Not too far


He seems tan, trim, happy, fit
He could so easily make you glad, that man 
You wouldn’t know it to see him
but there was irksome, physical pain everyday,
pain that was serious and his alone
He never complained

That is, I never heard him complain
He mitigated it a bit, I guess, and he could walk
with that back brace he wore, with his easy smiles
with that sweet grace, so famous, that fine-toned wit
overlaid by a slick semblance of good cheer,
charm and sunny, ruddy good health

As a kid, they tell you God is good
They tell you, the grown-ups know the answers
to every question
They tell you, truth will always find us
and justice is measured and faultless
You may even believe that for a little

After all, you’re a kid
(Did the tough world-nurtured naïve natives
really think their dances make cool rains fall?)
And then you understand that these are prayers
and not predictions and you become
all grown up, kind of circumspect and guarded

In the middle of massacres, hatreds, assassinations
the laws of elliptical motion
belong to no cult or tribe
Music is a hidden, mathematical enterprise
The mind calculates through every song
unconscious of its calculations

His assassin is a pretentious, self-pitying lout
with a cheap, mail-order rifle and just good enough marksmanship
(Once upon a time they rang the church bells to ward off hurricanes
and in wartime they fled to the woods for refuge)
The goddamn shots ring out to mark the end of a world
that’s gone for now and won’t ever return



They thought, “I have mad skills
and although the Nazis will kill everyone around me
they won’t kill me because the bastards need me”
Today the corporate-types ain’t real Nazis
but they’re often dumb and they can fire people randomly
even those of us with mad skills

They were picked to carry the coffin
because they were quintessential marines
At least six feet tall with a straight posture and narrow waists
And in his case an added consideration—
the man was black
Now, after 50 years, half the coffin bearers still live

My friend, a photographer, sought to express emotional truth
with a camera and I agree he had some funny quirks
For example, every time he saw a Mack truck he’d sort of cut him off
He loved the sound of their horns
but was too old to make that “Please blow your horn, Mr.”
gesture sign, like a kid does with his arm

In high school there was this math teacher from India
He wanted to teach us the austere, mysterious, cold beauty of math
but could barely speak English
One day he came up with an idea he called, “The silent proof”
He stood in front of the chalkboard where the proof was written out
He gestured at it and made odd sounds with his mouth

There are some emotions that rack peoples’ lives—
emotions we’re determined to suppress or deny
The silent proof—
cold, austere, beautiful, hard, like sculpture
in his head...
The man was sincere, I think, but ridiculous

We carried the coffin in a trance
We were kids really, 21 or 22, with this unbearable burden
Totally focused we wouldn’t trip, we wouldn’t drop the coffin  
One of the marines was later shot down over Cambodia
They managed to recover a piece of his elbow
and buried it not too far from the slain president in Arlington



-November 23, 2013-