Reading Matters

Morgan recalls Joseph Flora’s class at Chapel Hill the day Kennedy was shot

Most people know Robert Morgan -- born in Hendersonville -- for his bestselling novel, “Gap Creek.” I loved that book, and also his biography of Daniel Boone. But I also love Morgan’s poems, which deal with some of the same subject matter but in intensely compressed and rhythmic language. Now he has a new poetry collection, his fifteenth, “Dark Energy” (Penguin, $18 paper). He’s taught at Cornell University since 1971, and has also served as visiting writer at Davidson College, Furman, Duke, Appalachian State and East Carolina.


Fifty years ago today

I sat in Joseph Flora’s class

at Chapel Hill while he described

the First World War and Hemingway.

The clash of war and love was dire.

But we had leisure to discuss

the rages in calm discourse.

The world had certainly improved

in half a century. And then

a student in the back who held

a tiny radio called out

“The president is shot.” We sat

all stunned and scared and quiet till

Joe Flora said, “That goes to show

there’s still much evil in the world.”

And later as I walked across

the quad in blamy autumn light

I thought this was the end of our

good times, of something big. A way

of being confident had ended.

The air was punctured like a bubble

and thre was no more oxygen.

The holiday parade had stopped

on Franklin Street, and youth was stopped.

The path ahead touched anger, fear,

through broken glass, hysteria.

Somehow the world had gotten bigger,

though life itself was smaller, meaner.