Peter Dale Scott

Making History, Unfolding World

The question is why
to a seminar of senior citizens
mostly younger than myself

I narrated as comedy
my thoughts on the first ever
assault from the air

on a U.S. city -- Berkeley
attacked in 1969
by an Army helicopter

dropping CS gas                                                                incapacitant spray
over Lower Sproul Plaza                                          New York Times, 5/21/69
which all of us protesting

the occupation of People’s Park
by the National Guard
had been told was the only place

where a rally would be permitted
I did not attend
but had a good view from the Wheeler Hall steps

as the helicopter came in low
over the Student Union building
and dropped its white cargo

just as I had already seen
one year earlier
on the front page of the New York Times

except that those hippies
fleeing in all directions
from the helicopter’s path

were actually soldiers 
dressed up for a rehearsal
on a U.S. Army base.

This day I was well positioned
to watch the white cloudlet float away
as the breeze through the Golden Gate

blew it sideways up the hill
to where scholars in the Library
patients in the U.C. hospital

and the rich folks up on Grizzly Peak
were all incapacitated.

The question is why
I recalled this as a tale
of endearing inefficiency

completely ignoring the perspective
of those trapped in the Plaza
how lawmen and Guardsmen 

pitched tear gas into the crowd 
and with the threat of their bayonets
prevented demonstrators from getting out                Rolling Stone, 6/14/69

(just as in Mexico
at the Tlatelolco massacre
only eight months earlier                                                           Oct. 2, 1968

officers in civilian clothes
were to prevent the entrance 
or exit of anyone to the plaza)                                             Proceso, 10/1/06

as well as the earlier rally
when shots fired by Sheriff’s deputies 
killed bystander James Rector 

and wounded about 75 others                       San Francisco Chronicle, 4/20/99
in the streets outside Cody’s Books
while the next invocation of martial law

under OPERATION GARDEN PLOT   Covert Action Quarterly, Spr-Su 2000
left four students dead at Kent State 
and completely ignoring the hopeful

teenage girls hanging flowers 
on the Guardsmen’s bayonets
along the nonviolent march

(which Dohrn of the Weathermen
urged vainly to convert
into a bloody confrontation)

to the stretch of Dwight Way
turfed over by John Reed
where we danced barefoot all afternoon

while Lauren writhed half-naked
on a flatbed truck
in front of the wide-eyed youngsters

from the Central Valley
rigidly “at ease” with their guns
inside Peoples’ Park.

Perhaps I lapsed into comedy
as the best way to compose the past
from unconscious conviction

that history’s deepest pattern
is not the sickness but the healing
a Pascalian wager

like Dante’s and Milton’s
that to live in hope
we must let go of our torments.

Or it could have been cowardice
my reluctance to accept
how unlikely were the chances

of any successful healing 
in this hatred-nursing nation 
mired in fear and debt.

Or it could have been denial
from a repressed sense of guilt
of having by my enthusiastic

opposition to nightsticks and tear gas
helped create the death scene
where a young man was killed

Or it could have just been biology
my dispassion about the helicopter
(which had once aroused in me

an embarrassing urge to shoot it down)
deriving less from wisdom
than from loss of testosterone

Or perhaps it was from all of these
the recognition of past 
shortcomings on everyone’s part

yielding in the end
a little forgiveness and humility --
the right relation

to help time unfold.

Peter Dale Scott is the author of the acclaimed poem Coming to Jakarta.

His poem A Ballad of Drugs and 9/11 appeared in FlashPoint #8 and part of Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000 appeared in FlashPoint #3. Prof. Scott's website can be found at