This is a city trying to climb out of nightmare. The news is so bad that it makes people numb, makes them shake their heads hard, as though working to clear it away.

The former supervisor who is now a murder suspect sits in a heavily guarded isolation cell - weeping, according to reports.

And from now until Friday, in ceremony after ceremony, San Francisco will honor its most recent dead.

For five hours Wednesday afternoon, the bodies of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk will lie in state, in closed caskets, under the high rotunda of the city building where both men were shot to death Monday morning.

A public memorial service is to be held on the front steps of City Hall at noon, one of a half-dozen different memorials which, in this raw, awful week, are as much efforts to pull together a battered city as they are ceremonies for the murdered men.

There was a thin, bearded man buying a newspaper this morning, four-star edition, headlines five inches high, at the liquor store around the corner from the Peoples Temple.

"I'm in a semi-state of shock," he said.

The woman selling him the paper said softly that she was sick, that it was crazy, that her neighbors had died in Guyana and somebody twisted apparently beyond repair had murdered the mayor and it as though some madness had just risen up from within.

Former supervisor Dan White was formally charged today with the murders of Moscone and Milk under a law that calls for the death penalty.

District Attorney Joseph Freitas said at a news conference that the two-count complaint, filed in Municipal Court, cities murder under "special circumstances"-a crime covered by the death penalty in California.

He said White, 32, would be arrainged Wednesday.

Freitas charged that White killed Moscone and Milk, the city's first avowed homosexual supervisor, "in retaliation for and to prevent the performance of the official duties" of the two officials.

In addition to the two counts of murder, White was charged with possessing and using a firearm, a 38-cal. revolver, during the assassinations.

At City Hall, people lined up today to have briefcases, purses and packages checked as they filed one by one through a metal detector.

"Everyone is being required to go through the metal detectors, and all packages are being checked," said Mel Wax, the slain mayor's press secretary. "There are also security guards with all members of the board."

All doors were locked except the main entrance, which was guarded by two uniformed officers outside and several uniformed and plainclothes officers inside checking everyone-even City Hall regulars such as supervisors, judges and reporters.

While the detectors have been in use continuously for 21 months, many people who worked at City Hall or regularly visited there would bypass them. That included some of the 11 superviors, news photographers and reporters with tape recorders. One guard said that in the past, many top city officials balked at going through.

Today the guards' voices could be heard clearly in the subdued atmosphere-"Leave your purses and packages on the table, and step through the metal detector." The purses and packages were opened.

The muted and moving candle-light vigil Monday night was the first of the public expression of grief. It had begun as a memorial for Milk, a slow walk from a predominantly gay street in his district toward City Hall, but by late in the evening, when about 25,000 had gathered with flickering candles outside the building, the vigil was simply a massive sharing of pain. Joan Baez sang, and kept singing each time the speakers could not find anything to say.

Acting Mayor Dianne Feinstein, so appointed because she was the president of the Board of Supervisors, has repeatedly urged unity rather than anger, and has insisted that the city government will go on with its daily business. School will be canceled Thursday in memory of the murdered men, however, and Feinstein said all city employes will be given leave to attend a memorial. Moscone's funeral and burial will be Thursday; Milk's, Friday.

There is to be one further ceremony, but a considerably quieter one. White served as a fireman before he was elected to the supervisor's seat that he had quit and was trying to regain until his arrest Monday.

In August 1977, White rescued a mother and child from a burning San Francisco apartment building, and he had been scheduled to receive a medal for his bravery.

"The man deserves the award," Fire Chief Andrew Casper said, " and we'll do it as discreetly and best we can."