Tag Archives: Black Panthers

Puerto Rican Obituary

This poem was first read in 1969 at a rally in support of the Young Lords Party, an anti-imperialist Latino youth group in New York. Along with the Black Panthers, the Young Lords worked in their community supporting demands for fair and affordable housing and decent health care, and ran free breakfast programs for children. They linked their neighbourhood militancy to a call for the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and elsewhere, third world liberation, an end to the oppression of the poor and people of colour, and the building of a socialist society. The Young Lords were destroyed by U.S. government provocations in the mid 1970s, but Pedro Pietri continued on as a radical activist and poet. He saw no distinction between these roles.
“I realised who the real enemy was, and it was not the Vietcong in their black pajamas, but the mercenaries who invaded their country.” On fire with rage against the system, he wrote, “Puerto Rican Obituary,” first published in a collection of his work with the same title by Monthly Review Press in 1973, as well as eight other volumes of verse. Pedro Pietri died of cancer, aged 59, on March 3, 2004.
The New York Times commented that “three decades ago, a poem ignited a movement.”

Puerto Rican Obituary

They worked
They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
when they were insulted
They worked
They never took days off
that were not on the calendar
They never went on strike
without permission
They worked
ten days a week
and were only paid for five
They worked
They worked
They worked
and they died
They died broke
They died owing
They died never knowing
what the front entrance
of the first national city bank looks like

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
passing their bill collectors
on to the next of kin
All died
waiting for the garden of eden
to open up again
under a new management
All died
dreaming about america
waking them up in the middle of the night
screaming: Mira Mira
your name is on the winning lottery ticket
for one hundred thousand dollars
All died
hating the grocery stores
that sold them make-believe steak
and bullet-proof rice and beans
All died waiting dreaming and hating

Dead Puerto Ricans
Who never knew they were Puerto Ricans
Who never took a coffee break
from the ten commandments
to KILL KILL KILL
the landlords of their cracked skulls
and communicate with their latino souls

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
From the nervous breakdown streets
where the mice live like millionaires
and the people do not live at all
are dead and were never alive

Juan
died waiting for his number to hit
Miguel
died waiting for the welfare check
to come and go and come again
Milagros
died waiting for her ten children
to grow up and work
so she could quit working
Olga
died waiting for a five dollar raise
Manuel
died waiting for his supervisor to drop dead
so he could get a promotion

Is a long ride
from Spanish Harlem
to long island cemetery
where they were buried
First the train
and then the bus
and the cold cuts for lunch
and the flowers
that will be stolen
when visiting hours are over
Is very expensive
Is very expensive
But they understand
Their parents understood
Is a long non-profit ride
from Spanish Harlem
to long island cemetery

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Dreaming
Dreaming about queens
Clean-cut lily-white neighborhood
Puerto Ricanless scene
Thirty-thousand-dollar home
The first spics on the block
Proud to belong to a community
of gringos who want them lynched
Proud to be a long distance away
from the sacred phrase: Que Pasa

These dreams
These empty dreams
from the make-believe bedrooms
their parents left them
are the after-effects
of television programs
about the ideal
white american family
with black maids
and latino janitors
who are well train
to make everyone
and their bill collectors
laugh at them
and the people they represent

Juan
died dreaming about a new car
Miguel
died dreaming about new anti-poverty programs
Milagros
died dreaming about a trip to Puerto Rico
Olga
died dreaming about real jewelry
Manuel
died dreaming about the irish sweepstakes

They all died
like a hero sandwich dies
in the garment district
at twelve o’clock in the afternoon
social security number to ashes
union dues to dust

They knew
they were born to weep
and keep the morticians employed
as long as they pledge allegiance
to the flag that wants them destroyed
They saw their names listed
in the telephone directory of destruction
They were train to turn
the other cheek by newspapers
that mispelled mispronounced
and misunderstood their names
and celebrated when death came
and stole their final laundry ticket

They were born dead
and they died dead

Is time
to visit sister lopez again
the number one healer
and fortune card dealer
in Spanish Harlem
She can communicate
with your late relatives
for a reasonable fee
Good news is guaranteed

Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
Those who love you want to know
the correct number to play
Let them know this right away
Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
Now that your problems are over
and the world is off your shoulders
help those who you left behind
find financial peace of mind

Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
If the right number we hit
all our problems will split
and we will visit your grave
on every legal holiday

Those who love you want to know
the correct number to play
let them know this right away
We know your spirit is able
Death is not dumb and disable
RISE TABLE RISE TABLE

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Hating fighting and stealing
broken windows from each other
Practicing a religion without a roof
The old testament
The new testament
according to the gospel
of the internal revenue
the judge and jury and executioner
protector and eternal bill collector

Secondhand shit for sale
learn how to say Como Esta Usted
and you will make a fortune
They are dead
They are dead
and will not return from the dead
until they stop neglecting
the art of their dialogue
for broken english lessons
to impress the mister goldsteins
who keep them employed
as lavaplatos porters messenger boys
factory workers maids stock clerks
shipping clerks assistant mailroom
assistant, assistant assistant
to the assistant’s assistant
assistant lavaplatos and automatic
artificial smiling doormen
for the lowest wages of the ages
and rages when you demand a raise
because is against the company policy
to promote SPICS SPICS SPICS

Juan
died hating Miguel because Miguel’s
used car was in better running condition
than his used car
Miguel
died hating Milagros because Milagros
had a color television set
and he could not afford one yet
Milagros
died hating Olga because Olga
made five dollars more on the same job
Olga
died hating Manuel because Manuel
had hit the numbers more times
than she had hit the numbers
Manuel
died hating all of them
Juan
Miguel
Milagros
and Olga
because they all spoke broken english
more fluently than he did

And now they are together
in the main lobby of the void
Addicted to silence
Off limits to the wind
Confine to worm supremacy
in long island cemetery
This is the groovy hereafter
the protestant collection box
was talking so loud and proud about

Here lies Juan
Here lies Miguel
Here lies Milagros
Here lies Olga
Here lies Manuel
who died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Always broke
Always owing
Never knowing
that they are beautiful people

Never knowing
the geography of their complexion

PUERTO RICO IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE
PUERTORRIQUENOS ARE A BEAUTIFUL RACE

If only they
had turned off the television
and tune into their own imaginations
If only they
had used the white supremacy bibles
for toilet paper purpose
and make their latino souls
the only religion of their race
If only they
had return to the definition of the sun
after the first mental snowstorm
on the summer of their senses
If only they
had kept their eyes open
at the funeral of their fellow employees
who came to this country to make a fortune
and were buried without underwears

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
will right now be doing their own thing
where beautiful people sing
and dance and work together
where the wind is a stranger
to miserable weather conditions
where you do not need a dictionary
to communicate with your people
Aqui Se Habla Espanol all the time
Aqui you salute your flag first
Aqui there are no dial soap commercials
Aqui everybody smells good
Aqui tv dinners do not have a future
Aqui the men and women admire desire
and never get tired of each other
Aqui Que Paso Power is what’s happening
Aqui to be called negrito
means to be called LOVE

Pedro Pietri

There It Is

Jayne Cortez from her 1982 album There It Is. The musicians were mainly from Ornette Coleman’s band, they had been married.

There It Is

My friend
they don’t care
if you’re an individualist
a leftist a rightist
a shithead or a snake
They will try to exploit you
absorb you confine you
disconnect you isolate you
or kill you

And you will disappear into your own rage
into your own insanity
into your own poverty
into a word a phrase a slogan a cartoon
and then ashes

The ruling class will tell you that
there is no ruling class
as they organize their liberal supporters into
white supremacist lynch mobs
organize their children into
ku klux klan gangs
organize their police into
killer cops
organize their propaganda into
a device to ossify us with angel dust
preoccupy us with western symbols in
african hair styles
inoculate us with hate
institutionalize us with ignorance
hypnotize us with a monotonous sound designed
to make us evade reality and stomp our lives away
And we are programmed to self-destruct
to fragment
to get buried under covert intelligence operations of
unintelligent committees impulsed toward death
And there it is

The enemies polishing their penises between
oil wells at the pentagon
the bulldozers leaping into demolition dances
the old folks dying of starvation
the informers wearing out shoes looking for crumbs
the life blood of the earth almost dead in
the greedy mouth of imperialism
And my friend
they don’t care
if you’re an individualist
a leftist a rightist
a shithead or a snake

They will spray you with
a virus of legionnaire’s disease
fill your nostrils with
the swine flu of their arrogance
stuff your body into a tampon of
toxic shock syndrome
try to pump all the resources of the world
into their own veins
and fly off into the wild blue yonder to
pollute another planet

And if we don’t fight
if we don’t resist
if we don’t organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is

Jayne Cortez

Yusuf

Yusuf (Joseph C. Parnell) was a young black sailor arrested in March 1969 on the charge of the attempted murder of a Chicago police officer. He was in Cook County jail for 20 months before his family could raise bail. There he became close to the imprisoned Black Panthers.
Once out on bail he was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Centre brig for being AWOL. He was quickly put in the brig as he refused to stand to attention. He explained he could only relate the discipline of the Black Panther Party.

Dignity

Dignity
is when
within the wretched coffins
of a
cook county jail
in 98 degree weather
a brother
can stand in the middle of the dayroom
wearing
black on black in black
Jockey
nylon underwear
and
still maintain
his
folded arm profile
and
still talk
extremely slick . . .

6/30/70

Yusuf


Picture of the Soledad Brothers

More Heat Than Light

Colin MacInnes in Anarchy, number 59, January, 1966 reviews an anti-racist anthology. This issue of the magazine stated it focused on ‘the white problem’. He makes the excellent point that we all know what the far-right think, we should be watching what they do.

More heat than light
Colin MacInnes

Victims Of Our Fear edited by Tina Morris (Screeches Publications 2s. 6d.)

It gives such a warm glow to write against racialism that often your words have more heat than light. What’s nice about this anthology is that it’s muti-racial, international, and its authors young. What’s disappointing is its banality.
To begin with the quotes. Those from libertarian prophets of the past are too familiar; while of those from the present, even a fine speech like Nelson Mandela’s, is too well known. As for the racialist snippets, they’re too silly to be worth repeating. (We all know what Colin Jordan ‘thinks’: we should much more be watching what he does)
Of the essays, the longest, on Malcom X, comes from Arthur Moyse. This wraps up poor Malcom who becomes in it a sort of coloured jordan. Well, I agree with Arthur Moyse’s critique of Malcom’s ideas, yet how is it every coloured militant I know of speaks of him with respect? It wasn’t all destructive, was it? Incidentally, what Moyse calls “the hysterical prose” of James Baldwin, I see as passionate rhetoric. Are those three collections of essays, with their measured, painful analysis, really just hysteria? And by the way, the Negro intellectuals are far from being, as Moyse suppose, “spear-headed” by Baldwin’s prose (hysterical or otherwise), since many of them regard him as one who writes too exclusively for whites.
The poems are rather better – though usually, I fear, when emotional, wallowing in self-indulgence. When they’re satirical they’re sharper, as Mari Evans’ celebration of her being given, as a symbol of her being the New Negro, the “key to the White Locked JOHN”.
So I’m sorry to be disparaging, but this number, in general, seems impeccable in sentiment, but woefully lacking attack. having taken up a positive position on racialism, it is fine to shout in slogans, but even better to think and feel more deeply as to how it can be combated. Otherwise this anthology is like those hymns which are resounding in themselves, but are sung only by the faithful, play to empty churches, and win few human souls.

Colin MacInnes

Political Poetry

“You don’t have to be a poet, but a citizen you must be.”

This line is from ‘The Poet and the Citizen’ by Nikolai Nekrasov, written in 1856. The poem is a response to Pushkin’s ‘The Poet and the Crowd’ and written two decades after Pushkin’s death in 1837.
There is still much discussion about political poetry, can poetry be political?, can poetry change anything?
Ranting poetry was frequently political, and this continues on with Poetry on the Picket Line. I also think that who the audience for poetry is can often be political. Several poets who’ve done Poetry on the Picket Line gigs have asked should the poems they read be political? My response is that standing on a picket line to read poems is political in itself. The poems can be funny, romantic, whimsical… but it’s where you are reading them and to whom that is the political act.
There is plenty of working class poetry on this blog; from Chartists, to Black Panthers, prisoners, Ranters and Dub Poets. It’s interesting that Ranters and Dub Poets have been labelled separately in recent years whilst in the 80s it wasn’t a given distinction. We were all poets who read together, struggled together, and supported each other. One thing I personally got from poets like LKJ and Michael Smith was that if a poem in Caribbean voice could say so much and hit so hard; so could one in a Cockney, Manchester, Yorkshire one. The politics was in a working class person writing, and reading, to and for a working class audience.
The words are important, and poetry galvanises us as well as shares our voice, but actions are more important. I’ve never been one to knock on the doors of the Academy for acceptance. We’ve never been overlooked, we’re outside because that is where they want us. It’s telling to see so many poets looking to the literary establishment rather than building their own.
Linton Kwesi Johnson started writing poetry in formal English, he then switched to his own Jamaican voice. He says that one of his inspirations for doing this was Marcus Garvey who promoted people doing things for themselves. Burning Spear was a big fan too.
There are plenty of young poets doing solid work as poets and people, but given the amount of ‘woke’ young people at slams and poetry readings, and pouring forth on the interwebs, it’s a puzzle that the country, and the US too – it’s where most of Slam’s politics come from – has steadily got worse.
Lest this ends on a depressing tone, I’ll stay true to my own ‘Down with miserablism’ beliefs: to all the young ‘uns doing the do and fighting the fight – keep on keeping on. Forward ever, backward never.

LKJ and the British Black Panthers

In the Past Tense pamphlet In The Shadow of the S.P.G Racist Policing, Resisitance, and Black Power in 1970s Brixton, 2014, there is quite a bit about the British Black Panthers, who included Farrukh Dhondy and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
The quotes below come from a section looking at how the Panters educated people.
Farrukh Dhondy has an active career in which he has written a biography of CLR James, the comedy series Tandoori Nights, translated Rumi, written children’s stories and the Bollywood film Mangal Pandey and been commissioning editor for Channel Four.

“I had the idea, right at the beginning, that culture was the only way out of this mission to complain. The mission to complain was , you know, ‘we are poor, sad blacks, beaten down, you discriminate against us, racism, racism, racism, complaint, complaint, complaint”, and that wouldn’t end until one said ‘Look, forget about the sadness, here’s what I can do.’ We could have an intellectual culture, and I’ve always thought that was the way forward…” Farrukh Dhondy

Militant as it was, Black Power activities also had a strong cultural element – dances, with sound systems, poetry groups… On the one hand this helped to draw people in, but the participation in the movement also opened people’s eyes to their own cultural heritage, as Linton Kwesi Johnson relates:
“My real interest in poetry began when I joined the Black Panthers. Joining the Black Panthers was a life-changer for me because for the first time I discovered black literature, because going to school here I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that black people wrote books. In the Black Panthers they had a library and all of a sudden I discovered all these wonderful books written by black people. One book in particular was a book called ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ written by an African American scholar by the name of W.E.B DuBois. And this book was not a book of poems, it was prose, but it was a very poetic prose and the language was very moving. And that book just stimulated my interest in poetry, and made me want to discover more poetry, and made me want to try to articulate in verse how I felt, and how the black youth of my generation felt about our experiences growing in this racially hostile environment.
I learnt a lot about my culture and I was able to locate myself in the world, and to understand myself more fully. Who I am, where I am coming from, and why I am where I am now.”

LKJ_DreadBeat_Bogle75

Black Panthers Arrested For Reading Poetry

In Bobby Seale’s 1968 book Seize The Time he relates how in 1966 whilst at Merritt College he and fellow Black Panther Huey P Newton were arrested because Bobby Seale had read poems. This is prior to the formation of the Black Panther Party.

… Huey and I and Weasel, one of the brothers on the campus, were all sitting in the car one night. We decided we wanted to buy some records by T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf, those downhome brothers. I suggested we go up the Cal campus because up around there they have more LP’s of T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf and all the brothers, than they have in the regular black record shop.
We started walking down the street on Telegraph toward the Forum, when the brothers asked me to recite one of them poems I always liked. One of them was named, “Burn, Baby, Burn.” The other was “Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer.” I was walking down the street reciting “Burn, Baby, Burn,” all the way down till we got to the next block, and then Huey and Weasel asked me to recite that other poem, “Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer.”
So I got to reciting that poem. I said two or three words when we got in front of the Forum, across the street, one of the brothers, Weasel, got over and picked a chair up. (It’s kind of a sidewalk restaurant.) He said, “Here, Bobby, stand on this”. So we set the chair up by the curb there, and I got on the chair and hollered, “Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer.” When I said that, I went on to recite the rest of the poem. Then someone said, “Do it again. Run it down again, man.” So I got to the part of the poem where it said, “You school my naïve heart to sing red-white-and-blue-stars-and=stripes-songs.” Some uniformed pig cop walked up. He stood around ten or twelve feet away. I said, “You school my naïve heart to sing red-white-and-blue-stars-and=stripes-songs and to pledge eternal allegiance to all things blue, true, blue-eyed blond, blond-haired, white chalk white skin with U.S.A. tattooed all over.”
Man, when I said that, this cop walks up and says, “You’re under arrest.” I got down off the chair, said “What are you talking about, ‘You’re under arrest?’ Under arrest for what? What reason do you have for saying I’m under arrest?” And he says, “You’re blocking the sidewalk.” And I say, “What do you mean I’m blocking the sidewalk? I’m standing over here.” I noticed Huey, standing to my left. Next thing I know, some people started grabbing on me. “You under arrest, you under arrest.” I started snatching away from them, man. Next thing I know, Huey was battling up there, and three paddies had me down, tied down onto the ground. One of them paddies that had hold of me, Huey knocked him in the head a couple of times, and a couple of brothers stomped on the paddies. I got loose. A big fight was going on. But boy, they say Huey whipped up some motherfuckers up there. They say Huey was throwing hands.

bobby-and-huey

Bobby Seale and Huey P Newton

Both Seale and Newton were arrested and charged with assault on police officers. They were bailed out of jail by Seale’s wife Artie Seale and by mid October, 1966 the court put them on one year probation each, after their no-contest pleas.
Burn, Baby Burn is a poem by Marvin X (Marvin Jackmon, also known as Nazzam Al Fitnah) who was also at Merritt College.
Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer is an anti-draft poem by Ronald Stone.

Uncle Sammy don’t shuck and jive me,
I’m hip the popcorn jazz changes you blow,
You know damn well what I mean,
You school my naive heart to sing
red-white-and-blue-stars-and-stripes songs and to pledge eternal allegiance to all things blue, true, blue-eyed blond, blond-haired, white chalk white skin with U.S.A. tattooed all over,
When my soul trusted Uncle Sammy,
Loved Uncle Sammy,
I died in dreams for you Uncle Sammy,
Died in dreams playing war for you Uncle Sammy,
No, I don’t want to hear that crap,
You jam your emasculate manhood symbol, puff with Gonorrhea,
Gonorrhea of corrupt un-realty myths into my ungreased, nigger ghetto, black-ass, my Jewish-Cappy-Hindu-Islamic-Sioux-sure, free public health penicillin cured me,
But Uncle Sammy if you want to stay a freak-show strongman god,
Fuck your motherfucking self,
I will not serve.