Poetry: Jeanette Beebe’s “The Pallbearers”


The Pallbearers

“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being—you know, shot. That was reported, and nobody talks about it. I mean, what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?” 

Donald Trump on Fox News, May 2016


As Kennedy was laid to rest in Washington
with over a million people lining the streets,

the assassin who some say didn’t work alone
was lowered into the grave in Fort Worth.

A conspiracy theory
is the past
set askew,

a cluster of flowers
that fell from
a pine casket.


Only five people mourned in Fort Worth:
his widow, mother, brother, two children.

The others were strangers with jobs to do:
the police and the press. They wore suits

and credentials. Someone photographed
the rows of empty chairs.

That day, seven journalists buried the man
who shot the President


because the thing was too heavy in its box
to rot. It couldn’t be left. So they moved it.

A photo shows an Associated Press reporter
heaving the weight with half of his body,

schlepping the casket like a blown tire,
one hand gripping a notebook and pen.


“We are not here to judge, only to commit
for burial,” said the Reverend on the grass.

That’s what journalists do: we show up,
not to judge, only to commit for the record.


In the field
the fallen rest
at Arlington

next to a man
from Boston:
our President.

His widow told
us: “He belongs
to the people.”


The Kennedys lived on the first floor
of our country,

behind an elegant door
with a weak latch and a skeleton key.

What they rode
was a home
without an alarm.

The drive was through
big sun.


The Dallas police chief walked arm-in-arm
with the assassin, in front of the cameras.

But a man who believed he was a hero
wore a disguise. Ruby stood with the press.

The bullet pierced through—the armored
truck wasn’t enough. The only witnesses:



A funeral is the news of the body’s direction
towards the grave.

The temptation to question what happened
can be compulsive, an endless re-digging—

the body, exhumed.


Yet grief
is somehow

to the site

of burial,

a head—

no theory,


Jeanette Beebe’s last name sounds like two creatures buzzing. A poet and journalist, her reporting has been featured in Scientific American and the NPR station in Philadelphia (WHYY), and her poems have recently appeared in Crab Creek ReviewDelaware Poetry ReviewNat BrutRogue Agent, and Tinderbox. Her poem “Adopted” won first prize in the Lyrical Iowa competition. She holds an A.B. in English from Princeton, where she was lucky enough to write a poetry thesis under the guidance of Tracy K. Smith. She was born and raised in Iowa, and has lived in New Jersey for over a decade: jeanettebeebe.com.

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