Poems by Sam Friedman

Two-Two-Nineteen Sixty


None of the young activists today
know the horror
when the typed-in stencil tears,
when the hour typing the message moves
from "all but done" to
"do it again"
with the unacknowledged fear of
"again and again and again"
stiffening fingers
towards errors anew.

Nor do they know the glory
of the spinning Gestetner
spitting copies galore,
the pile creeping upwards 'til the stencil
wears out,
or the joys of collation
when a pamphlet, just printed in hundreds
sits piled self upon self,
each page its own tall pile,
10 piles on a table,
3 tables the row.

We sang and we chatted
before we could party,
we sang as we circled
the tables' neat row,
a sheet for each pile, then
step to the next,
place sheet upon sheet,
then step to the next
'til a pamphlet sits splendid
in your inky hands
and you place it akimbo
on the pile to be stapled
and circle again,
take a sheet from a pile
and step to the next,
the circle unbroken
tha thelped break Jim Crow and
undid the Army then un-doing in 'Nam,
the stencil, the circle,
the battle not ended
though my friends have grown old
and the young find new ways
to fight the same-old same-old
ever-different, ever-indifferent
killing greed.

Copyright © Sam Friedman, 2011, all rights reserverd.

[Back in the '60s, long before photo-copying, Kinkos, computers, laser-printers, email and web, the motor-driven "Gestetner" was the top-of-the-line mimeograph machine best suited for long runs of flyers and pamphlets.]


I was a high school senior
sitting on the faded pink sofa
opposite our 10-inch black-and-white TV.
Opening the Washington Post before heading upstairs
to homework that never went away,
my future leapt like a mischievous eel
to electrify my life.

"College students sit in.
Arrests in Greensboro."

The coffee that wasn't served,
that remained in hot pipes
instead of steaming the mugs
of these era-busting black youth,
turned a frost-filled February into
the springtime of the century,
scalding out the sewer-years
that had been my life.

It was twelve years to the day
before my mother died
slain by the tobacco smoke and tensions
of sixty-four years in America;
and less than twenty before Ku Klux bullets
murdered my cousin's ex
in that same North Carolina town.

My childhood.
War with Japan.
War in Korea.
Earnest discussions
equating neutralism
with genocide.
Federal agents security-checking my father,
and neighbors shunning us,
when my father sought — and got — 
a major promotion.
Years reading Nuclear War Comic Books,
where we thrilled at pictures
of mushroom clouds over Moscow city
and the cremation of Chelyabinsk.

As I sprouted hair on my chest and my pubis,
my soul was a constant itch,
allergic to the life around it,
but unable to see how to scratch.
My teachers droned their dedication to science, technology,
and a poetry so personal we couldn't find its persona.

My life was written in the icy pellets ringing Saturn,
to reduce the symmetries of the stars
to symbols and formulas
beautiful in their own mathematical logic,
in between scratching the unreachable itch.

But this life was not to be. I was freed
with my generation.

Our fate
and our salvation
was to walk in circles
against Jim Crow,
to walk on Woolworth's sidewalks,
to shine our butts on merry-go-rounds
that wouldn't turn
for blacks and whites together
(or any blacks at all)
while their managers offered money to hoodlums
to pound our sitting bums.

We dissolved dull decades of desolation
in years of learning to walk in loving rage,
pounding our brains to discover
the jugular of their system,
the poisons that created
our never-ending itch.

Copyright © Sam Friedman, 1998, all rights reserverd.

[Earlier version published in Journal of Progressive Human Services, 1998. Volume 9, #2: p. 91-93.]

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