Remembering Another Inauguration



What follows is a poem Herb wrote about the inauguration and assassination of President Kennedy. The poet Robert Frost wasn’t able to read the poem he’d written for the inauguration because of the glare of the sunlight on the page. So he recited from memory “The Gift Outright,” a poem he had written about Americans who secured the land through “deeds of war.” There is a weird parallel here to the Vietnamese who would “secure their land” through “deeds of war.” And the parallel of the fates of the Kennedy and the Ngo brothers could have been the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles.


From Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herbert Knapp



Heavily the low sky raining

Over tower’d Camelot.—Alfred Tennyson


 Any friend of liberty, he vowed,

he would support, and any foe, oppose.

“We will not count the cost,” he said, which showed,

that unlike his opponent, he had class.

The press was wowed.


Reporters clamored for a word or two

from him whom they imagined

could by glamor do

whatever they imagined.

He promised us he’d close the missile gap,

lower taxes, grow the GDP.

And then he promised us the moon.

Reporters turned to watch “the jumpers”

squeal and swoon.


He knew what he could do because his brother

had enlisted numerologists

to poke through piles of figures and discover

plans that the reporters all agreed

were certain to succeed.


At his inauguration

a picture perfect poet rose to read

a poem he’d been up for half the night

getting right.

But something there was that didn’t want it read.

The wind kept grabbing at his manuscript.

The cold turned all his fingers into thumbs.

The sunlight, weakly warm but winter-bright

smeared his page with glare.

So he decided to recite

a poem he had written long before

about colonials

who realized their land through deeds of war.

But poetry no longer spoke to us.


Our best and brightest all agreed

the president loved chivalry

and was a verray parfit gentil knyght,

unlike his predecessor who was clueless,

cultureless, and bland,

grammatically unsure, a dupe

of businessmen he’d let get out of hand.


The press corps strolled about

affecting courtly airs,

while Hollywood dolls and gangsters’ molls

paraded past them up the White House stairs.


Secretly the brothers had a bunch

of wisemen in for lunch

to talk about the war in South Vietnam.

The rulers there were brothers, too—

Diem and Nhu—

but not quite up to what they had to do.


So diplomats at dinner winked

at plotters who winked back and shot

the brothers after Mass

then dumped their bodies in a vacant lot

before the windows of our embassy,

where diplomats sat wishing,

wishing, wishing they had not.


“Nothing succeeds like successors,” quipped

a sniggerman in Washington,

where politicians sipped their scotch then rose

to dilate on dominoes.

They said the new man Fate

had brought up to the plate

was sure to homer with the help

of coaches from the Pentagon and State.

The President would see to it, they said.

“He can set the crooked straight,” they said.


But as we watched his motorcade

rolling through the streets of Dallas,

he was shot dead.

His killer, captured, was about to be

questioned by a magistrate when he

was shot dead, too.

The killer’s killer, captured, was asked why.

Enraptured by revenge was his reply.

But was this true?

Who knew?


People traded theories with friends.

Professors pointed solemnly to trends.

And lunatics in public institutions

appeared on television with solutions.


His successor promised to perform

Texas miracles: to win the war

in Asia, do away with poverty,

and build a Great Society

for us to glory in.

But scribes, abruptly old,

wrote only of what might have been.


His brother tried to take his brother’s place.

He promised, if elected, to restore

the nation to a state of grace

But then he, too, was shot and died.

“Why?” we asked his killer. “Why?”


“The Phantoms,” he replied.

“The Phantom jets he promised to the Jews.”

But later on he testified

that he could not recall

the incident at all.


Plot-intoxicated children

rocked and rolled, smoked pot, saw through

appearances, were born again, and studied

radical chic,

but nothing that was translated from Greek.


And as they danced and grew their hair,

soldiers sent to lend a helping hand

to brothers fighting brothers were misled

by testwise numerologists who said

their numbers showed

light at the end of the tunnel.


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