that you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself —
surely you see that.
my parents floated somewhere on the left.
I visualized the left as a wide mysterious plain drifting
beyond my left cheekbone. I know I was left-handed
but what else did I inherit?
hints and whispers of commie over the phone.
my grandmother stubbornly mute in some kind of hearing.
so when Mr. Bant, my 7th grade teacher, decided to spend
a special week on the red menace, I was anxious.
Mr. Bant had a birthmark that mapped out a red scar
on his cheek and neck. he twisted his mouth and
talked at us. I sat and sneered to myself in the tone
of my father (liar, capitalist, son of a gun).
I held still, my bones in tight, elbows close to body.
one day Mr. Bant shouted at me, if you don’t wipe
that look off your face, you can leave.
I wish I’d had the courage to walk out. instead,
my face flushed with misery, and his scar reddened,
spread to a mist in my eyes.
at work I typeset for a shipliner’s ad, try the best, travel better
than first class. travel world class.
at work I have to let the brutality of language turned against us
flow through my hands — typing, a relatively senseless robot will
be marketed under the name, “the Helen Keller robot.”
when you put the two together, socialist and feminist, divided only
by a hyphen, people often turn away, for one word or the other.
when we meet we build something.
everything shows — energy, doubt, joy.
the agenda is a long list scribbled.
we sit in chairs or on the floor with our shoes off.
we try to argue.
controversy charges like a skittish cat
into the room, electrifies the rug.
it is hard to talk directly about this.
sometimes I am carried to the next meeting by habit.
plans are like cracking eggs and the yolk doesn’t drop till later,
just hangs there dripping with resolution and minute details.
even though I say the word revolution,
it is hard to imagine it.
we go to work
prices keep rising
we are tired
we read the news, which is like a story
that keeps getting closer to our door.
revolution has always meant capes in winter and the chill breath
of wind and shouts in a country far away, and fur hats blown off.
it is hard to imagine it, to really picture it here.
considering what it means,
to call myself a socialist, a feminist.
a collection of ideas, tiny steel shavings that stream
toward one pole or another. the dream of my grandmother
speaking, her words coming up clearer and stronger
until the walls ripple into flames
and we rush her along on our shoulders.
always the ideas carry themselves forward
in my understanding on the shoulder of images.
images the thud against my forehead at work, on the bus.
when I look at identical rows of flimsy houses,
at headlines slumped over men asleep on market st.
being a marxist means you have to believe
things won’t always be the same.
that streets flow into rivers.
that the bank of america is turning to sand.
that women walk out of the shadows
last night I dreamt that every open space was owned, built up.
you put your foot in that soft stretch of grass, and when
you turn around, the ground’s scraped bare, ready
for concrete to stop it breathing. they keep side-swiping
my car from an angle, as if they want to re-shape it, shave it.
hit and run speculators nail my cat in under the porch.
her face collects itself in the darkness and at a certain instant,
appears, particles of light glancing back from round green eyes.
I take a step and my elbow hits a wall, I shift my weight
and my knees bang into a table, they are cutting the fat
from hospitals and schools, they say I cannot teach
if I touch a woman with love.
it’s like being sick all the time, I think, coming home from work,
sick in that low-grade continuous way that makes you forget
what it’s like to feel well. we have never in our lives known
what it is to be well. what if I were coming home, I think
from doing work that I loved and that was for us all, what
if I looked at the houses and the air and the streets, knowing
they were in accord, not set against us, what if we knew the powers
of this country moved to provide for us and for all people —
how would that be — how would we feel and think
and what would we create?
KAREN BRODINE | ILLEGAL ASSEMBLY
HANGING LOOSE PRESS, 1980