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Corseri and Williams

Tom Paine’s Bones
(a poem for voices)

CHORUS: Go down to the Valley Forge, Tom Paine;
go down to the Valley Forge:
four thousand ghosts of an idea stand
guttering in the siege of winter,
slow-jogging in their ragged socks
while the Master General broods;
while the Master General writes and begs
aid from the wavering French.

Go and be prodigal; seal:
the holes in their blankets with words;
knit: the soles of their shoes with courage;
write: on a drumhead by the fire’s crackle,
drum-beaten words for their wounds,
balm for their wondering wounds:

PAINE: These are the times that
try men’s souls.
The summer soldier
and the sunshine patriot
will, in this crisis
from the service of their country;
but he that stands it now,
deserves the love and thanks
of man and woman.

CHORUS: Walk through the foothills of Jersey, Paine,
where the provender’s locked in the barns,
where Tories shutter their windows up
and keep their muskets aimed for boys
wandering in blizzards…, set their dogs
on some stray Continental, let them eat
man-flesh from the skeleton–you saw it!; you saw:
the skull and the phalange of fingers
wrapped round the words you’d written–

PAINE: What we attain too lightly
we esteem  too cheaply.
If there be trouble
let it come in my day,
that my child may have peace.

CHORUS: –you saw!
Your howl split the February sky: sun-shafts
prodded the frozen seed; and, the ships got through;
Yankees sent corn, wheat, millet, shoes, bullets;
black backs cracked in the southern sun, plucked cotton
women knitted, darned, sewed into uniforms.
Cornwallis stumbled while his Hessians slept.

Go back to the Mother Country, Paine!
When the Revolution’s won, the spoils yet to divvy–
out of a dream, the miners swim towards you,
their eyes glowing like cats’ eyes,
with hope, like a single candle,
burning a long ways back.

THE MINER: Can ye lead us, Mr. Paine?

CHORUS: Corset-maker, pulling the lion’s tail!
Agitating, forming committees, writing.
Blake of the fearful symmetry hears
your thick neck stretched on a gallows.

BLAKE: Get out!  No time!  The King’s men coming!

PAINE: I have never run in my life!

BLAKE: Must Truth be killed again;
the hemlock drunk again?
The nails struck into flesh and wood?
For the sake of the Cause—God-speed!

PAINE: Then, make the world my home!

CHORUS: To Paris–just in time
to get the keys to the Bastille.
You sit in the Assembly,
stand for the Rights of Man,
argue Reason in a vengeful age.
But Marat’s stabbed, Danton guillotined,
Robespierre’s head garnishes a spike.
Tumbrils wheeze down narrow alleys.                                                          

Even Citizen Paine’s suspect,
walled up in the Luxembourg
with rats, roaches, urine
and the stench of freedom dying…

Where’s Washington,
whose stony silence
galls?  Your country’s gone
into the practical mold,
horse-trading slaves again,
already hungering westward.
In delirium you wonder:
who was it walked through Jersey,
pitched fire in their souls, wept
and drank till falling-down drunk with them?
Who was it wrote those words
etched in their hearts’ canon?

In delirium, you sleep on the bosom of your wife,
the walls of the prison melting.

MRS. PAINE: Yer won’t amount to a tuppence, Thomas,
but I love yer to spite it all!

PAINE: I’ll work hard, dove,
and be a husband as will make yer proud.

But what good’s all your book-learning,
all the reading by the candle,
the books you begged and borrowed,
when there’s no work to be found?

MRS. PAINE: I’m with child, Thomas…

PAINE: Yer need not worry.
Yer  won’t go hungry, I swear it, by God!

Poach a goose to bring the hue to her wanness–

THE MAN: and britches full of buckshot!

MRS. PAINE: I’m not well, Thomas…

THE WOMAN: Clutching her ivory, lattice-boned hand,
soft as a breeze touches fern on the moor,
you prayed:

PAINE: If You can hear me…
If ever I may do some good in this world…
if ever I may serve some useful end,
do not remove this only one I’ve loved…”

You watched her bosom rise, and fall… and fall…

Ten months immured, with a chink of light
that nearly blinds you; forgotten, gaunt,
you take a chance with Bonaparte
whose flattery cajoles you
just long enough to see beyond
his prestidigitations.

AN OLDER MAN: You retire to a small chateau
to think about what follows Revolution:
No end in itself, but the great lunge
towards Almightiness.

God’s the rudder.
But not the wreaking-devastation One
of hate and separations–

–nor the addle-brained of superstition;
but loving, Universal Deity,
vibrant and potential in all things:

PAINE: I do not believe in the creed professed
by any church I know of.
My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches…
appear to me no other than human inventions
set up to terrify and enslave…
and monopolize power and profit.
I believe the equality of man;
and I believe that religious duties
consist in doing justice, loving mercy,
and endeavoring to make
our fellow creatures happy.

THE YOUNG MAN:  Simple words that terrify the simple!
An odor of blasphemy attaches to your name.
Your gin-stinking, rum-stinking, besotted–

THE OLDER MAN: And was it so much a name as a life-sentence,
wayfarer who said, “The world’s my village”?

THE WOMAN: You dream of the lost America.
Jefferson’s in office now,
the Revolution secured.
Couldn’t the Virginian find
something for old Paine to do?
Something noble for the broad-splayed hands
to run a quill through?

THE OLD MAN (slowly): He shook… his fine… red head…

JEFFERSON: How can we measure what we owe you now?
Where would we be without you then?
But Paine, dear Paine,
you are Controversy Incarnate–
just the wedge the factions need
to shake us out of office!
There’s war on the horizon, Paine.

PAINE (softly): I’ll… show myself the door…

THE WOMAN:  And what did you think in New Rochelle
when the Tories took their last revenge,
when whelpish raffle tripped you up
and the smug merchants laughed?

CHILDREN: Paine, Paine, damned be his name!
Damned be his fame and lasting his shame!
God damn Paine!  God damn Paine!

THE WOMAN: Sick, poor, friendless, worn,
you wanted nothing but a bit of peace,
a chance to lie in a Quaker graveyard.

THE MAN: And even there you failed:
buried in unhallowed ground,
your bones dug up ten years after
by one who wanted folks to pay
to see the Apostate’s ruins…

THE OLDER MAN: He lost them somewhere in England…

CHORUS: No rest for the weary, Paine, Tom Paine,
and your work’s still  annealing.
For every bone’s a claw
on every campesino’s hand.

In the ghettoes of the New World,
in the favelas,
the scattered bones of Tom Paine
weep blood, gather nerve, and flesh, and steel.

Under the cool jungle moon, the bones
rise from their hiding.

THE MAN:  The song of the bones
fills the sleep of the hungry,
rattles the wary minds on verandahs.

Under the soughing bamboo
the bones tap their indelicate Morse Code.
In the sirocco of the desert,
on the broad-backed savannas,
they beat on the drums, whistle the hot air.

In every heart that ever dreamed of liberty
the bones claw and disquiet,
the bones scrawl and chill–

THE WOMAN: –as the wind hones and sharpens them
into indelible quills,

THE OLDER MAN: shining like knives, writing–

PAINE: –for the children of fire born:
the fierce love-song of the world.

Gary Corseri has published articles, fiction, poems and dramas at hundreds of venues worldwide, including Counterpunch, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Redbook Magazine, and Outlook India.  He has been a professor in the US & Japan, has published 2 novels, 2 collections of poetry, edited literary periodicals and the “Manifestations” anthology. He has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, and his dramas have been produced on Atlanta-PBS and at universities and high schools in the US.  Contact: gary_corseri@comcast.net.

An Old Man and a Young Man in Gaza

Martin Buber, to a New York audience, Jewish Newsletter, June 2, 1958: “When we [followers of the prophetic Judaism] returned to Palestine…the majority of Jewish people preferred to learn from Hitler rather than from us.”
An old man holds a placard that reads,
“You take my water, burn my olive trees,
Destroy my house, take my job, steal my land,
Imprison my father, kill my mother,
Bombard my country, starve us all,
Humiliate us all, but I am to blame:
I shot a rocket back.”

Here are some ungodly chants
From the Zionist Book of Psalms
Which are used to justify
Laying waste to a whole country
And to its inhabitants:

“We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages
Destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water”
Eli Yishai, former Deputy Prime Minister.

“There should be no electricity in Gaza,
No gasoline  or moving vehicles, nothing. …
We need to flatten entire neighborhoods
… flatten all of Gaza”
Israeli journalist Gilad Sharon in the Jerusalem Post.

“There are no innocents in Gaza. Mow them down …
Kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.”
Michael Ben-Ari, a member of the Knesset.

Gaza should be “bombed so hard the population
Has to flee into Egypt”
Israel Katz, a Minister of Transportation.

Gaza should be “wiped clean with bombs”,
Avi Dichter, a Minister of Home Front Defense.

Israeli soldiers must “learn from the Syrians
How to slaughter the enemy”,
The Israeli Rabbi Yaakov Yosef.

Here is Ze’ev Jabotinsky, admirer of Mussolini
And the godfather of Zionist militarism,
Justifying “transferring” the Palestinian people
From their homes in 1940:
“The world has become accustomed to the idea
Of mass migrations and has become fond of them.”

Jabotinsky adds, “Hitler— as odious as he is to us—
Has given this idea a good name in the world.” [1]

It is ironic that Jabotinsky used Hitler
As a precedent for the Palestinians’ “transfer”
Since forcible expulsion
Was among the charges against Adolf Eichmann –
One of the architects of the Nazi Holocaust
Captured in Argentina, and tried and hanged in Israel.

Undeterred, the former chief rabbi,
Mordechai Elyahu, has urged Israel,
Its army and its government
To “employ the Nazi choice”
Against the Palestinians.
To carry out a series of carpet bombings
Of Palestinian population centers in Gaza
He urges the “indiscriminate killing of civilians“.
On religious grounds.

The Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Schneerson,
A self proclaimed Messiah
Whose followers await his return from the dead,
(As if the Rabbi hadn’t preached
Enough when alive by his making the claim
That his religion heralded a new Master Race) –
Has a devoted and powerful acolyte, Rabbi Manis Friedman,
Who declares that the “only way to fight a moral war”
Is to “destroy the Arabs’ holy sites” and “to kill them.”
To “kill men, women and children”, and to eliminate anyone
Who stands in the way of a Greater Israel,
Friedman embraces Israel’s ruthless colonizing power
With an Old Testament ferocity
And with what Christopher Hitchens has called,
“The root of religious evil.”

Forty-two streets in Israel
Have been named after armed cuckoos –
Murderous Israeli cuckoos
Evicting indigenous birds
From the Palestinian nest,
And then killing them.

Ethnic cleansing is in Israel’s DNA,
Not peace:
Netenyahu tells students at Bar Ilan University,
“Israel should have exploited the repression
Of the demonstrations in China,
When world attention focused on that country,
To carry out mass expulsions
Among the Arabs of the territories.”[2]

Enflamed whenever Palestinians fight back
With increasing desperation
And despite overwhelming odds
To regain their ancestral land,
Israelis chant “Death to the Arabs”
“A Jew is a brother, an Arab is a bastard,”
The Israeli lawmaker, Ayelet Shaked, calls
For the genocide of Palestinians on Facebook
And advocates “the slaughter of Palestinian mothers
Who give birth to ‘little snakes,’”
Two Israeli girls hold up a banner
“Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values!”
The Rabbi Noam Perel, head of Bnei Akiva
The world’s largest religious-Zionist youth organization,
Urges on his Facebook page that the IDF,
The Israeli Defense Force be transformed
Into an army of avengers,
“Which will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins”

And, thus incited by a fascistic atavism,
Israeli Jews go on the rampage
Looking to beat any Arab they encounter.

On July 2nd, 2014,
A young man in Gaza,
Muhammad Abu-Khdeir,
A 16-year old boy with a knowing, elfin smile
Is pulled into a car
And kidnapped in East Jerusalem
On the way back from the mosque.

He is tied and beaten;
He has gasoline poured into his mouth
And he is burned alive.

His body is found in the Jerusalem Forest;
Battered in the head
And with soot deposits in the lungs
Suggesting he’s still breathing
When set on fire.
Ninety per cent of his body is burned.

Another victim of Israel’s slow motion genocide –
A holocaust which, this time,
Is being financed and uncritically supported
By ‘the good guys’,
The internationally great and the good,
That craven chorus of the compliant
Who ritually pipe up to defend
Israel’s right to defend itself –
To defend the indefensible.

[1] Source: Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Metropolitan Books, 1999,p. 407

[1]  Benyamin Netanyahu, then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, former Prime Minister of Israel; from the Israeli journal Hotam, November 24, 1989:

Heathcote Williams a poet, playwright and actor, has made a significant contribution to many fields.  He is best known for his extended poems on environmental subjects: Whale Nation, Falling for a Dolphin, Sacred Elephant and Autogeddon.  His plays have also won acclaim, notably AC/DC produced at London’s Royal Court, and Hancock’s Last Half Hour.  As an actor he has been equally versatile – taking memorable roles in Orlando, Wish You Were Here, and Derek Jarman’s The Tempest, in which he played Prospero.

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