Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, ‘Neglect’

What good are tears?
Will they spare the dying their anguish?
What use, our concern
to a child sick of living, waiting to perish?

What good, the warm benevolence of tears
without action?
What help, the eloquence of prayers,
or a pleasant benediction?

Before this day is over,
how many more will die
with bellies swollen, emaciate limbs,
and eyes too parched to cry?

I fear for our souls
as I hear the faint lament
of theirs departing …
mournful, and distant.

How pitiful our “effort,”
yet how fatal its effect.
If they died, then surely we killed them,
if only with neglect.

Michael R. Burch writes: “This original poem has over 3,000 Google results, perhaps because it has been published by Daily Kos, Black Kos, Course Hero, Think Positive, Katutura (Namibia), Vanguard News (Nigeria), Best Naira News (Nigeria), The World News Platform, Darfur Awareness Shabbat, Genocide in Art, Genocide Awareness, and other human rights organizations including the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency).”

Photo: “Carrying a lifeless and dying child (Famine Memorial)” by Can Pac Swire is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

My own comments: The statue in the photo is at House Quay, Dublin, and relates specifically to the Great Famine, the Great Hunger, the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852 in which a million died and two million left the country then and in the next couple of years. The potato blight also impacted continental Europe, causing a further 100,000 deaths there and becoming a contributory cause of the widespread Revolutions of 1848.

So let us be clear: whether children are dying from famine, climate disaster, pandemics, government inaction, or warfare (all present in today’s world)–dying without in any conceivable way being culpable–there is not just a moral duty to help, there is self-interest in helping, self-interest in preventing civil unrest and floods of refugees. Refugees are the product of an intolerable domestic situation: all other things being equal, people would rather make their future in the place they were raised, with familiar friends, family, foods, festivals. It is the duty of all governments to make all places so pleasant that no adults or children feel forced to leave, that no one is left to die.

Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Ramadan kareem.

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