Neatly, in a row, on the docks, they lay.
Green plastic squeaking with soaked flesh
dreaded witness to events
stretching too far down the pier
right in front of the rescuers leaning
against the tired wall
sunk into the edge of the sea
the journalists tell us how
those souls set fire to a sheet.
When the water started seeping in.
After the engine failed.
They don’t mention the name of the boat –
or explain why there was no flare –
don’t describe the immense drama –
or talk about the absolute terror
whipped up by kerosene bedclothes ignited
aboard an unseaworthy vessel.
Instead of telling us how
as one body
hundreds of bodies edged…back…
from bright wild lash of flames
all that shifted weight
tipped the heap into
cold Mediterranean blackness
they shift too:
into the Commerce of it all.
How many euros the poor travellers paid
to board the falling apart boat.
How many of the desperate make their treacherous way away
from Africa’s Horn each year.
How many people the overcrowded wreck held.
How many rescued from the nightmare.
How many corpses recovered.
How many still missing presumed dead.
They love the numbers.
Some simple mathematics could even tell
exactly how much the businessmen made
on this row of green plastic bags
and those swollen limbs
piled so deep somewhere
in the watery Tunis-Palermo-Tripoli triangle.
After the numbers
they take their cameras to
a room full of reverence
of men in robes
to quote the new Pope.
Une honte, the journalists in Paris report: a disgrace.
The word that comes to Francis’s mind
when he comes to Lampedusa.
With the slightest of shifts
the cameras could show us
one of those small cities floating
here monstrous buoyant pleasure machines
vacationers dining gambling swimming shopping playing
thousands of them cruising in one gigantic party.
They do no such thing of course.
we fail to notice this failure
somehow in a secret pact to
Never connect those dots –
a line too short for comfort:
the thought of these two ships
sailing the very same sea
too awful for any of us to hold
in a single thought.
10 October 2013