Monday, February 20, 2012

Rubén Rangel: Old poems for new times & a short story

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"Somos Aztlán," mural by Emilio Aguayo; Seattle; UW Ethnic Cultural Center

man defines woman

explore and enjoy each other’s quirks and qualities
all men are assholes, she says.
and i can’t defend it as untrue.

So when i serenade you on the train
You think this is fucked up
trying to embarrass fat latina
But I don’t want to be with someone who’s afraid
to make a scene on the F train.

2oo4 bronx


Equal Opportunity Jail Poem 5inco
we out-number them

we out-number them
but that isn’t important
we have more strength
but that isn’t the main thing
we had the truth &
and they simply
kicked us in the mouth
& pulled us out by the hair

we held back
we held ourselves
we did not release
all our power

there would be no turning back
& no copping out
they have .45 caliber guns &
all we have is the truth
but that isn’t enough, you see
and justice should be (more power
ful) enough

but for all we know
this could be
our last hour.

Equal Opportunity Jail Poem 3: Never Defeated

students going to jail—
the wino-brawlers & gangsters
24-hour grocery-store robbers
knew we were political
singing Quilapayun
in pinoy, Spanish
tagalog, english, swahili, farsi and creole
el Pueblo Unido the People United
fists raised
they knew                        we were
prisoners                          just like
                                        they were.

Equal Opportunity Jail Poem 6: Malcolm X

finally learned the African
song: we do not care
         if we go to jail
(bail money, political prisoners not criminals,
media coverage, who will organize while we're locked up…
and every Man-child of our ghettos is not a criminal but every Man-child of our ghettos is serving time
I am questioning your tactics…anyone can sit-in, a dog can sit, when he’s told, but to be a revolutionary
                                                asikatali no masha bowswa
zi zi mitzuli nekule ko

takes heart
(and no warrants or traffic tickets)
         it is for freedom
                                    that we surely go

um zee mah um twalo
ufuna madoda

         a heavy load, a heavy load
         and it will take some real strength

strength and unity
singing this African freedom song
until a sore-throat is overcome
with emotion hand-cuffed
singing in a round

Equal Opportunity Jail Poem 1: Police Van

they took us away in a police bus with grated windows
we sang el pueblo unido
and thought about the future generations
or the present generation that wanted
to leap into the future
& the masses
crowded around the enemy van
that had easily
too easily captured
our main forces
the people
el pueblo
gente unida
raza united
surrounding the police van
were not afraid
of the machinery
jamás será vencido
will never be defeated
the people pounding pounding angry
against the windows
& wanting to cry
with their fists


Sept 11 Rant in the Future Tense

These will not be terror times / these will not be peace times / these will be the times of choosing easy lies over shameful truths / of buying the cheapest made most malnourished lies / the most twisted legitimacies/  when everyone will want to sympathize and no one will want to analyze / when the limits of pain will only go back to last Tuesday

not to el 11 de septiembre that tank-rolled through Santiago
when the media could be shut out / when the press was a parrot on the General's shoulder/when there was no click, no recent post, no blog, no tweet / when history was the theatre of the absurdities / and the prison guards were the only avant garde of the vulgar / of torture and more torture / and words were tortured to death  to extract useful intelligence and useless ignorance but  no useful meaning/ no useful contentment

everything is different now / yet everything is the same / cloaked racism / drone killings / stealth sexism / to end the tyranny of select tyrants/ in defense of Afghan women / who didn't matter to the oily pigs yesterday / nor the day before / nor the century before the Shah/nor the eon after shah-zmat

and that's how I know everything is the same / because I have the memory / of ranting patriots / from decades before / and they can't erase what I choose to remember / and they cannot erase what you know to be true no matter how cruel this attack is at the heart of the World Trade

now greed will be different / boundless and shameless and blame will go hiding and the high tech taxi will not stop in my neighborhood/ and now the inhumane will be acceptable to maintain the unacceptable concentration of wealth and arrogance

and the wax museum of celebrities / will sweats out bullets and surgical bombs / and the pop star will keep smiling and selling jeans / bras/ deodorant / justifyin / as if the stench could be sprayed away / the whiffs of fascism perfumed in wiretaps and painless loss of life / loss of liberty / loss of happiness / near silent drones and near silent worker drones

united i stand / it seems with almost no one / I stand un-united with waves and waves of mustard yellow ribbons / attached to gulping big wheel sport utility vehicles / which are never used for sport / nor utility or humility/ vehicles of madness and insensation

garbage hidden from Fifth Avenue sidewalks / if we can't see it then it doesn't exist/
and everything will be okay / because we are the Good Guys / and the universe is just jealous and envious / like that ugly fat girl at the back of the classroom watching real life dramas unfold before her / but will never get asked to the prom

yet finally someone will be willing to say: not in my name/ not in my neighborhood / not in my nation trampled under Gods / of cybersex and Californication and ink stained Press-titution

and the black boy with the boom box / will step out into the wilderness / and will be drafted into this war / whether he  enlists or not

sept-octubre, 2001


The Event 2012


I get on a bus and it’s filled with old raddies, WPA types and petite bourgeois intellectuals with fading yellow pamphlets and antiquated membership sheets who ask me to join their Event Society but it’s none too clear what the Event Society is or how I might participate. Yet I am intriguingly drawn in as they temper their wit and acerbic commentary enough to convince me. I’m new to the city either SF or NYC and I like their almost self-inflicted politics.

At the event...


They sit at the Friends of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie Table but are not patrons or benefactors, just the last living souls who actually knew the Ramblin Guitar Man, The Johnny Appleseed of Blowin’ in the Wind. They aren’t dressed properly for a formal dinner and they are unimpressed with the fancy feast and the longwinded speeches. They want to start a breakaway Event but they know this is where the radicals unite even tho the Event has gone on so many years that it hardly even mentions Woodie and there is even some fierce debate as to whether it’s the 42nd or the 40th Anniversary of the Event.

I start to tell them I actually met Woodie once, not like them, of course...


Can’t escape the consumerism of the iPad WorldMart...

But I try... 

I will finally get to tell them at the end of my story that W not (Dubya) was wheeled in to see a dying Betty Marion and no one had ever thought to give him a guitar, but I gives him mine and whisper in his Parkinson’s Alzheimer deaf ear “This Machine Kills Fascists” and he begins to play and sing...full of youthful sparkle even at the age of eight decades....


And I want to cry and yet I don’t because he doesn’t play any of his famously popular tunes but an original Gutherie lefty ditty:

Irak, Iran, Afghanistan
Don’t let ‘em convince you
That you shouldn’t give a damn.

Detroit, or Princeton
Or Southern Alabama
We’ll never go back to Viet Nam...


Meanwhile, tho, I’m caught in a vortex or slights and multi layered entendres...and we are booted out or walk out of the event in protest. In the hotel elevata, Louie Poet challenges me to find meaning in the meaningless dribble of the Event or the psychotic rabble of his comrade friends and we almost miss my floor. The maid actually has to tie her apron and pry us up to the in between floor and all the rooms are non-sequential, get it?


And for the second time I leave an old timer waiting at my thin wooden door (they will not enter unless properly invited in). And as we enter I confide that I will write a poem on the old tennie-shoe that blocks the doorway.  And he booms Now! Write it now with such urgency that I am flustered and begin to paint in bright oranges and blues...


Someday the iPad will refuse to send our missive or even record them in our Drafts folder as pre censored...

I pray as the screen fills with phantom type that has no ink jet, no black and red ribbon, nor hard drive that I control...

I can’t stop it from auto spell.

Back to the dialog with Louie Poet “Are they angry that they didn’t get to speak?”
Are they upset that the politics is too bland? That was Jessica Alba giving 2 million to StopGreedStreet.  (A word I invented nalgatraficantes...)
They’re offended that it’s not focused on Woodie’s life anymore. Is that it?

Editor's Note: Rubén Rangel is mainly a poet, who's tied and tried his hands at civilizational-change community organizing. When he was in high school, he won a state poetry prize and showed great promise. Instead he ran into me, chipping his philosophical teeth on my forehead, and forever joined the good red road, making us different.
A migrant of sorts, Rubén Rangel moved to New York City, making the trek from one of many farm-worker valleys, to make love and revolution in the Big Apple. Like a good New Yorker, he now spends summers and winters with his roots. I don't know if he considers himself a Chicano; I don't. He was mentored by the Chicano poetics and liberation-aspiring visions; his work is a bridge between the Chicano and the movements he has participated in and lead. He has authored a young adult novel; unpublished. He has won numerous awards since high school and has mountains of unpublished poems and stories, and more yet to tell and write down. These particular poems chronicle student and youth struggles for equality and equal access to higher education in Seattle. EOP could stand for East Oakland Proletariat. Here Rubén Rangel is talking about the Equal Opportunity Program, affirmative action, civil rights meant to integrate the university and make it relevant to the future of our country and her communities. These poems represent the sit-ins and civil disobedience actions that young Chican@s, Filipinos, other Asians and African Americans took to keep the University of Washington accessible to people of color on our terms. The short story is a snapshot of a New York political community, I suppose, and her contradictions. I'm just saying.   -- Arnoldo García

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