November 2nd, 1965
My ‘birthday of the electric guitar.’ It might for me have been nothing more
than the four of us practising in the basement, ‘Louie Louie’
because our governor tried to ban the song statewide, thereby proclaiming it
the anthem any Indiana band must learn first. Johnny claimed
he knew the real version, lyrics so lewd the Kingsmen had to slur them,
so we mastered the art of mumbling the words meaningfully.
Then someone said we’d never beat the government in making the obscene unclear,
so in that not-quite soundproof cellar—until Father
came down to say, ‘Boys, it’s a school night’—we shouted
the wrong words to ‘Louie Louie’ as clearly as we could.
I didn’t hear the news until later, but the same evening that I turned fifteen
a Quaker from Baltimore drove through rush-hour red to the Pentagon.
Witnesses disagreed whether Norman Morrison doused himself in kerosene
before or after he let his infant daughter go, but she was there
as her father became a twelve-foot pillar of fire roaring at the window
of the Defense Secretary. And no one—not the bystanders, not the police
who rushed to his side, not Secretary McNamara himself—
no one could make out his last words.
Forty-four birthdays ago, but sometimes Norman Morrison
still draws near as I celebrate. He who had done
everything he knew how to do—protested, prayed, refused war taxes—
now shares with me the second of November, the Day of the Dead.
Something in me thinks I understand giving one’s life for others,
but what if he meant to take his daughter with him, what if he thought
an American child must burn so we would see what napalm does?
The flames rose and at some point this father let his daughter go.
Perhaps he held her until his arm muscles contracted
in a jolt of flame, or maybe an angel commanded him, Release her,
though I hope he’d already put her down, before
lighting the match, knowing this death was his alone.
Witnesses could tell us nothing. They only agreed
they couldn’t understand a single word he shouted at the night so clearly.