I wrote this poem a few years ago but misplaced the hard-copy and I wasn’t able to find even an electronic file during a cursory search for it.  But then I found an audio file; I transcribed it by listening to my voice read it. I’m posting it here so I’ll have a place to look for it.  I’d rather hear someone else read it; my voice doesn’t seem right for this poem.


I can’t blame Vietnam, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the constant barrage of mortar rounds,
it wasn’t the sight of babies set ablaze by napalm.

I can’t blame Kent State, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the panic of being in the line of Guardsmen’s fire,
it wasn’t the girl kneeling in horror and rage at what they had done.

I can’t blame Charles Whitman, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the random spray of bullets from a maniac’s guns,
it wasn’t the terror of senseless murder on a college campus.

I can’t blame the invasion of Iraq, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the destruction of a country from a madman’s mission,
It wasn’t the injection of new terrors in an old land.

I can’t blame the attack on the twin towers, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the bodies falling a hundred stories to the plazas below,
it wasn’t the chaotic implosion of hundred-plus story buildings.

I can’t blame the death of loved ones before my eyes, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the absence of people who were supposed to always be there,
it wasn’t the emptiness and absence of meaning.

I can’t blame the natural and unnatural horror of Katrina, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the masses huddled in ruined buildings, waiting for someone to care,
it wasn’t the mud and the mayhem and the price of poverty.

I can’t blame the earthquake in Haiti, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the sight of an entire country coming unraveled in squalor,
it wasn’t the actors’ choices between giving to earthquake aid or buying a diamond ring.

I can’t blame the tsunamis on the day after Christmas, because I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t the concept of hundreds of thousands of people dead,
it wasn’t the video of the sea erasing a century in an instant.

If I can’t lay blame, then where does blame lay?
What took my humanity, just took it away?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Blame

  1. juan says:

    Great poem, John. It says something to the idea that nothing really happens unless “we are there,” as in the old question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Descarte’s question –as moronic as it appears — really concerns the need for substantial proof, as in some kind of observation. And yet, to rhetoricians and compositional theorists, it is has to do with what it means to really “being there.” If no one perceives, then does anything really happen, at least from the perspective of what it means to be human.

    Who really is out there? Who really is listening or watching? Even given the hundred or more TV channels, is anyone really taking it in? Even “being through TV” means interruptions of some other reality — namely that of commercial breaks! 😉

  2. Larry Zuckerman says:

    I am sure if you could lay Blame you would, but keep your hat on, you look so cool that way.

I wish you would tell me what you think about this post...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.