Monday, January 4, 2016

Robert Cooperman- Three Poems

At the Peace March: Washington, D.C., 1970
We walked five abreast past the White House,
police horses snorting in our faces, their hot
sides nudging us to stay in line, the mounts
trained not to flinch from sudden movements,
not to mind stepping on protestors, not to care
about our surging, shouting multitudes
while their riders slugged us with billy clubs,
to silence our outrage and peace songs.
But George, my cousin Sammy’s friend,
tried to break out of line and stab his key
into police horses’ flanks, hoping we’d follow
him into a full scale riot, our faces bloodied
by the forces of fascism, on the late news.
“Are you trying to get us all killed?”
I finally yanked him by his collar.
“This is pointless,” he flung off my grip. 
“Anyone can march like robots.  We need to make
war-loving Republican parents see their kids
are getting manhandled by the Pigs.”
Maybe he had a point, or maybe he was all talk,
for when Sammy gave him a look of, “Stop it,
asshole,” George shrugged, fell back in line,
and marched as peacefully as the rest of us,
an obedient little Lord Fauntleroy in knickers.

The Worst Thing That Ever Happened at a Peace March, 1970
We never got beaten or busted and had to spend
nights, before being bailed out, in a stadium’s
makeshift prison, sleeping on a sleet-freezing field,
thrown slops, and denied our one phone call.
But once, we lost my cousin Sammy in the multitudes
that had poured into D.C. to exorcise Nixon’s bombs:
malevolent water balloons.  Sammy’s wife, Laurel,
panicked when we reached the parking garage,
and he wasn’t there, grinning that he’d fooled us.
“Where’s my husband?” Laurel demanded. 
as if we’d handed him over to the cops or the FBI
for interrogation, torture, experiments with drugs
that made acid look like a civilized glass of sherry.
We tried to convince her Sammy knew where we were
and would find his way to us, just give him time.
Finally he did, hugging Laurel, apologizing
the crowds had been too thick to fight, so he’d waited,
as if for the stragglers in a cattle or buffalo stampede.
I never said a word to Laurel; maybe I should’ve,
maybe no need, but I noticed the smudge he rubbed away
when his friend George signaled behind Laurel’s back.
Several months later, William was born; they stayed
together until war’s end, family men exempt.

At Station Eleven, II
On my second foray to weasel out of the draft—
this time, a shrink’s letter making me out to be
crazier than Hamlet before he stabbed Polonius—
I sat, my leg piston-jerking hard enough to shoot
through a Fiat’s hood, and saw him, naked except
for his briefs and Irish hair wild as if he’d skipped rope
with a live electrical wire, as he sleepwalked the room.
“Fall in!” a doctor ordered in a voice accustomed
to being obeyed in, “Sir, yes, Sir!” terror.  The kid
ignored him.  “Fall in!” the doctor bellowed, not sure
if the kid was full of it or zombie-dragging-crazy.
When two M.P.’s shouted commands: again, nothing. 
One aimed his rifle at the kid’s face, blood about to paint
the walls, when the kid launched everything he’d eaten
the past week all over the barrel, all of us pivoted away
from that semi-liquid kaleidoscope, but silently cheered
a truly great performance, the kid collapsing, carried out.
After I’d pleaded with the army shrink, I saw “Red” 
skipping away, as if to meet the woman of his dreams.  
I ran after, to ask how he’d done it, but he'd vanished.

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