Sunday, March 13, 2016

She Died Slowly in Prison so Assata Shakur Could Live!

Book Review of Poetry by Marilyn Buck

"do not sit idle, your path streams before you.

bank the raging fires and light laurel branches against the cold."

Sometimes, I used to blame my parents for forcing me to be born in this conflicted country when I could have had a normal life surrounded by cousins overseas. But once in a while I remember why I stayed in this country. I could have left. It probably had to do with hearing Ramona Africa speak in Detroit around 1990. I think it had to do with the movement in its many fragmented forms, one of the most powerful of which is poetry. Nobody in Detroit had any money, so our idea of a good time was to drink coffee and recite our poetry for one another. I don't know if such times have died, but I cherish the memory of artists, professors, homeless, seekers and rebels making sense of the world together. When I opened this book, I knew I was dealing with somebody very, very special and important to the history of America. I am proud to hope that when I die, my body would be buried anywhere near the same dirt as this great person.

I did not learn of her until she died, but thankfully I did learn of Marilyn Buck. Her political writing is beyond compare, as was her sacrifice. But I had not read her poetry before, until I decided to cruise Amazon one late night, and snagged the last available copy of 'Inside/Out.' I have never ever been moved so deeply by a book before. I hate poetry (other than my own)! I don't read books normally. But this woman's purity is so powerful that I kept having to put the book down just to calm down. Marilyn Buck is one of the top ten women who ever lived, and I include the Virgin Mary on that list. She gave her life for a friend, and she accepted the deep pain willingly. She held no grudge, she felt no anger. Though she was forced to live her life in prison, she continued to develop as a person of great station that few people are privileged to attain.

my movement

led to a clandestine world

where Marilyn spoken

mustn't evoke even a startled eye...

I collected other names

sometimes more than one at once...

like scarves

draped over shoulders



on capture

an FBI man uttered


a question

a victory shout


I had no option but


scarves stripped

by howling winds of retribution

Marilyn Buck was imprisoned for her participation in the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur, the 1981 Brink's robbery and the 1983 U.S. Senate bombing. Buck received an 80-year sentence in federal prison. She died at home in Brooklyn on August 3, 2010, after friends campaigned for her compassionate release from the Federal Medical Center, Carswell due to uterine cancer.

"I went off to college, escaped my father's thunderstorms

Berkeley. Rebellion. Exhilaration!

the Vietnam war, Black Power, Che took me to Chicago...

on to California, driving at 3:00 in the morning in the mountains

I got it: what self-determination means

a daunting task for a young white woman, I was humbled

practice is concrete... harder than crystal-dream concepts

San Francisco, on the front steps at Fulton Street

smoking reefer, drinking "bitterdog" with Black Panthers and white

hippie radicals, talking about when the revolution comes

the revolution did not come...

but later there was Assata's freedom smile

then I was captured, locked into a cell of sewer water

spirit deflated. I survived, carried on, glad to be

like a weed, a wild red poppy

rooted in life"

There are no words to describe the depth of gratitude our people owe to this woman who gave her life for Assata's freedom smile. It is completely incomprehensible what she did for us.

"my mother died at 74

I believed she would

no, should live till 80

she was supposed to live till 80

so I could live till 80

so I would make it out of prison


my mother's anger

swam in blue-water eyes

a grief she did not want to bear

her daughter


an enemy of the state

she could not save me

from vengeful-suited men

nor from myself..."

Marilyn dedicated this book of poetry to her mother Virginia Grace, "without whom I would not have the grace to embrace life as it comes" and to Mtyari Shabaka and Kuwasi Balagoon: "embracers of life, fearless before death." According to wikipedia, Balagoon was a Black Panther involved in the Black Liberation Army Brinks robbery, who died in prison of pneumonia at age 39 in 1986. I wish I knew who the other person was.

Her description of incarceration is so accurate. "no grass no trees no children throwing stones into puddles no laughter no tears no peace no silence no world of colors no sun no moon no weather at all Living without blowing winds gentle rains day or night my internal clock is deprived of nature's power: There is only the beat of my heart."

While in prison, Marilyn earned a Masters Degree in Poetics from the New College of California. She wrote to her teacher David Meltzer:

"I feel the pain of every single day here. I regret and miss the simple things - family, children, a lover, comrades, and involvement in political struggle. But after each nightmare of a day passes, it is history and I look forward to what is to come." 

2015-11-08 Sun 

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