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Wednesday, April 04, 2012


by John T. Hitchner

Early spring, early April 1968:
I didn’t hear the rifle shot,
didn’t see the man fall.
I heard only news reports,
saw pictures of the fallen man
on the motel balcony,
his friends leaning over him
and looking for the source of the rifle shots,
looking for the assassin.
I saw the man’s widow and children dignified in grief.                                                                                                   
It was early spring, early April 1968.

I thought of Russell Campbell,
wondered if he had heard the shot;
if he had seen the pictures
and wept with the widow and her children.
When we were children
Russell and I had raced
Summit Avenue School playground
to reach home plate first.
Russell always won.

January 1953 my father bought our first TV.
Russell’s family did not own one.
I invited him to our house
to watch the Eisenhower Inauguration.
We saw America’s hero
lay his left hand on the Bible,
raise his right,
and solemnly swear
to preserve, protect, and defend
the Constitution of the United States.

“What’s he doing here?”
I heard my father ask my mother.
I didn’t hear her answer,
only the protective sound of her words.
A year later
Russell’s family’s house burned to the ground.
The family survived and moved away.
I never heard from him again.

Where was my childhood friend
that early April 1968?
On patrol in Nam
trying to preserve, protect, and defend
the Constitution of the United States
and a people he could not trust?
In school, or working for the Man?
Would he have called me ‘Whitey’
that early spring
like some African-American students did
at the school where I taught
civilization’s rises and falls.
The day before the man fell,
we had been friends
or at least collegial acquaintances
chatting about Mets’ and Yankees’ fortunes
that season.
Now we were strangers
in a not so strange land.

The fire next time had begun to rage.
It would scar, it would kill.
I hoped then, I hope now,
Russell somewhere, somehow,
teaches how to put out fires
never to flame again.

John T. Hitchner
teaches Creative Writing and Coming of Age in War and Peace at Keene State College. His chapbook Not Far From Here appeared early 2010; Seasons and Shadows, another chapbook, spring 2011. His poetry most recently appeared in the Aurorean, Slant, and Third Wednesday; short fiction in First Class, SNR, Ginosko, and Timber Creek Review. “The Broken Cross,” a long story, is presently serialized in Wild Violet; “Memorial Day,” a short story, was recognized as ‘Highly Commendable’ in the Tom Howard / John H. Reid Winning Writers Short Story Contest fall 2010.