Commentary, Local Commentary

A Poem To Help Make Sense of These Uncertain Times

By Dorothy Teipel

We are commemorating another (sliding) 50 year mark of historical events. Anyone alive from JFK in 1963, to Kent State in 1970, feels “today” rhymes with “then.” We are in an existential epic at this same time. Mute everyday, stalled, communications between us not quite a call to arms. There is a City on a Hill, somewhere, to each of us.

I hope my perspective will speak to you here and there. Activism is not defeated! Our well-honed tools: Ingenuity, aspiration, patriotism and engagement must be unpacked out loud. Our cause-oriented generation of 75 million souls may seem dormant. But as Lawrence O’Donnell has said, “We are not going to go out quietly.” After you read my poem, “Ohio Girls” I hope it makes it easier to understand how and when we found our voice.

Ohio Girls

Ask Not, ringing, my heart beating sad. Goodbye Ohio, Goodbye Daddy.

Ask Not, he said. I pledge Allegiance…Oh beautiful for purple skies

A Torch passed, from my Father, then my President, to me.

A Perrysburg Girl, of 1949 Boomer Mere Millions. Ideas reigned without a drop.

A Cold War far away said “Hide Under Your Desks.” Our third grade Fear imprinted young. Twenty small bodies, folded in half…foreshortened like Tintoretto’s.

Ask Not rings over me, now 14. It’s fall outside, raining. A normal Freshman Day. No?

Wait! A wrong turn, where am I? Underneath the high round clock in my cafeteria, between engagements with Reality, were solid stone walls, bland, institutional, without affect. Transom windows trimmed in green, supervised. High above me, to the left of the clock, a dark voice of Authority, said Otherworldly words. It mushed me against the wall I leaned on.

Dear Life! Ask Not! I promised! Standing sickened, afraid, faint, weak…slowly I felt my way along…hand over hand, like a bucket brigade without water. I clung til safety.

“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World!” How did I get home that day? Inside, our black and white TV emitted calm sounds. Only instead, it was oozing like The Blob. It was coming to smother me. A shared national Trauma, a shock, too big to be familiar, felt foreign, monstrous, Dear Uncle Walter, he looks up for the time. “The President has died at 1 p.m. in Dallas, 2 p.m. Eastern.” He looks down, takes off his thick black glasses, wipes his tears, putting them back on quickly, as if he snapped out of a reverie. As if blocking his tears would make him less than our Giant.

Death in our weather, storms in our veins, 57 noisy, beckoning years, going strong. We mourned as one with our country, strewn about on our floors, glued to JFK’s funeral.

Lincoln’s riderless Black Jack did his honors, stirrups’ boots facing backward, a riveting ceremony unfolded in downtown Washington. John-John saluting as his young Daddy passes…I cry Daddyless, in pain, in honor of our President. We held on, endured, for his sake, til he, too, stood a man and died.

Paul Simon sat in the dark in his tub. “Hello Darkness My Old Friend”.…in mournful death knell tones. Always too many reasons to protest; they were dropping like bombs. Our marches, our Martin, our Bobby, our beaux and brothers..no rest til we fix. No rest til they hear: “Thank God Almighty, I’m Free at Last..!”

Batons to our heads in Chicago, we say a little prayer. We protest. We walk to Woodstock, we walk to school. Escalation. Peace without Honor, their mantra. End it, end it. My Lai, Cambodia. Did they still think we were kidding? My Asian prom date had a high number, so his friends drove him to a flight to Europe.

By 1970, we were 21, and still we marched. It was our consciousness coast to coast. Another grassy knoll breathed beneath us, an eerie undercurrent. Ask Not! Wait! Mary’s screaming, kneeling questions, heard ‘round the world, God, why?! A mere Ohio Girl, a visitor, the dead lying still before her. Insane, dishonorable war. Brought to Ohio, on a stop around the world. Mary’s open face was snapped up into a Pulitzer, where no sounds need apply. Murdered, we say, just like Over There.

A Greek chorus of the Furies, still on the stage of our memories…Is it possible, the tragedy, the fallen Prince, was only seven years ago? Kent State was America’s last straw.

Our troubled waters, our gangplanks, our Stairways to Heaven. Edvard Munch, the painter of “The Scream,” forewarned us, in color and dread. His fine brushstroke, laying thin colors of alienation and fear, lives again in Mary’s face. His pain of another wartime finds us anew.

I Ask Not, still. Daddy’s hole in my heart moved over, making room for my fallen Hero.


Dorothy Teipel is a City of Falls Church resident