Thursday, May 22, 2008

CITY HALL POEM

(The steps of San Francisco’s City Hall the day after Valentine’s Day and during the first week that San Francisco started issuing same-sex marriage licenses)

I just dug out a poem I wrote four years ago that's an interesting synthesis of two of my recent posts and the fulcrum -- San Francisco City Hall -- between them. In February of 2004 two of my friends here, Jen and Jackie, flew to California to get married. I read this poem at their celebration party afterward.

21 MAY 1979

Tear gas hangs in the air
A just-visible cloud
You can thread your way around it

We went up the alley beside AAA
and rode the Market Street trolley
down to Noe Valley, where we'd
left our cars going to a rally
We thought

Getting on after
the riot had hit the news was
my first taste of accepting their
fear in lieu of respect
Eleven of us filed up
the narrow stairs, paid fares
Booted, wet bandanas at our necks
Loose clothes, buzzed hair
Everybody on the car went not just
silent, but still. Not even nudges

Here's a bit of trivia you might not know
When a police car burns, at some point
the siren goes off and doesn't cease
until the car is almost gutted
In a city plaza Stonehenge-stelaed
by massive government buildings
this wail is contained, bounced back and forth

We burned eleven cop cars that night

I remember how the fags would
muscle slam a parking meter
until it shifted from the concrete
three or four of them on a side, boys
in leather chaps, sissies grown up
Grunting, laughing, until it moved
like a molar come loose, and
they could rip it from the sidewalk
Sakrete bulbous root at one end,
the other a metal lozenge with
EXPIRED showing through the window

They'd lay it in their arms and heave
it back and forth, like someone in
a sling, until with their cheer, it launched
in an arc flicker-lit by burning cars
Carried up by sirens, exploding
through the filigreed windows of
that City Hall where Milk and Moscone
had been gunned down by the
cops' chosen boy, using his
never-turned-in service revolver

The next day on my delivery route
I made a point of swinging by
Every window on the front was
boarded up with raw plywood
Car-sized scorch marks on the
streets around the square
Crowds of people on the sidewalk
stood shocked and silent in the
steady light of midday. Suddenly they
knew, and we knew, we could be
pushed too far. Cops rode three to
a patrol car that day, and I got
four tickets for made-up violations
before, with gritted teeth, I scraped
off my delivery car the sticker I'd
pasted on the bumper that morning:

IF YOU'RE WHITE IT'S NOT CALLED MURDER

That City Hall are the steps you climbed
to be married, to get a piece of paper
I would never have believed could
carry our names. I can hear the wheel
clanking to the end of its circuit, and
the whir as it rests a moment before
starting round again. Here you go



© Maggie Jochild
10 March 2004, 1:53 p.m.

4 comments:

Sue Katz said...

Wow, Maggie. That's one intense poem. The line about scraping off your bumper sticker wrenched at my heart. Nowadays, that's what life feels like much too often. Thanks for all you do.

shinydoug@hotmail.com said...

I came across this blog rather randomly.
I was 9 when the White Night Riots went down.
I especially enjoyed photos of the Castro and environs circa 1979 AD.
I lived in that neighborhood from 2001-2006. Currently I am trapped in Tucson AZ, as my fiance works on her Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology (heavy on Womyn's experience of Western Medicine).(no doubt any of your insights on that would be welcome, I saw you once had a uteran tumor, and already being steeped in race/class/gender politics, I think maybe you have made observations that might not be as obvious to those who don't come from such a background)

I still dream about living in the Castro every night, so the photos of the 16th/Castro intersection were welcome. .

Thank you so much for documenting the "other" side of those turbulent times when SF was a 2 or 3 different kinds of Utopia and leftists seemed so much smarter than today.

letsdance said...

Reading the newspapers and watching the news never informed me like your post and poem does.

Maggie Jochild said...

I surely wish I still had that bumper sticker intact. I never paid their fucking tickets. Each cop snickered as he wrote it out, menace oozing from him.

ShinyDoug, I talk a lot about Western Medicine, disability, health, and class. Scan down my Labels in the right column and choose those (or related) categories for other posts, some of them voluminous.

Jan, history is written by the survivors who find a way to make their voice heard. It's all a narrative, none of it is "objective", and realizing that makes some of us go scrambling for those first-person reports -- the human connection. What we make of things is all the reality is actually contains. (Right, Jesse?)