A Black Panther newspaper that I brought home from Vietnam. Racial tensions were high in 1970, both in the States and in Vietnam. Black soldiers viewed their oppression as exacerbated by being sent to fight in a war to keep the Vietnamese “free” when they did not have many basic freedoms at home. Slave bracelets and segregated cliques were common. The “race riot” in QL 4 is described pretty much as it happened, although there probably wasn’t the critical mass for a real “riot.” The author did witness a real riot while a law student at Duke University the year before: phalanxes of police in riot gear, clouds of tear gas, and flying rocks. It made the front page of The New York Times (Feb. 14, 1969).
A lost memory
imbued with yellow
Superimposed on white stucco buildings
and red tile roofs,
Yellow dusk reverberating with the staccato
of Japanese and Italian labor
brought by Americans,
Echoing in a cacophony of horns and voices
choked with exhaust fumes.
Concrete streets, broken sidewalks,
A water-filled gutter
with a crying, bare-assed child squatting on a plank
leading to the bar with a bright blue gate
Under a sky suffused with yellow,
lost in yellow,
swallowed in yellow,
In the deceptive
somnambulant grip of twilight,
A hiatus between the human clamor of day
And the artillery rung, fog-seized silence of night.
Last week in the field, after chow,
The quiet kid from Indiana got a letter from his wife
and slit his wrists with a P-38 army issue can opener;
That night, 50 push-ups and blood seeping through the bandages.
“You fail, you’re fucked!” yells the drill sergeant.
The sun’s slanting rays rest on the top of the pine.
“Fall in,” the voice calls;
Not moving, I dream
of different places and better times,
Of your body
breaking the sparkling surface of the pool.
To see the world through another’s eyes
is a dangerous thing:
the loneliness of a widowed mother
as the child slips away,
the desperation of a child
when a parent blinks out
or just doesn’t understand.
To own their sorrows
and know their secrets
is despair and fear.
How can we care
if we do not know?
How can we know
if we do not see,
when we avert our eyes,
Since we are not …
we are not?
I am not a refugee in a leaky boat,
waiting to sink;
I am not hungry,
rooting through garbage;
I am not black or brown
living in a ghetto forsaken by hope;
I am not an unwanted immigrant
seeking a better life;
I am not an angry white man
watching Fox News;
I am not a black man
fleeing a uniform;
I am not a cop’s spouse
starting at each knock on the door;
I am not a single mother
watching her child off to school;
I am not a soldier
facing an unseen enemy;
I am not a veiled bride
seeing death rain from the sky;
I am not a breast-cancer survivor
facing a mirror;
I am not disabled,
struggling through a door;
I am not a debt-ridden farmer,
tilling dead fields;
I am not oppressed for my religion or race;
I am not gay afraid to come out;
I am not a teenage girl pregnant and alone;
I am not poor and working two jobs;
I am not homeless.
He watches the cars
the drivers stopped,
staring at anything but him—
time and drink and fate ravaged—
and his cardboard sign
with its crayon-scrawled letters
that ask for …
and we look away
or hand a folded bill out the window
and drive on,
that we have seen ourselves
in the rear-view mirror,
as he waves farewell
with a raised
Now that they are here.
What will happen tomorrow—here.
A past of some dragged here in chains;
A past of all those who came any way they could.
In addition to QL 4, James Garrison has a second novel, The Safecracker (legal thriller), scheduled for release by TouchPoint Press in the fall 0f 2019. In it, Patricia Egan is a newly minted lawyer with a housemate she doesn’t like and a client she doesn’t want, a petty safecracker who seems far removed from the well-heeled clients her boutique energy law firm has been representing. But the safecracker and former clients, who are developing a visionary alternative energy project, are closely linked in their respective criminal enterprises, something they want no one to discover, certainly not Patricia or her housemate and fellow lawyer, Jack Alexander. There’s a string of dead and maimed to prove it.
Jim is also working on a third novel, What Seems True (noir fiction, approx. 89,000 words) based on a true crime. Not even in Port Arthur, Texas, do you shoot a man six times with a 16-gauge shotgun for no reason at all, not even to rob him. In the South in 1980, it has to be about sex or race. Or both.