Robert Knox

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You Had to Be There

When people like you were killed
having made the mistake of being born in the wrong place,
to the wrong people, doing poorly on their SATs
Even the winners, a chemistry major from Boston
dying forty-five years later when Agent Orange
reports for duty: he was There
Or there, back then, in Central Park when the chanting stopped
No teargas, no riots, mere ceremonies of innocence
though later we get caught with a jay in the wrong place
by men with bulges on their belts and short haircuts
My girl sits on the evidence, our leader swallows the pill bag,
grunting answers, dulling the hunt for the hunters,
who shoo us off, fortunate white kids, to be there somewhere else
still Manhattan though, mid-town, then uptown
to a birthday party at the Statue of Alice

All of us still in Wonderland, milling on the town green
The National Guard showing up in fancy dress, four dead, white kids too,
but there in the wrong place when the unpredictable electrons
of a chance-driven universe coalesced into high-pressured lead  
Black kids too, there in Mississippi, somehow tokened out of the story line
No longer to be anywhere//  ever again//  just like that.
But you had to be there,
that was the whole point, we were counting on you
Being anywhere else was irrelevant, virtually non-being
Here? No longer any good, time's dustbin, moldering color snaps
you clean from the basement when the old folks pass,
glean a few, mostly dispose
You had to be there//  to understand
When the workers take down the show, roll up the maps, dethrone the prints
from the wall, wipe the dust from the tapestries
To know what was real beyond love and regrets,
and to laugh in the right places,
you had to Be There

(first appeared in The Somerville Times)

Robert Knox is a Boston Globe correspondent, a poet and fiction writer, and the author of the recently published novel based on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Suosso's Lane. A resident of Quincy, Mass., Knox is a contributing editor for the online journal, Verse-Virtual.