By Adriel Hampton
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its
He knows you really never can persuade. They have to convince
themselves. He thinks back how he got into these rallies, these raucous
marches through the heart of the city, deciding he’d rather tear down the
glass, concrete and steel canyon walls than sit silent anymore. His voice
is getting louder.
It was back in September, first Wednesday, coming home from a prayer
meeting. His wife calls, crying. Burnt, badly.
He rushes home, waiting on the red then gunning the station wagon hard
through the turn. She’s spilled boiling water all over her chest, bra
peeling burnt skin. Somehow he sees falling rubble, rubble and smoke. He’s
pulling his wife out and there are no medicines. A dream brought on by too
many newspapers, a dream. And he wants to scream at the night and inside
First time he shows up too early, too much time to think. Wanders down
the pier to sit and watch a seagull edge closer to eat a rockfish on its
last gasp. Fisherman down the rail isn’t watching so he sits long enough
to keep the bird from its meal. The fish is tiny, would fit in a child’s
hand. The ferries are going out, gliding in.
Along the Embarcadero the clumps and crowds are tearing free of the
wharfs and sidewalks to converge on the plaza. On stage a labor guy is
strumming a guitar, mouthing folk songs of his own making. Teenage girls
are darting in and out of the crowd as the cameras click and the oldsters
peer. It takes him a full hour, just standing, standing, to join. A roar,
pure power, ripples miles through the crowd, forcing open every mouth.
He’s singing along with the fury and the glory.
Early last year, he wrote a letter to President Bush. “I voted for
you,” he wrote. He liked the plan to split INS into enforcement and
administration, friendlier. “I don’t want war with Iraq.” He’s got two
brothers in the service. He, too, would fight if we were attacked. Who
“Five or six of us pulled a large cart to take Naomi’s body back
home. All the way back I was speechless, stricken by the horrible change
wrought on her.
Having fought many battles in China for four years, I thought I had
seen the extremes of human misery. However, the heartrending sight of
noncombatant women and children suffering tragic deaths was simply
unbearable. The next day, in the midst of all the turmoil, we held a
hurried funeral for Naomi in a crematory.
We must swear in our hearts never to repeat such a tragic and
pitiful war again.”
He read in Hiroshima. He can’t stop reading.