TCS: Am I On My Own Exhausted Fighting This Unequal World

Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


Find your own voice & use it,
use your own voice & find it.

– Jayne Cortez


Jayne Cortez (1934-2012) was born as Sallie Jayne Richardson in Fort Huachuca,  Arizona, on May 10, 1936; African-American poet, spoken-word performer, small press publisher, and civil rights activist. She was one of three children born to a career soldier who served in both world wars, and a secretary. When she was seven, they moved to the Watts district of Los Angeles. She took her maternal grandmother’s maiden name Cortez as her professional last name.

In the early 1960s, she collaborated with Fannie Lou Hamer on work used to rally registering Black voters in Mississippi. Cortez was a founder and artistic director (1964-1970) of the Watts Repertory Theater Company. In 1969, she published her first poetry collection, Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man’s Wares. She founded Bola Press in 1971, and went on to publish eleven other poetry collections, including Mouth on Paper, Firespitter, Coagulations: New and Selected Poems, and On the Imperial Highway. She also made several spoken word recordings, accompanied by the Firespitters, a band which included her son, jazz drummer Denardo Coleman.

Married twice, she and her second husband, artist Melvin Edwards, divided their time between New York City and Dakar, Senegal. In 1991, she co-founded the Organization of Women Writers of Africa with writer Ama Ata Aidoo from Ghana, and organized an international OWAA conference in 1997 “devoted to the evaluation and celebration of literature from around the world by women of African descent.”

Cortez won the 1980 American Book Award for Mouth on Paper, and the 2001 Langston Hughes Medal for body of work. She died of heart failure in New York on December 28, 2012, at age 78.

In a 1990 interview, Cortez spoke of the impact of her early adult years on her work, “Being unemployed and without food can make you very sad. But you weren’t the problem. The problem existed before you knew there was a problem. The problem is the system, and you can organize, unify, and do something about the system. That’s what I learned.”

Jayne Cortez described herself as a Jazz poet, saying, “Jazz isn’t just one type of music, it’s an umbrella that covers the history of black people from African drumming to field hollers and the blues.”


There It Is

by Jayne Cortez

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

“There It Is” from On the Imperial Highway, © 2009 by Jayne Cortez – Hanging Loose Press

These New York City Pigeons

by Jayne Cortez

These New York City Pigeons
cooing in the air shaft
are responsible for me
stubbing my toe
spraining my ankle
and getting sick on ammonia fumes

That pigeon roosting on the clothesline
stole my nightgown
Those pigeons on the street lamp
made me feel foolish
while riding in a black car
completely splattered
with their grey & white poo poo

These New York City pigeons
are not calm like pigeons of Oxalá in Brazil
and do not croon like doves of Zimbabwe

New York City pigeons moan
strange    low    mournful    quivering cancer-like moans
mixed with
hungry hyena barks
& gulping loss of the forest cries

New York City pigeons
are not relaxed like
pigeons sunning at
Marcel Duchamp swimming pool in San Francisco

New York City pigeons are not happy like
pigeons standing on head of the woman
selling bananas on a street corner in Johannesburg

New York City pigeons
flap viral leather fungus dust from wings into faces
then sit on steps vocalizing & waiting
for the death of humankind

New York City pigeons
are not friendly like
pigeons eating flaky crescent-shaped rolls at
Hotel du Piémont in Paris

New York City pigeons
are not content
like pigeons
posing for photos on arms
of men in plaza of Caracas

New York City pigeons
will lounge on ledges
& murmur profanity all day
will fight for fucking space in
the mating season
shit on air conditioners
& wipe their asses on windows
while big cockroaches
suck Sucrets in the dark

New York City pigeons
are not alert
like pigeons
sitting quietly on bicycles
in peace memorial park of Hiroshima

New York City pigeons
roll their pearly eyes
inflate their throats
and defecate on the shoulders of pedestrians

New York City pigeons
have no love for crumb-throwing pigeon lovers
& no year of the pigeon is celebrated
at least
not for these New York City Pigeons

“These New York City Pigeons” from On the Imperial Highway, © 2009 by Jayne Cortez – Hanging Loose Press

The Oppressionists

by Jayne Cortez

what do the art
care about art
they jump on bandwagons
wallow in press clips
& stink up the planet
with their
pornographic oppression
what do they care about art
they go from being
contemporary baby kissers to
old time corrupt politicians
to self-appointed censorship clerks
who won’t support art
but will support war
lung cancer
and toxic sludge
that’s their morality
that’s their religious conviction
that’s their protection of the public
& contribution to family entertainment
what do they care about art

“The Oppressionists” from On the Imperial Highway, © 2009 by Jayne Cortez – Hanging Loose Press

Trigger Warning: This poem is about two women who were raped, and killed the rapists. It also contains explicit language. In California, Inez García was charged with the 1974 murder of a man who raped her. She was tried and convicted of second-degree murder. García spent two years in prison before her appeal was heard. In the retrial, the jury exonerated her on grounds of self-defense. Joan Little, an African American woman, was also tried for murder in 1974. She killed a white prison guard in North Carolina, the first woman in the U.S. to be acquitted for using deadly force to resist sexual assault. A teenage runaway, she had been arrested several times for shoplifting, but charges were either dismissed, or she was given suspended sentences, until she was arrested in North Carolina at age 21 for breaking and entering and larceny. Three months after she was sent to prison, the body of a jailer was found in her cell, stabbed several times with an ice pick, and naked from the waist down with semen on his leg. Little was missing. She turned herself in to state authorities over a week later, and said she had killed the jailer while defending herself against sexual assault. The jailer had a history of forcing female prisoners to pay him with sex for gifts or favors, as other inmates had previously stated. Angela Davis, Rosa Parks, and other civil rights and feminist activists spoke out in her defense, helping to raise thousands of dollars for her defense fund. She was originally charged with first-degree murder, which carried an automatic death sentence. Her attorneys got the charge down to second-degree murder, and commissioned surveys on racial attitudes in Beaufort County, where the killing took place, and in Raleigh, which showed there was somewhat less prejudice in Raleigh. They then successfully petitioned for a change of venue to Raleigh. 


by Jayne Cortez

What was Inez Garcia supposed to do for the man who declared war on her body
the man who carved a combat zone between her breasts
Was she supposed to lick crabs from his hairy ass
kiss every pimple on his butt
blow hot breath on his big toe
draw back the corners of her vagina and
he haw like a California burro
This being war time for Inez
she stood facing the knife
the insults and
her own smell drying on the penis of
the man who raped her
She stood with a rifle in her hand
doing what a defense department will do in times of war
and when the man started grunting and panting and
wobbling forward like a giant hog
She pumped lead into his three hundred pounds of shaking flesh
Sent it flying to the Virgin of Guadelupe
then celebrated day of the dead rapist punk
and just what the fuck else was she supposed to do?
And what was Joanne Little supposed to do for the man who declared war on her life
Was she supposed to tongue his encrusted
toilet stool lips
suck the numbers off of his tin badge
choke on his clap trap balls
squeeze on his nub of rotten maggots and
sing “god bless america thank you for fucking my life away?”
This being wartime for Joanne
she did what a defense department will do in times of war
and when the piss drinking shit sniffing guard said
“I’m gonna make you wish you were dead black bitch
come here”
Joanne came down with an ice pick in
the swat freak motherfucker’s chest
yes in the fat neck of that racist policeman
Joanne did the dance of the ice picks and once again
from coast to coast
house to house
we celebrated day of the dead rapist punk
and just what the fuck else were we supposed to do

“Rape” from her recording Unsubmissive Blues, © 1979 by Jayne Cortez

Talking About New Orleans

by Jayne Cortez

Talking about New Orleans
About deforestation & the flood of vodun paraphernalia
the Congo line losing its Congo
the funeral bands losing their funding
the killer winds humming intertribal warfare hums into
two storm-surges
touching down tonguing the ground
three thousand times in a circle of grief
four thousand times on a levee of lips
five thousand times between a fema of fangs
everything fiendish, fetid, funky, swollen, overheated
and splashed with blood & guts & drops of urinated gin
                                                      in syncopation with me
riding through on a refrigerator covered with
asphalt chips with pieces of ragtime music charts
torn photo mug shots & pulverized turtle shells from Biloxi
                                        me bumping against a million-dollar oil rig
me in a ghost town floating on a river on top of a river
                          me with a hundred ton of crab legs
                                        and no evacuation plan
me in a battered tree barking & howling with abandoned dogs
my cheeks stained with dried suicide kisses
my isolation rising with a rainbow of human corpse & 
                                                      fecal rat bones
where is that fire chief in his big hat
where are the fucking pumps
the rescue boats
& the famous coalition of bullhorns calling out names
                          hey     I want my red life jacket now
& I need some sacred sandbags
some fix-the-levee-powder
some blood-pressure-support-juice
some get-it-together-dust
some lucky-rooftop-charms &
some magic-helicopter-blades
I’m not prepared
to live on the bottom of the water like Oshun
I don’t have a house built on stilts
I can’t cross the sea like Olokun
I’m not equipped to walk on water like Marie Laveau
or swim away from a Titanic situation like Mr. Shine
Send in those paddling engineers
I’m inside of my insides
& I need to distinguish
between the nightmare, the mirage,
the dream and the hallucination
Give me statistics
how many residents died while waiting
how many drowned
how many suffocated
how many were dehydrated
how many were separated
how many are missing
how many had babies
and anyway
who’s in charge of this confusion
this gulf coast engulfment
this displacement
this superdome shelter
this stench of stank
this demolition order
this crowded convention center chaos
making me crave solitary confinement

Am I on my own
exhausted from fighting racist policies
exhausted from fighting off sex offenders
exhausted from fighting for cots for tents for trailers
for a way out of this anxiety   this fear   this emptiness
this avoidance   this unequal opportunity world of
disappointments accumulating in my undocumented eye
of no return tickets

Is this freedom   is this global warming   is this the new identity
me riding on a refrigerator through contaminated debris
talking to no one in particular
about a storm that became a hurricane
& a hurricane that got violent and started
eyeballing & whistling & stretching toward
a category three domination that caught me in
                          the numbness of my own consciousness
                               unprepared, unprotected and
                                    made more vulnerable to destabilization
by the corporate installation of human greed, human poverty
human invention of racism & human neglect of the environment

I mean even Buddy Bolden came back to say
                          move to higher ground
                               because a hurricane will not
                                    rearrange its creativity for you
& the river will meet the ocean in
                                         the lake of your flesh again
so move to higher ground
and let your jungle find its new defense
let the smell of your wisdom restore the power of pure air
& let your intoxicated shoreline rumble above & beyond the
water-marks of disaster

I’m speaking of New Orleans of deportation
of belching bulldozers   of poisonous snakes
of bruised bodies   of instability and madness
mechanism of indifference and process of elimination
I’m talking about transformation about death re-entering life with
Bonne chance, bon ton roulé, bonjour & bonne vie in New Orleans, bon

“Talking About New Orleans” from On the Imperial Highway, © 2009 by Jayne Cortez – Hanging Loose Press






About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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