When the Drum Told the Story

Sixty years— I still hear those black and white 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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