17 January 2011

Voices and Soul

14 January 2011

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

On the evening of 4 June 1968, at the age of thirteen, I accompanied my father to the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. For several years, he had been writing policy and research papers for the California State Democratic Steering and Platform Committees. I had walked precincts and volunteered at the Kennedy Campaign Headquarters in the San Gabriel Valley for the preceding two months, so as a sort of reward, I was allowed to stay up past my regular bedtime to go with my father to what was, we were certain, to be a victory celebration.

Dad and I had been at the Ambassador since around 8:30 p.m. It was a huge and boisterous crowd. Normally, I retired before 10 p.m., so by the time Kennedy entered the ballroom around 11:30 p.m., I was pretty bushed. His speech would be broadcast on the radio, so Dad and I headed home. On the way, we heard Kennedy and five others had been shot.

I was at a department store near our home, in the television department when the news of Martin Luther King's assassination was broadcast on 4 April 1968. Dad had been teaching his history classes at Cal State Fullerton that day and evening; and had not heard the news, so my revelation was the first he had heard of it. I never had seen my Dad cry, but he teared up when I told him. At that point, I had been a Eugene McCarthy aficionado, but I changed allegiances after listening, with my father, to Kennedy's speech in front of a black audience in Indiana, informing them of MLK's assassination.

Kennedy is reported to have questioned earlier, when informed of King's killing, "When will this violence stop?" It is a question that is still shouted to high heaven today.

So it is in Tucson, yet again more people are maimed and dead in a political shooting; and damn! When will it stop?

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay


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