Winter 2013 - THE POTOMAC

An Elegy for John Woodruff

   John Kryder

I wonder if Barack ever met you,
or if Usain even knows your name,
knows as champion that as Zeus
favored the oak
yours favors Connellsville
and all throughout our land

all who never met you
all who knew you well
all who can thank you still

FDR never thanked Jesse or you
and Maryland kept you out,
boxed you in as in Berlin
until you stopped — stopped
and then burst and wheeled
into third lane-opportunity

where you had a chance to get by
other runners as you left them
and Hitler in the spirit of change
no force could ever box
skill or freedom in —

all who never met you
all who knew you well
all who can thank you still

are leaves on your oak
waving in sun and rain
waving memories in winds of goodness
you spoke and taught and ran:

while standing there quietly
at your son’s game with Marty,
who too should have had a chance,

while standing tall
in our segregated army on your run
to the finish line as colonel,


while standing for action with more change
of gait and direction than a wild goat
going up mountainsides of hate

so Kingdom later could say:
he could take the most negative stories
and make them sound good.

So let
all who never met you
all who knew you well
all who can thank you still

rise up on the silent stage of hearts
and applaud like rustling leaves
Long John, who had to do something,
Long John, who didn’t panic —

Long John, the name I never
called you, you who stood tall
even when you could not stand

and when you could have complained
like Zeus so often did, you did not,
even as you did not
when people hurled names like stones
to kill you or wanted to box you out
of work or in boycott or in law—

you changed direction and helped to change
America, with whom for all and all
I now sing to salute you near your oak

as I will stand next to your dust
in Crown Hill, happy that I had a chance
to shake your hand and learn your wisdom,

and feeling for my country very grateful
that you were able to do what you did.


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