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Thursday, January 03, 2013

marching on the potomac

These screens, I admit, do hurt my eyes. They con-
tain moments that have been seized by those who believe
they are young, and also believe that history is only

words, and also believe that with images, words
can be left behind forever, words and the history
that is made with words, and death, which is made up

of history, and pain that rehearses for death,
and the memories of shame the pain is built on -- but
the shame and pain are images, yes? and history,

yes? your history, your story you tell yourself
in pictures, is your youtube video sung
to self-loathing; and your way, thus becoming

a filmmaker, of spitting it out, is to surpass words,
the betrayer words that lie as soon as the ink
is dry. While I, the new-made crone, thinking

on mortality walking off small ounces along
the winter river, remember seizing a moment,
standing with three hundred young such others

in our vision of moral progress around
the entrance to the dark abysmal cave: National
Selective Service Headquarters. We begged them

to come out, the denizens of the cave, and took up
collections for their families if only they
would come out. Some did, and even took the money,

perhaps to return to work next day with a laugh.
Provocateurs circulated among us,
trying to hand out bad acid, but we stood firm,

singing our power songs learned from those
who had come here before us: Oh Freedom; We
Shall Overcome; so then the men in blue,

with their sunglasses and their long sticks,
moved in and carried us away, one by one,
to the buses. D.C. Central Precinct

Station, in case you're curious, is, or was,
forty years ago, like this: a corridor
long and grey, with few lights, and rows of animal

cages, dark, with broken bulbs recessed
in peeled ceilings. Each cage has two iron
shelves hung from the wall on chains, and no

mattresses on the shelves; on the rear wall
a strange porcelain thing, both sink (not working)
and toilet (not working either); both filled with horrors,

and running onto the floor. Distance from front
to back: eight feet. From side to side, six feet.
Someone is screaming continually; another

starts the ancient chant, AUM -- it catches
on, a hundred and fifty short-time nuns
on retreat, and the screamer settles down

to a comforted whimper. All day, half the night.
At two in the morning, arraignments. Fifty people
standing in an empty room, hungry. A judge passes

the door, returns, converses through the slot.
You weren't read your rights? You don't know
the charges? No phone calls? Nothing? He goes away,

returns, passes fifteen candy bars
through the mail slot. All I can do right now,
he says, I'll see what I can do about this.

We never see him again. We are processed
in groups of four. An old black woman comes.
She is our lawyer. Have you seen the charges?

No. Hey, you, go and get the charges
so they can plead; is this a court or a pool hall?
They read us the charges. False, from beginning

to end, and they know it! You can hear it in
their shamed voices. They're young, like us,
and got these jobs for the sake of Kennedy,

their dead god; they aren't used to shitting
on the people. I hear that I was seen by witnesses
(in blue, with their sunglasses and their long sticks)

committing unspeakable violence and destroying Property
--hearing the shame in their trembling voices, I
am brought to tears of a new kind, deep grief

for my country, which I had somehow believed in,
a little, until that moment, and for my now
forever lost innocence in these things. The judge

leans forward. Young lady, if you plead guilty, I
can let you go right now with a ten dollar fine.
If you plead not guilty, you will be held in JAIL

and your trial will not come up for two months yet.
I want you to know that the Central Precinct is clean
and uncrowded compared to the City Jail. How

do you plead? The tears are drying, but I tremble with sorrow
and anger. Someone, a stranger, steps up and sets
a flower in the lapel of my coat. Not guilty. All four

of us say, not guilty as charged; our old lawyer's
eyes are wet with pride. The judge hesitates;
says that for twenty-five dollars each, we

can go bail. I'm eight hundred miles from home,
with ten cents to my name. Someone, another
stranger, hands over twenty-five dollars for me;

I leave the courtroom dazed and hungry. I have
nowhere to go. It is three o'clock in the morning.
The demonstrations have been going on all week,

and I haven't eaten in maybe three days, or four.
I'm not sure I can make it to the Friends Meeting House
where I know I can sleep. There is a voice from above:

Hey, you! I look up. It is a middle-aged woman
in curlers and a robe, in a third-floor window of,
for God's sake, the D.C. Hilton Hotel. Are you

one of the people that just got out of that kangaroo
court? I heard about it on the radio! Wait
right there, says she, and disappears. A moment

later, she's in the window again, and a can of Coca-
cola, two orders of fries, and a half-eaten burger
in tinfoil fall from the sky. I'm dumbfounded.

If it had showered a thousand pieces of gold,
it would not have amazed me more. The Hilton Hotel:
heaven, and someone else's hamburger: manna.

The angel glances over her shoulder, worried.
Gotta run now. Good luck! ...
...................................................forty years ago.
I am now a librarian, with glasses on my nose,

and the young, pursuing their dreams, are sometimes angry
when I check the rule book and tell them the
the books are overdue. I do it to feed

my children, just as the men in blue did. But:
I want you to know the rivers still are flowing
as it did then, the Potomac, with its cherry blossoms.

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