Leslie Beach
A History of My Politics

Pick an era, any era!
The Sixties, I'd reply (though it was more like
1968-76, a vague cloud of days that felt right), late
as ever, loyal to my mother and her
grapes, following the booted Spanish syllables of
El pueblo
Cesar Chavez
unido
woven belts
jamás sera
and silver rings
vencido.

All round, wound about
my fingers and my waist
bright colors separating Gap jeans from a plain white t

and that was about the size of it. It was cool, so painfully
hip to be a hippie, to buy
your clothes a bit too bright, a bit too big
and make that vibrancy call out your
authenticity.

My waist and fingers, belly, reluctant breasts were
round like peace signs. Round like the buttons
proclaiming JFK, tracing out
a black hand holding a white hand holding a soft green olive branch
splayed open-bodied across my mother's dresser.

Her father told her not to go to peace marches.

He'd worked, that's right, in a government soiled by McCarthy
on the fresh water board (a marine biologist tangled in bureaucracy) that kept him drinking
anything but water
‘til it dried him out. He watched his friends go down
one by four by eighteen for speaking their minds.
He didn't want his baby girl on a blacklist, but she,
dripping with—what?—
went
anyway.
She placed her Birkenstocks behind the booted Chavez, marching
not against the grapes but for the growers
on those weekends between offering herself to her classes
in songs like ‘Juanito
cuando baila' and ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees,
and Toes,' drove across the border with a black girl and a latina and with her long red hair, next week got them all invited onstage at the production of (naturally) Hair

and that, that, that is what I wanted

‘til the day of My First Peace March.

Iraq not ‘Nam
and food not bombs not what if they gave a war
and nobody came
(because the thought of not
dropping things from things on things
is evidently no longer in our vocabulary)
and then, when a handful of kids from my class opted out of the optional march,
there were these mutters
(how can any of these kids NOT want peace?)
showing all too murkily how far we've come.

When our authority figures are the organizers, what good is a walk-out?

We made no sacrifices. We all got excused absences
to wander about by the library, perch in sunpolished trees
and shout glossy slogans that demonstrated no understanding
(I knew that because I didn't understand
though I couldn't make myself shout either).
the ones making the statement were the ones who stayed behind.

II
a caution held close to the bone:
that's my other inheritance.

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I'm not sure when I started
distrusting my parents along with the rest of the world,
imagining my own abandonment, my ideal scenario being
to be left
on the beach
on an outcrop, one of those cliffs that had gotten
delusions of independence and sprouted wild onions and a freshwater spring.
I'd pluck mussels from the rocks (abandoning lifelong vegetarianism
in the interest of lifelong survival) and stew them in water and onions, letting the sun
warm and flavor them. I'd weave
dry grasses and feathers into ropes and coats and rugs, cool
my eyes on the surf and swim three times daily. The mussel shells
could be ground in water and a trace of their own oil
to make ink
for company.

There were less idyllic possibilities.

Cardboard boxes whispered to me of shelter, corners
between yards and fences pontificated on how long I'd last
before discovery. Berry bushes and miner's lettuce and sour grass and stubborn spearmint
pressed themselves between my fingers, squealing
what good salads they'd make, protesting I could TOO fill up on them
if need be. In craft class
I learned to make a basket
from pine needles and raffia. I couldn't convince myself
to convince my mom
to let me carry raffia with me
at all times. But there was clay
in the soil

and going unnoticed
was essential.

III
I am on the playground
counting for the tire swing. We play airline when we get it—Max Murray is my best friend
and he is the announcer. He likes
Delta. I like
United. They give me goldfish
crackers. He likes
Colgate. I like
Crest. He likes
Bush. I just got told
by my mom,
you
don't
have
to like your president.
She likes Clinton, Crest, and United.
so I guess I
like Clinton.

IV
Suddenly someone is listening to me. He's
fifteen and I'm venerable and
I say I need to live
with integrity, no more.
I need to be consistent, not loud. I need
to know, not preach or protest. That is action.

I realize later
the danger of those words. What I meant
is that everyone lives the way they do and acts
the way they can. What I meant is that I'm
a mole of a girl
buried in a world that I've created
and I like it more.
Signs never mean what they mean to mean and slogans haven't done much yet but
just because I'll never wave them
doesn't mean they oughtn't to be waved.
I just prefer the liquid sort, the sort that slaps my ankles and fills
places as-yet-unexcavated by anything else
and washes off my dirt to leave me facing
what I love not understanding.

I will never be a group
member. Not to be trusted, groups. Prone to explosion or urgent misdirection.
I'll never stop thinking
my choices change things. I circle comprehension in my bright belts that no longer declare anything particular about me.
I'll never know I'll never do such things. I'll do what's next. I'll find
a recipe for wild onion soup
and make it on my stovetop in the L-shaped kitchen
letting its odor spread
my manifesto.