The Skyscraper (Benjamin Guterman)

The Skyscraper

by Benjamin Guterman

Concrete slabs, ribbed and reinforced with iron,
Set together on riveted crossbars of steel,
Towering from the earth, and thrusting
Ever upward through the clouds.

Skyscraper of bold and massive slabs,
A thousand glittering windows soaring through the clouds
In ever faster succession along the rising grey rock.
Skyscraper with skeleton of tempered iron,
Firm in the midst of hurricanes, earthquakes, and natural devastation,
Oblivious to that ancient mother of creation,
Soaring proudly upward beyond the clouds.

Skyscraper, symbolic apex of human achievement,
Its simple form the projection of logic, science, and truth,
Its invariable upward rise the reflection of recent evolution,
Its foundation the headstone of mankind.
And nature cannot revive the myth of Babel,
For man will only politely listen, preferring instead
To launch his energy upward into the unknown,
To build to new dizzying heights of understanding and control.
The tower, foundation of further experimentation,
Of basic principles the conglomeration, stands firm,
Piercing the heavens to proclaim the triumph of man,
Stands firm, and proud, and glorious. . .

The tower stood majestic in the darkening shadow of bursting clouds,
Until pounded by a booming fist, as stone gave inward,
Until it snapped, and those slabs were ripped apart
And hurled as meteors in all directions.

The blinding, wondrous clouds expand and roll upward,
Evoking the screams of sixty thousand generations,
Exhaling the breath of instant annihilation,
Threshing the bones of civilizations.

Before the rumbling folds of mushrooming clouds,
A tower crumbled suddenly, into rubble and mounds.

“The Skyscraper,” by Benjamin Guterman originally published in Forum (1969, City College of San Francisco).

“Futility” by Dorothy Pilgrim

Futility

by Dorothy Pilgrim

To rise from earth’s low level for a space
And soar to giddy heights of mind’s delight;
To hold brief commune with the great, a sight
Of greatest truths to catch; and then this place
Of slowly muddling things to reach; to face
The thought that through your life you’ll fight
In vein to see again the splendid sight; —
This is the fate of those who seek to trace
The paths of mighty thoughts; the fate of those
Whose little minds one spec of greatness bear.
For though they feel the urge to rise again
They can but fall once more from where they rose,
They cannot grasp and hold the truth; they stare
Amazed, afraid, ashamed, that they are only men.

“Futility,” by Dorothy Pilgrim originally published in Forum (1938, City College of San Francisco).

“Ten-Second Sermon” by Jack Hulse

Ten-Second Sermon

by Jack Hulse

There seems to be a tension in people’s talk these days. Their speech is nervous, impatient. All of this, of course, is the reflection of fear–fear of their war-baby that killed so many Japanese so quickly. Maybe people are beginning to realize that you can’t be relaxed and charming while balancing yourself on a tightrope with madmen trying to cut the wire.

“Ten-Second Sermon,” by Jack Hulse originally published in Forum (1949, City College of San Francisco).

“The Highway” by Fred Mayer

The Highway

by Fred Mayer

It parts the forest pushing trees aside,
And leaves a wedge of concrete gaping wide.

It stretches past the plain like the leveled light,
And curls around the mountain tops at night.

Or sweeping by, it mocks the creaking waste
Of dying towns, rotting and hollow faced.

It cracks the desert’s lip and hard, parched, dry,
Trails chalky white against the blazing sky.

And running past the eye and round the bend,
The concrete has no purpose and no end.

“The Highway,” by Fred Mayer originally published in Forum (1945, City College of San Francisco).

A Rational Weakness (Peteso)

A Rational Weakness

by Peteso

“Destruction is the duty of every man, woman . . .” the loud speaker blared, just before the thrown grenade exploded on the platform, sending the Vice-Admiral in charge of Persuasion back to the ship in a log. And indeed a thirst for destruction, self- or other- wise, seemed a common goad for the masses of pocked-flesh creatures below us; hideous, mutated creatures whose ancestors had seen fit to call themselves “men.”

When we first arrived on this war-torn planet their hostilities had been directed solely toward our ship. But once our anti-gravity screens had proved too much for their feeble weapons, they turned them on each other, themselves, and the decayed world they had inherited from their forefathers so long ago. Every so often we sent a man down like the Vice-Admiral with the expressed purpose of making a deal with them. But, as we anticipated, he would always be killed, and then systematically brought back aboard the ship and re-cloned. This little game proved effective in keeping them from losing the hope that in their self-destruction we, their enemies, might also be destroyed. Our orders were to rid the galaxy of transfigured or corrupt forms of life. If we could do it with a minimum of blood on our hands, we preferred it that way.

“Eat a grapefruit of Sundays,” would be somewhat accurate translation of the message which flowed from the twisted mind of what appeared to be the leader of the mutated population. A least he was the largest, his mutation being limited mainly to his brain. His limbs and body seemed fairly well developed, but his head rested on his huge shoulders like a ping-pong ball, with massive jaws hanging beneath it. “Eat a grapefruit of Sundays,” he repeated. He spoke in faint brain vibrations which could only be discerned from the high amount of radiation in the air with the greatest scrutiny on the part of our communications department.

Being the ship’s head communications analyst, the message found its way through the circuits to me, where it was my duty to analyze it and suggest a proper response. I mulled the statement over in my head for the few seconds allowed a personal evaluation. When this proved fruitless, I fed it into the K-Phonic 5000 computer on board the ship, as is standard procedure in this situation. It seemed to take an uncommonly long time for the machine to make anything out of the message, and I sat before the control board expecting the “non-computable” sign to flash at any moment. But there must have been something in the message which was not quite comprehensible even as nonsense, for the computer soon showed signs of mechanical strain.

Much astonished, I found that turning the machine off was impossible. The computer was so enthralled with the input data that it had recircuited itself around the power switch, and I flipped it back and forth in vain. Meanwhile, the computer was drawing far more than its share of energy from the banks, and soon the “emergency life-support system” lights began to flash. The computer’s usual hum rose to a deafening shrill and I found myself sprawled on the floor, my eyes locked shut my hands tightened against the sides of my head, hopelessly trying to block out the stinging scream.

Before long, almost unconsciously, I felt the ship touch down moderately hard on the surface of the planet. Although at the time I was almost incapable of rational thought, I did realize that the ship must have lost even the power to maintain its altitude and that would surely mean that our anti-gravity unit was no longer operating. We were completely vulnerable to attack, and the K-Phonic 5000 went right on draining energy.

All of a sudden the computer stood very quiet, almost screaming with quiet after its shrilling rampage. I opened my eyes to total darkness; something I had never experienced in twenty-seven years aboard the ship. From this and utter silence I guessed that the ship must be completely drained of energy, but soon I found my guess to be slightly in error. Through the deathly silence ran slow monotonous clicking, the last click being stretched over several moments and resembling a mechanically synthesized death rattle. Flashing my pocket light proved what I suspected. The clicking was the output card being strained out of the computer with its last breath of atomic will power. It had taken the total energy of the ship to produce that tiny slip of paper and, if it was the last thing I did, I had to read what it said.

I rose feebly to my feet, and took only a few steps before the explosion racked the ship and sent me hurling toward unconsciousness. When I awoke, scaly hands were gripping my arms like vises, carrying me away. I turned my head for just an instant to notice the slip of paper laying face up on the pile of debris which had once been my instruments, but I was too far away to read what it said.

“A Rational Weakness,” by Peteso originally published in & other lovely insects ([Forum] 1976, City College of San Francisco).

Untitles (J. T. Grogan)

by J. T. Grogan

rolling down the asphalt trail
an ersatz man
buried in a smogbox
of steel fiberglas and rubber

mouthful of plastic trubyte teeth
munching a tru-luv candy bar
made of butylated hydroxyanisole
calcium propionate
hydrogenated strontium 90
and vanillin an artificial flavoring

on his eyeballs
small plastic disks
ground to prescription
for to see the nook better

earful of earphone
connected by umbilical wire
to small black cigarette package
crammed with transistors & twang & luuvvv

mind awash with librium
and tv radio adslogans
all sloshing around together
precipitating inanity into the void

on his soul a label
26% nylon 31% dacron 43% polyethylene
wash in lukewarm pepsicola
dry away from heat or sunlite
made in u.s.a.

“(untitled),” by J. T. Grogan originally published in Forum (1965, City College of San Francisco).

Vuillard (Hunt Baldwin)

It was about two o’clock when I walked by the fountain. I remember it clearly because I was not wearing a watch.

When you don’t wear a watch and you walk through a large city, you become acutely aware of all the time pieces that are on public display. There are digital clocks in bank windows. There are old clocks–with hands–in government buildings, and all of those clocks look just like the ones that hung in classrooms when I was growing up. Up there on the wall above the drinking fountain where you were only allowed to drink for a three-count and some kid behind you always said ‘hey, save some some for the fish,’ and you said ‘I’m fish’ and the poor kid who was in charge of holding the drinking fountain handle down for everybody’s three-count was suddenly struck in the uncomfortable position of taking sides. And those clocks were always behind the desks so the teacher could see if you were a clock watcher.

When I was young, clocks were menacing, in whatever form. Bedtime. Time to come in for the night. Time for church. Thirty more minutes of class. But walking through a city with no watch on your wrist, clocks are comforting. They keep you grounded when it’d be just as easy yo really lose your mind. To just duck into a bar at lunchtime and keep drinking and not go out and not go back to work and really just lose–your–mind as you realize that you are one of those guys that you used to pity when you walked by a bar in the afternoon and looked in and saw that there were actually people who sat in those depressing places with martini glass neon signs in the window.

Lounges. that’s what those places are called. Not really bars, but lounges. Like opium dens really, only nobody looks as absolutely happy as they do in opium dens. The word ‘lounge’ is one of the most soothing I know, taking a disproportionate amount of time to leave your mouth–that is, when you think that there’s only one syllable and not too many letters in it. But then somebody pointed out a word that was more soothing, but only if you could make yourself not think about what the word actually meant because the word was ‘autopsy.’

Aww–tahp–see. Say it. But when you’re saying it thing about a big, old, overstuffed chair with a handle on the side that makes a big, old, overstuffed footrest pop out from underneath. Say autopsy and think of the chair that your grandfather used to sit in when he did his crossword puzzle with a pencil. And your dad, his son, always did the puzzle with a pen and even when you were little you knew that your dad was accusing his dad, your grandfather, of some heinous thing. He was saying ‘I don’t need no damn eraser, you worthless old fool, why don’t you just die and leave me alone.’ Or something like that.

On second thought, don’t think of your grandfather when saying the word ‘autopsy.’ But think of that chair and pretend that it belonged to one of your grade-school teachers. One of the nice ladies who wasn’t so pretty that she would betray ou and make you feel bad, but who was just pretty enough and smelled nice. One of the pleasantly plump teachers that would always smile at you when things weren’t going too good, smile like to say, ‘I’m with you, not to worry.’ Think that that chair is in her family room and she’s just taken you out of school to go and live with her.

But when you’re inside one of those lounges that’s actually really a bar, all you can feel around you is moisture in the air. Like your grandpa just spilled something sticky and sweet all over the chair. The chair’s not the same. Moisture hands in the air, weighing on the spirit of the place like the spirit was just thrown into a lake–no, a pond–while it was wearing blue jeans. It takes a long time for blue jeans to dry out, and when they do they get all stiff.

And the light in a lounge that’s really a bar is a color that can’t exist without that moisture, and that neon martini glass in the window, and a little bit of smoke. The light is like a bruise, but a light pleasant one. And all day long you sit there and secretly poke at that bruise, continually reassuring yourself that you can feel things, and even though you know bruises hurt, it feels good to have one and you poke it again, only harder. You can lose track of everything around you when you’ve got a bruise to occupy your time and your nervous system.

A bruise like that is what it’s like when you are used to wearing a watch, but one day when your hands are shaking so badly that you can’t even turn the page of the newspaper, so you leave your kitchen in a panic, forgetting to put your watch on. At first, when you’re walking along, you look at your naked wrist every few seconds, and each time the watch isn’t there you feel like you’re going to vomit again, but then you begin to notice that somebody else ha been through it all before, and they’ve thought to put up clocks everywhere, so when you almost lose your mind and duck into a bar, you see what time it is and you feel like you can go back to work.

When I walked by the fountain, like I said, it was about two o’clock. I know because I asked a guy at a news stand, even though there was a big clock tower right on the edge of the park I just wanted to hear as voice or anything really.

When you’re walking by a fountain in a big green park and it’s summer and flowery around the fountain, and yo see a man standing in the fountain with his pants around his ankles and he’s urinating into the fountain, and people are walking by ignoring it, or may be noticing it and chuckling or not even thinking its all that odd, and he’s looking right at you and you see that even he’s wearing a watch. Well th-that can sometimes be more than a person can take.

And then there’s a guy at the bar in the lounge who sits down next to me and I think, cool, this guy looks normal he’s young and wearing a suit and you can tell how strong what he’s drinking is cause it’s only a beer, and he starts to talk about a guy, a painter named Vuillard, (Vwee-yarr, he said) ‘Vuillard shoulda been born in 1969,’ he said, and I told him I didn’t get it and he said Vuillard was a painter. This old dead painter in France who never left his home, lived with his mother, never married anybody or even felt like he should get married–or that he wasn’t normal for not wanting to sleep with every woman he saw.

‘Or maybe he did feel like he should,’ I told the guy and he said ‘well, whatever.’ He didn’t want me to talk just yet, and that can hurt but I listened anyway and besides, where was I gonna go? Sure as hell not out. Not just yet. But he said that this man made the most beautiful paintings, full of furniture and flowers, especially the wallpaper, he said. The wallpaper was’t like wallpaper in on the inside of houses, but it was like this guy turned a sheet of old wallpaper into a garden full of flowers. And he said this guy Vuillard painted all of these beautiful paintings. And even the ones he painted that were scenes of outside things were all encircled like a womb (that’s what he said, like a womb) with the sill of a window, so you always knew that the garden was being looked at through a window that had a sill like the guard rail on a crib, and draperies like the arms of a sweet smelling grade school teacher. This is what he said! “the arms of a sweet smelling grade school teacher,” and I looked at him and thought “aw–tahp–see,” cause that’s what that grade-school teacher thing he said made me thing.

How much the name Vuillard sounds like ‘autopsy,’ I thought, and then I thought that being dead for that painter was probably a lot like being alive, with lots of furniture and wallpaper that was like a garden. Sometimes when you close your eyes real tight you can make colors that look just like some technicolor sitting room out of the sixties with all sorts of sectionals and cubic end-tables and odd shaped purple hanging plants. Death might be like having your eyes closed real tight.

And the man at the bar looked real serious for a second, looking down at his beer and I thought he was gonna cry, but instead he just chuckled and said, ‘I guess you can’t just take yourself out of the world like that anymore, huh? You can’t just say to hell with it I’m gonna stay in this room, which I know is beautiful, and not take any chances.’ I finished my drink and looked at my wrist, which was empty, and the guy saw me looking at my wrist and said, ‘don’t worry, last call’s not for another thirteen hours.

“Vuillard,” by Hunt Baldwin originally published in City Scriptum ([Forum] 1993, City College of San Francisco).

Family Tradition: a Gay Evolution (David Nelms)

Family Tradition: a Gay Evolution

by David Nelms

No one ever told me that Grandma Rose was a lesbian. She was my father’s paternal grandmother. And since her divorce in the late 1920’s had been living with Olive. I remember spending many weekends with them in their apartment. Assigned to the guest room, I never ventured into the room at the end of the hall. I feel foolish now for not considering the possibilities of their relationship. Did the rest of the family succeed in never knowing the truth? With Grandma Rose looking like such a typical grandmother, her hair wrapped in a braided bun, it’s feasible that no one knew. But olive, with her jet black hair cut so short, ivory complexion always without make up, and men’s suit and ties, was the epitome of lesbianism. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, and they both had died, that I began to question their relationship. When I look back, I wonder how identifying with them could have assisted me in my own struggle for self-acceptance and development as a gay man.

While I was in high school I might have been able to sit through the evening news with my parents. Every night I dreaded there would be another story about the new gay cancer. I tried to check on dinner or hide in the bathroom so I could avoid the horrible picture that would flash on the screen. The picture I was sure, would be my fate. The image of emaciated dying men with purple spots and no hair. Gay men and women don’t live productive lives or have meaningful relationships, and certainly aren’t anybody’s great-grandparents.

Not much later, when I was still a teenager, I was able to get into the bars and clubs. I thought I had found nirvana, dancing the night away with my shirt off, the gay night life of San Francisco, the ultimate. But, I’d yet to have a real conversation with anyone, let alone in the daylight. What’s the new club on Thursdays? Who has an after-hours tonight? Where can I get the best ecstasy? What did all these people do when they weren’t at the clubs?

About the same time, Rob, a dear friend event today, had the insight to come out to me. We had grown up just two blocks away from each other and were both ecstatic to have found friendship. A gay comrade with whom I could tackle society’s ideas of who I was and how I should live. We decided that we would attend our first gay pride parade together, we even arrived early, ensuring a good vantage point. I was blown away watching the entries march past: Dykes on Bikes, employee groups, AIDS volunteers, civic leaders, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The gay community was doing incredible things; the diversity of the crowd was astonishing. Thousands of gay men and women marching uo Market Street, each with his/her own story, for unity as well as independence. Being gay wasn’t limited to young white men dancing. In such a short time, I had seen too much. But half way through the parade, Rob and I jumped over the police barricade and joined a group that was passing by. We marched the rest of the way to the Civic Center.

Intermittently, we stopped to throw ourselves down on the street in protest to Reagan’s lack of AIDS policy or to shout anthems of gay pride. This was the beginning for me. Afterwards, I thrust myself into gay politics and AIDS activism of the mid-eighties. Routinely, I went to protests ranging from Act Up demonstrations to picket lines callingg for a boycott of Safeway due to their veal policy. I probably cam out to anyone and everyone, wearing my queerness and HIV status as a badge of honor.

During the emergence of self I met Ed on a trip to Los Angeles. After many weekly trips up and down the state we moved in together. While living together for the last five years we have created a caring and supportive relationship. We have a dog. Together, we spend holidays with various mixtures of family and friends. We attend family functions as a couple. Three years ago Ed’s brother and his wife had a child, Paige. We were there for the birth, Ed in the delivery room. The recently spent the weekend with us. On Sunday morning Ed and I lay in bed watching the U.S. open and Paige ran into the room and joined us. Together the three of us spent the morning playing games and watching tennis.

“Family Tradition: a Gay Evolution,” by David Nelms originally published in Voices ([Forum] 1996, City College of San Francisco).

Time (Eric Stromme)

Time

by Eric Stromme

Walk among pine of ponderosa
stumble through bramble manzanita
soft soled boots with holes in
song unsung moonlight friend
Wonder at nothing, time
Wander world, nothing mine
too late had come and stays
today, running from faded age
tonight, youth overcome with lust
Weeping tomorrow, merge with dust

“Time,” by Eric Stromme originally published in City Scriptum ([Forum] 1993, City College of San Francisco).

“I have not violated your mental privacy / But I cannot help receiving your emotions” (Catherine Baucom)

Prideful Menace

by Catherine Baucom

A lost soul wandering whimpers
Spanning the nightmare gulfs of space and time
Risking dissolution and death
letting the body’ ultimate particles
Be drawn across the pits of time to be
Resembled in this far distant day.

A sibilant voice as alien
As everything else around him
Not afraid of great peril but tremble now.

I have not violated your mental privacy
But I cannot help receiving your emotions.

Veiled unknown forced cowled, indefinable
Hammer of mental force shattered with inconceivable power

A damned soul looking out for a split second
From a place of everlasting punishment
Sought to grip out minds.

From another universe the invaders came
Not through time
Not through space
But through the web – –
That network of force patterns that crossed the matrix
of realities in which existed the alternate worlds.

“Prideful Menace,” by Catherine Baucom originally published in Mild Perversions (1974, City College of San Francisco).