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A Poem for JFK

Dr Declan Collinge

When President Kennedy visited Ireland in June 1963 I was a thirteen year old secondary student on my first long summer holiday. My friend Frank Murray who lived two doors away from me in Walkinstown Dublin and who would later become manager of the Pogues, called in and asked me to go into town to see the President. We got as far as Dame St. on an old green Leyland bus where we got off because of the traffic chaos. In Westmoreland St we pushed our way through the crowd as the cavalcade approached, flanked by security men in trench coats and tight crew cuts. The President stood up in an open limousine dressed in a blue suit which defined his tanned skin and handsome, boyish looks. The crowd was delirious and they surged forward much to the dismay of the Gardai and security men. JFK began to shake hands from the vehicle which had now slowed to a snail’s pace. Frank reached forward and shook the President’s hand and I followed suit. As he shook my hand he smiled broadly and while I was still very young I had a sense of history in the making of which we were a part. It was Frank once more, five months later who called to our house to break the news of the President’s assassination. I went on to become a teacher, lecturer and textbook author and had poetry collections published in both Irish and English. I enclose the poem JFK written originally in Irish with an English translation which was published in the Irish Language magazine Innti and in the textbook Saibhreas Nua by Mentor books in 1995. In this poem I attempt to capture the atmosphere of the time and the subsequent revelations about JFK.

JFK

Bhí boladh bréan riamh
Ón uisce faoi thalamh:
Arbh iad piléir an CIA
Nó na Mafia féin
A phléasc do chloigeann ina phraiseach
I bhfrámaí creathánacha Zapruder?

Cén gnó a bhí ag Marilyn leat
Nuair ’chan sí duit de ghlór leanbaí
Oíche do bhreithlae?
Ar luigh cuimhní Bhá na Muc
Lena gcorpáin loiscthe
Go dóite ar d’aigne?

Ba dhóbair dúinn uile
Nuair sheas tú féin is Khruschev
Go colgach in adharca a chéile
Is na diúracháin ar bhur gcúl
Ina gcolgsheasamh.

Inseofar fós é do shliocht mo shleachta:
Lá gréine i Sráid Westmoreland
Shuigh tú i limisín oscailte
D’aghaidh dhathúil ghriandóite
Ag cur le do chulaith gorm-
In ainneoin brú an tslua,
Gan beann ar do ghardaí cosanta,
Rug tú ar láimh bheag orm
Is chraith le fonn í!

Declan Collinge

(Foilsithe den chéad uair in Innti agus sa téacsleabhar Saibhreas Nua le Mentor Books 1995)

JFK

There was always a foul smell
From conspiracy:
Was it the bullets of the CIA
Or the Mafia themselves
Which shattered your skull
In Zapruder’s shaky footage?

What business did Marilyn have with you
When she sang for you in baby tones
That night on your birthday?
Did the memory of the Bay of Pigs
And its charred corpses
Still burn on your mind?

It was a close call for all of us
When you and Khruschev
Squared up menacingly
The missiles behind you both
Primed and deployed.

I will tell it still to my children’s children:
On that sunny day in Westmoreland Street
You sat in an open limousine
Your handsome tanned face
Defined by your blue suit:
Despite the surging crowd,
Ignoring your security men,
You took my small hand
And shook it heartily!

Declan Collinge

(First published in Innti and in the textbook Saibhreas Nua by Mentor Books 1995)

- in A Poem for JFK