Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Because (4)

. . . a horrifying death brings us face to face with the unthinkable, the unspeakable. 

But a horrifying death become thinkable in the moment we learn of it. We immediately domesticate the news and manage it by ranking it alongside all the other news.

Strings Attached*

Sitting there in comfortable clothes
looking at my two dogs who don't know
David was murdered the other day
walking to his home where his mother
waited for him with her dog who did
not know David was already dead
and also would be killed
a second message to get the Hell out of there
stop with whatever it is they don't like.


Sentado cómodo en mi sillón
Mirando a mis perritos que no saben
Que a David el otro dia lo mataron
El na’ mas caminaba a casa de su Mami
Ella con el chucho esperando al cipote,
tampoco sabia el chucho que David está muerto ya
y que al chucho mismo lo matarán,
segundo aviso que te larga de aquí
quita cualquier pendejada que no les guste


Perhaps less formally under our criminal laws, yet in our imaginations, we still live by this ancient symmetrical creed. This is how we domesticate a horrifying event that has happened to someone else.

To manage horror, we look for something equivalent, something that can be delivered against the perpetrators in our name. Symmetry requires equivalent suffering be inflicted on the perpetrators of the evil act.

We want quick justice. We want to balance everything out.

We imagine we hear killers scream, as they suffer quid pro quo, just like Ronald’s family screamed, when the body of David Urias was discovered and the news of his death was carried into the home. But the honest imagination should also overhear the mother of the killers scream just as David’s mother screamed. Can we let ourselves imagine that?

Staring into the grinning, unrecognized face of evil, we demand recognition. We want to make an identification that reduces someone else's loss to a project. This is not a bad thing. 

A project that limits the damage is the equivalent of “the observer effect”** in physics - we want to think that our bystander participation is transformative of a past event into an item we can wrap sympathetic hands around.


We want to inflict equivalent death for the same reason firefighters believe in a controlled burn.** We think equivalent pain will limit the damage, eliminate the threat, keep the evil from reaching out to touch or inhabit us.

But, if it is true that we hanker after vengeance, it is also true that the balancing formulas we want to apply are useless against the grotesque event of deliberate pointless killing.

My ancient cousin, Ann Putnam, was a young girl in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, when she joined other adolescent girls in denouncing some of her poorer, and non-conforming neighbors as witches. Ann’s and other childrens' hysterical reports of spectral visitations prompted formal proceedings and the executions of  twenty-one people. The grave findings of fact included such matters as an unexplained torn garment, someone walking past a house when animals took sick. Finally, after the governor of Massachusetts intervened, the lethal proceedings were stopped.

A secondary tragedy inflicted in Salem, Massachusetts was the ruin of the life of young Ann Putnam. Mislead into childish but lethal hysteria by powerful, manipulating adults, Ann could not outlive her role as witness for the prosecution in the Salem Witch Trials. She never married and lived in tiny Salem as a recluse.

In 1706, Ann Putnam was made to write a confession of repentance, and to sit before an assembly of her flagging Congregational Church while her statement was read. Ann died young, unlamented and wrecked.


No harm we inflict on another can return David’s voice to his mother or his protective presence to his sisters or his jovial masculine modeling to his nephew, Ronald.

Our wishful reckonings for simple justice are as pointless as the medieval mixings of the alchemist, stupidly trying to turn ordinary metallic combinations into gold.

There is no making sense of wanton killing. There is nothing we can balance against that.


We should do what is practical by any measure - reach out to the survivors of the horror.

So long as there is left to us a bit of strength and a bit of light, we can do a bit of lifting of the burdens that weigh upon the grieving.


Like a penitent dipped in the baptismal river, rising into a changed world, little Ronal has been dipped in sadness. He has risen not into paradise but into a bleaker, darker place. He is an unwilling catechumen, placed on a stony path toward an uncertain salvation.

At his young age, this child must undertake a journey toward a light that has dimmed but has not been entirely snuffed out.

The child enveloped in sadness needs practical things from us. For such a child, the objects he can see and feel and touch and wear, lie down on, shelter under - these items are what matters.

We can, if we chose, become guardians along the path this child must walk.

The family needs $4,000 to finish the house they are building.

If you can help us raise $3,000, an anonymous friend will contribute the final $1,000.

Please help with what you can. Use the PAYPAL contribution link (ABOVE)

OR send a check to:

David Urias Fund
c/o R Cook
PO Box 411
Hunt Valley, MD 21030

Visit this blog for information and to track the progress of this campaign.

And thanks.

* The poems, Strings Attached and Ataduras, appear in the book of poems, Dad Was Taken to Watch a Lynching by Richard Baldwin Cook (Nativa, 2014) available at

** The metaphor of punishment as a “controlled burn” belongs to Leslie Jamison, in her bo0k, The Empathy Exams (Graywolf Press, 2014, p. 187). Jamison also makes similar use of the ‘observer effect’ metaphor (p. 194).

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