From one minute of the day to the next, Neckwrek Handel-Handel sang the song endlessly, “Ain’t No Jail Aholtin’ Me,” sang it, mouthed it, uttered it, yelled it. For his five years in Yakima Territorial Prison the guards always knew where he was, in what disposition, secure in one cell or another, or laboring on a prison work detail. Prisoner #127 was known by the only name ever used by him, Neckwrek Handel-Handel, but history had other versions that are worth unveiling if the man is to be known if not understood. Yakima Territorial Prison, as described by some Washington folks in the know, was “200 miles of nothing between here ‘n’ there,” and about the toughest place in the territory. He was 24 years old when he was brought to Yakima, the prison then just over a year old, and 29 when he escaped, in 1881.
Potosí, Charcas, New Spain
They call it Silver Mountain, but it has only brought misery to my people.
My head hurts. Kneeling, I plunge both arms into the pool of gray sludge, feeling for another lump of stone. My fingers close around a rock and I haul it out. A piece the size of an infant’s head. I know from overhearing the Spanish azoguero that after the bonding process with mercury, the silver in this rock is worth a small crate of porcelain. But I don’t know what porcelain is, except that it is some kind of platterware.
Solomon Sands stood on the dock at Norfolk Navy Yard and wondered how the hunched skeleton in the wheelchair could have ever cut a fearful figure. River water, bay water, ocean water, chopped into crests and troughs, assaulted the USS Cormorant, ready for decommissioning this October day in 1868.
“Hey, nigger, you about ready to die now, or you want to put that shit off until the sun look you in the eye?”
Big Smoke’s loomin over me sweatin and hackin open coconuts with his keen machete. He stoops to hand me a half a coconut full of milk. I lean back against the palm tree and try to accept the natural bowl but my hands start shakin, and the shakin ripples up my arms, across my shoulders, and my whole frame’s throbbin and bobbin.
Shit, this is crazy, insane, absurd, Goddamn it, just kidding Lord, I don’t want to get on your bad side too, but how did I get myself so fucking screwed up — Awww, my director says it’s time for me to put this show on the road. It is now and forever. God, help me please.
“Hello, my name is Zuma. I’m your host for tonight’s event. I will be conducting the interview that much of the world has been eagerly awaiting and many others have been vehemently opposing. Let me recap what has been going on for the last nine months, as if there’s anyone in the known universe unaware of these remarkable events.”
Yeah, an event I’m now dreading even though earlier I fought tooth and nail to make it a reality. We all should know by now that this is not going to end well. God help you all. Me, I have my exit strategy.