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The Last Day of the Great Laibon [a story]

by Michael Robbins

This story is dedicated to my father.

 

Kiana had been in the wilderness alone. It was against protocol, and exactly what she needed. That’s what she told herself anyway. Lions came to nuzzle her belly, rumbling softly, perhaps due to that acute animal instinct for knowing when something was wrong. Usually they scattered when the Old man came around.

The first time was on the first day of the month, on the first hour past noon. Of course it was. He popped around a tree on those sand scattered Kalahari plains and waved. Kiana started, then bent over the hand-held UV monitor in both her mitts and muttered, “It’s not real.”

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On the second day, at the appointed hour, he climbed into the sun-screened Jeep with her with a cheery “Hello!” Her grip tightened knuckle white on the steering wheel. “You’re not real,” she repeated, almost as a mantra. Her bright green eyes shunted her off onto a vision, flashing to the live-feed six weeks past, to the same man, now more emaciated than he’d been at their last contact, seemingly plied with ever-more tubes in every vein. She blinked, jerking to the side, but the man was gone, at least for now.

Twice more she saw him, at a distance paralleling her as she did her job, collecting genetic samples from the indigenous wildlife. It wasn’t normally dangerous work, but it was always better to work in teams. Especially on the Kalahari with its hundred-degree-plus temperatures, sparse grasses, pale sand pans and gnarled camel thorn trees clawing infrequently at the sky. On the sixth day, it almost cost her.

Kiana had sampled some weaver birds but hadn’t been paying enough attention to her surroundings. Which was how the cheetah had stumbled into her. They literally tripped over one another. Luckily Kiana rolled one way and the spotted cheetah the other. Her heart hammered at her ribs with startling ferocity. That was nothing compared to the snarl issuing from the big cat.

Its eyes were cloudy. It must have an older cat who stumbled carelessly into the noonday sun and been blinded. With all the other adverse effects of climate change it couldn’t have been helped. This was not helping her at all, though. Her limbs were still trying not to move. She didn’t seem to have much control over her shrill breathing, something the cheetah’s ears tuned in on with terrible accuracy.

That’s when the Old man stepped around her, waving both long arms and yelling, startling the cat enough that she could get off a shot with her tranq pistol. It took a couple of shots to flatten the agitated beast, but it was done.

The pistol thunked to the brittle yellow grass as the Old Man swung back to her with that familiar grin. “That’s why you shouldn’t be out here by yourself,” he said. “Baby? What’s wrong?”

“…please stop,” she whispered, her overflowing eyes burning. “…god, please stop…you can’t be here…”

“I don’t see why not. The cheetah seemed to agree with me.”

“B-but, Poppa, you’re gone. You’re…y-y-you’re…”

It all came spilling out, all the tears dammed for the past six weeks, all the suppressed emotions, stealing her breath, choking her. The Old Man returned from the truck with a paper bag for her to breath into. He held onto her with soothing words as she hunched over herself, hyperventilating for how long, an hour? All she was able to choke out in all that time was, “forgive me.”

“What for, baby?” he asked.

“I-I wasn’t there, Poppa. I-I didn’t come for the end.”

“The cancer was pretty far along this time. There wasn’t a lot anyone could do.”

As he’d done when she was younger and brought home every stray dog in the neighborhood, teary-eyed, he now dabbed her cheeks with a kerchief that was the same safari-brown as his sleeveless shirt and shorts. “It’s okay, Baby. Say what’s really bothering you.”

She could look at him now, into the smiling eyes that had raised her, the face now smoothed of all aches. “Is heaven real?” she asked.

“It’s better than heaven,” he shrugged. “Go on. You can do it.”

“I can’t.”

“What, the little girl who frolicked with lions? That’s not who I remember.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t want to remember you like that, all wasted away. I wanted you to be strong in my memory. I wanted to remember all the fishing trips with you and Momma. I wanted to remember that big hug you gave me when I came home from my mission.”

“You can still have that. Nothing wrong with that.”

“But I-I’m not ready.”

“I wasn’t. Nobody’s ever ready. That’s okay. I have faith in you, baby.”

“Does Momma hate me, for not coming home?”

He blew a raspberry out the side of his mouth. “Never. ‘Worried’ is more like it. You should give her a call.” Together they stood. “I’ve been allowed this one visit. I’ve probably overstayed it already. Why don’t I help you load that cat in the cage before I get back?”

This was done in no time at all. As she slammed the metal cage shut in the back of the Jeep, he tipped her chin up, chucking her on it. “I’m proud of you, baby.”

She ducked her head with a smile. A stiff breeze whipped through her bones and he was gone. In the depression in the grass where he’d stood, there remained a small red book of Psalms, the one he’d always carried with him for forty years. The one Momma swore she’d buried with him.

The John Sinclair Freedom Rally, December 10, 1971, Ann Arbor, Michigan

D-010 John Sicnlaire Ten for Two

 

Available On: “The Luck of the Irish” and “John Sinclair” were anthologized twice, first on The John Lennon Anthology, CD 1’Ascot’ (1998); and later on John Lennon: Acoustic (2004).

The concert film, Ten For Two: The John Sinclair Benefit, may never see official commercial release. Previous attempts have met with opposition from Yoko Ono’s attorney. At times it has been free to view on YouTube, though one never knows when it might be yanked again.

 

Clips from Ten for Two opened the 2006 documentary, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which chronicled the Nixon Administration’s campaign of harassment against the Lennons.

Everything changed with this performance. The show John and Yoko had done several months before with Frank Zappa had been pure spontaneity from inception to stage. The rally in support of activist John Sinclair was provocative to the powers that be, and the powers shoved back. This show put John Lennon firmly on Richard Nixon’s radar and incepted the four-year immigration battle to eject John forcibly from U.S. shores. Consequently it could be said to be the first stone pitched that inevitably led to his hiatus from music and an end to activism on both their parts.

 

Only four months had passed between the John Sinclair Freedom Rally and the Concert for Bangladesh initiated and hosted by fellow Beatle George Harrison. There was a world of difference between these two events. The Bangladesh shows were a warm and welcoming charitable event that set the standard for all rock benefits to come. The Freedom Rally was a political, even radical reaction against injustice.

Given that, it was still one of those events where music could still make a difference, could literally open doors to freedom, before the music industry eviscerated itself in our times.

 

Likewise, some Presidents improve with time, the more you read about them; sometimes their achievements overshadow the man’s myriad personal flaws and sins. Richard Nixon, to be sure, is not one of those men.

 

Beginning in 1968, poet and activist John Sinclair from Flint, Michigan pulled together a rumply band of associates to form the White Panther Party, cofounded with Pun Plamondon and his wife Leni Sinclair. The Party’s basic ideology was anti-racist, anti-capitalist as well as “fighting for a clean planet and the freedom of political prisoners”.

 

Among his associates were a group of young musicians, soon to be known as the MC5. (They released one album under his management, the classic live disc Kick Out the Jams in 1969, before Sinclair had his own problems to deal with). In 1969 Sinclair was arrested after offering two joints to an undercover narc and sentenced to ten years in prison. The severity of the sentence led to many counterculture protests, leading to this rally, which drew 15,000 people to Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

ten for two orig. poster

The rally featured as many speeches as it had musical performances, from firebrands such as Black Panther Bobby Searle, Alan Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis and others.  Among the many performers featured in the film Ten for Two were Ann Arbor’s own locals The Up, Bob Segar doing a raw, classic rendition of “Oh Carol” as well as jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp with trombonist Roswell Rudd (Nov. 17, 1935-Dec. 21, 2017).

 

Phil Ochs (who committed suicide five years later) offered an eerily prescient monologue before performing “Here’s To the State of Richard Nixon”, a song about Nixon’s future that could be held up as a mirror facing the Trump era. The most worrisome aspect of the anti-Nixon feeling at this concert was that Tricky Dick got re-elected by a landslide a year later, despite people knowing what the man was like and the terrible things he’d done In Cambodia and Vietnam.

 

A phone call from Sinclair in prison was intercut in the Ten For Two film with shots of the prison yard and the prison interior. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen stepped up next to perform “Hot Rod Lincoln”. Then Sinclair’s wife Leni took the stage, bringing on the big guns: Sinclair’s mother, Elsie. “I can tell you young people, you can teach more to your parents than your parents can teach you.”

 

21-year-old Stevie Wonder took center stage to sing “For Once in My Life”. Now it’s scenes such as this that make these films like a time machine. it is so strange to see Stevie Wonder so young, so trim again. “This song goes out to any of the undercover agents who might be out in the audience,” he said by way of introducing the next number, “Somebody’s Watching You”. In closing he sang “Heaven Help Us All.”

JC Ten for two Stevie Wonder

David Peel and the Lower East Side came on with a satirical number, “The Ballad of Bob Dylan”, followed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at 3 am in the morning. Peel and band stayed on as John’s backing group. This was John and Yoko truly unplugged, all acoustic. None of the songs they would perform that night had been committed to vinyl; all of them were new to the John Sinclair rallygoers. All four would appear six months later on Sometime in New York City, by which time certain songs would no longer be applicable.

 

Both John and Yoko wore black leather jackets and red undershirts, and they began with “Attica State”. “It was conceived on my birthday,” John said. “We adlibbed it, then we finished it off.”

 

The genesis of “Attica State” could be laid at John’s 31st Birthday party on October 9th, only two months prior to this event. After the opening of Yoko’s art exhibition This Is Not Here at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, a party was held at a nearby hotel. Composition of the song began before the party. All the guests joined in for a drunken all-star singalong captured on tape, like most of John and Yoko’s activities. Ringo Starr was a much better singer than anyone else at the party, his voice carrying much clearer–and less drunk, perhaps.

“Attica State” wasn’t much on the bootlegged tape, mostly the ‘Attica State’ tagline repeated over and over, like he was pulling the song out of thin air. There at Ann Arbor, John and Yoko harmonized while John was on acoustic guitar and Yoko accompanied him on a bongo drum tucked under her arm. They went right into “The Luck of the Irish”, which was as good or better than the studio version yet to come.

 

Yoko took over for “Sisters O Sisters”. “I wrote this song day before yesterday for (our) sisters in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” as Yoko put it. For the first time in a live performance we could hear what a gorgeous voice Yoko has–when she’s not shrieking. After that number, John commented, “We came here not only to help John and to spotlight what’s going on, but also to show and to say to all of you, that uh, apathy isn’t it, and that we can do something. OK, so flower power didn’t work, so what? We start again.”

john and yoko at ann-arbor

John went electric for a bluesy slide guitar performance of “John Sinclair”, a lesser anthem in the vein of “Power to the People” that closed the show. This time, the gloves were off. He got the judge’s name wrong, but it’s all in the lyrics. Line by line it was a crucifixion; each line was an accusation. The strings twanged as he laid bare the sins of the State crushing down on one man for a minor infraction, and the crowd ate it up. That night John and Yoko left the stage on top and on message.

Ironically the song became irrelevant before it was officially recorded. Three days after the rally John Sinclair was released from prison, after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the state’s marijuana statutes were unconstitutional.

His case against the government for illegal wiretapping led to a monumental Supreme Court ruling, United States vs U.S. District Court (1972), which prohibited the U.S. government’s use of domestic wiretaps without a warrant.

Eventually Sinclair left the U.S.  and moved to Amsterdam, where he continues to record and write. Since 2005 he’s hosted The John Sinclair Radio Show and other programming on his own radio station, Radio Free Amsterdam. For John Lennon, his troubles were only beginning…

 

–The MC5 and John Sinclair: The Rock & Roll Revolution Began in Detroit at PleaseKillMe.com:

https://pleasekillme.com/detroit-mc5-john-sinclair/#:~:text=John%20Sinclair%2C%20a%20born%20leader%20and%20naturally%20charismatic%2C,of%20both%20the%20White%20and%20Black%20Panther%20parties.

–Why ‘Ten for Two’ is the John Lennon-Yoko Ono MusicDoc You Haven’t Seen at Lifersthemovie.com:

Why “Ten For Two” is the John Lennon-Yoko Ono Music Doc You Haven’t Seen

–John Sinclair-the Beatles Bible:

John Sinclair

–Imdb entry for Ten For Two: the John Sinclair Freedom Rally:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0318115/

–The Ann Arbor Chronocle: The Day a Beatle Came to Twon, from 2009:

https://annarborchronicle.com/2009/12/27/the-day-a-beatle-came-to-town/index.html

 

Excerpt: Midnight Interruption

A short excerpt from my next novel in progress, Sanity’s Edge. Enjoy.

midnight interruption 300

I slipped off the ship after dark, once I could sense that everyone in the village was asleep. The forest was new but Mama had found me a new friend. We stared at each other under the shade of a mango tree as the Moon climbed into the sky.    Its tongue flicked the air in the three-meter space that divided us. This wasn’t one of the gen-altered snakes I was accustomed to from my home. This bugger was all wild, possibly the first of its kind that I’d seen since childhood, possibly the first I’d ever seen in my life. Sweet Ngai, was she massive! Her trunk was thicker around than my thighs.

I sensed her full belly, so I had no worries on that score. Her scales had a fresh gloss, as though she had just completed shedding not too long ago. I suppose she wouldn’t object to a warm body to enfold. I closed the distance between us and stepped into her embrace.

I knew this would be a problem as soon as a hundred kilos seemed to land on my hips, pressing me down. My knees buckled at first, but I kept to my feet as a second curl of muscle wound behind my legs, brushing the skin of my thighs before plopping atop the first coil, in the process pushing up my breasts.

Both were solid rippling muscle. A thrill shuddered through my chest, and perhaps a little excitement. I’d never given myself to such a beast before. A third coil slipped past my shoulders, pressing my breasts into flattened ovals between them. Sweat trickled over them and down the middle of my back; but that was probably just the heat of this place. For now, I was content.       As I held out my hand, the last meter of its tail settled in my palm, circling twice before cinching tight. With my eyes shut, we dropped as one bundled mass into the soft grass.

Of course that wasn’t the end of it. When was it ever so? The sun had barely emerged as a pink fingernail on the horizon when my hand comm chirruped in my waist pouch. This was ten meters away, along with the rest of my clothes.

Brutus, for so I named her, showed no inclination to release such a rich source of warmth, and gods, I didn’t want to leave this body hug just yet, either. Oh well. I stretched forth my free hand, the new new left one.

The hand comm made an oddly hard thump as it whipped through the grass into the false meat of my false hand. I settled back in Brutus’s coils, pillowing my neck on hers as I put the comm to my ear. “Jambo?

“The correct greeting would be I ni sogoma, young miss, but we will let it pass this time,” a firm male voice replied. “Am I speaking to Miss Jamai Dlamini?”

“Yes,” I said, suddenly a little nervous.

“My name is Magistrate Oumar Hadad, the local prefect for this hamlet. Would it be possible for you to spare me a few minutes?”

“H-have I done something wrong?”

“Not at all. Your Captain Ismalla discovered you missing this morning and got it into his head that you would be in the fields, with a snake. And so you are.”

My body seemed to have frozen, even snug in Brutus’ coils, though my stare darted left and right. “Don’t be alarmed. The local children spotted you sleeping from some trees they were climbing. They almost took you for dead, but for the fact that you were snoring.”

“I snore…?”

“My deputy has been watching you via long-range glasses, to see to your safety. He will escort you to my office, in your own time.”

My own time…I could make them wait another hour…No, best to be done with it. “Whenever he’s done masterbating, I’d like to dress in peace.”

A deliberate pause followed. “Let me speak with him. You can pull yourself together while I’m berating him.” And the comm chirrped off.

mango-trees

The End is Not Near

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I wrote this piece eons ago, after years of writing about a situation in a certain African nation that seemed unresolvable. I was looking for some way out. I suppose this piece came out of that dimming hope. It’s a two-handed dialogue between two POVs, one as seen from my present state of misery, while the other come from a perceived future. Now that nation I spoke of seems to be making inroads to a better form of governance. It remains to be seen whether that comes to pass. That need for hope is still an ongoing thing, unfortunately closer to home these days, so I’m re-presenting it here.

 

A Song of Hope

 

What kind of world are we leaving our children

who can they believe after all the lies

why must the mistakes of the past

be visited on the generation to come?

 

My generation thought we could do anything

my people touched the Moon

our songs moved a young nation

The path was ahead, not behind

But that’s where this generation is hiding away

 

All the wonders we have seen

are forgotten by narrow minds and narrow hearts

all the questions our children will face

are coming to haunt our fading days

Tell me, why haven’t we learned?

 

Oh my love, your glass is so half-full

your eyes see only half the picture

This much is true

there can be no rest so long

as men rule the world

 

But the winds change with the seasons

The minds of men open and shut as easily

The doors you now see closing

one day will open again

You can’t put aside what Ngai has decreed

not before ten billion more seasons pass away

so how can you say that the end is so near?

 

Please tell me, why can’t we learn?

When did we become slave to the black goo

dribbling ‘neath holy ground?

Haven’t you called it ‘The Devil’s Excrement’?

 

How can so much money flow into so few hands?

Why are so many promises left unfulfilled?

Tell me why another generation can only hope

 

Oh love these things are not new

Freedom ebbs and freedom flows

even in the shining lands

Everything you fear to lose

will come back to your hands another time

Even the darkest night must have a dawn

 

Even the Earth you walk one day will cease to be

But that day is so very far away

Take my hand and believe what I say

This day, today, the end is not near

 

From the future to the past

With love from the Emancipation Posse

 

In landmark case, Supreme Court rules LGBTQ workers are protected from job discrimination

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-rules-existing-civil-rights-law-protects-gay-lesbian-n1231018?cid=sm_npd_nn_tw_ma&fbclid=IwAR0HwgKEcELvefL4zrx7mzH8TJE4vS2aWLvBsfRPI0cnUvwvo32WD2-1X6k&fbclid=IwAR1K0ndi-hAYGVTQm-9A20v9jRirSo5r_tjAAWrg5fLztwfIPHpGwwcG23M&fbclid=IwAR0a0ZHpqKekkU6NvSfnrOxJe1-03Pb1SJTD4-4TjHda-9izN_bTjWiQhtE&fbclid=IwAR11QanDEMha9qn995EJHc3PD0ptfeBMtOfszTiIn2EL8de59fnuNEbe0i8&fbclid=IwAR3w-yN0Sw19_JFN3HUqUCnICS-ZpUBlaoKxUX8fkwE4dYBkUA7M8Tvfd6Y