Tuesday, February 14, 2012


A collection of Pietaro-penned poetry, 2001 back through 1990, bridging my output based on the HIV/AIDS case work, to my labor and other social justice-based pieces from later in the period. Beneath each poem is a brief descriptive paragraph cataloging the place and time it was composed in...........

The Rage
I guess I’ll never know just where I stand
On how it comes to be that man still eats man.
Soft beneath the skin, or so we are told.
Alas, already dead from pains of old,
Alas already dead from innocence sold.

The numbing of his pride just shuts him down,
Freezing deep inside without a sound.
It’s such a shame, he’s come of age,
Releasing all the while hot fits of rage,
Releasing all the while hot fits of rage.

A wise man once claimed it let’s mankind survive:
“Bestial acts keep mankind alive”

I thought I’d never see the likes of this
Broken lives in parts and parts and bits,
Divided he from all the rest,
Oh how we’re wont to profess,
Oh how we’re bound to regress.

The numbing of the times should surely cast some doubt
But it’s only casting out
All humanity, there’s just so much disparity
And insanity, unbridled opportunity.

A wise man once claimed it let’s mankind survive:
“Bestial acts keep mankind alive”, yes
“Bestial acts keep mankind alive”
-May 23, 2001, Brooklyn NY. The initial inspiration for this piece came when I was working on an in-patient psychiatric unit at a hospital and one of our staff members had a bizarre violent episode, but most of the body of the work was as a result of a series of violent events which occurred in the greater society. The quote in the refrain came from a Brecht poem of 1928.

Revenge of the Atom Spies
Revenge of the Atom Spies
The end of Cold War lies.
Defend and organize
Pretend atom spies

Much confusion has surrounded
The nature of atomic secrets
Not withstanding the efforts of
The scientists to clarify the
Public thinking.

For there exists the sorry notion
That the formula was just our nation’s
No other land could
Discover it.

Revenge of the Atom Spies
The end of Cold War lies.
Defend and organize
Demonized atom spies

Is American pride just so fragile that
Government lies must be so agile?
They deny what they don’t know;
Close our minds and
Just Say No!

Manipulate and castigate,
Impregnate and then castrate;
The people learn to tolerate
What you feed them.
What you feed them.

Revenge of the Atom Spies
The end of Cold War lies.
Defend and organize
Pretend atom spies.
-April 4, 2001, Brooklyn NY. Parts of this piece came to light in January of 2000, during George W Bush’s ‘coronation’, but the rest practically wrote itself after I read historical documents from the 1950s and with respect to the Rosenberg case in particular. This song has been performed often as an uptempo post-punk piece which celebrates ‘60s pop. It also serves as the tile song from the ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’ album.

She’s mean, so cold, so out of touch.
Stands high above the rest of us.
This sentry guards the privileged few and the rest of us stand alone it’s true.

With shielded eyes and stone-grey face
She hides her hate and her grimace.
HUAC’s right-wing faith fuels her fire to litigate.

With a King Midas touch
She’ll divide and she’ll crush
And she’ll bequeath this promised land to supply and demand.

She’s blind and deaf to those apart;
Maligned in depth by those of heart.
Imbalanced scales tip the weight, the struggle pales our nation-state.

She’s mean, so cold, so out of touch,
Stands high above all of us.
This sentry guards the privileged few and the rest of us stand alone, it’s true.
---February, 2001, Brooklyn NY. Early into the George W. Bush years. Nuff said. But the prototype for this was actually a protest against the draconian policies of then NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whom I dedicated a few topical numbers to, including a reworking of ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ called ‘Bring Back Humanity’ (its key line compared Giuliani to Mussolini as back got the trains running on time). ‘Injustice’, was finally recorded on the 2007 album ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’.

America, Once Beautiful (parody of “America the Beautiful”)
O beautiful, the endless hype of our democracy.
We close our eyes to bald-face lies, perverted liberty.
America, America, Bush cast his fate on thee.
Divide and crush then shyly blush with cold efficiency.

So dutiful, with mindless speech, this son of destiny.
He’ll scratch his head, still bottle-fed with Reagan’s legacy.
America, America, Bush cast his fate on thee.
He’ll keep the wealth for corporate health, no thought of you or me.

Old money’s sworn for bluebloods born with silver spoon in mouth
The favorite child of fascist-mild, a righteous Mickey Mouse.
America. America, Bush cast his fate on thee.
The Court descends, there’s no defense of civil liberty.
-January 12, 2001, Brooklyn NY. This parody was in honor of George W Bush’s inauguration, the event that progressives all over the world had dreaded. After weeks of struggle about a stolen election, with hanging chads and manipulated Rightist anger in Florida taking center stage, the Supreme Court placed Bush into office and laid-down the groundwork for his reign. This piece ended up on various internet sites at the time, including in activist threads which hailed from points as far off as Tasmania. Everyone felt our pain, this much is true.

The Tin-Man is You
You are part of the machine;
You are bound by steely seems;
You’ve become cold to the touch;
You buckle and bend because you weight too much:
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.

You have eyes of iron gaze,
You are wound in corporate maze;
You are tarnished by capital sin.
Where do you end and the system begin?
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.

Walking gold-paved streets with yellow-brick feet,
It’s easy to drown.
Your lungs gasp as your breaths rasp;
Your head’s underground.
(Programmed man, programmed man, programmed man, programmed)

You now speak only machine;
In passion you release metallic gleam.
You stand high, no one can touch,
But, outmoded, you’re soon to be hushed.

You invest on gold-rush days;
You dress your children in per capita grays.
You will rust and fester within.
The start of the end---the system moves in!
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.
-August 7, 2000, Brooklyn NY. This song was written in response to the symbolism contained in L Frank Baum’s ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, which includes the character of the Tin-Man, meant to represent the factory worker in the industrial revolution. The early machines were so dangerous--in light of the caustic, indeed savage, greed of the factory owners--that endless injuries occurred in that period, often creating a fallen workforce with false appendages and a variety of metallic rigs in plain sight. Baum saw the workman as becoming a part of the machine, literally, but taking the symbolism much further, the inhuman level of gluttony that comes from today’s moguls and corporations, deemed “persons” by law, are the truer tin-men in our midst.

Times That Try Workingmen’s Souls
Though they keep reporting that things are looking bright…
The experts all agree: everything’s alright…
There’s nothing left to protest now, nothing left to fight…

The WTO just leaves me cold and
The IMF keeps me out of the fold,
The World Bank says it’s got it under control but
These are times that try workingmen’s souls.

The Domino workers shovel sugar all day
Breaking their hearts for no overtime pay.
Come in so early, go home so late;
Now they hold the line, South Second Street gate.

Those Domino workers toiled many a year;
Strong, stony-faced, no worse for the wear.
ILA’s tradition is pride
At the sugar plant gate unity’s their guide.

Their corporate overseers make an art out of greed:
Take from the worker all that they need.
Busting the union is a goal of the Right,
But the folks of this union give one hell of a fight.
Some spirits are broken but maintain their stand,
Though one brother’s taken by his own hand.
They’re closing the ranks together as one
And staring down scabs who hide from the sun

So the people have learned to fight back anew,
Taken to the streets, the movement just grew.
Status won’t divide us nor the color of skin;
We’re a Red, green, multi-headed coalition.

We fought in Seattle, fought back in DC
And marched together through New York streets.
It’s a US tradition for the masses, you see;
The Class Struggle started solidarity!

The WTO just leaves me cold and
The IMF keeps me out of the fold,
The World Bank says it’s got it under control but
Now’s the time to break the Right-wing hold.

–April 21, 2000; Brooklyn NY. Originally published in ‘the People’s Weekly World’ at that time. This song was written in honor of the striking workers, members of the International Longshoreman’s Association, of the Domino Sugar plant in Brooklyn. It was performed at their picket line in April 2000 and at their mid-town Manhattan rally two months later. The lyric was later changed to be representative of a wider swath of struggling workers and in that version it was sang at numerous events and ultimately recorded on the ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’ CD (2007) by the composer’s ensemble, the Flames of Discontent.
Song of the Translucent Liberal
What has become of free speech?
What has become of voice?
Where in hell is the Bill of Rights
In light of lack of choice?

Why do you think with dollars?
Why do you shun dissent?
“Liberal” means nothing now
You speak Establishment.

The greatest fall is from within,
Paranoia is the heart of sin.
Please notify the next of kin:
The spirit’s fading fast.
The greatest fall is from within;
Work the system with a grin.
Please notify the next of kin:
Tenacity won’t last.

You’re speaking of reform now,
High praise to Camelot,
But the place you live in is the land
Of Have and Have-a-Lot.
When did you stop the dreaming?
When did you lose your sight?
When you did you drop all ideals
Of fighting the good fight?

So stop this speaking in sound-bites
And no more hiding mid-way.
You globalize and terrorize
With what you call free trade.

The Democratic Party
Has lost its goals you see.
There’s little now to distance them
From the heartless GOP.

So speak of real reform now,
Let’s socialize this place.
For get missile systems, let’s recondition
Your goddamned means of trade.

The greatest fall is from within,
Paranoia is the heart of sin.
Please notify the next of kin:
The spirit’s fading fast.

The greatest fall is from within;
Work the system with a grin.
Please notify the next of kin:
Tenacity won’t last.
-July 31, 1999, Brooklyn NY. This song, performed with a pop-calypso feel (think Trini Lopez) was written during the latter part of the Clinton Administration, when the DLC reigned supreme and the Dems had dropped all allusion of true liberalism. So much of the Left had high hopes, but during his years in the White House Clinton came to embody the accusation liberals often get hurled at them—phony, plastic, conservative-light. With the dismantling of anti-trust laws (completing the job Reagan had begun) and the creation of the so-called “free trade” agreements which saw labor dwindle in this country, much of the hope for any kind of real social reform was gone. I struggled hard on this song: even more than feeling rejected by the centrist ways of the Democratic Party, I was sickened by the Republicans lying in wait; naturally we know now what THAT brought to our working people. This song was ultimately recorded on ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’ (2007), but by then was signaled as a warning to the Dems who’d just retaken the halls of Congress.

41 Echoes That Night
All that glitters is poor man’s sweat;
And life embitters, repays no debt.
Those dreams deferred leave him cold.
Standing alone, he feels exposed.

All that glitters is poor man’s sweat;
Like broad cloud-splitters pain knows no end.
Forty-one echoes that night so dark,
Ricocheted deco, bite of shark.

Ethical bankruptcy
Still can’t deceive me
Empty inside,
Empty inside.

All that glitters is poor man’s sweat.
His freedom lingers on slender thread.
Fists of outrage reclaim the street;
Heed the call-----resist defeat.
--February, 1999, Brooklyn NY. Written while listening to news reports of the police slaughter of Amadou Dialo. Diallo was an immigrant worker who was shot 41 times by members of the NYPD anti-crime task force as he stood on the stoop of his Bronx, NY home. He was never a suspect and had no criminal history; the injustice rocked all of New York City and its ripples were felt globally.

Song Born of Struggle
Song born of struggle,
Life lived in toil;
Verse sang in peril;
Trumpets sound for thee.

Song born of struggle;
Life lived in toil;
Verse sang in peril;
“Strength in unity!”

Now choose your weapon in
The Class War.
For this struggle is much the same as
The last war.
Sound the call, sound the call
Your strongest arms will be
Your art-form.

So touch the masses as
You reach out through the muses
With a loud shout.
Words of conflict
Turn to blue songs
And the true songs
Shall be yours.
And the true songs
Shall be yours.
-October 6, 1998. Dedicated to all of those used their art as a weapon.

The Jungle – from the song-cycle THE JUNGLE: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS
It’s cold out here in the jungle;
It’s cold out here in the dark.
Can’t fight the fear of the jungle;
Can’t reach the fear in my heart.

In the cool of the night of the jungle.
In the swift urban blight of the jungle.
We must heed flight or flight in the jungle,
In the cold of the dark of the jungle.
-November 22, 1996, Brooklyn NY. The Jungle: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS was a rather epic piece, a song-cycle for soprano and small chamber ensemble (featuring violin, piano and my own percussion and banjo), which grew from my direct work as an HIV/AIDS case manager and music therapist. But it also grew from my involvement in AIDS activism, something which many in the arts came to as a result of the great losses experienced in the ranks of artists. This concept of “the jungle” grew from the battle for justice for those afflicted, especially those in the earliest years of the fight for treatment and research funding, a battle the original activists had to take on alone. During the first period of the illness, then-president Ronald Reagan refused to even utter the word AIDS, let alone deal with the realities and needs of its brutal assault on those who acquired it. When I composed the Jungle I thought back to various matters and issues surrounding HIV/AIDS as well as to the proud but often broken men and women who were living within its boundaries. The piece was premiered on December 6, 1996 at the UBU Repertory Theatre on 28th Street in Manhattan. The performance was part of ‘the Performance Zone’ annual festival of new arts.

Outside - from the song-cycle THE JUNGLE: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS
Outside, stand alone, feel no pain.
Outside, stand alone, feel no pain.
Inside, feel so cold, can’t go home.
No, no…and I’m tired. Oh so…

Feels so good when I cruise the skies,
Like I’m really somewhere.
I prepared to say ‘goodbye’,
Can’t go home now, maybe Monday.

Lost out here;
And I’m tired. Oh so.
-November 22, 1996, Brooklyn NY. Another lyric drawn from the song-cycle the Jungle. Again, this was largely written based on actual conversations held with clients while I was working at a Lower East Side facility for people with AIDS. This particular piece came almost wholeheartedly from discussions with a very sick man named Oswaldo who was bed-bound and only thrived during sessions involving guided imagery with music, especially those visualizations involving birds in flight.

Why Recall?- from the song-cycle THE JUNGLE: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS
The after-effect of last night’s medication
Helps me forget, but then I must recall.
The after-effect of my life’s situation…
It’s enough to make me say “damn it all”.

One look about this place and I’m confused;
It all seems so familiar but then I just don’t know.
One look about my face and one can feel my blues.
My friends are all gone. Let me go.

Fleetingly I’m angry; suddenly I’m sad.
Defeatingly I’m sorry; at times I’m still glad.
And when I least expect it things they turn bad.
For then each day I must start again.

There is no effect from all this arbitration.
They’re making decision s for me that I’ll never hear.
I tried to remove the I.V.’s penetration.
Now I’m way past “damn it all”.

When I look inside I still know civilization;
I reach out to touch and I know that I can feel.
My racing thoughts seek out some justification;
Where life leads, I don’t know, but I’m still here.
Where life leads I don’t know, but I’m still here

Fleetingly I’m angry; suddenly I’m sad.
Defeatingly I’m sorry; at times I’m still glad.
And when I least expect it things they turn bad.
For then each day I must start again.
For then I arise and start again.
-August 17, 1995, Brooklyn NY. This song grew from bedside therapy sessions I held with Walter, an elderly African-American man who was then residing at the AIDS facility where I was then employed. Walter was a wonderful, sensitive gentleman who’d led a regret-filled life, one which was guided by the force of substance abuse and saw the dissolution of his family and a long period of disconnect from his adult children. In younger days he’d been a jazz saxophonist and the sounds of Lester Young and Charlie Parker carried him through the worst of times during his downfall. By the time I came to know him, Walter was experiencing not only the physical decline the illness brought but also some serious side-effects to the still rustic AIDS medications which ultimately proved toxic; Walter came to demonstrate notable mood swings, confusion and even hallucinations and then needed to be treated for this condition. As a result, he experienced several hellish nights filled with distortions—this in accompaniment to his depression and fear about the illness were nearly debilitating and he later said that our sessions greatly helped his re-emergence into the here and now. The lyric of this piece was largely derived from his statements and I put them into a blues-inspired melody which Walter and I later sang together. This piece was incorporated into the song-cycle THE JUNGLE.

Edith Piaf,
Known through all of Europe!
Edith Piaf
Sang to the stars.
Dietrich, Garbo
Were in her eyes.
Regret nothing,
Even the lies.

Edith Piaf,
I remember.
Lonely woman
Deep in a crowd.
Lost in time.
Lost in her mind.

Edith Piaf
Sings to the stars.
-February 22, 1993, Brooklyn NY. This lyric was written after its very quirky melody was composed, one inspired by the sounds of Paris in the 1920s. Though Edith Piaf was not a radical figure per se, her large presence in the community of free-spirited artist of the day, many of which made powerful statements for social justice, remains an inspiration.

The Fool’s Hymn from the song cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
Why must I stand and watch those
Far and dear
Fall and then fade away?
It’s a lie when they say
It’s not I who has tasted fate.
Scratch, why did you leave me behind?

I, the fool, must stand by
While the beast marches on, marches on…
So the fool waits and
The fool prays
While he sits idly by.
Idly by.
-October 30, 1992, Brooklyn NY. This piece and the four which follow it are lyrics from the song-cycle and suite entitled ‘Winter on West Street’, a commentary on HIV/AIDS as I observed it while employed as a case manager in AIDS services. It is a product of its time in that its content embodies the concerns, fears, hopes, prejudices still running rampant in the period which marked the tenth anniversary of the illness. Many of the lyrics were inspired by conversations I had with clients as well as care-givers, activists, ombudsman, doctors and nurses. The piece was never actually performed live but the instrumental Winter on West Street Suite was recorded on the album ‘Music Never Heard at the Graystone Ballroom’, credited to John Pietaro and Collected Musicians. The album was due for release on the independent Arrest Records label but the company was unable to sustain itself and it fell apart prior to release.

The Savage Din from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
Hear the roar of the savage din.
The roar is my wrath, the pain is your sin.
Hear the cries of the beguiled and benign.
You ask: “What for?”,
I respond: “Your time”.

I move in a hush,
The lull of the scream;
I move in a rage;
A slither in dreams.

I move out and seek and
Take what I will.
You push and you pull and
Make room for my kill.

So listen to the roar of the glorious din.
Its monstrous cries are those from within.
Hear not the song of the savage din?
Its music is mine, staged for the shut-in.
So bring out your cardinals to lead in the hymn.
-October 20, 1992, Brooklyn NY. Another selection from Winter on West Street. This song lyric offers a historic reference is the final line: the ‘cardinal’ was New York’s Cardinal O’Connor who became the target of AIDS activists’ ire.

Foray from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
In the night it came;
In day’s light it came
It boldly arrived while we watched,
Never seeing it.

In the night I wait;
In day’s light I wait.
Watch as they come,
come one by one:

Caseworker and doctor,
Protestor and nurse.
To aid me and prod me,
To mold me, sans mercy.

No say, no more rights;
No strength, no more fight.
No voice, no dignity.
I’ll have nothing then but…
It will have me.
-September 18, 1992, Brooklyn NY

Behind the Wall from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
It’s me, they say, behind
Where none can be
But they will stay confined
so none can see.

I see he and he through me.
I am she when no one’s there.
He is me.
I am here; I must be.
I am here; I must be.

My self hurts for no one’s touch.
I look down but feel none such.
All alone while you stand near,
You stand here.
It is clear.

It’s me, they say, behind
Where none can be
But they will stay confined
So none can see.
-May 23, 1992, Brooklyn NY. Both this song and the one which follows were inspired by the same client, Maria, who was demonstrating pronounced effects of AIDS dementia. Her hallucinations involved seeing and hearing people living within her apartment’s walls. I accompanied her to psychiatric ERs on two different occasions.

Wild Eyes from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
Wild Eyes are soul-searching
Wild Eyes watching me;
Mild cries,
Somber from questions
Bringing me down.

Wild Eyes roll in passion;
Mild cries
Spoken through wild cries,
Savage now.
Strength must be found.
-May 1, 1992, Brooklyn NY. During one of my regular visits to the apartment of a client, Maria, a young woman residing on an upper floor of a NYC Housing project, I encountered a powerful dilemma. Maria exhibited paranoia and refused to open the apartment door for me. Her paranoia had been rising and she refused psychiatric help: Maria had been complaining to me on the phone about her hallucinations and delusions of people living behind her walls and now, fully convinced that these phantoms were real, had become almost violently paranoid. When she’d barricaded herself in the apartment and told me she had a gun my biggest fear was a suicide attempt as she’d been dysphoric and isolated before this. I notified the city Housing office and they called in the NYC Housing Police who in turn notified NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit. Within a few minutes the hallway outside of Maria’s door was filled with men in blue uniforms and busloads of ESU cops—in military regalia—took charge. The street below was filled with ESU trucks, fire engines, ambulances and more and more police cars, marked and unmarked. ESU was able to get into her apartment but Maria then barricaded herself in a back bedroom and had broken her windows in a fury, screaming that she had a gun and would kill anyone who got near her. ESU made earnest attempts to talk to her, but she was now unreachable and so they had to bring me into the apartment to convince her to open the bedroom door. Once she did, they rushed her, knocking her to the ground and cuffed her immediately. Of course there was no gun, just a terrified and angry woman who I had to now accompany to Kings County’s psych ER. Handcuffed to a gurney Maria stared into my eyes, waiting to be seen by a doctor, now fully distrustful of the system she was embroiled in.

Are We In America?
Are you an American?
Are we in America?

Are you an American, do you possess the proper spirit and
Uphold certain family values?

Are we in America?
Does it look that way from Bed-Stuy
Or Compton
Or East LA?
Does it look like America from

Are you an American when you close your eyes?
Are you an American when you look down your street?
What do you see?

This is America,
Land of conquest and freedom,
Monopoly and pauperism,
The have, the have-not, the once-had and the have-never;
The speaker…and the censor.

Is it American to be proud?
Is it more American when we’re not?
This is OUR America: Blinded, silenced, closeted and crippled.

Are you an American?
Are you an American?
Are We in AMERICA?
-Written sometime around 1990, Brooklyn NY. This poem spoke to the eight years of Reagan (and its continuation via the Bush Sr. reign) when “patriots” ran about hiding behind flags and revising slogans like ‘Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out’. During the 1980s social service and community programs were slashed to the bone while an overwhelming number of homeless roamed the streets and occurrences of senior citizens eating from garbage cans became increasingly common. Reagan actually stated that the homeless were homeless simply by choice—this was a national disgrace, a “Let them eat cake” for the good ol’ red, white and blue. Also in this time, the arts became suspect and a wild censorship shredded funding for the NEA, shuttering long-standing programs because Reagan and his cultural pit-bull Edwin Meese were fearful that AIDS and gay rights issues were being voiced through a national arts endowment. Add to this tax cuts for the wealthy, secretly funded Contra wars, the close alignment of a far-Right with corporate America and Christian fundamentalism, and a frightening deficit which hailed greed as good and you have the era in a nutshell. Sadly, it sounds all too much like what came a generation later! Happily, many a progressive offered appropriate fight-back, many an artist took a bold stand against Reagan’s conservative dogma and his strange bedfellows found on Wall Street and within the so-called Moral Majority. My poem was written in the heat of much of this and then inspired me to compose a piece of contemporary concert music around it, also called ‘Are We In America?’, which featured a speaker (my wife Laurie Towers), piano (a gifted pianist named Jean Pugni) and a small, select ensemble. The piece was recorded for the ill-fated ‘Music Never Heard at the Graystone Ballroom’ disc by John Pietaro and Collected Musicians.

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