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The fire this time
Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver Velez

It only takes a spark to start a fire.

Especially when there is plenty of tinder just waiting to become a conflagration.

How many years do the embers smoulder waiting to erupt anew into a maelstrom of discontent and destruction?

In the case of England 30 years has only been a brief moment in time.

It was thirty years ago that the Brixton uprisings occurred.  

And now London is in flames again.

I don't know how many of you know the history.  I probably wouldn't know much of it myself if it weren't for two chance occurrences.

Long ago I never really thought about Britan much at all, except as a land of royalty, the triangle slave trade and colonies, the Beatles and Rolling Stones.  I certainly didn't think of it as the home of black folks.

The rise of the Black Power Movement and Black Panther Party here in the US,  had wider consequences than just in the USA and though there was no internet, facebook or twitter at the time, the news media, underground left newspapers and books spread the word and found fertile soil in England.

And so Britan gained its own Panther Party "The Brixton Panthers".

Here are some of the members of the
Brixton Black Panthers:
Althea Jones -medical doctor
Farukh Dhondi -broadcaster and writer
David Udah -church minister
Darcus Howe -broadcaster
Keith Spencer -community activist
Leila Hussain -community activist
Olive Morris -community activist
Liz Turnbull- community activist
Mala Sen -author
Beverly Bryan -academic and writer
Linton Kwesi Johnson -writer and musician
Neil Kenlock -photographer and founder
of Choice FM London

This quote from an interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson published in 1998 by
Classical Reggae Interviews, describes the work and ethos of the Brixton Black Panthers: "It was an organization that came in to combat racial oppression, to combat
police brutality, to combat injustices in the courts against black people, to combat
discrimination at the place of work, to combat the mis-education of black youths and black young people.

These names may ring no bell for us here in the U.S.-but they had an impact on young people affected by both the rigid class system in the UK and the growing racist opposition to a growing population of people of color.


Olive Morris

Olive was a member of the British Black Panthers, as well as a founding member of the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) and the Brixton Black Women’s Group. The breadth of her political work went from her pioneer role in the local squatter campaigns in South London, through to organizing with Black women and the student movement in London and Manchester, to supporting liberation movements in the Third World.


Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton Kwesi Johnson (aka LKJ) (born 24 August 1952, Chapelton, Jamaica) is a UK-based dub poet. He became the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Classics series. His poetry involves the recitation of his own verse in Jamaican Patois over dub-reggae, usually written in collaboration with renowned British reggae producer/artist Dennis Bovell.

Johnson studied for a degree in sociology at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, London (graduating in 1973),[2] which currently holds his personal papers in its archives; in 2004 he became an Honorary Visiting Professor of Middlesex University in London. In 2005 he was awarded a silver Musgrave medal from the Institute of Jamaica for distinguished eminence in the field of poetry. While still at school he joined the British Black Panther Movement, helped to organize a poetry workshop within the movement, and developed his work with Rasta Love, a group of poets and drummers. Most of Johnson's poetry is political, dealing mainly with the experiences of being an African-Caribbean in Britain, "Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon...", he told an interviewer in 2008. However, he has also written about other issues, such as British foreign policy or the death of anti-racist marcher Blair Peach. His most celebrated poems were written during the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The poems contain graphic accounts of the alleged racist police brutality occurring at the time (cf. Sonny's Lettah).

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Inglan Is A Bitch

We had Panthers in Britan, Panthers in France and Panthers in Germany. In 1971 I left the US to head to Algiers to join the international section of the BPP in Algeria, and to travel in Europe with Kathleen Cleaver, where I met European Panthers, and black nationalists- some born in the Caribbean and others from Africa.

We had riots or rebellions (use whichever term you wish) here in the U.S. sparked by untenable racial and economic conditions in Harlem and Detroit, and others after the assassination of MLK. No surprise then that in "merry olde England"  several communities ignited over similar conditions and concerns.

Uprising sparked a wave of revolt

The flames rose above Brixton, home to one of the largest black communities in London, for two nights on 10-11 April 1981. Police struggled to crush the uprising against their own racist brutality and against poverty. Over 7,000 police officers, a third of the Metropolitan force, did eventually regain control. But Brixton rose again at the beginning of July 1981 alongside young people in inner cities across Britain. The first Brixton riot was the most severe urban disorder in post-war British history up to that point. It terrified Margaret Thatcher's deeply unpopular government and the wider establishment. It inspired a spirit of resistance to police thugs in inner city areas which continues to this day. And it struck a powerful blow for unity between black and white working class people.

Racism from the police triggered the Brixton riot and those that followed in the summer of 1981. But it was not a "race riot"-a war of white against black. It was a class riot of the poor and dispossessed. The police launched a massive operation in Brixton four days before the riot. They poured in 100 extra plainclothes officers as part of "Operation Swamp 81". At the same time they were refusing to seriously investigate a fire in Deptford, a few miles away, which had killed 13 young black people three months before. In four days the police in Brixton stopped 943 people and arrested 118, over half of them black. Then on Friday evening, 10 April, the police bundled Michael Bailey, a 19 year old black man who was bleeding from a stab wound, into a police car. No ambulance was called. A crowd gathered. The police car did not move. So people freed him and the police attacked them. Running battles continued for hours. Plainclothes and uniformed police stepped up the repression the following day. They arrested a 28 year old black man who was waving at a friend in Atlantic Road. "Black and white people went over to try and help, but in the end six policemen threw him in a van," said an eyewitness. "By now everyone was angry." Police steamed into the crowds of Saturday shoppers. That's when the battle started. Years of burning anger poured out.

Afro-Caribbean people were just 6 percent of London's population. They accounted for 44 percent of those arrested under the "sus" stop and search law in the late 1970s. Unemployment was soaring and the official figure was to reach three million (an underestimate) in the summer of 1981. Young people were hardest hit, and black young people especially so. Some 55 percent of black men under the age of 19 in Brixton were officially unemployed. Twelve months earlier 2,000 people-two thirds black, one third white-had rioted in St Pauls, Bristol, after a police raid on a club. Now people in Brixton fought back too. They turned burnt out police vans into barricades. Police came under fire from petrol bombs on Leeson Road, the first time they were widely used in Britain. The press spoke of mindless violence. It was anything but. Some 61 police vehicles were damaged or destroyed, as against only 19 private vehicles. The Windsor Castle pub went up in flames-people had complained for years about its racist door policy. A bus was hijacked and driven at the police. Scores of shops were looted. Other buildings such as the community-based Social Action Centre were left alone. Scarlet Macguire, a journalist for the IRN news agency, reported, "Everyone I spoke to lived within three or four blocks of where I was at the time. There was organisation. All the people I spoke to were politically aware. They hated the way they were treated, the way the police have provoked and harassed them for years. This wasn't a race riot. It was really cut and dried. It was the community against the police."

I went to England in 1981 - no longer as an active Panther,  but as the Executive Director of the Black Filmmaker Foundation to attend a black activist film festival in London organized by Parminder Vir.

Producer Parminder Vir was born in India but, at the age of ten, joined her father in Southampton, England, along with her mother and two sisters...Throughout her career, Vir has championed ethnic and cultural diversity in the film and television industry, spearheading the Cultural Diversity Network, an industry-wide organization committed to diversity in output and employment


Parminder Vir

Much to my surprise - when we arrived in London many of the black filmmakers who awaited us were not "black" by our US definition - most were South Asian.


United Black Youth League

How curious. The phenomenon of South Asians defining themselves as "black" was very different from the situation in the US.  Parmindir took us to visit "black" communities - like Brixton, and also "black" communities like Bradford, where we met community activists, artists and organizers.  As a consequence I paid attention to the case of the Bradford 12, which reminded me of our US Panther 21 case.


The eruptions in Britan caused by police brutality and racial inequity in 1981 resulted in a government response called The Scarman Report

According to the Scarman report, the riots were a spontaneous outburst of built-up resentment sparked by particular incidents. Lord Scarman stated that "complex political, social and economic factors" created a "disposition towards violent protest". The Scarman report highlighted problems of racial disadvantage and inner-city decline, warning that "urgent action" was needed to prevent racial disadvantage becoming an "endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society".

Scarman found unquestionable evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of 'stop and search' powers by the police against black people. The report details the use of arbitrary roadblocks, the stopping and searching of pedestrians and mass detention (943 stops, 118 arrests and 75 charges). Operation Swamp 81 was conducted by the police without any consultation with the community or the home-beat officers. Liaison arrangements between police, community and local authority had collapsed before the riots and according to the Scarman report, the local community mistrusted the police and their methods of policing. Scarman recommended changes in training and law enforcement, and the recruitment of more ethnic minorities into the police force. According to the report "institutional racism" did not exist and positive discrimination to tackle racial disadvantage was "a price worth paying".


A  side-effect of the report had an impact on British media - which had few people of color on the telly or the silver screen.

In part, the 1981 civil disturbances and ensuing Scarman Report, which highlighted the cultural marginalisation of the UK’s ethnic minorities, forced a review of funding and cultural policies towards black arts practitioners in the public sphere. In 1982, Channel 4 was launched with a specific multicultural remit for minority audiences, further creating the framework for its subsequent support of British independent and black film-making throughout the 1980s and onwards with Film on Four. The now-defunct Greater London Council, other local authorities and arts organisations also initiated funding, training and development programmes for black people in the film industry. In 1983, for example, the GLC staged the ‘Third Eye’ film exhibition of rarely seen Third World and black films.

The Workshop Declaration of 1981, which enlisted the backing of Channel 4, the BFI, the GLC and other arts and trade organisations, supported grant-aided film and video workshops and collectives within the independent film sector. Meanwhile, independent production companies such as Kuumba Productions, Azad Productions and Social Film and Video undertook commissions in the commercially viable private sector. Sankofa Film Collective, Black Audio Film Collective, Ceddo and British Asian outfit Retake were among those whose theory orientated first-generation media and film school graduates produced an explosion of experimental black British creativity in the black workshop sector.

Here in the US, the civil rights movement and explosive eruptions affected a similar cosmetic change to the color of media - but underlying conditions of economic systemic racism effected little foundational change.

So 30 years after Brixton there was a spark in Tottenham. Provided by the death of Mark Duggan.


The Guardian reports Doubts emerge over Duggan shooting as London burns

Doubts have emerged over whether Mark Duggan, whose death at the hands of police sparked the weekend's Tottenham riots, was killed during an exchange of fire .
The Guardian understands that initial ballistics tests on a bullet, found lodged in a police radio worn by an officer during Thursday's incident, suggested it was police issue – and therefore had not been fired by Duggan. On Saturday night 26 police officers were injured, eight requiring hospital treatment, in clashes with around 300 rioters in Tottenham that saw buildings and vehicles torched, shops looted and residents forced to flee their homes. Police have arrested 55 people as a major investigation began into the escalation of violence, which followed a peaceful demonstration to demand "justice" for Duggan, 29, a father of four shot dead on Thursday evening after being stopped in a taxi near Tottenham Hale. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has launched an inquiry into the shooting.

Community leaders said they warned Tottenham police immediately before Saturday's rioting that a peaceful protest over the fatal shooting could get out of control. More than 100 people who demanded to see a senior officer at Tottenham police station feared that if they were still there by nightfall it could cause problems in an area with tensions running high. Stafford Scott, a community organiser who accompanied the family of the shot man, said: "If a senior police officer had come to speak to us, we would have left. We arrived at 5pm, we had planned a one-hour silent protest. We were there until 9pm. Police were absolutely culpable. Had they been more responsive when we arrived at the police station, asking for a senior officer to talk with the family, we would have left the vicinity before the unrest started."It is unforgivable police refused dialogue. We know the history here – how can Tottenham have a guy killed by police on Thursday, and resist requests for dialogue from the community 48 hours later?"
There were also claims police were warned on Thursday night and Friday morning by people with knowledge of Tottenham there could be "significant" community reaction to Duggan's death.

Duggan's fiancee, Semone Wilson, 29, said the family had not wanted trouble, only answers. "When we were outside the police station last night we wanted someone to come out. We want some answers. I have not even told my children that he is dead because we cannot give them any answers." Of the violence, Wilson said: "I am not happy about what has happened. We didn't want this trouble. We wanted some answers."

Duggan's brother spoke to the press:

And the flames spread.

Ask yourselves...why riots or rebellions?  Are all young people simply thugs, gang bangers and looters? (read news comments sections sprinkled liberally with other terms like "animals" and n-words)

I say there are two underlying factors which cannot be ignored.  No one likes their neighborhoods to burn.  No one applauds violence.  But no one seems to be willing to deal with the fact that unless underlying causes are dealt with, the fires will continue to erupt on both sides of the pond.

Let's take a closer look.

2009  racial demographics
White  45,313,300 87.5%
Asian or Asian British 3,166,800 6.0%
Black or Black British 1,521,400 2.9%
Mixed 1.31%  956,700 1.9%

Now add in the current economic conditions for youth.

Half of young black people unemployed, says report

Almost half of black people aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed, compared with 20% of white people of the same age, a think tank has claimed.The left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research said a survey of 7,200 young people showed a wide variation in unemployment by ethnic group. Black unemployment had risen 13% since March 2008, compared with 8% among white people and 6% among Asians.

Campaigners said action was needed from government to help the black community.
The IPPR report came as official figures showed that the total number of people out of work had unexpectedly fallen by 7,000 in the three months to November.
'Lost generation'
The think tank looked at data from the Labour Force Survey - a quarterly sample of about 60,000 households. Within that, it examined the responses of 16 to 24-year-olds - a total of 7,200 in November 2009. It said mixed ethnic groups had seen the biggest increases in youth unemployment since the recession began, rising from 21% to 35% in the period. That trend echoed the recession in the early 1990s, it added, where unemployment among ethnic minorities rose by 10%, compared with a 6% increase overall.In terms of individual groups, 48% of black people, 31% of Asians and 20% of whites reported that they were out of work.

Lisa Harker, co-director of the IPPR, said the findings were a "worrying reminder" that those from ethnic minorities or with fewer qualifications were "far more likely to become part of a generation lost to unemployment and disadvantage".
"If a quarter of adult males don't work for 10-20 years, it doesn't give communities much aspiration"Jeremy Crook, Black Training and Enterprise Group

Over a year ago activists and community organizers issued a warning, among them was Lee Jasper:

Young Black and Betrayed: Black youth unemployment is through the roof.

He said: “UK inner city Black youth are in crisis. We are seeing a serious increase in widespread disaffection. Black youths lack hope for their future for want of opportunity today. The spectre of failure now haunts over half of our young people.
“A Government that has no effective response to this issue is now consigning another generation to the scrap heap. “Black youth unemployment needs to be reduced by 30% when compared to White young people. The UK is replicating the experience of many American cities during the 1980s; we are creating inner city ghettoes.“The Government has a real opportunity to act and urgently need’s to set out clear policies for tackling this issue in its forthcoming Equality Bill.

“Black youth in the UK are locked out of opportunity by the edifice of racism in the labour market and the collapse of educational standards; they are first class youth but are being treated as third class citizens. “If we are to avoid a very bad situation getting much worse then the introduction of affirmative action is the only realistic solution to this deeply entrenched problem.
“Northern Ireland has such legislation and as a result the unemployment rates of both Protestants and Roman Catholics fell dramatically over the period 1992 to 2008.
We have a comparable youth unemployment rate now as Catholics had when this legislation was re introduced 1990’s.“We have never recovered from the effects of the recession of the 1990s and if affirmative action is good enough for Catholic community in Northern Ireland then its good enough for British Black Youth.”

Unemployment + Racism + perceived police brutality = fire.

It's simple.

And so we have the fire this time.

It won't be the last.

                                  News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
Scenes featuring pocket-size furniture and dolls aim to show both the dark and bright sides of black history. The miniature museum travels through L.A. classrooms and will soon have a permanent home in Leimert Park Village. LA Times: Shadow boxes shed light on African American history

Martin Luther King Jr., she admits, looked a little funny at first.

His head was too big, his cheekbones were too low, his eyes were kind of lopsided. And his lower lip?

"Let's not even go there," Karen Collins, 60, said with a laugh.

On her third try, she finally got him just right.

Her pint-size creations fill nearly every inch of her living room in Compton. On her carpet slaves in chains await their transatlantic voyage. On her fireplace mantel, protesters gather for the Montgomery bus boycott. And on her entertainment center, Malcolm X preaches to the Nation of Islam.

She calls it the African American Miniature Museum, and it took her nearly 15 years to build. Soon, she will have a permanent display place at Leimert Park Village.

Most days, no one witnesses the history but Collins and her husband, Ed Lewis — and every so often, a grandchild who by now knows better than "to go messing with Nana's museum."

Collins crafted it, scene by scene, inside shadow boxes of all sizes to share with schools across Los Angeles as a traveling history channel. Several times a year, she and Lewis rent a truck and haul the collection to classrooms in Compton, Inglewood and South L.A., where kids giddily line up, fascinated with every miniature detail.

"Terror by Night" is the title of this shadow box by Karen Collins. It illustrates the role of the KKK in black history. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times / August 7, 2011)

Ta-Nehisi Coates as always with his biting commentary. The Atlantic: A Modest Proposal

Reading this.....

Overshadowed by Harlem's racial metamorphosis since 2000, an even more striking evolution has occurred in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Over all, the neighborhood is now barely 60 percent black -- down from 75 percent a decade ago. But in the older Bedford section west of Throop Avenue, according to the 2010 census, blacks have recently become a minority of the population for the first time in 50 years.

And thinking back on this, by the same writer...

In greater Harlem, which runs river to river, and from East 96th Street and West 106th Street to West 155th Street, blacks are no longer a majority of the population -- a shift that actually occurred a decade ago, but was largely overlooked.

By 2008, their share had declined to 4 in 10 residents. Since 2000, central Harlem's population has grown more than in any other decade since the 1940s, to 126,000 from 109,000, but its black population -- about 77,000 in central Harlem and about twice that in greater Harlem -- is smaller than at any time since the 1920s.

It occurs to me that we really need a world with more murders, more failing schools, more grocery stores with rotting vegetables, more bodegas with old milk, more teen-pregnancy, more homeless, more crack, more heroin, more fathers on the lam, more disease, more joblessness, and generally, more death. And we need to concentrate every one of those those ills in black neighborhoods.

We have seen the enemy, and it is change. Clearly the only way to preserve black neighborhoods from the scourge of white people is to render them as post-Apocalyptic as possible. It's not even enough to roll them back to the days of Jim Crow--that would mean an actual black middle class in Bed-Stuy and Columbia Heights, and great jazz clubs in Harlem.

 If more progressive movements thought about inclusion at their genesis moment many of these discussions wouldn't be needed. Colorlines:  Is the SlutWalk Movement Relevant For a Black Feminist?

Since late May, various people have been asking me to weigh in on the growing SlutWalk movement. (A typical text: “Hey girl! Have you heard about this sluts walk [sic]? Wld love to hear your take!” Less typical, but still worth citing: “People are confused about why you’re not writing about SlutWalk. It’s big news and you seem to be ignoring it.”)

I’ll tell you (part of) what I told them: I haven’t publicly shared my thoughts and feelings about SlutWalk because they’re not coherent—yet.

Still, my ambivalence is no excuse for a lack of coverage. It started in April as a Toronto-based activist response to a male public safety officer who told a group of college women they could avoid rape by not dressing like sluts. It is now truly global. Local organizers have raised funds, secured space, and gathered crowds throughout Canada and the U.S. Folks have hit the streets of Brisbane, Sao Paulo, Copenhagen and Praha, Czechoslovakia. There are March de las Putas in the works in Mexico City and Buenos Aires. Hong Kong is on board. At the rate this movement is growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled off SlutWalk Mars.

Tomorrow, Philadelphia (my hometown) will host its first SlutWalk. Speakers include Qui Alexander, a black and Latino trans community health educator; Deepa Kumar, an Indian media studies professor and author; and the city’s own Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a black lesbian feminist filmmaker and sexual violence survivor.

I chatted with Simmons about how and why she got down with the SlutWalk movement. Excerpts of that conversation below:

After half a century of oil spills, Nigeria's troubled Niger Delta is one of the most polluted places on Earth, and it could take $1 billion and 30 years to clean up the mess, a U.N. report says. LA Times: Nigeria oil spills have created ecological disaster, report says

After half a century of oil spills, Nigeria's troubled Niger Delta is one of the most polluted places on Earth, and it could take $1 billion and 30 years to clean up the mess, according to a U.N. report released Thursday.

A 14-month study by the United Nations Environment Program that was commissioned by the Nigerian government examined 200 locations and 75 miles of pipeline, more than 4,000 soil and water samples and the medical reports of 5,000 people.
"Pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed," the report says. Some areas that seemed unaffected on the surface are severely contaminated underground and need urgent action to protect the health of fishing and farming communities, it says.

The Nigerian government says there were more than 7,000 oil spills from 1970 to 2000. The U.N. agency handed its report Thursday to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

The drinking water in at least 10 communities had high levels of dangerous hydrocarbons, and in one village, about half an inch of refined oil was floating on groundwater used by villagers for drinking. The level of carcinogenic benzene in the drinking water at the village, Nisisioken Ogale, was 900 times World Health Organization standards.

The Ogoni people have struggled to get compensation for the damage caused by oil production since the early 1990s, a movement headed by Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed in 1995 by the military government, causing international condemnation.

Man on the banks of the Niger delta

Police shooting lead to riots Guardian: Tottenham riots: Police 'had not anticipated' extreme violence

The Metropolitan police has admitted it "had not anticipated" the extreme violence that saw police attacked and buildings and vehicles set alight during sustained rioting in Tottenham, north London.

As questions were asked about the level of policing, Commander Adrian Hanstock said a peaceful vigil by the family of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, who was fatally shot by officers in the area on Thursday, had been "hijacked by mindless thugs" and that the situation had "escalated out of all proportion".

Twenty-six police officers suffered injuries, with eight receiving hospital treatment. Two remained in hospital on Sunday. Three members of the public also required medical attention, with two taken to hospital.

Forty-two people have been arrested for offences including violent disorder, burglary and theft following the torching of buildings, two police cars and a bus, and the ransacking and looting of shops in both Tottenham and nearby Wood Green.

The violence followed a demonstration by members of the community outside Tottenham police station to demand "justice" for the family of Duggan, a father of four, who was shot after police stopped the minicab he was driving in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating the incident, which also saw a police officer shot, the bullet reportedly lodging in his police radio and leaving him with minor injuries.



Voices and Soul


by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

On a sad avenue in a sad part of town; across a hard street of broken bottles and speeding trucks; around the corner and less than a few blocks from the wide boulevards of opulence and amnesia, a determined people trudge and grind and try to make the lives of those around them a little better. They go without and they give up and they help out and they cry. Some are resigned and some are angry, but all are a determined people.

That man there is a silver medal winner; that's the reason he misses his left leg, blown away saving his troops. Can't get a job and who would hire him? That woman stooped and gasping for air, she is the forgotten teacher of six and seven year olds, her husband died five years ago and she was evicted from her house for a mortgage that was already paid. No children of her own and her teacher's pension was mismanaged by a corrupt municipality and now she collects bottles. That tough kid with the filter-tipped cigar, could be the next genetic scientist but he was kicked out of his school and a jet liner because his pants hung too low. Now he has to be tough.

Though they are hungry and beaten and used up by the pedestrians and High-rise economies of opulence and amnesia; they are a determined people.

How can we not love each other? How can we not help? How can we not care?


So proudly she came into the subway car
all who were not reading their newspapers saw
the head high and the slow tread—
coat wrinkled and her belongings in a paper bag,
face unwashed and the grey hair uncombed;

simple soul, who so early in the morning when only the
    poorest go to work,
stood up in the subway and outshouting the noise:
“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, I have a baby at home who
    is sick,
and I have no money, no job;” who did not have box or cap
    to take coins—
only his hands,
and, seeing only faces turned away,
did not even go down the aisle as beggars do;

the fire had burnt through the floor:
machines and merchandise had fallen into  
the great hole, this zero that had sucked away so many years
and now, seen at last, the shop itself;
the ceiling sloped until it almost touched the floor—
    a strange curve
in the lines and oblongs of his life;
drops were falling  
from the naked beams of the floor above,
from the soaked plaster, still the ceiling;
drops of dirty water were falling
on his clothes and hat and on his hands;
the thoughts of business
gathered in his bosom like black water
in footsteps through a swamp;

waiting for a job, she studied the dusty table at which she sat
and the floor which had been badly swept—
the office-boy had left the corners dirty;
a mouse ran in and out under the radiator
and she drew her feet away
and her skirt about her legs, but the mouse went in and out
about its business; and she sat waiting for a job
in an unfriendly world of men and mice;

walking along the drive by twos and threes,
talking about jobs,
jobs they might get and jobs they had had,
never turning to look at the trees or the river
glistening in the sunlight or the automobiles
that went swiftly past them—
in twos and threes talking about jobs;

in the drizzle
four in a row
close to the curb
that passers-by might pass,
the squads stand
waiting for soup,
a slice of bread
and shelter—
grimy clothes
their uniform;
on a stoop
stiffly across the steps
a man
who has fainted;
each in that battalion
eyes him,
but does not move from his place,
well drilled in want.

-- Charles Reznikoff


The Front Porch is now open.  Pull up a chair, grab a bite to eat, relax and chat with us for a while.

Originally posted to Black Kos on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 12:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community.

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