Mulberry Hill

Mulberry Hill

1.
To
be
raised
on the Clark
family home place –
George Rodgers Clark Park –
my front yard – Mulberry Hill –
where Louisville’s first family settled.
I’m sure there is plenty to say about George.
I’m sure they were privileged. It was a blessing –
to play in the rich Grey Kentucky clay! Play war in our
grass forts, throwing walnuts at each other. My
Brother and Sister at my core – our undaunted childhood
discovery. We were privileged to be free to play.
To be told not
to come home
until the sun
was sinking low.
2.
I remember “no niggers” painted on the roof of the
lodge, in the park where we swam. We played basketball
together – they had big family picnics, family reunions.
I remember when they painted over the
wrong words with white paint. And then
the letters would eventually bleed through –
like some sort of cruel joke, like a stain.

I don’t remember seeing any “niggers” in the park!
My mother told me the word on the roof was
wrong. I remember “stop busing” painted on the
stop signs. I remember the two black kids in
my neighborhood catholic school. They stuck out
like a sore thumb. They didn’t stay long …

I remember the mean man who would run us off
when us kids would get too wild.
He ran the park from a little office in the lodge.
His name I don’t remember. He carried a five gallon
bucket and picked up trash.

I remember majestic grandfather cottonwood
trees blowing in the hot humid summer breeze –
sapping cherry trees and the flooded creek.
The tree that was surrounded by a large fence –
the story behind it. They said an Indian woman
sat there with her dead child in her arms.

Her tears watered the tree as it grew around her.
They said you can still hear her weeping if you put
your ear up to the tree. They also said it grew from
George Rodgers Clark’s sword.

Oh how I remember walking across that park …
to find my Dad. At the end of the bar at Tim Tams.

– I would stand under his shadow.
His work truck parked in the lot.
Oh how I remember the real cherry
cokes! Pickled bologna and crackers –
the men and their work conversations.
The wooden shuffle board game and
the heavy metal pucks.
Falls City beer in ten ounce glasses,
salt shakers on the bar –
the telephone that would ring –
the bartender telling the woman on the
other end – “ no, he is not here.” –

4.
Privilege is relative, not a good place to start
a conversation. Political correctness is relative too!
Triggers are pulled and buttons pushed! We can
only be so careful not to offend.

It was a privilege to be a free child –
before Anne Gottlieb was stolen –
before those Trinity boys were raped –
before they beat to death that gay man in
Cherokee Park with a Louisville Slugger.
Before media told us who we were supposed to be –
before AIDS became a household word.
Before cable T.V. terrorized our airwaves
with a constant droning.
5.
Times are a changing. Time has been known to do
that. Naturally. I act out in defiance of the norm. I rebel –
taught to question – raised by resilient men
and women. People who were trying to dream. In America.
The land where their fathers and mothers died.

It is a privilege to be alive –
it is work to tread water –
to keep your head above it all.
6.
May peace be with you.

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The Sabbatical of the Belle

They call me old man.

My crew. Nothing has really changed

in the over 100 years our lady has

made her way around.

They call her a tramp.

The boat. They use her to make a point,

of how things used to be built to last.

They say she is haunted.

By a deckhand, who walks the lower

deck whistling a mournful tune, and

by a captain who loved to gamble.

We are not a team.

For a team is out to win something.

Competes in game-playing.

We are a crew.

Wherein We, is the only way.

There is no, Them.

They call me old man.

My crew. Of young boys of summer.

Spirited like freedom, like

fireworks. Crass, salty and no different

than any other working men –

I have experienced.

They give me shit, and I give it back –

as they carry large bags of ice up a grand

staircase. I shirk that work, as they

miss the details, skip the corners –

walk around in circles,

day dreaming of

cute girls,

success

and

money.

There is something about her –

our Southern Belle. She breathes

with the ebb and flow of the river.

As her lines tighten and slack.

One little mistake could skin

a finger, pull a body into the water.

And that is our only goal, to keep

everyone out of harms way.

The river, our river –

much like how this boat

has been at times.

Trashed, dirty and rolling free,

like the murky blood

of a forgotten country.

And I walk the decks, a reincarnate

of Floyd the whistling deckhand.

Singing railroad hobo songs,

traditional blues. Making up

words to go with the troubles

I have seen, the struggles I feel.

A continuation of a body of

working songs, left in the air

like vibrations reverberating

in time with the clicking of

this massive machine.

They call me old man.

As I honestly greet every passenger

with a southern charm –

that is not a gimmick.

The rich, who shuffle on the

boat without making eye to eye.

The children, scared by the

grandness of our lady’s strength.

The old woman, who rides for free.

The Mayor, just making an appearance.

All the people, no matter

their lot, greeted in the language

of a native son.

Welcome to the Belle,

watch your step and then

Y’all have a gooden or,

take it easy now,

Y’all come back

and see us.

The Sabbatical of the Belle.

They call me old man.

A river man now.

Who once blew

that lonesome whistle,

all the live long day.

I am a stowaway most of

the time, laughing under my

breath.

They,

my crew,

if they only knew.

Old man river.

That old man river –

he must know something.

But he don’t say nothing.

He just keeps rolling –

He keeps rolling along.

John Paul



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On Woody Guthrie’s Birthday

Oh Woody, I am thinking about you!
I have grown somewhat bitter.
I must admit!
I know you – sometimes I fancy
that I am just like you.
But maybe it is because I know too much
and have been burnt by the fire.
So, a few questions I might ask. For
I am romantically involved so as to
mention – Sarah Ogan Gunning!

Was she bitter because Aunt Molly got
to hang around all them rich folks?
Was it because Pete played for the
Rockefellers, while singing –
I don’t want, your millions mister?

Hypocrisy is a bitch!
If you point it out –
they will bury you!
How much more crap should I take
before I “die with my hammer in
my hand?”

I heard Sarah ripped your ass once –
because you did one of her songs.
She picked your little ass up and
almost ringed your neck.
Is that true?

Woody, brother, i see what you saw,
and I think I know why you wrote all
night, alone, falling asleep on your
typewriter, full ashtray …

It takes a worried man,
to sing a worried song.

I certainly am worried.

One last question:

Did you ever hear Joe Hill talking
to you? I have.He said,
Don’t mourn, Organize.
So, i organized my life.
Trying not to get bitter and
am working now as a deck
hand on a Ohio River
Steamboat built two
years after you was borned.

Brother,
I wish we could hang out!
See, I worked on the railroad.
Found a lonesome darkness
engulfing me.
I gave it all up.
Once I built a railroad ..
you know the rest.

Brother,
For your birthday –
I offer you a song.
I wrote it for Jimmie
Rodgers. I have alot
in common with him too.

When the song
gets to the part where
I sing “I think y’all knowd.”
That part is for you!

Happy Birthday.

Love,
JP “Catfish John” Wright

P.S

You wanna hear some shit?
I heard Sarah Ogan died at a
singing circle. Time came
for her to sing. She took a
deep breath, and died.

I wonder if the dress she
wore was blue?

She sure knew how to
drive that steel!


Do Re Mi – #occupyICE

Do Re Mi

#occupyICE

Original lyrics by Woody Guthrie

Rewrite by John Paul Wright

www.railroadmusic.org


Well, thousands of folks all over the world

are leavin’ home everyday,

beating their way to the good ol’ U.S.A.

Lured by prosperity and that

message from Lady Liberty,

but eventually here is what they’ll find.

When the I.C.E. Agent comes a knockin’

on their door,

“we don’t need your cheap labor anymore!”

<chorus>

Oh, if you ain’t got that Do Re MI.

If you ain’t got that Do Re Mi.

Better go back to Central America, Africa

Mexico or the Middle East.

We need workers for

“our interests in the region”

Uncle Sam ain’t in the

business of Sanctuary!

So believe it or not you won’t find it

so hot, if you ain’t got the Do Re Mi.

So you want some of our diversity

or to send you kids to a university

that’s real nice, but it’s all just a dream.

We got prisoners working for free,

we made cages an industry.

Stick around just a little while

and here is what you’ll find –

that your just another wage slave

capital knows no boarders anyway!

<chorus>


Who?

1.

Who do you think

all this is for?

This careful talking,

pleading.

Who glances into the river

only to turn a blind eye?

Is it that something,

just beyond

the image,

deep surrounded

in murky

darkness?

2.

Quietly,

as so it seems!

There are angels

and demons at play.

Purposely serving

two masters.

Cutting underbrush

with blood dripping

down my ankles!

Sweat, running

down my brow.

Burning piles of

old growth

nothingness,

away.

Laughing nervously.

Crying out in vain!

Peacefully sleeping

in a work felt rest.

3.

Dying.

Yes, everyday as if

this death practice,

in the waking –

is for real.

Liken the thought

of your radiance,

life is the sweetness.

Reality comes

and goes.

I can’t stop the sun

from setting.

I can only turn

away for so long –

before succumbing

dark and soulless.

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Louisville is – A Native Language

Louisville is – A Native Language
for Geoff Gage


Years ago, we ate acid like it was candy. Little paper squares. Gold star and album cover. We found and lived out the stories in the books our parents collected on shelves. A real life folkways. The Grateful Dead concerts were our pilgrimage and remember: Ken Kesey left that battle to go home.
On our acid trips, we explored chaos while walking the property that used to be known as Mulberry Hill. George Rogers Clark’s home was my front yard. That big tree was our friend as we played with crystals, native religion and youth. Our parents dragging us to a neighborhood theater called the Uptown to watch movies of their generation.

Woodstock, Harold and Maude and then we found our books! Seven Arrows, Lame Deer Speaks and Black Elk.

And years ago, I found myself living in a shadow. A shadow of an activist mom at war with the University of Louisville. Who didn’t flinch when I found Frank Zappa. And you went to prom with my sister. Your long hair and top hat. Her tie dyed dress. We were only doing as we were Twice Told. Good children, raised on the rest of the story and rebellious members of a sorts, of a corpse of discovery, of our own right of passage. Your brother, enticed by Minerva and her messaging on the bulletin boards. He bit the apple in 1984.


Once i suggested that our youthful parties were liken those hippies and their acid tests. Like Garcia and Bob. Our heroes and their masks. We passed our exams and life went on. And now what of it?


I went in search of America, by way of traditional marriage, railroading and folk music. You went in search of Europe, by way of music and love. And this prose is breaking rules of language! A way of thinking in lucid colors and fragments. Our curriculum, changed our thinking. The experience, we kissed the sky. Our freak flags now old and tattered, yet waving. Bones creaking … listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock, my soul.

So, brother, this is what you need to know.

We come from the land of Ali! I see his face from the middle of the river when we are docking that steamboat. My heart and soul found me all fought out. Not broken! A decorated veteran of the union army.

Muhammad’s palace sits on the Banks of the Ohio. His muraled eyes, looking over at this town as if to say, uh hum Louisville, y’all full of shit. And remember, York was willed to William Clark as human property. So when the activists start talking statues and slavery? This whole town needs paint thrown on it. And all the whitewash made, won’t change the fact that a Boone watches over the entrance to Cherokee Park. Not even Mother Nature could remove that statue with a direct hit of her Tornado, we all spookily remember.

And back to that shadow.

Your father. A hero of mine, and a potential legacy for you. My father is an electrician who taught me about family, labor and love. Your father, was why I knew what to do when I got to the railroad. When the spirit of Joe Hill started pulling at my heart! It was because a long time ago, I stole one of your dad’s records. Doc Watson and his son, Merle. They sang about John Henry on that record. My step father’s entire family worked for the L&N, that doesn’t stop here, anymore.


And back to those trips, Captain Trips and your top hat. And that land known as Otter Creek Park and lovers leap. We were like hobbits, like elves, like wizards. Our Joseph Campbell classes like a real time university in mythology, learned in the hearts of darkness. Like your family friend and his Vietnam boonie hat we all shared, however, given to you as a gift. Your father’s close friend, and his war bonnet that sits on your mantle now.


I am thinking about all those hippies that must have been laughing at us. The elders who come and sit with your father in your backyard, around a fire of your creation. We are to them the ones grasping a baton, their race almost run. Their Wendell Berry dreams, their cooperative visions, worn down like the forgotten Paths to Peace, the ever changing banks of the Ohio.

We see all their failures ; the unkempt houses, their back water stories. What they built for us, their Homefronts, sacred song circles ; their youths for peace are being willed a dream that is being stolen from them, piece by piece or worse : in danger of extinction! That is the big picture! That is their worry.

I am writing in a language of place.

And dropping names of people and ideals great in scope. Like Hunter S. Thompson! Nobody ever told us that we were trippin’ in his neighborhood! This is Outlaw territory! So what! Like Miles and his colors! Like Harlan Hubbard and his watercolor dreams of river life! I am breathing in the hot air of the Ohio and hearing the puff of the steam engine. Like John Hartford in the pilot house of the Belle, and all the Folk People that have visited this place on Baxter Ave.

You have your stories!

Like you dad, hanging out with Jean Ritchie, like me and Wendell sitting around his kitchen table, showing my son an original painting from Harlan, the old man by the river, winking at me like my watercolor son is something special. And I find solidarity with Uncle Burley. Remember that story I told you about the father cutting tobacco. Remember the part about the grandfather breaking up the fight and little brother, worried about the son, the brother, mad who leaves the homeplace to find his own, then, returns.

I am writing this because I know, you know!

You see me sitting in your backyard cabin. My son, a young buck shadow boxing and stealing the key from his mother’s pillow.. If you hear us fighting, it’s because we are harvesting tobacco. He, just like you is living in a shadow. John Paul, the labor guy, is his father. And one day this field will be his. What that will be, I don’t know. Don’t really care. Let there be songs … to fill the air.

So, happy Mother’s day.

I am Iron John. and isn’t that a funny way to put it? Brother, remember, I am the one with the tool that the slave masters made illegal. And remember, we live to be like all that Sun Ra our mystic sufi teacher threw at us to decipher. When those men and their movements were finding themselves, we were flying on our magical carpets. If i remember correctly, you went to the moon. I, watched as you traveled, the smoke from the lodge, the night sky. Now ask about Rumi and Shams. Ask about Soul Fury and my conversations with Coleman …
Ask me what i see when i play that djembe drum. Ask me why i still believe in things that nobody else knows about. Like Juba – flowing like Sweet Honey From a Rock. (York named one of his children, Juba) Like drums of passion! Brother this is slave code that I am writing in. This is a native language that I am spitting, mad like a farmer, folk in remedy! Jin Go, Jin Go Ba … informs my mind wanderings as I whistle railroad chain gang songs on a packet boat. Right?



So, in conclusion. Brother. I have gone to many a source. Sun Ra and Bawa’s house in Philly. Sought out Anne Braden’s closest friends and Joe Hill has spoken to me, like a saviour. Like a Chicago anarchist martyr. I, as well as you have seen a big picture! We are living in it!

Once a mentor of mine, he was Carl Braden’s best buddy, he told me, “you can’t take Jesus from the working class.” That was all I needed to hear. We pile it high and deep. PHD  -The Dalai Lama and a Marx, that hits the spot! Carl’s father was a railroader!


This town, Louisville, is our home. And nothing has changed since we were kids. Big money still runs the show. Jim Crow is lurking around every corner. The women are fast and the horses, beautiful. The Bourbon still flows on Bardstown Road and Thomas Merton’s name is mentioned around here almost daily.

And as the sun comes up behind me,
a rebellious son, sleeping in the loft above me.
Just know this …

We went further!
Like what it said on that bus. We probably went too far. Reflection is what fuels this morning lamentation. Remember, I was the one who went into cuckoo’s nest. And remember the big indian runs into the sunset!
Remember this too … ripple in still waters, when there is no pebble tossed, no wind to blow. I know this has been imprinted into your heart like that story about tobacco harvesting i found when i fell into Mr. Berry’s well.
Like how those steel rails haunted me of railyard ghosts.
Like that whisper i hear daily.
Don’t Mourn, Organize.

Sincerely,
Your not so distant neighbor.
John Paul of Turtle Island, USA

P.S.

It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.
Brother … we are the Blues Brothers.
We are on a mission from God,
the great spirit – call it what you will.
Amen and women too.
You are the preacher’s son, a jumping mouse
climbing the seven storey mountain!
hint … you are the big chief now!

I already proved i could lift the control
stand and beat the steam drill down!
It’s your turn hoss!