poetry

The Last Communist I Knew. {poetry}

{source}

This piece is unusually autobiographical, with little embellishment. I spent my early adulthood in San Francisco and later in Berkeley. I lived there from 1971 to 1982, at the end of the Vietnam War era and during Watergate. It was a period of political activity, dominated by the Black Panthers, notorious political prisoners, and famous trials. I was a young student.

Somehow, I found myself mixed up with left-wing socialites, who were communists at heart, living extravagantly comfortable lives. It was an odd combination of the Me-Generation and Radical Chic.

***

I lived on Potrero Hill not far from a grand Victorian owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
In a little closet I slept, rented from an activist who drank cognac and smoked
with an ivory cigarette holder. Sharon Gold: her refrigerator was off limits.
When I told the head of the local party, he confronted her and made her cry.

I baby-sat for a prison reformer who loved to sleep with black felons. She was
in and out of San Quentin every week and dined on Nob Hill. She was a communist.
She sent pictures home of her new Peugeot. She dressed in leather and picked up men
who drove Porsches and beat women.

I took classes at the People’s Law School at Glide Memorial Church. I met
curly-haired lawyers determined to mend the world. They knew the Mitford sister
over in Oakland who ate caviar and drank the best champagne. They held poetry
readings in her sunken living room. One claimed to know where Patty Hearst was hiding.

It was a Superfly summer. There was something in the air. Fellini was still alive.
They were digging below the earth, making tunnels for something called BART.
The city run by Alioto was abuzz with famous killers, known to all as the San
Quentin 6 and the Soledad Brothers. It was the birth of radical chic.

I was a block away when Dan White murdered the Mayor of San Francisco. My friend
Paul drove around city hall looking for excitement. There was no more talk of revolution.
The Black Panthers had dispersed. Poor Huey was dead. The communist lawyers
I knew were desperate for clients. The party, literally, was over.

My pal came home one night to say he had struck a man in the road and killed him.
The police told him to just drive away. He was a homeless nobody. We were no longer
in emerald city but gritty Oakland. Whilst there the Hearst family delivered frozen turkeys
to the masses, consisting mostly of CAL frat boys.

Dungeons and Dragons replaced the Communist Manifesto. They played in the attic.
I worked now at the Jesuit seminary on the posh end of town. We left the side door
open for the Brothers returning late from the gay bath houses. They raided the ice
box for midnight servings of rum raison.

In ten years, they would all be dead. They stood at the buffet too greedy to carry
their food back to their tables. They cut the centers out of three or four chops,
leaving the bone and the grizzle for their Brothers. They picked off the strawberries
and left the shortcake. They took one sip of coffee and demanded refills.

The last communist I knew was my professor, an Italian from Calabria, who invited us
over for chess. He gulped wine and crawled around his kitchen floor. He pulled down
the garbage can and sat covered in coffee grounds. He cried about not having enough
money to date women. His wall was covered with a ripped portrait of Joseph Stalin.

***

David Lohrey‘s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Croatia, and Lithuania. In the US, his poems can be found at The RavensPerch, New Orleans Review, Nice Cage, and The Drunken Llama. Internationally, his work appears in journals in the UK, Australia, India, Malawi, and Hungary. His fiction can be seen at Dodging the Rain, Terror House Magazine, and Literally Stories. David’s collection of poetry, Machiavelli’s Backyard, was published by Sudden Denouement Publishers. He lives in Tokyo.

***

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