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by W. Mahlon Purdin

Edward Moore Kennedy, 1932-2009

The hand of God, so called,
Comes down on men without favor
Like a guillotine dropping without
Merciful gravity or a curtain coming down.
The hand of God wipes
It all away or wipes it all clean
Again. Happiness: a memory;
Great deeds: just a record somewhere;
Neither for us or against us, this
Hand comes down either with justice
Or with love; or if you're lucky, both.

Edward Moore Kennedy was a sinner
And a liar, and a reckless fool,
That's for sure. Edward Moore Kennedy
Was a great man who saw the needs
Of others and ran to meet them,
He was a wise man who led a nation
To be better, to be kinder and
To be freer. That's for sure.
He was a bad husband and a good one,
He was a bad father and a good one.

When all is said and done – and
Now it is – he was just a man,
A boy, the youngest in his family,
Who lived and, now, has died.

We grow no bigger in death
Than we were in life, but
It does seem that way sometimes.
As our sins are forgotten
As our bodies dispose of
Life's burdens and struggles
We seem, sometimes, to enlarge.
In this case, presidents and all the
Pantheon were there but were
They thinking: "I wish it were me?"
Did they envy the successful end
Amid the gathering of great to
Pay homage? No scandal marred that
Day in Massachusetts even though
A hurricane was bearing down.
Did they think to themselves ...
"I should be so lucky!"
After all of the hoopla and uproar
Of his life, it must have been awfully
Quiet in that linen-draped coffin.
After standing all his life in the harsh light
Of politics and gossip, it must
Have been awfully dark in there.

The camera strolled over faces like
A landscape to assess. There were
Bored eyes, crying eyes, eyes that
Looked around from their corners
As if concerned about where
The camera was and where it
Was going next.
"Father, hear our prayers"
Rang through the church with a
Recital of liberal doctrine, as
If it were all part of the liturgy.
Then came the Eucharist.
It celebrates the ascension into heaven
But, really, who knows? Is
Ted just dead and gone, or is
It something more? And if
Something more ... what? That is
The question. True?

Death always seems so religious
And yet life seldom feels
That way. Just as the curtain
Is coming down we all genuflect
In the aisle and take our seat
Piously hoping that it will do:
After all that we have done
What else can we do?
All the cards have been played.
All the dies have been cast.
Everything is through.

The gathered sadness is a swirling mix
Of so many reasons, it's a concoction
Beyond comprehension.
Each attendee's thoughts are hidden
Behind a bereaver's mask.
Some sorrow is self-referential,
Some is self-torture, some
Is thoughtful and some full of regret,
Some is denying and busy rewriting
History frenetically beneath those
Knitted brows. Some is unselfish,
Sad for the loss of others, and
Some is confused and worried that
No deep feelings have emerged.
Some is empty and dissolute:
Hope the mask is secure and
Complete. Hiding in bereavement
Many sins stay covered. It's
Safe in a sea of tears to
Just tread water there. No one
Knows and you look just like everyone
Else. You hear the music and
See the priests, but like a rock in
A stream it all goes past, and you,
Unaffected, unreachable, beyond
All hope. So, the least of the
Mourners and Ted had something
In common that day. The passion
The purpose all swept past
Them both, eddying motionless
Amid the flow of time.
Now immovable, still.

Ted's son, it must be said,
Really, really loved his dad.
His speech was the favorite
By far: better than Yo-Yo
Or Placido Domingo, or the
Great mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.
Better than the brilliant organist,
And better than anything
Anyone else could have said.
He used the one instrument
That only plays the truth and
The only one that cannot ring
False. The human heart.

Ted said that there was no
Security in hiding and did
What he could to continue
The dream and honor
His brothers. Right down to
Today. President Obama's
Speech was wonderful, but the
Hug he gave Ted Jr. said
Far, far more.

As darkness fell in Arlington,
The eternal flame seemed
To flicker a little
As the casket went down.

The cemetery pulled
The black night over itself
Like a cold, cold blanket.
The little flame
Was burning bravely
As the cameras and
And the long sleek cars
Departed so slowly.
In the rearview mirror:
There it was on the hill
Beside three graves


Posted on 09/11/2009
Copyright © 2022 W. Mahlon Purdin

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Tony Whitaker on 09/11/09 at 07:20 AM

Although my personal feelings about Ted Kennedy are not kind, I cannot pass on the passion of your prose. I commend you for your ability to transfer these feelings to paper and empathize with you on a sense of loss, pervasive throughout this piece and I salute you.

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