How tragedy teaches geography

Hearing today’s horrific news about the shooting deaths of twenty young children and seven adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gave me pause for thought (of course). But it also reminded me of a poem I wrote in 1996:

Tragedy teaches geography

How disquieting that earthquakes,
airline crashes and murdered children
help to impress location in our minds
more clearly than a textbook;
how in a few minutes of news we learn
those key details: the topography,
climate, and exact longitude and latitude
of a town split wide open by death;
how suddenly we know the weather
outside a small cathedral in Dunblane.

Similarly and no less tragic, in the Dunblane school massacre sixteen children and one adult were killed before the shooter committed suicide.

This is more of a fragment than a poem; I could never seem to arrange the words to evoke the feeling or bring the meaning intended. Over the years I added place names and took them out — Lockerbie, Bam, Waco, Oklahoma, Hungerford, and then Phuket, Haiti, Columbine, Blacksburg (I could easily, and sadly, go on). But I always left in Dunblane. It was that shooting that prompted the poem. It was that shooting that I remember most as I watch news coverage of the Newtown massacre.

In 1996 I was in my twenties, a few years out of university. What struck me in the following days in that suddenly I knew exactly where this little Scottish town was located. And I will continue to remember. Like a pin pressed into a map marking the latest location of profound tragedy and human loss. Those pins, glowing red across the countries. Towns and cities I may never have known until a bomb exploded, a earthquake rattled, or a shooter opened fire.

This fragment will be revisited again and again. I’m quite certain that it will never quite capture what I want to say. Maybe I’ve already said it here.

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