No Time Like the Present

24 11 2022

… for a present. We have another Zapatista story to share with you, a whimsical reminder that history is not static. We all have a part, from time to time, in shaping it. For more than 20 years, Kopkind has nourished doers and dreamers—radical journalists, organizers, filmmakers, thinkers and creators allworking toward a more humane world. Please help us if you can. The Donate button is just above. And from our Sometimes family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

images: Beatriz Aurora

Forever and Never against Sometimes

September 12, 1998

Once upon a time, there were two times. One was called One Time and the other was called Another TimeOne Time and Another Time together made the Sometimes family, who lived and ate from time to time. The great dominant empires were Forever and Never, which, as you would imagine, loathed the Sometimes family. Forever and Never couldn’t stand the very existence of the Sometimes family. Forever could not allow One Time to live in its kingdom, because it would stop being Forever, since the existence of one time means there is no forever. Similarly, Never could not allow Another Time to appear another time in its kingdom, because Never cannot live with one time, much less so if that time is another time. But One Time and Another Time continued to bother Forever and Never time and time again. So it was until Forever left them in peace forever, and Never did not bother them ever again. After that, One Time and Another Time passed their time playing, all the time.

“What is it this time?” One Time would ask, and Another Time would reply, “Can’t you see?” And so, as you can see, they lived happily—from time to time and forever remained One Time and Another Time and never stopped being Sometimes

Tan tan.

Moral 1: Sometimes, it is very hard to distinguish between one time and another time.

Moral 2: You must never say forever (well, sometimes it’s okay).

Moral 3: The Forevers and Nevers are imposed from above, but below there appear, time and time again, “the troublemakers,” which sometimes is another name for “those who are different” or, at times, “rebels.” 

Moral No. 4: Never ever again will I write a story like this one, and I always do what I say (well, okay, sometimes I don’t).

Vale y salud, and sometimes Forever and Never come from below (below the belly, for instance).

This is excerpted from Zapatista Stories for Dreaming An-Other World (PM Press), a new translation of timeless tales written between 1992 and 2000 by Subcomandante Marcos, collected by solidaristas around the world, and brought to us now in English with commentaries by the Lightning Collective, among whose members is our dear friend, adviser and supporter Margaret Cerullo. A slim volume with sumptuous resonance, it makes a great present, too! (For a time, PM is offering a 50 percent discount on all titles involving indigenous resistance and stories, with the coupon code GIFT.) Below, a bit from the translators’ introduction:

In the spring of 2021, the Zapatistas launched … a five-continent expedition of learning and solidarity. Beginning with a sea voyage to Europe (reversing the voyage of the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan in 1521), they visit[ed] collectives all over the European continent, returning the extraordinary solidarity that Europeans have shown them over the years, and revealing to many of us an-“other” Europe, below and to the left … The first small group arrived in Vigo, Basque Country, Spain, where Marijose, a trans woman, turning history upside down, proclaimed with characteristic Zapatista humor and seriousness:

‘In the name of the Zapatista women, children, men, elderly, and, of course, others, I declare that from now on this place, currently referred to as “Europe” by those who live here, be called: SLUMIL K ́AJXEMK ́OP, which means “Rebellious Land” or “Land which does not give in or give up.” And that is how it will be known by its own people and by others for as long as there is at least someone here who does not surrender, sell out, or give up.’

A final note about images: the detail above and the illustration at the top are part of what the artist, Beatriz Aurora, calls “painted stories.” Originally from Chile, Aurora went into exile in Spain in the 1970s, following the US-backed coup against Salvador Allende. After spending time in Nicaragua and El Salvador, she settled in Mexico. “Anyone who loves nature has to be a revolutionary,” she has said.





Stories for Dreaming An-Other World

13 11 2022
Zapatista mural (https://tempetedecielbleu.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/zapatista-visita/)

Andy Kopkind wrote perhaps the most incisive analysis in the immediate wake of the Zapatistas’ January 1, 1994, emergence onto the world stage: “The revolt of the Chiapanecos is something stunningly new, the first shots of a rebellion consciously aimed at the new world order, the dire consequences of a history that did not die as predicted but intrudes in the most pernicious manner on the way of life of people always overlooked. It is a war against the globalization of the market, against the destruction of nature and the confiscation of resources, against the termination of indigenous peoples and their lands, against the growing maldistribution of wealth and the consequent decline in standards of living for all but the rich … The shots fired in Mexico in the first week of the new year have been heard around the world, and their echoes will not soon stop.” Andy is quoted by the Lightning Collective, of which our friend and adviser Margaret Cerullo is a member, in the introduction to its just-published English translation of Zapatista Stories for Dreaming An-Other World. The allegorical story below was written by Subcomandante Marcos in a communiqué published on Andy’s last birthday, as it happens, three days after national elections in Mexico, as indigenous communal assemblies were in the process of discussing the direction of their struggle for autonomy, for humanity—a new politics, a new language, a new world to imagine.

The Lion Kills by Looking

August 24, 1994

Old Antonio hunted a mountain lion with his ancient shotgun. I had made fun of his weapon just days before: “They were using weapons like that when Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico,” I had said to him. He defended himself: “Sure, but look who’s wielding it now.” Now he is taking the last shreds of flesh from the hide to tan it. He proudly shows me the hide. It doesn’t have a single hole in it. “Right in the eye,” he boasts. “That’s the only way to keep the hide intact.” “What are you going to do with it?” I ask. Old Antonio does not answer. He continues scraping the hide with his machete in silence. I sit down next to him and after filling my pipe attempt to roll him a corn husk cigarette. I silently offer it to him. He examines it and takes it apart. “You’re not there yet,” he tells me, as he rerolls it. We sit down and begin the ceremony of smoking together.

Between puffs, Old Antonio spins the story.

“The lion is strong because the other animals are weak. The lion eats their flesh because they allow him to eat it. The lion does not kill with claws or fangs. The lion kills by looking. 

“First, he approaches slowly—in silence, because he has clouds on his paws that dampen the noise. Next, he pounces and, with a swipe, takes his victim down, more by surprise than by force. After that, he just stares at his prey. The lion looks at his prey like this . . .” Old Antonio furrows his brow and fixes his black eyes on me. “The poor little animal who is going to die just stares: all it can do is look at the lion looking at it. The little animal no longer sees itself. It sees what the lion sees. It sees the image of a little animal, and in that gaze it is small and weak. Before this, the little animal had never thought about whether or not it was small or weak; it was just a little animal, neither big nor small, neither strong nor weak. But, now, seeing itself in the eyes of the lion, it sees fear. And, seeing how it appears to the lion, the little animal, all on its own, convinces itself that it is small and weak. And seeing the fear that the lion sees, it is afraid. Then the little animal stops looking at anything, and its bones become numb, like when we get caught in the rain in the mountains, in the night, in the cold. And the little animal surrenders, gives up, and the lion gobbles it down, just like that. This is how the lion kills. He kills by looking. 

“But there is one little animal that doesn’t respond in this way. When he comes across the lion, he ignores him and continues as usual. And if the lion swipes at him, he answers by clawing with his hands, which may be tiny, but the blood they draw certainly hurts. This little animal does not back down, because he does not see the lion staring at him. He is blind. ‘Mole’ is what they call this little animal.”

Old Antonio seems to have finished talking. I venture a “Yes, but . . .” Old Antonio doesn’t let me finish and continues telling the story while he rolls another cigarette. He does it slowly, turning to look at me every so often to make sure I am still paying attention.

“The mole went blind because, instead of looking outward, he began to look into his heart; he insisted on looking inward. No one knows how this idea of looking inward got into the mole’s head. The mole was so stubborn about looking into his heart that he didn’t worry about things like strong or weak, big or small, because the heart is the heart, and it isn’t measured the way things and animals are. However, it so happens that only the gods were permitted to look inward, so they punished the mole and didn’t allow him to look outward anymore. Even worse, they condemned him to live and crawl under the earth. That’s why the mole lives underground, because the gods punished him. But the mole wasn’t even upset, since he continued looking inward. 

“That’s why the mole is not afraid of the lion. And neither is the man who knows how to look into his heart. Because the man who knows how to look into his heart does not see the strength of the lion, what he sees is the strength of his heart, and then he looks at the lion who sees the man looking at him. There, in the man’s gaze, the lion sees that he is a mere lion, and sees himself being stared at, and he is afraid and runs away.”

“So did you look into your heart to kill this lion?” I interrupt. “Me?” he answers.” “No way! I concentrated on where the gun was aimed and where the lion’s eye was and fired, just like that. My heart didn’t even cross my mind.” I scratch my head the way they do around here whenever they don’t understand something. Old Antonio stands up slowly. He takes the hide and examines it carefully. Then he rolls it up and hands it to me. “Take it,” he says. “It’s for you so that you never forget that the lion and fear are both killed by knowing where to look.”

Old Antonio turns around and goes inside his home. In Old Antonio’s language, that means: “I’m done. Adiós.” I put the hide of the lion in my nylon bag and leave . . .

Lightning Collective, translators and Zapatista solidarity activists based in Amherst, Massachusetts, provide commentaries illuminating the historical, political and literary contexts of each of the lustrous fables. As the publisher, PM Press, notes, “this timeless, elegiac volume is perfect for lovers of literature and lovers of revolution”. For more information on the book, pictured below, and how to buy it, click here.





Many Thanks, and Onward

21 10 2022
Weatherhead Hollow Pond at the height of color (photo: JoAnn Wypijewski)

A big thank you to everyone who came to Tree Frog Farm for Kopkind’s Harvest events on October 8-9, and everyone who sent good wishes and made a contribution. (The Donate button on this page, above, is always just a finger stroke away.)

We may have more to post on that later, but for now, with election-season rhetoric aboil and inflation being used as a torch by right-wing candidates to set voters’ hair on fire while neoliberals urge a continued attack on workers in the form of higher interest rates, we want to share a recently published article by our dear friend Bob Pollin, who puts the issue in perspective. Bob co-directs the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at UMass Amherst and has been coming to Kopkind every summer since 1999 for dinner and an informal talk with journalist/activist participants in our political camp. This past summer we asked him to speak on the political economy of inflation. The editor of The Nation heard about the talk afterward, and asked Bob to write it up, hence the piece below.

Notes From Inflation Economics 101

by Robert Pollin

The Federal Reserve is now engaged in a concerted program to increase unemploy-ment from its current low official rate of 3.5 percent and to strip US workers of the small gains in bargaining power they have achieved in the aftermath of the Covid economic lockdown. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell acknowledged this clearly, if demurely, in a major speech in August, where he predicted that there would “very likely be some softening of labor market conditions” resulting from current Fed policy. The Fed is advancing this program in order to bring down the high inflation rate that has emerged in the past year. As of the most recent figures, average prices for US consumers (measured by the Consumer Price Index) rose by 8.2 percent in September relative to a year ago. (The figure for August was 8.3 percent; for July, 8.5 percent.) Though lower than the 9.1 percent peak figure for June, this is still higher than at any other point in the previous 40 years.

The Fed is attacking workers’ bargaining power because, as of June, average wages rose by 5.1 percent relative to the previous year. The Fed, along with most mainstream economists, assume that businesses raise their prices to cover those wage increases, and so wage increases automatically drive inflation. But this does not necessarily follow. At least in part, businesses could also absorb higher wages—either by increasing the productivity of their operations or accepting somewhat lower profits. In fact, businesses have been raising prices faster than wages have gone up, so that profits have kept rising in the post-lockdown recovery. Meanwhile, for average workers, because their 5.1 percent wage increase is lower than the rise in overall prices, it really amounts to about a 3 percent pay cut in terms of what the workers can buy with their wages.

The Fed’s program to attack workers’ bargaining power is straightforward. It entails raising interest rates to make it more costly for businesses and households to borrow money. With credit becoming more expensive, households should then reduce their spending, especially for big-ticket items such as houses, cars and appliances. Businesses will respond to this decline in overall spending by tightening their operations. Workers will face layoffs as a result.

Fed policymakers and virtually all mainstream economists agree that the US working class needs to swallow this bitter medicine for the greater good of controlling inflation. The current debate within these circles focuses on a narrower question: Can the Fed bring down inflation to around 2 percent without inducing a deep recession? Optimists at the Fed argue that a “soft landing” is still possible, citing evidence that labor market conditions have been loosening. Pessimists such as Larry Summers counter that the plan cannot work without a major recession in which unemployment rises to 6 percent or higher.

The touchstone for this debate is the experience of the 1970s and early 1980s. Inflation averaged 9.0 percent between 1974 and 1982, peaking at 13.6 percent in 1980. To stop this persistent inflationary spiral, Fed chair Paul Volcker raised the Fed’s policy interest rate massively, peaking at an extraordinary 19.1 percent in January 1981. This did produce a precipitous fall in inflation, to 3.2 percent by 1983. It also created a severe global recession, with US unemployment rising to 9.7 percent in 1982, and Latin America descending into a debt crisis and a “lost decade” of economic decline.

Despite these huge costs, both sides of the current debate portray Volcker’s actions in heroic terms, worthy of emulation. In doing so, both sides overlook the critically different circumstances between the Volcker era and now, beginning with how high inflation emerged in both periods.

OIL SHOCKS VS. COVID LOCKDOWN

Inflation in the 1970s and early 1980s resulted from the oil-producing countries (OPEC members) and private oil corporations such as Exxon exercising monopoly power to quadruple oil prices in 1973, and then to double prices again in 1979. By contrast, the current bout of high inflation resulted from policies in the United States and other advanced economies to prevent an all-out economic collapse—on the order of the Great Depression or worse—in the face of the Covid pandemic and March 2020 global lockdown. In the United States, the federal government injected nearly $5 trillion in spending to prop up the economy between March 2020 and March 2021—equal to nearly 25 percent of GDP. The Fed itself bought another $4 trillion in financial assets to keep Wall Street afloat. There were enormous disparities in who got what from these government spending injections. Big corporations, for example, received billions in bailout funds without even being required to keep their employees on payroll. Nevertheless, these measures did prevent an economic collapse and powered a rapid recovery.

As a result of the March 2020 Covid lockdown, unemployment jumped from 3.5 percent in February to 14.7 percent in April, creating more than 18 million newly unemployed people. Due to the stimulus programs, unemployment fell back to 3.5 percent in less than two years. By comparison, it took more than ten years for unemployment to fall from 10 percent to 3.5 percent in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis—even though Obama’s 2009 stimulus, at nearly 10 percent of GDP, was the largest peacetime intervention prior to 2020.

In short, the outsized stimulus measures under Covid reflected the view expressed by Fed chair Powell in 2021: “I’m much more worried about falling short of a complete recovery, and losing people’s careers and lives that they built, because they don’t get back to work in time.”

Powell recognized that, without the stimulus policies, we would have experienced deflation instead of inflation—i.e., sharply falling prices, wages, and incomes along with a rise in loan defaults and a teetering financial system; in short, a 1930s-type scenario. Moreover, the risks of deflation and depression in 2020-21 were global in scope, just as the emergence of high inflation from late 2021 until now has been a global pattern. The overall European Union inflation rate is currently 10.9 percent, up from 2.5 percent a year ago.

Powell’s 2020-21 stimulus policies were intended to expand overall demand in the economy—and they did. But they also created the unintended effect of demand outstripping supply. Supply shortages resulted, especially given that production of goods had been scaled back sharply across the board during the lockdown. Businesses took advantage of these supply shortages to mark up prices as much as they could. In particular, energy prices rose by nearly 33 percent, and food prices by nearly 11 percent, between July 2021 and July 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February worsened the supply shortages for food and energy, and speculative trading on global commodities markets pushed those prices up further. The stimulus programs also created a financial bubble on Wall Street. It is telling that those policymakers and mainstream economists now adamant about stopping 5 percent wage gains raised no objections to stock market prices rising by 46 percent during the lockdown, with speculators’ profits spiking as a result.


If, between 1972 and today, average wages had risen in step with productivity gains, and not a penny more, the average nonsupervisory worker’s hourly wage in 2021 would have been $60.55. Instead, it was $25.90, only 67 cents more than in ’72, adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, compensation for big corporate CEOs, which was 33 times higher than the average worker’s pay in the late 1970s, was 366 times higher in 2019. Holding real wages stagnant while redistributing wealth upward has been a cornerstone of neoliberal policy.


40 YEARS OF WAGE STAGNATION

The other big difference between the early 1980s and the present is the relative conditions faced by the working class in both periods. Average real wages in the United States—i.e., after controlling for inflation—had risen by nearly 50 percent between 1960 and 1972, just prior to the first 1973 oil price spike. But real wages have stagnated ever since. In 1972, the average nonsupervisory worker earned $25.23 per hour, adjusted for inflation, while, as of 2021, the average worker earned $25.90, only 67 cents more than in 1972. This at a time when labor productivity—the average amount each worker produces over the course of a day—increased by nearly 250 percent between 1972 and 2021. If, between 1972 and today, average wages had risen in step with productivity gains, and not a penny more, the average worker’s hourly wage in 2021 would have been $60.50, not $25.90.

The idea of holding real wages stagnant for over 40 years has been a cornerstone of neoliberal policy, as initiated in the early 1980s by Ronald Reagan along with Volcker in the US, as well as by Margaret Thatcher in the UK. Indeed, this was the most important force holding inflation down, even when unemployment fell to relatively low levels, such as in the late 1990s. Alan Greenspan, who succeeded Volcker as Fed chair in 1987, acknowledged as much when he described the US working class as having become “traumatized” by global outsourcing and the decline of union strength, even when unemployment was low. 

More generally, wage stagnation in conjunction with rising productivity has been central to the persistent rise of inequality in the United States. This is straightforward: if workers aren’t receiving raises in step with the growing economic pie, then somebody else must be getting bigger and bigger pie slices. Under neoliberalism, the pay for big corporate CEOs rose from being 33 times higher than the average worker in 1978 to 366 times higher in 2019—i.e., a more than tenfold increase in relative pay. The Fed’s current policy amounts to embracing the principle that US workers cannot be allowed to gain enough bargaining strength to push up wages and reverse 40 years of rising inequality.

ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES?

Of course. For starters, both Fed officials and mainstream economists are fixated on bringing inflation down to 2 percent. Why 2 percent? In fact, there is no consistent relationship between rates of inflation, economic growth and unemployment. Focusing on just the high-income (i.e., OECD) economies since the 1960s, relatively high inflation, even in the range of 10 percent or higher, has been associated with periods of both high and low growth, depending on the specific circumstances. By itself, an average inflation rate in the range of 3-4 percent, as opposed to 1-2 percent, is not a serious problem, as long as that somewhat higher inflation rate results from increased wages and a more equal distribution of the economy’s overall pie.

With respect to the energy sector, where prices have risen most sharply, government policy needs to support large-scale investments in energy efficiency in buildings, transportation and industrial activity. Greatly expanding public transportation offerings is one place to start. Government policy then needs to accelerate massively the production of clean renewable energy sources to supplant our existing fossil fuel energy infrastructure. It is already the case that the costs of generating electricity with solar and wind power are at parity or lower than with fossil fuels.

Such measures are also imperative for fighting climate change, which is why they are included as major features of the Inflation Reduction Act which became law in August. Not all of these energy efficiency and renewable energy investments will have immediate impacts. In the short term the government should provide people with energy tax rebates to protect them against temporary spikes in energy prices. The revenues for such rebates should come from the windfall profits tax proposals that have been introduced in Congress by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Ro Khanna. Federal policy can also stop the speculative rise of food and energy prices simply by enforcing financial regulations already in place.

Corporate profits and CEO pay also need to be scaled back relative to the bloated levels achieved under neoliberalism. US businesses cannot expect wage stagnation and persistently rising inequality to remain as bedrocks of US capitalism for another 40 years. To the extent that corporations try to cover any and all wage increases, and then some, by raising consumer prices, the Biden administration should continue pursuing aggressive enforcement of existing anti-trust (i.e., anti-monopoly) policies to prevent these price mark-ups.

Details aside, the basic policy approach should be clear: we must not allow neoliberalism to bask in a new wave of legitimacy in the name of controlling inflation.

Robert Pollin is Distinguished University Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His most recent book (with Noam Chomsky) is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal. This piece originally appeared on thenation.com in September; a shorter version, with updated data, was published in the print edition of the magazine for October 31/November 7. We’ve posted the longer version here and incorporated the updates.





Save the Dates: October 8-9

16 09 2022

Return of the Fabulous!

Photo: Seiya Maeda on Unsplash

CineSlam lgbtq film festival, Oct. 8, 1 pm

Harvest late brunch benefit, Oct. 9, 2 pm

Fall is upon us, and with it Kopkind’s Harvest Festival at height of color, October 8th and 9th. We’ll have an afternoon of screenings as CineSlam LGBTQ Short Film Festival returns on Saturday, the 8th, from 1 to 6 pm. We’ll have Pride Cake at intermission! We’ll have sparkling cider! Most of all we’ll have a cornucopia of creative work that, to borrow the words of Andy Kopkind, “reaches back to the radical roots of liberation, to the joyously skewed visions of sex, love, culture and camp that lie outside the conventions of the straight world.” At the Organ Barn at Tree Frog Farm in Guilford. Free.

On Sunday, the 9th, Kopkind’s Harvest Late Brunch returns. We’ll have a sumptuous spread beginning at 2 pm, followed by a talk by JoAnn Wypijewski. In part it’s a celebration of her 2020 book, What We Don’t Talk About: Sex & the Mess of Life (we’re catching up after a two-year pandemic pause); in larger part, a discussion of sexual politics at the critical center of a struggle for human values over market values, military values, in the contest between liberation and backlash. For freedom to be. Tickets are $35; $10, student and low-income.

Community — people thinking and acting together — is vital to every movement for change and assertion of marvelous humanity. Please join us, at the height of color in beautiful southern Vermont, as we come together again for fabulous films, provocative discussion and great food!

Please RSVP for the late brunch to jwyp@earthlink.net. You may buy tickets via the Donate button at the top of this site, or by check to Kopkind, 158 Kopkind Rd., Guilford, VT 05301, or on the day of. In any case, please shoot us an email to reserve. Weather permitting, Sunday’s events will be outdoors. The film screening Saturday will be in the barn. Guests must wear a mask inside, and we’re asking people to have a negative Covid test before they arrive at Tree Frog Farm. For directions: stonewal@sover.net.





‘Pick Up Your Rock’

24 06 2022

Almost 40 years ago Jesse Jackson made a speech detailing part of the reason Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 — “the fracture of our coalition” and “the margin of despair.” Jackson was registering voters and running for the presidential nomination when he made this speech, so he focussed on votes-that-never-were: “rocks, just laying around.” The genius of the 1984 and 1988 Rainbow Coalition, though, was that it considered every fight of any one part of the coalition to be a fight that implicated every other part. Central was the recognition of social movement constituencies and a coherent electoral strategy. Today’s Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case was 50 years in the making, the product of right-wing social movement organizing, agitating, electioneering, vying for office at every level, legislating, gerrymandering, court-stuffing, propagandizing, protesting and lawbreaking. As the decision makes clear, banning abortion is not the right’s only goal. It never was. Just as its electoral strategy was never its only one. This is a raw day. We remember the ‘Little David’ part of Jackson’s speech as a clarion against despair.

This year’s political camp for journalists, activists and other media makers, from July 17 through 24, will address the theme Social Movements and Electoral Politics, a Critical Relationship. The struggle for reproductive freedom as everyone’s struggle will be a vital part of our discussions.





Fern Feather

16 04 2022
Fern, 2014, at Tree Frog Farm (photos: Asam Ahmad)

Fern Feather was a flowerboy when we met in 2014, a flowergirl, a sparkle of fairy dust, a glowing presence in a dark world, an aesthete, a bit of a scamp, a loving soul, a live soul, until April 12, 2022, when someone put an end to all that. No in memoriam should start with murder, but how do you keep something like that to the side, especially when the contrast between living and dying is so sharp, so shocking? Fern was 22 when we met, would have been 30 on April 22. He, she, they, Fern had come out as trans this past March but wasn’t too concerned about pronouns, friends have said, maybe because Fern in full defied all categoriesno more or less a month ago than when s/he came to Kopkind quite unexpectedly, to fill a breach when we needed a cook in an emergency. In flew Fern, saronged and wearing a light shirt, bangles; be-ringed fingers deftly arranging rainbow platters of heirloom tomatoes, gracefully gesturing toward each dish, which s/he always introduced with a flourish.

What a whirl of a time. There was Fern organizing the campers in the preparation of dinnermentors Scot Nakagawa chopping cilantro, Peter Linebaugh lazily stirring brownie batter … There was Fern ambling across the back field gathering wild flowers …

Asam Ahmad, who was a camper in 2014 and took all the photographs in this post, remembers Fern as having “a kind of exuberance and openness to the world that was so unafraid yet simultaneously kind of terrifying.” Fern told wild stories, of hitchhiking through the US and Latin America. Fern, beautiful adventurer. A few days before the murder, Fern picked up a hitchhiker, a “good guy,” a “special friend,” s/he told a real friend, according to police reports. Fern and the hitchhiker spent some time together, and then one morning the hitchhiker called another real friend to say he had killed Fern. Fern had gone “crazy” and attacked him after a sexual advance, the man said; “I wasn’t gay,” he told police. Past tense. We don’t know much more, except that there was no sign of a struggle; the self-confessed killer, a 43-year-old transient who had previously stabbed someone and previously spent time in a psych ward, was not injured, and was found sitting in a car at the scene of the crime when police arrived, as Fern lay dead on the ground from a stab wound to the chest, with two dogs grieving.

Vermont is not associated with violent death, and consistently has one of the lowest murder rates in the country. “In Vermont, we’ve seen primarily males killing other males as a result of an argument or some kind of emotional provocation between them,” Penny Shtull, a professor of criminology at Norwich University, told the press at the close of 2021, a year when state police investigated a total of nine homicides. But this is not the first ever killing of a trans or nonconforming person in the Green Mountain State, either, and nationally 2021 was the most gruesome year on record. The Human Rights Campaign lists Fern as the eleventh trans or nonconforming person in the country to be killed in 2022.

Fern Feather … such a perfect name. Fern loved the birds of the air, the green of the field and all its bounty, all things marvelous, common and strange. S/he floated among them. In the numerous expressions of grief that have circulated, a friend recalled meeting Fern at a bonfire. “You’re too pretty to be standing alone,” Fern had said. Letting anyone stand alone wasn’t Fern’s style.

Queer people in Vermont have been gathering in Fern’s memory, and will continue to do so. We join in gratitude for Fern’s life, and in sorrow.





A February Night Ten Years Ago: 4

26 02 2022

Anyone’s Son

Tara Skurtu

for the family of Trayvon Martin

This poem wants to write itself backwards.

Wishes it were born memory instead, skipping

time like a record needle stuck on the line

of your last second. You sit up. Brush not blood,

but dirt from your chest. You sit up. You’re in bed.

Bad dream. Back to sleep. You sit up. Rise and shine.

Good morning. This is the poem of a people united

in the uniform of your last day. Pockets full

of candy, hooded sweatshirt, sweet tea. This poem

wants to stand its ground, silence force

with simple words, pray you alive anyone’s

son — tall boy, eye-smile, walk on home.

Tara Skurtu, a Florida native, currently lives in Bucharest. The recipient of two Academy of American Poets prizes, a Marcia Keach Poetry Prize and a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, she is the author of the chapbook Skurtu, Romania and the full poetry collection The Amoeba Game. In 2020 Tara founded the online arts initiative International Poetry Circle. She’s also on the steering committee of Writers for Democratic Action. “Anyone’s Son” was originally published by The Huffington Post, July 14, 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. It is the final piece in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.





Interlude

25 02 2022

The twinned images appeared in different forms after February 26, 2012, and gave way, with the years, to others, multiples. The image below, by Brooklyn artist Dáreece Walker, was reprinted by The Nation in March of 2020. The twinning calls to mind another poem, by the great Gwendolyn Brooks, from her 1960 book, The Bean Eaters. Readers are encouraged to see also a companion poem by Brooks, “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon.”

(artwork: Dáreece Walker)

The Last Quatrain of Emmett Till

    after the murder,
    after the burial

Emmett’s mother is a pretty-faced thing;
    the tint of pulled taffy.
She sits in a red room,
    drinking black coffee.
She kisses her killed boy.
    And she is sorry.
Chaos in windy grays
    through a red prairie.

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917 and lived most of her life in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. Her many other books include A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen (for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950), Maud Martha and In the Mecca. She was the US Poet Laureate in 1985-86. The Morgan Library in New York City has a wonderful exhibition called “Magnitude and Bond: The Work of Gwendolyn Brooks in Community,” now until June 5, 2022.





A February Night Ten Years Ago: 3

24 02 2022

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin went out on a drizzly night in Sanford, Florida, and never came home. This week we’re commemorating Trayvon’s life and the upsurge sparked by his death, mostly through poetry included in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence, a collection of writings, documents and poems on Martin’s case and related ones, edited by Kevin Alexander Gray, Jeffrey St. Clair and JoAnn Wypijewski, with contributions from many Kopkind alums and friends.

(artwork: Merlo Levy)

Trayvon, Redux

Rita Dove

It is difficult/to get the news from poems /yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there./Hear me out/for I too am concerned/and every man/who wants to die at peace in his bed/besides.

– William Carlos Williams, “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower”

Move along, you don’t belong here.
This is what you’re thinking. Thinking
drives you nuts these days, all that
talk about rights and law abidance when
you can’t even walk your own neighborhood
in peace and quiet, get your black ass gone.
You’re thinking again. Then what?
Matlock’s on TV and here you are,
vigilant, weary, exposed to the elements
on a wet winter’s evening in Florida
when all’s not right but no one sees it.
Where are they – the law, the enforcers
blind as a bunch of lazy bats can be,
holsters dangling from coat hooks above their desks
as they jaw the news between donuts?

Hey! It tastes good, shoving your voice
down a throat thinking only of sweetness.
Go on, choke on that. Did you say something?
Are you thinking again? Stop!— and
get your ass gone, your blackness,
that casual little red riding hood
I’m just on my way home attitude
as if this street was his to walk on.
Do you hear me talking to you? Boy. 
How dare he smile, jiggling his goodies
in that tiny shiny bag, his black paw crinkling it,
how dare he tinkle their laughter at you.

Here’s a fine basket of riddles: 
If a mouth shoots off and no one’s around
to hear it, who can say which came first—
push or shove, bang or whimper? 
Which is news fit to write home about?

Rita Dove is a former US Poet Laureate (1993-1995) and recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her book Thomas and Beulah. Her poetry collections include Sonata Mulattica and American Smooth, and she was sole editor of The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. She is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia. “Trayvon, Redux” originally appeared on The Root, July 16, 2013.





A February Night Ten Years Ago: 2

23 02 2022

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin went out on a drizzly night in Sanford, Florida, and never came home. This week we’re commemorating Trayvon’s life and the upsurge sparked by his death, mostly through poetry included in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence, a collection of writings, documents and poems on Martin’s case and related ones, edited by Kevin Alexander Gray, Jeffrey St. Clair and JoAnn Wypijewski, with contributions from many Kopkind alums and friends.

Detail from Trayvon Martin mural, Oakland (photo: Tennessee Reed)

cartwheel on the blacktop (Trayvon Martin 2.0)

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

he has wings in his shoes

Trayvon yawns and stretches in the crook of the tree. Slept til dark again. Shrugs. Stretches out his retractable shoe gliders and hangs a slow swinging backflip out of the branches. Into the world again. Blows a kiss at one leaf. Turns to face home.

a rainbow in his mouth

Notices he is on tilt two-thousand. Off-balance more than the sway of waking up. Sugar low. Annoyed to have to hunt for convenience and its stores of chemical fructose. This is a manicured neighborhood. No fruit in these trees but him himself at twilight.

he has sweet tea time travel in a can

Sweetness reloading he blinks at the mission message in his eyelids. Find the little brother. Teach him about sugar. Teach him that he too can fly as nonchalant as hammock rope. Give him one swift hug and then return to the future to plug in his fingers. Banjo music a much better charge than this watered down fuel. Can’t wait to get home. He slept into dark. On this world of all worlds. Right during the time of the nightvision nearsightedness. Sigh. He might be late. His shoes brush the sidewalk.

his hooded sweatshirt forcefield threaded through with angel kevlar

Behind him the loud machine for the heavyfooted hunter slows down. He has been detected. Will his teenage camouflage help him or hurt. He sighs. He is so young. Only four hundred years old. He shakes his head and looks back. Remember how they used guns. Remember how they never felt safe enough to breathe or whole enough to listen. Overslept. Over. He sends one telepathic message to the little brother waiting. Quickly embroiders it with sweetness. Love.

At the moment of the explosion the sweatshirt flickers hieroglyphics. Blue light math. He squeezes the can. Liquid sprays everywhere. Hands to the pavement. He wonders if the little brother will understand what he must do.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist, a prayer poet priestess with a PhD from Duke University. Her books include Dub: Finding Ceremony, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons From Marine Mammals and 101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive, among others. She is co-editor of a volume on legacies of radical mothering, This Bridge Called My Baby. 

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