I've been meaning to post this poem for quite a while. I was going to do it on the 6th anniversary of the tragedy, but was on vacation at the time. So, since I don't have anything else to say today, I thought I'd give you this.
When it happens, I am in the van
waiting for eleven kids. Heavy
gray clouds, the bell barely rung
and a crowd of children flowing
out the opened doors as the first wet
falls. There is no warning, just heavy
drops hitting little heads and then light
and noise together and a child’s body
smoking among a ring of her fallen friends.
I think about running
to help, my CPR card flashing but
there are terrified children to come
and I need to be
where they can find me and besides,
I can see a teacher arriving.
I find myself telling the lie
of impenetrable rubber wheels
and creating a game –
with the ones who’ve made it
-- of keeping our arms
folded and away from the metal sides as I look --
yes look at the ones who are getting up
and the smoky one who isn’t – for the two
I am missing. I don’t dare
leave these frightened children here
alone (and besides, it’s against regulation)
so I ask, calmly, in a voice that wouldn’t fool
a child, did any of you see Devin or Alicia?
Now everyone’s quiet and I am
regretting my words cause
here they are, wetter than the rest,
gray-lipped and scented
like a summer barbeque.
All the other kids are repeating my lie
about the wheels as I get up to shut the door
and even I flinch when my hand touches metal
while another thunder claps. Alicia twines
around me, I can’t bear the smell of her
so I tell her she’s safer
on a seat with her feet off the floor.
Once at the daycare, I can’t get any of them to cross
the ten feet of exposed cement until
I offer to carry them. One by one
I shuttle them to safety with my hand
held over their heads. Even the oldest,
eleven, insists on that fragile protection.
The phone has already begun ringing
from parents wanting to know
if it was their little girl injured,
the news not completely out --
there’s no way what was left of her could live.
I make a call to each lucky parent.
They all come quickly to collect.
Here, I’ll try to write about science,
probability. About a stepped leader and a charge
rising up from the ground.
A positive flash. An accident.
Attraction. About a flagpole less than fifteen feet
away and untouched. About precision, a circle of
friends around her brushing shoulders,
thrown, stunned, but mostly unburnt and alive.
I keep returning to something rising
from the girl herself – further, faster
than what was pulled from that flagpole,
or the pipes on the school
or the trees, or the industrial size swing set.
Or maybe just opposite to all these things.
Something easier to spot and strike.
I will never write it. I will never see
that moment. Only after and before.
This poem is in first person, as if
by making it about myself, I could also
make it not true.