I was born in the southern winter
fourteen days before the oath of office.
When he died I did not know him
And so I could not later recall
with a fond sadness
where I was when I heard the news,
for the news had already aged into history.
He was at once far and near,
fixed in the black and white photographs
of my history book,
yet sparkling in the eyes of my teacher
Over the years I have gathered him up
like a child collecting four-leaf clovers.
I have taken the words written about him,
and his own words, and the photographs.
and I have pressed them all together
trying somehow to bring him back to life.
And there were times
when he almost came to life.
But there were missing pieces,
the sound of his voice.
the manner of his movements.
So I kept gathering,
until twenty years had passed since his death.
Then he appeared in the television documentaries,
speaking, moving, laughing.
As I watched,
he became real and alive.
Then it happened,
and I wept at his vicarious death.
November 22, 1983
Tim Cleveland is an alumnus of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. He is currently serving in the Peace corps in Cameroon. The poem was sent to the Hofstra University Cultural Center by his former English professor, Dr. Don W. Der.