Harold Jaffe: “Iso” and “Truth Force” — Upcoming from Revolutionary Brain; Plus Excerpt from Othello Blues



The skies are raining blackbirds.

Thousands of red-winged blackbirds (Angelaius phoeniceus)

fall from the sky round midnight in Mississippi state as we frenzy into year 2012.

Maya prophecies say this is the end-year; they do not mention Mississippi.

He’s an old guy. Call him Qa. He’s waiting it out alone.

He blows blues on his trombone.

Lies on the couch, dozes, dreams.

“Hellhound blues fallin’ down like hail.”

Robert Johnson, right?

Qa plays Robert Johnson, born and died on the Delta.

He lays the bone down and sings the words.

He sips camomile tea.

Isolation is hard, old and iso are harder.

Unfriend your fair-weather friends asap.

Alone is to be alien.

One is alienated in any case.

Alienation stings but is good medicine.

Look at Robert Johnson.

Look at Oedipus after he puts out his eyes.

If he’s old and alone does he do a lot of wanking?

Say what?

Qa. If he’s old and alone does he do a lot of wanking?

He blows the trombone.

Delta blues, birds rain from the sky.

Lies on the couch, sips camomile tea.

Dozes, dreams.

What kind of dreams?

Beasts enraged, ice breaking.

Didn’t Qa say he means to live forever?

Not in this infected globe.


He’s an ancient virus seeking left-handed software.

Do you know The Left Handed Gun?

Arthur Penn, 1958. Paul Newman plays lefty.

Paul Newman was the best Jewish cowboy in Hollywood.

Eli Wallach would be next, plug-ugly in those Sergio Leone opera buffa westerns contra pretty Clint Eastwood.

I heard Clint Eastwood was gay.

You know what “buffa” is, right?

Clown. Buffoon.

The global village is buffa.

Eurozone too.

IMF and CIA and DNS too.

Shoot me another acronym.



Terrorists are out there.

Crocs, sharks, sex-addicts, rattlers, adolescent hackers, Muslim

Jihadists, serial killers, earth-firsters, inner city rappers, Mexicans without green cards, dissident artists . . .

Dissident who?

Illegal aliens.

Qa’s bros and sisters when he dreams.

Awake more or less he’s iso, blows trombone.

Delta blues, after Robert Johnson.

Blackbirds rain from the sky.

He lies on the couch.

Sips camomile tea.

Dozes, dreams.

He grunts and snores, kicks, moans, cries out.

Qa does all that?

He’s an old guy, alone.

Asleep, he goes through the whole nine.

Awake, he puts words down on paper.

This and the other about the end of the end.

Don’t ask him to describe it.


He writes, plays the bone, sings Robert Johnson?

That’s way cool for an old guy.

Qa envies the psychopath.

Does his shit / don’t give a shit.

No past, no future, just vibrating now.

No way does he look his age.

Qa, you mean?

Except for his hands.

You remember La Femme Nikita?

Luc Besson, 1990.

Jeanne Moreau, worldly femme, informs youthful Nikita that you

may look young, but not the hands.

Hands give you away.

Qa will wear ivory satin gloves like Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera.

He won’t cover his face.

He’s a clean old dissident.

Tens of thousands of frogs born maimed.

They point to the futureless future.

To be old, iso, abandoned to the State, Fed, private sector,

“assisted living” with or without your bone, points to the futureless future.

What would he–Qa–recommend?

A potent agent such as Oxycontin but not addictive and won’t scramble consciousness, turn users into zombies.

True, one hears nice things about zombies.

Scrambling consciousness may be the best of the worst.

Writing about opium, Jean Cocteau appealed to scientists to modify the toxicity while maintaining the glow.

No chance.

On depleted earth glow is no-go.

Even as we spin out of orbit.

Too many creatures dreaming, moving sideways, promote chaos.

There is, naturally, a difference between extemporaneous and systemic chaos.

Licit and illicit terror.

Armed drones in Disneyworld, for example.

That’s good, right?

The “1 percent”: Watch them walk without swinging their arms.

They’re speaking in Esperanto on their mobiles.

Ceaseless buzz of “information.”

Qa blows Robert Johnson blues on his trombone.

Puts the bone down, sings a little.

Lies on his couch.

Dozes, dreams.

End of the end.

He’ll wait it out.

Qa, I mean.

Come view the red-winged blackbirds rain from the skies.





Polling los pobres

“I’ve read the report.”

“You know the situation. It has nothing to with sentiment; the torturer never showed any. It has nothing to do with what the junta refers to as law and order. It has to do with justice. Yes or no?”



“I’ve read the report.”

“You know the situation. It has nothing to with sentiment; the torturer never showed any. It has nothing to do with what the junta refers to as law and order. It has to do with justice. Yes or no?”



“I’ve read the report.”

“You know the situation. It has nothing to with sentiment; the torturer never showed any. It has nothing to do with what the junta refers to as law and order. It has to do with justice. Yes or no?”



“I’ve read the report.”

“You know the situation. It has nothing to with sentiment; the torturer never showed any. It has nothing to do with what the junta refers to as law and order. It has to do with justice. Yes or no?”



The preceding exchanges are in Spanish and take place on a local tram. One by one, the compañero boards the tram, sits by the questioner, repeats the coded sentence: I’ve read the report, then casts his or her vote. The compañero leaves and is replaced by another. The same exchange occurs on trams throughout the city. The question is whether to execute the torturer or release him.

Yes signifies execution.

Eight insurgents (as they’re called in the junta-controlled media), question a total of 310 men and women of various ages, most of them poor, each connected one way or another with the “insurgency.”

Each of the eight questioners records the responses on an interior page of Libertad, the junta’s flagship newspaper.

The 310 responses are unanimously in the affirmative.


Uprooting trees

The governing junta seized power unlawfully, and the official torturer who is kidnapped and soon to be executed was imported from a colonialist “first-world” country thousands of miles to the north.

The imported torturer was loosely disguised as an aid agency official to undeveloped or underdeveloped or primitive or third-world (there are many comparable designations) countries.

The imported torturer’s charge: instruct the junta police and Republican Guard in the newest most technologically advanced methods of interrogation and torture including how to “disappear” rebellious citizens, the majority poor, many indigenous.

(The indigenous constitute the earliest citizens whose ancestors inhabited the country when it was “discovered” by Europeans in armor—the junta’s alleged ancestors).

The torturer in his own developed country was chief of police in a large southwestern city close to the Mexican border. Employing methods old and new, his police force menaced, murdered and disappeared Mexican immigrants, whom they call “illegal aliens.” Hence the executioner’s imperfect knowledge of Spanish.

Imperfect is good enough.


Before polling its members on the execution, the insurgents called on the junta to exchange its 189 political prisoners for the kidnapped torturer.

The request was denied.

Would the all-powerful colonialist country from which the torturer came intervene?

No, the all-powerful colonialist country would use his execution (he possessed a devoted wife and five children) as further propaganda against the insurgency, then send another professional torturer (with a devoted wife and four or five children) to replace him, even as the professional torturer who preceded the current torturer (with a devoted wife and four children) had been kidnapped and executed by insurgents.

Did professional torturers with devoted wives and four or five children grow on trees up there in that all-powerful country?

No, because the trees were uprooted to erect prisons, sports stadiums and condominiums.



He was not the imported torturer but a junta police officer, one of the imported torturer’s trainees.

He said to me: “Since you refuse to talk we will make you dream.”

I understood what he meant, but not the extent of it.

Do you know how it feels to have electric shock applied to your genitals?

They strip you and wrap wet rags up and down your body.

They push you into the pit filled with shit and piss and blood and vomit where they tortured and murdered your compañeros.

You’d expect the electric shock to feel like catching hold of a live wire with your fingers.

One might tolerate that.

This is a hundred times worse.

The pain is heightened in the parts of the body that hold liquids.

Shocking the genitals feels like they’re pulling your kidneys and bladder out with red-hot tongs.

They move the electrodes up and down the body.

When the electrodes are applied to the heart you cannot speak or breathe.

They keep the wet rags on you all the time to increase the pain.

When the rags dry they wet them again.

All the time the interrogation continues.

I didn’t know until inmate compañeros told me afterwards that they wept to hear me tortured.

I screamed and wailed, they told me.

It was a pain like nothing else.

Pain beyond pain.



“Am I right to say that the revolutionary response was milder at first than it became? That your response was initially modeled on Gandhi’s non-violent Satyagraha, sometimes translated as truth-force?”

“That’s accurate, yes.”

“Did your response become more violent by degree or was the turn to violence sudden?”

“By degree. We discussed and argued about it at meetings. But the tortures and disappeared, the mass executions in the football stadiums, the everyday cruelties toward the people—even the Gandhian compañeros came to recognize that if we wanted to exert any political force we would need to spill their blood as they spilled the blood of the innocent.”

“Did any of the compañeros drop out at that juncture?”

“No. But it was a moment of truth for all of us. It was very hard to learn to think like assassins. Even righteous assassins. Gandhi was fighting the British in India. If the Indian colonialists had been Afrikaans, say, or Germans, his nonviolence would not have worked.”

“You don’t think so?”

“When, during the Nazi holocaust, Gandhi was asked what he would say to the Jews who were being led to the gas, he said he would counsel them to look their assailants in the eye. Gandhi was a great leader, but here he was wrong. You look a Nazi in the eye and he will pluck it out. And if you were to fast in protest, as Gandhi so often did with success, the Afrikaans or Nazis would fast you to death.”

“So you became assassins yourself. Righteous assassins.”

“Yes. The context demanded it. Unless we wanted to give up the struggle, there was no other way.

“Approximately how many revolutionary compañeros are there?”

“In our country we are nearly a thousand active fighters, men and women, with many thousands of people at large supporting us. In neighboring countries, we have similar numbers.”

“Do you expect to finally win?”

“Absolutely. But even when we win the work must continue. Che—and Trotsky before him—called for unceasing revolution.”

“That would be very hard to sustain.”


“And yourself: does an early violent death frighten you?”

“Living under this filthy, greedy, murdering junta is death, day after day. My own death will come when it comes.”



Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.

Avert your eyes.

Don’t avert your eyes.


(Excerpt from Othello Blues)

I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear


After the hassle with Gillette Gillette in Mahu, Otis and Dez walked back to their loft.

–I’m sorry it was such a scene, Dez said. But maybe it’s good it happened.


–I think we should get married, Otis.

–Hey. What you think that would do to your father?

Rueful smile from Dez: –He’d survive.

–What’s wrong with just livin’ together?

–Nothing. I just feel that married would be better. You don’t?

–You prepared to cash in your chips for an old black blues wailer?

–I don’t know about chips, Otis.  I just know about us.

When they got back to the loft, Otis brewed coffee. After the coffee they made love. After love they lay in bed talking.

–I have an idea, Otis said.


–Let’s get married.

They laughed.

–I’d like to, Dez, Otis said. But can we wait till after the tour?

–Yes.  Mockingly: It’ll give my father time to get an announce-ment in theTimes.

Phone rang, Dez picked it up.

–Iago, Dez. You okay?


–That was quite a scene today. Your father was pretty upset.

–My father has always been quick to react. He’ll get over it.

–Uh-huh. Otis there, Dez?

–Yes. It’s Iago.

–‘Lo, Iago. What’s up?

–Not much. Just wanted to see how you all were doin’.

–Doin’ okay.

–That was some scene today, with Dez’s father.


–I think you handled it real well, O.

–Mr Gillette was doin’ most of the handlin’.

–I think you showed a lot of class, really.


–Dez showed me something too. Stickin’ by you. You know what, O?

–What’s that?

–I have a hunch this thing gone bring Dez and you even closer together.


–Just a hunch, Iago said. But Cassio has it too.

–Cassio? Cassio came in after the thing was over.

–Yeah. But don’t forget he knew Dez even before you. Didn’t he introduce Dez to you?

–Yeah, that ‘s right.

–Well I mentioned to Cassio what happened with Father Gillette and Cassio, like, thought the old man’s disapproval would end up bringing you and Dez closer together.


–And don’t worry about Jim Bob, Otis. He’s a punk.

–I don’t care about Jim Bob, man.

–That’s what I’m talking.  Hey, you and Dez take care. I’ll catch you after the tour. Have a good tour, Otis.

–Yeah. Thanks.

After Otis put down the phone Dez said,

–What’s this about Jim Bob?

–You know him?

–Not well. He used to phone me when I was staying with my father. I discouraged him and after a while he pretty much stopped phoning.

–Pretty much?

–Well, he phoned much less often.

–Jim Bob was the one got in touch with your father about us bein’ together.

He did? Dez shook her head. Jim Bob always seemed unstable.


–For as long as I’ve known him. Or known of him. I was still in college when he started phoning.

–Jim Bob carryin’ a heavy torch.

–Hard for me to believe, Dez said.

–What’s that?

–That he’d make such a fuss. Contact my father.

–You don’t do yourself justice, girl. Whole lotta dudes fuss to get close to you.

Dez shrugged. –And what was that about Michael?


–Michael Cassio. Didn’t Iago say something to you about Michael?

–Iago said after your father left the club him and Cassio talked and agreed that what happened would bring us closer together.

–They’re right.

Dez stood on her toes and put her arms around Otis’s neck.

Otis stiffened a bit at her touch, but then let go, put a long arm around her, kissed her on the temple.




When Otis saw Iago at the airport he couldn’t imagine what was going down. Otis/Dez/Son Chatmon/Rosetta/Baum watching Iago walk toward them with his rhythmic jive walk.

–Trouble, Baum said.

–Hey, people, Iago said. Then he told them.




Iago sat in for Cassio. And the first gig the following night in downtown Chicago went better than Otis could have expected. Like always, Iago blew sweet solo harp, but he was more relaxed, freer-seeming. And his ensemble work was more complementary than before. By the time they got to Topeka Crawfish was blowing as good as it had in a long while. And the crowds were into it too. One of the conditions Otis had Baum set before agreeing to the tour was Crawfish would gig only in those clubs where the admission price was affordable and where folks wouldn’t be hassled to buy drinks if they just wanted to listen. As it turned out, there were a lot fewer poor folks than Otis would have wished, but anyway the audiences dug the blues even if they didn’t all have the blues.




Just as Crawfish was getting ready to leave Tulsa back to New York, a terrible thing happened. Thousands of Guatemalan refugees had somehow ended up in Tulsa in the wake of the U.S.-backed Honduran invasion of Guatemala in 2011. Now one of them, a 15-year-old Quiche Indian boy, starved himself to death. Otis read about it in a Tulsa tab, tiny item in one of the back pages. In Spanish on a piece of paper the boy wrote NO MORE FOOD. He pinned the message to his shirt. They found him in a fishnet hammock less than a hundred feet from the interstate artery.

Otis and Dez talked about it on the plane returning to New York.

–Baby, just two things keep me from going back on the streets. She looked at him.

–The music and you. But when I read things like about this Indian boy, blues music don’t seem all that much, only you do. He took her hand. When the plane landed in New York and the group was waiting at the baggage claim, Otis put one long arm around Dez and Baum, the other around Son Chatmon, Rosetta and Iago.

–Dez and I want tell yawl somethin’. We’re gone get married.



Son Chatmon: –You may as well do yo’sefs in fuh real.


–When? from Rosetta.

–Soon, Otis said. Haven’t fixed the date ‘cept that it would be after we got back from the tour.

He turned to Dez: –You want a specific date, baby?

Dez, smiling: –I like the idea of soon.



More tough luck for the Cajun. Turned out the kid he knocked Jim Bob into in the Wharf was in serious condition with damage to her spine, which was why Cassio was still in the PFDC.

Otis visited him a few days after Crawfish got back.

–I’m sorry, man, Cassio said through the grate.

–I’m sorry for you. And for the little girl. If she recovers it’ll be a break for everyone.

–I’m pullin’ for her, Otis. And not just for my sake.

–I know, man.

–The tour went well?

–Real well.

–Good. I would’ve felt like hell if I ruined that for you .

–Hey, take care yo’self, Otis said. We’ll all pull for the little girl. And I’ll see you real soon.

–Come with Dez next time, Otis.


–Sure. I miss her. I miss everyone, man. A suckin’ day is a week in here.

–Yeah. You take care, Cassio. They touched fingers through the grate.



Crawfish was back to the steady Mahu gig with Iago still filling in for Cassio. First night back, between sets, while Otis and Son Chatmon were talking with Baum, Iago remarked to Dez that he’d seen Cassio earlier that day.

–He’s in a bad way.

–I’m sorry for him, Dez said.

–The kid’s in a bad way too, but it looks like she’ll make it.

–Well at least that’s good news.

–Problem is–I spoke with Michael’s Legal Aid attorney about this. Problem is there’s a real possibility the kid’ll suffer permanent spine damage.

–My God! I wish I could do something.

–One thing you could do, Dez, is visit. Michael’s asked about you. He’s asked about all his friends. He’s feeling guilty about hurting the kid, and he’s flat-out lonesome.

–Maybe I can go with Rosetta. No, Rosetta just flew to Atlanta to visit her sister. When are visiting hours there, Iago?

–Tuesday and Saturday, between four and six. I’m going tomorrow, we can meet downtown and catch the ferry.

–Tomorrow? I think that’ll be okay.

–Good. I’ll write down where to meet.



Otis Crawford was born in D.C. in 1975, B.D., as black folks said, which meant Before Death, before the nuclear disaster on the Horn of Africa in ’09.

Since Otis was black/poor/big/quick, they had him playing basketball. Which is how he got to go south to Ole Miss. Except he messed up his knee in his sophomore year, so they took away his “grant and aid,” which meant he had to drop out of school. But meanwhile he’d become tight with Blind Emmett Oakley, the delta blues guitarist. Blind Emmett was Otis’s mother’s cousin and that side of the family was heavy into music, both church and blues.

Emmett Oakley was blinded this way: 16-years-old, playing and singing for dimes like he always did, dressed in his derby and sandwich board which read: EMMETT OAKLEY, POOR BOY, shuffling from corner to corner in Leland, Mississippi, tin cup tied to his guitar neck. One day he was singing “If I Had My Way” in front of Leland City Hall, and when he sang the verse, derived from the biblical Samson: “If I had my way, I’d tear this here building down,” a deputy sheriff tried to arrest him for advocating insurrection. When Emmett resisted he was shot in the eyes with the chemical Mace and blinded. This was back in ’81.

Otis lived with Blind Emmett in Leland working odd jobs while learning delta-style blues, especially bottleneck—“milking” the guitar strings with a bottleneck or knife. After a few years Otis got good enough to travel the backwaters with Blind Emmett and Cleavon Weary, the blues harpist.



Otis remained in Mississippi for upwards of fifteen years, but four of them were spent in Parchman State Farm Penitentiary, south of Clarksdale. Otis had joined the Steve Biko Identity in ’01, and he fought with the Bikos and New T-Mob when they resisted the Crusaders in Vicksburg in ’03. The Crusaders were Klan-Skins allied with the Godfearers. After that confrontation two-hundred-eighteen Biko/T-Mob activists were arrested and given stiff sentences under the federal “Anti-Terrorist” statute. 

Six Klan-Skins were detained overnight.

By the time Otis was released in ’07, Blind Emmett had been killed in a hit-and-run right outside his shack in Leland. So Otis got to bluesin’ with Booker Jinx’s group.



In ’08 there was that rash of nuclear rod leaks in Alabama and southern Mississippi, and then the outbreak of leprosy among poor blacks. This strain of leprosy resisted diapsone, and nobody knew for sure how it took hold in Mississippi-Alabama in the first place. The Bikos said it was because of the deteriorated living conditions and the nuclear spills, but the Body’s official response was that the bacillus was “linked to the abnormal sickle-cell anemia gene carried by millions of African-stock blacks.”

The Bikos arranged benefits, which included Booker Jinx and other groups playing in the disease-struck ghettoes.

Otis’s blues at this time combined the intensely spare delta style with the more relaxed, longer-barred South Texas blues. On vocals he alternated between his natural bass and a soft falsetto howl. Though he didn’t “force” his voice, his bass had an edge to it, sort of like Reverend Gary Davis. His guitar style was unpredictable, often violently rhythmic, dissonant, variable in measure, resembling Robert Johnson in its open tunings and finger pickings in the lower registers. But it could also be melodic, meditative, with seamless chord changes, like Mississippi John Hurt

After about a year of playing in the ghettoes, Booker Jinx himself got the disease, and wasn’t long before his fingers got too twisted to pick his guitar. When Booker died, Otis and Junius “Son” Chatmon, the drummer, headed north.

They made stops in Kansas City, Chicago, D.C., finally in New York, the group alternating between three and four. In K-City they connected with an East Indian/Black called Mohan, from Trinidad, a dynamite blues harpist. Solo, Mohan liked to blend his blues with other sounds–calypso, ska, spazz, zydeco. With Mohan and Otis sharing vocals, and Mohan’s florid stylings on the harmonica against Son Chatmon’s disciplined percussion and Big O’s individualized guitar work, the group, now called Crawfish, was starting to roll.

Then Mohan returned to Trinidad for Carnival and while there another coup occurred, travel routes out of the country were blocked and the government arrested and executed people as agitators. Mohan, without a political bone in his body, was among those executed.

In Chicago Crawfish tried out a Japanese dude on bass guitar/blues harp and a sister on vocals, both solid musicians. But they changed the sound of the group away from what Otis and Son Chatmon had in mind, so were let go.

Otis was beginning to think the blues harp/vocal spot was snakebit. But then he ran auditions in New York and chose Iago, a wailer with good breath who blew a smooth and flexible harmonica, as well as jew’s harp and quills. Iago was out of Mobile but had been living up north.

During the year or so that Iago toured with Crawfish, Otis was never satisfied with how the ensemble sounded. O thought he would look for a bass guitar, turn the trio into a quartet. Which is when Cassio joined the group. The Louisiana Cajun on bass and electric sounded something like Mohan on harp: smooth technique, embellished style, somewhat languorous tone, slipping in and out of chords.  Vocally, Cassio was a light baritone, and both Otis and Son Chatmon liked his voice against O’s grainy bass. But after a while it became clear that four didn’t sound as good as three on Crawfish’s arrangements and Otis was thinking he’d have to make a change.



It was soon after Cassio joined Crawfish that Otis saw Desdemona Gillette for the first time, in Mahu with another white lady, listening to the music. Following night she was there again, alone, sipping her drink, listening. Iago and Cassio were both with the group, and every few sets one would sit out. When it was Cassio’s turn, he was sitting next to Dez; after the set Cassio waved Otis over and introduced him.

When they started seeing each other, Otis asked Dez:

–How’d you come to take a shine to an old blues knockabout?

Dez: –How’d you come to take a shine to an overprivileged white girl with a tin ear?

Dez didn’t have a tin ear, was actually a pretty fair musician, and after moving in together they’d work on arrangements, she at the upright, O on guitar or harmonica. Even with her background and the fact that until Crawfish she hadn’t heard much blues, she was good at it, felt the blues in her own way.

Once, working on an arrangement, Otis asked Dez what she felt about the sound of the group.

–The sound is good, Otis.

–Yeah, but is it right? Does it sound right to you?

–Well, for your arrangements it could be it sounds a little busier than you’d want. May just take a little time.

–What about the vocals?

–The vocals are good individually. The ensemble vocals are especially good when it’s you and Michael. Iago’s voice for some reason doesn’t mix as well.

–Yeah, it’s something–the color in his voice, I thinkthat works better alone. I’m going to have to let Iago go, Dez.

–You don’t want to wait a little longer to see if it works itself out?

–I can’t give it longer than a couple weeks. We have to be solid for the D.C./Baltimore tour in January.



Otis held off letting Iago go for nearly a month. No change, Crawfish still wasn’t cutting it. After the usual Friday night session at Mahu, Otis invited Iago to the loft for a gin. While Dez and Emily sat in the living room side of the loft, Otis and Iago rapped in the kitchen.

–How’d you think it went tonight, Iago?

–About like usual. What’s your own thinking?

–Pretty much the same. Like usual.


–I’m thinking about making a change, Iago.


–It’s very hard for me to say this, man, because you’re a damned good musician. But I haven’t been satisfied with how the group’s been sounding with four. I’d like to try it with three.


–Son Chatmon, Cassio and me.

–Son Chatmon, Cassio and you.

–I’m sorry, Iago. Could be it won’t work out this way either. But I feel we should try it.


–I’m going to give you three month’s club wages and in the meantime maybe you can swing something else.

–Something else.

–Yeah. I can see you with your own group, if you can find the right mix. Except when you solo’d, it wasn’t really happening in Crawfish.


–In fact I heard the Pinkney brothers were lookin’ to get a blues harp/wailer for their quintet. You know the Pinkneys?

–I know the Pinkneys, Iago said.

–Solid delta musicians. Rodney wails real strong, Charlie Patton style. And Floyd’s as good as they come on bottleneck. If you want, I’ll give Floyd a call.




As it turned out Crawfish did sound better with Cassio, about as good as it had sounded since Mohan the Trinidadian. Iago never got in touch with the Pinkneys, and he didn’t start his own group either. Filled in with various combos now and then, was about it.



The Body was bullish on Blues around this time: awarding recording contracts, arranging vid bites, doing blues up in the tabs.

Blues in 2014 was the biggest it had been since the Great Depression of the last century, and for the same reason: with poor folks popping their fingers and shuffling to the blues their rage tended to get deflected, desocialized. Otis saw this and it pained him. Yeah, he liked an appreciative audience, and he liked being paid regular, but he hated the Body-manipulated griefs that drove his people to the blues. Multiple families in a gutted shotgun flat, or out on the street, no work, contracting TB or leukemia from radfills all over the streets, and now leprosy.

The same strain of drug-resistant leprosy that hit Mississippi-Alabama was erupting in ghettoes all over the country. Like before, most of the victims were black, though now there seemed to be some poor whites, Asians and Latinos. Seemed, because you couldn’t trust reports in the tabs or on VID.

In the back of Otis’s mind was the feeling he should be out there battling instead of in white-owned clubs bluesing with a bottleneck on his little finger. Bikos he knew in Mississippi were doing it, resisting bad shit with bad shit. Fair chance that if O wasn’t up here blowin’ blues, he’d be down there blowing up the genociding rich and their enterprises. Except now, with Dez, Otis would maybe hesitate to put his life on the line. She made him feel too good to have to do without her.



When Dez returned to the loft after visiting Cassio, it was ten past seven. Otis was at the upright with his guitar on his lap. Dez put her arms around him from behind and kissed his temple.

–What are you doing, love?

Otis tapped out a few chords on the piano, then did some fingerings on the guitar. He looked up.

–Workin’ on a couple things to make better use of Iago, since it looks like Iago’s gonna be with Crawfish for a while.

–Poor Michael.

–Where you been, Dez?

–I was visiting Michael at the PFDC. He’s in a bad way, Otis.

–He dug himself a hole, didn’t he?

–I feel bad for him. And for the child. Apparently she has partial paralysis. The doctors are not sure if it’s permanent or a response to the trauma.

Otis shook his head.

–Michael’s been there for nearly three weeks. Such a dreary place.

–It’s tough.


Otis turned to the piano again. –Listen to this, Dez. It’s “Done Kept Awake Last Night Again,” but with Iago on harp.

Otis played the twelve-bar tune, left hand on the piano, right picking the guitar.

–How does that sound?

–I’m sorry, Otis, I wasn’t concentrating. Can you play it again?

Otis played it again.

–It’s good, Dez said. It changes the contours of the piece, but I think it’s good.

Otis looked at her.–You look worn out, baby.

–I have a throbbing headache. That PFDC is a hellhole.

–I been there.

–Yes. Michael said you came to see him. He needs support from his friends, Otis.

–That’s right.


–Do you need me for anything, love? Help with an arrange-ment? Otherwise I’m going to lie down.

–No, baby. Go ‘head lie down. Rest.



Seems the Body was bent on heating it up again between them and the Chinese. Whole lot of soundbites on the VID, in the tabs, and resumed testing of the Satellite Space Mines (SSPM), designed to evade the Chinese space net, which itself had been a response to the US Star Wars initiative. The last time the Body tested the SSPM was in ’07 in the desert near Gallup, New Mexico, only there was a malfunction, or modified dispersion, and enough active uranium escaped into the atmosphere to kill just about all the mesquite and cacti and creosote and juniper within a radius of thirty miles. Though several hundred Navajos subsequently developed leukemia, the Body disclaimed responsibility.

The current round of tests was scheduled for the Alaska snow belt, away from the noisily aggrieved Navajos and telltale chlorophyll. Eskimos tended not to bitch, and there was almost no vegetable growth to irradiate.

With the renewed bad shit between the U.S. and the Chinese, the Body intensified its “domestic surveillance,” detaining or killing “terrorists” throughout the dominion, including Biko Identity people. Four Bikos Otis knew from Mississippi were among the names he saw in the tabs, but it wasn’t clear whether they’d been jailed or murdered. The overcrowded PFDC’s were being stuffed with “political” prisoners, which meant that many ordinary inmates had to be released.

Cassio was among those released on bail after spending nearly two months inside. Meanwhile the parents of the still-incapacitated child had sued Cassio and the Wharf Restaurant for a lot of money. Cassio was in debt backwards and forwards: to the restaurant for damages; to his lawyer (“Legal Aid” lawyers weren’t free anymore); to the bail agency.

Cassio was out and out of work because Otis had decided to stick with Iago.



Iago and Emily put Cassio up in their loft till he got his shit together.

–Now I know how you felt when you were free-lancing, man, Cassio said to Iago. Whole lotta music out there, but very few gigs.

Iago nodded. –Blues is hot, ‘cept there’s too many musicians.

Plus ain’t much turnover. Bluesmen ain’t movin’ from one thing to ‘nother like befo’..


–Cajun, why don’t you get into pornVID. Porn’s bigger ‘n blues, and reckon they could always use another stunt dick..

Cassio laughed. –I’m too old.

–Hell, you ain’t no older than Super Hombre Rick Sanchez. Ever seen his shit?

–Heard about ‘um. Never seen ‘um.

–Kidding aside, Mike. I think there’s a good chance Crawfish’ll take you back.

–Not the way you’re blowin’, man. You mean as a fourth?

Iago nodded.

–That’d be good. I think Crawfish’ll sound good with four. Better’n before when we tried it. What about Otis? I guess he’s kind of down on me.

–Big O’s preoccupied. You know him and Dez gettin’ married.

–I heard. That’s great.

–What you maybe don’t know is that Dez is a loyal supporter of yours, Mike. She likes you and she feels bad what you been goin’ through. Plus she recognizes you’re a damn good musician.

–Dez always been real good. You know it was me introduced her to Otis?

–You were going out with her yourself, right?

–Couple times. We were good friends, is all.

–Uh-huh. What I’m gettin’ at is you ask Dez to say a few choice words to Otis ‘bout you. Not only they real tight, but she works with him on arrangements. If Dez like suggests Crawfish try it again with four, Big O’s gone listen.

Cassio nodded.

–Otis and Dez gettin’ hitched two weeks from Saturday, and there’s gone be a party at Mahu. Be the right time for Dez to speak to him ’bout you. First, though, be good you approached her yourself.

–I had in mind go straight to Otis, but the few times I seen him since I been out didn’t feel like it used to. What’s your feeling? You think Crawfish could cut it with four?

–I do. Bigger sound’ll help.

–What about on vocal?

–Yeah, that too. Here’s the deal. Emily told me that day after tomorrow Dez and her goin’ shopping, pick up a few things for the weddin’. Dez’ll be coming here and it’ll be the right time for you two to rap.




When Desdemona rang the bell of Emily/Iago’s loft at eleven a.m., Cassio answered the door.

–Oh, hello, Michael.

Cassio pressed her hand. –Em and Iago are havin’ breakfast at Popeye’s, be back in a bit.  Dez, I’d like to ask you a favor . . .



On the Wednesday before the Saturday on which Otis and Desdemona were to be married, Iago and Otis remained at the club after the gig to work on an arrangement. Otis played a series of notes on the upright.

–Ain’t that a Cassio riff? Iago said, playing it back on harmonica.

–It’s a Crawfish riff, Otis said. Cassio had a nice way with it.

–Cassio has a nice way, Iago said. When he’s nice. Pause.

And these days he’s keepin’ real nice. Hardly know he’s around.

–Who you mean?

–Cassio. I thought you heard he was staying with me and Em.   Otis shook his head.

–Funny. I got the impression Dez mentioned to you that she was seeing him–Cassio. I mean with the wedding coming up and all.

Otis scratched his beard with two long fingers.

–I’m not following.

Iago shrugged. –Maybe I shouldna mentioned it. It couldn’t be anything. In our place while me and Em was out. Cassio and Dez weren’t alone more than half-hour, forty-five minutes.

–When was this?

–When? Week or so ago. Late morning.

Otis, tugging at an earlobe, glaring at Iago.

–Nothing to worry ‘bout, pardner, Iago said.

–Worry about? What you mean?

Iago laughed uneasily. –I mean ‘cept for maybe a few times, Cassio’s been goin’ the straight and narrow since he been out. Been drinking, of course. But not all that much. I know he’s  making an effort. And he’s been whoring some, I guess. I reckon that’s what he been up to those nights he didn’t come back.

–What ‘s all this have to do with Desdemona?

–Nothing, Big O.  That’s what I’m trying to say.  Dez and Cassio was spending a little time together. I mean they’re friends, ain’t they?

Iago watched Otis, long straight torso on the piano stool, glaring at him with his sleepy pent-up negro eyes.

–Probably shouldna opened my mouth. Shoot, wasn’t Cassio and Dez friends before you and her got together?

–What kind of friends?

Again Iago chuckled uneasily. –I couldn’t say, O. All I know is Cassio said him and Dez used to go together. Or went out together. Something like that. Probably was they were just friendly, no more’n that. Like they are now. Pause. ‘Cept you know Cassio.

–Say what you’re saying, man. I don’t like to play games.

–Hey, that’s all I’m sayin’, O.  Dez spent some time with Cassio in our pad when me and Em was out. Thas it. I do know that Cassio is in debt up to his ears, and in spite of not drinking like he use to, he does seem a little, like, off the wall. I mean you can’t blame him with the shit that’s gone down. When Cassio is real down he’s like most everyone in that he falls back to doin’ the thing he does easiest. Which in his case is–you know–women.

–You saying that Cassio balled Dez a few weeks before her and me gone get married?

–No, Otis. No way. I’m just saying what I said. Dez is all heart, everyone knows that. Could be Cassio was trying to borrow some coin from her. Sure as hell couldna been anything else. It’s true Cassio has a way of manipulating females do his shit. But I don’t see him layin’ any that on Dez. For one thing he’d have to answer to you.


–I’m sorry if I said anything I wasn’t supposed to, man. I like you and Dez a bunch and I just want to make sure everything is like solid between you two. Cassio’s in a bad way–that’s why me and Em took him in. Pause. Come to think of it, was Em’s idea. Iago gave his shit-eating grin.

Big Otis had turned from Iago and was facing the piano, wide long back, thick muscular butt gripping the stool. Iago touched Big O’s shoulder and went out the door.




Walking through the pre-dawn streets Iago whistled Cassio’s riff.

Or the Crawfish riff that Cassio had a nice way with. She’s a kind-hearted woman, she studies evil all the time. Iago lied when he said it was Emily’s idea that Cassio stay with them. But then Em did agree pretty damn quick when Iago suggested it. Em was no hot pants–far from it. But wasn’t that Cassio’s gift? Coaxing the nun to rut? Oiling the nun with sweet-stroking talk, then to rut? Sweet-stroking Emily? Clutching the long-standing car in frost, double-clutching?

Loyalty? Yeah, Cassio was a loyal friend ‘cept when he wanted his nut. Which was any damn time day or night.  How ‘bout Cassio and the Coon on either end of porcelain Dez? Well-oiled, supple-backed Desdemona. Deft Cassio and the natural black giant in Desdemona, ivory but for the salmon pink of her labia. Pale Desdemona, impaled–

Iago wasn’t alone. Out of the Chemical Bank Tower underpass into the wind-tunnel at Shaba, a long white car with tinted windows passed him in the opposite direction, U-turned at the corner and now purred alongside him as he walked. Iago slowed, removed a cigarette from his inside pocket, and while he fiddled with his match in the wind, the car passed him. Iago then turned and walked rapidly south toward Nubia. But now the long white car was backing up north to south.

Iago flipped his smoke and ran, but the white car, backing up faster, overtook him. At the corner of Nubia the car stopped, the door clicked open, a lanky black man slid out. He was wearing a beret pulled low over his ears, he gestured to Iago with his loose-limbed arm. Iago hesitated for a few seconds, then hurried across the potholed street, pivoted, ran north toward the Chemical Bank Tower. At the Tower he turned east, paused at a public phone, punched Emily’s buttons. Emily picked up on the fifth ring, Iago wailed into the phone:

Funky-butt mama, you messed wit’ me, now I’m gone mess wit’ yawl.  Girl, you done messed wit’ Iago, now I’m gone mess wit’ yawl. Yo hootchie kootchie Cajun he gwine find hisse’f in a hole. I’m talkin’ deep shit.




The ceremony was held in Rosetta/Son Chatmon’s loft late Saturday afternoon. Gillette Gillette had been sent an invite but didn’t show. Dez and Rosetta, who made out the invitation list, naturally included Cassio among the few dozen guests. More folks’d be meeting them at Mahu for drinks and eats.

One of Son Chatmon’s old musician friends, name of Dexter, from West Memphis was now a preacher and he performed the ceremony. Rosetta and Son were the witnesses. Dez, in a long blue velvet dress, high in front, low in back, embroidered with gold irises, looked lovely and happy.  Otis, perspiring in a flannel jacket and turtleneck, seemed tense, remote.

Otis’s mood had to have been influenced by the news Reverend Dexter brought with him from down under. Nine Bikos street-fighting the Dixie ‘Fears in Lewisburg, Mississippi, just south of Memphis, had gotten themselves trapped in a deserted warehouse. The National Guard dynamited the building killing all nine, including three Bikos Otis had worked with. And including Jumbo Short, the delta blues harpist from Clarksdale, who had laid down his music to work with the Bikos.

Reverend Dexter had recounted this to Otis and Son Chatmon, the others knew nothing about it. Wasn’t the right kind of omen for the marriage, and Otis even considered calling the marriage off. ‘Cept too many folks were involved, and he and Dez had airline tickets for Hilton Head Island the following day.  Calling it off would’ve been a big hassle, but Otis wasn’t in the marrying mood, and it showed. Dez, in her own happiness, didn’t really notice.

Cassio noticed. Sleek and supple in his burgundy velvet jacket, snug pearl grey flannels, Texas boots. Just before the ceremony he said to Iago:

–Otis don’t look right to me. Like he’s hurting.

–Marriage, Iago poked Cassio’s tight gut. It’s a sharp pain, bruh.

–I’m wonderin’ this the right time for Dez talk to Otis ‘bout me. Don’t want to make it no worse’n it is.

–Dez ain’t hurting, Iago said.

–She looks great, Cassio said.

–Look, soon’s we get to the club and everyone has a few, Big

O’ll loosen up. That’ll be the time for Dez to talk with him ’bout you.

–You think?

–Yeah, man. One thing you can do is say a few words to Dez first. Remind her.

–Here, you mean?

–No. At the club. Probably Dez didn’t forget, but this is a big day for her so you can’t be sure. Just a few words. Thing is her and Otis leave tomorrow for Hilton Head, Carolina. For a week. If O takes you back tonight that’ll give you, me, Son Chatmon some time to work on arrangements.

–You don’t think he’s gone take me back tonight, do you?

–Can’t say. Big O ain’t all that predictable. Just I have a hunch he might.

By seven o clock everyone had moved to Mahu. A buffet had been laid out and Iago, plate in hand, stood behind the horned groom.

–Nice spread, O.


–Rosetta’s friend catered this, huh?

Otis nodded distractedly.

–Real nice, O.

While Son Chatmon, Otis, Iago and some others were sitting at one of the large tables eating, Iago saw Cassio approach Dez near the door to the kitchen. Otis hadn’t noticed.

Iago to Son Chatmon: –That’s a tasty outfit Cassio’s wearin’, Texas boots ‘n shit.

Son chuckled. –Cassio don’t look like he just got off no prison ferry.

Otis picked up his head and saw Cassio and Desdemona, complicitous look about them, talking. After Cassio backed up into the kitchen Dez returned to the table and sat next to Otis. She put her hand on Otis’s arm but he didn’t look up.

–Can I talk with you, Otis?

Didn’t respond.

Softly she said: –What is it, love?

Without looking at her, Otis stood and moved away. Dez got up and walked after him, through the well-wishers shaking the newly-weds’ hands / speaking a few kind words. Otis stopped at the far side of the bar and turned to her.

Again Dez touched his arm. –What is it, Otis? What’s the matter?

–What you want talk to me ’bout?

–Well, finally you’re looking at me, Dez gently mocked. But what a look! She tugged at his arm playfully, then reached up and kissed him on the lips.

Otis softened, gently cupping the back of her head with his hand.

–That’s better, Dez said.

Otis forced a smile. Dez embraced him with two arms.

–I wish you felt as good as I’ve been feeling, Otis. Being married to you feels so right to me.

Otis stroked her face with the back of his hand.

–You said you wanted to talk with me.

–Yes, it’s Michael. He’s in a bad way, Otis. I promised him I would speak with you—

–Not now.


–Not now.

Dez looked puzzled. She didn’t press.


Read Hal’s Interview with WIPs about Revolutionary Brain and Othello Blues