Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Here are 2 new poems for your amusement. Charlie continues to work at improving his writing skills. As always, he welcomes any input, opinions, and constructive criticism.

We hope your holiday season is off to a good start.


by Charles Patrick Norman

Something happened

I didn’t understand,

So I asked my friend why.

He replied, “Sometimes it bees that way.”

I felt a buzzing in my head.

Something else happened

that made no sense to me,

So I asked him again to explain.

He said, “It is what it is.”

For some reason that infuriated me,

so I reared back my fist and

punched him straight in the mouth.

The buzzing in my head went away.

He looked at me, hurt, and asked,

“Why did you do that?”

And I answered, “Sometimes it bees that way,”

and punched him in the mouth again.

Holding a rag to his bleeding lip,

he asked me, “What was that for?”

And I said, “It is what it is,

except when it ain’t.”

He shut up.

No further questions.

and another one:


by Charles Patrick Norman

You say life is an accident, yet

I hear a crow cawing, another answering,

And wonder at your ignorance.

You say there is no God, yet

I look at the lines in my hand

And see our lie.

You say there is no hereafter, yet

When your child lay sick

You begged God to save her.

You say there is no evil, yet

I see men caged by men

Surrounded by darkness and hate.

You say there is no hope, yet

I see a son on his father’s lap, asking,

“Daddy, when are you coming home?”

Sunday, November 11, 2012


One of my earliest memories was my grandfather saying “Grace” before every meal. I called my mother’s father, Floyd Franklin Walker, “Bebaw,” from the time I could talk, and my grandmother, Velva Marie, “Memaw.” We would gather round the table, with the tantalizing aromas of breakfast, dinner, or supper filling the room, and look expectantly toward Bebaw to say grace before digging in. an outwardly serious man with a gruff voice, inside Bebaw was deeply emotional, and every time he recited the blessing that his father before him said, everyone knew he was talking to God from his heart.

The prayer never changed, in homage to his father and grandfather before him, and the words became indelibly imprinted in my memory. I remember the last Thanksgiving I shared with my grandparents, in their house at 1324 Della Street in Texarkana, sitting at the big table with various aunts, uncles, cousins, and other loved ones, so many that the children were served at a table in another room, my grandmother directing the team of womenfolk who brought steaming platters to the table. Bebaw was sick with the cancer that killed him. He’d lost weight, becoming a shadow of his former dominant physical self, but when all eyes turned to him, expectantly waiting for the blessing, his voice sang out powerfully and sure.

On this Thanksgiving, despite all the travails, I have much to be thankful for, and I want to share the blessing that my grandfather bestowed to me. My dear friend, Libby, will be sharing a modest canteen meal with me inside a prison visiting park, and I hope to share this grace with her.


Righteous Heavenly Father,
Look down on us
with tender mercy, Lord.
Direct your blessings
to sanctify these table offerings
for the nourishment of our bodies.
We ask these things
in Jesus’ precious name.

The following is a family photograph from 1913, when Bebaw was seven years old, at left, shading his eyes, with his parents, John Richard and Millie Francis Walker, brothers and sisters, in Texas. By that age, Bebaw had memorized his father’s prayer, just as I memorized it decades later, and now pass it along to you.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by family and loved ones.



Saturday, November 3, 2012

WHITES ONLY Poem Receives Standing Ovation

Dateline 10/31/12

On Wednesday, October 31st, I completed a legal phone call to my lawyer, William Sheppard, in Jacksonville. Perhaps it was appropriate that it was a Hallowe’en phone call. In prison, when it comes to “Trick or Treat,” there are mostly “Tricks,” and very few “treats,” but on this Hallowe’en, Bill delivered a “treat.”

Much of our call concerned confidential issues, but Bill had no problem with my sharing this information.

A newspaper article described Bill Sheppard as “the renowned civil rights lawyer,” and he is that. He is famed for his many court battles, all the way to the United States Supreme Court, over the past forty-plus years,. I am fortunate and blessed to have him fighting for me.

Bill’s son is a filmmaker who produced a documentary about the Honorable Judge Henry Lee Adams, Florida’s first black federal judge, and the hurdles he overcame as a black lawyer in race-sensitive Jacksonville.

The Federal Bar Association invited Bill to be the keynote speaker at its Orlando gathering commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Middle District. The Middle District encompasses federal courts from Tampa and Orlando, to Daytona Beach. 185 federal magistrates and federal district judges were in attendance. It was quite an honor for Bill. The assemblage viewed the Adams documentary, then Bill spoke.

A little over two weeks ago I wrote a poem titled, “Whites Only,” recounting my memories of traveling across the South with my family in 1959, before the civil rights era came to prominence. Because Bill and I had discussed our own experiences from that time, and he’d previously told me about the documentary, I dedicated “Whites Only” to him. I mailed the handwritten poem to Libby, who typed it and sent it to Bill. I respect Bill’s opinion on writing, and Libby sends him copies of most of my literary works. I asked if he’d gotten the poem and what he thought of it. Bill said he was moved by it, loved all my work, that each of us only has so much time in this world, and what we leave behind us matters. He said, “Charlie, if you checked out of this world this afternoon, you’d leave behind a helluva legacy of your works, already.” Coming from such a man of distinction, that encouragement meant a lot to me.

Bill told the federal judges that we can’t be complacent on this race issue, that contention continues, then he read my poem to the group. I asked him how they responded to it, and he told me, “Standing ovation!”

That amazed me, that such an austere group would respond so positively to a poem by a state prisoner and thereby validating what I was trying to communicate. It was such a pleasant surprise for me, on Hallowe’en, after the battles I’ve had with the Florida Department of Corrections over their repetitive and ongoing censorship of my First Amendment constitutional rights to communicate with the outside world. I’ve had outgoing letters containing handwritten literary works “disappear,” never received by the intended recipient, never to be seen again, taken by a prison employee mail clerk, while other letters were arbitrarily “refused,” with post-it notes declaring, “inmates can not[sic] write stories,” and “inmates can not[sic] write poems.”

I beg your pardon, but we still have a “Bill of Rights.” Further, every citizen has the right to “speak, write, and publish their thoughts,” according to the Florida Constitution. After unwavering effort, the poetry censorship has eased. Had it not, the federal judges would never had heard the poem.

I’ve asked Libby to include “Whites Only” here. I would like your comments and feedback, and any experiences you might have had that you’d like to share.

A Poem by Charles Patrick Norman

(for Bill Sheppard)

It seemed odd, the barn roofs across rural Alabama
painted with Coca Cola and Burma Shave,
(there were no interstates in the South in 1959),
and every third billboard, it seemed, proclaimed,
“Impeach Earl Warren.” “Who is Earl Warren, Daddy?”
and, “Why do they want to impeach him?” I asked.

It seemed forever, our annual trek from Tampa
to Texarkana, to visit our grandparents, the race
across the South had only one entrant, our father
treating every gasoline refill as a NASCAR pit stop
to be done in thirteen-point-four seconds or thereabouts,
Heaven forbid, one of us say, “Daddy, I gotta pee.”

It seemed that Mississippi was one huge cotton field
hundreds of miles wide, lined with pitiful wood shanties abutting
the East-West-two-lane highway in front and outhouses
out back at the very abyss of the first green row.
“Daddy, can we stop and ask those black people
if I can use their outhouse, or just pee beside the road?”

It seemed the only gas station in Mississippi
wasn’t much bigger than the tiny shanties we passed.
The first thing I noticed were the two rusty water fountains
with signs behind them proclaiming “Whites Only” and “Colored.”
The old man sitting on the kitchen dinette chair out front
pointed with his chin when I asked for the restroom.

It seemed silly that I had to choose between two doors,
“Whites Only” and “Colored,” neither one looked special,
but I chose white, since I was one, and pulled open
the flimsy wooden door with no knob, just a round hole,
to be stopped short by the ammonia burn of stale urine,
then I gagged — the toilet stopped up, feces floating, overflowing.

It seemed my only alternative was to seek fresh air.
After I peed on the old tires stacked high in the weeds
at the back of the station, I ran to our car,
where my father impatiently thrummed his fingers on the seat back
and my mother read “Perry Mason,” refusing to look left or
right across Mississippi, avoiding childhood memories of Arkansas cotton.

It seemed unlikely that all those people sitting on porches of
those passing shanties knew I’d peed on old tires behind
the only gas station in Mississippi, but I felt like their
black faces accused me of something, though I wasn’t sure
what, since I hadn’t done much wrong in my ten years of existence,
at least I didn’t think so, ignorance being no excuse.

Lying on the backseat remembering how my sandals stuck
to the sticky restroom floor (“Whites Only”), I saw
in my imagination a black child coming out the “Colored”
door and peering past him to see shiny porcelain sinks,
polished toilets, white tile floor glistening where the black
man cleans, never daring to enter the door proclaiming “Whites Only.”