“Whether, in view of what humanity is capable, such a trait implies, along with a benevolent heart, more than ordinary quickness and accuracy of intellectual perception, may be left to the wise to determine.”
—Melville, Benito Cereno
Across the last swerve of 101 Between the soundwalls, before The road splits and opens up To the usual emerald city, To the San Francisco skyline— The London of California— (In London London, the paper says, The best-invested now dig Infinite pools in their basements For sheer lack of square feet)— Someone in ’62 once threw A soaring footbridge, now caged Full round in Ohio chainlink, Over all nine lanes, allowing The new Californian to travel In perfect comfort and safety, From his home in the Sunnydale Homes, to his homies in Potrero— Obviously, I jest. Racism! In verse! You won’t say I didn’t warn you. And this shit actually happened. I was there—not a month ago. Not on the bridge, but on the road, Alone in the car, evening rush hour, Moderate traffic. As the Cougar Swept around the curve, in a span Not over fifteen seconds, three men Came on the bridge. Did I call them men? These were animals, from the ghetto. Did I say animals? They were nobles, In splendid robe of privilege, Prancing with glory of lions. Performing, sure. But just walking— Across the road to tha Sunnydale. Your eye might not have caught them, From below on the freeway, but mine And others did. When these men Came center over the median, One turned, faced the traffic, Dropped to a shooter’s crouch, Pulled out his finger, and blew Us all away—laughing, I assume, Like a perfect fool. And then— I slid under them, and was gone. Now, since I’m such a racist, My position with respect to these Particular terrorists is clear; The instant reaction was no less. I simply felt, as a human being, As a San Francisco parent, It essential that this population Cease at once to exist—means No object. They could be broken In some way, as by the whip, Or educated into professors, or Superman could swoop down, Seize them by the pants and hurl Them without trial into the Sun. Does Superman do genocide? Heck— What would Hitler do?—and this, A train of thought I am not, of Course, endorsing, but rather Confessing—this simplicitude Flashed like powder in my simple head. (Hitler too, says Trevor-Roper, Had this knack for simplicity.) But consider the complex! We, Apart from my rotting Cougar, River of post-Axis automotive, Educated and expensive, Unimpeachably progressive— Confronted suddenly, without Warning, by this unmistakable Parade of pure warrior hate, Almost classical in its beauty, Tablet of Akkad or Ur. What Does a person do? Might he find Refuge in the church of his youth? We both know what he should think. But here appears the animal itself. Who would argue its humanity? Before his eyes it is clearly itself. What of his complexities, his Cliches, his studies? They scatter, They can hardly compete. But Nothing competes with them; For our sample driver, a man Perfectly made for the period, Young, bright, even cultivated, Roughly as lost in history As a toddler in a steel mill— Has not a thought to think. Instead, I think, a black smog Of grand, impeccable despair (Exactly as intended, I fear, By our urban performers), No logic at all, just emotion, Truth in its way nonetheless, Swirls up in an instant from His medulla; looms; wavers; Then blows away—as his Audi, Too, passes the footbridge Without so much as a BB In the wipers; the soundwalls Recede, and reveal the vista Of Dorothy; and the bite Of our cold sweet Pacific air Elides any small unpleasantness… No, it is this man, who exists, Who is history; who is, I’m sure, The future; and the drama is his, As dangerous as elegant. His Demons, made by him, are sent By the great gods to scourge him, And have doubtless barely started. As such these creatures are divine, Like the tiger or the killer whale, And must not be disrespected: A slice of advice both prudent And compliant with federal law.