When the Drum Told the Story

Sixty years gone and I still hear those beats
and feel the throb of an army snare drum—
three measures rolled with an even pulse,
the fourth one choked and abruptly stopped.

They spoke of a sixties news telecast,
the late autumn hours, a nation that wept,
the caisson that lumbered
with iron regret,

a president’s widow bent in shock
who before was sheathed in a crust
of black blood. All of it echoed
in those haunting beats.

1, 2, 3, roll, 1, 2, 3, roll, 1, 2, 3, roll,
1, 2 and stop.

My sister and I were restless teens
armed with our own impatience that day.
But one, two beats and we stopped
and watched on TV in a spell to the end.

And nothing is black and white after all—
hadn’t the sky turned a permanent grey?
Like the scorched steel of a rifle barrel,
the slow-motion sequence of blurred nightmare

when the air was gored with
a murderous crack,
impossible bits of brain matter scattered
like puzzle pieces on a car seat.

1, 2, 3, roll, 1, 2, 3, roll, 1, 2, 3, roll,
1, 2 and stop.

Was it ever the end—I ask myself now—
when the hallowed ground opened its mouth
and consumed a man and the heart of a nation,
locking them in a mahogany box?

And what of the brother? What of a king?
What of the killings the drum couldn’t stop
destined to be a pattern themselves
decades after the drum was played out?

Nothing has changed. And everything changed.
A country with holes in it from a gun,
empty spaces where hope ought to be
in churches and city streets and classrooms.

I only know they’re with me for life—
the questions that fester deep inside,
drum beats that stamped our youthful souls
like the stallions that shied and stamped at the tomb.

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