“When 5,000 People Die in an Instant” by Michael Mark

Michael Mark


How much money do you send? How
long do you shake your head for? Or wait,
after you see the report uptick to 5,300, before
you wonder about lunch? Give some post
a like? Touch your face, reminding yourself
you are still here, that this is what it feels like
to be alive, the same alive those 5,700 people felt
minutes ago. You look up to count the bumps
on the popcorn ceiling—try to make it to 5,900
knowing the number will be higher by the time
you’re half done, is already higher, 6,200, 6,800
and it is too much to count. You close your eyes,
imagine it’s you—there—your family, friends. You
see each one of them, so close—the pores in their faces,
flecks in their eyes, and only move on to the next
when you can feel their breath as they breathe
their name. How long between misery and luck and
guilt and gratitude and terror and acceptance and hope—
how long between refreshes for updates—guessing
at the next number and putting the 7,300, the 7,600,
the 7,900 behind you, deciding to send more money
knowing that it will not be enough or writing something
knowing even if you’re a Nobel Laureate it won’t be
enough. So, you get on a plane. You don’t have
a ticket, you rush to the airport, wait on standby,
take the last middle seat. It doesn’t matter how many—
it could even be one person you pull from the rubble.
They don’t have to be a child. They could be anyone,
any age, any shape, any color. They don’t even have
to be alive—they could be one of the 8,000, 9,000,
10,000, 11,000. Now it’s 12,000. Now it’s 20,000.
You dig with your bare hands and reach down and pull
them out. It’s all you can do but you won’t, you don’t,
you can’t, you don’t. Now it’s 28,192.

from Poets Respond
February 12, 2023


Michael Mark: “The first report was 4,300 dead. We knew it was going to be higher. How can the human being deal with this beyond imaginable horror. We must imagine. We must do all we can do in the face of not enough.” (web)

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