It’s just after lunch in a Pittsburgh art school classroom. A teacher walks into the room and says, The president has just been shot! Someone yells back, That’s a terrible joke. He tells us it isn’t a joke. Pick up your books and leave. Everyone leaves the building and nobody speaks. A vacant look on everyone’s face and a long ride home on a streetcar. Mothers holding their babies close to their breast. Everyone silent. John F. Kennedy was assassinated while I was drawing a picture in Pittsburgh. There’s chaos everywhere on the face of the earth. News of the world from a small Westinghouse radio. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Vietnam in sometimes seemingly equal proportions. The Beatles and Lord of the Flies. Pollution, noise and homelessness. The first diet drink: TaB. Elizabeth Taylor, John Diefenbaker and Lyndon Johnson. Pope John XXIII dies, the first woman goes into space, and Buddhist monks are setting themselves on fire in the streets.
It’s the end of the day in a Pittsburgh rooming-house. It’s the end of the day on the entire North American continent. The sun has already faded or is fading right through the horizon. It’s after supper everywhere. People have carried their laundry in from the line. Squeak of a pulley, turning of ropes. The all-night laundromat that I can see from my window, with its fluorescent lights that are always turned on, is in darkness tonight. Not a single light showing. Every store and business in Pittsburgh is closed. Every store and business in North America is probably closed. The world has turned momentarily grey–all the colors drawn right out of it. Sound of pipes in the building, the jolt of a siren, a stranger’s voice in the hall. My eyes reflected in the glass of a rooming-house window at the end of November. The president was murdered as he waved to the crowds in Texas this morning. John F. Kennedy was shot and killed and Jacqueline Kennedy is tragic, stoic and silent as if she’s completely made out of marble.
–Magie Dominic is a Canadian poet and artist. Her new memoir, Street Angel, will be published in August 2014.