2/15/03 Protest Newspoem
After what has been since Christmas Eve a harsh winter today was especially fierce. For two days we anticipated the ice storm like a rumored faroff apocalypse, a blizzard that continues to rage quietly outside with no end in sight. At about one PM we began to shave the ice off the white enameled shape that contained Meadow's car, pushing away snow and using a scraper tool to make areas of the windows transparent, though the ice continued to fall all around and over us. Once inside we fired the engine and let it warm, carefully adjusting every defrosting mechanism, all of which roared vainly against the accumulation of precipitation. Windshield wipers went through their motions bearing clumps of ice. We looked forward through the condensation of our breath in a mist on the inner windshield, glass, and an archeology of ice, some clear and wavy, some of it white and frosty, as wet and dry snowflakes continued to thump and tick outside the vehicle. Backing out of the driveway was strictly guesswork, the passenger side window would not roll down. We could only roll down the drivers' side window and take a quick appraisal of oncoming traffic from that direction, squinting against the freezing rain, before rolling it up again. If we backed out into the white area where the street was without colliding with another vehicle that was only because it was Saturday and few people were foolish enough to be driving that day. Then we were moving mostly forward into a tunnel of white with curbs somewhere and houses on either side. Meadow's car is light, low slung, and has a fully manual transmission, so the action was more like iceskating than rolling. A gentle touch it took, but too much gentleness would leave one stranded. Momentum, balance, poise, motion, and a studious regard for all oncoming or nearby traffic. Losing control in the open street might mean spinning and coming to rest in a drift, at worst bumping in to a telephone pole or streetlamp. But losing control in the presence of other vehicles could mean collision, leaving the vehicle, rain and painful conversations, police, insurance, bills, and terrible dramas that lead nowhere, occupy one's entire mind and then are gone leaving no memory or consequence. One person almost drove through an intersection in front of me, they were so intently perusing oncoming traffic from the other direction. There is no braking action in these conditions, only more or less controlled slides. Actually hitting the brakes could mean relinquishing the vector altogether, your best option if in trouble is to use the brake sparingly while dropping the car into second and letting the drag of the engine slow the wheels down. If you skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction the rear wheels are going. Be prepared to immediately repeat this in the opposite direction: often your only course of control will be to go back and forth like a pendulum while the car loses momentum and hopefully passes over an area of the road with friction to reinstate velocity in the direction of the tires. I missed the turnoff from Springfield onto Prospect because, waiting at the intersection, when the light turned green, I started to drive and the car barely moved. I upshifted and the speedometer read fifteen while the car slid forward at about two as the wheels simply spun and encountered no resistance from the icy road. I had not encountered a driving surface quite like this and rapidly tried to crunch a decision on whether a lower or higher gear was more appropriate, and moved through the intersection at such a slow pace, while beneath me my wheels ridiculously spun as if I were trying to escape police, that the light had turned red again before I made it to the other side. Not wanting to bother with an unplowed side street, I continued to Mattis, and came back East via University. Would there be protestors there? Because believe me we had dwelled on the thought of not attending at such length that each of us must have at one time been convinced we weren't going to attend, but at least one of us was confused enough that we all ended up going. So approaching the intersection of the protest, as all 139 (by one count) of us must have, we expected, perhaps even hoped, to see no one there. In the whiteness with the traffic going two ways on a street with no visible center line a shadowy figure crossed the street as if an apparition. Then a few more. One with a rectangular sign, silhouetted against the swirling ice, moving through clouds of snow as if lost. And then, and then, emerging like a hallucination from the blankness, a line of us stretching wayback. Lots of people with signs and kids and dogs and all manner of scarves gloves hats and facemasks, smiling grimaces of frozen pain beneath inflamed bloodred cheeks. We passed through two drifts we thought denoted an entryway into a parkinglot, where we slid into a drift in what we thought might be a parking space. Outside the car, the cold was immediately unendurable. A penetrating wind ballooned our parkas, knocked us sliding on the ice, and savagely tried to wrest everything from our grip especially the windsails of protest signs. The ice was ideal for taking a running slide for fun, but the serious blistering fierceness of the windstorm made recreation inconceivable. Well, this was the day, of citywide, statewide, countrywide, worldwide protest, and six of us out of two million protestors picked our way across the wild blasted tundra of the Lowes parking lot as a gale reduced everything to monosyllables until our very lips were numb and we could only mumble in the slow measured accents of patients undergoing heavy anesthesia. I walked from one end of the line to the other, what seemed like a few blocks. I saw people I thought I recognized but most peered at me like anonymous hitmen from skimasks sunglasses hoods stocking caps shawls and scarves. Despite this, the mood was euphoric. Giddy even. We were drunk with pain and laughing through our endorphins as serious weather conditions made extremities burn, ache, and go numb, as the freezing rain saturated and penetrated every garment, and was taken by a stiff wind up every crevice of clothing. NO IRAQ WAR (couldn't we shorten that to NO WAR, or, if one really thinks war might someday be necessary, perhaps NO BUSH WAR?). After one impressive blast of wind would come another, worse, for emphasis. TEACH A CULTURE OF PEACE (I like that one). I was ascending a rise to the front of the line, marching through deep snow behind the line of people, who stood beside a curb none could see. While cars streamed past. ATTACK IRAQ? NO (unequivocal). As I went higher above the highway the wind got noticeably more intense until I had passed beyond pain into the serene onset of hypothermia. A car moved by and a teenaged man leaned out the door and shouted "Kill Em All!" I assumed he was being funny, because not even Dick Cheney is suggesting we Kill Em All, and anyway I have basically had a life sheltered from death and violence and just can't believe anybody could be that cruelly oblivious but obviously some people can be or else two million of us, in places like Honolulu, Austin, and San Diego, would not have to be enduring the worst blizzard of the worst winter of recent years in order to wave our icecovered signs at motorists and smile with lips drained of all sensation. At the end of the line I found two brave souls to greet the oncoming traffic and beyond them camerapeople filming us, one for Channel 15, one for Michael Moore (so I overheard him claim). Then the cars. Some honked. Some refused to look. At least one more shouted epithets endorsing Kill Em All or violence even more concise and widescale than the atrocities our leaders are proposing. We had brought cookies which some protestors were actually eager to eat even if it meant momentarily exposing their faces to frostbite. Back in the car, as we went through the ritual of cranking up the engine and defrosters, almost a superstitious rite as they were all but ineffective, considering which route home might be least dangerous, I observe in the rear view mirror that my face has become reflective, plastered with a thin layer of glistening ice. The drive back was epic, even a lame REO Speedwagon tune on the radio seemed sung by angels. Believe it's time for me to fly. I did not like the sensation in my feet when I regained sensation in my feet. Afterward I collapsed into a feverish lull from which not even cocoa could quite revive me. And yet I know it was only a trip to the mall and I suffered not at all, not of thirst, not in the desert, not of bombing or disease, not like the children splashing in the sewage, the parade of dying citizens, or the Baghdad intellectuals forced to trade their books for black market water I saw in the photograph which for some reason remains as vivid in my mind as the moment I was looking at it. Despite everything the people of Iraq have suffered for our soundbites, sanctions, and bombs, it is being forced to barter treasured books, pieces of ones mind, invaluable and yet probably, on the black market, nearly worthless, that gives me a window on suffering worse than any I can imagine. Did we stop the war yet?
Newspoetry at Spineless Books