Poems for
The People

Edited by George and
Willene Hendrick
(Ivan R. Dee)
You come along tearing your shirt and talking about Jesus.
I want to know what the hell you know about Jesus.
Jesus had a way of talking soft and everybody except a few bankers and higher-ups among the con men liked to have this Jesus around because he was soothing and helped the sick and gave people hope.
You come along with a diarrhea of words, shaking your fist and calling all of us damn fools, froth of your own spit slobbering over your lips, blabbing and blabbing we're all going to hell and you know all about it.

I've read Jesus' words. I know what he said.
He never came near real decent people but they felt easier when he passed. It was your crowd of bankers and businessmen that hired the sluggers and murderers that put Jesus out of the game.
I say it was the same bunch that's backing you that nailed the nails into the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. I know just as much about this Jesus of Nazareth as you do and I know he had lined up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men that are lined up with you paying your way.

This Jesus guy threw out something fresh and beautiful from his person wherever he passed along. The smell of his body, touch of his hands, catch in his voice made women and children feel safe and happy about God.
But you, Billy Sunday-you're only the dirty smokestack of a glue factory and you put a smut on every human blossom that listens to the raucous yawp of your bawling gibberish.

--- From the poem "Billy Sunday,"
by Carl Sandburg

A recent review in the NYRB suggested that Carl Sandburg's poems were not very memorable, hog butcher of the world notwithstanding. This volume certainly proves the truth of that. He was an angry radical, and, with the exception of the likes of Ginsburg and Ferlinghetti, and the Weimar expressionists --- few angry radicals make good poets. It's the balance, stupid. Probably the best thing that Sandburg left us was not his quite eccentric biography of Lincoln, nor his poetry --- but his Rootabaga Stories for children. As a sixty-year-old juvenile delinquent, with the attention span of a six-year-old, I would hereby like to affirm that.

--- W. W. Wright

Civil War

A Pictorial Story
Of the War Between
The States, 1861 - 1865

George B. Abdill
Those who love the Civil War and old trains will have a field day with this one. Never had a major war been fought in which railroads were of such importance. For the first time, victory or defeat was based on technology --- and the new experience of hampering the enemy by destroying rail lines, switching yards, and the rolling equipment.

As well, for the first time, questions of states rights impinged on the war effort. In the north, the U. S. Military Railroads took charge of all rails, rolling stock, and equipment. In the south however, states rights stood in the way of outright government ownership of the rails --- which had the obvious deleterious effect on the prosecution of the war (if you don't own the means of production, as any good Marxist will tell you, you don't own nuttin'.)

The present volume is jam-packed full with old photographs --- over 200 in all --- of rails, bridges, workmen, yards, terminals, roundhouses, hospital trains, along with wonderful shots of engines, eight wheelers with cowcatchers, Baldwin locomotives, switching engines, and all the wonderful paraphernalia that goes along with ancient trains. Unfortunately, whoever it is that put this volume together was more interested in the fascinating photographs and less interested in logic and order. The narrative jumps around, between north and south, from railroad camps to terminals, from bridges to works, military yards to railroad heroes. It's a mish-mash --- but if you like your photographs black-and-white, your cameramen amateur, your sights antique, your vistas unimpeded by high-rises, condos, and freeways --- with pure visions of the iron horses of old --- then this is your baby.

--- B. Van Zandt


The True Story of a Gay Son,
His Fundamentalist
Christian Family, and
The Battle for His Soul

Stuart Howell Miller

Stuart Howell Miller grew up in Tennessee, and discovered early on that he was more attracted to men than to women. Like many of his age and time, he suppressed this desire until finally, at age twenty-three, in Fort Lauderdale, "drenched in beer and sticky drinks," he was seduced by an "attractive man in a red convertible." Later, he moved to Los Angeles where he became active in AIDS education, gay counseling, and gay rights. Prayer Warriors is the tale of his discovering his sexuality, and the discovery, as well, of his family's powerful antagonism to his new life.

It opens with Miller's journey from Los Angeles to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to tell his mother and father, for the first time, the truth about himself. He tries to convince father, mother, sister, and his many relatives that being homosexual is not a sickness, that it is a chosen life-style, that no one is to blame, and that he wants them to rejoice in his choice. But his father is a powerful born-again Christian, as are many of his relatives, and the trip is a complete failure. Instead of hearing him out, they tell him that he is now a sinner, and they try to "convert" him to their religion, and "back to" heterosexuality.

Miller is a gay activist --- with all that implies: workshops, counseling, parades, gay pride week celebrations, conferences, support groups, AIDS awareness. He lives the gay life in spades, and he is as militant in this world as his father is in his fundamentalist religious world. They are obviously chips off the same block.

Now no one will deny that this is powerful stuff: the gay son coming home, facing a militant father, with hell-fire damnation religion, and far from being accepted --- a family who enlists a band of "prayer warriors" to use every means (telephone calls, cards, letters) to turn him away from his chosen path. All the elements of drama are there, but as we read along, we find ourselves tapping our fingers impatiently and wondering why the hell we aren't taken by his tale. One of the reasons, for sure, is that Miller may know narrative, but he hasn't yet learned how to put narrative and dialogue and suspense and hate and love and sorrow in the same pot, to stir it up and make an un-put-down-able book.

Something else is missing, too. And I think it's that his father is a militant fundamentalist Christian and Miller is a militant fundamentalist gay and we know that never the twain shall meet --- for family battles like this can neither have victory nor loss. (The best we can ask for from those we grew up with is not acceptance, but a truce.) If I am gay, and I want to continue to be in contact with my parents, I don't write letters to them saying, There seems to be little or no room for any light that shines outside of your realm...I feel you want to control and judge my choices... This is known as a no-win situation.

In truth, the author of Prayer Warriors comes across as a bit of a prig --- so taken up with The Cause that all the wonderful spice possible in life gets beat into a tiny box labeled "Me and My Gay Sexuality and How My Family Don't Get It." He tells us oh-so-casually of his affairs with Scott and Larry and John and Ken and Chris, and we want to tell him to cool it on the bed-time roll-calls and guess just guess for a moment, Stuart what all this bed-hopping implies --- to them; to the reader --- about his own sense of self-worth. (I don't have to sleep with everyone in sight to prove that I'm gay --- much less that I am a good person). Miller comes across as so militant that we wonder what he does for entertainment. How would it be, we think, to accept everything, especially his family's non-acceptance? Leave them to their world; stop trying convert; stop telling them how OK his life. Which, with descriptions of his powerful depressions is obviously not the case.

I suspect that Miller inadvertently recognizes this. At one gay bar, where he has gone (again!) to find a lover, he runs into,

    Scott [who] had realized he was gay in high school...To him, being gay was just the way it was. An intellectual, he hadn't grappled with moral or religious dilemmas as I had. He wasn't out to his family but thought they would take it in stride, just as they had accepted his decision to abandon a lucrative career in law. Unlike me, his life did not revolve around his gayness. I was envious of the ease with which he accepted himself.

Our tale ends with Miller going back to Tennessee for a "pride parade kickoff." He gives a speech. He tells of Rebecca, who was kicked out of her house (age eleven) for kissing another girl. "We're both orphans," he says, not realizing that he has created his own orphanage through his militance, the oft-repeated oh-my-family-is-so-blind, and more than a tad of self-pity.


--- Laurie Wilson

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