James Baldwin





Stokely Carmichael












Diane Di Prima































































Everyone was there


There are parties where people fall in love, leave, and forget they met until the next party, to farcical effect. There are parties where people get so drunk they can’t remember the insults they exchanged, but their bodies do, to tragic dismay. There are parties so massive they bend space, slow time, so full of life the dead show up.

Beverly’s party to celebrate Jimmy’s release was like that.

Cathy and Jimmy slid through the crowd like chocolate, everyone taking a lick. He walked humbly in his boots across the floor like water. She saw — wouldn’t the first man she saw be? — DC Baines, beer bottle lofted like Malcolm’s finger at a young man in Stanford sweats. The living room, nettled with politics, moist with sex, expanded like the universe — and how does that work anyway, the spaceness between Jimmy and Cathy enlarging while Jimmy and Cathy do not themselves expand? — stretching the distance light had to travel between the Heavy Couple. A table laden with gallon jugs of Mondavi Red and White and paper cups and paper plates and Conexes of cheese and fields of ham drew Jimmy toward it through the words incredible, abysmal, and really cowardly obtuseness of white liberals, spoken in a high voice; he looked for James Baldwin, but only his voice was there. He poured red wine in a white cup, put blue cheese on a great seal of cracker, chomped it down. He could not decide how he felt. Displaced came to mind. Displaced from where I did not want to be? Or replaced, returned to my place after a period of confinement? Or misplaced? And that fireplace, was it there before? Must have been, it’s old. He felt the need to confirm his existence, moved to a mirror framed in Mexican pressed tin. The face in the mirror was his. The face behind him was not: not a face at all. It had no mouth for one thing, only teeth and eyes mounted on lava. Whirling was called for. Jimmy did. Nothing behind him but a room full of people; he pretended he was practicing the Motown twirl of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. I need Cosmo’s sense of humor. Now! Two lawyers, Long and Short, fell into orbit around him and each other. They slapped and pummelled him with congratulations, poured him wine. The fireplace had moved to another room.

“Tell Short here that when Stokely Carmichael says ‘We will achieve Black Liberation by any means necessary,’ he doesn’t mean the worst means possible,” said Long.

“He should say what he means then,” Short protested.

“He did,” said Jimmy, “any means necessary”.

“Which are?”

“Those that necessarily produce the end.”

“Don’t play with my words,” said Short. “Does he mean ethical means?”

“Whenever I hear a man say ethics I reach for my water-pistol,” said Hank, who appeared at Jimmy’s side. No one twinkled as cruelly as Hank.

“I’m your lawyer, Hank. The word any scares me.”

“Any!” said Hank.

Short shrieked. “See! I told you. I demand to know what means Stokely won’t use.”

Won’t use.”


“I take him to mean,” said Jimmy, “he won’t use means that aren’t sufficient.”

“He didn’t say sufficient, he said necessary.”

“They’d sort of have to be sufficient,” said Long, “otherwise what’s the point?”

“He means any means sufficient?” said Short.

“I believe he does,” said Jimmy.

“Then why doesn’t he say so?”

“What difference would it make,” said Hank, “if he said Black Liberation by any means sufficient?

“I wouldn’t be so scared.”

“I think Short wants blacks to set a limit on the means they’ll use,” said Long.

“There is nothing more loathsome,” said Hank in a tone of kindly rage Jimmy wished he could emulate, “than people who say, ‘I agree with your goals but I don’t approve of how you’re going about it,’ when they aren’t going about it at all.”

A processional of peasants led by the Virgin of Guadalupe passed them, which reminded Jimmy of something and distracted him from remembering it at the same time, someone dead, a martyred priest and revolutionary. Someone dead in the room. The face in the mirror.

Diane Di Prima paused by, bathed in erotic New York City night. “Brothers,” she said, “there is no end, there are only means. Each one had better justify itself. But to whom?”

“I loved your sex life,” a woman said to Di Prima.

Di Prima studied her. “Were you there?”

“No, but I read the book.”

“That IS the point,” said Jimmy, overloud. “To whom? Who are these people who disapprove our means? They are those who object to our ends. If we had to justify ourselves to them, we’d never act at all.”

The party had grown so large, extra rooms were added to the apartment and runners assigned to convey messages. “Jimmy,” said one, “You gotta do something. A guy in the hall is quoting Nietzsche.”

“Not now,” said Jimmy. Di Prima was leaving, trailing behind her a question as to whether the nouns justified the verbs. “Tell them to quote Engels,” he told the runner.

“The only means they approve of,” he heard Hank say, “are those that come to a bad end.” Damn his cleverness. “Could someone come up with a concrete example?” said Jimmy, “I’m suffocating here.”

“Ok,” said Long, “I’m hungry. I’m going to get cheese and crackers by any means sufficient.”

“Thank you,” said Jimmy, “and I’m going to take a piss by any means necessary.”

“That’s what I mean,” complained Short, “You sound as if you’re threatening to knock people over and piss on the floor.”

“He will,” said Hank, “if necessary.”

“Where is the bathroom door,” asked Jimmy, “which I must bust down in order to piss?”

Hank pointed to a corridor, whitely tiled, at the end of which was a door with the silhouette of a man urinating by the only means possible. The hall was lined with portraits of people at the party, the last a head-and-shoulders study of a blackened man with boiled eyes, a human lobster, burned to tar. Jimmy looked for a nameplate; it said Dwight D. Eisen. 1950-1968.

“I’m going to the men’s room, Dwight,” said Jimmy. “Please don’t follow me in.”

Behind the door, at the proximate urinal, a priest pissed up a storm. Jimmy unzipped.

“Tell me, son,” said the priest, “when did you experience your first crisis of faith in the bourgeois electoral system?”

“Are we at confession, father?”

“I doubt it very much, for this is a urinal and at confession we don’t ask political questions.”

“Then surely, pops, I can tell ye.”


“I was in the holy of holies of our democracy, the curtained booth of the sacred polling place. On the holiest of days.”

“Furrst Tuesday of November?”

“That it was. 19 and 64.”

“Was it your first time, Jimmy?”

“Aye, father, I had turned 21 but recent.”

“A prime moment in a young man’s life, choosing the President of the world’s greatest.”

“I had sworn I would vote for neither gentleman, surely not Barry (extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice) Goldwater.”

“A moderate decision, though moderation in principle is always a vice, as the great Tom Paine said.”

“Nor would I vote for Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had but months before sent his jolly enforcer Hubert Humphrey to the Democratic Convention to ensure that the Sons of the Confederacy would not be forced to cede their Democratic Party seats to the children of slaves, the most craven betrayal of human rights since the Hayes-Tilden deal of 1876.”

“So you did not believe in the vote as you entered its temple.”

“No, father, I did, and that’s the sick and the sin of it. There I was, ballot and pencil in my citizen’s two hands, poised to act on the basis of my moral convictions as they instructed us in civics, when turribly, a voice in my head cried out, JIMMY! IF GOLDWATER IS ELECTED PRESIDENT, THERE WILL BE A WAR IN VIETNAM!”


“Yis, father, so in disperation I put my mark by Mr. Johnson’s name.”

“T’was the mark of the beast.”

The priest gave his wang a hearty handshake and tucked it back in his pants.

“Right then I promised myself never to vote again so long as there remained any other way in the world to be political.”

“You did right, Jimmy. May an Anglo-Saxon term of Teutonic origin referring to the object of religious worship bless you. And by the way, when was your last confession?”

“Niver, I fear. Being raised in Webster Groves, Missouri, of a non-God-fearing family (except me Mither who was frightened near to death by the bastard) and knowing I was of Irish descent and that my great aunt Alice supported the IRA in the days of the Black and Tan War, and by failing to read carefully the signs outside the churches to which my aunt took me as a child to hear the organ music, I grew up believing myself to be Catholic, only to discover in college, where abstract ideas matter, I was no such thing. ”

“Happens all the time,” said the priest.


A man from France who identified himself as a member of the Citerne des Pensées Jeanne d’Arc was telling Cathy there was a CIA plot to end the war. A runner interrupted them.

“There’s something called Dwight who wants someone,” the runner said.

“Why are you telling me?”

“He pointed to you and said Hurrr. I think. Then he kind of blinked out. Gotta go.”

She watched DC, hands jammed in his pockets, argue with a weaving-eyed Eldridge Cleaver whose fingers pranced in the air. As blood exists, among other reasons, to carry oxygen, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense existed among other reasons to scare hell out of people, but the smoke of Eldridge’s eyes expressed an edgeless power that disconcerted her. She did not trust him, did not know why, and could not say so; Soul on Ice had raised him above human criticism.

“The trouble with you Americans,” said the man from Rouen, “is you don’t read your own sources.”

“We read them. We just don’t believe them."

Un: last year it was revealed that the CIA covertly funded your National Student Association, a group that opposed the war.

"Deux: The CIA believes that you, I mean they, it, the U.S. Government, is losing the war. The Agency knows the Johnson Administration has been wrong all along, General Westmoreland is a fool, and the Tet Offensive was a great defeat for the Americans. They leak it to the press.”

“Fools differ,” said Cathy.

Trois: Thomas McCoy, top CIA agent in Rome and Madrid retired this spring. What does he do? He becomes top aide to Eugene McCarthy’s presidential peace campaign.”

“So-called peace campaign,” said Cathy. “I didn’t know about McCoy.”

Quatre: A few weeks ago, McCarthy appoints a new West Coast campaign coordinator: Thomas Finney, ex-CIA officer in Copenhagen in the 1950s.”

“Is this supposed to make me feel better about the CIA or worse about McCarthy? Why would the CIA do this?”

“It doesn’t want to go down with the ship.”

“The ship is going down?”

Comme un roc. You are very beautiful.”

“Thank you,” said Cathy, “for the information.” She turned toward DC; they must talk, but the outward swing of the kitchen door smacked her from behind as a high voice said, ‘Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality. But this is a distinction so extremely hard to make that the West has not been able to make it yet.’ She looked for James Baldwin but a procession of peasants, perhaps farmworkers, got in her way.

Bev must have remodeled her kitchen. Once square and airy, it was narrow and long, a windowless railroad car. A copper cauldron simmered on a butcher block station, the rising auburn steam attended by a classic nude, who looked up as Cathy entered.

“I know what you’re doing,” said the woman.

“What’s that?”

“Thinking about a man.” Light flickered on her body from cutlery, glassware, aluminum pots.

“Do I know you?”

“Not as well as you must if you’re to be the sex you say you are.” Other women, half-shadowed by the station, murmured assent.

“And you’re interested in what I think.”

“We know what you think. We want to save you from it. Every brain cell that carries a thought about men dies.”

“Then I must be half-stupid.”

“You are half-oppressed. Only in a room of women can you be free.”

“It would be the kitchen, wouldn’t it?”

“That is where all culture starts. Where all things are cooked up: plots, potions, cures, tastes, sauces; the original lab and pharmacy. Where, while the men weren’t looking, we created the world.”

“And this is?” Cathy advanced on the steaming copper.

“What do you need? NO! You thought about a man. Dead cell! You must not collaborate.”

“That’s it, ladies.” Cathy picked up a ladle, rang the cauldron like a gong. “Don’t call me a collaborator and expect me to act like a sister. You haven’t learned yet.” And would have left, but the alabaster nude said,

“You’re still one of Jimmy’s Women.”

To which Cathy had many answers. Sex is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality was one of them, but most — Jimmy is one of My Men, I am the most important woman to him, we are a couple, he is the man who, he is the only man who has not — rang like false alloys.

“I am my own woman,” she said.

“Come back,” said the nude, “when that’s true.”


Midway, they met, and almost did not recognize each other.

“Someone indescribable is looking for you,” said Cathy.

“I’m not looking for him,” said Jimmy, “come in here,” opening a random door, which was all there were, to a small bathroom. Cathy’s breasts hurt. She felt if she said a word, she’d come. They joined at the lips, he pushed up her sweater and bra in a single sweep; her breasts hurt more in the open, explosive, air; she wrenched his belt buckle apart, pushed all things down from his waist, urgency the mother of efficiency, held him by the lever of his cock as she tugged off her panties, pulled him to the floor by his sprung rod, her face shielded from fluorescent light by his shadow. The milky cold tiles shocked her back, convinced her it was possible; she clunked her skull on the toilet base; Jimmy bent his arm between her and the porcelain, buffered her head with his hand. Her right knee, drawn up, hit the toilet seat above her, but all that mattered was that he was wholly fully inside, balls slapping against her, and they could fight to the sweet end, which first seemed never, and then arrived from her feet and her head and her ass all at once and she sopped him up into herself.

Someone tapped on the door, rapped, knocked, banged, yelled at the door. Doesn’t someone always do that when you’re fucking in the bathroom? Every time. They modeled dignified faces in the mirror as they patted down hair, belted their waists, smoothed cloth. Jimmy rehearsed several opening lines. When they saw it was Bev, he chose a sage nod and a solemn, “doing legal research.” Cathy cracked up, Bev told Jimmy his shirt wasn’t tucked in and looked as if she wished she’d been with them when it was untucked indeed.

In the hall the space of shoulders and heads swelled between them.

— What do you think of Bakunin?

— Bak hoo?

— No, that’s a city on the Caspian Sea.

A man’s voice cried, “Willeee.” Another voice screamed in fear. A welling-up of shoulders pushed Jimmy into the next room, where the Panthers were studying Bakunin:

The revolutionist is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no affairs, sentiments, attachments, property, not even a name of his own. Everything in him is absorbed by one exclusive interest, one thought, one passion - the revolution. To him, whatever aids the triumph of the revolution is ethical; all that hinders it is unethical and criminal. The revolutionist must not be that towards which he is impelled by personal impulses, but that which the interests of the revolution dictate.

Jimmy’s mind said:

— Severe but admirable .

His body said:

— I won’t do it and you can’t make me.

“Did you hear about Les?” asked Ann, a waitress Cathy encouraged to enter law school.

“Which Les?” said Cathy.

“My friend.”


“Our collective thinks he’s an agent. We found a memo to him from the FBI.”

“What does he say?”

“He can’t explain it. Not that he should have to, if he’s innocent. We don’t know what to do. And I —”

Cathy remembered a lanky man in a plaid shirt. Long sideburns. Cowboy eyes.

“What do you think?”

“The letter looks real. He acts nervous.”

“So would I.”

“And if he is then it makes me come under, you know, suspicion. Can you talk to him?”

A hierarchy of distrust is catalyzed by a letter of uncertain provenance; a man drops to the bottom; above him hovers a circle of formerly trusting comrades; between them, his girlfriend, who appeals to Cathy, whom all trust, not for deeds toward them but for being CathyB. A year ago, Ann would not have approached her.

“It was on the back seat of his car,” said Ann, “If he was a snitch would he leave it out like that?”

Cathy would look into it. Ann was grateful.

In January, the Alameda County District Attorney had drunkenly indicted seven young men for conspiring to invent Stop the Draft Week, which we have seen was impossible for the masses invented Stop the Draft Week and the masses cannot conspire. Still, the men faced 10 years in prison and one of them, Jeff Segal, was scheduled to speak in the living room to raise money for their defense. Jimmy and Cathy arrived separately and late. Segal, barrel-shaped, flurried, compelling, about to do two years in federal prison for refusing to be drafted, was answering a question, wouldn’t you know, about ends and means.

Jeff tugged on his mustache.

“Well,” he said, “People who say they’re against our violence end up supporting the violence of the war. It isn’t violence they’re against, it’s OUR violence, our really minor violence, which is basically self-defense. The war in Vietnam isn’t self-defense against anything, except the idea that America is not the greatest nation on earth, an idea against which our government seems ready to kill millions to defend.”


The crowd exhaled into particles. Cathy found herself a breath away from DC.

“He’s been out of jail three days,” DC whispered.

Her neck rippled.

“We’ll talk later,” she said.

“Later in my lifetime?”

“I promise.”

“I won’t ask again.”

He wouldn’t. She knew he wouldn’t. He’d die and not ask again.

Allen Ginsberg appeared cross-legged on a chair, smoking a hookah. “The movement is full of shit,” said the poet, “the exploited masses are not just hippies and blacks, the exploited masses are the trees and the fish in the sea.”

“Trees don’t suffer,” Cathy hissed. She had never hissed before.

“Trees are the only ones who get it straight,” he said. “They produce the oxygen. If the enemy is the materialistic, consumer oriented, predatory, acquisitive, capitalistic, manufacturing society which is consuming all our natural resources at a suicidal rate, our natural allies in the battle for survival are the trees and the grass.”

She was going to respond, when somone pulled her aside to ask about Robert F. Kennedy, Prince of Darkness, due in town next day by caravan.


Students reading the Tarot of the day’s events in Paris bent like waves of grain as Jimmy passed on his way to the kitchen where everyone hated him.

“Ah,” said the naked woman by the cauldron, “it’s Famous Jimmy O’Shea, the man with genital tissue for a brain.”

“Sorry,” said Jimmy, “I was just looking for someone to eat.”

There are times when Freud wins hands down. Jimmy knew better than protest, walked to his doom.

“What’s in the kettle,” he asked, “newt soup?”

“Gaze in,” said a woman disguised as the odor of Jimmy’s first lover, ”take a look.”