Poetry of the Times
Within recent medical times psychologic investigations have reawakened interest in the psychological settings in which illness develops. Reports in the literature have singled out loss as a precipitating factor in a variety of disorders ... including ulcerative colitis.
--Arthur H. Schmale Jr., M.D.
It was a time when men wore fedoras
banded on the crown, each band with a feather
tucked into a bow, and inside,
sweat bands carved from calf skins
with their sweet smell of animal and earth.
I remember the photo over my grandfather's desk,
a sepia toned panorama shot
from his ninth floor factory window,
Broadway below a surge of ticker-tape
and hats tossed in the air for FDR,
hats pouring into the street, hats
waved in exaltation, hats
taking off like America.
After two war-time winters in Greenland
my father came home, hat in hand,
and bought the sweat band business,
made it grow like his young family, presidents
and hopefuls motorcading down Broadway:
Truman in a Scala wool Hamburg
Ike's bald head steamed in fur felt,
Stevenson's ideals lost in the glory
of a two-inch-brimmed Stetson.
But when thick-haired Kennedy
rode top down and bare-headed,
men all over America took off their hats
in salute, in praise and imitation,
flung them into the street forever.
Hat factories closed quiet as prayer books,
and loss lingered in my father's guts
like unswept garbage after a big parade.
Years later, yarmulke on my head,
they asked me to view him in his coffin.
I can still see his face shaved smooth as calf skin,
his dark suit, crisp white shirt and tie,
how I laughed that they dressed him up for eternity
without a hat. And I can still hear
the old men murmur in the graveyard,
Kennedy did it to him,
fedoras held close to their leathered hearts.
Reprinted with permission from Berlin R (2000), How JFK Killed My Father. Psychosomatic Medicine 62(2):219.
Dr. Berlin is associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Berlin's book How JFK Killed My Father won the Pearl Poetry Prize 2002 and was published by Pearl Editions in September 2003.