South Carolina Poet Laureate Finds the Words for the Moment

June 23, 2015

When we’re told we’ll never understand

Someone says a drug-related incident,
someone says he was quiet, he mostly kept to himself,
someone says mental illness,
someone says a hateful and deranged mind,
someone says he was a loner, he wasn’t bullied,
someone says his sister was getting married in four days,
a newsman says an attack on faith,
a relative says his mother never raised him to be like this,
a friend says he had that kind of Southern pride, strong conservative beliefs,
someone says he made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that you don’t really think of it like that,
someone says he wanted to start a civil war,
he said he was there to kill black people,
the governor says we’ll never understand.

*

He is not a lone wolf,
he is not alien,
he is not inexplicable,
he is not just one sick individual,
he is one of us,
he is from here,
he grew up here,
he went to school here,
he wore his jacket with its white supremacist patches here,
he told racist jokes here,
he got his gun here,
he learned his racism here,
his license plate sported a confederate flag here,
the confederate flag flies at the state capitol here,
he had that kind of Southern pride,
this is not isolated this is not a drug incident,
this is not unspeakable (we should speak),
this is not unthinkable (we should think),
this is not inexplicable (we must explain it),
he is not a symbol he is a symptom,
he is not a cipher he is a reminder,
his actions are beyond our imagining,
but his motivation is not beyond our understanding
no he didn’t get those ideas from nowhere.

mental illness is a way to not say racism
drug-related is a way to not say hate
loner is a way to not say one of us
we’ll never understand is a way to not say look at our history

Look away, look away, look away [to be sung]

Ed Madden
20 June 2015


Editor’s Note: As frequently mentioned here, global learning does not require crossing a national border. Indeed, engaging thoughtfully across cultures is sometimes even more challenging at home, where biases and assumptions are entrenched over lifetimes and generations. The 2014-15 academic year began with Ferguson and ended with Baltimore; now we have Charleston. At globalsl, we find it more important than ever to include a focus on domestic cross-cultural cooperation, learning, and community-driven development.

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