They shot him in Dallas forty-eight years ago today.
The shots echoed all the way to the Poultry Science
building in Pullman, Washington, where Roethke
was dead two months before, while the hens slept
with the roosters and those donning white coats
checked room temperature and humidity.
Eggs hatching under the bare warm bulbs faced
the door the roosters strutted through to see
who was where . . . even, some theorized, why.
The bar downtown filled with alcoholics who knew
roosters know to mount hens with requisite fury
to reproduce. Even where hens lay alone, cocks
were always strutting through the door, their bright
red coxcombs sheltering a short life’s mirth
between their wings. When a rooster dies a thick line
is drawn with a straight edge through his identity,
I always believed there were assassins on the ground.
Over the years you were told to give up such beliefs.
Witnesses died one after the other, strangely,
even the assassin of the assassin via cancer.
Conspiracy theory fell through democracy’s cracks.
Oswald took the rap, even Mailer said he was alone.
I know even less now than I knew then. I know
I shouldn’t care, but remember others who died
for no good reason. I never gave up. Some hens did,
some roosters stayed. Even Cathleen came home.
Yet every hour this time of day Americans die
somewhere, a death labeled natural or murder.
Where I was it was noon, we wore white shirts
when his wounds ruptured the one pulse a body needs.
(22 November 2011)\
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander