after Émile Zola

To the world at large,

I am an American Jew whose grandmother escaped to this country
fleeing the pogroms fomented and fostered by Putin’s forebearers from
what is yet Pryluky Ukraine; it will be but rubble if he continues
his destruction, senseless killing, criminal acts of war. We have by now
all seen the pregnant woman on a stretcher shown in a viral photo after
a Russian air strike of a Mariupol maternity hospital. She has died, pleading
for her life to be taken if it might save her child. The newborn did not survive.
The Russians have claimed the maternity hospital had been taken over
by Ukrainian extremists to use as a base, that no patients or medics were
left inside, that videos and photos of bloodstained pregnant mothers fleeing
were really videos and photos of actors in a staged attack. We are told
that Russia had to launch its “special military operation” in Ukraine to destroy
biochemical facilities existing there, that the Russians had to enter Ukraine to
demilitarize and de-Nazify it, that Ukraine is committing genocide against those
who speak Russian in the Donbas region in Donetsk and Luhansk. Once
again one evil human being has challenged the world order, multitudes
within his own country cower, while a few brave citizens take a stand.
I remember when a rat invaded our home, small though it was, I was
fearful of it. Somehow I trapped it in the laundry room and after googling
alternatives, found a way to capture it and drown it in a bucket of hot water.
I accuse those who remain complacent, as Wiesel observed neutrality helps
the oppressor, never the victim. I accuse those who refuse to see the obvious
showing on the screens of their devices. I accuse those who sound a conciliatory
note in order to preserve some pecuniary interest. I accuse those unwilling to
face reality. In the name of the yet unnamed mother and child murdered in Mariupol
humanity must one more time defeat a despicable foe, that they will not have
died in vain, that civilization might persist, that the long arc of history may continue to
bend toward justice as King expressed so often, as if it was more than just a dream.

About the Poem

I was aghast watching the video of the Mariupol maternity hospital airstrike and appalled by the report that the pregnant victim whose pelvis was crushed and hip detached in the horror of the attack, had screamed out to the medics “kill me now” realizing she was losing her baby. I thought of Zola, the Dreyfus affair and his statement at his trial that there are many ways to serve a cause, by the sword or by the pen. At my age, the pen is the only weapon at my disposal. For further reading: Everyone interested in topical writing on political and social issues should read “Putin’s brazen manipulation of language is a perfect example of Orwellian doublespeak” by Wayne State University philosophy scholar Mark Satta. Satta refers particularly to the Orwell essay  “Politics and the English Language” quoting from it liberally, including this: “let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about.” 

About the Author

Howard Richard Debs is a recipient of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. His essays, fiction, and poetry appear internationally in numerous publications. His photography is featured in select publications, including in Rattle online as “Ekphrastic Challenge” artist and guest editor. His book Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words (Scarlet Leaf Publishing), is the recipient of a 2017 Best Book Award and 2018 Book Excellence Award. His latest work Political (Cyberwit) is the 2021 American Writing Awards winner in poetry. He is co-editor of New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust, forthcoming from Vallentine Mitchell of London, publisher of the first English language edition of the diary of Anne Frank. He is listed in the Poets & Writers Directory.

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