[sixties-l] Re the SLA -- sympathy for the devil?

From: Michael Rossman (mrossman@sbcglobal.net)
Date: Sun Nov 24 2002 - 18:16:05 EST

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    I may have sent this unfinished poem around on sixties-list a couple of
    years ago; but even so, it seems time again, what with all the smug
    single-mindedness that has floated around in the aftermath of recent
    developments of the longstanding SLA case(s).


            Michael Rossman

    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 toasted
    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 al1. 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.

            Michael Rossman

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