The day after the marathon in Boston is usually a little exhilarating, a little morning-after. The race winners are the kings and queens of the city. And anyone, in fact, who’s limping a little, wearing their BAA jackets, or simply came here from out of town to watch is treated like company. Where I used to live, two blocks from the finish line, it was easy to get cynical about all the ectomorphs crowding the neighborhood and the police barricades that made crossing the street even on foot a challenge and the helicopters whap-whap-whapping overhead all race day.
But marathon day is Boston’s day to shine. It’s a huge city-wide party. The schools are closed--it’s a legal holiday, Patriots’ Day--and the mood is festive. Nearly every inch of the 26.2 marathon route is lined with spectators. The Sox play an early game that finishes right around the time the first runners are heading into Fenway territory and the fans, uplifted or disgruntled, pour out into nearby Kenmore Square to cheer them.
But today, of course, is different. Today “Boston” has become the same kind of code word as “Newtown” and “Columbine” and, even earlier “Dallas.” All the facts of the city drop away and what remains in the name is a single ugly moment. The Internet is filled with symbols of solidarity with and prayers and wishes for that Boston. In time the city and even the marathon will recover and reclaim its identity, adding this to its history and going on, But right now, this morning, “Boston” stands for only one thing and it will be a long, hard convalescence.
The poetry reading I was supposed to be part of tonight has been cancelled: its location is now a crime scene. Dr. D. said this morning, though, that maybe the poets should go and read our work on street corners. Strangely, I was part of a reading two nights after 9/11, and the room then was packed with people who clearly felt the need to hear poetry. Because after all glass and gore is cleaned up from the streets and after the wounded have been tended to and the dead begun to be mourned, after the investigation has unearthed whatever clues and answers are to be found, what, finally, can offer an answer? Maybe only poetry has answers for us at a time like this. Poetry, which tells us nothing really, that we didn’t know already at some deep level, yet which we devour for its important secret message. Who knows why people make careful plans to maim and kill? Who knows why this keeps happening with sickening frequency?
For today, a poem by Yehuda Amichai:
The Diameter of the Bomb
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective
range – about seven meters.
And in it four dead and eleven wounded.
And around them in a greater circle
of pain and time are scattered
two hospitals and one cemetery.
But the young woman who was
buried where she came from
over a hundred kilometres away
enlarges the circle greatly.
And the lone man who weeps over her death
in a far corner of a distant country
includes the whole world in the circle.
And I won’t speak at all about the crying of orphans
that reaches to the seat of God
and from there onward, making
the circle without end and without God.
(Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes.)