What follows is a poem Herb wrote about the inauguration and assassination of President Kennedy. The poet Robert Frost wasn’t able to read the poem he’d written for the inauguration because of the glare of the sunlight on the page. So he recited from memory “The Gift Outright,” a poem he had written about Americans who secured the land through “deeds of war.” There is a weird parallel here to the Vietnamese who would “secure their land” through “deeds of war.” And the parallel of the fates of the Kennedy and the Ngo brothers could have been the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles.
SQUINTING IN THE GLARE
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower’d Camelot.—Alfred Tennyson
Any friend of liberty, he vowed,
he would support, and any foe, oppose.
“We will not count the cost,” he said, which showed,
that unlike his opponent, he had class.
The press was wowed.
Reporters clamored for a word or two
from him whom they imagined
could by glamor do
whatever they imagined.
He promised us he’d close the missile gap,
lower taxes, grow the GDP.
And then he promised us the moon.
Reporters turned to watch “the jumpers”
squeal and swoon.
He knew what he could do because his brother
had enlisted numerologists
to poke through piles of figures and discover
plans that the reporters all agreed
were certain to succeed.
At his inauguration
a picture perfect poet rose to read
a poem he’d been up for half the night
But something there was that didn’t want it read.
The wind kept grabbing at his manuscript.
The cold turned all his fingers into thumbs.
The sunlight, weakly warm but winter-bright
smeared his page with glare.
So he decided to recite
a poem he had written long before
who realized their land through deeds of war.
But poetry no longer spoke to us.
Our best and brightest all agreed
the president loved chivalry
and was a verray parfit gentil knyght,
unlike his predecessor who was clueless,
cultureless, and bland,
grammatically unsure, a dupe
of businessmen he’d let get out of hand.
The press corps strolled about
affecting courtly airs,
while Hollywood dolls and gangsters’ molls
paraded past them up the White House stairs.
Secretly the brothers had a bunch
of wisemen in for lunch
to talk about the war in South Vietnam.
The rulers there were brothers, too—
Diem and Nhu—
but not quite up to what they had to do.
So diplomats at dinner winked
at plotters who winked back and shot
the brothers after Mass
then dumped their bodies in a vacant lot
before the windows of our embassy,
where diplomats sat wishing,
wishing, wishing they had not.
“Nothing succeeds like successors,” quipped
a sniggerman in Washington,
where politicians sipped their scotch then rose
to dilate on dominoes.
They said the new man Fate
had brought up to the plate
was sure to homer with the help
of coaches from the Pentagon and State.
The President would see to it, they said.
“He can set the crooked straight,” they said.
But as we watched his motorcade
rolling through the streets of Dallas,
he was shot dead.
His killer, captured, was about to be
questioned by a magistrate when he
was shot dead, too.
The killer’s killer, captured, was asked why.
Enraptured by revenge was his reply.
But was this true?
People traded theories with friends.
Professors pointed solemnly to trends.
And lunatics in public institutions
appeared on television with solutions.
His successor promised to perform
Texas miracles: to win the war
in Asia, do away with poverty,
and build a Great Society
for us to glory in.
But scribes, abruptly old,
wrote only of what might have been.
His brother tried to take his brother’s place.
He promised, if elected, to restore
the nation to a state of grace
But then he, too, was shot and died.
“Why?” we asked his killer. “Why?”
“The Phantoms,” he replied.
“The Phantom jets he promised to the Jews.”
But later on he testified
that he could not recall
the incident at all.
rocked and rolled, smoked pot, saw through
appearances, were born again, and studied
but nothing that was translated from Greek.
And as they danced and grew their hair,
soldiers sent to lend a helping hand
to brothers fighting brothers were misled
by testwise numerologists who said
their numbers showed
light at the end of the tunnel.