Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Blue Afterwards: Mourning for Marilyn Buck

by Felix Shafer

You've gone past us now.
beloved comrade:
north american revolutionary
and political prisoner
My sister and friend of these 40 years,
it's over
Marilyn Buck gone
through the wire
out into the last whirlwind.

So begins "The Blue Afterwards: Mourning for
Marilyn," a beautifully moving essay of
mourning/remembrance/and reflection by Felix
Shafer, longtime activist and friend of Marilyn Buck.

Readers/writers say:
What a beautifully touching memorial tribute to Marilyn!!!
i read it last night and was quite moved by the
insights and your really authentic feeling for
her life as a woman and revolutionary.
---Jack Hirschman, former poet laureate San Francisco

I felt many things as I made way through it; from
exhilaration about what has been accomplished
thus far to sadness about what has not; anger at
our enemy and pride in being the enemy; sadness
for those who have transitioned and deep, deep
grief for the loss of this one of our most
valuable warriors. You succeeded in evoking her
spirit and I could feel and hear her as you described her many attributes...
---Curtis J. Austin, historian, professor, author
of, "Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making
and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party"

It is quite something. I feel your very personal
love for her and also appreciate your ability to
contextualize her in the struggles of her time,
so many of which she was a part of. Sometimes
your writing literally lifts itself off the page--so beautiful�
---Margaret Randall, writer and poet
Shafer's incomparable meditation on Marilyn Buck
is both illuminating and passionately astute to
her heroic project of her uniquely engaged,
compassionate, and creative politics.
--- David Meltzer, poet and teacher

Felix Shafer's biographical sketch is so much
more than just that, his critical analysis of
Marilyn's Buck liberation trajectory adds unknown
historical data, with a clear and impassioned eye
towards showing us her brilliance and grace. This
is a must read to begin to learn about Marilyn and her enormous legacy.
--- Susan Rosenberg, former political prisoner &
author of "An American Radical: Political
Prisoner In My Own Country" due out in March 2011
A few short excerpts follow. The entire essay can
be found at

Felix writes:

With time's increasing distance from her moment
of death on the afternoon of August 3, 2010, at
home in Brooklyn New York, the more that I have
felt impelled to write a cohesive essay about
Marilyn, the less possible such a project has
become. She died at 62 years of age, surrounded
by people who loved and still love her truly. She
died just twenty days after being released from
Carswell federal prison in Texas. Marilyn lived
nearly 30 years behind bars. It was the
determined effort of Soffiyah Elijah, her
attorney and close friend of more than a quarter
century that got her out of that prison system at all.

Her loss leaves a wound that insists she must be
more than a memory and still so much more than a
name circulating in the bluest afterwards. If
writing is one way of holding on to Marilyn, it
also ramifies a crazed loneliness. Shadows lie
down in unsayable places. I'm a minor player in
the story who wants to be scribbling side by side
with her in a cafe or perched together
overlooking the Hudson from a side road along the
Palisades. This work of mourning is fragmentary,
impossible, subjective, politically unofficial, lovingly
biased, flush with anxieties over
(mis)representation, hopefully evocative of some
of the 'multitude' of Marilyns contained within
her soul, strange and curiously punctuated by
shifts into reverie and poetic time.

It's my hope that others, who also take her life
and death personally, will publish rivers of
articles, reminiscences, essays, tributes, poems,
in print and online. May the painters paint, the
ceramicists shape clay, and the doers Do works
and with her spirit! Will someone come to write a
book length biography, one capable of fairly
transmitting Marilyn Buck's many sided
significance: her character, political
commitments, creative accomplishment and
all-too-human failings to people who never knew
about her life? Is such a work possible about
someone who lived nearly thirty years behind bars?
Marilyn was a writer, a dialectical materialist,
a freedom fighter, yoga teacher and Buddhist
meditator who did not suffer fools gladly. She
was modest and graceful. Behind the wall she was
a teacher and a mentor to young women new to
being locked up. Decade after decade in the drab
visiting rooms of MCC-NY, DC Jail, Marianna
Florida, Dublin-Pleasanton California, dressed
first in her own clothes-then later in mandatory
uniform khaki-she emanated dignified Marilynness:
that unforgettable, natural style.
Marilyn came of age in the red-hot crucible of
the 1960s and '70s when large movements from
every corner of the earth were on the upsurge,
challenging capitalist-imperialism with demands
for revolution. It was an era of overturnings and
extremes. Marilyn grew up in Texas where racist
and sexist dominator culture combined the toxic
violence of america's segregated south and cowboy
west. She witnessed racism everyday and, by high
school and college, grew determined to do
something to help bring an end to war and white supremacy.
During Marilyn's powerful memorial celebration in
Oakland, California on November 7, 2010, it was
revealing to hear members of the Black Panther
Party tell how her underground skills helped them
survive the onslaught of Cointelpro. Marilyn's
tribute in New York was held a week later at the
Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center (formerly
the Audubon Ballroom) in Harlem. As nearly 500
people jammed the room where Malcolm was
assassinated, a moving message was read from
political prisoner/pow and freedom fighter Sekou
Odinga­who was also convicted, in a separate
trial, for the liberation of Assata:

She was someone who would give you
her last without any thought about her own
welfare. I remember one time when she shared her
last few dollars with a comrade of ours, and
later I was in her kitchen and opened her
refrigerator to find nothing in it and almost no
food in the house. I told her she had to let
comrades know when she was in need, and stop
giving when she didn't have it to give. But she
never stopped because that's just who she was.
There have been very few actions to
liberate PP/POW's and Marilyn was involved with
more than one. The roles she played were critical
in not only liberation of POWs, but also in
making sure they remained free, never thinking
about the great threat and danger to herself.
Marilyn is one for whom the word revolutionary is
truly earned and, yet, it's also far short of
encompassing. She was a woman with probing
interests in the arts, culture and natural
sciences. She was a wordsmith who loved to sink
her hands into the clay, making ceramic art that
she sent out to people all over the country.
Marilyn was a prolific writer: well over 300
poems along with scores of essays and articles,
which were widely published both inside the U.S.
and abroad. Her Master's thesis became the
translation of Christina Peri Rossi's, State of
Exile, published by City Lights in 2008. She won
prizes from the international writer's
organization PEN and published the chapbook,
Rescue the Word, and the CD, Wild Poppies, in
which she (via phone recording) joined celebrated poets reading her work.

Note: See her CD: Wild Poppies available from
Freedom Archives & chapbook: Rescue the Word
available from Friends of Marilyn Buck at
From late 2007 to a month before her death
Marilyn was involved, with a few of us on the
outside, preparing her selected poems for
publication. The idea for the book began in
conversation with Raul Salinas: a great advocate
of Chicano and Native American resistance, a
former long term federal prisoner, poet and
writer who passed away in February 2008. The
volume, tentatively titled: Inside Shadows is a
collective labor of love that we all believed
would widen her readership beyond the label:
prisoner poet. Together we daydreamed plans for a public launch and readings.

Note: Her poetic collaborators intend to see
Inside Shadows published sometime in 2011. This
is one aspect of our continuing collaboration
with Marilyn. Check for
this and other important ongoing information.

Again, the above are just a few excerpts from a
wide-ranging, poetically interwoven memorial
essay for Marilyn Buck by Felix Shafer entitled
"The Blue Afterwards: Mourning for Marilyn." The
excerpts can't come close to "doing justice" to
the entire essay, which can be found at

And to view a short video of Marilyn Buck from
the Washington, DC Jail in Spring of 1989

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