From “The Fisherman”, an unpublished excerpt
He sat in a Virginia jail cell, blood running down his head. Christ his head hurt. Was it the stitches? Or the fact that he had been knocked unconscious by long wooden baton. That morning they had walked the bridge that crossed the Potomac. He and Mark and Rachel, Mark holding the B&W home made flag, walking to the Pentagon. They got there before everyone else did. And he was knocked out by a Marshall who took one good swing at his skull using a long wooden baton, leaving him unconscious and bleeding. He woke up in jail. The air was filled with cigarette smoke. The dormitory, the bunks covered with young men, arrested and waiting, the sun light of morning slanting in through the narrow window. Hippies talking, students talking, poets talking, talking about police, talking about justice, talking about batons and clubs, talking about revolution.
He stood at the Lincoln Memorial remembering. Remembering when Peter Paul and Mary were standing there. He asked to make a picture of Marlon Brando, and the big guy grabbed James Baldwin who was half his size, grabbing him around the shoulders and both gave enormous grins as if they shared a secret, Baldwin showing a big gap in the middle between his front teeth. Bob Dylan the folksinger looked so young, a little lost, holding his guitar case among all those people milling beneath the statue. The great March for Jobs and Freedom which later be known as The March, to distinguish it for the many Marches that followed. This day as the Fisherman stood there, there was no March, just a cold winter day, with half a dozen people standing near the statue, as out on the Mall they prepared to swear Barack Obama in as the Forty Fourth President of the United States of America. It had to be done by Noon, that’s what the Constitution says. At lunch Julian said it was “the greatest event of my lifetime.”
He looked up at Lincoln, an alabaster giant, seated high above them. “In this Temple, as in the hearts of the people, for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” It was a temple, the statue like Athena, high above the Greeks, who painted her all sorts of colors and considered her God. And to Lincoln’s left the words of the Second inaugural, one of the finest uses of the English language in all history, written by a self educated lawyer. It is wonderful to read, and it justifies a war that killed 700,000 Americans. Lincoln calls it “strange” that the South would fight for such a cause, he does not judge his enemies, but seems to understand that they too had a reason to go to war. The war, and the horrible suffering of the victims, including those on the battle field who suffered amputations for gun shot wounds, without anesthetics, were an Act of God. So the Union is preserved, and we now have Barack Obama in Lincoln’s place.
The fisherman does not buy this. The Civil war even more insane as all other wars. What Martin Luther King had to say on the steps on the Lincoln Monument, made more sense. He espoused non-violence. The great March was at the height of a non violent Movement, a Movement that was stopped by yet another war, the War in Vietnam.
Just a few hundred feet below the Lincoln Monument is the Monument to the soldiers killed in Vietnam, all 54,000 of them. The March took place in August of 1963. One year later the Movement floods Mississippi with voter registration workers, three of which are murdered that June, as soon as the program begins. In August of that same year, 1964, Congress passes the Bay of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the sending of combat troops to Vietnam. By then, hundreds of American “advisors” had already died. In the Spring of 1965 Johnson begins sending thousands of combat troops to Vietnam, and the dieing and killing escalates. That act of war, another “worthy” war, perhaps another war that God wanted, certainly another “just” war, is what ended the American Civil Rights Movement. Students and young people and Amerika turned their attention else where. Their lives were on the line. And some of them, many of them, lost them. Others ran to Canada. And a few, like the Fisherman, went to jail, or got knocked out, or marched. Vietnam had no Lincoln in the White House. The poets were in the streets.
“Hay Hay LBJ! How Many Kids did you Kill Today!”
Will Barack do better than Lincoln? He is going to have to. The stakes are higher. The ship of state is greater and more powerful, and moves by its own force, steadily, through the night.
From “The Fisherman”, work in progress