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by Zettel 

Posted: 29 May 2012
Word Count: 135
Summary: Inadequate I fear...

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Thirty-two divides
time and time again
to a perfect one
Yet here there are none
all are lost, all gone
the maths of massacre
does not add up
it only takes away

Their deaths dishonour us
silent in a guilt
wherein lies are built
We are all now less
numbed by their distress
why, God alone can guess
Thirty-two or one
hope is broken, dead and gone

A curse on all your Gods
whose promises and lies
usurp children’s cries
and feed men’s love of might
of power, not of right
and something of the night
in souls devoid of sense
slaughters innocence


Forty-nine, thirty-two
pain from hate
does not accumulate
Their task to execute
a cause to prosecute
no one shall refute
but mired in evil lies
by every child that dies

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 16:56 on 31 May 2012  Report this post
It’s easy to feel, and share, the anger in this poem. It’s maybe invidious to compare one massacre with others, but the killing of children on such a scale and the way it seems to have been carried out, puts this one among the most despicable. Perhaps Assad, like Mladic, Mubarak etc will one day face justice; no doubt, like the others, he will suddenly become ‘gravely ill’.

The idea of ‘the maths of massacre’ in the first stanza works well. I’m not sure why you choose the number thirty-two, as the number killed was much greater, but the idea is still good. Adding up statistics of the dead is futile in a significant way, because:

the maths of massacre
does not add up
it only takes away

(I’ve removed the ‘just’. )

I’ve a couple of questions about your second stanza.

Their deaths dishonour us
silent in a guilt
wherein lies are built

Do you mean it is ‘us’ who are silent because we feel guilty? Or do you mean the guilt of those directly responsible for the massacre? Certainly if they feel any guilt they keep it silent, and give out lies instead. These lines seem rather compressed.

We are all now less
deaf to their distress
why, God alone can guess

I understand the first two of these lines to mean that in our time, with the help of social media and good journalism, we are more aware of ‘their distress’ than people were even a few decades ago. What I don’t get is ‘why, God alone can guess’. God alone knows why we’re more aware of suffering?

No problem with the third stanza, in which the anger culminates very effectively. The further lines added on...I don’t think you need them. The third stanza ends the poem with great resonance.


Dave Morehouse at 22:01 on 31 May 2012  Report this post
Hey Zettel. It's difficult to write about war and you are brave to do so. We are too conditioned to accept wars' consequences and you express that well here.
Their deaths dishonour us
silent in a guilt
wherein lies are built
We are all now less
numbed by their distress
why, God alone can guess

By way of example, if a young girl sat on her porch killing puppies we would be appalled because we haven't seen or heard of such a thing. When 32 children die it is terrible and shocking yet we accept it. Your use of the dead children in this poem and excluding the killed adults heightens the power of the tragedy. We need to be reminded of these, and the many other, tragedies world-wide in ways that jar us out of acceptance. Well done on that account. Dave

Zettel at 12:13 on 01 June 2012  Report this post
It's odd how these things hit you. Like most people I think in the era of rolling 24 hour news, I have become inured, de-sensitised to the reality behind the litany of tragedies we are assailed with every day: never more so than in the Middle East - Syria just being the latest place where men, and we must confront the fact that it usually is men, destroy life in the name of something or other.

Broadcasters through their narratives concentrate on key elements of which numbers are central: in so doing it seems to me they suck us in to a macabre, obscene mathematics: 'plane crash - 300 dead' outplays 'train crash - 1 dead'. Over time we unwillingly or unwittingly conspire with this - most people, I fear including me would stay with the news for the 1st above but may note and switch over for the other.

It gets worse: a subliminal ethnic and national bias: so 54 people killed in a London bombing once in 10 years (we hope) ouplays 100's killed in bombings every day in places we are supposed to have made safe 'for democracy'. 3,000 people killed in New York occasions 100,000's killed in response - not even counted.

There is only one exception for me to the belief that injustice and suffering are indivisible and incommensurable - the abuse, the killing of children is somehow worse.

For 3 days the report said 32 children had been murdered: enough to register perhaps an 8.5 on the Richter scale of newsworthiness. The added verse simply reflected the verified number as 49: weirdly our respect for the profound value maths has for us seemed to require that I get that right - for getting right things that can be accurate about is a special value - it is a vital thread in the weave of truth.

The point of the poem of course was to try first to express the special evil of killing children, pace the Catholic church - innocent children. Then to try to express the idea that 1 - 10 - 100 - 1000 isn't the issue: once you kill one, you are more dead than your victim.

I tried to express paradoxes and ambiguities in the poem: 'a task to execute' and 'a cause to prosecute' having double meanings. I changed 'deaf' to 'numbed' because I wanted our sense of impotence to come over. The 'silence' of Russia and China on this occasion inhibits intervention long enough for Asad's regime to construct lies in defense. On plenty of other occasions in the past it has been us or the Americans who have stayed silent for the same reasons and with the same results.

This rambling simply proves that like most people I am horrified by such events, my tears unchecked because of the children. I have no idea what to do about it but feel I should. This country re-elected Blair; and America re-elected Bush. We vote in the majority on our own well being above all else - "it's the economy stupid".. Then wail, outraged when we are held responsible for the actions of those we elect.

Sorry about this waffle. It's not a very good poem and not remotely up to even the muddled ideas above: but something had to come out.

A real writer put what I was trying to get at infinitely better:

"And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which is necessary to pay for the truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price."

The Brothers Karamazov

Thanks also for the comments Dave.


Zettel at 23:48 on 01 June 2012  Report this post
And of course thank you James - thought I'd opened with that.

The God alone can guess was meant to be ironic. Over-compacting is hard to avoid with short lines and a rhyming pattern.



Zettel at 10:44 on 04 June 2012  Report this post

I do so agree about Pilger and especially Fisk. For me they are the honourable heirs to the tradition of long gone but much missed James Cameron: journalists living up to the finest traditions of a profoundly important vocation. True journalists are the voice of rebellion; the only effective voice the poor and the unfairly treated have in am impossibly 'noisy' world where the whisper of injustice stands no chance of being heard. As one important pillar of the democratic state journalists should make power accountable to the people; especially when the formal checks and balances of democracy have failed to do so.

The trouble is that true journalists in today's information, communication environment are made to to look radical-for-effect rather than truthful. They have to swim against such a tide of self-serving denial of political reality, the simple truth, that they, grotesquely are made to look extreme. The same occurs with people like Chomsky and other anti-corporate, anti-capitalist voices in a post-Communist, post-Marxist world of what is without a trace of irony called 'realpolitik'.

The philosophical result: we have democratised 'truth' and 'relevance' - each now being determined by what most people think, believe, or can be persuaded to think or believe. The engine for this degraded concept of journalism, and truth and even non-BBC broadcasting, is that the financial business model for dissemination of 'news' no longer works. And the bastards will get the BBC as well unless we stop them.

I can highly recommend a new book by Michael Sandel - What Money Can't Buy - the moral limits of markets' which though it doesn't deal with journalism per se, clearly and rigorously exposes the rationale for the process which threatens it. Also the film Page One - Inside the New York Times (Andrew Rossi) which I reviewed here on WW 18/11/11.

As ever - thanks for the comments and the discussion.


James Graham at 16:49 on 04 June 2012  Report this post
And I agree about journalism and the best journalists seeming 'radical-for-effect'. Still, Fisk, Pilger and Chomsky are best-sellers; surely most of their readers see them as not marginal extremists but simply truthful. Even so, what ever happens as a result of their labours? I don't think I've ever known a time in which I've felt so helpless; all the wrong people hold political and economic power, and journalists are co-opted into their system of values, and it's very hard to see ways out of it.

I've ordered 'Page One' which I'd very much like to see.


Zettel at 03:28 on 05 June 2012  Report this post
I'm reminded of a remark of Margaret Mead's that I first heard in the West Wing:

President Bartlett to a new advisor:

"I ask all my advisors to promise me one thing - Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why?"

Advisor: because it's the only thing that ever has."

Just so.



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