Thursday 5 June 2014

The Assassination

The assassination of Robert Kennedy, 46 years ago today, in a pantry off the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, is still horribly vivid in the memory - perhaps because (unlike the killing of JFK) the hideous business was caught close-up, on film and in shocking photographic images. It occasioned a truly great piece of eyewitness reportage by Alistair Cooke, one of his finest Letters from America (you can read it here)...
 What I hadn't realised, until I came across it recently, was that this terrible event also occasioned a strange, haunting poem by Donald Justice. Did ever the humble pronoun 'it' carry such weight and moment?

The Assassination

It begins again, the nocturnal pulse.
It courses through the cables laid for it.
It mounts to the chandeliers and beats there, hotly.
We are too close.  Too late, we would move back.
We are involved with the surge.

Now it bursts.  Now it has been announced.
Now it is being soaked up by newspapers.
Now it is running through the streets.
The crowd has it.  The woman selling carnations
And the man in the straw hat stand with it in their shoes.

Here is the red marquee it sheltered under.
Here is the ballroom, here
The sadly various orchestra led
By a single gesture.  My arms open.
It enters.  Look, we are dancing.
   (June 5, 1968)


  1. Interesting the way he plays with tenses and perspectives. Not sure about "stand with it in their shoes". Something to do with dancing?

  2. I think the suggestion there is of blood flowing through the streets, but the 'meaning' is elusive - I read that this one was written at a time when Justice was experimenting with 'chance' methods, taking lines and words form elsewhere, mixing them up and seeing what came of it - something akin to Burroughs's 'cut-ups' (but with happier results)...

  3. Very interesting. Excellent Alistair Cooke piece. He was a protégé of Mencken I believe.

  4. Yes - very much a Mencken disciple.