The War In America
by Bill Crossman
I didn’t see the war in America
when I was four
dressed in my soldier suit posing
for photos on my Dad’s shoulder
at the Carolina Base
my eyes drawn past the barracks at
Black men in stripes and shackles
stumbling off the flatbed truck at the edge
of the woods, their clanking chains
in the turpentine pines around us
laying a silence
as Black women
boiling lye and fat for soap
set aside paddles, Black pitch-gatherers
rested machetes to watch
the prisoners scythe the drill ground in
this war my eyes were seeing I didn’t see
when I was four
watching skies for signs of invasion by
foreign powers, confident that war if it came
would come from over there, overseas
from my Dad’s shoulder I
smiled at the camera thinking war
we’d go home to
These striking poems reflect a value thread through Crossman’s life that began when, at age two, Bill and his mother left their suburban Connecticut home to follow his father—who’d been recruited into the Army at the start of World War II—to camps in the Deep South. After four years in segregated Mississippi, Florida and North Carolina, the family returned to Connecticut and Bill’s first three grades in school, only to quickly return to the South and settle in a segregated, whites-only, working-class, south Florida town. For nine years, Bill attended the whites-only public school system, graduating in 1957 before heading North to college. Bill’s daily experiences of racism and white supremacy during those southern years helped to shape his values and life choices.
In 1969, Bill decided to leave his position teaching philosophy at Tufts University to move to the San Francisco Bay Area to work in solidarity with the Black Panthers and the revolutionary Black prisoners’ movement. Through the decades, he’s remained active in anti-imperialist movements and in support of political prisoners. Bill has continued to teach at Bay Area community colleges and universities, and for eight years during the 1990s he taught at historically-Black Morris Brown College in Atlanta, GA.
Bill continues his decades-long commitment to revolutionary culture via his work as poet, jazz pianist, playwright (including his musical, John Brown’s Truth), and author of writings on the political impact of new technologies on literacy, education, and society.
The 25th Anniversary edition of “War In America” from which this excerpt was taken, is available at https://lesgottesman.com/ from Omerta Publications.