Patti Smith – “a useless death” (1972)

January 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm (Patti Smith, Poetry & Literature)

a useless death

     by patti smith

I am on the scaffold. What excitement!
What glitter! What is going on?
I know so little of this country.
I suspect its the coronation of the queen.
NO. Oh god. I’m wrong.
Its the execution of the queen!
and I’m trapped.
there’s no way I can help.
there’s no way I can avoid watching.
perched on this scaffold.
I gotta bird’s eye view.

The king calls for action. like the
director of some blown out passion play.
He makes a weary gesture.
its clear he hasn’t slept in ages.
first come the ladies in waiting.
there they are. thirty of them.
dressed alike. high-waisted
green taffeta gowns.

moving alike. medieval majorettes.
that flemish air. nose in air.
thirty pairs of tiny hands folded
over protruding bellies.

why are condemned women affecting
a pregnant woman’s gesture?

and how comical it is. thirty sentenced
women swaying. some very pretty indeed.
many on the brink of collapse.

The king is muttering. what is he saying?
seems my hearing has become as acute as my view.

“god damn ladies-in-waiting. get rid
of them. how I’ve despised them. always
clutter up the castle. cluck cluck.”


He seems to object to them more than
the queen. but as the saying goes:
kill me ya kill my dogs. and vice versa.
its a package deal. its the rules of
the game. and a king sticks to them.

the ladies are in tears. tearing tissues.
they approach a sizeable block of land.
its roped off and seasoned with fresh
topsoil. 3l shovels are lined up face

The king decrees that they are to dig
their own grave. Jesus what a rucas.
The women lose what composure they
had in the procession. They sob openly.
they wring their hands and cling to
one another. several fall prostrate.
those more distraught tear their hair
and rip their gowns.

This is getting ridiculous. The prince
is embarrassed. I throw a quick glance
toward the castle. Backdrop. There
is the queen. No one has noticed her.
She moves as if a dream. listless.
weightless. she seems to have little
to do with the proceedings. does she
understand that death is near?
she seems completely unaware.

How I admire her! She is a true heroine.
Oblivious of her power. how power, love
and death revolve around her! as though
she had never stood before a mirror.
The king is exasperated. her lack of
recognition. does his word mean nothing?
The ladies-in-waiting make up for it.
they weep harder at the sight of their
gentle queen. they beat their breasts in
unison. a few onlookers swoon. The
cook has to be carried off.


The queen is handed a spade. Was that a
smile that crossed her face? its impossible
to tell now.

Suddenly she shivers and says, “I’m cold”.
Instantly I feel the intense cold.
everyone does. god, its below zero.
I’m confused. wasn’t it just spring?
everyone has on thin wraps.
Even the king has but a simple velvet cloak
and not his usual ermine.

The ladies’ teeth chatter. the only way
to keep warm is to move. they begin to
dig like the devil. thirty women working
hard in the soil creates great warmth.
if they stop to rest they’ll freeze
to death.

The queen can’t seem to get in the swing
of things. she helps a bit. loosens a
chunk of hard clay or helps excavate a
huge rock. occasionally a smooth stone
or a pretty piece of crystal will attract
her. she handles it. examines it. turns
it over. drops it in her train which she
has gathered up smiling.
her childish delight in serving herself.

Frost is making it harder to dig. yet
the women are working like madmen to
keep warm.

The king has lost interest. the queen is
wandering off. everyone is going home.

I lose my footing
fall off the scaffold
everything in slow motion.


crime without passion

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Joseph Devassy – “Ballad of the Black Field Goal Kicker” (2009)

January 29, 2009 at 6:08 am (Life & Politics, Reviews & Articles)

A recent article from Jan. 22nd, written by a good friend of mine. In it, he analyzes how many of us live our lives trying to conform to what we think society expects of us. This article got me to thinking. Imagine if President Obama had simply “accepted” that a black man could never be elected president, so therefore, why even bother trying? He didn’t of course, and we are all the richer for his determination and boldness. We should all try to follow the brave example of Mr. Obama and the three other gentlemen discussed in this article, who each decided to follow their dreams, despite the limitations of a conformist society. They represent the “pioneering spirit” (as Mr. Devassy states) in all of us, that we each possess but unfortunately allow to remain dormant within ourselves. May we all strive to change that behavior. Don’t settle for the mediocrity we have all allowed ourselves to accept as the “norm” in this country. Don’t blindly follow fashions and trends, just to appear “cool.” Realize it is much more cool to simply be “yourself”…whoever that may be. 

(NOTE: This article has been reprinted in a couple of different places, using my preface, and in one of them, the article was slightly altered. This is the original posting.)

     As a psychotherapist in Bristol, Connecticut, I can feel the visceral pulse of ESPN, the sports programming behemoth, whose world headquarters sprawl impressively, mere yards from my office. Invariably, I think of sports, and as I think of sports, I think of America, and the staggering myriad of ingredients that flavor this democracy for the ages. I think of Mr. Barack Obama, and am warmed with the healthy intoxication of witnessing his stirring ascent to the leadership of our still proud country. I think of our president, and marvel at his pioneering spirit, his determined optimism, his grasp of the human condition, and his seemingly innate sense of the components of our republic that need to be displaced or recast. I think of President Obama and understand why a nation was galvanized on that early November day.

     As psychotherapists, my colleagues and I have an imperative duty to assess and interpret the larger culture within which our clients are conducting their recovery efforts. This can be a daunting task, for American society is indeed a complex organism, teeming with a multitude of varied and often intricate cultural messages and expectations. However, as dedicated students of this complicated and intricate culture, it becomes evident that some societal tenets are so established and so embedded, that they pervade every citizen’s existence on some level, regardless of the demographics of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, education, sexuality, economic status, etc. These tenets are often stealthy and surreptitious, ensconced deeply within the cultural psyche, so confident in their ability to influence the populace, and emboldened by the fact that many citizens are simply not cognizant of their oppressive effects.

     Of these tenets, perhaps the most malevolent and disturbing is the overbearing cultural pressure to…conform. Now, clearly, conformity and compliance serve, on several levels, to maintain required aspects of basic social order. However, it is increasingly evident that this powerful and potent tenet of conformity has shaped generation after generation after generation of American citizens into, for lack of a better term, and with all due respect, largely homogenous automatons, subconsciously terrified of “falling out of step,” desperately fearful of the societal censure that accompanies any sustained efforts to operate outside the conventional and rigid cultural parameters of what is defined as “normal.” This collective apprehension, dread, and anxiety of “not fitting in,” is deeply rooted in the psyche of our nation, and further validates the accomplishments of any American social pioneer.

     As the Super Bowl descends upon our nation this weekend, with all its deep and intense sociocultural symbolism, I ask that you please remember three proud men, three true social pioneers…Gene Mingo, Cedric Oglesby, and Justin Medlock. The National Football League was created in 1922 and, from its inception, African-Americans have participated in the action. Conversely, Major League Baseball existed for a half-century before Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier in 1947. Despite nearly ninety years of African-American participation in National Football League combat, these THREE men are the ONLY black Americans to have kicked a field goal in a regular season game. Amidst the thousands and thousands of NFL games played in these years, and the thousands and thousands of players that have filled NFL rosters, Mr. Mingo, Mr. Oglesby, and Mr. Medlock are the only black field goal kickers in history. This is a staggering statistic, given the deserved prominence of the black athlete in American sports history, including the traditionally “white” sports of golf, tennis, and even speedskating. What is even more staggering is that Mr. Mingo kicked his first NFL field goal in 1967, some forty-five years after the inception of the league. Thirty-four years later, in 2001, Mr. Oglesby had the “audacity” to kick five field goals for the Arizona Cardinals. Mr. Medlock completed the trio in 2007, when he kicked one field goal for the Kansas City Chiefs. Historically, there may be no greater dearth of African-Americans, in any occupation, than there has been as NFL field goal kickers.

     Readers must also understand that field goal kickers (a.k.a. placekickers), regardless of skin color, are famously shunned by their brawnier teammates, ostracized for their general lack of intimidating physicality, often cast as social pariahs in the hyper-masculine domains of NFL teams. Consciously choosing to pursue a career path as a field goal kicker is, in and of itself, a decision to “not fit in.” For a black man, choosing this career path can only be seen as an intensely brave decision, and, in my research, three pioneering choices that have never really been acknowledged. While President Obama’s pioneering achievement is understandably seismic and globally lauded, the achievements of the black field goal kicker, while not as distinctive, are seemingly consigned to the dusty cut-out bin of forgotten sports memories. So to Gene Mingo, Cedric Oglesby, and Justin Medlock, wherever you may be, we salute you!

     As you watch the Super Bowl this weekend, and realize that you really can’t, for the life of you, remember any black American field goal kicker, consider the self-induced boundaries that may have materialized in your own life. Please realize that it’s okay to truly “think outside the box,” that it’s okay to slowly break away from the preconceived and prefabricated roles that we have crafted for ourselves. Those around you will resist, in subtle and not so subtle ways, and will likely send verbal and non-verbal messages to not “rock the boat,” as it were, especially those invested in your maintenance of a status quo. Ignore them, for life is short, and they will adapt. It’s never too late to start the quest for your own inner black field goal kicker.

Joseph Devassy

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