“Election Day, November 1968” (Poem)


Election Day, November 1968

The wind blew hard
that blow-hard day.

My own school straw-polled
for Wallace–famed for
blocking schoolhouse doors in
Alabama; his
running mate–Bomb-
Them-Back-To-The-Stone-Age Curtis
LeMay –

Then there was Nixon (Tricky
Dick) whose secret plan to win
the war sounded just a tad
too secret.

So, at the requisite
sidewalk distance, I pleaded
(sweetly), smiled (winningly),
for the guy I hoped meant
peace (Humphrey), justice (maybe),
hoping, if I were just nice enough, voters
might be swayed last

But people proved harder
than trees, and the next noon,
my smile-taut face
wept in the narrow of locker
while, behind me,
greasers grinned; I remember
one boy particularly–
the low belt of his Dickies’ pants thrust ahead–

The war went on for seven
more years.

Seven more years.

I’m not saying I was so smart – in fact
I was so not-smart that I never thought
of how many of those same
slicked-hair-back boys
may have ended up on blade-whipped
ladders, copters leaving

So not-smart that I never
even thought about how much I’d
like to see them again, even just that
one boy, his forehead wan
below the Vitalis, his
surly-curled lips, slim jut
of hip, bare

how much I’d like to just sit
with him, both of us sagging
into firm but comfy chairs, side by side,
not opposite–it still might
be hard to look each other in the
eye–till we’d spent some while
in talk, swaying too
now and again to our
old songs–he
was shy of dancing, I
remember, for all
the swagger.


I am, in fact, so not-smart that although I knew that Saigon fell in 1975, I did the math wrong and said that the war went on for eight more years instead of seven. (Agh- I somehow subtracting 68 from 75 and got 8!  Yes, I am thinking of Bill Clinton and arithmetic in this moment.)  

At any rate, I’ve corrected now and extend my apologies to those reading the original version.

The above draft poem is posted for the dVerse Poets Pub Poetics prompt hosted by Mary Kling on the subject of Autumn.   Check out dVerse for wonderful poetry and, if you have extra time, check out my books!  Poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). 1 Mississippi -counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, or Nose Dive, a very fun novel that is perfect for a pool or beachside escape.  Nose Dive is available on Kindle for just 99 cents!

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46 Comments on ““Election Day, November 1968” (Poem)”

  1. Wow, this is kind of fantastic. It starts out strong and just keeps hitting away. I’m really glad I stopped over here. I love the way you write 🙂

  2. Mary Says:

    Wow, your school polled for Wallace. Wonder where this was. It strikes me that this was a year in which there really were not good choices. I had a POW bracelet in those days. I don’t think the guy ever came home, but I still have the bracelet….somewhere. Wars continue to drag on, don’t they? And sad to think how many ended up going to Saigon and not coming home, like my POW. A strong autumn write.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes – it was in Maryland; Prince George’s County. A very rough school at that point. So awful about the POWs. I once traveled in Thailand with a woman whose father had been lost; just unbelievable really. You know I think 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam.

  3. brian miller Says:

    really nice k….war is hard stuff…realy liked your thoughts on the boy there at the end and wishing to see him again…i bet there was many a girl that would want to see their boy again…and many a mom…and many a dad….read somewhere the other day that there has only been 20-30 years in our history we were not at war with someone…

  4. leahJlynn Says:

    Throw back elections for the this prompt. good one

  5. Nice. Really like it.

  6. hedgewitch Says:

    I remember 68 as the year of the convention–I was still in Chicago, just a year out of high school–the national guard troop caissons rolling down Rush Street, the fat cops with their riot sticks, getting friends bailed out of jail…gosh–thanks for the memories,k. ;_) The worst part is how very very little has changed. At least there’s no draft–though I’m not sure that’s entirely a good thing, but the rich boys always got out of it anyway.

    This is a hard-hitting poem, quietly emphatic, with a soft center of human heart, and carries the thought we need to keep, that we have more in common than we do dividing us.

  7. Your opening is awesome:
    “The wind blew hard that blow-hard day.”

    Love the ending, as well:
    “it still might
    be hard to look each other in the
    eye–till we’d spent some while
    in talk, swaying too
    now and again to our
    old songs–he
    was shy of dancing, I
    remember, for all
    the swagger”

  8. Knot in my tightened throat. Tears swimming with your words. The last stanzas ached.

  9. Claudia Says:

    love your story telling k. – how the peace develops – you had me hooked from the first line – and you made it very personal

  10. A step back in time to reminisce then forward to today to reflect on a young man, an icon for that war that went on and on … so many lives touched by this … you have evoked the time and memories beautifully here k.

  11. David King Says:

    One of the most compelling poems I’ve read in a long time. The opening couplet sure started it with a bang. It had my attention from the first. And apt even to today!

  12. This poem drips with the blood of so many “falls”. Very well done, k.

  13. A poem of maybe at personal and political levels of the turmoils that coming of age and loss of innocence creates for country and child

  14. poemsofhateandhope Says:

    Really like your take on the prompt- using the season as a capture of a time and place….the first lines really set this up…the interplay between the wind and exhalation (which could mean frustration, or nerves at the outcome of the political race)… and it captures that ‘gung-ho ness’ of Vietnam….the people signing up for the forces, not knowing what they were letting themselves in for….a lot of what you’ve written is so relevant for right now….politicians (or salesman)….they have a lot to answer for….totally engaging

  15. How well you weave the the time and place K…very well done ~

    I specially like how the political landscape was touched, yet didn’t overwhelmed your personal take on the boy,shy despite all the swagger ~

  16. janehewey Says:

    Incredible. I get completely wrapped up in your relationship with the others in the school. “but people proved harder than trees” I often say to my young children when they squabble… someone has to be the first to stop the fight. I love the empathy you evoke in this and especially love how you throw proper nouns around with such confidence.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha! Thanks, Jane. I have to say, they kind of come back to me in a blur–not the politicians but Dickies. For some reason, at my school we called them “macs”- I don’t know why but they were Dickies’ pants. And although we used the term “greasers” the more popular one was “blocks” but I don’t think anyone would get that outside of that milieu. I loved your redolent poem. k.

  17. The personal and the political and I’m thinking of how we all at times forget how the political effects everyone’s personal. This is very touching.

  18. Luke Prater Says:

    This is fantastic poetry, all end up. Love the Narrative thrust, teh history, the upfront honesty telling it like it was during those events – Nixon, ‘Nam (any Pres would have kept that war going, in my opinion. Nixon didn’t start it, a ‘Liberal’ President did…. it was all wrong). Great, great reading here

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Luke – I realized on reading your comment and thinking about the history that I’d gotten my math wrong – I’ve corrected now – but I realized that although I knew that Saigon fell in ’75, I somehow did the subtraction wrong! Agh. I prefer the meter of eight more years but changed it to seven! (Honestly the Paris Peace accord was in ’73, but I don’t think Americans got fully out till Saigon fell.)

      Anyway, thanks again. I agree Nixon didn’t start it – I tend to blame the “best and brightest” foreign policy advisors who Johnson inherited – McNamara, McGeorge Bundy–that whole transition was so terrible after Kennedy’s death. Thanks for your kind words. k.

  19. Fantastic K. I worked for Humphrey. Even my somewhat conservative husband, working then on the moon shot tried to convince Texas voters that this guy was “just all wrong”. We lost and watched the ensuing violence – nam continuing, the other assassinations – until we were numbed – until it seemed we’d lost all dreams – until America seemed as shredded as those protest flags. I love that you brought back that surly boy – they all thought they were harder than bayonets and we believed until we saw THE DEER HUNTER and the other movies which shredded our hearts and then haunted our dreams.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Gay. My parents were originally from Minnesota so had a natural affinity for Humphrey. I felt that whole campaign got so wrongly tarnished in a way – really because of Johnson’s shadow, I guess, and I feel now kind of sorry for Johnson too, who was really not a foreign policy kind of guy. Anyway, thanks for your kind and heartfelt comment. k.

  20. What a wonderful slice of a moment in your history and in broader history, really well illustrated in style, season and tone.

  21. kkkkaty Says:

    I like this because I wrote about it too a couple of prompts ago;) …but you can’t help but think of that each fall, especially those of our ages…You put a lot of feeling into that..Nice job!

  22. Mama Zen Says:

    This moved me so much. Hard hitting write with a deft and delicate touch.

  23. ds Says:

    Zowie. Too many fell too early. It was indeed a “blow-hard day.” And I wonder, have we learned anything? Sad the answer. Thank you for this, written from the gut.

  24. Quel coincidence I just wrote a poem about Vietnam because I am here at the moment in this part of the world .I wonder why you did?

  25. Your poem brought back such memories. Really well done!

  26. Lindy Lee Says:

    Some attitudes are not much different today in 2012.
    Your excellent poetry, a reminder…

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