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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wooden Box

When Doubt Came Slowly
Christmas 1964 :Prologue Part 1

The shrill chirp of a whistle
drew us running to our lines,
but just as it should blow again
the recess lady stepped inside,
and left us standing
in November's cold.
No second whistle blew.
Instead, a hand beckoned
from the doorway
and we entered single file.

Outside each classroom
the teachers' faces were
more sullen than stern.
“Heads on your desks,”
mine whispered as we passed.

"Heads on your desks"
was never harsh;
as always after recess
it was her way of saying,
"Hang up your wraps
(as teachers back then called our coats).
Don't talk. Settle down from play.
Let your feet forget their running.
Let your hands let go
the cold steel of monkey bars,
merry-go-round, and ladder slides.
Let your ears erase
the squeaking drone of swings
and chalky chants of hop-scotch girls
and jump-rope songs and
'teeter-totter, bread and butter'
echoing to the hill.
Let your face feel the smooth,
warm wood of your closed desk.
Listen to the quiet breath
inside your pillowed arms
and find a space inside your mind
to put the final lesson
of this day.

There was nothing unusual
about hearing her say
"Heads on your desks,"
but she'd never whispered it before.

From the wooden box
above the blackboard
came a strange and distant voice.
It was not the principal but was, in fact,
a radio broadcast piped-in to every room
from his office “P.A.”
Soon the somber words and phrases
seemed to settle in the room
so that even a second-grade boy
with his head on his desk
knew why his whole school was
suspended in silence
but for the wooden box:

Sniper. Dallas. Fatal shot.
The strange voice
left no room for doubt.
The president
of the United States,
John Fitzgerald Kennedy,
was dead.
Assassinated,
a word I'd never heard before.

One by one, eyes rose
in puzzled understanding.
Our teacher paced the room
and touched the heads
of those with questions.
Her tender voice helped pass
the helpless pauses in the news.
And when a priest
(from where they rushed him)
came on the air to pray,
she walked up to her lesson book
and bowed her head.
We knew to do the same.

Closing my eyes I saw
she did not cross herself
as some around me did.
Hard against her upper lip
she pressed a crumpled hanky,
and her shoulders shook
a little with each breath.
Closing my eyes
I saw...

"Wooden Box" Part 2

Once day was done at school,
we walked in twos and threes and fours
to street corners where
“safety boys” with outstretched arms
kept us till the traffic cleared
then scurried us along.

It seemed at first
that not a thing had changed.
The sidewalks that we knew so well
still wound the same way home.
But that day more than most
mothers stood
waiting on front porches;
TVs flickered in the corner
as tables were set for supper;
and fathers coming home from work
sat a little longer in their cars,
trying to recall the things
dads are supposed to know.

In three days' time,,
we saw the widow veiled in black
with two children at her side.
We watched them say good-bye
at the cathedral steps.
From there the horse-drawn caisson
bore the wooden box
to Arlington.
We winced at the three shots
of the soldiers' seven guns.
We watched them fold the flag.
We heard the broken note of taps
and the final nine that fill the sky,
"All is well, safely rest, God is nigh"
Then in farewell,
she laid her face,
as we had on our desks,
against the smooth, cold wood.

© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink
John-John Kennedy salutes his father's casket as
it passed toward Arlington. November 25, 1963.

7 Comments:

Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

Makes me wish I had students that compliant. I remember my students cheering when O.J. Simpson was acquitted. I remember other students smiling when the twin towers were hit. Our school environments are worlds apart. Your poem makes me wish for those days of innocence.

18/12/06 1:00 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Jr.
Thanks for stopping by and for the insight. You have actually hit upon my motivation for these unfolding thread of posts "When Doubt Came Slowly." (Nov and Dec.) There are people who will read these posts and say--"He's dreaming...it was never like that." But it was...it really was a different world 40 years ago.

18/12/06 11:47 AM  
Blogger Newsandseduction said...

Thanks for asking if I am presently writing. My recent work is available at www.humourandlastlaugh.blogspot.com
Regards.

18/12/06 9:26 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I really enjoy your unfolding story but do not always have time to comment. Please know that even though I may not respond each time... so keep writing. It takes me back to some of my on memories.

19/12/06 8:07 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Sorry about the gap in the thread of posts. I got a little tangled in what was epilogue and what was prologue to the events of that Christmas. When time allows, I'm eager to resume where I left off...and will soon.

20/12/06 5:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I missed this back when it first came up. I did not know this day but I do remember the day the Space Shuttle blew up. I seems odd that they made your class sit through this. That would be very hard for kids.

9/5/07 7:54 PM  
Blogger El Pelon said...

Nice article. You posted a link here at my I Remember JFK site way back in June 2007, I just now found it.

17/7/10 10:33 AM  

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