Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page


In Nonviolence, Poetry, Rocky Flats on February 26, 2013 at 1:21 am



In May 1948, on the warm night of the last day

of my junior year in high school, when I was 16,

I put an end to my father’s beating me

with a rubber hose.

He’d escalated to this weapon for his wholly

unjustified punishments some years earlier.

On the night in question, as I made my way

through the darkened house toward the room

I shared with my brother,

I sensed my father’s presence before seeing him

with that garden hose doubled over in his hand.

He ordered me to lie down on the bed

as I’d always done.

It suddenly came to me

that I didn’t have to take this any longer.

My refusal triggered a struggle in which he tried

to force me down. I responded by wrapping

my arms around his neck and lifting my feet

from the floor so that I hung deadweight down

the front side of his body, absorbing all his energy.

Within seconds he went limp with exhaustion,

and I removed my arms from around his neck,

ending forever his physical violence toward me.

As the years passed I saw a straight line from

the violence of my father to the violence of my country,

the extremity of the former fortunately no worse than

a rubber hose, but of the latter enough nuclear force

to end human life on Planet Earth several times over.

When in 1978 I learned about Rocky Flats, where

the fissile core of every U.S. nuclear warhead was made,

I sought with others to stop what was done there.

In nonviolence training for my first civil disobedience

at Rocky Flats, we did a role-play called “deadweight”

in which you contain a belligerent person’s behavior

by hanging yourself deadweight down that person’s torso.

Tears burst from my eyes. Amazingly,

what I’d done spontaneously at age 16 was being taught

in carefully choreographed nonviolence training.

My father, I realized, without knowing he was doing so,

had made a great gift to me,

for he had planted within me the seed of nonviolence

and had even brought it to blossom.

As for Rocky Flats, an eventual fruit of the flowering

of nonviolent resistance was to end production there

of nuclear bombs, the extremity of violence.


In Poetry, Race on February 26, 2013 at 1:16 am



In the Sunday school class for 8-year old boys

at the big church in downtown Dallas,

the teacher, his hand on the Bible

lying open in his lap, suddenly declares:

Watch out for niggers.

They’ll push you off the sidewalk.

This lesson countering everything I’d ever seen

went home with me that Sunday, but

there was no one to talk with about his words

because my mother had died

and no substitute would do.

From around this same time, 1939 or ‘40,

I received another far more vivid lesson

on a rare day of snow in Dallas.

When school let out that afternoon we all

were pummeling one another with snowballs.

Soon my red, red hands were aching so

that I left for the half-mile trek home,

crying, crying, crying with pain.

At Gaston Avenue, a black woman,

who must have been a maid from one

of the big houses nearby, was waiting for a bus.

What’s the matter, boy? Come here, she called.

Rubbing my hands vigorously in hers

and looking me right in the eye, she said,

Listen. I’m going to tell you something.

When you get home put your hands

in cold water and rub them together

till the pain’s all gone.

She paused to let me take it in.

Did you hear what I said?

Repeat it back to me.

I repeated every word.

I didn’t say hot water, did I?

No, you said cold.

You won’t forget what I said, will you?

No, I won’t forget.

Ten minutes later, her voice echoing in my ear,

I rubbed my hands in the stream

of cold water till all the pain was gone.

I never saw her again.