Monday, May 4, 2015

Reprise of a Poem Written for the 40th Anniversary of the Kent State Killings

Old Math: The Calculus of May 4, 1970

Neil Young’s song still dances around my brain
Forty years after that fateful Monday, May 4th, 1970:

“Four dead in O-hi-o. Four dead in O-hi-o.”

The math is both hard and simple:

4th day of the fifth month of the 1970th year of the Lord.
77 Guardsmen with fixed bayonets advance toward the crowd.
13-second fusillade;
67 shots fired, many into the ground or into the air;
4 dead in Ohio: Jeffrey Miller. Allison Krause. Sandy Scheuer. Bill Schroeder.
Their ages: 20, 19, 20, and 19.

9 wounded in O-hi-o: John Lewis, Thomas Grace, John Cleary,
Alan Canfora, Douglas Wrentmore, James Russell, Robert Stamps.
Dean Kahler permanently paralyzed.
Donald MacKenzie wounded from a distance of 750 feet.

Branded into memory, the image of Mary Ann Vecchio,
Horror on her face, arms extended over the lifeless body of Jeffrey Miller,
Shot through the mouth:
John Filo’s Pulitzer winning photo
Developed inside every young American’s brain.

58,000 Americans dead in the Vietnam War;
10 times that many wounded; how many with deep psychic injury?
Uncountable millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.
A couple hundred million Americans torn up in anguish,
Conflicted, confused—a confusion that can never be resolved.

The old chant continues:

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own,
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.”

(Robert M. Coughlin, Kirtland, Ohio. May 4, 2010)

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