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Poetry by Maggie Jaffe
Custer's Last Laugh
(for Leonard Peltier)
Dateline: Cheyenne, Montana, July 4, 1988.
According to the Los Angeles Times
key words in their own
for warriors who fought
The Battle of Little Big Horn.
Wedded to grammar while
committed to historical amnesia,
the Times reports (page 24)
the plaque's misspelling of "Cavalry"
so that it reads "Calvary."
There are other technical
errors as well...
The Times won't divulge how
Custer and the 7th Cavalry
searched and destroyed their elderly
pacified their women and children
terminated their horses
wasted their buffalo to starve them.
"Language is the perfect instrument of Empire."*
*The reply of Antonio de Nebrija, author of the first Gramatica, to Queen Isabella when she asked the importance of a grammar.
gaunt, humorless, laconic.
Will pick your pocket
for the revolution.
Leaflets the funky movie
house on the eve of war,
January 15, 1991.
The flick is Berkeley in the Sixties.
Like prisoners of war
from the last 20 years of yuppie
bullshit, we're shown photos from his
revolutionary outpost in Peru.
Contact with Sendero Luminoso?* I ask.
Yeah, he says, it's wild.
And I know that he's lying.
The system sticks in his throat
like a jammed M-16
or your stolen credit card
or a "smart" bomb
graffitied with "Daffy Duck
*The Shining Path: A Maoist-Quechua Indian movement, largely comprised of peasant women from the highlands, which advocates the violent overthrow of the government followed by return to a pre-Columbian society.
Dark eyed, bird-like
she made herself
Her crystal voice
needed constant honing.
Audiences loved how
she suffered for Art.
She loved a billionaire
who instead married Jackie K.
For publicity? for kinky sex?
In Pasolini's Medea,
her last performance
she wouldn't sing
but she's riveting
as the beautiful, tragic
booze destroyed her voice.
She died in Paris alone.
Well, her maid was with her.
but wouldn't play hard ball
He loved beautiful women.
Loved beautiful [white] women,
which is illegal.
He was red and Black,
way too hot for the 50's.
In D.C., Hollywood,
Peekskill, New York,
they nearly lynched him.
At his career's height,
the FBI took away his pass-
On his deathbed he insists
the CIA tried to poison him--
not in Mississippi or Alabama
but at a party in "godless"
Russia, for god's sake.
Conrad sailed up the Congo
on the Roi des Belges while King
Leopold ordered Black workers
mutilated if they didn't feed
ivory quotas to their Masters.
By the time Leopold founded the
Association for Civilization
in Central Africa, the dead
already exceeded eleven million.
What Conrad really saw we'll
never know except as shadows,
ghosts, the metaphysical
We do know he didn't see
policy of colonization.
Sixty years later Lumumba's
life cut short by Belgian
mercenaries and the CIA.
Where did his butchers stuff him?
For Sam Melville, #26124
Murdered at Attica Penitentiary, 9/13/71
After Attica's uprising
the photo shows
cops dressed to kill,
wielding "nigger sticks,"
White boys, Young Lords,
caged Panthers (leg-ironed
from Africa to Attica). All are
hands thrust over head.
Forced to run the gauntlet.
"'Prison power'" my ass,
Attica! Grey walls on the green
Tonawanda Reservation, sacred
land stolen from the Senecas.
Attica! Bureaucrats with "impeccable Nazi
credentials" renamed you Correctional
Facility. Still, you're the killing floor*:
"warning shots" in the back by
outlawed "dum dum" bullets.
He won't fly
American to Attica.
Instead, dials M for murder.
Sleeps that night beside
groomed for power.
Runs for V.P.,
is endorsed by the Times.
He's a corporate bloody conquistador!
Monday, bloody, Monday,
September 13, 1971.
After a sluggish start
on Wall Street today
the Dow closed high
with hefty trading.
To "pacify" one Viet Cong
the State pays $35,000,
depending on inflation.
Who gave the orders?
Who took the weight?
Absolved the guards?
Lied to the press?
Opened fire on Melville?
Named him "the mad bomber?"
Who napalmed Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia?
*Eighty-nine men were wounded, 43 killed, including nine hostages shot by State troopers. Ironically, rumors about the execution and castration of the hostage/guards were the justification for storming Attica in the first place.
Tapestry: Mothers of the Disappeared
Who was Sebastian Acevedo?
Immolated himself in front of Concepcion
Cathedral when he learned that his son
and daughter were being tortured.
To police he was a "Marxist
motherfucker," a "pro-Cuban agitator,"
according to the CIA.
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 also 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
who've studied with Milton Friedman.
Together they delivered the shock
treatment to Chile's flagging economy.
But the number of "subversive poor" have tripled;
the military equate poverty with Marxism.
In North America I teach Composition,
a kind of torture but not "torture."
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 Submarino Telephono 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, arpilleras, a cottage industry, was
developed: tapestries made into patchwork depictions of
Chilean life. Working-class women create arpilleras,
churches sell them abroad. One in particular shows miniature
Mothers of the Disappeared who have chained themselves to the
Santiago Police Academy fence. Over their hearts are photos
of their loved ones--the women hold up a banner: Aqui se
tortura/here they torture! Behind them are multicolored
Andes and a smiling sun. The last figure is truncated,
except for her arm, clenched into a diminutive, but
unmistakable, upraised fist.
*The italicized text is adapted from "Proclamations Issued by the Chilean Military Junta," Latin American Revolutionary Poetry, Robert Marquez, ed. (New York: Monthly Review Press) 1974.
Maggie Jaffee has poetry recently accepted by G.W. Review, Visions International, Without Halos, Free Lunch, sub-Terrain, and Gypsy. She is co-author of 1492: What It Means to Be Discovered (Monthly Review Press) and art editor of Fiction International. Viet Nam Generation, Inc. published her 1991 book of poetry, Continuous Performance.