Sympathy for the Devil?

                                 And who on earth will claim
                                 the prize, one human being alive
                                 in contradiction?

                    [Act One]

Act One, the murder. A crime,
a shame, we all agreed, our left hand
bloody, analyzing it down:

          why pick a black
          to avenge blacks wronged?
          why a school superintendent
          not a wizard of pentagon death?
          why Marcus Foster, who used
          his post humanely? above all
          why the tactic, without
          base or support, the vainglorious announcement
          no quarter against the side
          with all the guns, the killing
          the killing in a nation sick with killing
          in the name of life?

Citizen of theater, accustomed
to simple messages -- Kennedy,
King, Malcolm X; Goodman
Chaney & Schwerner, Rector
at People's Park, four
at Kent State, does it bore
you to hear them again?
to discuss how you decided
what was right for the time
and safe? to reread the Movement's
obituary while madness reigns
and you struggle confused with the decade's surge
to grasp our condition, still green?
-- citizen of theater, used
to blunt messages, how did you
read this one?

They said he was presiding
over the military pacification
of the ghetto schools. Armed guards,
ID checks: no one offered him an award
for preparing students for the probable
conditions of society, or roasted
themselves to draw attention
back to what in the schools
and the order they served led students
to shit in the halls. The banner
of institutional change lay abandoned
in the mire of recession; within walls
unscathed by the hasty charge
the managers of populations addressed
the easier task, to shape the flesh
and spirit to fit. In subtle consortium
the A.M.A., Office of Education funders,
Upjohn and Squibb and the school board
defined deviance as maladjustment,
maladjustment as craziness, craziness
as minimal brain dysfunction, nobody's
fault; prescribed drug curriculum
to make the children safe
for the schools they were forced to attend.
Were there riots in a hundred cities
over Omaha? You tsk-tsked,
knowing it would happen here, and went
on reading science-fiction. Who could
you shoot for it, anyway, and what
good would that do?

When captured
and in "communiques" they said
they were soldiers, that the war
had been declared. A posture, the suffering
servants of the people, transmuting
the cheap wine of metaphor
to blood. Was it minimal brain dysfunction
to court sure crucifixion? Who
were they trying to impress, what leave
had they to speak for you,
already long enlisted and confused
by the recognition of your features
in the enemy's, in the dark bowl
of rage offered as communion? Every
morning you read your lessons,
counting the bodies: gutted
whales, fried Cambodians, protein-starved
embryos, their skins already black,
even the sky's sweet protection
eroding for profit while you financed
the whole affair and called
for your patience pills to manage
that hyperkinetic feeling.

Good student
in history's school, enrolled
in the long march, it was clear
they had got the lesson wrong: why
cloud it even more by confessing
your doubts whether what you were doing
made sense as more than a way
to pass the time? Why court despair
by quantifying how far the wheel
and brake grow removed from even
the first-class seats, how fast
the train runs away as you
run after, how long till the crash, the odds
on survival? They said
the time is now. The time
is always now. Doesn't everyone
you know want to find a way
without violence? How many
really believe that we will,
even with or without it?


An intermission,
these years, those months,
in safe houses, not feeling
safe at all. The players remained
anonymous, their stark acronym
no help to the critics who searched
right and left for clues as to where
they were coming from. Only
the style of the play was familiar,
from foreign reviews, and what seemed
your traditional role, alienated
in audience, as you held your breath
for the next act or pretended
indifference. In the crowd, unseen,
they invited a few to more
active parts, were refused, withdrew
to their dark conjuration.

Against the backdrops
magic reared, the clenched fist
of a decade spreading seven
vengeful heads, their silhouettes stark
as the program they shadowed. Unmoved
by metamorphosis, too mature
to respond to the childish rite,
or so you assured yourself, you perused
the program, the company's claim
to a broad tradition. The niggers,
the jailbirds, the natives of this place
and that, the bitches, the shiftless
poor, commies and queers, cripples
and freaks, every hungry demand
for justice brooding unfulfilled, here
reduced to shrill summary, a cheat-sheet
for midterms in the school
you are forced to attend: one note
on Shakespeare, another on Aeschylus
to remind you of epic tragedies, their rich
impossible legions. A dozen
corollaries to some monstrous
proposition, too complex to be solved
by a cyanide bullet. You were lucky no teacher
came round to ask how you were doing
as you filed back to your seat.


1974, for the SLA