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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience 2001 - SOA 43 Ralph Madsen
Ralph Madsen PDF Print E-mail
Left my first job as a Junior engineer at Westinghouse's lamp division in New Jersey to join in forming a Catholic Worker inspired intentional community in Brookfield MA. As this community held together for less than six months, I took a job at the Worcester Foundation For Experimental Biology as a lab assistant for a year, and then to the New York Catholic Worker where I helped managing Peter Maurin Farm on Staten Island for two years. I worked in labor jobs (Loading/unloading trucks, winding tule/net/lace, bailing ) in the garment industry in lower Manhattan a couple years. Went to LA to be trained as a Montessori teacher, Met, married my wife there. (She was one of the trainers/teachers. Came to Boston, living in Roxbury, teaching Montessori on south shore for two years. Was the first teacher in Highland Park Free School's preschool. (I seemed to do everything in groups of two years at that period of my life.) Rose and I had two daughters by that time.
After two years at Highland Park Free School, I started to teach in the Newton Public Schools, which I continued to do from 1969 to 1998. During that time my activism was occasional. Arrested about 1970 with about 15 people for sitting on the sidewalk blocking the way to public transport so draftees would not be able to report for physicals, etc. About same time, maybe 1971, arrested with a group of two thousand including, now senator, John Kerry who was leading Viet Nam Veterans Against the War at that time - arrested for violating a curfew on Lexington Green. I picketed Boston supermarkets with Neighbor to Neighbor in the late 80's. asking customers to boycott Folgers Coffee. I've been to SOAW at Fort Benning three times since 1998, the year I retired from teaching. I was one of the Pentagon 60 in 1999.
For the last two years in addition to regular time spent entertaining and caring for my five young grandchildren (One of life's special privileges) I have been a volunteer, tutoring kids from the Cambridge Public Schools twice a week. Again, as in the American montessori society training, I am outranked by my dear wife, who since she retired from teaching in 2000, has directed the Intergenerational Math Project. I am one of her volunteers.



In Kabul, suffering has long been the norm.
- Lynda Gorov, Boston Globe, Dec. 5, 2001

I read,
?The babies were dying.
The doctor denied it of course.
Maybe in the next world
they'd have enough medicine and a clean IV
Maybe there,
the ceiling wouldn't leak on their tiny heads.?

As I read on,
the face of an 18 month old Afghani child
in a shabby bed
looks vaguely out from the page,
an IV tube attached to his left wrist.
His mother?s hand touches his forehead.
His eyes hold a soft, fevered mixture
of bewilderment and calm.

This toddler, so unremarkable,
so ordinary and child-innocent.
He could be mine.

I donut want this.
I donut want to read on.

Last night my grandson woke,
fevered and delirious, dreaming of fire.
He has strep.
He too looks far off, eyes glazed.
On antibiotics, he will soon be well.

I sit in my kitchen --
steam heat all winter,
more food than I need,
running water every day.

I read on.
The Afghani boy stares past me.

And I know this:
That I am of one piece with this child.
But we're far, far apart. I know.



Presente
Fort Benning, November 18, 2001

In Panama, where the School of the Americas (SOA) was originally based, its graduates earned it the name ?the School Of Assassins.? The SOA, now based in Fort Benning Georgia trains Latin American military in ?low intensity warfare.?

Black shrouds. Faces painted white.
The dead lead this march.
The keening chant floats,
a narrow ribbon on the breeze:
Leonisia Claros, 25 years old
Presente
Some carry mock coffins.
Mourners and the dead, we make our way
among pine needles and holly shrubs.
Right up to the concrete wall.
And a litany of the silenced flows on -
Carlos Diaz-Aguado, 14 years old
Thousands chant back,
Presente
Those covered in black slow.
They go down.
We kneel beside them,
hold our small white crosses
bow our heads.
Julio Rendero, 46 years old
Presente
The procession turns. It moves on.
We kneel here,
We kneel outside of time.
The grief enters
through clean, true air.
Lucia Argueta, 3 years old
Presente
Ten thousand pilgrims slowly pass,
Some place white crosses in the chain link gates.
An MP on the other side of the fence
walks a pensive German shepherd.
Camilo Gutierrez, at El Mozot?
Presente
Village of El Mozot?, its people gone,
more than the 900 dead; each one
had a mother, a father, a name -
We remember you. Presente!
Miguel Lopez-Pava, 39 years old
Presente!
A priest looks down at one shroud covered figure;
his eyes are heavy, his mouth sad.
Isabel Mendosa, 52 years old
Presente


November. A warm day in Georgia.
Little breezes come up -
we smell the ripe earth.
Luis Matos, 61 years old
Presente
One of the dead gets up.
He climbs a stone buttress, stands,
loudly proclaims a resurrection.
Bishop Girardi, in Guatemala
Presente
Some rise and start to walk
alongside the the chain link fence,
cross the small creek.
We barely hear the chanting now.
Presente
The fence ends. We turn onto the base
toward the main road, toward the MPs.
They meet us with handcuffs
but politely enough.
presente
?Put your hands behind your back.?
He points toward the shoulder of the road,
?Sit or kneel over there.?
Faint echoes of their names and
presente
The MPs offer to help us, one by one, to stand
to check us with metal detectors.
The beeper goes off. She tells him its her keys.
?I donut feel comfortable putting my hand
in a woman's pocket.? He calls over a woman MP.
Presente
We form a long row kneeling;
but now our hands are behind.
A nun begins to sing,
Ubi caritas et amor ibi deus est.
The ancient phrase feels familiar. Others join in.
I pick up the Latin, syllable by syllable -
Where there is charity and love, there is God.

We are kneeling, chanting,
waiting for the bus that will take us to the stockade,
over and over, singing.
We kneeling, they standing guard.
Together in sober rite.



THE MISTAKE
Fort Benning, Georgia, 1955

For a long while,
spring through fall,
the sky stays a deep blue.
Rivulets drain and dry.
Ponds shrink
and crowd catfish
in warm mud.

Clouds of parched dust roll,
follow the footsteps, the tire tracks,
and paint a gritty velvet
on every road creature.
The soldiers spit out red clay
with their curses,
feel,
floating in their sweat
styptic in their nostrils
the red earth stuff -- Georgia.
It has a flat and bitter taste.

Evening.
Showers flush all this away.
Bodies wearing shorts
brush teeth
lay on dull green cots
sit on dull green boxes
boots half laced.
A tan body says to a brown,
"Good picture playing in town.
Want to go in?
Its at the Bradley."
THE BRADLEY!

And the tan body
bends down his head.
He stares at the floor.
The brown one hears,
looks disgusted,
says nothing.
Goes out to shave.

I look at the floor
quietly kick the dull green box
with my heel.
And curse my stupidity.

Teddy comes back, shaven.
"You forgot, Madsen . . .
This is Georgia."

And I know it's all right.
Almost.
 

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