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Fell November

To Mario and All His Family:

"The cities of Lamone and Santero
Lie 'neath the lion cub on field of white,
Who changes sides from summertime to winter,
That town whose flank is washed by Savio's Stream,
Even as it lies between the hill and plain,
So does it live 'twixt tyranny and freedom.

-----Dante Alighieri
LA COMEDIA Inferno: Canto 27


During the November election,
I heard those sound byte words:
     " . . . at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement
    In the 60's."
The tone was obituary, perhaps for someone I knew.
I didn't learn 'til the next day's dawn,
When Margot gave the news on NPR,
That Mario was the one
Who'd gone.
   His awareness fading around the edges,
   Like a flower fresh-picked,
   Pressed between the pages
   Of a book.

I met Mario one fall day by Sather Gate in Berkeley,
After he spoke up for someone
Ordered to the Dean's Office in Sproul Hall,
For speaking his mind.
   "Let's all go with him," Mario yelled,
   Along with quite a few other things.
   "Yeah," I said, "I'll go."
Three hundred of us showed up for that
Three o'clock appointment.
We all asked to see the Dean. Noisily.

My first impression of Mario in the heated, huddled crowd:
   Hoarse-voiced, eminently emotional, methodical, logical.
   His face beaded with sweat in the September sun,
   His suit jacket slung over his shoulder.
      The collar of his dress shirt drooped.
      The shirt itself, its tail untucked,
      Was translucent blue,
      Like his eyes.
About ten months, to the day,
After Dallas blew many of us away,
I returned to Berkeley from my Junior Year abroad,
At the University of Alabama.

    "You've been in the South, too?" I asked Mario,
    "Yes," he said, with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee---SNICK for short---
     That long, hot freedom riding summer of 1964.
Speaking. We were speaking together.
Outside, under the sky, speaking our minds and hearts.
    I'd never done that at Berkeley before,
    Among the specter shadows of intellect,
    Except when war threatened during the Bay of Pigs,
    And that was only to acknowledge
    There was nothing we could do at all.

Not so many days later,
I was standing beside the CORE card table, when Jack,
Who would popularize 'Don't trust anyone over 30,'
    Sassed the Dean's representative righteously,
    Staggered, went limp, was held
    Like a bag of potatoes in arms,
    Then was summarily bundled into the campus cop car
    Like a month's undone laundry.
Before noon struck on the Campanili clock,
We realized we surrounded them.
    I'd like to think we yelled like banshees,
    But a quiet like the world had stopped fell,
    And when I saw a brown-sweatered, pregnant woman

   Gather her skirt and sit right down
   In the path of the car's left front wheel,
      My heart thudding, ears ringing, cheeks burning,
      Neck and shoulders hot and flushed,
      I sat down, too, and waited,
      Because we'd created another opportunity,
      To talk to each other, and to listen.

I first saw Mario's ears that November,
When he got his hair cut,
Like a bunch of us did before the holidays.
    Our November demonstration before Thanksgiving,
    Was felt to be a dud.
    Many had an opinion as to why,
    But I think now it was
    Because we'd cut our hair.
The Administration put its foot in it again.
After turkey sacrifice day,
They picked a select few as scapegoats,
With Mario and Jack at the top of the hit list.
    "Hey, don't give all the credit to them!
     What about us? Take us, too!"
     Take us in our thousands. Take us, too!
So we cast ourselves on the gears and the wheels,
And we made them stop.

We marched in, Mario, Joan, the flag and all.
Later some climbed through the windows on hiking club ropes,
Held Shabat, and classes in metaphysical Marxian
Hieroglyphic economics, non-violence, even sex:
Harbingers of drop-out culture,
Teaching one another about war, and love.

After midnight,
They hustled us down the black marble stairs.
Some got in licks,
    With kicks to the policemen's balls,
    While I, in my suit,
    Got dragged by my tie down the hall.

Six strangers in a cell in the Berkeley jail,
We ate K-rations, rapped,
Then were moved to a larger holding cell.
It took guts to piss in the seatless toilet,
In front of those imprisoned male eyes,
And some of us weren't relieved,
Until we reached the bright lights of Santa Rita,
Wreathed in wintry mist,
And bleak, florescent glare.
    But when we saw our teachers, friends and
    Well-wishers waiting there on the highway for us,
    That cold dawn became a poem,
    A paean chorus of hot coffee, sweet donuts,
    And welcoming hugs, that warmly,
    Oh so warmly carried us home.

I was stage front at the Greek Theater
That December Monday, when Mario approached the mike.
I saw his quiet, respectful,
As he ambled up to the podium.
    I saw him dragged by his tie
    By a whole posse of cops
    Swarming over him like bees.
    The deafening roar from 10,000 throats
    Struck terror in the Academics' swooning eyes.
    So they freed Mario to speak.
    All he said was:
       "I'd like to invite everyone
        To our meeting on the steps of Sproul Hall
        At noon."

He took time to pause,
And notice the small, human details
Against the backdrop of the Great Cause.
    After brief hours of fitful sleep in an armchair,
    When a young woman handed him a coffee mug at daybreak,
    He touched her silk kimono's trailing sleeve, and said,
      "How love-ly!"
       Including her, her kimono,
       Her home streaming with morning sun's light;
       Including everyone listening
       Bleary-eyed, harried, exhausted, and lovely.
          It takes an arrogant humility,
          The courage to be afraid,
          Compassion thoroughly ruthless,
          And an exhausting wakefulness,
          To stutter with such eloquence.

Self-cursed For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,
In the pillory,
I heard Mario shout at me past midnight,
          "CONFRONT YOU!"
As I crossed Bancroft Way against a blinking amber light.
     I chose to graduate instead of fight.
     I'd had enough. My pen had cracked.
     I leaked shame all the way back
     To my abysmal basement hole.

Our silence lasted for nine years.
Number nine, novel number, thrice three,
Whose refrain concludes a Beatles' song,
Number nine, again and again.
Then one day in Venice, the Ninth of August, '74,
From a ghetto blaster on the boardwalk,
I heard the Used-Car-Dealer's Friend, that Quaker War Lord,
Who'd earned every thing he'd taken on the crook,
Was going to resign that very night,
Rather than face impeachment the following day.
    I saw Mario, through the window of the Lafayette Café,
    Where we often both ate breakfast,
    And for years rarely even nodded to each other,
    Across our waffles, toast, and eggs.
    I strode up to his table, and said:
        "They just announced he's quitting."
Already on his feet like a risen warrior,
His hand outstretched,
His voice from his red graying beard
Sounded gravely as the street,
As he asked me gently,
In tones ringing with wry satisfaction,
     "So, tell me Richard, how does it feel
      To have toppled a government?"

Mario was no Marxman,
But he could nail a lie blindfolded
With his heart's voice,
Until it bled truth for mercy.
    His lecture at our 30th Reunion reminded me
    That Karl Marx was no hippie,
    Despite his bushy beard and hair.
    He never took a toke.
But to transform a wounded soul,
It doesn't just take hair, or sex, and drugs,
And good old rock 'n roll,
    It takes love, my friends,
    To make what's broken,
    Whole again.

I wish his family in their grief,
And all our mournings ease,
The living in the loss they face,
And for his freed,
Brave spirit,
And soul I cry:

Today's a day of beauty,
A beautiful day to live,
As well as a lovely day
To say

Richard Schmorleitz
November 22 - December 8, 1996
Encino, CA



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