Aftershock (November ‘63 – Kennedy’s Funeral, Washington, D.C.; Ruby Shoots Oswald, Dallas)


(November ‘63 – Kennedy’s Funeral, Washington, D.C.; Ruby Shoots Oswald, Dallas)

The black horse resisting its prance,
the turned-back boots, the sense of legs
invisible, and those thin red stripes
at the sides of the uniform
not there,
though there were uniforms
between the sheen
of metal, tears,
pale sun;
legs too, dark grey
as those trees they have in Washington
whose leaves always look turned
the wrong way out.

The stripes now gold
in memory, and maybe were some blur
of caisson; wheels so black
they blanched the avenue,
slow as the word ‘inexorable’.

A terrible hush of waiting,
even after the black bulk passed, for what would happen next,
save us,
my face stuck with the coats,
everything wool but my mother’s hand, and she,
not able to look down–

On the way home–and this did not compare, but still
was special–
we stopped at McDonald’s,
and it really did have arches you could park beside
like the screen of a drive-in movie; and the day
seemed almost to open, a sign touting all the burgers ever sold,
which then read 4
(millions or billions–I never was quite sure)–
till my Dad turned on the radio
over our grease-spotted wrappers–

The voice was back
in Dallas, and my mother repeated after it Jack Ruby? as shocked
as if Ruby were someone she actually knew, as if it were some acquaintance
who’d done something
so unheard of
(though of course she did not know Ruby,
though it was only America she thought she knew)
and every single line on her face darkened
like nightfall or a drawing of dulled lead–

The way she acted,
Oswald’s death seemed almost as important as Kennedy’s, as Kennedy himself
being shot, which I couldn’t understand–
but she stood up from the car, hand on her curled-hair head,
then sunk to her seat again, leaning away from the upholstery
the scaled blue-green of a 60s mermaid, leaning
into the parking lot–

Oh my God, she said–what is–and I kept thinking of that dark horse
whose flanks shone like lightning as it pulled back–happening–
and of the spider quiver of muscle
inside those flanks–
to this country?

And not a one of us–my big brother, me,
my Dad–said anything for a while.


My apologies to all who are saturated with remembrances of the events surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  I do not have a TV!  (Too many reasons to explain.)  So I’m a bit out of the loop with all the coverage.

I grew up in DC and attended both Kennedy’s inauguration and funeral. I was a very young child and do not remember much, but since I’ve been thinking about it, I thought I’d jot down some of what I came up with it.

I am linking this to the open link nights of both dVerse Poets Pub and With Real Toads. I feel a bit behind with the season but have been working a great deal so have had little free time.  Take care, and thanks all for your kind visits and wonderful inspiration. 

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28 Comments on “Aftershock (November ‘63 – Kennedy’s Funeral, Washington, D.C.; Ruby Shoots Oswald, Dallas)”

  1. Sherry Marr Says:

    I loved this poem. You took me there and I can FEEL your mother’s pain and bewilderment as she asked that question. I can only imagine what she felt as she watched the towers come down on 9/11. I was a teen back then and that day is when we began to lose our innocence. The fall of Camelot. Well penned.

  2. Sherry Marr Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my drones piece, kiddo. (I dont seem to have your email any more, argh)……..I feel for the servicemen over there in current situations, which are so much less clearcut politically than things were for those who served in WWII. Must feel like they have been plunged into hell. I hate the thought of manned OR unmanned bombs…..but the unmanned ones seem more heartless somehow as if they are video games, and people arent dying down below. Sigh. I think women should take a turn at running the world, dont you? we’d feed people first. Then sort things out. That would help:)

  3. The image of the riderless horse and the emotions of our mother make this heartbreaking. I had just graduated high school (in Massachusetts) and remember every painful minute of what seemed an unimaginable loss.

  4. brian miller Says:

    it is interesting the mix of what a child might have seen/remembered/thought…and your mothers feelings..palpable…sherry put it into perspective, in many ways the same feel as 9/11 which is more my time frame…

  5. Susan Chast Says:

    This poem moved me more than all the footage, but the footage helped me picture car, girl, mother, hairdos and especially the wool and the hand and the horse’s flanks. Fine, fine poem.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Susan. I should try to find the footage–I was looking for a picture after writing the poem and realized that, of course, there were thick red stripes on the flag draping the casket on the caisson, and then I could remember that part, though my initial memory was of that horse mainly. Thanks again for your very kind comment. k.

  6. This is a beautiful poem of a chapter that remains open in American history. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  7. hedgewitch Says:

    You vividly recreate this memory, k, with your story-teller’s knack of picking and choosing what to show and what to hint–this to me is a more significant record of what went down, based on the interior world we all carry, than an hour-long pontificating docu-drama. The details you pick out emphasize the severity of the disconnect–the backwards shoes, the very leaves, like so many things in Washington,that “look turned/the wrong way out.” I can only say, as being a bit older than you at the time, that your mother’s reaction was very similar to my own…the second shooting before the mind can take in the first, just radiated the wrongness, the affront to every deep belief, in a way that you describe perfectly even as an onlooker too young to process it. Excellent work here,Karin.

  8. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    I found this to be a most moving read, the deep remembrances from a child’s perspective trying to understand the adult world when the adults didn’t understand it themselves. You focused on the external just long enough to give your reading the chance to pause and reflect on the bigger picture.

    I think this is remarkable work.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Kerry. I especially appreciate your words as I know the events must have much less resonance for someone from another country. (Of course, time is itself another country and a lot of young Americans can’t possibly appreciate how shocking it all was. 68 even worse really.)

      Take care, and thanks so much for all you do and your thoughtful and wonderful work and responses to other. k.

  9. Such a vivid capsule of emotions at such a tragedy. It brought it all back to me….amazing piece!

  10. Kay Davies Says:

    Your memories of the funeral procession are pretty much the same as my memories of its TV coverage. The backward boots were something I had never seen before and, as I recall, all the sounds were somehow muffled. I was a teenager, and horrified that such a thing as a presidential assassination could happen (President Lincoln notwithstanding).
    I’m glad you wrote this, and shared with us so many expressive lines, like “slow as the word ‘inexorable’.”

  11. Brendan Says:

    I once heard the novelist E.L Doctorow speak and he said that writing about the times is our responsibility, “to bear witness to a magnitude.” So in this poem, which is both faithful to the letter to a child’s sense of observation (where the minutiae is brighter, more noticeable than the background gravitas) and also tells us something about being present, in the middle of events. The Kennedy assassination was one of those collective moments, so it’s always ripe and enriching to hear the stories of those present in some way or another. My father was deeply connected to Kennedy’s politics, so it’s his grief that my childhood memories are most intense over. The smell of his Scotch and pipe-smoke as he sat so heavily in his chair, watching the news. Stellar work.

  12. Nara Malone Says:

    The images you focus on here, the horses flanks, golde aches, blue-green scales of a sixties mermaid, are so true to the things a young child would focus on. I imagine for them, seeing parents and teachers at a loss was the tragedy of that moment.

  13. Mary Says:

    What a moving piece of writing this is, Karin. I am glad you put your memories into poem form. They deserve to be. What an awing event for a child to attend, and I am sure it has impacted you greatly throughout your life.

  14. Very heavy, yet so wonderfully done. The imagery in this piece is fantastic.

  15. claudia Says:

    that goes deep under the skin… a mix of emotions and what happened.. love that you wove in the details like the mc donalds visit as well…as those trees they have in Washington…and the trees
    whose leaves always look turned
    the wrong way out…. loved this esp.

  16. Amazing how you take the perspective of a child here. The details of just feeling the wool and your mother’s hand was so perfect. So nice you don’t have a TV, we have one now, but lived without so many years.

  17. Story-telling of the highest order. I remember well the shock of the event, as seen over and over on TV in the UK. The assassination was a turning point in world history, not just for the US.

  18. Steve King Says:

    I was in eighth grade social studies class when a voice came over the PA system. I’d been looking at my piece on this for twenty five years before finally deciding to put it out…funny how the bits and pieces stick in the memory. Yours is very well composed, taking in the totality of the event which, of course, included Ruby…I think these moments are still the most shocking events to have visited my life. Thanks for sharing this.

  19. Lydia Says:

    Your wonderfully personal poem adds something quite special to the remembrances I have devoured during the last week. This is a marvelous work.

  20. Very well written. I especially like the inclusion of the McDonald’s stanza, it gives the poem an extra level of reality and make me believe more in your words. I am not fan of McDonals’s but it is a useful symbol here.

  21. ayala Says:

    A great capture. What an honor to have been there on two historical days.

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