Maggie Jaffe



Thoreau & Capt. John Brown

Among other things,
he had the guts to say No!
when King Cotton had "dollars-
&-sense" Yankees by the balls.
When northern mills ground
up workers, hoarding Capital
to buy more slave ships:
Jesus, Friendship, Mercy.

About John Brown he wrote:
Don't measure him in your accountant's ledger.
He gave all to debased slaves
not for power or for cash,
but out of principle.

In the few years before Thoreau's death
at 45, he gave it up, made cribbed
observations in his notebook:
this rock, that arrow head, a yellowed leaf.

His "Resistance to Civil Government"
was read more ardently a century
later than when it was written:
in southern prisons, on the White House lawn,
in the defoliated jungles of southeast Asia.


The Searchers

[John Ford, 1956]

In his Hollywood debut
Ford played a Klansman
in The Birth of the Nation.
In his "masterpiece"
Duke Wayne stars as the Injun-
hating Johnny Reb.
Jeffrey Hunter's the
civilized breed who
mistakenly buys himself
a squaw.
When he kicks her out
of bed, the music's comical.
Except for Duke, white
folks are lovable, just like
you & me.

They're searchin' God's country
for Wayne's captive niece,
the "wife" of Scar, a godless
When he finds her,
Duke's gonna waste her:
Injun breeds Injun,
"sure as nits make lice." *

Ford admitted that
he "killed more Indians
than Custer, Beecher
and Chivington put together."
But give the old man his due:
his films range from the "graphic"
Sex Hygiene to Grapes of Wrath
to the Cavalry Trilogy,
which is where you'll find

In '73 Nixon awarded Ford
the prestigious Medal of Freedom.
That same year the Feds
AIM at Wounded Knee.


What In The World

Short winter day almost done
without even that "slant
of light,"
teaching American Literature:
Colonial to the Civil War.
I skirt the Puritans
by xeroxing
"Indians Response to Euro-Americans."
Fierce songs, poetry ...

The tram ride back to our concrete block
twisting like a glow worm
through the dark.
Baby coughs, old man
coughs, old babicka hoists herself
up the tram steps.
I stand wearily so she can sit.

Next, the market:
chleb, potatoes, cabbage & vodka.
Tonight we'll have Hungarian
goulash with soy "steaks."
Afterwards, I smoke a Marlboro Light
[furtively] in my bedroom-study.

I laugh at myself.
You're not in California,
"you can smoke your brains out,"
as my mother said catching
me at 15, the same year Kennedy's
brains were blown out,
which changed my childhood
though not fundamentally.

In the kitchen to start the "ghoul"
[my joke]. I knock back vodka
like a Czech, Slovak, Pole, East German,
after a "session" with the Secret Police.

Winter stretching west from Siberia.
Not yet Thanksgiving.

(Moravia, Czech Republic)


Reindeer In The Woods

They're spotted amber-brown,
enormous brown eyes watching
from wood's cover.
In late fall - when leaves
flare up, when rooks follow
the snow line down from
Russia - the males
metamorphose into warriors.

No longer brown,
but winter white.
Heavy with antlers,
their scrotums nearly doubled in size.
One bull crashes through
fallen leaves after his mate,
no farther than ten feet in front of us,
Fog horn, bull horn ...
Night and dawn we hear them from our flat.
Only now we're in the Slavonic woods.
Wind picks up.
Outlines darken.

In this former Soviet bloc nation state,
two material things remain:
cement block housing
for the so-called middle class
and rough, brown toilet paper
which scrapes my cunt
until it's weighty and swollen
as deer balls. The Czechs call
the paper "Stalin's Revenge":
once you use it,
it will make you Red.

(Moravia, Czech Republic)


Kandinski In Europe

       "Blue melts to black"

Moscow, 1916, early winter.
Blue-black mottled clouds,
the Neva seized with ice.
From lzmaylovsky Park, faintly,
a Chopin mazurka,
while trains move
men westward to the front.

From a top floor flat on Dolgi Street
Kandinski reconstructs the crowd
       in the square
as geometry: "point
to line to plane."

In anemic light he waits
for the future.
The samovar is piping hot,
windows coated with fine
traceries of frost.
With each inhalation
his cigarette a diminutive amber

Years before Kristallnacht,
he moves to the Weimar Republic.
At Bauhaus their motto:
"Creation equals the new Society."
One step ahead of the goose-
stepping multitude, France
will be his final refuge.
          0 Germany -
          hearing the speeches that ring from your house,
               one laughs.
          But whoever knows you reaches for a knife.


Tapestry: Mothers of the Disappeared

Who was Sebastian Acevedo?
Immolated himself in front of Concepcíon
Cathedral when he learned that his son
and daughter were being tortured.
To police he was a "Marxist motherfucker,"
a "pro-Cuban agitator."
Where were they tortured?
Cinema rooms: South Vietnam
Production rooms: the Philippines
Blue-lit Cabaret: Chile.

The promiscuity of Democracy is excessive. *

When the Sebastian Acevedo Movement
picketed the offices of El Mercurio,
the cops arrested their
ten-foot cross, threw it in back
of an unmarked truck.
Can they make a wood cross talk?
Where's Pinochet? Holed up
with "Los Chicago Boys," economists
with Milton Friedman.
Together they delivered the "shock
treatment" to Chile's flagging economy.
Still the number of "subversive" poor have tripled.
The military equate poverty with Marxism.

In his youth Pinochet attended
the American School for Coups.
What did he learn?
           Electric Shock
           Mock Execution
           Operating Table
           Parrot's Perch
           Sexual Humiliation

           Witnessing the Torture of Others.

                             We have found the solution for
                             de-politicizing the universities:
                             expel half the students
                             expel half the professors
                             cut the curriculum in half.

Since the coup, a cottage industry was developed:
tapestries made into patchwork depictions of Chilean
life. Working-class women create arpilleras, churches
sell them abroad. One arpillera details miniature
Mothers of the Disappeared who have chained
themselves to the police station's fence; over their
hearts are photos of their loved ones. The women hold
Behind them are multicolored Andes and
a smiling sun. The last figure is truncated, except for her
arm, clenched into a diminutive, unmistakable
upraised fist.

    [Dedicated to Victor Jara, died September, 1973]


"Poverty Sucks"

"We have the right
not to know about the poor,"
my student wrote
after I showed the class
photos of people working.
Specifically a Haitian cane-cutter,
propped up on his scythe, dead
asleep on his feet.
This particular cane-cutter
earns 5 gourdes for 10 hours
[approximately one dollar a day].
With luck he'll live to be 54:
in Haiti the sun is boss
as well as the bosses.
My student vacations in the Bahamas,
sips his Cuba Libre,
eyes the girls, tans, doesn't see
the sweating Blacks.
Has never seen anyone sweat
at work: not on TV, in videos, in movies.
I should give him no more than a "D"
[as in dollars disseminate death],
but he still wouldn't get it:
that a man can be so broke
he falls asleep on his feet.



    War is to men what maternity is to women.

                             -Benito Mussolini

Vultures congregate
like medieval monks
on the maternity
hospital roof.
Placenta, diapers,
Kotex, condoms spilling out
of garbage dumpsters.

"Chinese English spoken here."
Curried soul food, leaded gas.
Vendors hawk dynamite ganga.
Prisoners held without trial
beneath The Palace of justice.
Cuna Indians still worship The Mother.
Where's Caliban? the "cinnamon-
colored Amerindian" of my
Central American Handbook.

When Pineapple Face
bragged he had Bush
"by the balls,"
the Washington Warhead
deployed his multicultural
poor to Panamá.
They kill but can't fuck
or even say it.
They must say "spokesperson."

Zones Hollywood & El Chorillo
bombed at midnight.
No warning.
Four thousand buried in 7 mass graves.



Never saw the blood.
Never heard the camels scream.
Never viewed the "bunker" blown to clean,
surgically precisioned hell.
Never smelled napalm-cluster-percussion-
fuel air-smart bombs
in the morning.
Never heard the sirens wail.
Never heard the all clear.
Never heard a soldier mouth "Hi, mom!"
on the TV without sound.
Never saw the next frame
where her jaw's blown-off.
The sound bite with her blown-off
jaw is on the Pentagon's cutting floor.
Never seen a killing floor.
Smelled one once near Amarillo, Texas:
we were doing 80 on the freeway.
Never caught the made-for-TV movie,
[Oil] Drums Along the Persian Gulf.


The Tyrant

chews Apache
skull & bones
for sport.
Through thin, pursed lips,
his white noise murders Negroes.
Sucks up to the sexless rich,
much to our chagrin.
Only War[s] Unzip Him.


The Searchers: "Nits make lice" is attributed to Colonel John M. Chivington, commander of the Sand Creek Massacre, Colorado, 1864.
Kandinski in Europe: The italicised text is adapted from Bertolt Brecht's poem "Germany," 1934.
Tapestry: The italicised text is from "Proclamations Issued by the Chilean Military Junta," Latin American Revolutionary Poetry, ed. by Robert Marquez, 1946.

from How The West Was One, Copyright © 1997 by Maggie Jaffe.
published by Viet Nam Generation, Inc. and Burning Cities Press.
For more information on Viet Nam Generation, see the Light and Dust links section.

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