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Thursday, November 22, 2007

22 AND 44

by George Held

Our age is numerical—lists of numbers,
Numbers crunchers, statistics, numerical
Compilations and projections—
And this is the 44th anniversary of JFK’s
Assassination on November 22, 1963 .

Thanksgiving would be late that year
And gloomy, like your mother’s
First birthday a week after she died.
This year Thanksgiving is the earliest
A fourth Thursday in November can fall.

In a classroom in Kapalama Heights ,
Where an unexploded Japanese bomb
Fell on December 7, 1941 , I was teaching
My first period English class to cadets
At The Kamehameha School for Boys.

On the ancient intercom the voice
Of Principal Allen A. Bailey crackled
As he calmly reported the shooting.
He asked us to stay in our classrooms
Until further notice while he piped in

Walter Cronkite’s radio coverage
Of the unfolding events. I turned
To look at the glamorous color picture
Of the President and the First Lady
That I’d tacked on the bulletin board.

My students’ eyes, some tearing,
Gazed at me as intently as if I were
Reading “To be or not to be, that
Is the question.” The company commander,
The boys who would be shot up in ’ Nam ,

The future head of the school’s trustees,
The airline pilot, the suicide—all looked
To me for assurance that the President
Would recover, the government would not fall,
The world would not end that day.

Kennedy would be the last president
Whose portrait I’d put up, the last president
Whose spirit inspired us to welcome
Our better angels, the last president
Whose virtues seemed to exceed his flaws.

His voice ringing in our ears, his wit,
His vigor in the face of chronic pain,
The sense that this sailor was truly
At the helm still inform our memories.
Dare we compare Number Forty-three?

Today we are thankful for those memories,
Much as they haunt us. Today we mourn
The death that made the bell toll for us,
For the dream America is Number One,
For the people we once believed we could be.

George Held has previously contributed to The New Verse News. His latest poetry collection is The Art of Writing and Others (, 2007).