Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Truck driver for February

Many, many thanks to Larissa Shmailo for guiding the Truck during January. Gerald Schwartz, our
driver-editor for February, takes the wheel tomorrow. ¡Buen viaje a todos!

Sunday, January 29, 2012


RESOLUTION / REVOLUTION turns full circle, ending on the work of Alfred Corn. Caveat lector: Behind the measured verse grins the face of war.


Is what the Dachau Jews would see,
Where Hitler chose to lodge them.
Now, bombs have set Iraqis free—
At least, those who could dodge them.

*”Work Will Set You Free””


Missiles, tanks, smart-bombs, and, when things got hot,
Cries of offended dignity:
“I’m entitled to this technology,
But you barbarians are not.”


Well, no, and “ethnic cleansing” isn’t murder.
Nor was the Führer’s rabid New World Order
State terror. Nor are pre-emptive strikes on weaker
Peoples a crime—or not to the power-seeker.


Five seconds of fame drag them down
the screen, ranks, names, faces, ages:
Staff Sergeant Hannah Nagel, 24.
Private Tom Abeel, 19.
Major Luís Moreno, 33.
Lance Corporal Rafiq Ibrahim, 20.
Captain Roger Kean, 31.
Candid American faces, unblinking,
unafraid, unvenal, snapped
a year, two years ago, not yet reviled
or revered, the newscast’s evening crop.

Images swallowed up, transfigured,
launched into an unlived future.


On the Oval Office desk,
dead center, one hot white spot
lights the briefing’s final page.
A chief executive is working late,
behind him, tall windows onto
a sky petroleum black,
strewn with trembling sparks.


In another hemisphere noon towers over
a desert city where his signature ignited
hair, skin, and eyes of the unknown civilian.
One by one, for how many terrorized
hundred-thousands the precedent was set,
roofs, walls, thundering down on their screams.


He reaches to snap out the lamp, ambles
to a door that closes on his steps.
Official darkness. Clockwise stellar bodies,
in their long-term impartiality, continue
rinsing the blackboard,
rinsing the blackboard—
which in a decade, or a century,
will free itself from any obligation
to save a chalked-up tally of the cost.


A crack a second and a third splinter as the dam fractures
Soundbolts spiking down through granite a dynamite
That means concussive rage detonations battering
Skull ribcage spine an earthquake high in the ramparts
Stone ramparts blocking a sun no longer strong enough to rise

The houses collapse roof skews off to one side a broken
Beam crushes doors windows in its crazed veer a drill
Screams into rooms to shiver walls timbers floor ratcheting
Through the garden spewing hoses of dirt spinning flagstones
Into the air while a tank that dives from a cloud flattens on impact

Whole quarries of rock shear off tumble smash shock their way
Off the mountain megatons of shattered booms packed stacked
On the air collapsing around your ears and what the din sounds
Out is the last thought which already owns you you and yours
Nothing holds off the thunderstone it says I am your death.


Wakefield: Did some romantic alderman
Settle that name on our recycled mill-town?
I know Rhode Island is Red Island, or
Island of Roses... And, look, buds on Mother’s
Haviland china, fifty years of attic
Storage ended, are pink, flushed with excitement
At being propped in ranks along the plate-rail
Of cabinets a shipwright made for this
Centenarian house I signed the deed on
Nine days ago. No way would I have served
Dinner on old porcelain in designer
Manhattan, my home turf for more than half
A prodigal life-span once I’d waved goodbye
To the South. But here it fits, a tasteful, gold-rimmed
Victorian replacement for the showy
Chinese export bowls and plates how many
Prosperous New England tables boasted
Back in the bullish age of clipper ships.
Those clashing pinks and reds epitomized
Spice roses of the Indies gunboats opened
To enrich our Union, sea to shining sea.

Following the Vicar of Wakefield’s homely
Advice, I’ve put a “Rose Medallion” teacup
(Bought for two dollars at a thrift shop) here
In this eastern window so its damasked pattern
Can go translucent as light rejuvenates
A naïvely rendered pride of mandarins
Hard at their silken round of tea and gossip
And calligraphy. The Vicar’s older daughter
Olivia, with her sensibility,
Might have been drawn into their circle, even
If her graver sister, Sophia, wouldn’t follow.

Goldsmith, Mother most likely never read,
But Gone with the Wind she surely did and like
White Southern women of her day (except
The ambitious few who idolized Miss Scarlett)
Modeled herself on Melanie—for instance,
She never told black friends and workers they
Should “know their place” and stay in it. Her son,
If he works up his nerve, can copy her
(And risk a snub) by taking lemon pie
To the family next door, whose ancestry
Is African; and probably Narragansett,
Too, or else Pequot. Out beyond the teacup
I see their children, the older climbing up
On the garbage bin while holding an umbrella,
A taut silk octagon of alternating
Ebony and ivory pie-wedge panels
That read as either a black Maltese cross
Against a cream-white background, or a white
Against a black. She’s poised to make her skydive
But seems to doubt the parachute; and none
Of her younger sister’s high-pitched razzing works.
A pause, a balance; but she doesn’t leap—
The Sophia of this family circle, just
As her wilder sibling’s the Olivia.
Now their mother’s called them to lunch, their game
Shelved with no decisions made, no plunge
Into the aerial realm of weightless pleasure.

I’ll have my self-prepared baked codfish on
These resurrected roses—a chance to ponder
The leap I leapt in settling here and calling
The Ocean State, at last, the Golden Decades’
Ultimate Cathay. So, veteran frigate,
You, unlike the Pequod, may now dock
And prove that not all sexagenarians
Are skippers hot to tap-dance round the deck
Like Ahab, thirst for blood a scorching trade wind
That gives them forward thrust. The middle ground!
Vicarious pastimes, watching children’s games
Or tending post-colonial and post-
Postmodern gardens, should amount to a sound
Retirement plan, Sophia, calm, deific
Wisdom, serving as hand-hewn figurehead
When our vessel comes to port. If goods we heft
Down the gangplank are only earthenware,
So be it, Yankees also favor those,
Judging from bits of broken plates and cups
I dug up planting the hybrid tea a friend
Gave me, the spot selected not haphazard,
Instead, exactly where a rose should go.
He laughed when told I’d named the house Knew Place—
A tribute to comedy’s most tragic playwright.

But try to name or know a place you never
Lived in: Beijing. Nablus. Kabul. Baghdad...
Imagination’s olive branch stops short,
Absorbing the news that soldier and civilian
Sprawl face down in crimson pools enlarged
With all they owned, one clotting upshot of
Capitalism’s abstract cannibalism.
Prosperity. Ours, but insubstantial,
Like all dream-castles based on greed, up there
Above the outcome. Who’d listen if I called
Our captains by their real names? They won’t,
Conceded, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
Out of the deeps, a voice: Permission denied.
No port for the tempest-tossed, you haven’t yet
Begun to fight. While you breathe, you won’t retire.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Marc Vincenz is Swiss-British and was born in Hong Kong. His recent books include Upholding Half the Sky (MiPOesias, 2010), The Propaganda Factory, or Speaking of Trees (Argotist, 2011) and Pull of the Gravitons (forthcoming Right Hand Pointing, 2012). His translation of Swiss poet Erika Burkart’s Secret Letter is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Last year, his poetry was nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize.

The Mystical Art of Accounting

“When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast…”— Harry S. Truman

It’s all about volume,
capacity per square metre / foot
(whether metric or imperial floats your proverbial boat);
although, there are others
(a whole slew of choices, in fact):
the Tokyo Tsubo for instance; sounds like soy-infused Wasabi sauce;
the Seoul Pyeong: true measure of an average ninth century Korean male—
arms and legs fully splayed, face down prostrating, flailed by the brunt
of a Mongolian warlord’s cat ‘o nine tails, an ideal size for a room,
I am told; or perhaps face up, making perfect circles
under cherry blossoms in the snow, stargazing,
defining the rules of space and numbers.

Imperial Peking had,
and Social Democratic Communist Beijing
still has the Mu, which possibly derives it’s name
from the exhausted groan of the water buffalo—
a measure for judging the extent of rice paddies before harvest.
Everything is weighted, ruled, cubed, boxed, angled, triangled—
lucky we came up with these handy things, numbers.
Now we can finally count the stars in the sky—
6000 with the naked eye—and we know useful things
like the distance from the equator to the moon
represents sixty-nine times the girth of a full grown earth.

Funny that, the number 69—
normally I think of being twenty one again,
in the back of my Unbeatable Bonk Bug with Maria-Rosa,
Hispanic-American goddess, gently calculating
trigonometric angles, postulating X/Y positions.
Without numbers we wouldn’t know our up from down,
we wouldn’t even know there are more than two of anything at all—
just be walking on straight lines in flat spaces, like Pacman,
we wouldn’t know an arse from an elbow, really.
Yet, these are mostly distances—things men have conquered,
numbers have far reaching consequences:

Analysts know how much Namibia is worth on paper,
in Dollars, Euros, Rupees; its equivalent in derivatives;
and in conjunction with funded institutions of science,
how much bacteria and moss can contribute
to the global economic balance sheet—
it has all been tallied out, audited down
to the last decimal point, then stamped,
duly notarised and sealed in hot wax for posterity.
There is surely a secret book,
hidden in the darkest catacombs of the Vatican
where all calculations are indexed for future evidence;
or perhaps it is hermetically locked
in the sprawling prairies of Middle-America,
guarded by the Federal Agency in charge of numbers.
I mean, why else would they call it Area 51,
giving it not one, but two prime numbers?
And, by the way: 69 and 51 add up to 120,
which is a recurring number in the Mayan calendar,
and shall someday well fulfil an ancient prophesy
unlocking the last secrets of the Universe.

Yes, we have developed all sorts of uses for numbers;
we know how many atoms are required in an atom bomb,
but more importantly how much it costs,
(2 billion dollars for Harry Truman in 1945, 20 billion dollars today);
there must be reasons, of course, why God gave us five fingers on each hand—
he wanted us, it seems, to count on them. One by one by one.

Previously published in FRiGG

Monkeys & Flowers

Nobody stands for old Auntie
on the 6.45 to Purple Pagoda Park.

Most of us are gripping the overhead rails
like whooping monkeys.

In the streets of a city
flowers need a man’s attention.

There are no birds, no bees.
Dirt & dung are horse-carted

& the Buddha & the Chairman skip hand
in hand, all the way down to the waterfront.


“I know you’re thinking
these are trees from the days
of wilderness and chaos,” he says
wielding his electric chain saw,
a crusader assessing his holy war,
“when butterflies were golden eagles
and spiders the size of cartwheels.”
“We,” says his companion
Manolo who looks like a gunslinger,
“are trimming our way to enlightenment.
There’d have been no Renaissance
without the heat and the paper-makers.
It’s stubble from a chin, and we’re
just giving her a close shave,” he says.
And Manolo points at my Canon
dangling from my neck like a marsupial.
“Take your shots of the extinct volcano,”
he says, “but these are coming down.
And I know you’re thinking about
the wild flowers, about the bees,
but listen—don’t you want to know
what the time is?”

Monday, January 23, 2012


Sarah Sarai lives on a bridge under a cave in the eastern quadrant of the portion marked “Odds 'n Ends.” Time draws nigh for her to publish a new collection to comfort her first collection (The Future Is Happy, BlazeVOX[books]). She is a member of the Occupy Language assemblage rising from ashes of Zucotti Park. Both of the poems included here consider the word resolve, with its impossibilities and its maybe more.

I Resolve To

Buy cheap, sell now.
Buy sheep, sell ewe.
Buy ewe, shear me.
Talk the talk
walk the keep
keep you.

I resolve to
shear my nethers,
then Esau, a woolly fellow.
Ewe want to buy a bridge?
I resolve to sell you one.
Ewe cannot walk this bridge.
This is a bridge you cannot walk.

I resolve to walk the bridge
and shear ewe within
an inch of my wife.
She is sheared fun.

There's a bridge on my teeth.
It spans incisors.
My teeth resolve to represent.
Pearly as Heaven's gate
(or gates, we're not sure),
they resolve to take ewe in,
my little wayfarer.
My teeth know things.
So would you if you lived in a cave.

I resolve to live in a cave
with a bridge, walk the line,
brace myself for the next trick
or for ewe. I resolve to buy braces,
for ewe.

Two Dreams Hovering Insect Wings Above Me

First I lie across your lap
for everyone to see for comfort.
Second we kiss I pause you touch my hair
and wave good-bye in one graceful sweep.

I wonder who I am in either dream and
talk myself through the threshold of the new day
archived by winged beasts who know life
as a slow volar flash of something close to pleasure.

Berfrois, “The Avoirdupois Chic”
Boston Review, “So Tender Beauty” and “From Love, Imagination”
http://www.bostonreview.net/BR36.4/sarah_sarai.php and

POOL, “Commerce for the Good of the Peoples” and more

Scythe, “No Need for a Door” and more

Redheaded Stepchild, “Blame It on Family”

Fogged Clarity, "Experiential Philosophy"

Minnesota Review, “Further Arguments”

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Anne Elezabeth Pluto is Professor of Literature and Theatre at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, where she is the artistic director of the Oxford Street Players. She was a member of the Boston small press scene in the late 1980s and started Commonthought Magazine at Lesley 18 years ago. She has been a participant at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in 2005 and 2006. Her most recent publications are in The Lyre and in W_O_M_B, The Buffalo Evening News Poetry Page, Earth's Daughters, Blackbox Gallery, and Helix.


I’ll wake this world for you
each sunrise to the moon
stretched taut and drawn
back waiting for the arrow
You are the mark, darkened
by time and terrible space
this is what remains of
love, a grove of flowering
trees, the songs of birds
the emptiness of no promise
or prediction – the knowledge
that time does move – never
backwards, but ahead – in front
of itself, and it takes us along.

Jung in the hands of the Mujahideen

born on the eve of World War I
I live your conscience
daily reminders that
the world is a frightening place
you never dreamed as you spent
the Second World War traveling west
landscapes away from your home
that New York would be the site
of terrorist activities
on the day of your 50th
wedding anniversary
in the third millennium,
in your second century.

As a soldier,
you lived Central Asia,
traveled the Middle East
Byelorussian, in a British
uniform, having escaped death
in a soviet prison
the names of cities
roll off your tongue like Turkish
delight, now ruined
Beirut, beleaguered Damascus
starving Baghdad
mysterious Alexandria
and bleeding Jerusalem

I played store with your war
souvenir coins
turning over the bas relief of pyramids
and camels
my kingdom for a beggarly denier
I see the world is round
and hold it in my child's hands
well traveled in your stories
I pray now that we can realign
against the evil
religion brings to the oppressed
that magi lift their hearts to god
and climb the mountains of Babel
holding words instead of weapons,
and as their voices reach
God hears the faithful ask forgiveness
for themselves and all of history.
amen and amen


Sigh lanced
like Jesus pierced
I will cry alone instead
of bleed – and plead
what innocence
I ascertain – so tired
of being
my own
advocate. and you
blameless in your
corner – drawing
the line and redrawing
the times I stepped
over it. you need me
to agree – I want to
get out and over,
the rain
as a cover
to wash me clean.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


REVOLUTION / RESOLUTION now turns primal with the work of Chris Mansel. Chris Mansel is a writer, filmmaker, musician, and photographer. He is the author of Ashes of Thoreau, While In Exile: The Savage Tale of Walter Seems, Soddoma: The Cantos of Ulysses, Interviews, and two books of photography, Ahisma and No Burden. Along with Jake Berry, his band, The Strindbergs, has released two CDs, Ghost Thresholds and Etudes and Purgatorio.

Dislodging the Storm

awakened by the gray matter
I once called my own
I could see my skeleton
writhing on a wave returning
like a word spoken repeatedly
across my eyes

when I sat down to write that
morning, I followed my memory
to the night before
I found myself lying with my head
next to a candle's flame
with my hair just catching fire

I could hear the waves breaking
they didn't always return, like
animals watching humans
screaming aloud, to no one

if I was a flame, I would learn to swim
if I were an animal, my skeleton
would betray me
I'll die soon enough
stranger things happen at sea

Reading Holderlin During Wartime

dreams about ditches and ravines
mud walls on both sides
an animals paw sticks out from the
rancid pool of water
then its head
it’s the day of my birth
a new passage way
for me to regret

I disappear, digging until
my arms end with my wrist
For hours until I see daylight
only fleetingly, then again
the mouth opens and I jump

leaning against a frosted window
a grenade is tossed through
unable to retrieve it I stand and
look at it until it explodes

Only Ash, No Smoke or Flame

I can't find anyone to kill me
as I have turned over stones
only to find my own reflection
I am convinced I will have to
turn my attention to the forest

I will have to turn to the wolves

these wonderful creatures that
haunt great scenes of battle
and tear at the often still warm
decaying flesh

these land ridden vultures may
very well be my salvation

there was a time when I too
roamed these scenes armed only
with an ax certainly to feed my
children this great store of meat

what I could wrestle away from the
wolves or insects

the gag reflex being my only stopping
point for returning to battle, insisting
instead to return to the hills

daily piling my belongings in the rain
as I watched the fires grow stronger
and closer, each day

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Larissa Shmailo is a poet and a translator of Russian. The following poems are reprised from the 100,0000 Poets for Change anthology edited by Anny Ballardini and Obododimma Oha in collaboration with Michael Rothenberg.

Winedark Sea

In the east, in the eastern rising lands, a tide, westering, earthdrawn, rising, the morning sun bloodied in its wake. She drags, pulls, shifts, hauls, trascines her hydraulic load. Tides born of tides, moondrawn, myriadheaded, within her, within her blood, oinopa ponton: the winedark sea. A wet sign calls her hour, bids the earth-shaken fallen rise, bids the wet-dirt wounded rise, bids the blooddimmed peoples rise, as she radiates out, out, out, forever from her bed. The wet sign calls her hour, bids all to rise from childbed, bridebed, deathbed, rise. He comes, the pale salt vampire, in clouds and tears, and claws, battle-led, draws, battle-red, mouth-to-mouth, limb-to-limb, skin-to-skin. There.


If you wait but don’t want
If you want but don’t take
If you take but don’t use
If you use but don’t care
If you care but not much
The petty demon comes.

The petty demon says:
Not all of you are wanted
Not everyone is needed
A few may be accepted

There’s scarcity, you see
There are no loaves and fishes─
Not for the likes of you─
A few baguettes for baby
Some caviar for me
There’s just enough to shit and sleep
But not enough for thee.

The petty demon shrieks:
Time is money
Sell short
Eat to win
Assume the position.

In the world
In the angry material world
There are men who are not men
Whose imaginations never rise
Above the box and plane
Whose imaginations squat
Upon the positions of power.

If the petty demon bothers you
Here’s what you say
Tell him:
I don’t know about
Your lawyer’s fees
Your MDs
Your CEOs
Your deep freeze

I do know that
The blind man is perfect
That there’s more to life than irony
And squealing like a stuck pig

That the truth is hard but you can stand on it
That time isn’t money or a threat but a gift.

As you assume your position
In the world
Do not love
Men who are not men
Whose imaginations never rise
Walk tall; walk with God
Assume nothing; take a position.

560 Brooke Avenue

The walls, barbed wire, barbed, next to a
drive-by window of Burger King: Dios, is
this your way? Electric doors, opened one
at a time, they make a sound, it maddens.
All the time the boys do time, all the time
they say, “Lunacy, this is crazy, crazy mad.”
It is. “Nigga, nigga,” one boy prays, farts as
the JC twists his hand: He tries to laugh, he
cries instead, porque? Scared, so scared, his
scarred voice cracks, 15. “Nigga, ay, I here
4 murder,” he lies. O child, perhaps so. My
Jesus of the got-nailed, my Angel of the why,
& what could you have done yet, why are you
here, porque, my God, & donde vamos, u & I?

Speak Now

Speak now.
Darkened, once neutral air,
Skyscrapers turn,
Dream fire, and burn.

Dream fire, and burn.
Skyscrapers turn,
Darkened, once neutral air,
Speak now.

Vive L’Égypte

A man, beaten — face the color of a burkha
dragged through the mud — is lifted by Isis
with her rose and her tiet.

Isis, who loves mothers, the downtrodden, slaves —
who is friend to the Nile and the dead —
who listens

even to the prayers of the rich — lifts his frame —
trampled and broken — from her mud.
Allahu ahkbar! he cries.

She cries. Cairo — Sharm El-Sheikh — Alexandria —
Hurghada — Luxor — Aswan — the blood of Isis
calls from Philae.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


We enter the realm of personal resolutions and revolutions with the poetry of Michael T. Young. Michael has published two collections of poetry, most recently, Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, is available from Finishing Line Press and his next full-length collection, The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, will be published in 2013 by Black Coffee Press.
— Larissa

Fishing Dark

As night took shape, the trees in the dark
uprooted themselves. Through the window
I saw the last light fold up and tuck itself
onto a clouded shelf, and a few late birds
swatted the stillness in their flight toward home.
It seemed there was a swarming in places, a pulsing
just at the edge, where anything clearly seen
sank into the varieties of shade, where the dark
smoldered in potential and at that moment,
I felt privileged, like someone admitted
into a secret society, because I knew then
that the sun is ignorant of the shadows it creates,
especially this one, and all that depends upon it,
all the minds that fish its deep waters,
all the maps that still show an end to the world.

On How the World Might Seem to My One-Year-Old Son

The whole world is the given, free
everywhere and dangerously possible
like a bruise, a bump on the forehead,
the ever-out-of-reach — a computer, a bathroom —
mysteries that tall people inhabit briefly,
then return, pleased with themselves
having known the fruit of the undeniable.
They offer it to me only as fructified
in these shaky steps I take, these legs
nearly paralytic, this mouth inarticulate
as one chewing gristle, lurking near
the sinister, which surprises, puzzles
and even astonishes when it grows
into the Gauls invading Italy for a glass of wine
or Napoleon unshackling the last
of Medieval Europe with an imperial hand,
after having lain prone, subject, sometimes
even naked, simply waiting for a chance.


Someone told me there are no coincidences
as if a tedious architect plotted the track
of each raindrop down a windshield,
and that something must have been intended
when my mother met a man who had her picture
in his wallet. He picked it up, he said,
from the street. He thought she was cute.
But that man is not my father, and this makes
every difference to my personal double-helix
and the pleasure I take in Bach and long walks
since I wasn’t part of the architect’s original plan
and now he has to take me into account
as if his pen left a smudge on the blueprint
and instead of erasing it, he makes it into
an additional room on the house, which means
when I look back on that time someone called
asking for a woman I happened to know,
her phone number only one digit different from mine,
I’m supposed to be concerned because she didn’t
become my wife, as if these connections mean
there is somewhere else I should be today,
and that’s why, sometimes for no reason, I’m sad
or frustrated, nagged by a feeling that something
is missing, like the freedom to screw everything up,
the way I liked to when I was young, just to prove
I was old enough to make my own decisions.

Rewriting My To-Do List

In a Brahmsian exaltation I drove down Newark Avenue,
realizing, as with all such transports, it’s a question
of how far you can go, especially with gloved hands,
in winter, tapping out rhythms on the cold steering wheel,
on an errand to buy a showerhead and cereal bars,
milk and clean wipes, distracting necessities, although
some have argued it’s the other way around, since
as I turned at Dickenson High School, there were those
descending winds, dropping with the hill past the cemetery
and I think an oboe counterpointing the rising strings,
the turn signals of other cars and changing traffic lights,
all the aesthetic risk of listening and thinking of all that time
Brahms took to compose his first symphony,
twenty-one years scribbling, scratching out, straining
like this first burning movement, consuming itself
in the struggle, so even passing under the bridge
and the starless city sky, I leaned into the windshield,
tilting into the night, renewed in the effort to listen closely.


In my dreams of flight I could never rise
more than forty feet above the earth,
sinking or soaring with the contours, puzzling
over what architect set the ceiling so low,
and still carry its mystery with me, like wondering
what kind of person I would become
if I worked in a factory where yardsticks are made.
Would I grow a penchant for measuring,
for fixing limits or would I feel a need
to snatch one or two from the line each day,
take them home and snap them in half? —
or preferably into an odd number —
something to prove that the world won’t end
simply because things are out of balance.

Monday, January 2, 2012


[Author’s note: The numbered sections reprinted below are taken from a 3000-line poem titled Notes from a Child of Paradise (1984), recounting my life from 1965 to 1969, a time when the younger generation began demonstrating against the American invasion of Vietnam and for Black civil rights. These excerpts describe the 1968 upheavals at Columbia University, where I was a graduate student, though spending at that time a Fulbright year in Paris. Earlier in the spring a student uprising in Paris led to a full-scale national strike against De Gaulle’s government, which may have been one of the stimuli for the Columbia demonstrations. Workers’ strikes began at the automotive plants in Nanterre, an industrial town near Paris.]


The plague had spread past hope of remedy.
Discourse volleyed back and forth between
Nanterre and Place Maubert, Défense d’afficher [“post no bills”]
The first restraint to crumble as the walls
Papered over with grievances and slogans,
The wise and ardent icons, Chairman Mao
And Che Guevara. For the first time in decades
The International assumption rang
True. And here was electric news from home:
Columbia had been taken over, shut
Down by the S.D.S. till further notice.
The gray sandstorm of a wire photo
Coalesced around a teenaged striker,
Feet propped on President Kirk’s desk,
Puffing a cigar beneath a Rembrandt portrait.

Not since Berkeley, we thought…. But what about
Our friends—teachers, students, who might be caught
Up in the drama? Telephone parleys,
Expensive, curtailed, picked their way over
A minefield of conflicting sympathies.
Which tipped in favor of the protest once
Guards swept down and cleared the buildings, clubbing
Anyone to slow to dodge. For blood
Is still blood, however urgent the theory
That sheds it….


News from Nanterre: a crackdown no less brutal
Than Columbia’s. And then an echoic
Roar of support from the Quartier Latin.
Students ten thousand vocal marched against
The incarceration of their leaders, state
Repression. The Sorbonne closed its doors.
Shouting matches, harassment, and at last
A pitched battle, which deployed in slow
Motion, a liquid nightmare staged around
Collaged barricades thrown together
From lumber, capsized cars and paving stones.
The C.R.S., black-helmeted, with shields,
Goggles and nightsticks, swarmed from armored trucks,
Advancing through a fusillade of stones.
Protesters, in street clothes, fell down and bled.

Cries. Distant sirens. The faint burn
Of teargas drifted down to the 13th.
When quiet returned, I stealthily threaded
My way up toward the brooding Panthéon
And rue St. Jacques, wondering whether some new
Éducation sentimentale would be hatched
From this unrest. The tower of St. Étienne
Said, “Paris repeats herself, true, but the terms
Differ….” A liberated Odéon
Now featured a round-the-clock debate
Open to whoever could make themselves heard.
Groups or solos seized the platform, held it
Till hounded down by boo’s or Merde!’s: total
Dissent voiced in a total democracy.
(I still can’t get that noise out of my ears.)