Possibility

In 1991, Fort Ord, a military base in California for 80 years, is closed down.
In 1994, California State University Monterey Bay opens on its grounds.

Who would have thought it possible, to call the troops together
in the mess hall one morning, Monterey fog not yet burned off,
and say we’re closing down the base

Who would have thought it possible to load guns and missiles
into crates, artillery onto trucks, cannons onto flatbed railroad cars
to board up the windows of the barracks

And the grass grew long and quickly took over the fields,
thousands of soldiers marching down Inter-Garrison road
dwindled down to twelve then none

Who would have thought it possible to transform the chapel
that held the Panama coffin of Sergeant William Delaney Gibbs
into a music hall that swells with the sound of the poetry
of Sekou Sundiata and the sax of John Purcell

Who would have thought it possible to turn a
blood bank when we go to war we carry with us our own blood

into an environmental research lab. And students,
after the microscopes and studies, marching
against strawberry blood laced with methyl bromide

Who would have thought it possible to board up the soldiers’
club with its great oakwood bar and glass walls leaning the ocean
at Fort Ord, named after a general “famed as an Indian fighter”

And, two years later, for Andrea Woody, a student
in the Institute of Community Memory, to dig down, to research,
to call her Cascade grandmother back to her, to hold her
photograph, her letters in her hands

Who would have thought it possible
to transform jeep and tank garages into public art studios
the radio transmitter station into state of the art computer tech
the artillery vault into an on-line library
the battalion headquarters into the president’s office

Who would have thought it possible
to transform a survival training station into a child care center
to turn parachutes into small sweaters hanging from hooks,
gas masks into little laughing shoving mouths at the water faucet

Who would have thought, in the unused rooms of the campus,
soldiers’ beds would be piled, years and years of soldiers’ beds,
mattresses still ticking with cigarette burns

Who would have thought
students would now walk back and forth with their books
past these boarded windows, and inside, the eyelids
of the war dead would open, flutter like hummingbirds

Frances Payne Adler is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org) and the author of five books: two books of poetry, Making of a Matriot (Red Hen Press, 2003), and Raising the Tents (Calyx Books, 1993); and three poetry-photography books and exhibitions with photographer Kira Carrillo Corser. Adler