Sunday, June 5, 2011

During the Assassinations

Today I direct you to Maxine Kumin's poem "During the Assassinations" at The Writer's Almanac. I was a child, not a "sixties soccer mom" during this terrible time, but I saw what my parents were going through and I had my own consciousness raised, as they say.

After yesterday's soapbox, it seems important to remind myself and my readers that people who speak out for change, social justice, and the right thing are all too often plucked from their lives for it, as people's fear of real change is so intense, and there is always someone crazy enough to assassinate or terrorize the great man or woman and/or always some powerful political or economic or terrorist organization eager to push the buttons.

The regular citizen has the same fear of being terrorized or ostracized by power or the power of conventionality, too, and can have his/her buttons pushed by the simple need to survive.

Thunder's rolling in. I'm off soon to help celebrate a civil union at church, a sign of the times changing for good. (Meanwhile, a few people are debating that very issue on my Facebook page...)

More on Maxine Kumin from The Rumpus.

More on Maxine Kumin at The Poetry Foundation.

Robert Kennedy and CORE, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain photo).  All about RFK at Wikipedia.


Maureen said...

I was not yet 16 when RFK was assassinated; it was the same year my eldest brother was experiencing hell in Vietnam, and only a few months before we'd gone through the riots in Washington, D.C. I remember the news so clearly, and will never forget watching the train that carried Kennedy's body from New York City to Washington (the journey was carried live on television) for burial. There were so many, many people lined up along the tracks to say goodbye.

Kathleen said...

Terrible times, Maureen, for your brother and his fellow soldiers, there...and, alas, when they got home.

Collagemama said...

Like you, I was a Sixties kid trying to understand the assassinations. Good post. Thanks for the poem link to Kumin.

Anonymous said...

Terrific poem, in and of itself, without the memories I have of that year.

I'd just returned to the States the summer before from Europe, and the first taste of real (not TV) violence I saw was George Lincoln Rockwell outside our local laundromat, where he was assassinated. Then, in April 1968, I saw the smoke rising over Washington, when the riots broke out after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Robert Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis that night was incredibly moving, and took me back to the news flash we'd gotten in London five years before about his brother in Dallas. Then, in June I stayed up late the night of the California and South Dakota primaries, to watch a British comedy, "Rattle of a Simple Man" on the midnight movie, and hear the results of the primaries afterward - when they broke in with the news of Kennedy's assassination. It left me wondering what kind of country we'd moved back to, and somehow expecting to die in my 40s. (Somehow, it seemed everybody you saw on TV was either dying in their 40s, or fighting in a jungle.)

But life goes on. And sometimes it gets better. (As with the growing acceptance of equality in marriage.) And yesterday, on the anniversary of the California and South Dakota primaries, my daughter graduated from high school. A much happier memory.

Thanks for sharing the poem, and the reminder that justice keeps rolling on, sometimes diverted into an eddy, but still proceeding in the end.


Kathleen said...

Bob, I was just thinking of you while listening to NPR, a story about the space its toddlerhood for 25 years, said "Carl Sagan's widow," as she was Ann Druyan. Interesting image for what happened to the space program after early, inspiring years and some disasters...and money woes. I turned off the car radio (because I got home) just as the space program was being rejuvenated by a cash award. Something saddened me about that.

Kristin said...

Great post, Kathleen--it's important to remember the very real price that so many have paid for social justice--and good to realize that the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice (MLK's words) with or without us.

At least, on good days, I believe in that kind of progress. And even on bad days, I think that martyrdom softens hard hearts and makes change possible.

Now for the real question: can positive social change happen without the martyrdom? How I want to believe that it can!

Kathleen said...

Thank you, Kristin. What a good question. It punches me in the heart.

seana said...

Wanted to comment on this yesterday but was having trouble getting signed in enough to do so. Apparently, if you click the box that says stay signed in, that's when you can't stay signed in. Go figure.

Anyway, yes, these events were an indelible impression of my childhood. When JFK was shot, I was in second grade, and we were all herded in to an assembly hall where we were told that the president had been shot. In one of those weird 'kid trying to assimilate totally foreign information' things, there was a painting of some past personage of the school on the wall next to the stage and the American flag and for the whole assembly I thought they were talking about him.

Kathleen said...

Yes, I remember that day, too, Seana. A year younger, sent home from school early, I believe, so there must have been the assumption of someone home (a mother) to receive us. Then, the darkened house, curtains drawn in grief, and for the next few days the television on with news...and, eventually, a funeral, with horses.

seana said...

I realized just now that although I remember the funeral, I have also conflated it with John the 23rd's, which was also televised. It turns out was in June of that same year.