The Kennedy Assassination, 1963 Elegiac poetry. 2 pages. Complete. Philadelphia, PA; Age: 11; Late childhood.


The Day the President Died, Mss_0008_05.

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This poem is in the same fair copy, bound notebook, that contains the other hand written copies of the poems of this period.

Related mss: Mss_0013, poems from 1967-68

Among the collected poems, two claim attention, even more than fifty years later. They were written on November 23, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was shot. We were let out of school early in some official gesture of respect and recognition of anguish. Business could not go on as usual. The afternoon was cold, grim, grey and short in the early winter season, cheerless and dull, a backdrop to tragedy. I walked home through Philadelphia city streets that were eerily silent, except for the sounds of weeping. Shock was palpable. The world still registered such crimes as inconceivable. The tragedy was visceral, openly shared.

I came home to the empty house, latch key child, and called my mother to let her know I was home, adrift in the afternoon. My sister would arrive soon after, my brother later. I sat at the dining room table and wrote one version of these poems after another. The events were stark. My writing was simple. The emotions were intense. The statements came, one after another, rhymes direct, lines complete.

That day I had the realization that history was made in moments one lived, on days so like other days no preparation for their impact was possible. The threat to all stability vanished, along with innocence, in the face of such reality. News was black and white in that era, newspaper photographs came from the wire service, grainy, smudged, in rapidly produced special editions which my father would bring home that night, ink transferring to his hands. The shared stain of collective communication spread with contact. The expectations of melancholy were fulfilled. Loss was everywhere, a constant, the very core and essence of the awareness of being.

My parents noted the poems, which I had left on the dining room table. They appreciated the directness of the language, the simplicity of form. But the shock of events overwhelmed all else. How long do we preserve our ability to be children? The world impinged, dramatically, not as a distant theater of events commented upon and reviewed, but as a force of agency that could affect daily life, even home life. We had been through the Cuban Missle crisis earlier, feeling fear in the air, watchful of the skies. But the difference between threat and actual violence was incalculable, and the realization that the inconceivable could happen became real. The poems could barely touch on these matters, only witness the events. I felt it was important to write that day, to mark its events, memorialize them.

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