for Fabrizio Mondadori
I’m retired, I’m sitting in a house I made
In my imagination years ago, that now is real.
On the walls are posters from the Harvard
Strike in 1969 I saved for their designs
And then forgot about, and now theyâre here:
STOP HARVARD EXPANSION, STRIKE
FOR THE 8 DEMANDS, and then the best of all,
In small red letters with three red bayonets,
rotc kills (pronounced rotsy kills). From here inside
Time seems unreal, I’m back in graduate school,
But then the mind ascends and time becomes objective,
I’m myself again, at home again, and sixty-four.
The particulars of a life, the pattern of a life:
These are the poles the mind, in the guise of a poem,
Floats back and forth between. The calm elation,
The deflating sigh: the trees are tossing in the wind, the leaves
Unfurl their silvery undersides, the soft clouds drift across the sky.
Time may be an abstraction, but it makes the days go by,
The days I never thought I'd see, when the music of the sixties
Lost its way, became too faint to hear, the voices fell away,
And then it all came down to me. What were those eight demands?
I canât recall to save my life. I lived there, I breathed that air,
And sometimes some of it drifts back to me. “You should join PL,”
Paul said as we were sitting in the lounge. Picketing
The GE plant in Lynn didn’t much appeal to me, so I just
Said it seemed too hard to square with being married
And finishing my degree. “Yes! That’s what’s so great about it!”
He replied, as I rolled my eyes. Or Jonny Supak’s plan
To hold the chairman (Rogers Albritton) hostage in his office:
“The kids are stealing underwear from Filene’s Basement,
Asking for the Red Army! ‘Where’s the Red Army?’ they’re asking!”
It felt so all-important at the time, in a surreal way, the endless
Back-and-forths, the forums, teach-ins, meetings and analyses, strategic
Planning sessions (“But—but that would be capitulationism!”),
And look at what it came to. I didn't even vote in 1968
(Chicago was too fresh), but on election night I found myself
Nostalgic for the Hump, only by then it was too late.
It’s nice to think it might have made a difference,
But that’s just wishful thinking: money finds a way,
And if it wasn’t Nixon . . . Too much has gone
To be restored, and as for money = speech, it’s a joke:
The silence in what people used to call the streets
Is deafening, all talk is on the radio, as money
Quietly wraps its hands around the country’s throat.
I wonder what Larry, my general contractor, Jeff,
My carpenter, Jerry, who (occasionally) did the plumbing,
Made of all the posters. They couldn’t be more friendly,
But Wisconsin’s a peculiar state—La Folletes vs.
Tail-Gunner Joe, the sewer socialist mayors of Milwaukee
And the park where Hitler lovers rallied. I'm not sure
I could explain them in a way they'd understand
(“See, there were these demands”), but then there’s Mitch,
The landscape guy, whose countercultural compulsion to explain
Is straight from Paul and Jonny. It’s beautiful out here,
I feel alive and out of it, from the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly,
The World of Variety, to the steps of the Unique Cafe,
The shelves of Gasser Hardware. Driving through “the vast
Obscurity beyond the city,” it suddenly seems so clear,
Though the clarity is probably deceptive, as clarity often is:
Beyond the signs for prefab homes (I bought one),
Prolife billboards with a baby floating in what looks like
Amniotic fluid (“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”),
Madmen on the radio denouncing Baptists and Freemasons,
Lie the streams, the rivers, the steep, unglaciated hills.
You couldn’t climb them (would you want to?),
But it’s comforting to know they’re there. We live in different
Dream worlds, wandering through a wilderness of words,
While the real story writes itself in silence. It’s forty years ago,
It’s yesterday, and when I try to think of what those posters represent
I realize they’re footnotes, surface irritants that left the underlying
Language undisturbed. Their meaning is the interval between the times
Of then and now, the times of looking forward and of drifting back.
“They flash upon that inward eye,” and then they’re gone,
I’m sitting in a room, I’m looking at the trees, unsure if this is
Something other than another version of The Big Chill,
A movie I despise. I hope it is. I saw Paul not too long agoâ
He’s mellowed, everyone has mellowed, “mellow”
Is a word for disappointed. The sixties had their charms
But patience and contentment weren't among them.
It was a brief, imaginary time, swept along by anthems
And guitar heroes, when tomorrow had arrived,
The air was filled with specious possibilities,
All the demands were just, the kids kept calling
For the Red Army, and rotc killed.