The day that Kennedy was killed
Was the day before the Stuyvesant-Clinton football game.
There was a rally in the auditorium
And our coach who was from Texas or Oklahoma said slowly, carefully,
“There isn’t a horse that can’t be bucked.”
Meanwhile half the school was marching along
Fifteenth Street to Union Square and then up to
Forty Second Street and Fifth Avenue and some got up to
Fifty Ninth, and they were parading,
Yelling, “De Witt eats shit” until they were stopped by policemen.
I didn’t go. I stayed in school.
That day I almost got into a fight
With a fellow twice my size on the stairway
And he laughed at me. A friend of mine broke it up.
In English the head of the Physics Department walked
Into the room. He said, “I think you are old enough
To understand this. The President was shot today in Texas.”
I stand up. I do not understand. I say, “What”
And I think, the President was shocked today in Texas.
He leaves the room. I am sorry.
I leave early. The Clinton game is called off,
And the series has since been discontinued.
My French teacher is waiting for me. Smiling shuffling his legs
Touching his teeth with his tongue looking at me
He says, “There is a rumor that Kennedy was shot.
Do you know anything about that?”
A week later I go to my cousin’s bar mitzvah
Out in Long Island, and I bring a catalog with me
From the Bernard Baruch School of City College.
I want to be a stockbroker.
It is windy outside and we walk a mile or more
To get to the bar mitzvah
And as I walk I talk to my mother
And I think carefully of what I am to say
And I narrow my eyes.
It is a cold and windy three days after Thanksgiving
And I point my thumb to my stomach and chest
And I brush my scarf against my face
And I say, “I too want to become President.”
-- David Lehman
from "The Presidential Years" in The Paris Review, #43, Summer 1968. Reprinted in New and Selected Poems by David Lehman (Scribner, 2013).