also means














Home stretch. The Ford strained to hold at 45 on the upgrade past the Sausalito exit, stuck in the lane for old people and grinding trucks. Then the peak, Marin City ghetto barracks behind, a striptease glimpse of Sausalito’s hillfall, then the first tunnel, the Ford a contender now, swooped and gyring toward the Bay.

At that moment, always then, at the coming home glimpse of San Francisco —whether looking south from Marin, west from Berkeley or north over Potrero Hill on 101 — Jimmy’s bigamous vision unfolded. There would be two women, two apartments, two lives to come home to. Not petty infidelity, not Mormon polygamy, not two Swedish buttercups (but ah! hey!), two robust existences, two lives with serious women, I left my hearts in San Francisco. And they would be Cathy and someone else, unrealized, obscure as a tea leaf reading, an I CHING proclamation: Dark-haired woman, near water, safe, an artist, her love without reproach or adulation, her acceptance complete, mistress of her overlapping dominion. Jimmy arrives at her — no, ‘their’ — apartment, water laps against the walkway, the wood posts creak, a seagull cries, he opens the door, she turns toward him from a workbench, an easel, a script, a writing desk, sometimes from the stove, her happiness rushes outward. End. She never completes the turn to greet him. He sees her profile and she vanishes. And yet he knows her. Almost.

To live thus would demand the impossible. And yet! Has Jimmy not already seen Jimmy2 rise full-blown from Stop the Draft Week, debated violence with Jimmy, seen his own face stare up at him from a Rome Plow gravestone under the name of Willy? In July 1968, the politics Jimmy practiced was the art of the impossible, Poof, I can make part of your army disappear.

He had witnessed the little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. He had helped hoist the stone which the builders rejected and place it as the keystone of the arch. He had taken the first step north from Delano with 70 farmworkers and Cesar Chavez and watched them transmogrify into 10,000 people crossing the Sacramento River at Tower Bridge bearing the Virgin of Guadalupe to the politicians who a month before would not return their calls — now begging to be allowed to support them. He knew the stone the builders cast aside: Fanny Lou Hamer, sharecropper, cotton picker, who alchemized the history of a race. He had watched policemen lower their nightsticks, heard soldiers refuse to be sent to Detroit to suppress rebellion. He witnessed the alteration of Highway 51 in Mississippi by the utterance of “Black Power” upon it, beheld the transfiguration of the murder of Martin Luther King into a hundred insurrections (and the mutation of the murder of Robert Kennedy into desperation and dead air). He had told students, “You may talk. You talk.” I, the adult, the stranger in your schoolroom, I will listen, and by listening, catalyze, and when I have finished listening you will be chemically transformed, you will no longer be cast aside, you will be capstones. And I, the listener, have I not alchemized myself from middling poet, studious quiet one, dreamy small-town kid, into?

The s-swoop out the tunnel swept him toward Golden Gate Bridge and beyond, the pastel daubs of houses sliding to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina, last mortal sight of suicides, or did they always jump westward toward the sea? San Francisco appeared to Jimmy through the spinning cables as a ferment — a living entity mysterious and real as the one that introduced itself to Pasteur in his lab on the rue d’Ulm in 1854 (Bonjour, M. Pasteur, I am yeast. I, not the degradation of inert substances, cause fermentation) — a living entity (not the decline of civilization, the degeneracy of youth) that churned the still waters of society into waves, dissolved the chalk of apathy, formed crystals of discovered power, turbulance of protest. Anything was possible.

Where does the boundary lie between possible and impossible? Impossible the war will end tomorrow (until the war’s penultimate day). Impossible a square root of -1 (until mathematicians proclaimed it). Impossible lactic fermentation produced by other than degradation (until a yeast spoke up in Paris).

In July 1968 revolution seemed possible. Also genocide. Power was reversible. The frontiers breached, the armies of definition floundered in retreat.