16 February 2018

A Poem for This Friday

Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czelaw Milosz
by Matthew Olzmann

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me.

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn't be needed

for children walking to school?
Those same children

also shouldn't require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn't have to stop

to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might

reshape their bodies.  But
one winter, back in Detroit,

I had one student
who opened a door and died.

It was the front 
door to his house, but

it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written

any name.  The shooter
was thirteen year old

and was aiming 
at someone else.  But

a bullet doesn't care
about "aim," it doesn't

distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent, 

and how was the bullet
supposed to know this

child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment

because his friend 
was outside and screaming

for help.  Did I say 
I had "one" student who

opened a door and died?
That's wrong.  

There were many.
The classroom of grief

had far more seats'
than the classroom for math

though every student 
in the classroom for math

could count the names
of the dead.

A kid opens the door.  The bullet
couldn't possibly know,

nor could the gun, because
"guns don't kill people," they don't

have minds to decide
such things, they don't choose

or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn't

have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath.  This is how

we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be, 

and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside

each of them.  Today,
there's another

shooting with dead 
kids everywhere.  It was a school,

a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world

is full of doors.  
And you, whom I cannot save,

you may open a door

and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be

mourned, then buried
in rhetoric.

There will be 
monuments of legislation,

little flowers made
from red tape.

What should we do?  We'll ask
again.  The earth will close

like a door above you.
What should we do?

And that click you hear?
That's just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse,
sliding into place.


Bonny said...

Thank you, Bridget, for words that concentrate emotions when there are no words.

Tired Teacher said...

Far too many people think this could never happen in their community, to someone they know and love, or even to themselves. The time for platitudes is over. It's time for action: it's time for change.

Kym said...

Yes, Bridget. Thank you. Poetry . . . speaks when we just don't know what to say anymore.

Mereknits said...

I needed this today, my heart is so heavy once again.

AsKatKnits said...

Poetry wins the day. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Araignee said...

So so sad. I am so glad I retired when I did. I don't think I could face a classroom full of scared students again. I went through 9/11 with my class when we had tanks with machine guns parked behind our school for months (we backed to the Agricultural Dept fields and wondered what the hell(!?) they had in there after that) and we went through the DC Sniper attacks where we had to use our bodies to shield our students every day as the got on and off the buses after they attacked one of our county schools. I don't think I could have taken anymore. Sandy Hook would have been it.