Monday, December 27, 2010


Here is a poem from "The Best American Poetry 2009."
Ringtone, by Bruce Bond
As they loaded the dead onto the gurneys
to wheel them from the university halls,
who could have predicted the startled chirping
in those pockets, the invisible bells
and tiny metal music of the phones,
in each the cheer of a voiceless song.
Pop mostly, Timberlake, Shakira, tunes
never more various now, more young,
shibboleths of what a student hears,
what chimes in the doorway to the parent
on the line. Who could have answered there
in proxy for the dead, received the panic
with grace, however artless, a live bird
gone still at the meeting of the strangers.
When I read this, I thought of the Virginia Tech shootings, and I thought, Here is a situation I would never have imagined - strangers who are used to facing the dead, suddenly confronted with the living as well, because of those omnipresent cell phones.

The author commented "I had a hard time wrapping my head around how difficult this would be for the parents, obviously, but also for the medics who carted away the bodies, who found themselves in the awkward situation of speaking with such simultaneous intimacy and distance. The situation focuses what it is when tragedy lays a sudden claim on you, when you are called upon, with little warning, to respond with a kind of grace... to break the unspeakable news."

For me, the poem led to questions:
  • Did the phones force the strangers to become involved?
  • Instead of merely moving the bodies, did they become a bridge between the dead and the living?
  • Would they even answer the phones?
  • Would they only answer if they saw the calls were from parents?
  • What would they say?
  • Would they be able to "receive the panic with grace?"
I think I would have let the phones keep ringing...

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