Skip to main content

"I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed...It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history!"

-- George Bush addressing troops in Afghanistan by videoconference in Crawford, Texas 14 March 2008.

The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon death's purple altar now,
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb;
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

-- James Shirley
"The Glories of our Blood and State"

"What the hell does liberty mean anyhow? It's just a word like house or table or any other word. Only it's a special kind of word. A guy says house and he can point to a house to prove it. But a guy says come on let's fight for liberty and he can't show you liberty. He can't prove the thing he's talking about so how in the hell can he be telling you to fight for it?"

-- Dalton Trumbo
"Johnny Got His Gun"

A Windy Day In Normandy

by

Justice Putnam

Your floral-print dress
A breeze across fields
Of Sunflower and Lavender

You told me the story
Of the tragedy of
Your family

Your grandfather on
His mailman bicycle
The delivery of
Resistance correspondence

The fear of discovery

(The inevitable retaliation
Against the village

An Uncle hung
In the Square
A few weeks short
Of the liberation)

I watched your tears
As you prayed near
The soldier multitude of
White crosses and
The occasional
Star of David

Here and there even
An alabaster Crescent Moon

You cried for them all
As the tournesol
Faced West

Your dress clung in folds

And your red hair
Framed the History
Of your familial grief

(Saint Ceneri, France, 1994)

from: "The Nature of Poetics Collapsed Outside My Window"

© 2005 Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches Strophe-Verlagswesen

********************

A Daughter’s Letter Home

words and music
by Justice Putnam

Dear Mama
I’m writing to tell you
About something that happened
The other day

But first
I just wanted to tell you

That I love you
In the most
Special way.

No one’s had
A better Mama
I thank you for teaching me
To stand on my own

I know it’s been
Six months since
I’ve written

You must be wonderin’
What I’ve done since
I left home.

Dear Mama
Your little girl’s
A soldier

I know you
Thought that I
Ran off to elope

But I went
Two counties over
There’s a recruiting office
Out on Stansfield Road

At first I thought
Now I can pay
For some schoolin’

Maybe later on
I’ll teach a grade or two

I know it’s been
Six months since
I’ve written

You must wonder
What it is
Now that I do

Dear Mama
I signed up for engineering
But they got me
Changing tank parts

That I grease
And lube

I’m part of what’s
Known as a
Task Group

We’re All-American
Soldiers with
The right attitude

But Mama
I’ve seen things
They say
I cannot tell you

What I’ve seen
Would make even
Uncle Robert cry

I know it’s been
Six month’s since
I’ve written

You must be
Shakin’ your head
And wonderin’ why.

Dear Mama
What I wrote
To tell you

Is that something
Terrible happened
The other day

The convoy
I was driving
Passed through
A little village

A bomb exploded
It blew off my leg.

No one’s had
A better Mama
I thank you for teaching me
To stand on my own

I know it’s been
Six months since
I’ve written

You must be
Wonderin’ when
I’ll be comin’ home.

(instrumental)

(spoken) "Dear Mrs. Anderson,
My name is Lt. Torrence Jones

Your daughter was
Among a group of
Wounded soldiers
On a plane being
Evac’d home

There’s no other way to
Say this
But her plane was
Hit by a mortar round

I’m so sorry
To inform you

But this letter
Was the only thing
Of her found

No commander could
Of had a better soldier
She impressed us all
How she stood on
Her own

I’m supposed to save
This letter
For some higher-up
For later

But I thought
It better
That I mailed
It home."

(tacet) Dear Mama
Your little girl is

Coming home.

© 2005 by Justice Putnam
Fleur de Sel Musique
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

**********************

Bless Me Father

words and music by
Justice Putnam

Bless me Father
For I have sinned

It’s been so long
Since my
Last Confession

Give me penance Father
I’m on bended knee
My heart is crying

No amount of Hail Mary’s
Or Acts of Contrition
Can Absolve me.

I gave my parents
A lot of grief
But that doesn’t compare
To my evil deed

Give me penance Father
I’m on bended knee
My heart is crying

One summer’s night
I stole a neighbor’s purse
But Father I’ve done
Something so much worse

Give me penance Father
I’m on bended knee
My heart is crying

Really Father I’ve tried
To live an honest life
And I know I haven’t
Really done things right

Give me penance Father
I’m on bended knee
My heart is crying

I’ve been known to carouse
Like a soldier will
But my sin
Is so much bigger still

Give me penance Father
I’m on bended knee
My heart is crying

Somewhere near
The Tigris River
Somewhere north
Old Baghdad

Lies an old woman
In widow’s shrouds

I shot her dead.

The Sarge said
It’s kill or be killed
But Father still
I shot her dead.

Bless me Father
For I have sinned

It’s been so long
Since my
Last Confession

Give me penance Father
I’m on bended knee
My heart is crying

No amount of Hail Mary’s
Or Acts of Contrition
Can Absolve me.

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

*****************

Josephine

words and music by
Justice Putnam

Josephine
Josephine
I’m pleading
With Josephine

(m/8) Taking the steps
Down to the sea
Somewhere along
The coast of Normandy

Where the white
Fossil sands
Churned turbulently

Where men rushed
Into battle
And died violently

Whose last
Dying breath
Was to plead with

Josephine
Josephine
I’m pleading
With Josephine

(m/8) Could be
The grasslands
Of the Sioux

No matter
Which side
They were on
They were all
Thinking of you

Could be in
In the South Pacific
Or the Persian Gulf
An Indonesian jungle
Or an Arctic hut

Could be in a
Manhattan penthouse
Or a cold water den

(coda) We’ll all grasp
At that last
Bit of hope
In the end with

Josephine
Josephine
I’m pleading
With Josephine

(tacet) Josephine
Take me
Home

© 2005 Justice Putnam
Fleur du Sel Musique
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

***************************

The Four Forty Second

by

Justice Putnam

"Here my first doubt of American democracy crept into the far corners of my heart with the sting that I could not forget. Having had absolute confidence in democracy, I could not believe my very eyes what I had seen that day. America, the standard bearer of democracy had committed the most heinous crime in its history."

– Joseph Yoshisuke Kurihara, Manzanar Detainee and Lieutenant 442nd.

Thomas Matsui hadn’t slept for almost 46 hours. The Italians had long stopped the fight, but the Nazis kept at it. Mortar shells exploded nearby with a frightening consistency. The rocky Italian hillside bucked and rolled with each explosion.

Battle has an uncanny affect on a soldier; it becomes a kind of tedium. The first month of a soldier’s battle is the worst, it all being so new. The mortality rate is highest during that first month. After six months, with bombs exploding around the battlement, a soldier will daydream.

Thomas Matsui thought of his family’s orange and avocado orchards rustling in the warm coastal breeze. He thought of the smell of his mother cooking rice in the farmhouse just above Pacific Coast Highway near Balboa. He conjured his father in the workshop, standing at the grinding wheel, sharpening the tools.

These were daydreams that made the tedium of battle tolerable. But Thomas Matsui had other daydreams that were not so idyllic.

He saw his parents crestfallen from the notice tacked on the farmhouse. Civilian Exclusion Order Number 33 gave only two days to sell the farm before the Military evacuated them to the camp in Montana. He remembered the offer that came from The Irvine Company later that day. Mere pennies on the dollar for what the farm was worth.

He remembered the drive to the Civilian Control Station in Los Angeles, his mother crying the whole thirty miles. Twenty years growing avocados and oranges; all gone in a day. Twenty years and all the possessions acquired; gone in a day. Only allowed bedding and linens, some kitchen utensils and clothes; twenty years of Thomas Matsui’s life was spent on that farm. He was born there. It was lost in a day.

The Nazis increased the frequency of the mortar attack and shook Thomas Matsui out of his reverie. He knew Marines on the other end of the hillside were getting the brunt of the bombing. The Four Forty Second though, were well hid and dug in. Soon the bombing would cease and the real battle would commence. There would be no time to daydream then.

Thomas Matsui chuckled at the memory of the military recruiter who came to his camp that Thursday in June. How fresh-faced and upright he was; the perfect embodiment of American righteousness. Thomas and his family had been at the camp for a month and life was a brutal series of bad weather and racist guards. The chance to escape that prison, with the hopeful promise of making his parent’s life easier was too great to pass up. If he fought hard and patriotically, maybe the war would end sooner and his parents would no longer be incarcerated.

But the farm and all they had was lost. No, not really lost, in effect stolen. But that did not matter any longer. He wanted this war to end so his parents would not suffer any more.

The mortar attack suddenly stopped. Thomas Matsui shouldered his rifle and aimed down the hillside.

The real battle was about to begin.

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

****************************

I Have No Mouth

by

Justice Putnam

"Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment."

-- Harlan Ellison
"I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream"

"Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr."
(From the Cornish, "the tongueless man gets his land took."

--Tony Harrison
"National Trust"

I had to, don’t you see? You’d do the same if you were in my place, and a lot sooner too! I’d tell you if I could, but as you can see, one of the conditions of my release is that my mouth has been surgically removed.

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take standing for hours, the threats of beatings. Oh, they beat me, for sure. Early on the beatings were constant, so much that you expected them, so a mere threat was enough for some of us to literally piss our pants. I couldn’t take being forced awake after just a few seconds of sleep in seventy hours? Or was it a hundred? Did I sleep only an hour ago?

Don’t you see? This is what they have done to a man! I have lost all sense of time; a minute is a year and a year is a mere minute! Damn! Why won’t you listen to me? I’m blinking my eyes in Morse code! If you would just listen, you’d see that I am talking to you!

The first time they let me see the sky was after five months of darkness! They let me see the full moon, I only know this now, but at the time I thought it was the sun at noon! It was that bright and blinding and painful.

There are so many things I want to tell you, I want to tell you about the years of abuse, I want to tell you how they break a man to confess to killing God, how they can make you confess to crimes committed by ancestors twenty years ago. I want to tell you about why I chose to have my mouth removed so I could go home.

In fact, I planned this long ago. That’s why I taught myself Morse code. I started to teach myself sign language, but I was caught and isolated for another year and a half, or was it longer? Damn it! This is what they do! I see now on all the legal documents how long I was isolated at different times during my imprisonment. A year one time then out for four months, isolated for two years and then out for only three weeks, then another year long isolation.

It went on and on and on like that. So I taught myself how to blink my eyes in Morse code because I knew they would remove my mouth! I know they are fighting a war and wars are messy. I knew I had a story to tell and I would tell it, no matter what! If you would just listen, I’d tell you one.

In fact, I was not even a soldier. I only drove some soldiers to an airport in my cab! I even had the paperwork to prove it! It was that paperwork that convicted me, I see. The new laws they passed said I helped those soldiers by driving them to the airport.

Why won’t you listen to me? It’s so obvious! Look! Dot, dash, dot! Damn it, and all that follows! Someone has to know Morse code, here! Why won’t you listen to me? I’m looking right at you! Listen!

"Hey Sarge," the young reservist called to the military contractor, "look at that one there."

"Yeah," the military contractor, replied, "that one just got out of iso this morning and is being prepped for another cycle in a day and a half."

"But Sarge?" the young reservist asked, "what’s with his face?"

"That was one of the earlier ones we picked up," the military contractor informed, "the worst of the worse. After a while these little mama’s boys admitted to anything we wanted, which proved that they were capable of anything. But we also got tired of hearing day after day how they did this or they did that just so’s they can go home to their mamas. So we had one of our plastic surgeon contractors do a number on these slime ball’s mouths!"

"But what’s up with the eyes?"

"Oh, that!" the military contractor laughed, "one of our company’s division vice presidents for procurement made that call. Since we were moving these slime balls from one prison to another and we didn’t want them to know where they were; and also since all of them would be in isolation, it was decided it was more cost effective to just sew their eyes shut. Some of them don’t even know, they look around just like they can see, just like that one!"

"When does this one go back to iso?" the young reservist was looking at the prisoner’s chart.

"A day and a half." The military contractor replied.

© 2007 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

*******************************

To Give a Little Humanity

by

Justice Putnam

"We had orders to obey the head of state.  We weren't a band of criminals meeting in the woods in the dead of night to plan mass murders."

--Hermann Goering
"Nuremburg Transcripts 5 Jan 46"

"I was given this assignment which I could not refuse--and besides, I did everything possible to treat the transferee’s well."

--Fritz Sauckel
"Nuremburg Transcripsts 23 Feb 46"

Yes, yes your Honors. I remember the boy, he was the most reticent I’d seen pass through the transfer camp. Yes, yes, quite unlike all the other children. He was most difficult. You see we were mandated by the High Command to put these children at ease before they were transferred. So we used many means to elicit some kind of benign emotion. To see a young one cry or to laugh meant we were successful. It would not do for them to be transferred as mere zombies. We are not cruel nor are we uncivilized. We never tried to make those children unconscious about their lives; we wanted them to be awake and aware, as all children must be taught.

All the others had no success with him. He neither cried nor smiled; he didn’t play with the other children. He was mostly by himself but always, always, awake or asleep, he kept his right fist tight and clenched.

I was called in after a few days. The next transfer scheduled was only two days after that. I offered him candies and he refused any; unlike any of the other children that have passed through the camp the last year. My! He was the talk of Camp! I asked him to relax, I said that he would be taken care of and had nothing to worry about. I assured him that he would be with his parents soon and if he could just unclench his fist, we’d shake on it.

That reticent little boy ran away! No, normally, normally that would not do. Any other child would have been punished, severely. It will not do for other children to observe such a lack of authority in those circumstances. But this boy was my project and I wanted his laughs or his cries to come without force. I am after all, as I’ve stated before, neither cruel nor uncivilized.

I would sit with him and show photographs of great works of Art the High Command confiscated for protection. I read passages of literary giants from the last few books not burned. Simply being there and feeding him, so to speak, with a firm but learned affection did indeed, yes indeed, calm him.

So like a frightened puppy, that reticent little boy finally began to befriend me. He finally began to speak, to only me mind you, but his little whispers gained some trust in a very short time.

And not a minute too soon. The transfer was only minutes away.

He told me how the authorities apprehended his father one morning a year before. The little one cast his eyes down to the ground as he told me his story; his right fist tight and clenched. He told me of how hungry and sick his mother was; how he would scavenge for some kind of food and bring her some little thing he found.

All the while that reticent little boy told me his story, but his fist remained tight and clenched. I could hear the fires being stoked. The pellets of Zyklon-B were put in place. The children were being lined up for the transfer and I am sure the little boy had an epiphany.

Because he gazed up at me finally and held his right hand out for me to look. Some sad crumbs of an old muffin were moldy on his palm. He had been saving them for his mother, for when he would see her again. He told me she was so hungry and sick.

Then, with tears welling up in his eyes, he said he didn’t think he needed those crumbs anymore. He cried as he was transferred.

You cannot know the sense of accomplishment I had! That little boy faced his transfer with the right amount of humanity mandated by the High Command.

As I’ve said, we are neither cruel nor uncivilized.

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

*********************

Tra La Luna E Tempo
(Between the Moon and Time)

by

Justice Putnam

"Life, thought the naked man, was a hell, with rare moments recalling some ancient paradise."

--Italo Calvino
"Difficult Loves"

I came upon a man
Kneeling in the desert.

He was crying.

I put my hand
On the man's shoulder
And I felt a warmth
Move up my arm

And into my
Heart.

The man
Looked up at me.

I saw that
He was Jesus.

I knew he was Jesus
From all the paintings
I had seen.

He was holding
A dead lamb against
His chest.

The lamb appeared
To have been shot.

The man stood
And faced me.

Blood trickled
Onto his
Bare stomach.

"I feel it all!"

He said,

"All of it!

Nothing passes
That does not pass
Through me!"

The man continued
To cry for
A very
Long time.

I felt water rise up
To my ankles
And over
My knees.

When the water
Had gotten to
Our waists
The man looked
About himself

And let out a
Painful groan,

"I must go now!"

He said,

"I must go!

I cannot stay
In one place
For very long

Or my tears
Will drown
The Earth!

Bless you,"

He said,

As he turned
And walked
Away.

Io venni su un uomo che si
inginocchia nel deserto.

Lui stava piangendo.

Io misi la mia mano sulla spalla dell'uomo
ed io sentii su una mossa di calore il mio braccio

e nel mio cuore.

Gli uomini guardarono
su a me.

Io vidi che lui era Gesù.

Io seppi che lui era Gesù
da tutti i dipinti io avevo visto.

Lui stava contenendo
un agnello morto
contro il suo torace.

L'agnello sembrò
essere stato sparato.

Gli uomini stettero
in piedi e mi affrontarono.

Sangue gocciolò
sopra il
suo stomaco nudo.

"Io lo sento tutti!"

lui disse,

"Tutti di lui!

Nulla passaggi
che non passano
attraverso me!"  

Gli uomini continuarono
a piangere
per un tempo molto lungo.

Io sentii su aumento di acqua
alle mie caviglie
e sui miei ginocchia.

Quando l'acqua era
arrivata alle nostre vite
gli uomini guardarono circa lui e
lasciarono fuori un gemito doloroso,

"Io ora devo andare!"

lui disse,

"io devo andare!

Io non posso stare in un luogo
per molto lungo

o le mie ferite
lacere affogheranno
la Terra!

La benedica,"

lui disse,

come lui girò
e si allontanò.

from: "Philosophy in Tongues" – Section Two "The Unfinished Manuscripts" – Part B "Tra La Luna E Tempo"

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

Originally posted to The Justice Department on Netroots Radio.com on Fri Mar 14, 2008 at 03:07 PM PDT.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site