By Cathleen McCaffery
In remembrance of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Cathleen mccaffery offers a captivating response to the Problematic journalistic commentary in the aftermath of the tragic events. she employs space, numbers, and a particular choice of words to demonstrate the power of poetry for social justice.
I wrote this poem as part of a poetry course with Molly Bendall at the University of Southern California. It is an experimentation with the sestina form as well as integrating historical facts and figures and media with poetry. I wanted to play with the use of footnotes and quotations in a poem and, in using alternative forms of text atypical to poetry, create multiple dialogues on different platforms. I see this poem both as a response to a specific New Yorker article as well as general trends in media that give more precedence to some tragedies versus others or, cite comparisons between two very disparate events, such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the Spanish Civil War. While death, pain, and loss are unquantifiable, I wanted to shed light on the absurdity of comparing an isolated tragic event with a prolonged period of violence.
Your Article Makes Me Angry, Mr. Thompson
You wrote about the Boston Marathon bombing and said:
“Terrorists and madmen, after all, don’t see people; they see targets: masses
of humanity or political symbols.”
Have you ever had terrorist eyes? Do terrorists cry? How do you know what they can see?
And while we are at it, Can you show me a picture of a terrorist? Who
makes for a good terrorist? What color are his eyes?
I don't have Pablo Neruda's eyes, but if his eyes read your article I
think they might bulge out in horror over your comparison:
The Boston Marathon Bombing to the Spanish Civil War—The Spanish Holocaust —compare
the death toll: 3: 200,000 + 20,000 + more (varied estimates) it is said.
Can you write an article with 200,000 + 20,000 + more names, with a paragraph for each? I
think that would take up too much space. The New Yorker doesn't have time for the mass
amount of space + energy + thought it would take to detail anecdotes of those deaths. Who
has time for that? You mentioned veterans of wars, but what about victims? See,
Mr. Thompson, only the living can re-experience death.
Pain is not mathematical. Please don't mistake my comparison for that. You see,
pain is not quantifiable like counting – or, fractions. Compare
how you feel about death: 1/(200,000 + 20,000 + more), 1/3, 1/disputed.
Are the dead soldier's father's tears, whose son died in Iraq, for 1/4,486 heavier than a father who
cries for 1/1,000,000? Pain is not comparable, but I would say:
1,200,000 quarts of blood in Neruda's streets would make a better front cover picture than 18. Say,
how about Iraqi streets? 1 million deaths (estimates vary) times 6 quarts per person: a massive
amount of blood—enough to create a Venice in the Middle East. What about that article? I'm
Explaining a Few Things, Mr. Thompson.
“this became a war zone when it was supposed to just be a marathon.” I
would like to know, then, about bedtime stories and birthday parties that became a sea
of blood in war zones non-terrorists created. 4,486: 1,000,000. Ask the masses
in Iraq, how many marathons were supposed to be? Do we see 'people' not 'targets'? Your comparison,
Mr. Thompson—how many marathons did we make war zones? You said
one of the most moving poems you've read is Neruda's “I'm Explaining a Few Things.” Who
can I ask for a copy of the letter to the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Who
kept a copy? Dear Residents, We see you as people, not targets, but are going to make your eyes
bleed with radioactive dust. We see you as people, not 'masses of humanity.' Say
your names out loud. Write them down. We'll send you each a copy, so when you're swimming in a sea
of destruction, “devouring human beings,” you can write down all the names and compare
what you see through your individual eyes. Show our non-terrorist eyes that we see people, not masses.
Kant, remind me of your principle of humanity, a note for the masses.
Mr. Thompson, show me, please, who
abides by this principle and who does not. What can we see through terrorist eyes? Compared
to non-terrorist eyes, is the sky still blue? What color is cement? I
would to know where to buy a pair of terrorist glasses so I can see what you say they see.
How many lives were changed by 200,000 + 20,000 + more, or 1,000,000 dead? You said
that a mass of “lives were changed...for a terrible moment, when the bombs went off.” I
would like to know how many moments make up 1,000,000 lives? Whose moments? See,
Mr. Thompson, can you put each name in your next article? A sentence each? Let's compromise, I say.
 Pablo Neruda. “I'm Explaining a Few Things.”
 “We should never act in such a way that we treat Humanity, whether in ourselves or in others, as a means only but always as an end in itself.”