in the Rat Race Choir
A fragment by Dennis Leroy Moore
Katrin's head was backed up against the
You. You did this!
The guts of her dog created a bloody
reservoir that seemed to spill out in several directions the
more she looked at it.
It was more like an explosion etched in
crimson, forever sealed in the gloomy, unforgiving, and disloyal
sidewalk of the rich and rainy American metropolis.
out of there! The voices demanded with gritted teeth,
clenched fists, and coiled tongues.
are you from? Where are your papers?
Katrin remained frozen as if sealed in
glass, emerging slowly from a thousand year thaw. She really
felt as if she dreaming. It couldn't be real...cause...nothing
was, anymore...She swallowed hard and called out for Douglas.
you bitch! The older and ugly man with a wooden face barked.
up! Why did you do
Katrin could not continue. She began to cry
and then punished herself secretly for showing all those tears.
She had been warned by Douglas about crying in public.
"If you cry in public, they'll know.
They'll know you're human. They don't want to be reminded of
She was nervous and the tiny crowd of three
had become a mob of thirty in less than a minute. Katrin would
be forced to walk back in their direction - it was a dead end
where she tried to hide.
A dead end.
A dead end that had enough to live.
out, you little bitch!
Katrin walked out of the shadows and into
the dazzling moon-lit street. The blood of her dog now streamed
all the way into the passing traffic like a snake in heat.
are you? The Wooden Face growled. And
how could you do this to a dog?
Katrin's tears had vanished and nestled
deep in her cheeks. She was hot and light headed, despite the
fact that it was nearly zero degrees outside - so cold the snow
could not fall...She gazed at Rudy, her beautiful dead dog. His
brown glistening coat never shimmered so gallantly before, his
breathing had never been so soft.
Rudy looked at Katrin, licked his lips,
tried to yawn, and died.
Now she knew she was in big trouble.
The Wooden Face and three other men
surrounded her and bound her arms behind her back. You're
going to jail, cunt, you're going to jail for a long time!
Under normal circumstances the violent
words and tones would have destroyed her. Not this time. The
curses were cliches and she was simply exhausted with the entire
scenario. Why did she have to be human she wondered?
be in jail a long time, you...demon! An old woman who looked
like a bald eagle cried.
Good, thought Katrin, at least they feed
you in jail. I won't have to worry about eating.
The four men grabbed a hold of Katrin's
slim lithe body and shook her until her bracelets, keys, and
toiletries emptied out into the street.
are the kids? Get those fucking kids in here! The men cried.
Some of the girls and women in the crowd
wrestled each other to get a piece of Katrin's belongings:
handmade jewelry, poems written on napkins, love songs from
Douglas, addresses for job interviews, a receipt from the
drugstore, three dollars, eight pennies, and a Metro card that
featured an image of the burning World Trade Center of 2001.
However...there was no passport
they all suspected, this
pretty bitch is going to jail.
do you think you are? The Bald Woman asked her.
Silence. Katrin took a deep breath. The men
softened their grip.
"My name is Katrin. This is my
dog? said the Wooden Man. How
do you like this? This cunt killed her own dog! (A chorus of
laughter.) Haven't you any decency? Why would you kill a poor defenseless animal?
Maybe that's how they do things where you're from, but this is
the New York and unless you're being attacked or bitten - why
would you hurt an animal? Don't you believe in life?
I don't understand what happened. I just -
What?? You what? Don't you believe in God you Satanist!?
I...I don't understand what happened. I
her speak! cried a voice from the mob.
"I tried to save someone," was
all Katrin could utter.
Her mind then shut off and on and displayed
a jarring procession of images on the screen of her mind:
Minutes before she was crossing the street
with Rudy and an elderly man with a bad knee was having trouble
walking through the strange and hostile automobile traffic. The
black ice from the night before had completely covered the
massive street. He was afraid to move.
Katrin eyed the Old Man who seemed to have
the older grace and charm of a distinguished poet or artist.
His thick gray hair reminded her of her Grandfather
before he had passed away.
She couldn't resist.
He was there for a reason.
Her guardian angel, perhaps, and she had to touch him, to
feel him, obviously, since no one else would. She did not
understand the strange looks pedestrians gave her or the nasty
leers that the women in their high heels flashed as she went to
the aid of this older man.
Rudy had remained in the middle of the
street, beckoning Katrin and the old man.
He was trying to clear the traffic so that she could
safely harbor her guardian angel.
She could hear Douglas in her head:
"Whatever you do, don't stop. Don't
look, don't stop!" She could never actually take his
warnings serious, nor could she comprehend that people weren't
people in this Metropolis country.
"They're people," Douglas would
assure her, "they're just not human beings. These are
people who elect the same President they swear they hate and yet
punish their kids for failing Logic in school. These are the
type of people who have waitresses fired because they mistook
Earlier that year, Katrin remembered a most
disturbing incident underground on the subway train.
At the Financial District stop, several passengers
boarded the train heading North outside the city; a handful of
teenagers boarded the train and these children - yes children
- that's exactly what they were and Katrin was so happy that
they were children -
were arrested on charges of disrupting the public peace because
they had been singing songs.
Not vulgar songs.
Not violent litanies about cocks, and bitches, and niggas,
and hos and all sorts of ugly bizarre words she frequently heard
throughout the gotham on any given day.
beautiful children were no older than thirteen years old and
were singing rhythm and blues songs.
Folk songs of long ago.
When people still had a culture.
Yes...the haunting, misunderstood, often
disregarded, and under appreciated contribution of the great
Black American south. The
heartbeat of the American country...or what had been left of the
American country. Yes,
Katrin remembered some of these songs - these songs that were no
longer played or listened to.
She remembered how Douglas would stay up all night with
her playing the old recordings and telling the stories behind
Douglas himself had been a musician in his
youth, but had gotten his guitar hand cut off when he was caught
stealing cigarettes and an overcoat during the cold winter of
2004. It actually
had been on Christmas eve.
Christmas Eve. With no hands to kill, give
to, take in, or pray with.
The biblical overtones were overwhelming.
In fact, it spooked Douglas for a full seventy two hours
in which he did not speak - just simply sat with wide eyes
staring at his guitar which bled from its sound hole.
On Christmas morning, the musical orifice had spilled so
much blood the body and shape of the actual guitar withered and
grew thin and gaunt, its strings dismantled itself and burst.
When the doctors asked Katrin about what he
had done to the guitar, Katrin tried to explain to them that he
had not done anything to guitar.
They told her that "guitars don't bleed, young
lady," and that "Douglas was obviously in an
overstressed state of mind." She explained to them what had happened the night before on
Christmas eve. Both
doctors eyed Katrin suspiciously and said "You probably
make more money than the both of us combined.
Sorry, you seem like a very nice woman.
But we're not stupid.
And if you don't have money and you have to actually
steal a coat, well, have some belief in the state of The New
York and this Holy Gotham we live in.
This is the most economically inspired country in the
world. If you need money, all you have to do is ask.
There are credit agencies, loans, Church dinners and Food
drives. Hell, I
just heard that the Entertainment Complex are giving away all
their used clothes and costumes from their last big movie with -
what's her name?"
The younger doctor's eyes lit up as if he
had seen the Virgin Mother herself.
He said: "Jen."
"Yeah, the actress Jen - that one.
She's rich. She
knows how to handle her money.
You should learn from her."
Katrin wanted to choke and beat what was
left of these two men’s lives but remained cool.
She simply just couldn't believe her ears... Her
ears...Yes, she couldn't believe them.
But ears have no motives and they do not
lie. The train that
evening, the sweat, filth, and haggard wear of the day to day
breath of survival. And
the sounds that day on the train made the actual endurance of
the market worth it. For
the sweet singing of children - true joyful crooning - is always
worth the trip to the slaughter-house...
They weren't angels, cause they were real
lied to their parents, stole candy and money, forged report
cards, broke into cars, slashed tires, made fun of each other,
and imitated their teachers.
They were healthy, vigorous children.
And they sang. They didn't curse. No,
cursing was passe' and accepted by everyone. Why would a child
want to curse if it was accepted by everyone?
No, these kids were rebels of a new sort:
they didn't sport leather jackets or baggy jeans.
They wore dress shoes, played Robert Johnson records, and
read Shakespeare. These
kids were interested in the older and more vibrant language of
the old...And for that they were immediately removed and
arrested at the next stop.
But even as the police removed them from
the train, they crooned in such an honest and eager way that an
experienced listener would have to tune their ears to the tone,
mood, and pitch of what these amateurs were relaying.
The alien cadences.
They would have to re-learn how to experience real live
music again. Granted,
these teenagers were horsing around. There was little pain in their voices, but great zeal and
This is what made it beautiful to Katrin.
How little they knew of life, yet one had to wonder:
maybe they did know what they were doing. Maybe it was some sort of communal suicide.
After all, there was a time people killed themselves to
protest war and injustice.
Perhaps these young revolutionaries were protesting the
lack of sentiment in the world.
Katrin wondered about this and shuddered.
"Alright, what's the situation?"
asked a short, young police officer.
He was pretty and had dazzling green eyes.
Katrin thought he reminded her of an old boyfriend in her
hometown. Perhaps he would be kind and understand her.
crooked bitch killed this beautiful dog!
The Bald Woman was foaming at the mouth.
For a split second Katrin was reminded of
the black and white photographs she saw on exhibit at the Old
World Museum. The
images on display were photographs from America in the twentieth
century. The image
that quickly came to mind was that of a rather young white woman
(who appeared older than she was) screaming violentl yat a young
black couple as they walked by her and a huge crowd - into what
appeared to be a building of some sort.
Katrin thought the lecturer said it was a school, but
couldn't remember. The
photo and the exhibit in general bothered Katrin for the next
several weeks. She
simply couldn't understand the logic of it: hating someone
because they looked different? That's insane, she thought.
Douglas tried his best to explain: "It's insane,
yes, but that was a reality.
It was called racism.
Today, most people don't bring it up cause they want us
all to think we're the same.
Except for those who have money - but that's another
everyone has abandoned anthropology and the culture of different
races. They choose
to ignore similarities and refuse to celebrate differences. Refuse to acknowledge the past, the turmoil, the damage done.
You see, princess, America no longer has a past before
this year. America
is just one long...day."
Douglas then tried delicately to explain a
great deal of what has occurred at that point in history, but it
was so convoluted, complex, and fragmented that all Katrin got
out of it was a headache. Douglas
said he always felt stupid explaining or trying to explain the
early twenty-first century history.
He always got tongue tied and felt inebriated when he
discussed American history they were studying or talking about
since everything always seemed to repeat itself.
Katrin wondered if there was a Buddhist
principle inherent in the experience of life itself: No past, no
future, just a strange present that the people in power would
always tinker with. Late at night, unable to sleep and breathe clearly, Douglas
once cryptically warned her:
"Don't believe anybody when they tell
you that's how it must be. Or that's how it is. Rules don't
exist and neither do commanders.
No one is actually in charge of anything, we just let
things happen to us constantly.
The trick is to figure out how to live within this
mysterious equation. Find
a way to breathe, a way to live.
There is nothing to overcome or change unless we change
ourselves. Or blow
With that, Douglas died.
He had been in the Gotham Green hospital for three days
before making that statement and had lost most of his blood due
to his severed hand. (His fake hand slipped off several times
before falling off completely - but more about that later)
The Police officers questioned everyone in
sight. Everyone, of
course, except Katrin. In
fact, not even talked to Katrin. No one except a female officer
who asked her for her phone number.
Finally, Officer Green Eyes approached her:
"Miss. Is this your dog?"
"It was my dog."
He wrote on a large black silly looking notepad.
"And why did you kill the dog?"
"I didn't kill my dog. Someone else
"I don't know. He was driving a
"He was driving a car."
"You don't know who killed your dog.
But you know that it was a man driving a car. What did he look
"What? No, you don't understand. It
was a hitter-run."
"Hitterun? What is that? European or
"No, I mean...hit or run.
Hit...or...run. And run."
"Oh, hit and run. It was a hit and
"Yes, sort of. Um...the driver didn't
"It could have been a man or a woman.
It's very dark, I couldn't tell."
"So it was a dark man or woman. A man
in a Turban, perhaps. Or maybe - "
"No, stop. Please."
"Excuse me, Miss. Miss. Miss, you're
going to have to relax."
"I will not relax. Listen to me: an
older man, a very old man was walking across the street. He
couldn't walk, he was very old - he had a cane. I thought he was
the most amazing looking, he had the most compelling energy...I
went to him, to help him across the street. The cars were moving
quick and no one would help him cross the street. I thought this
man was like an angel or something and I went to help him. My
dog was with me. He kept walking ahead and waiting for us. At
one point the old man stumbled and his cane went flying to the
side. It hit the side of a parked car, I rushed over to pick it
up. Rudy started barking at the old man to warn him - a car was
headed right his way. I panicked and pushed him out of the way,
the car swerved and hit Rudy. The driver kept on driving and
never stopped. Rudy was smashed and I swear officer, I never saw
so much blood in my life."
It was here that Katrin started to cry.
"In a flash, I looked and the old man was
After getting up from the ground and
laughing hysterically, the police officer went to his partner,
the female officer who tried hitting on Katrin earlier.
"You gotta see this," he told her.
"I know, " she said, "she's
Katrin calmed down a bit and thanked the
officer for not hurting her or handcuffing her arms behind her
back. She then took a deep breath and recounted the entire story
again. This time
round, Officer Green Eyes burst into laughter when Katrin said
she thought the old man was an angel.
"This bitch watched too much TV,"
he belched and he quickly turned on his heels and sat in the
driver's seat of his police cruiser, gasping for air and calming
The female officer had the honors of
handcuffing and escorting Katrin into the police car, then
fingerprinting her at the station. The officer kept asking
Katrin what perfume she was wearing. Katrin insisted that it was
The paper work and booking took about
thirty minutes, all the while Katrin hummed the adagio from
Mahler's Symphony Number 5.
When she was imprisoned, the homeless woman in her cell
joined her and provided the lower notes. The woman asked Katrin if she was famous.
Katrin said no she was not.
The homeless woman smirked and said "Not yet."
* * *
"I must accept the
punishment, but all sentences have their terms. Their limits.
Those limits are not negotiated - "he paused and licked his
lips - "They are endured. Like beatings from an authority
other than your ten-year-old's perception of Mom and Dad. The
truth is that I must have something in my life which is not right
- otherwise I'd have no reason to complain. And I need that
reason, God, I need that reason. I need to feel useful somehow,
cause I've got nothing else holding me together except the
frustration with my life's circumstances, my frightening
scenarios, and my excessive and constant guilt - which brings
forth nothing and only fosters self loathing and deterioration.
You may do something but it never clinches the awe that hangs over
you and gnaws at your brain.
Guilt is the mysterious painful
lining along the corner of your periphery; hanging itself, doing a
balancing act on the razor's edge. The clean side of everything
you tried to keep fresh. Anything sterile will soon be eaten up.
Even Hamlet's mousetrap - it vomits before it unfolds...but neatly
nestled within its unsavory corners: tiny
pieces of me."
Katrin was mesmerized by
Douglas' speech, which was more of an epitaph, a contorted
confession. This made her nervous. Douglas sat up in the long
narrow hospital bed. "I'm so tired, Kat, I'm so
She stood by him and put her
hand on his high forehead and slowly massages his temples.
"All work and no play makes
Jack a dull boy," he muttered.
"Rest is important,"
"Don't believe that.
Remember what those kids kept telling us? Young folks aren't
supposed to sleep. It' simply...well, it's not - it's not
"Not right?" Doctor
Silver remarked, stepping into the small gray room.
He began to write on a clipboard.
His hands were large and his face was sharp like a newly
awaiting pencil one uses for an exam.
He peered out over tiny glasses.
"What makes you think sleeping is not right?"
"I said nothing about
sleeping," Katrin protested, "I said rest."
"Yes. You're right. You
did," Douglas apologized.
"But what if she had said
sleep. Don't you think you need to sleep?" inquired the
"It depends," replied
"Depends? On what?"
"Where I'm at and what I am
sleeping on. And the circumstances around me."
"The life around you,
things that are occurring."
Katrin sighed. "Is this
Doctor Silver ignored her and
Douglas gave her an ulterior wink.
"Well," Douglas spoke,
dreamily, "if little boys and girls were being raped, and if
people were going without food, and if bombs were destroying
people's homes and if people couldn't enjoy - "
"Wait. Let's take this one
at a time. What do those terms have to do with you sleeping or
"Well, I can't sleep if
those things are going on."
The Doctor froze. He stood a
whiter shade of pale. His eyes rolled up slowly.
"Then...," He sighed,
"You never will."
* * *
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered
the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It
By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.
* * * *
The Last Holiday: A Memoir
By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.
Gil uses Lennon's violent end as
a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a
biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead
to newspapers getting things wrong.
Jamie Byng, Guardian
Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio) / Gil Scott-Heron
& His Music Gil Scott
Heron Blue Collar
Remember Gil Scott- Heron
* * * * *
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's
wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in
1937, after her cousin was falsely accused
of stealing a white man's turkeys and was
almost beaten to death. In 1945, George
Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled
Florida for Harlem after learning of the
grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie
party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing
Foster made his trek from Louisiana to
California in 1953, embittered by "the
absurdity that he was doing surgery for the
United States Army and couldn't operate in
his own home town." Anchored to these three
stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist
Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively
researched study of the "great migration,"
the exodus of six million black Southerners
out of the terror of Jim Crow to an
"uncertain existence" in the North and
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
21 June 2012