a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Walter Holland


Bar on 52nd

(“Therapy,” gay bar, NYC, January 2020)

 

Auden, you would have understood

the bright array of colored lights,

the drinks set just so on the bar, and men

side by side engaged in close conversations

or other men sitting by themselves,

perusing the semi-darkness

seekers of a body, a body

to shelter with at morning;

though for you I knew

there was less festivity,

laughter, ease

of an open community.

Would you feel the moment’s irony?

The sad gathering of fear, the unease of authoritarianism

the world gone perversely toward hatred, a disregard for suffering,

a carelessness toward truth. Menace has returned, Auden,

outside this bar, the City towers glow, high-rise silhouettes, brilliant as crystalline gems

and ornamental circuitries, reminding me of Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s old movie, that epitome of

futuristic dystopia, a foreseeing

of economic repression—a film I once found laughable, its melodramatic symbolism—

its hyper-Expressionistic design. But time is unkind to those of us now grown old,

who’ve passed our shelf-lives, outlived friends, and seen the harsh ascent of change,

Lang’s flickering frames in color-painted celluloid proceed 20th century terrors,

genocide, atrocity, technology,

the mechanization of the human, the outsourcing

of minds.

Auden, these lights tonight

distant, more points of vast alienation,

far-off signals, warnings from the dispossessed

codes sent of absence.

For every bright window, a cardboard box, a heap of clothes, excrement

and plastic bags—

optionless borders

or steel cages,

and so much more

I must ignore.

And in this tapered cocktail,

its radiance a kind of jarring elegance

a forfeiture

a way

of freely forgetting.


1619, The White Lion, Point Comfort, Va.

(For Barry Donald Jones)

 

Four hundred years, since your ancestors arrived at Fort Monroe.

Waves and surf and sand, the strange greenery and climate of the New World,

 

sights they’d never seen, after weeks at sea on a slave ship, far below deck,

no light, just the stifling heat, chains and stench and what they’d now become,

 

animals, beasts of burden, corralled and marched one by one onto the morning’s shoreline—

seized from a Portuguese ship, exchanged for much-needed food, “20 odd Negroes,”

 

carted off from Angola. Deemed indentured servants, they finally bought

their freedom from that hard labor by bowing to the Christian God.

 

Such was their lot, stranded in that colony, less persecuted than in years

to come; that is when their worth as cheap labor drove the industry

 

of “chattel slavery,” the trafficking of Africans from Senegal, Gambia,

Guinea, Sierra Leone—the fresh arrivals ploughing up fields, digging

 

furrow next to furrow, then sowing seeds—for whom? Europe’s neediness?

Cotton, corn, tobacco, rum? Sugar to sweeten the White man’s tongue? Coffee,

 

spice, and servitude, harnessed by the South as capital—four-hundred years

and not a day they didn’t pay for that ruthless trade, their lives someone’s profit;

 

no trace of past, history, or freedom—brilliant minds abused for the color of

their skin, for which the colonials attributed savagery, their inability

 

to surmount Man’s dark Original Sin—inferior, unclean heathens, likenesses

to the Devil;  Blackness from a lower evolution; less capable of civilized behavior—

 

“Get out of the car!”; “Stand back!”; be shot as some “likely threat.” Placed

 

in a chokehold, without

 

breath

 

—in the airless hold; lain from head to foot and foot to

 

neck.

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Walter Holland, Ph.D., is the author of three books of poetry “Circuit” (Chelsea Station Editions, 2010), “Transatlantic,” (Painted Leaf Press, 2001), “A Journal of the Plague Years: Poems 1979–1992” (Magic City Press, 1992) as well as a novel, “The March” (Chelsea Station Editions, 2011). His short stories have been published in “Art and Understanding,” “Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly,” and “Rebel Yell.” Some of his poetry credits include: “Antioch Review,” “Art and Understanding,” “Barrow Street,” “Chiron Review,” “Cimarron Review,” The Cream City Review,” “Found Object,” “Pegasus,” and “Phoebe.” He lives in New York City.



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