It is forty years since the Fall of Saigon, and the first event I record, in my lead piece in volume 2 of The Grand Piano, recalls my activities on that day. I hope it still means something to put this out there:
On 1 May 1975, I attended a public meeting of a communist organization. The Fall of Saigon, of course, did not simply coincide with that date; it had been taking place for weeks. The meeting was in a rented hall on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. Two million people, according to mass media, had been forced to evacuate Phnom Penh. The speaker interpreted this report in a positive light: Khmer Rouge authorities were only trying to prevent disease and panic. Half the people in the room read revolutionary newspapers as the speaker addressed them, while the other half listened attentively. He went on: now is the time the movement for revolutionary change must commence. There can be no going back. By next year the organization’s size must double. We have a simple choice before us.
It was a tremendous risk to be a poet at that time and place. The culture we lived in was fragmented, ugly, and incoherent. Telegraph Avenue in Oakland seemed its perfect correlative. The number of refugees—”two million people”—later turned out to be a gross inaccuracy. I believed I had superior insight into the population and geography of Phnom Penh as I had seen it in 1968—an improbable historical accident. Did I think of the refugee situation in Phnom Penh as objectively correlative to life in the Bay Area in 1975, as earlier the bombing of Hanoi had been correlative to . . . I was filled with rage—red rage, both beautiful and ugly. It was a moment of confirmation and release. The war was over, there was no celebration, there was only the time ahead to build on its lessons. There was no money, and few agreeable jobs.
[Grand Piano 2:11–12]