KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Poem: 218 words [R]

UC Berkeley, Sproul Plaza, May 1969

by Joanna White
Bongo pounding drummers give voice
to the passions of the people, who converge
at the heart, under knobby shaking fists
of pollarded plane trees. 

Springtime parents watch my brother, sister, and me 
hopping square to square in time to the beat.
With us shuffles grandfather, camera to his eye,
but it is grandmother, white hair wisped in a bun,
surveying the scene with keen green eyes,
who is the first to see them. Rifles vertical, 
Reagan-sent, the khaki soldiers march
from Sather Gate, faces encased in hard shells, 
flanked by sun-glassed men in blue,
night sticks dangling. The crowd does not
part to let them in. A rumbling tornado gathers.
The blue men raise canisters and, calculating, lob.

Heat sears our eyes like cayenne flung from a fist.
There is no reference in our short existence
for the peppery pain and breath sucked out of us
like juice from a lime. Parents grab small hands 
and we flee. The museum of modern art looms 
and my parents push us in. Too startled 
to cry, we clutch at our eyelids, gasp crisp air.

When our eyes finally open, we stumble
for hours, down geometric walkways
of cantilevered concrete, squinting
at twisted metal sculptures tucked
in every sharp corner, rubbing our eyes
in disbelief.

— First published in Naugatuck River Review (Winter, 2014); republished here by author’s permission

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