ALICE EMBREE | VERSE | The brutality of August

The clock was stopped at 11:48 a.m. I took this photo the day they dedicated the memorial.

On August 1, many of us remember the 1966 University of Texas tower shooting.  Fifty years later, in 2016, the University of Texas in Austin finally honored the victims of that mass shooting with a ceremony.  The clock was paused.  A bagpipe player led a solemn march from the main mall of the campus to the site where a memorial plaque was dedicated.  Keith Maitland’s movie Tower honored the heroism shown by many that day.  This poem, written in 2012, refers to Claire Wilson James, a survivor of the shooting.

The brutality of August

I try to fill the birdbath each day
One day missed and it becomes bone dry
Birds perch on its lip and leave

The rosemary needs water
Her leaves begin to close,
The tips of fronds turn down
As though they have given up.

Not as bad as last year, we say.

But in July I begin to dread August
To fear the searing heat
That leeches moisture from my skin
Turns ground cover into dust.

And I think of August 1, 1966
Forty-six years ago.

Claire hit by Whitman’s bullet
Her partner lying dead beside
Her baby stilled inside her

On the university mall
Beneath the tower still raining bullets
With its slogan “ye shall know the truth”

We were so innocent before that day
Before we learned to fear August.

Alice Embree
Austin, Texas

This poem first appeared in Looking Glass, a collection of poems by Alice Embree, published in 2018, by the New Journalism Project.

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