I Hear Screams (A Poem About Working with Would-Be Survivors)

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I hear
Screams.
Somewhere, tonight
In Eugene
A terrible thing
Is happening.
My pen recoils at writing the words
The effort to verbalize it
Sticks in my throat
Like a bone.
Somewhere, tonight
In Eugene
A mother is too afraid
To save her child
From her child’s father
And I hear
Screams.

I answer the phone
“Crisis line”
But do not ask
“How can I help you?”
I know I cannot help.
Somewhere, tonight
In Eugene
A terrible thing
Is happening
Nothing can be done
By people like me
To stop it.
My house is not big enough
To welcome everyone in—
This child
This child’s mother
Do not fit the bill.

“I am sorry,” I say into the phone
And in my heart of hearts
I hear a child screaming.
“We do not have the money.
Our shelter is for IPV.
That is what our grants are for.*
This is child abuse.
I cannot help you.”

I hear
Screams.
My house is not
Big enough.
I am
Sorry.
My apologies mean
Nothing.
This child is still slowly
Dying.
A mother too afraid
To save her child
Listens at the door—
Listens to this horrible thing.
Later tonight she will be bloodied.
She is terrified.
No one else will hear the screams.
We all look away.

The screams will visit me
In dreams
Tonight.

*Nonprofits get very specific funding for very specific things and if they don’t do those very specific things with that funding, that funding could very easily get taken away. Which leads to some very harsh, very brutal moments when working in a nonprofit.

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