Category: Culture

Over the Ohio

 

 

The water is wide

Littered with empty bodies

Once young old weak and strong

Mingled with fish and sledge

Along with the memories of those

Who made it over the Ohio

 

To a new home of hope

No land but how brave

Promising to remain 

North of the river

Away from pattyrollers 

Somehow, finally free

 

Their lucky descendant

Starts driving faster

As I take a bridge

One of several I’ll cross

Just hoping for fun tonight

In Cincy or Louisville

 

Leaving Kentucky for Ohio

Trading South for North 

Simply signs on the highway

Beneath the shining images  

Pointing me to a downtown

Or a floating casino

 

Nothing calls to attention

The history or the bodies

Still and real below me

Trapped in the Ohio

Permanently, without memories

Somehow, finally free

 

© Gayle Force Press 2012

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

 

Survivors

 

 

Hunted and sought

Captured then bought 

Still we do survive 

 

Shackled and chained

Whipped to be trained

Still we do survive 

 

Raped and abused

Scarred, misused 

Still we do survive 

 

Worked just like dogs

Fed worse than hogs

Still we do survive 

 

Freed then discarded 

Our progress retarded

Still we do survive 

 

Separate but equal 

Slavery’s sequel 

Still we do survive 

 

The Movement fights

For basic rights

Still we do survive 

 

A change from the past 

With “Free At Last”

Still we do survive 

 

Dreams still deferred

Our consciences stirred 

Still we do survive 

 

The POTUS is Black

So racists fight back 

Still we do survive 

 

A Movement anew

Now what will we do

 

More than just survive 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

A poem by Franklin Oliver

Christmas in America 

 

 

I know you know 

about God‘s beloved 

shivering on the floor

Wondering how hope turned into terror 

Upon arrival in the promised land 

 

I know you know 

about swaddled babies 

ripped from their mothers 

born at the wrong time 

in the wrong place 

in the wrong skin 

 

I know you know 

about free flu shots 

waiting idle in boxes 

while the cough begins to spread

Among the Other 

Waiting idle in boxes

 

I know you know 

about the human crossing borders 

binding people into suffering

instead of protecting them from fear 

 

I know you know 

about our old lady 

Standing with the lamp 

Waiting for tired huddled masses 

yearning to be free 

needing to be White 

 

I know you know

about the stable 

Home to donkeys 

A new family 

And earthly bribes 

For a heavenly gift

 

I know you know 

about sanctuary in Egypt

A fearsome flight 

For first time parents 

hiding the light of the world

in Ill fitting clothes 

begging him to stay quiet

hoping for one more miracle 

 

I know you know 

Whether Mary would be safe 

In your care 

Or if you’d remind her 

That Jews don’t belong here 

Without looking into her eyes 

 

I know you know 

This is Christmas in America 

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

 

 

Neighborhood Watch 

 

It was raining like hell

 

When they cuffed me 

I told the cops

It was simple

 

An eye for an eye 

Leaves the whole world blind 

Just like Lady Justice 

Except that I have a smile 

Not a smirk

On my face 

 

See, Trayvon carried skittles 

But I packed heat 

When I followed George

From his house 

Until he idled 

At the drive through  

 

It’s hard to leave a Krispy Kreme 

Once you’ve seen the Hot light  

And it’s even harder 

After I’ve dropped my whole clip 

Into your chest 

 

I told the cops 

It was simple

Lady Justice is blind

But I can see clearly 

 

The rain is gone 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2017

 

 

If you’d like to hear this poem performed, please check out our podcast.

http://whodeannypod.libsyn.com/may-poetry-pod

 

 

Justified Use of Force (for Botham)

 

 

Every year there are

Untold more of us

An Amadou Diallo, Botham Jean,

Eric Garner, Tamir Rice or me

 

Then a loud clamor

Our broken faces on TV

We ask so many questions

That no one’s forced to answer

 

With sympathy’s short half-life

Most just wait for the noise to stop

So the questions

Can disappear once again

 

Just like us

In our lives

And our deaths

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

MeatSaladSurprise, a poem

MeatSaladSurprise

 

Beto’s favorite word

is a meatsaladsurprise

Too thick for its guise

of healthfulness,

slightly indigestible

 

See, this is America

The land of the free

who refuse to be brave

 

Because comfort trumps conviction

and clarity yields

an automatic timeout

 

 

We’ll keep wading through disasters

on our raft

of thoughts and prayers

 

Convinced that if we’re

just polite enough

someone else will save us

 

 

From ourselves

 

 

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

 

 

Thank God for Ferguson

My US History classes are doing significant work on Thomas Jefferson right now. Thinking so much about Jefferson and his complexities keeps bringing Charlottesville to mind. That led me to dig into the archives for this reflection on Ferguson. We keep seeing. When do we start changing?

FDO- 9.21. 2017

 

There’s a massive difference between being seen and being invisible. That’s why I’m glad Ferguson has become not just a place but a thing. Ferguson is now qualitatively different than every other incidence of police brutality. Mike Brown’s murder was the catalyst for something bigger and potentially transformative.

 

In the past couple weeks the whole world has begun to see what Black people have experienced for decades; the use of state power to intimidate and suppress populations. The police are the clearest example but much of the infrastructure of our society has done the same thing for centuries. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ invaluable article ‘The Case for Reparations’ provides the clearest explanation of the mechanisms behind this reality.

 

Ferguson demonstrates that the police do not always work on behalf of the citizens. In fact, for many in law enforcement, people of color are presumed to be an enemy force. This reality has been astonishing to many Americans but entirely unsurprising to people of color. Very few people of color can really be shocked when we hear the story of Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Ezell Ford or Tamir Rice.

 

What separates Ferguson from previous police violence is that the public response has been handled in such an absurd fashion. Everyone should be appalled at the way the police have brutalized and intimidated citizens who have not done anything wrong. Perhaps more than anything else, it’s the scale and openness in Ferguson that has garnered such attention. However, the idea that this style of policing is new or limited to a single police force is ludicrous. There’s already been some amazing reportage on this.

 

The biggest difference between the public recognition level of Rodney King (an instantly recognizable name for most Americans older than 35) and Sean Bell (who?) ….. is not that King lived but that we saw happened to him. It’s not the outcome of these situations that creates public recognition, it’s the coverage of the situation. Even in the murder of Mike Brown, the authorities have attempted to create a counter narrative that reduces the level of blame for Darren Wilson. Since we didn’t see Brown being shot, we don’t know precisely what happened.

 

Fortunately, we do know what the response to the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson has been. Those images will linger because they are chilling and astonishing and might well be repeated in dozens of communities across America. The overwhelming militarization of the police makes the visuals more stark and citizen fear more understandable. That clarity matters. Ferguson is likely to provide the most important visuals of 2014 in America. We are Mike Brown and we are Afghanistan and we are Iraq and we are not far enough from being Pakistan or Guantanamo.

 

America is still intensely separated when it comes to race but that often has little to do with where you live, what you like or how you spend your time. Instead, that divide is usually about understanding and experience; the lenses through which you view the world. Those lenses often aren’t chosen by any of us individually; they are usually provided for us. None of us choose what America will expect of us or how America will respond to us.

 

It’s very hard to say this and I need to be clear that I’m deeply grateful that Mike Brown is the only person to have died at the hands of the police in Ferguson. But I am very happy that White America has the chance to see more of the realities of being a person of color in the USA. Now comes the hard part.

 

 

 

American Mythology (#1)

 

 

The history lessons I received in school

Have very little connection to the stories

My grandfather waited until I was 25

To begin sharing with me

 

School sounded a lot like the TV shows

Ads and movies that were produced

As Saturday morning serials in his day

And kiddie cartoons in mine

 

This should have made me nervous as a kid

Since FDR and MLK, the Cold War and Vietnam,

Sputnik and Neil Armstrong, crack and AIDS,

Computers and nukes, Coltrane and the Greatest

 

All changed history between my generation and his

But since there were bright colors and waving flags

I tried hard to believe the myths I was taught

After all, what else could possibly be true  

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2015

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

 

 

 

Barry Bonds Making History

 

Fifteen years ago, Barry Bonds broke what used to be one of the most hallowed records in American sporting life. He hit 71 and 72 home runs in a single season. 

 

When, in 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa launched their epic chase to breach Roger Maris' 61 HR mark established in 1961, the nation rejoiced. America began falling back in love with baseball its ugly strike led to a 1994 season with no World Series. Even when most of us recognized something deeply suspicious about the Hulking physiques of these sluggers, we all smiled and kept watching

 

Three years later, the greatest (and surliest) player in recent memory hit bomb after bomb in a whole new world. Steroids were perceived as the worst destructive force the game had ever seen. The luster of the home run was gone. And outside his home park in San Francisco, fans mostly watched Bonds with begrudging eyes. 

 

I, instead, marveled. Sure, Bonds had enhanced his body dramatically. That seemed de rigueur in that era. I didn't hold him more responsible for steroid use than any other player. His excuses of using the BALCO derived "cream" and "clear" without knowing what they were seemed absurd and childish though perhaps they were a necessary fiction. The reality is that no one else was pursued for using steroids in quite the way Bonds was. Far more than his newfound power, Bonds' disdain for reporters and media etiquette was always his real crime. 

 

Let's remember, baseball is a game that requires exquisite timing and nearly instantaneous decision making, especially in the batter's box. Due to Bonds' unprecedented hitting acumen he was the recipient of astonishing numbers of walks, intentional walks and pseudo intentional walks. (This pattern only grew. In 2004, Bonds reached base 376 times on only 373 plate appearances. NOT a typo.) Despite seeing so few pitches because of the (understandable) desire of pitchers to avoid him, he maintained an unbelievably high rate of success. 

 

Now that the dust has settled and Bonds has been fired from his only post-retirement job in baseball, let's please take a moment to acknowledge the real life history we were able to watch a decade and a half ago. Let's remember when the greatest player since Willie Mays did what no one has ever done in the history of baseball. And enjoy it. 

 

 

FDO 

 

Trump as Empire Builder?

Numerous prominent Republicans have long suggested that Donald Trump is unwilling to release his tax information because he’s hiding something important, maybe even a “bombshell”. Perhaps his reticence is about having an even lower effective tax rate than the one Mitt Romney revealed in 2012 or using the kind of barely legal tax havens he’s bashed in the past. In an attempt to head off the kind of controversy that now swirls around Trump, National Review published a piece declaring that if “Trump won’t release his tax returns prior to the GOP convention, the delegates pledged to him on the first ballot should abstain” from voting for him. The implications were that something devious or even sinister lurks in the paper trail.

 

Now that we're just a few weeks away from Election Day, Trump has now offered to trade his tax returns for Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails while still pretending his audit status prevents him from releasing his returns. He hinted that he might not actually even pay taxes at all!

 

In the first Presidential debate, Clinton raised a host of speculative theories about why Trump refuses to make his tax returns public. My theory is much simpler. See, I think the only thing that might truly diminish Trump for his supporters is his bottom line number. How much money does he actually have?

 

We’ve all seen the story play out before. A celebrity appears to have an immense amount of wealth but it’s illusory. Michael Jackson used to own an amusement park house for goodness sake!

 

This is why perception matters:

 

Trump’s primary appeal is his status as an empire builder. He describes himself as a winner and people believe it. After all, the strongest association we have with Trump is as ‘rich person’. In an America devoid of culturally significant dynastic families, it’s people like Donald Trump and the Kardashians who represent the 21st century image of American wealth. (We know nothing about most of the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Kennedys and Rockefellers in our midst today.) We’ve already looked behind the curtain at the Kardashians and seen the ‘momager’ Kris Jenner herself. We know she’s the wizard.

 

We have no idea what we’ll see when the curtain is pulled back on the ‘Trumpire’. If there’s far less wealth than we’ve been led to believe, it will be disastrous for Trump. Not because he’s funding his own campaign, despite what he says. But because the core premise of his candidacy will be gone. It’s only his wealth that resonates as successful. Without it, he’s just another reality show star with bad hair and a bizarrely attached following.

 

Now that I think about it, I wonder if Todd Chrisley would have been a better choice?

 

 

-FDO

 

 This is an update of a post I wrote several months ago.