by Sam Friedman
As crowds partied loudly on glass-glittered sidewalks
and dodged around potholes while promenading the Bowery,
skirting the waves inching north three feet each year,
and offices and sweatshops echoed crescendos
as workers debated how
they should now run them,
and what wonders to build
with their minds and their hands.
I wandered alone, alone among revelers,
with notebook in hand while I muttered and scribbled,
jotting elation and jotting my fear.
The TVs in the windows replayed it,
replayed the Weeks of the Wonders –
how, after the years of the cynics,
when words of revolution led only to mutters of “not in my lifetime,”
we began having strikes again in New York and in Jersey;
and how, a couple of weeks ago, a boss in a tall box near the river
to one of the secretaries –
and everybody – mailroom clerks, secretaries, truck drivers, even analysts –
but then walked back in again
and sent the bosses home.
Then, of course, the mayor called the cops,
the governor called the National Guard,
and the President the Army –
but everybody had been there,
everyone had been called “girl” or “boy” or “kike” or “Polack” or maybe “rookie” or “grunt” –
so our rulers called the cops,
and they called the Marines,
and they called and they called and they called and they called,
but workers and neighbors argued with cops, joked with the Guard,
sang solidarity with the soldiers,
and the now-rebel workers and soldiers beat up the few
who would not see reason,
and they all went home –
or joined the crowd.
So the American peoples said “Enough! It's all over!”
and workers stopped working
and crowds seduced armies
and only 18 died in all the Americas
and a few score more died, across the green globe.
By the flickering light of the Tubes in the windows,
I wandered the next day
through grime-littered streets
built by the defunct civilization
that brought us Agent Orange, pet stones, and AIDS for the millions,
and I rejoiced as I dreaded
and I dreaded as I rejoiced.
And as I wandered, I wondered:
“What the hell do we do next?”
I mean, after the subtle pleasures –
like making the bosses work 4 or 5 months doing some of the real fun jobs,
like helping move the nuclear reactors they had ordered built
too close to the oceans’ rising seas
or changing the linens in the ICUs;
and letting the ex-cops sleep on the park benches
and on the floor of the bus station,
so we can cheerily poke them awake,
crying, “Time to move on now,” with a big grin and a big stick.
what the hell do we do next?
Spectres hovered over my shoulder:
the thousands of Communards gunned down by Reaction,
Rosa and Karl murdered by the goon squads of social democracy,
the telephone exchange in Barcelona —
where Uncle Joe “reached out and gouged someone,”
and throttled the soul of a revolution —
danced with dreams of ice picks in my fear-torn, grinning head.
as I wondered,
what the hell do we do next?
Sure, the market had to go, but what would we replace it with?
How would we get the food grown
and have all the candy, bread, and roses we needed
for the photo-journalists
and our children?
How would we live our meanings, and not just numbers?
How could we unleash the sleeping poetry? the smothered power to create that waits like crabgrass
in the brains and hands of everyone,
even in the slit-eyed grimaces of the naysayers
who wear red tape
instead of suspenders?
Like crabgrass, these five billion poets will shoot forth trillions of pages
filled with tripe and doggerel
which someone – maybe even me – would have to read,
pages filled with crackpot ideas redolent of disaster,
but salvation scattered throughout – if we could find it.
So there I wandered,
thinking of the Galileos and Miltons we needed to create our new world,
and the humongous arguments that indeed filled our ears
as we shouted forth our insights against each other,
and I pondered the epic mistakes our revolutionary democracy
was undoubtedly making
even as I roved, wandered and scribbled
through the rubble, the wonders, and the shoving salvation
as crabgrass pushes aside the arid asphalt of Madison Avenue
to seek its sun
and in so doing pushed the fears from my heart
(but not from my next-day mind)
and I walked grinning into the nearest party
to join the celebration
and raised glass after glass in toasts of global unison
with friends in Santos and Granada, Bangkok and Kampala,
Melbourne, Tacoma, Portland, and Detroit.
All the kids in my class admire
your poems of revolution,
your verse on how bruised feelings
came to snap and cohere.
But none of us can quite comprehend
the silly times you lived in.
Why were all the TV shows
about cops and lawyers?
Weren’t more people killed by corporations
than by murderers?
And just how were they different,
and didn’t shop stewards and community organizers
have more guts than any old cop?
more sense than lawyers?
And all those shows about love and sex?
Why would men want women so inane?
And why were all their lines so trite?
And work—we don’t understand work at all!
Why did any one work
at such hateful jobs?
If engineers were so smart,
why did they design factories
that poisoned all the whales?
Whales were so cute!
Why did they make it
so we could never meet one?
Why would any one become a soldier?
When ordered to shoot their enemies,
why didn’t soldiers obey
and shoot their officers?
When the owners paid boys more than girls,
or whites more than blacks,
or old-timers more than new hires,
why didn’t the workers
or Neighborhood Action Centers
take over their workplaces
that very same day?
Did kids after school
play “Design a better air de-polluter”
or “Spin the Bottle”
at their Neighborhood Action Centers
the way we do now?
Why didn’t the grown-ups
play baseball outside with their friends
instead of watching it inside
with their bags of potato chips?
Didn’t they have any friends?
And you, Sam?
We also just do not understand you.
Why did you keep doing “AIDS research”?
And what was “AIDS” anyway? What was “disease”?
Why not retire
and work full time
to bring on the revolution sooner,
before all the whales had died?