Americans talk loud and often
of their right to speak:
a pillar of democracy
that gives voice to the weak
as well as strong, in equal shares,
so each may truly taste
of freedom’s sweet, delicious fruit
and none will go to waste.
And yet, a legal right to speak
is often not enough;
reality suggests in action
such talk can be tough.
The truth is, outside one’s own home,
and often even there,
we never say just what we want –
we could, but do not dare
to say the speech that we would speak,
if we felt confident
that we could trust those listening
to grasp at what we meant
with honest ears and open hearts
that tried to understand
despite their wish to disagree
or cut us where we stand.
Alas, we all too often hide
behind our words, instead;
encouraging “just bite your tongue
and never lose your head,
take heed of what your friends will think;
the walls have ears, beware!
They’ll use your words against you
if you loose them in the air.”
But truth is not in comfort zones;
it lies somewhere outside
the social structure we impose
to justify our pride
that we are somehow civilized
and will not cause a scene,
regardless of the pain it costs
to forget what it means
when you are truly free to speak,
your voice heard loud and clear,
to cut through the hypocrisy
without regret or fear,
and truly share as equals
in a strength that won’t decay
until we open up our mouths
and find nothing to say.
15 APR 2013
In the Marines, they quip there is no color:
just light, dark and medium green.
So it is with the blues, if you look closely enough;
beyond the initial reaction,
the worry over the metal detectors at the door,
run-down houses down the block,
a sign that hangs precariously by one rusty screw
and a hastily tacked up hand-printed waybill
proudly announcing a cover charge
changed at least three times
if you can trust the scratch outs,
there is a calm in this place.
To speak of blues lovers
as separate but equal,
open-minded or tolerant
is to cheapen the blues,
to somehow try to prove, in vain,
that misery and suffering
are not quite universal,
less than absolute,
meted out in small degrees
according to one’s lights.
Not so, not so:
the blues succeeds
where other kinds of music fail,
across wide oceans of despair
to reach into the blood and bone
which are, when life is measured out,
bleached white the same
and turned to dust.
2 APR 2013
When I try to convince someone that my way is better than theirs, I don’t stand there and tell them their glass is dirty, and as a result they’re drinking dirty water. I just stand quietly, drinking my clear water from a sparkling clean glass, and let them draw their own conclusions. — Malcolm X, paraphrased
for Malcolm Little
We still drink dirty water
although forty years have passed,
and despite decades of struggle
have yet to be free at last
from the misguided notions
that served us to some degree,
but lay the blame at our own feet
at our hypocrisy
Equality? That’s just a word
that draws the softer vote;
and even then, you hear it catch
in politician’s throats
when they survey the ghetto
from inside their limousines
on their way to a better home
than most have ever seen.
It’s more than just a color bar
that splits this land apart.
There’s a flaw in our base logic
that divides the mind and heart:
if we don’t believe we’re equal,
at the core built just the same,
then what good are politicians,
save for dividing the blame?
If we simply clean our glasses,
but still draw from dirty wells,
the sole use for spit and polish
is reflecting the same hell.
23 JAN 2005
In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions themselves. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we look to it very narrowly, it will be perceived that religion herself holds sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.
— Alexis de Toqueville, 1805-1859, Democracy in America
In other words, equality does not equal independence, and liberty does not equate to freedom, particularly of thought.
The Fiction of a jury of my peers:
to think that there are twelve more just like me,
who’ll be available should I require
their patient ears and minds to keep me free.
To be complete, the dozen must include
not only those who’ve walked my walk, but more:
the ones who might have done it, but refrained;
a couple souls that chose alternate means;
perhaps another who went far afield,
whose situation started where I stand;
a few who should have made it to this point,
but found their progress blocked by chance, or place.
To truly be a twelfth of what I am
each member of this elite group will be
an equal coward, hero, sage or fool:
my other selves of possibility.
15 MAR 2004
Peer: a person who is an equal in social standing, rank, age, etc., example: to be tried by one’s peers [ETYMOLOGY: 14th Century: from Old French per, from Latin par equal]