—a reflection for November 2016
My Classics teacher at Boston University
came to class wearing a black armband.
Nixon had won, Nixon the war-monger,
the racist, the liar, had won.
The fear had started sooner, with JFK’s
death, Jackie’s pink, blood-stained suit,
the caisson and the riderless horse.
In Georgia, Lester Maddox threatened black people
with ax handles. In Memphis, April 1968,
King was shot dead and the cities burned,
and in June, the day after my graduation,
Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
When that summer’s Democratic Convention
turned into a riot in the streets of Chicago,
I thought the old way must end–
“The whole world is watching”–
the revolution would come and we could
exit Vietnam, cancel Wall Street, and
live in the peace of all nations.
I thought the world would right itself
and the elders give way. Instead,
George Wallace, unabashed
segregationist, won five states.
Instead, napalmed Vietnamese children
appeared in Ramparts Magazine,
their eyes burned off, limbs infected–
tiny amputees too sick to cry.
And that was my government.
I learned that the world kept turning
even when children were tortured.
I didn’t end the war. Peace sign
around my neck, I walked barefoot
down Fifth Avenue, sang
Bob Dylan songs by heart,
read aloud from Howl, hitchhiked
to Arizona, to Mexico, to California.
1968 was the first time I voted,
and the bleakest, up until now.
Cammy Thomas has published two collections of poetry with Four Way Books, Inscriptions (2014), and Cathedral of Wish, winner of the 2006 Norma Farber Award from the Poetry Society of America. She teaches at Concord Academy. Visit cammythomas.com.