

unfeminine/ A smart woman never shows her brains/It is a

woman's duty to make herself attractive/ All women think

about are clothes/Women are always playing hard to

get/No man likes an easy woman/Women should be struck

regularly, like gongs/Women like to be raped/Women are

always crying about something/Women don't understand

the value of a dollar/Women executives are castrating bitch-

es/Don't worry your pretty little head about it/Dumb

broad/It is glorious to be the mother of all mankind/ A

woman's work is never done / All you do is cook and clean

and sit around all day /Women are only interested in trap-

ping some man/ A woman who can't hold a man isn't much

of a woman/Women hate to be with other women/Women

are always off chattering with each other /Some of my best

friends are women...





Sylvia Plath


My night sweats grease his breakfast plate.

The same placard of blue fog is wheeled into position

With the same trees and headstones.

Is that all he can come up with,

The rattler of keys?


I have been drugged and raped.

Seven hours knocked out of my right mind

Into a black sack

Where I relax, foetus or cat,

Lever of his wet dreams.


Something is gone.

My sleeping capsule, my red and blue zeppelin,

Drops me from a terrible altitude.

Carapace smashed,

I spread to the beaks of birds.


O little gimlets!

What holes this papery day is already full of!

He has been burning me with cigarettes,

Pretending I am a Negress with pink paws.

I am myself. That is not enough.


The fever trickles and stiffens in my hair.

My ribs show. What have I eaten?

Lies and smiles.

Surely the sky is not that colour,

Surely the grass should be rippling.


All day, gluing my church of burnt matchsticks,

I dream of someone else entirely.

And he, for this subversion,

Hurts me, he

With his armoury of fakery.


His high, cold masks of amnesia.

How did I get here?

Indeterminate criminal,

I die with variety-

Hung, starved, burned, hooked!


I imagine him

Impotent as distant thunder,

In whose shadow I have eaten my ghost ration.

I wish him dead or away.

That, it seems, is the impossibility,


That being free. What would the dark

Do without fevers to eat?

What would the light

Do without eyes to knife, what would he

Do, do, do without me?



Copyright @ 1964 by Ted Hughes


Barbie doll


This girlchild was born as usual

and presented dolls that did pee-pee

and miniature GE stoves and irons

and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.

Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:

You have a great big nose and fat legs.


She was healthy, tested intelligent,

possessed strong arms and back,

abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.

She went to and fro apologizing.

everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.


She was advised to play coy,

exhorted to come on hearty,

exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.

Her good nature wore out

like a fan belt.

So she cut off her nose and her legs

and offered them up.


In the casket displayed on satin she lay

with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,

a turned-up putty nose,

dressed in a pink and white nightie.

Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.

Consummation at last.

To every woman a happy ending.

Marge Piercy from To Be of Use


A work of artifice


The bonsai tree

in the attractive pot

could have grown eighty feet tall

on the side of a mountain

till split by lightning.

But a gardener

carefully pruned it.

It is nine inches high.

Every day as he

whittles back the branches

the gardener croons,

It is your nature

to be sma1l and cozy,

domestic and weak;

how lucky, little tree,

to have a pot to grow in.

With living creatures

one must begin very early

to dwarf their growth:

the bound feet,

the crippled brain,

the hair in curlers,

the hands you

love to touch.


Back to Previous Page