William McKinley Walks Our Way
Here he comes, coming our way,
Down from the famous front porch
In the late summer light of 1896
Into our living rooms, as we used to say.
His belly spreads gently before him,
A continent of contentment.
He is crossing the front lawn,
Beckoned by Billy Bitzer,
Griffith’s camera man on
Birth of a Nation. He removes
His hat and pats his brow
With his handkerchief. His head
Is large, an early instance
Of the great heads that will fill
Our screens in the coming century .
In a few years my father, in a country
ripped from the maps, will be born.
Had he lived to great old age,
He might have seen McKinley’s funeral
On You Tube, the extras
Milling about the coffin carefully loaded
On the horse-drawn wagon. He might have seen
a dramatic reenactment of McKinley’s assassination
Filmed by Edwin Porter of Great Train Robbery fame
For the profit of Thomas Edison.
This loopy cueing of the once living.
This laughing at the pratfall, the slow burn,
The double entendre and the double take.
This building from the low boil chuckle
To the trembling lip, from the trembling lip
To the helpless horselaugh.
This falling into the side-splitting yowl.
When Belle Barth belted
I’ve got the sun in the morning
And the father at night,
My father curled his lips
Into something I thought a smile,
And opened his mouth
A bit, letting nothing out
But a glimpse of his false teeth.
I looked away. This
Was how I grasped dignity.
Later, in the small apartment,
When we passed peacefully
In the narrow hall,
Without rancor, we men
Of this little family,
It felt a bit like home.
Elvis Presley musing in an odd instance
Of reflection: If James Dean could sing,
He would sound exactly like Ricky Nelson